Wednesday, September 30, 2009

9/30- Matthew 2:13,14 Help in exile

(1310 Giotto)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Matthew 2:13,14 13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

Calvin abridged: We don’t know how long it was between the departure of the Magi and when Joseph was ordered to Egypt, but it is not really important. We do know that the Lord spared Mary so that she was recovered from child birth before she had to make the journey. It was an unusual but wonderful purpose of God that he chose to preserve his Son by flight. Joseph’s mind had to be harassed by temptations until he saw that there was no way out except fleeing: for in flight there was no appearance of divine protection. It is hard to reconcile that the one who was to be the Savior of all, had to be preserved by the exertion of a mortal man. Yet God reserved the right to show his providential preserving (the event was hidden from others) through such weak means because the time of Christ’s glorification and full manifestation of his power had not yet come. This was part of the incarnation, in which Christ subjected himself to the pains of human sin. So God has more than one way of preserving his people- sometimes it is by astonishing displays of power, but other times he employs hiding in shadows. Let us permit God to advance our salvation by a diversity of methods, and let us not refuse to be humbled so that he eventually, and more abundantly preserves his glory. We should never avoid the cross, for which the Son of God was trained since his earliest infancy. 14- Joseph immediately got up and complied with the injunction of the angel. Such prompt obedience shows that he was certain of the dream and had no doubt that God was the one enjoining him to flee to Egypt. The flight by night was not just of fear, but a combination of awareness of human danger and God’s humble means of providing safety. Our fear ought to always be regulated by God’s Word. If the two agree, there is no opposition of faith. “Stay there until I have told you”- By these words the angel declares that God will continue to care for the child Jesus. Joseph needed this assurance of continued protection after they arrived in the foreign land. Doubtless Joseph would have numerous problems with being in Egypt as he was excluded not only from the inheritance promised by God, but also from the temple, from sacrifices, from public professions of God, and was living in a superstitious and enemy environment where it was not as easy to be a believer. Yet, Joseph carried with him, in the person of the child, all the blessings and promises of the ancient fathers and the Lord.

Thoughts: Many think that God only helps us in magnificent ways, and they leave no way for God to help us by humility. Yet it was by humility- coming down to earth, and dying on a cross that we are truly helped and forgiven. Calvin and many of his friends found much comfort in this part of the gospel story, as Calvin himself had been in exile from his home country of France. He had fled for his life in November 1533. He escaped from the police by climbing down out of a second floor window by tying together clothes and climbing down. He changed his clothes, and travelled around France for a year dodging the police. But others were hunting him to hear his teaching and sermons. A year later the persecution heated up in France and Calvin was forced out of the country. As he was fleeing for his life, a servant stole his money pouch leaving him penniless. When Calvin was in Geneva, he always welcomed the exiles- those who had to flee England, the Holy Roman (German) empire, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and other places. Some in Geneva called him a friend of immigrants and detested so many exiles. But Calvin made provision for them with housing, food, and teaching them industry or providing work for them. The Bible many times exhorts us to be kind to the alien/immigrant/exiled person because the people of God were in exile in Egypt. There are many today who are not only unkind toward those who have moved to our state or country, but they are purposefully mean. Christians need to be different from the world by reaching out with God’s love and witness to those who have moved to our area- loving our neighbor. Doubtless this passage in Matthew infers this kindness again. It would have been terrible to be in Egypt and be mean or inhospitable to Joseph or Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see those who are in exile today. Give me a chance to help someone in your name this week. Help me to also see your deliverance is not always with power, but sometimes with our own humility.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

9/29 2 Samuel 12:11-18 Redeeming Purpose in Pain

(David and Bathsheba at the death of their son)
9/30 II Sanuel 12:11-18, 22-24

11 "This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.' "
13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, [a] the son born to you will die."
15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
18 On the seventh day the child died…"While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; 25 and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.

Calvin abridged: [speaking of why bad things happen to people]: When the wicked suffer they already begin to suffer the punishments of their judgment. They are not punished that they might come to a better mind, but that they may find God to be a judge and one who holds us accountable for our sins. But the children are disciplined, not to pay the penalty for their sins, but to be led to repentance. So the punishment of the believing children has to do with the future and not the past. Chrysostom and Augustine agree. Augustine says, “What you suffer, what you complain about, is your medicine, not your penalty; your chastisement not your condemnation; do not put away discipline if you do not want to put away your inheritance.” When God punished Saul [the unbeliever] he was punishing for vengeance (1 Sam. 15:23). When he took away David’s little son [conceived in adultery with Bathsheba] he was rebuking him for amendment [2 Sam. 12:18]. For the saints, such hardships are struggles and exercises. For the wicked [unbeliever] who have no forgiveness of sins, they are punishments.

Thoughts: Our culture loves comfort here on this earth so much, that Christians are sucked down into the whirlpool of thinking that all pain is meaningless- and how can there be any purpose in pain? Many Christians do not believe a good God can possibly allow any pain in life, and that pain has nothing to do with sin. While pain may not have anything to do with sin (Job is an example of this), it may, and frequently does have something to do with our own mistakes and failures. Sometimes God uses pain as an alarm clock (or megaphone) to wake us up to our need for him and get our attention. Sometimes God uses pain as a goad to get us going or lead us in the right direction. If you don’t believe God has anything to do with sin ever, then you will have a hard time finding meaning in pain. Our passage in 2 Samuel in which David says some amazing things about life and death not brought out in many other passages. In fact, this passage is often quoted when a child dies. David knew his adulterous relationship with Uriah’s wife was wrong, and he knew that having the loyral Uriah killed was very wrong. Nathan the prophet rebuked him and reminded him that he did not get away with it. The death of the child conceived in adultery was not pleasant or right. But David says, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Some say David is just talking of going to the grave and death with his child. But there is hope here- David stops mourning, and even comforts his wife. They have another child- Solomon, who is loved and blessed by the Lord. Calvin would say for those who do not believe, punishment for sin is meaningless-- except to find out that God holds us accountable for our actions. God cares about what we do. For the believer, bad things are discipline or medicine for us so that we may stay on the right path and learn from Him. For many people, this is very hard to understand. It is hard because we love comfort, and love the things and people of this life (even our families) more than we love God. If we make a God of our families, we will be disappointed too. Families can bring the greatest joys and the greatest sorrow and disappointment. Our families will all die (the Father even had to watch his own Son die on the cross- but then there was the resurrection). If we make a God of our children, or our spouse, we do them and us a disservice, and their eventual pain or death will seem to us meaningless. But if we follow Christ and seek him first, we are promised to see our family members again. Another lesson here is that God uses even the worst acts (adultery and murder/manslaughter) to bring about Solomon and eventually Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:6- Jesus’ genealogy- “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife). God disciplines his children, and also is able to bring good out of horrible sin.

Prayer: In the pain I have faced, face today, or will face, help me Lord to find you. Help me to trust in you though life is not as it should be, and I make it worst by my own action or inaction. Thank you, Lord, that you redeem life from its pain and tragedy with meaning and hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

9/28- Matthew 1:18-21 Joseph's Dilemna

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

9/29 Matthew 1:18-21
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about [d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Calvin abridged: Mathew does not speak of the manner or place of Christ’s birth, but the way in which his heavenly origins were made known to Joseph. “Pledged…but before they came together”- seems to indicate that they were engaged, but she was still living under her father’s roof. When a young woman was betrothed to a man she was considered his lawful wife, but if she was convicted of being unchaste the law condemned both of the guilty parties as adulterers (Deut. 22:23,24). 19- “Joseph…was a just man”- This is not referring to Joseph’s gentleness or mercy dealing with Mary, but that he was not willing to overlook the problem-conniving with what he perceived to be her unchastity. Joseph condemned the crime which he supposed his wife to be guilty, but his kindness prevented him from pushing for the utmost rigor of the law- so he wished to depart privately. Mary was silent, and didn’t tell her husband or the public that she was with child by the Holy Spirit. If she had gone public she and he would have been a laughing stock. The Holy Spirit used this story of the announcement to Joseph to make certain in our hearts of the reality of the holiness of the birth of Christ.
20- “While he was considering this”- We see here an example of the timing of the Lord’s help for his people. We can infer that when God appears not to observe our cares and distresses we are still under his eye. He may hide himself and remain silent, but when our patience has been subjected to the trial, he will help us at the wisest time. However slow or late his assistance may appear to be, it is for our advantage that it is delayed. “Joseph son of David do not be afraid to take Mary”- Joseph was afraid of sharing in the criminality of his wife by enduring her adultery. The angel removed his suspicions toward Mary’s guilt, so that he might live with her with a clear conscience. “Son of David” would have brought to mind the prophecies of the messiah’s coming from David’s line. 21- “Jesus” (Hebrew Joshua)- His name tells us His purpose- to save us from our sins. From this we see first that those whom Christ was sent to save are in themselves lost-we all need his grace. Next we see that Christ saves us by delivering us from our sins. This is done in two parts- his atoning work on the cross, and then his pardoning us of our sins.

Thoughts: Joseph was in a spot. He loved Mary, and he also loved God and His law. It is similar to the dilemma of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was told to sacrifice the only one given to him-it was a heart wrenching situation. But as God provided a way out for Abraham, God provided a way out for Joseph. The ram of sacrifice, supernaturally provided, saved Isaac. The lamb of God, supernaturally provided, saved Mary and Joseph’s relationship. God provides for us- often not before the dilemma happens, but during the height of the problem. We need to understand this too. This passage speaks very powerfully to the idea of adoption of children- as Joseph basically adopted Jesus as his own child. He did so because he was clearly led by God to do it.

Prayer: In our problems, Lord, help us to see your provision for our salvation. Help us to always have hope. Help us to be kind to the helpless as Joseph was kind by taking in Mary and adopting Jesus.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

9/27- Seven Deadly Sins?

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

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23) Whoever breaks one of these commands and teaches others to do so will be least in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5;19). "The soul that sins shall surely die." (Ezekiel 18:4,20).

Calvin: God’s curse ever presses upon the transgression of the law. There is no reason, then, for us to exempt any covetings, however light, from the judgment of death. Augustine says: In weighing sins “let us not bring forward false balances to weigh what we please and as we please, according to our own opinion, saying, ‘This is
heavy’; ‘This is light.’ But let us bring forward the divine balance of the
Holy Scriptures, as from the Lord’s treasury, and in that balance let us
weigh what is heavier. No — not weigh; rather, let us recognize what the
Lord has already weighed.”

Thoughts: [This is a departure for the day from Disciple's gospel studies]. In my Sunday School class we are studying Richard Foster's book, "Longing for God." Today we study Evagrius Ponticus and his 8 cardinal sins and 8 cardinal virtues. I am sure he is trying to distinguish in order to help us understand temptation and virtue. Gregory the Great (540-604) came up with the idea of 7 mortal sins versus venial sins. But Calvin in his commentary on the last commandment (Thou shalt not covet), reminds us that all sins lead to death and away from God's presence. The seven deadly sins are pride, anger, envy, sloth, lust, covetousness, gluttony. We downplay how much God hates sin. In doing so we miss the cost of the sacrifice of Christ, the worth of our salvation, and the sheer grace of God. While some sins affect others- spreading even more sin, yet every sin is worthy of death.

Prayer: Help us to see how great our need is for your grace, O Lord. We confess our sins to you, knowing you freely forgive us, and we thank you for that!

Friday, September 25, 2009

9/26- The true gospel

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

1. 2 Corinthians 11:4
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
2. Galatians 1:6
[ No Other Gospel ] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

Calvin: “Now I take the gospel to be the clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ.” 2:9:2

Thoughts: the word “gospel” means good news. But it also means telling the story of Christ- the message. There are different messages out there that we can grab on to. But we are to hold onto the message passed onto us- the life, death, resurrection of Christ- the revealing of the mystery of Christ.

Prauer: Lord, give us ears to hear your good news only. Make us deaf to the call of the world.

9/25- Acts 17- Reason and the Gospel

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

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' [a] As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' 29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead." 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Calvin abridged: Paul was moved even angry because he saw the city of Athens so given to idolatry (cf. Ps. 69:9). Paul’s habit was to go to the synagogues first and to offer Christ to his own people who had been exposed to the Old Testament and had an aptitude for being taught. The Spirit gives them an honorable title in that they were a step closer to God. He calls them “religious.” But let us remember that all the religion of the world comes to nothing. Idolatry is a kind of atheism and superstition that often disguises contempt for God. Paul doubtless reasoned with the Epicureans (who boldly taught worldliness), and the Stoics (with their quips). Paul spoke about Christ and the resurrection and this seemed to them to be new devils. Our faith is distinguished from superstition in that it sets forth Christ to be the sole Mediator it teaches us to seek salvation only from him; it teaches that we are slaves to sin and need to be renewed again by the Holy Spirit. Philosophers may speak of the immortality of the soul, but they do not speak of being renewed here to the image of God; reconciled in Christ; and not a word about resurrection.

Thoughts: Paul’s teaching was different to the Athenians. They liked to hear new ideas and philosophies. So Paul tried to reason with them philosophically. He pointed out that they had an altar to an unknown God, and recognized that they believed in a creation. But they could not grasp the idea of the need for a savior nor the hope of the resurrection. It is hard to reason someone into the kingdom. Paul was not very successful here, yet some did come to faith in Athens. The Athenians were similar to people of our day. They practically were Epicureans- who follow the idea “if it feels good do it.” They also believed in openness and tolerance. When Paul came to them they were not the same Athenians of the golden age, for they had been wallowing in giving into the flesh for so long. They were considered smart, educated, but soft and immoral. “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything”- so the country song goes. In our day we have lost our moral compass. It is found in our true hope- Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, transform our minds as well as our souls, and make us better people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

9/24 Psalm 78 Salvation history

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

Psalm 78:1-16

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
5He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,6that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation,a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9The Ephraimites, armed with[b] the bow, turned back on the day of battle. 10They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. 11They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.12In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. 13He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. 14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. 15He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. 16He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.

Calvin abridged: Within this psalm there are two leading topics. On the one hand, it is declared that God adopted himself a Church from the line of Abraham, how tenderly and graciously he cherished it, how wonderfully he brought it out of Egypt, and how many were the blessing bestowed upon it. On the other hand, those who were so indebted to him for these great blessings given, are upbraided for having sometimes treacherously revolted from such a liberal father. His goodness is shown- in his adoption of them at first, but also in his striving against their rebellion. Another theme is the mention of the renewal of God’s grace, and a second election in which he chose David out of the tribe of Judah to rule the kingdom of Israel.

Thoughts: Psalm 78 is the history of the gospel in Old Testament terms. The people are chosen through Abraham, then they are slaves, then they are redeemed from Egypt and set free, then they rebel, then God chooses a ruler in the person of David (Calvin calls this a second choosing). In the gospel- we are seen in slavery to sin; then we are chosen and adopted to salvation; we continually rebel against God despite his blessings, and God still leads us back to him in the descendant of David- Jesus Christ. For Calvin, the pattern of salvation is deep within the Old Testament but seen clearer and fuller in the New Testament. Baptism is seen as a fulfillment of circumcision; the Lord’s Supper a completion of the Passover; The New Testament or covenant a fulfillment of the Old Testament of covenant. God does not interact with us in a vacuum. He has been at work, and works in us to redeem us, and to gently lead us as a shepherd despite our rebellion against his blessings. In our day, many are rejecting God despite the fact that we are blessed more than any other country and any other time in history. The average person in America lives better than a king of old- with relative safety, air conditioning, clean water, regular food, education- but we refuse to publicly recognize God’s blessings, and we rebel against him by going our own way. Yet, God is more gracious than we deserve- He still leads us like a shepherd. We need to turn back to Him our father, our shepherd.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for your gentleness in adopting us, and your kindness in dealing with our sins. Help us to come back to you fully.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

9/23- Rahab

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

1. Joshua 6:17
The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.

2. Joshua 6:23
So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

3. Joshua 6:25
But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

4. Matthew 1:5
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse.
5. Hebrews 11:31
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
6. James 2:25
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

Calvin Abridged: The whole country was to be destroyed, so how did Joshua have the freedom to save one family? Clearly the Spirit suggested that Rahab should be released. Joshua judged wisely that a woman who had voluntarily gone over to the Church was rescued early, with the special grace of God. We should learn from Joshua to keep our promise and to not make our promises lightly. He not only allows Rahab to be delivered by her guests, but is careful to keep her from any injury in the first assault. God doubtlessly wished to deliver Rahab’s family for they did not react with pride as did Lot’s sons-in-law. God also provided for them in that they were placed outside the camp (to distinguish between purity and impurity), and were strictly commanded to abandon their former way of life. After they had made a confession of their previous impurity, they dwelt in the midst of the people, and were regarded as if they had been with the people of God from the beginning. By her confession, Rahab gained one of the noblest fruits of her faith.
[Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews 11:31]- At first, Rahab’s example may seem not worthy to be recorded in such a list of great people. But the writer has shown how the Patriarchs, though now honored, did nothing worthy of praise except through faith. All the benefits conferred on us by God, even the most remarkable, have been fruits of the same faith. Now he shows that an alien woman, not only humble among her own people- but also a harlot- had been adopted into the body of the Church through faith. So those who are most exalted in life, are of no account before God, unless they have faith; and also those who are hardly allowed a place at the table among the worst of us, are by faith introduced into the company of angels. James also bears testimony to the faith of Rahab; for she was fully persuaded that God’s promise to the Israelites would be fulfilled. She also asked for pardon for herself and her friends even though they hadn’t yet conquered the city. The evidence of her faith was that she received the spies at the peril of her life- and by means of faith escaped safely from the ruined city. She is called a harlot to emphasize the great grace of God that redeems even the worst of us.

Thoughts: In our world we emphasize those in high positions- the politicians, the celebrities, the singers, those who are seen in our living rooms on our televisions. Yet in Hebrews, James, and in Jesus’ genealogy a prostitute is mentioned because she had faith. Rahab may have been a religious prostitute as the Canaanites used prostitution as a means to call upon their fertility goddesses. But she denied that profession to follow the God of Israel. Some scholars today think she was wealthy to have a house in the wall (perhaps a celebrity prostitute). In our culture we are thrilled with celebrities and sexuality. We would do well to recognize that Rahab is an example of someone in the most degrading of professions who God lifted up to the memory of all the people of God. She had an amazing trust in the God of Israel. We should as well.

Prayer: Lord, help us to trust in you, our conqueror, our redeemer. You lift us up from the worst of sins to heaven itself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

9/22- Genesis 38:13-19 Grace out of sin- the genealogy of Jesus

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

9/22- Genesis 38 selections
13 When Tamar was told, "Your father-in-law [who had denied her a child according to the law through his sons] is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep," 14 she took off her widow's clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, "Come now, let me sleep with you." "And what will you give me to sleep with you?" she asked.
17 "I'll send you a young goat from my flock," he said. "Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?" she asked. 18 He said, "What pledge should I give you?" "Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand," she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes again. (Gen. 38:13-19)

Calvin abridged: Here is the genealogy of Judah to which the writer of Genesis devotes more labor because the Redeemer descended from Judah. The continuous history of that tribe from which salvation was to be brought, could not remain unknown, without loss. Yet its glorious nobility is not celebrated here, rather its deepest family disgrace is exposed. Rather than making Judah’s descendants proud, it covers them with shame. At first sight the dignity of Christ would seem to somewhat tarnished by such dishonor; yet because there is the emptying that St. Paul speaks of [Phil. 2:1-11] it rather increases his glory instead of detracting from it. First, we wrong Christ if we do not deem him alone sufficient to blot our any shame from the misconduct of his ancestors. Second, we know that the riches of God’s grace shines in that Christ clothed himself in human flesh, giving up any good reputation. Third, his ancestors are dishonored that we should be content with him alone, seeking no one else but Christ. We should not seek earthly splendor in Christ, seeing that secular ambition is always too much inclined to seek such things. We should especially note two things: First that special honor was given to the tribe of Judah and that it was chosen (elected) as the spring-source from which the salvation of the world should flow. Secondly, that this narration is not honorable to the people in the story so that no pride may come to the ancestors of Christ nor their descendants. Christ derives no glory from his ancestors, and he has no secular glory. His chief and most illustrious triumph was on the cross. By his infinite purity all of his ancestors were cleansed- just as the sun, by absorbing whatever purities are in the earth and air purges the world.

Thought: There were five women mentioned in Jesus genealogy: Tamar of Canaan, Ruth the Moabitis, Rahab the prostitute, and Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba). Matthew, by the Holy Spirit, could have picked other women less stained- like Sarah or Rebekah. Yet perhaps all are stained. Certainly Judah was stained more than Tamar (he admitted it in this passage). David admitted more fault than Bathsheba. The grace of God is clearly evident. God can take sinners, and even our sin (Tamar’s union produced Perez- the ancestor of Jesus; without Rahab’s prostitution, it is doubtful that she would have been chosen as a refuge by the spies; David and Bathsheba’s union eventually produce Solomon). God may take those with the worst job (like a prostitute), the worst ancestry (like Ruth- a despised Moabitis- whose ancestors were involved in child-sacrifice), the worst situation (a hopeless, penniless, neglected widow like Tamar), and the worst sin (the adultery and murder involved in David and Bathsheba’s relationship)- and make the very best out of it. There are too many Christians who have given up hope for our country today and for us. But hope can come if we have faith. Our hope is not in our economic prosperity or military prowess. Our hope comes from God- and the best thing is not the elevation of our secular power, but the turning of our country (also our churches, our families and us as individuals) back to God.

Prayer: In the midst of our sin, O God, help us to see your grace. In the darkness, give us hope to cling to your light- however dim in the future it may gleam.

Monday, September 21, 2009

9/21- Matthew 2 The adoration of the magi

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

Matthew 2:1-5
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”

Calvin abridged: A star from heaven announces that he is a king, to whom a manger, intended for cattle, serves for a throne, because he is refused admittance among the lowest of the people. His majesty shines in the East,
while in Judea it is so far from being acknowledged, that it is visited by many marks of dishonor. God stripped Jesus of all earthly honor to show that his kingdom was spiritual. Magi is well known as the name the Persians and Chaldeas gave to astrologers and philosophers, and their coming was predicted in Psalm 72:10: “the kings of Tarshish, and of the Isles, and of Sheba, would offer gifts to the Lord “ As Matthew does not state their number it is better to not say. Some say three because of their three gifts. Chrysostom says fourteen- no one knows for certain and we should not be enamored with the number. Herod was “troubled- and all Jerusalem with him” Herod thought the scriptures were unimportant until there was a threat to his throne and his heirs inheriting it. When the Lord permits unbelievers to sleep, he suddenly breaks their rest. The scribes faithfully quote Micah 5:2- "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans [b] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

9 After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12 TNIV)

Calvin abridged: It was truly a sign of sluggishness that the scribes and Jewish leaders did not offer to escort the foreigners who had been promised to their own nation. The scribes show them the way and point out the place where he was born; but they allow them to depart alone: not one moves a step. They were afraid, perhaps, of Herod’s cruelty. Nonetheless it is wicked ingratitude that for the sake of salvation offered to them, they weer unwilling to undergo any risk, and cared less about the grace of God than about the frown of a tyrant. 11- “They found the child”- Doubtless, they were revolted at the sight of such a poor and despised condition surrounding the peasant child- with no royalty surrounding him at all, and they could have not believed their vision had not God fortified their minds by the Holy Spirit. But they are convinced that he is the divinely appointed King, and so they revere him. They contemplate in the purpose of God his exalted rank, which is still concealed in outward view. They brought him the choicest products of their country. We are not to understand, that each of them presented his own offering, but that the three offerings, were presented by all of them in common. Almost all the commentators indulge in speculation about the denoting the kingdom, priesthood, and burial of Christ. It was customary among the Persians when they offered homage to their kings, to bring a present. It was similar to Jacob’s sending “balms, honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds to Egypt.” (Gen. 43:11). They gave the fruit of their soil to an earthly king. Our duty is to adore him in a spiritual manner- consecrating ourselves and all that we have to his service.

Thoughts: We often look at this passage in Matthew through the eyes of church nativity scenes and plays. Such tools are helpful in conveying the basic story, but as any movie or dvd of any biblical scene, it gives us only one interpretation of the details, and such an interpretation tends to stay in our mind as “gospel truth.” Calvin here speaks of possibly more than three wise men. Scholars point out that the wise men may have come later when Jesus was an infant not necessarily when he was a newborn. Some, without any basis but their own doubt, say this didn’t happen at all but was just added to make Jesus look good. However, the killing of the infants around Bethlehem by Herod was pointed out by the evangelist as a well-known occurrence of their day, and a means to corroborate the magi’s coming. There are no early records to contradict the killing of the infants, and it certainly is in keeping with Herod’s jealous behavior (he killed a wife, two sons, many in his court guarding his throne). What is important here is that we see the need to not be blind to the real kingdom, hidden and sometimes opposed by earthly rulers. In our day we are blasted so much with the importance of this world, its politics, and its policies. Many are afraid and anxious about our current politics though we have little control over them. Jesus did not get involved or even anxious over politics even though he died at the hand of the politicians. But even after the crucifixion at their hands, there was the resurrection. So there is hope if politics goes completely sour. It is important that we give to our Lord the worship he deserves for coming down to earth for us- this is indeed good news, and the hope of the ages.

Prayer: As the wise men left their homes and traveled to worship you, so you are worthy of our worship. Give us clarity to keep our focus on you instead of on the frail promises of this world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

9/20- Matthew 1:18-23 Fulfilled prophecy in Christ's birth

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

Matthew 1:18-23
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). (Matthew 1:18-23)
Calvin abridged: It is not just the giving of the name Immanuel that is given by the prophet- but “all this” refers to anything divine or prophesied fulfilled in Christ. Let us explore the true meaning of this passage in Isaiah quoted in Matthew. The city of Jerusalem is under siege. Ahaz (the king) trembles. God sends Isaiah to tell the king that God will protect it. Isaiah asks Ahaz to ask for a sign, but in his unbelief he does not ask, so God tells him that a sign will be given in that a virgin will be with child and they will call him Immanuel. This is a sign of God’s redemption and care for the city. The people of God at the time of Jesus [as Ahaz did] have tried to not listen to the promise and opportunity of God. The promised Redeemer will come in whom God will show himself to be fully present to his people. The right translation of “virgin” is not “young woman” as the Jews suppose. For the word is uniformly used in scripture of a woman who has not known a man. But beyond this, both Isaiah and Matthew are not talking about an ordinary event, but an extraordinary sign of God’s redemption.

Thought: The birth of Jesus, the beginning of the good news is not an ordinary birth, though certainly it was a humble birth. God became human, and did it in a way he had predicted (in the city of David, born to redeem/save his people of a virgin, complete with dreams, and more). There are many scholars who would deny a spiritual side to the birth of Jesus. But Matthew is full of God intersecting, and not being embarrassed of it.

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to see how your old promises and old word still becomes new to us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

9/19- God speaks through Jesus, Hebrews 2:1-9

(bird flying into glass over and over)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Hebrews 2:1-9

1 We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified: "What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 7 You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor 8 and put everything under their feet."
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

CALVIN ABRIDGED: He now compares Christ with angels to give the highest authority to his doctrine. Angels gave the law and the Son of God gave the Gospel. What he is trying to say in this passage is that Christ is much higher than the angels in authority, and so the Gospel is higher in authority than the law. Both should be heard with equal attention, yet in the one he reveals himself more fuller than the other. Our reverence and attention should increase in proportion to the extent of his revelations. It is not that God is in himself less at one time compared to another; but his greatness is not at all times equally made known to us.

Thoughts: Hebrews confirms what the gospel is about. It is about salvation from sin, and Christ’s substituting his death for everyone. This passage says that God is not silent. He has broken the silence through prophets over the years, but speaks in an ultimate way by coming down to earth for us as a human being. One time I had a cardinal fly into its own reflection in my window over and over every day. I tried to communicate with the bird by waving, yelling, buying a shade for the window, and putting ornaments on the window. I wished I could have become a bird and show the bird how foolish it was to keep hitting itself. Jesus Christ became human not just to show us how to live, but to save us from our mistakes and sins (sometimes made over and over). All the apologies of the past week- from Federer to Williams, from Wilson to West leave me a bit numb. The media allows us to see others’ mistakes right away and they also allow us to judge and condemn or forgive others. The media also gives us a taste of what hell is like- bringing up our sins over and over and not forgetting them or forgiving them. In the end we need to hear a Word from God that our sins are able to be forgiven. Jesus is that ultimate, final word. At present we do not see everything subject to forgiveness (vs. 8). But Jesus was made lower than the angels and suffered the penalty of death so we might not have to continually pay for our sins.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for speaking to us, and not leaving us alone. Thank you for showing us your love and for your sacrifice that ensures our forgiveness. Help us, as we have been forgiven, to forgiven others.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

9/18- Hebrews 1:1-4 An Imprint of the Father

(coin blank die- used to imprint coins)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.(Hebrews 1:1-4)

Calvin abridged: The agreement between the law and the Gospel is established; for God, who is ever like himself, and whose word is the same, and whose truth is unchangeable, has spoken in both as one. God addressed the fathers in a different way from how he addresses us. Formerly God used prophets, but to us God uses his Son. The way in which revelation was made in the Old Testament is inferior to ours as their visions were in many times and many ways. Christ brings a final conclusion to these times and ways- so that it is in this sense that the writer calls them “last times and last days” (c.f I Cor. 10:11). Since God has spoken for the last time, we do not need to look further. On the other hand, the Jews did not look far enough and were content with the Law. Since Christ has appeared an opposite evil has come- the desire to advance beyond him. The limit of our wisdom is made here to be the Gospel.
3- “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” God is truly and really known in Christ; for he is not his obscure or shadowy image, but an impression from his mold- resembling him, as coins are the impress of the die with which they are stamped. But even more than this is said- even that the substance of the Father is in a way engraved on the Son.

Thoughts: The word of God was at first scattered in time and through different mouths. But all of that changed with Jesus. He is the Word of God concentrated in One person at one time. In terms of vision, Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. In terms of hearing Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. His words are God’s Word, his teachings God’s teachings. His life is a living example of how we were made to live. The gospel was made real when Christ came to earth.

Prayer: Open our eyes, our hearts, our lives to your gospel O Lord. Help our lives to be an imprint of your life, Jesus, as your life is an imprint of the Father.

9/17/09- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 The gospel of first importance

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Cor. 15:1-11)

Calvin abridged: “Now I would remind you, brothers” Paul now speaks on another subject- the resurrection- the belief of which among the Corinthians had been shaken by some wicked persons. It is uncertain if the Corinthians stopped expecting a future life or denied the resurrection of the body. The Sadducees thought of nothing but the present life, and the human soul but a breath of wind. Paul seems to imply the Corinthians were bewitched with the mad dream of the Sadducees who had the audacity to declare openly that humans do not differ from a brute. “hold fast to the word I preached to you”- He asks them to recollect what they had learned before they were led away. He calls the doctrine of the resurrection the gospel. Paul amplifies this three times- “which I preached to you” “which you also have received” and then the substance. He calls the gospel the resurrection, for if the resurrection is taken away they have no religion left in them, no assurance of faith or faith at all. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received”
He does not mean that he related what he had heard from the report of others, but that it was what had been enjoined upon him by the Lord. It is the duty of an apostle to bring forward nothing but what he has received from the Lord, so as from hand to hand.
“That Christ died…buried. Raised…”- He mentions his death and burial so that we may know that as he was like us in these things, he is also like us in his resurrection. “for our sins”- by taking our curse upon him he might redeem us from it. Christ’s death was a sacrifice for expiating our sins- a satisfactory penalty, so we might be reconciled to God. 5 “he was seen by Cephas’- he now brings forth eye witnesses who saw the accomplishment of what Scripture had foretold. He does not mention everyone, for he makes no mention of women. “he appeared to the twelve”- How could he call it twelve when there were only eleven remaining since Judas died? Twelve is the title for the apostles as “the Centumviri” of Rome were more than 100 [cent=100] but 102. “Last of all to one untimely born, he appeared to me.”- This was an argument for establishing the resurrection. He was not giving himself credit for he confesses his own unworthiness- as he was “born prematurely” which speaks of his sudden conversion.

Thoughts: The gospel is summed up with the death, burial, and resurrection. This was what was passed on by the eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Calvin indicates that the gospel here is described as the resurrection- which is the whole subject of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul repeats what he had already said in 1 Corinthians 11 that he was delivering to them what he had received. Scholars today would call this the oral tradition. But Calvin (and probably Paul) would call this revelation. Calvin emphasized not what Paul heard from others- but what Paul received from the Lord himself (as “one untimely born”). The preaching of the gospel is emphasized here. The core of preaching is not psychology, or smooth-sounding words, or words telling of God’s blessing upon us, but the death-burial-and resurrection. What is left out? The birth and life of Christ, the teachings of Christ are left out of this formula. While Christmas is important to us, and the events in Christ’s life- Easter is the core of the good news- the gospel. For it is in Easter that we learn we are forgiven and have eternal life. Other religious teachers may have lived kind, gracious, and helpful lives, and taught with wonderful wisdom. But it is the sacrificial death-the sure burial-and the hopeful resurrection that distinguishes from other great human beings and confirmed Christ’s life and teaching. In this pluralistic and post-modern age in which we say it really doesn’t matter what you believe, and we emphasize this life only- Christians do not need to forget their identity and distinctiveness that is found in the good news- the gospel. The world may think philosophically that it makes no difference- or that Christ did not really die for the sins of those who believe, or the ultimate miracle of the resurrection- but in our hearts we know the difference. We do not need to be ashamed of speaking it- as Paul was not ashamed of God’s grace. In our hopeless age, the world needs to hear less of pop-psychology and more of real hope found in the cross and resurrection. Paul said it was of first importance. It is more important than the fame of Kanye West or Beyonce, or Michael Jackson, or the political power of Sanford, Wilson, or Obama. Human fame and power- eventually fade. Who remembers a king who lived in the 400s or 500s? How many Roman emperors- who supposedly ruled the world- can you name? Fame and power and the the things of human power that we act as if are so important- are not nearly as important as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which may apply to each of us 2,000 years later.

Prayer: Help us to recollect what is of first importance Lord. Keep us focused on your Easter which also means our own forgiveness and resurrection.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

9/16 Passing the Baton- the tradition

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

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In 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." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26 NIV)

Calvin abridged: The institution of Christ is a sure rule, so that if you turn aside from it even a little, you are out of the right course. So he calls the Corinthians back as they had strayed away. This passage should be carefully observed, as showing that there is no remedy for correcting and purging going astray short of a return to God’s pure institution. The Lord himself- when he was talking about marriage (Mt. 19:3) and the Scribes brought forward what was their custom and Moses permissions- refers them to the Father’s institution as inviolable law. 23- “I received from the Lord”- Paul says that there is not authority that is any higher in the Church than the Lord alone. Paul was not delivering them an invention of his own. He did not contrive a new kind of Supper, according to his own preferences, but he has Christ as his authority. “I also passed onto you”- Paul was handing the tradition over, as it came from the original source. The authority of Christ is much more stable than human laws. “The night in which he was betrayed”- the time given tells us the purpose of the sacrament. The purpose is that the benefit of Christ’s death may be made real in us. “Do this in remembrance of me”- The Supper is a memorial given as a help to our weakness; If we were sufficiently mindful of the death of Christ, this help would not be necessary. All sacraments are helps to our weakness. Some say that Christ is not present in the Supper because a remembrance implies something that is absent. They are right in that Christ is absent in the sense in which the Supper is a commemoration. Christ is not visibly present or seen with our eyes. But the symbols excite our memory by representing him. The place of Christ’s body has not changed, but the importance of the body is very real and present.
Thought- Paul was passing down the tradition of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, just as he passes down the tradition about the resurrection in I Corinthians 15. Grasping the tradition and message of the gospel is very important. Calvin says the tradition is a corrective to us. The next important thing is passing on the tradition to the next generation.

Prayer: Help us, O Lord to perceive the truths of your gospel and then to pass them on to the next generation.

9/15- Acts 2:22-24 Gospel preaching in Acts

Devotional using scripture, Calvin, a thought and prayer for the day- compliments the Jesus in the Gospels Disciples Bible study.

9/15 Acts 2:22-24;

22"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acs 2:22-24- ESV)

Calvin abridged Acts 2:22-24: Peter applies here the prophecy of Joel that the Jews may know that the time of restoration had come. The only way this prophecy would be fulfilled was by the coming of the Mediator. Gradually Peter affirms that Jesus was the Christ- that he was a man sent rom God, proved by his miracles, rising from the dead. He was more than a prophet, but the very Son of God, the repairer of all things. There are three names given to the miracles that testified that Jesus was sent of God; great works- because God shows forth his power; wonders- because they make us astonished; signs- because the Lord will have our minds stay here, but to be lifted higher; 23 “you killed”- the death of Christ is mentioned that the resurrection might be more easily believed. It was well known among the Jews that Christ was crucified. Therefore it is a great and wonderful token of his Divine power that he rose again. He says that they killed him; not that they were the ones who actually nailed him to the cross, but because the people, with one voice desired to have him put to death. And although many of those he wrote too did not consent to the wickedness and cruelty of the crucifixion, yet he speaks to the whole group of us; because all of us have defiled ourselves either with silence or apathy. The guilt which they feel because of his charge is preparation for repentance. “According to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”- Why should such a wonderful man, then greatly slandered and treated rudely, suffer such a terrible death? It is because the cross is so troubling that Peter says that he didn’t suffer by chance or accident, or even because he chose to die himself, but because it was so determined (appointed) by God. God decrees nothing without cause or rashly. So there was an important cause for Christ’s suffering. It was by God’s plan that the innocent was condemned for our sins, and that his blood was the price for our death. We can learn something of God’s providence for us: that our life as well as our death is governed by it. The foreknowledge and the decree of God are spoken of here by Luke, and should be distinguished by us. The foreknowledge of God is first in order (because God first sees what he will determine), but the plan or decree of God is not left out so we may know that God doesn’t plan anything without thinking of its end long ago. People often rashly decree many things, because they decree them suddenly. So Peter couples God’s plan to His foreknowledge. God doesn’t just know and sit idly by in heaven. The Scriptures teach God’s special care and governance. The Scriptures guide us and keep us from making foolish speculation. For example, some may foolishly ask if Christ’s bones be broken. But It was prophesied, appointed, and determined that they would not be (Jn. 19:36). Thus providence frees us from over-speculation, and sets limits for us. 24- “Loosing the pangs [sorrows/agony] of death”- By the pangs of death I understand something more than the bodily sense or feeling. Death doesn’t have the same power or quality now that if had naturally (in Adam)- because in the victory of Christ the curse is swallowed up (I Cor. 15:54). Sorrows prick at us, but they do not wholly wound us as long as we hold up the shield of faith. The reason why is added- it is impossible that Christ should be oppressed by death since he is the author of life.
Thought: In Acts the message of the gospel [hermeneutic] given by both Peter and Paul contain some basic thoughts- that Christ lived, Christ died, and Christ rose again. In this passage, preached at the birth of the Church (Pentecost), Peter also included a section on how human will and God’s plan interacted. God used even the actions of the wicked to accomplish his purpose. This is an illustration of Romans 8:28 (all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose). The good is seen only by those who believe. For to the secular person- they see only the cross and do not see or believe the resurrection. They stop their belief with death. For the believers, there is another, deeper, better side to life- the side that goes beyond death and wickedness- to our own resurrection and hope- and ultimately to God Himself. The good news is not just the crucifixion, it also is the resurrection.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your providence that brings about your good for our wicked world. Give us grace and strength to stay on your side; keeping our eye beyond the cross and its influence of death.

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/14- Remember Christ descended and raised

9/14- A change in the Calvin blog- we are switching over a bit to Calvin’s Harmony of the Gospels. This week will be a transition week. I will be blogging basically on the readings in the Disciple series “Jesus in the Gospels” each week with the last reading on Thursday.

Deuteronomy 4:9,10,13- Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to your children…He declared to you His covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.
2 Tim. 2::8- “Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s Word is not chained.
1 Peer 2:21- To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Calvin (abridged) on 2 Tim. 2:8: There are two parts of Paul’s admonition about the gospel here. One is that Christ was born of the seed of David, and that he rose from the dead. Immediately after the time of the Apostles heresies arose. Marcion tried to destroy the truth that Jesus was human, and Manichaeans joined this thought [that Jesus was not born of David]. How many also have tried to destroy the hope of the resurrection by diversified schemes. He calls it “his gospel” not because he is the author of it, but because he is the minister of it. In the resurrection of Christ we have a pledge of our own resurrection. We need to ask why Christ who was dead arose. It is not just a matter of historical curiosity, but this is written to bear fruit and hope in us. “descended from David” asserts the real human nature of Chris, but also claims for him the honor and name of the Messiah. He was a real man, the son of a real human being, that is, of Mary.

Thoughts: Remember is an important theme of the Bible. We are to remember God and not forget Him. We are to remember how God has spoken to us and how God has acted for us. He has spoken to us in scripture (above specifically in the Ten Commandments which is called “his covenant”). We are to remember that God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the gospel in the flesh- God with skin on. As we remember Jesus and scriptures, we are to listen and follow. That is what being a disciple means. In 2 Tim. 2:8- we are told the gospel in sum means Jesus was descended and raised. He was human and he was God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to remember you physically, mentally, and spiritually. When our minds are physically slow- help us not to forget you. When our minds are full of other things, do not forget us, but also ignite in us the priority of thinking of you. When we tend to love ourselves above you and are enamored with analyzing how we are doing, help us to focus on you the living Word for us.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Philippians 4:15-23, God supplies our need

(Calvin in the woods)
This is the last page of Calvin's commentary to the Philippians (abridged)

Philippians 4:15- 23
15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet all God's people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All the Lord's people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Calvin abridged: 15- “as you know”- Paul excuses the other churches’ dereliction of duty in not supporting him, by praising the Philippians. We must also learn from Paul’s pious example, that others should not see us inclined to receive from others and be thought insatiable. The liberality of some often escapes the notice of others. Paul administered the gospel to them, while there was an obligation upon them in return to support him (I Cor. 9:11). This was a common arrangement between Paul and the Churches.
18- “I have received full payment and have more than enough”- He says in more explicit terms that he has what he needs, and he honors their liberality saying he has been filled. It was undoubtedly a moderate sum that they had sent, but it filled him to satiety. “acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God”- Our acts of kindness are sacred offerings which God receives from our hands. Similarly Christ says whoever does this to the least of these has done it to me. When we love others this is not just a benefit for others, but a service to God (Heb. 13:16). The altars on which our sacrifices are to be presented are the poor and the servants of Christ. Some neglect these to squander their resources on every kind of luxury, upon what they eat, upon immodest attire or magnificent dwellings.
19- “My God shall supply”- Paul acknowledges that whatever kindness is shown to them is a gift from his God. He doesn’t just promise a reward in the future, but God’s supply of necessities in this life. 20- “To our God and Father…”- The aid the Philippians were able to give him came from the mercy of God. 22- “All the Lord’s people send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The household of Nero was reached by uncommon mercy- for this was the sink of all crimes and iniquities.

Thoughts: “My God shall supply all your need.” This is a great thought to end this epistle with- God cares for us, and supplies us with just the right amount. Note it doesn’t say God provides our luxuries. It is a touchy thing for a minister to talk about their providing for him, when he is still in obvious need. This is not the health and wealth gospel. Jesus didn’t talk about stock market supplies- but daily bread. Yet it is also important that we see that God supplied through the gifts and generosity of the Church. God works through the Church.

Prayer: God, thank you that you care for us and supply our need when we do not deserve it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/12- Philippians 4:10-14 Giving from the heart

(Job and three friends)

Philippians 4:10-14

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Calvin abridged: 10-“I rejoiced”- He now declares how grateful he is for the Philippians so that they would not regret their giving to him. They had sent supplies to him by Epaphroditus, and these were acceptable to him. The metaphor is drawn from trees that lie dormant in the winter, and begins to flourish and renew in the spring. The Philippians had cared for Paul, but they didn’t have opportunity to help him. 11- “I am not saying this because I have need”- their liberality helped him endure want. No person can be poor in mind who is satisfied with the lot which has been assigned to him by God. “whatever the circumstances”- we do not measure sufficiency by our abundance, but by God’s will, being persuaded that our affairs are governed by God’s providence. 12- “I have learned the secret of being content”- Prosperity can puff up; adversity can depress. Paul declares he is free form both faults. People should learn to make use of the blessings of God in a sober and temperate manner. But in the meantime they should prepare themselves for the endurance of poverty, so that they will not be overburdened. 13- “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”- Christ gives him fortitude. “All things” refer to things belonging to his calling. 14- “It was good of you” Paul wanted them to know he did not take for granted their kindness.

Thought: - The church gave toward Paul’s support, and it encouraged him. But he also wanted them to know that he was happy with much or with little. It was not how much he had or didn’t have that was important. Their love and concern was important. It is that way for anyone who gives- the amount is not as important as the thought of the gift.

Prayer: Lord, help us be content with your lot in life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9/11- Philippians 4:4-9 Finding Peace

(Calvin being made fun of by the libertines of Geneva)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Calvin abridged: 4:4- Rejoice in the Lord- Dangers and troubles affected the pious on every side, and it would be possible for them to give up, overcome by grief or impatience. Nevertheless, Paul encourages them to rejoice in the Lord despite hostilities and disturbances. The Lord refreshes and gladdens us by spiritual consolations since the Lord is standing on their side come what may. The joy of the world is deceptive, frail, fading, and Christ says the world’s joy is even accursed (Lk. 6;25).
4:5- “Let your gentleness be evident to all”- He could mean that they should give up their right so that no one complains about their sharpness or severity. Or Paul may be exhorting them to endure all things with moderation, which is the way I prefer to take it. For the Greeks talk of moderation of spirit—when we are not easily moved by injuries, annoyed by adversity, but retain composure.
“The Lord is near”- Worldly sense would oppose the foregoing statement. The wicked rage the more we are patient, and the more we endure, the more they are emboldened to inflict injuries (Lk. 21:19). Worldly proverbs say, “we must howl when among wolves” or “Those who act like sheep will quickly be devoured by wolves.” So we tend to say that the ferocity of the wicked must be met by corresponding violence, that they may not insult us. Paul instead encourages confidence in divine providence, because the Lord is at hand. He promises He will aid us provided we obey his commandment. So we learn that ignorance of the providence of God is the cause of all impatience, and that is the reason we are thrown into confusion. Often we become disheartened because we do not recognize the fact that the Lord cares for us (Psalm 145:18). 4:6- “But in every situation”- In these words Paul exhorts the Philippians (as David does in Psalm 55:22 and Peter in I Peter 5:7) to cast all their care upon the Lord. For we are not made of iron- as if temptations do not shake us. But this is our consolation to deposit or disburden in the bosom of God everything that harasses us. Confidence is a tranquilizer but it only comes when we pray. Whenever we are assailed by any temptation we should go to prayer as a sacred asylum. “Requests” means desires or wishes. He would have us make these known to God by prayer and supplication, pouring forth our hearts to God- committing all they have and are to Him. Those who look here and there to the vain comforts of the world may appear to have some degree of relief; but there is only on sure refuge—leaning upon the Lord. “With thanksgiving”- Many pray amiss by complaining and murmuring- as if they had a basis for accusing God. Others cannot take it when God delays and does not immediately gratify their desires. Gratitude has this effect upon us- that the will of God becomes the grand sum of our desires.
4:7- “And the peace of God” This is a promise for us who put confidence in God- peace in our hearts and minds. Mind means understanding, while “heart” denotes disposition or inclinations- so the whole soul is covered. “Transcend all understanding”- noting s more foreign to the human mind than to exercise hope in despair and see opulence in the weakness, and rely on the promise of not wanting when we are destitute of all things. 8- “Finally”- he commends “truth”- which is integrity; “noble”- an excellence of vocation (Eph. 4:1); “right”- or just- having to do with mutual intercourse of human beings; “pure” which is chastity; “If any praise”- among the perverse judgments praise is often bestowed upon the blameworthy. Christians desire to give true praise to God and are forbidden to give glory, except in God alone (I Cor. 1:31). Paul does not ask them to gain applause by virtuous actions, but to help the wicked to be constrained in the midst of their reproach and derision toward Christians. 4:9- “What you have seen in me”- The main thing in a public speaker should be, that he may speak not merely with his mouth, but by his life. “The God of peace”- He has spoken of the peace of God, now he speaks of the God of peace, since God is the author of peace.

Thought: These are some of my favorite verses. Paul was able to say that the Philippians have seen in him his ability to rejoice in any and every situation, and being content whether well fed or hungry. His ministry in Philippi began in a prison where he was singing and the Lord delivered him. Paul, who had been terribly persecuted, knew how to find peace in a prison and how to give thanks in every circumstance. In a recession, in hard times, these are great verses for our day. In a time of terrorism (the 8th anniversary is today), there is still a peace that passes all understanding- that not even terrorists can take away. Paul knew this peace and we can too.

Prayer: Help us, O God to find your peace, and thanksgiving, even in the tough times and tough losses in this life.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

9/10- Phil. 4:1-3 Agreeing

(river outside Philippi where Lydia, the first European convert, was baptized. Baptism is a sign of our 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, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:1-3)

Calvin abridged: 4:1- “Therefore my brothers and sisters”- Paul endears himself to them by sincere appellations. “my joy and crown”- Paul was delighted to see those who had been won to the faith by him persevering in that faith. He hoped to attain the crown of triumph which the Lord gives to those things which have been accomplished under his guidance. “stand firm in the Lord”- by praising their current condition, he exhorts them to perseverance. 4:2- “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche”- It appears that these two women had excellent qualities for he calls them fellow soldiers in the gospel. Their agreement was very important, and their disagreement would be a great danger for the Church. We should note that when he speaks of agreement, he also speaks of the bond of it- in the Lord. Every concord will be accursed apart from the Lord. 4:3- “I ask you my true companion”- Paul is not speaking of his wife (as some contend) but probably of a male companion. “whose names are in the book of life”- The book of life is the roll of the righteous who are predestinated to life (cf. Ex. 32:32). The book is nothing else except His eternal counsel (Ps. 69:29). Some may say Paul is speaking rashly pronouncing the secrets of God. But we may in some measure for a judgment by the way God shows his election, but only in a limited sense. Therefore those in whom we see the marks of adoption, let us reckon them to be children of God until the books are opened (Rev. 20:12). It is true that God alone knows who are his (2 Tim. 2:19), and separates the lambs from the kids. But for now, it is charity to reckon all to be lambs who submit to Christ as their Shepherd, who go to and remain constantly in his fold. We should highly value the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Being able to agree to disagree and stay together is a lost art in our society. In our selfishness combined with the stress of our super-business, it is very hard to stay together. Calvin and John Wesley worked harder than most Reformers to keep the church together, and possibly unite them. Jesus prayed that the Church should be one, and we should work for that as well. There are two parts to this- one is to remain true and faithful to God, and the second is to not foster disagreement among church members.

Prayer: May we be one, Lord, as you are one.

9/9 Philippians 3:18-21 Focus on heaven

(overview of the ruins of Philippi- ruined mall on the left)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Calvin abridged: many do not feel the power of God’s kingdom, but creep and focus on the ground. Earthly things are not outward ceremonies as much as carnal affections. Paul holds them up for spite on this ground—that, being desirous exclusively for their own honor, ease, and gain, they had no regard for the edification of the Church. His “tears” are evidence that he is not influenced by envy or hatred of others, or a tendency to cut down or anger, but by pious zeal as the Church is miserably destroyed by such pests. Paul is speaking not of open enemies but of imposters and fakers who trample under foot the power of the gospel for the sake of ambition or their own belly. People who seek their own interest through the ministry do more injury than if they openly opposed Christ. So we must point such people out, and not ignore or spare them. “enemies of the cross”- means those who pretend to be friends but were the worst enemies of the gospel. 19-“Their destiny is destruction”- this is said so the Philippians may be more carefully on their guard against those who may dazzle the eyes of the simple for a time. The glory with which they are now puffed up will be exchanged for shame. 20- “But our citizenship is in heaven”- Nothing is to be considered of any value except the spiritual kingdom of God. So believers ought to live a heavenly life in this world. We may not be able to separate from them physically (since the wheat is mixed with much chaff), but we should join ourselves to our heavenly Head, dwelling in spirit apart from the world (Mt. 6:21). “Savior” is an appropriate term for Christ in that Christ comes to us from heaven as our Savior, and our minds are on him now. The wicked are turned away from the thought of heaven because Christ comes as a judge for them, but for believers, it is our sweet consolation. Up then, with our hearts that they may be with the Lord! 21- “who will transform”- Paul farther stirs up the Philippians to lift up their minds to heaven, and be wholly attached to Christ—because this body which we carry about with us is not an everlasting home, but a frail tent, which will in a short time be reduced to nothing. “By the power that brings everything under his control…so that they will be like his glorious body”- Nothing is more difficult to believe than the resurrection, so Paul places before our eyes the boundless power of God that we might remove all distrust or doubt about it. When we bear in mind that God, who created all things out of nothing, can command the earth, and the sea, and the other elements to give back what has been committed to them, we can have hope and a spiritual contemplation of the resurrection. “Everything under his control” refers to the right and power of God to raise the dead, but also to do whatever he pleases. This power is assigned to Christ so that his divine majesty is set forth. The world was created by Christ because to be able to subject all things to himself belongs to the Creator alone.

Thought: In our world we have seen sure bets disappear, and the things we thought were secure lose their security. So pension plans have vanished for many. 401ks have been cut to a third of their former value. Those who invested in oil have found it is half of what it was a year ago. Some of the biggest corporations have disappeared (Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers) and some giants have become common size (GM and Chrysler). If this is true of monetary investments and earthly industries, it is also true of our bodies and healthcare. While Americans are living nearly twice as long than those who lives two generations ago, we are consumed with health care debates while the debate about our eternal soul languishes. Ministers preach little of hell and judgment- but the clearest judgment is that this life that so many invest all in- will not last. We should direct our thoughts and treasures toward heaven. Our true security lies there. Again, if you go to Philippi, the fancy shops, the marble buildings are gone. It is a testimony to human vanity and the end of earthly investment. That reminds me of Shelley's Ozymandias (the ruined statue that says- "look on my vast empire"-now covered in sand- "and weep"). The danger with this however, is that if the church gains resources ministers should not become greedy, and the ministry should not draw selfish people to itself. We need God to raise up people like Paul who were sincere- even to tears for his people. But we also need to get over self-absorption with this earthly life focusing on what will last.

Prayer: Lord, help our hearts to focus on you and keep us from the fear and absorption of earthly things.