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Sunday, February 28, 2010

3/1/10- The Shepherd is our Healer Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Thoughts: This is the most healing psalm. It does not mention healing directly- but it speaks of God’s leading into quiet, restoring our soul, guiding us through the valley of the shadow of death, leading us through fearful evil, helping us to face our enemies, enriching us, and the hope of each day and eternity. It is impossible to believe this psalm and not be comforted and have more hope. For many today there is no shepherd, no one to guide them, protect them, comfort them. They are like lost sheep. If you know your shepherd, then find comfort in Him today.

Prayer: Lord, shepherd me through this dark valley. Restore my soul.

2/28/10 Grapes from Chile and How God speaks

10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
(Chilean road- post earthquake- Christian Science Monitor)
Yesterday I was eating wonderful red seedless grapes.  I looked at the package and they were from Chile.  I wonder how those vinedressers are doing today.  Why should we care about a Chilean earthquake thousands of miles away?  It is the ripple effect- like a very small tsunami that rolls around the world, it eventually effects us.
But that is not the main reason we should care.  We should care because we have the ability to care.  When the last terrible earthquake his Chile in 1960 it generated a tsunami that killed 61 in Hawaii.  Most Americans did not see footage or pictures of that quake.  We knew the Chilean earthquake caused the tsunami (whereas in the past we were blind to that), but we weren't able to have any kind of prediction or safety warnings or ways to see it from a thousand video cameras focused on the ocean.  We are able to know more.  We have a global economy and are able to see, relate, communicate (President Obama called President Bachelet), tons of inofrmation on the internet. 
God also cares for the people of Chile. He cares that they know Him, and can experience His strength, grace, and love at such a time as this (Mt. 28:20; Ps. 46:1,2).  If God cares, and we are His people, we should show concern too.
But there is one more reason- illustrated in this passage.  God speaks through events.  The old theologians called it "providence."  There's a great old hymn ("I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say")- that says, "Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire oh still small voice of God."  God speaks through the catastrophes of life to us- the storms, the bad news about our health, the death of a lvoed one.  In such times we thank God, curse God (we shouldn't do that), pray earnestly to God.  Frontier Missions says that 40% of the break throughs with new church plants in Muslim, Chinese, or Hindu countries occur in response to a disaster. When everything else is stripped away, we can hear God's still small voice speaking to us (as to Elijah above).

Prayer: Lord, on this Sabbath Day- your day, speak to my heart.  Help me to care for others as you do.  Give me a heart of compassion, and a listening heart this day.  Be with the people of Chile as they go to worship today, and as they rebuild. Move in their midst and also in mine.

85% of Chile professes Christianity.  The Presbyterian Church has been there since 1845- the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Chile is our partner church and is the third largest Christian denomination there.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Psalm 46:1,2 Handling Earthquakes spiritually

Psalm 46:1,2
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (NIV)

1-3 God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. (The Message)

January 12 a major (7.0) earthquake hits Haiti.  230,000 people died. February 4 a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit northern California. Last Friday (2/26) a 7.3 earthquake hit Okinawa.  Now an 8.8 earthquake hits Chile.  There is some clear shifting of the earth's plates going on.

How should Christians react to such things?
1) Do not fear.  The peace we have amidst the hurricanes, earthquakes, global warming, or whatever should show the world it is possible to have peace in God.  Psalm 46 reminds us that God is our refuge and strength- not the earth or science.
2) Pray.  Pray for the people of Haiti and Chile especially.  Pray not only for their physical needs, but for their spiritual needs, and that people will turn to God for peace, strength, and grace.
3) Seek to help.  Giving to those in need- primarily through our churches' disaster assistance, hygiene kits are some helpful things we can do.
4) Look for God- God is in the midst of the earthquake, the storm, the fire.  Sometimes the sign of His coming is the alarm clock of a disaster.  His ultimate second coming will also come with earthquakes.  Often people ask "Where is God?" in a disaster, but stories gradually come out of His help.  Look closer and you will see His hand at work helping too.

Jesus said: 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Christians always stand at the edge of history, recognizing that security in this life is fleeting.  You would think people would know that because everyone knows that their personal history will end one day.  But we make false security with a belief that our health care will keep us healthy forever; our makeup, contacts, botox will keep us young; our money and clothes will keep us happy.  Disasters remind us of the fleeting nature of life, and should remind us to turn back to God who made the earth and sea.

Prayer: Lord, this day, strengthen those who are trying to help others in your name in Chile and Haiti.  Give grace that the people of Haiti and Chile will find your sterngth and help.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2/25/20 Psalm 22:14-15 Poured Out Like Wax

2/26- Psalm 22:14-15

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

(Empty cistern in Meggiddo)

Thoughts: I am shriveling away into dust. My life is melting away. Dehydration often takes place in the midst of sickness, pain, and death. You can almost feel this person poured out, hot as liquid wax, and drying up. He is describing his human physical agony, but also his spiritual agony. We long for God as the deer longs for water; as someone in the desert longs for a drink; as someone who is dehydrated longs for energy and strength. I have had three heat strokes in my life, and all of them made me feel like what this writer describes- weak, dry, hot, sick. Sickness is, like pain, an alarm clock that something is not right. It helps us to cry out for help while we still can cry out. It is the foolish person who doesn’t call out to God for help when there is nowhere else to turn.

Prayer: In my sickness, hear my cry O Lord. Have mercy upon me.

2/25/10- Psalm 22:1,2; Feeling Forsaken by God

2/25- Psalm 22:1-2

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Thoughts: The darkest night is right before the dawn. The coldest part of the evening is usually right before the first rays of light. Jesus quoted these words on the cross (Mt 27:46), and they are words for those who are sick, in despair, without much hope. We can think of the people who have it easier than we do, and then we feel a bit guilty. Perhaps there is someone who has it worse than we do. Certainly Jesus felt forsaken. Here was someone innocent being treated as if they had killed someone. Here was someone who left their palace of heaven to come down to earth and we treated him not with indifference but with torture. This is the cry of someone being tortured with pain. There are times that it is our cry too. I will not forget the band “Guess Who” quoting this in a top 40 album in 1969. There is a part of us that relates to this forsakenness. But the Good Shepherd does not forsake his sheep.
     The scriptures are full of examples of our forsaking Him.  They also have examples of people feeling forsaken by God (this verse, Lam 5:20; Ezek 8:12).  But never does it say that God has forsaken them (though their are implications that when the wicked leave God He leaves them to their own devices).  In fact, there are promises that God will not forsake the needy or the righteous-ever.  Hebrews says, "Never will I leave you nor forsake you." (Deut 31:6,8; Josh 1:5; Ps 9:10; 27:10; 37:25; Isa 41:17, 42;16; Heb 13:5).  Some say Jesus felt forsaken because he was taking our sin upon himself- and our sin separated him from the Father.  This may be true, but it clearly illustrates he fully experienced our humanity- feeling forsaken by the Father- though Jesus knew the Father had not left him.  His quoting this verse on the cross reminds us he understands.  Yet, even on the cross the Father was present, working, and leading to the resurrection.  He will never leave us nor forsake us. 

Prayer: Lord, when I feel forsaken, hear my cry for mercy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2/24/10- Psalm 6; Hope in the Midst of Weeping

2/24- Psalm 6:2-4, 6-9

2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. 3 My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? 4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. 6 I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. 7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. 8 Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.
"Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."  (Mt. 5:4)

Thoughts: The question is, “How long must I wait until you turn things around, O Lord?” Here was someone who felt like his agony, his soul-felt anguish, his lack of sleep, a growing opposition, have all piled against him. He was in the dark valley. But even in the deepest valley he had hopes that God had heard his weeping and his cry for mercy. This is the hope of faith, and this is the hope of which we should never let go.
When we are in the midst of pain, sometimes it is painful to even be reminded of hope.  We think that those who have hope do not understand the pain.  It is a blessing to yourself and others to remember that the Lord hears our cry, and one day our mourning will end- not just with death (which is hopeless, but a worldly comfort) but with resurrection.  The Lord will wipe away every tear.  Ultimately pain and sickness will get our bodies, but pain and sickness cannot conquer your eternal soul unless we let it.

Prayer: It is tiring to wait, will you come to my rescue soon, O Lord?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ISAIAH 61:1-4 Out of the Ashes

2/23- Isaiah 61:1-4

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

Thoughts: Jesus clearly saw these verses in Isaiah as fulfilled in him as he came to heal and to help. He comforted and healed the sick and hurting and convicted the self-righteous. God changes our ashes into the oil of gladness. The picture above is the Phoenix coming out of the ashes.  Christians adopted this story as the story of the resurrection.  It is not just Christ's resurrection, but our own that this symbolizes.  It is not just what happens to us after we die, but what God does with us- in conversion, in sanctification, in daily life.  He takes what is worthless and makes it a crown. When Yellowstone caught fire in 1988 and almost 800,000 acres burned (36% of the park), it looked hopeless to ever come back. But the ashes served as natural fertilizer and the park is now greener and healthier than ever.  Sickness can be the furnace that purifies us as gold (helping us to see what is important), but also provides fertilizer to our spiritual growth.

Prayer: Lord, you are our comfort and our help. Turn our mourning into dancing. Make a crown of beauty out of the ashes of sorrow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2/22/10- Isaiah 40:28-31 The Resilient God

2/22- Isaiah 40:28-31

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Thoughts: God never gets sick and tired. He is resilient.  People- even strong young people- get tired and their bodies do not last forever. In fact God is able to pour some of his strength into us, and we need to wait on Him to do just that. But the hardest thing is waiting- even though we are waiting on the greatest Physician. Isaiah’s great truth here is that human strength is weak- even among the strongest of us. But there is strength in faith, and it comes not despite the waiting, but in the midst of the waiting. It takes faith (in our impatient world) to see that waiting is a part of the healing process of God.

Prayer: Teach me Lord, to wait. Help me Lord, to wait. Give me grace again to renew my strength.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2/21/10- The Lord's Day Luke 6:29,30; Exodus 15:26

2/21- Sunday Luke 6:29,30; Exodus 15:26

29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Exodus 15:26 He said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."

Thoughts: Jesus was talking about sacrifice. It is a healing thing to sacrifice revenge and grudges, and bitterness. Things and pride mean little in the face of eternity. In the end it is not how much you got (the most toys win), but how much you have given. Jesus showed that in the way he lived. He had not palace, not even a home of his own. He was able to turn the suffering of the cross into the resurrection. The second verse here is a reminder that there is healing also from listening to God and His Word. The people found bitter water , and could not drink, but God said, “I am the Lord who heals you” and turned the bitter water into drinkable water. This is what God can do for us- turn our bitterness into health. Turning the cheek leaves healing with God and goes the extra mile, separating us from the world that wants and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to be a giver as you gave yourself for me. Turn any bitterness in my life into health and wholeness.

Today our church hosts Trinity Presbytery's stated meeting.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2/20/10- Isa 35:5-10; Lk. 7:21-23

2/20 Isaiah 35:5-10

(Highway in Sinai desert)

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. 8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. 9 No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, 10 and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me."  (Luke 7:21-23)

Thoughts: When you’re lost in the desert, finding a highway is a lifesaver- for it means someone will come along with water and help. It also means a way out- that you won’t be going in circles. God has come and provided a way out- a way of salvation- a way of hope. The ultimate healing is found on this way. Jesus quoted a similar verse from Isaiah as a sign to John’s disciples that he was the messiah. When God comes, there is healing in his wings.
Healing is not just physical. Tiger Woods had his very public confession of sin yesterday.  Reminding me of Mark Sanford's and it seems like an unending list.  There is a universal need to somehow get past and over our sin. No amount of public confession to the whole world will do it.  The world is pretty unforgiving and lacking grace.  Christ provides a way for healing and forgiveness. He has paid the penalty for our sins. By his wounds- his sacrifice we are healed.

Prayer: Thank you for a way, Lord. You are the way, the truth and the life, and I will follow in your path of holiness.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2/19/10- Isaiah 35:1-4; "Hope in a Hopeless Land"

2/19- Isaiah 35:1-4

(desert blossoming in Israel)

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 4 say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you."

Thoughts: The idea of the desert blooming here is the idea of the barren bearing fruit, the sick getting well, and the hopeless finding hope. This happens when God comes to us- we begin to blossom like a desert that is irrigated. Yesterday, a very visible form of the hopelessness of our age occurred.  A software engineer in Autin Texas burned his house, and flew his plane into a building that quaretered the local IRS office. He was complaining about the IRS taking "his pound of flesh", yet he had a house, and he had a plane.  Millions in Haiti have no house and no food, much less an airplane or house.  Yet this man had given up hope.  Maybe he was about to lose his airplane and house.  Maybe he was frustrated at his taxes.  He had given up hope, and saw violence as his only alternative.  A biology teacher did not get tenure and in a rampage she shoots three other biology professors.  We have high worldly expectations.  In a recession economic environment such expectations are more likely to be crushed than fulfilled.  Each day, each breath is a gift from God.  We came into this world naked, and we will go out of it naked.  We should not be overly enthralled with human power, money, or things- or when they are taken away by sickness, health, a bad economy, or limits of one kind or another- then we are left meaningless and hopeless.  We should hope beyond this world- in the eternal God.  God can turn our desert into a garden.  It takes faith to believe that.  We need that kind of faith and hope today. 

Prayer: Help me to be strong, O Lord, and to wait on your coming.

2/18/10- Psalm 51 Restoration of Joy and Service

2/18- Psalm 51:9-17

(King David of Israel- Copenhagen- Jerichau- 1860)

9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Thoughts: When our hearts are pure, we are re-energized, restored, and want to tell others about God’s grace. This is a prayer for forgiveness with the hope of both joy and service restored. It contains a bit of bargaining with God- even pleading with God. When our hearts are humbled and contrite, God is inclined to hear us.  Teh great news is that when our health is restored, so is our joy and our service.  Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10).  Surely the abundance of life is a result of forgiveness and healing.

Prayer: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2/17/10- Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, Lk 18:13 A Cry for Mercy

2/17- Ash Wednesday  This is a small twist in our "Jesus in the Gospels" blog.  We'll focus for the next forty days (Lent) on verses that will inspire us, help us, and verses on healing and forgiveness. Who doesn't need God's mercy and help every day?  But this blog will be a little different from the printed Lenten devotionals I wrote in that it will be updated and re-written daily, the pictures will be mostly in color, and John Calvin gets a 40 day break.  I also will try to include gospel writings each day.

(David and Nathaniel; 1672 Scheits)

Psalm 51:1-8

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 7 cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Luke 18:12,13 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

Thoughts: This Psalm was written in response to the prophet’s confrontation of David when he had an affair with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. But this Psalm is well liked and used because it touches a raw nerve of our sin and guilt. We want God to wash us, cleanse us, and this is part of our healing as human beings. Healing is not just physical, but there is a need for spiritual cleansing as well. So sometimes Jesus will tell someone looking for physical healing that “their sins are forgiven.”  This cry from mercy from David was echoed by Jesus when he commended the tax collector for saying, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner" over the Pharisee who bragged to God about all he did.  The first step we can take toward God's help is to come to Him.  Healing comes from the Great physician especially when we seek His aid.  Deep in our hearts is a longing for forgiveness and mercy.  David and Jesus show we can find this in God.

Prayer: Have mercy on me, O God. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

Note: our church web site address:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Matthew 5:9, 10 Blessed are the Peacemakers and Those who are Persecuted

2/16/10- Shrove Tuesday- Mardi Gras- Matthew 5:9,10- Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Angry mob persecuting Christian home)

Calvin abridged: Peacemakers are not only those who seek peace and avoid quarrels, but who also work to settle differences among others and advocate peace and take away every occasion of hatred and strife. It is hard and irritable work to try to reconcile those who are at variance. Often peacemakers must endure the indignity of hearing reproaches, complaints, and criticism on all sides. Instead of wanting someone to just advocate our side, we should look up to the God of peace (Rom 15:33) who calls us his children.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted” is an important beatitude for us to hear. If we are truly Christ’s soldiers, the greater part of the world will rise in hostility against us, pursuing us even to death. It doesn’t make sense that people would so zealously criticize and attack those who follow Christ.

Thoughts: Peace is not the same as “anything goes.” Yet peace does mean patience and forbearance, and for that reason peace and enduring persecution go together. The ancient Romans persecuted the Christians and Jews because they would not believe in an “anything goes” kind of tolerance, but criticized the break up of family, sexual immorality of all kinds, along with dishonesty and bribery. Today we, like the old Romans, value tolerance without peace- for there is no peace for the wicked. Mardi Gras is often a fake- Christian holiday- with the idea that we need to be as bad as we can because we have to be good for lent. It was this kind of abuse that cause the Reformers to not like Lent- we should be true to Christ all the time- and not look for an excuse to forsake Him. The greatest peace is found in Christ. Christians should work to limit war and hatred, as well as spreading the good news of Christ which brings the greatest peace. Partly because of our lack of tolerance for every belief and every kind of wickedness, the world persecutes us. It is well documented that in the last 100 years more Christians have been martyred for their faith than all the other centuries put together (think Stalin’s gulags, Hitler’s Bonhoeffers and Ten Booms, Pol Pot, Mao’s cultural revolution, North Korea’s purging, et al.). In America, persecution is coming in different forms as never before. The aura of sacredness that churches once had has disappeared. It shows itself in many ways- the continual shootings (like Richmond, CA last Sunday), or the sixty church break-ins in three months in Richland, Lexington, and Newberry counties. But it also shows in the portrayal of the church in a negative light on TV and movies. Any time a Christian appears in “Law and Order” you know they’re the villain and the hypocrite- really? In Texas there have been eight church burnings, and many church burnings in South Carolina. When Christians say homosexuality is wrong, they had better duck, and watch out for hate-email. Christians need to promote peace, yet hold onto truth, and endure persecution.

Video of attacks on Christians in India:

Prayer: Lord, help me to seek peace and pursue it today. Give me grace to endure any persecution I may face today for being true to you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2/15/10- Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, mercy, purity in heart

2/15/10- Matthew 5:6- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Calvin abridged: To hunger and thirst is a figurative expression that means to suffer poverty, to want the necessities of life, and even to be defrauded of one’s right. Though their wishes be moderate, and people may ridicule them for their languishing, yet one day God will listen to their groans as Mary said- “God fills the hungry with good things” (Lk. 1:53).

“Happy are the merciful”. The world counts those happy who give themselves no concern for the distresses of others, but are only concerned about their own comfort. Christ indicates that people are blessed when they are prepared to not only endure in their own afflictions, but share in the afflictions of others. They shall obtain mercy not only from God, but from people- who eventually honor those who are humane.

“Happy are those who are pure in heart”. Purity of heart is universally considered the mother of all virtues. Yet ninety-nine percent put craftiness and the ingenuity of deceit in the place of purity of heart.

Thoughts- Jesus speaks of the focus of our hearts here. The world values self-centeredness and deceit. But our Lord values seeking righteousness as a deer seeks water, as a starving man food. To seek righteousness means to want what is right more than self-advancement, money, or things. Jesus also speaks of mercy. Jesus did not withhold mercy even if someone may abuse it (like the leper he told not to speak, but did; or the nine ungrateful lepers). He often warned those to “go and sin no more” but their failure to be faithful, did not withhold his help. Our attitude seems to be that we are more concerned about breeding stray dogs by feeding them- than showing mercy to those who are languishing in despair. Yet if we were hurting, we would want mercy shown to us. Loving our neighbor as ourself means showing mercy. The impure are not close to God- for their sin- their deep, heart-hidden sin, separates them from the Holy One. Getting our hearts right, focused, and in accordance with God’s law is essential for getting closer to God.

Prayer: Lord, give me a hunger, a merciful and pure heart for you. Draw me to yourself by seeking you with righteousness and mercy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2/14/10 Matthew 5:5- Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

2/14/10- Matthew 5;5- Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth (Valentine’s Day)

(King Aslan being murdered- yet rising later- Chronicles of Narnia)

Calvin abridged: Meek means people of mild and gentle dispositions who are not ready to take offense, but are prepared to endure anything than to become wicked. We would think that those who stand up for themselves against attacks, and who are quick to get revenge seem to be the ones who claim they have dominion over the earth. It seems the vengeful wolf wins over the meek sheep. But the wicked never think they are safe- and they are right. We must reckon ourselves as sheep to be a part of his flock. For those who are restless in their wickedness- though they seem to possess much, they really possess nothing. But the earth has been granted to God’s children. We receive a foretaste here of our inheritance that is to come.

Thoughts: On Valentine’s Day, it is not the selfish and self-serving who are the easiest to love. I think of the story “Beauty and the Beast.” Gaston and the Beast were both selfish. But the beast changed, and Gaston remained alienated from the girl he desired because of his pride and vengefulness. The Beast changed into someone meek because of his love. We become meek out of love for God. Anyone can strike back. But turning the other cheek takes more strength. Ghandi and Martin Luther King showed us the power of Jesus’ words that the meek shall inherit the earth. The husband know this too. The husband who proves himself right at the expense of the pride of his spouse is not going to have an easy time. But the husband who is more concerned about his wife than himself- that is the man more likely to have a good marriage and inherit the earth.

Prayer: Lord, you taught us to love by your words but also by your example. Help us to follow in your footsteps.

2/13/10- Matthew 5:4- Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted

2/13/10- Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted

Calvin abridged: This beatitude is closely connected to the previous one (blessed are the poor in spirit) and is a confirmation of it. The ordinary belief is that calamities render a person unhappy, because they bring grief with them. Nothing is supposed to be more inconsistent with happiness than mourning. But Christ not only disagrees, he also shows that their very mourning contributes to a happy life, by preparing them to receive eternal joy, and be readying them to receive true comfort in God alone. Paul similarly says, ““We glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation produces patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed,”

Thoughts: The scriptures speak of God’s comforting us. Isaiah prophecies it (61:2,3), Jesus says he fulfills it (Lk ) and the last book of the Bible tells us that when we get to heaven “God will wipe every tear from our eyes.” Our ultimate comfort is not time; it is not aspirin; it is not even an earthly friend. All these, though important for temporary relief, do ultimately end grief, pain, or heartache. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q.1) asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer is, “That I belong body and soul, in life and in death- not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” In the midst of mourning, help me, O God to find your true permanent comfort that surpasses any comfort this temporary world can offer.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, assure me, comfort me, in my sadness may I find your presence and love.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2/12/10- Matthew 5:1-3 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

2/12/10 Mathew 5:1- 3

(Mother Teresa who worked among the poorest poor)
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Calvin abridged: Many are pressed down by distresses, and yet continue to swell inwardly with pride and cruelty. But Christ pronounces those to be happy who, chastened and subdued by afflictions, submit themselves wholly to God, and look to him for protection. Christ does not advocate Stoicism with its stiff upper lip, but offers them the hope of eternal life. It is only when we reduce ourselves to nothing and rely on the mercy of God that we become poor in spirit. Some who are overwhelmed by despair murmur against God in their pride.

Thoughts: James 4 tells us to submit to God. But many refuse to submit or repent or listen to God. God cannot get their attention with a bullhorn, an alarm clock, a sledge hammer or any other way. God wants us to humble ourselves before Him and pay attention to what He tells us in the world around us by His providence. The world would tell us that if you really want to go somewhere then we should have high self-esteem and pride. Christ tells us if we want to be great in His kingdom we should learn to be the servant of all.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to have a humble heart, and to hear your voice.

2/11/2010 Matthew 23:1-12 Exalting Ourselves in Church

(phylacteries and tassels seen today- Jesus pointed out they can be abused)
2/11- Mt. 23:1-12 (pp. Mk 12:38-39; Lk 11:43-46; 20:45-46)

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 "Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them 'Rabbi.' 8 "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Calvin abridged: Christ’s purpose in saying this was that the people would not be so offended at the vices of the scribes that they throw away reverence for God. For our minds are prone to dislike the Law- but especially when the pastors are poor examples. Some also fall away when people in the church debate- for most men throw off the yoke and give way to their wicked desires showing contempt for the faith. We should conform our lives not to wicked leaders (even if they are in the church), but follow the Law. The scribes did not practice what they preached, and did so much to exalt themselves. They took a command of God and used it to display their devotion (Dt. 6:8). Christ rebuked them for being enthralled with titles (Master, teacher, Rabbi, Father). We must remember that Christ alone ought to be obeyed (Mt. 17:5) and no mortal should claim the smallest portion of his authority. He is the only Pastor, yet he allows many pastors under him, provided he holds the preeminence over them all and that He alone governs the Church. Christ charges those who occupy places of honor to conduct themselves as the servants of others, as we are all under equal footing under the heavenly Father.

Thoughts: The scribes and Pharisees knew the Law, but they exalted their added commentary (tradition) to the same status as the Law. They began to be more concerned about looking holy than being holy. This is a great temptation for anyone who serves God or who is faithful in church. In contrast to this, Jesus exalts the one who serves without recognition. Calvin describes the symptoms of our day. So many church leaders today have exalted their own theories and traditions that the Word of God has become degraded to a secondary place- even lost. There is little done to inspire people to read the scriptures, because so many theories degrade it to exalt their own ideas or even to sell books (or gain PhD.s) for the writers. So there is rampant biblical illiteracy in our society compared to previous years. One thing that distinguished America from Europe in times past was the amount of biblical illiteracy and scripture memory. So many have fallen away because of the hypocrisy, the ridiculous debates, and the self-exaltation of leaders in the church. But as Calvin points out, these are not reasons but excuses to turn away from the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.

Prayer: Keep us faithful to you, O Lord, though all around us fall away. Help us not to exalt ourselves, but you alone. You alone are worthy of our worship, our time, our lives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2/10/2010 Luke 12:49-56 Christ May Divide or Unite Families

(Cain and Abel Titian 1542-44 Venice)
2/10- Lk. 12:49-56 (PP. Mt 10:34-36)

49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." 54 He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?

Calvin abridged: We cannot confess Christ without encountering the resistance and hatred of many. The prophets foretold peace under the reign of the messiah. Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14) with God and with each other. The peace the prophets describe is associated with faith, and has no existence but among the sincere worshippers of God. Christ was exhorting his followers to persevere though a good part of the world be at variance against them. Ministers are sent to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers (Mal 4:6,7). But the wicked break up the ties of this relationship. When Micah deplores that “one’s enemies are those of their own house” (Micah 7:6) it is a terrible and outrageous thing. Every lawful bond of union is confirmed by unity of faith: only Christ forewarns that when this does not happen, they should not be ashamed.

Thoughts: Ideally families are united around Christ who is the perfect bond. But sometimes belief in Christ can be a barrier. I can remember some extended family members at a family reunion calling my parents “goody-two-shoes” because of their dedication to their church. Christ is a stumbling block a barrier for some in their relationship to others. Some feel guilty or second class in the presence of those who are trying to follow Christ. Yet, the strongest Christian recognizes we are saved not because we are better, but solely because of God’s grace. Families may be really united in Christ, or divided over him, but rarely in between.

Prayer: May my heart be true to you, O Lord, and may my family and extended family know you deeply.

2/9/10 Mark 12:38-40 Religion is not for Show

(Pharisees and Jesus- Bower Bible in Bolton Museum in England)
2/9- Mk. 12:38-40 (PP. Lk. 20:45-47)

38 As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."

Calvin abridged: In order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the people, the scribes carried the commandments of God magnificently inscribed on their garments. But by making perfect righteousness consist in the clothes they wore, they despised the Law of God in their everyday life. How can one treat the Law of God with worse contempt that by imagining that they kept it by pompous dress or thinking that wearing a play-mask was keeping the Law. While long robes are common in Eastern countries today, the scribes wore the robes similar to the prophets (Zech 13:4). The purpose of their robes was to be simple and modest, but some today wear robes to show their power and tyranny over the people. The scribes sought the first places and first seats to exalt themselves above other people, more than to enjoy the favor of God.

Thoughts: Niebuhr said that human pride was the root of all sin. Pride manifests itself worst in religious politics- when people jockey to exalt themselves- perhaps in the name of exalting their point of view. John Leith used to say that the more colorful our robes and stoles became the more we moved away from the Word of God. When he said this I thought he was out in left field. Today, there is such an emphasis on informality in worship that we might say the more we emphasize entertainment and applause in worship, the more we move away from the Word of God. I have heard many preachers who not only get an “amen” (which I might welcome every blue moon) but people applaud their words in their sermons, and expect applause for the choir or praise band. Clapping out of joy is one thing- or even to clap to the glory of God- but applauding for a good job is another. It is hard to distinguish between the two. The point is, true religion does not try to please people- but tries to please God. There is no place for being fake or wearing masks in religion- where God sees all. Fake smiles- saying “I’m happy, happy, happy all the time” can be a similar thing. Real "Hypocrisy" means to wear a mask (like the Greek actors did) to hide who we really are.

Prayer: Lord, we cannot hide our sin or our sadness from you. Help us to see there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. Help my faith to be sincere and true to you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

2/8/10 Matthew 15:10-20 Holiness is not food but the Heart

2/8- Matthew 15:10-20

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11 What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what defiles you." 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" 13 He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." 15 Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." 16 "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. 17 "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile you; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile you."

Calvin abridged: Paul also teaches that the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink (Rom. 14:17). Outward things by nature are pure, the use of them is free and pure, and uncleanness is not contracted from the good creatures of God. Jesus did not try to pacify the offense of the Pharisees, but he actually inflamed them all the more. He told his disciples that they should not marvel that the reprobate oppose the doctrine of salvation- for they are on their way to their doom. But good people should not be distressed or entertain less reverence for the faith, even though to many it may lead to death. It is a mistake to say that this passage indicates that all human inventions and everything that does not proceed from God’s mouth, should be rooted up and perish. Christ sets them aside as unworthy of notice. So there is a distinction between offending the weak and offending those who are obstinate and malicious- for Christ is the stone of offense (1 Pt 2:8).

Thoughts: Jesus was not worried about offending the Pharisees even though his willingness to offend those who were wrong-but-in- power eventually led to his death. Today we live in a world in which we are afraid of offending anyone. Politicians and cabinet members are threatened with removal from office for using words that in the past were the common way of speaking of others (“retarded” or “negro”) but now are deemed offensive. Ironically, our society is against labeling but cannot find a way out of it. We keep switching labels of people and things (so the “Presbyterian Home” is now “Presbyterian Communities”- because we don’t want to say it is an “old folk’s home”). Some people live to be slighted and angry. Ironically, Jesus seemed to indicate there are those who should be offended. Jesus’ idea of holiness is not with the outward things (or labels) but with the heart. What comes out of the mouth is an indication of what is deep in the heart. There is always a natural tendency to value the outside and forget the inside. So we value the beautiful, and fashion (but the devil can wear prada), and the physically strong and rich. Such things are not evil- but gifts of God, but they are secondary to a beautiful heart and even holy and loving words.

Prayer: Lord, let my heart be kind and tender, and may my words reflect your love in my heart.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

2/7/10 Ecclesiastes 3:4, Mathew 11:18,19 The Laughing Jesus

2/7- “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."(Mt 11).

Today is Superbowl Sunday. There are some who will not watch it, because they do not want to be polluted by the evils and extravagance of our culture. No one has to watch it. I don’t know that it will enhance anyone’s spiritual life (despite Tim Tebow’s ad- and by the way- a similar thing happened to our son- we were told to abort him by the experts because he might be downes’ syndrome). Yet, the superbowl itself is harmless, as long as we take it for what it is- just entertainment- a game. I have some liberal friends who wince at the violence of football. I have some puritan friends who will not watch it because there is more serious and pressing issues in the world- children dying in Haiti, children kidnapped in Uganda- how can we possibly waste our time? There are parts of the Superbowl and our entertainment-oriented culture that disgust me. I would think the charitable workers who are sacrificing so much in Haiti or the Sudan or the missionaries should be more celebrities than these 350 pound mammoths. But then again… there is a time to laugh… there is a time to dance. Is there not? Life is a gift from God to be enjoyed. This is the day the Lord has made- let us rejoice and be glad in it. Jesus only had three short years of ministry. How could he take any of it out to attend a wedding? Why didn’t he produce bread for the hungry- when there were starving people in the world- why did he have to make wine? Don’t people lose jobs, families, sanity over wine? Still he did. In some ways we are more pharisaical than the Pharisees- for they didn’t complain about that. Wouldn’t he have been more effective by eating and drinking with the rich and famous of his day than the sinners and tax collectors? John Calvin wrote a lot, was sick a lot, but still found time to sail his boat on Lake Geneva- on a Sunday. One of my favorite pictures is the laughing Jesus (which I first saw in a persecuted Cuban Presbyterian Church). Take time to laugh- even though there is much to cry about. Take time to dance even though there is much to mourn over. I think the Spirit gives joy- laughter- and even inspired David to dance- maybe the Superbowl Shuffle?

Prayer: This is the day you have made, O Lord. Help me to rejoice and be glad in it. Give me grace to dance and laugh a little.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2/6/10- Matthew 9:11,12; 11:16-19 Jesus and Parties

2/6- Mt 9:11,12; 11:16-19

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 11:16"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17" 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.' 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

Calvin abridged: The scribes attacked Christ for eating and drinking with the unworthy. But if the one you detest appears to be unworthy of the grace of Christ, why was Christ made a sacrifice and a curse- except that he stretches out his hand to detestable sinners? Now if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with the vile, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us- then we ought to look deep into ourselves, and to search out our own evils without flattery. Such an examination will make us willing to allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure people. Looking at our own faults will keep us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation he offers to the lost.

Thoughts: Jesus ate and drank with sinners. He rubbed elbows with them. He did not retreat from them in fear that they might pollute him, rather he purposefully infiltrated their ranks so that his salt might get out of the saltshaker and his light might not be hidden under a bushel! Yet, in the end, he, not the retreating-from-sin-Pharisees, was judged as the sinless one. In the end, sin is found in the monastery and the convent. There is a time to run away from it (a la Joseph and his master’s wife). There is a time for worship in which we leave the sinful world behind. But Jesus risked being called a glutton and a partier to reach out to others. Jesus was accused of not fasting- but he did fast (Mt 4, 6), just not all the time- and not for show. Jesus was not the bitter or “pale Galilean” (Swineburn), but someone who ate and drank, enjoyed life and people. He had a great balance- which we ought to imitate; a balance of being with people but not giving into the ways of the world. He was with sinners but showed it was possible to resist sin. He was with drunkards without getting drunk. In fact, he healed those caught in the spiral of worldliness- healing the sex consumed woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene’s demons, and Zacchaeus’ greed- going to his house. He touched the leper in order to heal him when others were running away. Jesus came to eat and drink with sinners, because if he didn’t eat with sinners, he would have eaten alone- for we all sin. Tomorrow is the Superbowl, a chance to eat chips and drink a softdrink (or even a beer) with those neighbors we may not see in church. It is always easier to be around church folk, and it is important to have fellowship with them. But we should also look for opportunities to be salt and light in a flavorless world.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for leaving the perfection of heaven to come down to earth for me. Help me to respond and gratitude by living out your gospel before others.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2/5/10 Matthew 15:1-9 Additions to the Word of God

2/5- Matthew 15:1-9

1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" 3 Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,' 6 they are not to 'honor their father or mother' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'

Calvin abridged: People are perpetually contriving new modes of worship, and when anyone wishes to be thought wiser than others, they display their ingenuity on the subject. God has laid down the manner in which he desires us to worship him, yet we add things to worship on every opportunity. Those in authority over such things in the church think they have a perfection above God’s Word. Then they demand rigid adherence to their additions. This is an example of the world’s rebellion against God’s yoke. When the inventions of humans in worship are highly exalted the majesty of the law is lowered. Our Lord did not forbid washings (as he allowed the washing pots at Cana), but these Pharisees made this secondary law essential. Christ answers them with two points: 1) They relied on outward ceremonies alone and set no value on true holiness. 2) They are concerned with the commandments of people but they ignore the commandment of God. It would not be wrong to honor God with our lips if our hearts were right first, but their lips did not reflect their spiritual worship.

Thoughts: The Reformation was about cutting through the layers and layers of traditions of scholars (which had gained the same authority as scripture) to get back to the Bible alone. The watchwords of the Reformation were grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone and the priesthood of all believers. Today, the ancestors of the Reformation are in danger of letting the scholars steal the meaning and interpretation of scripture from the common person. Today scholars take the common sense interpretation of the scriptures away. I have heard scholars say that Judas was good, that the Pharisees whom Jesus called whitewashed walls or a brood of vipers and who plotted to kill Jesus were as a group Jesus’ friends. Such interpretations tends to confuse the laity and put scholars on a pedestal (for who but a brilliant person could reach the unbelievable conclusion that Judas was good?). There is a wonderful place for scholarship, but it is not to make it harder to interpret scripture by the common person, but easier. Too many Christian scholars are so skeptical of the basic meaning of scripture or the authority of scripture that they add confusion. I heard one Calvin scholar advocate that we need to listen more to the experts of seminary to interpret scripture for the plain meanings of scripture were just too complex for the common person. This is pharisaical nonsense that takes away from the ideas of scripture alone and the priesthood of all believers. There is a tendency, even among scholars, to rebel against God’s Word. This tendency can also be among non-scholars- but a tendency toward unbelief is especially deadly among scholars.

Prayer: Open my eyes to your pure Word, O Lord. Help me to hear your word freely, and apart from those who would have me listen to them rather than you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2/4/10 Luke 11:13-23 Opposing Jesus

2/4- Luke 11:13-23 (pp. Mt 12:25-32; Mk 3:23-30)

13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" 14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, "By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. 17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. 23 "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Calvin abridged: Christ rebuked them with great severity because he saw their inward malice. To refute the charge against him, he first quotes a common proverb. It was absurd for the scribes to maintain that the devil, who tries by every method to make people his slaves, should destroy the power which he possessed over them. “By whom do your children cast them out?” refers to Jewish exorcists (cf. Acts 19:19). God often testified of his presence to his chosen people by miracles. Christ delivers them from physical bondage to the strong powers of evil as a symbol that he has come to rescue their souls. “He that is not with me is against me” Those who oppose him and his work are his enemies. “Whoever does not gather with me scatters” speaks against those whose half-hearted belief tends to slow down and ruin the kingdom of God, which all of us are called to advance.

Thoughts: Jesus was showing he knows how to give good gifts- driving out evil from them physically and spiritually. Jesus defends himself from those who say he uses evil powers to drive out evil powers. He ends his dialogue by talking about how we oppose Christ. Some oppose Christ actively as they did, accusing him of being evil. Some oppose Christ passively by leaving him out- not being “with him.” In our tolerant society- we assume everyone is or will be “with Jesus” even those who actively oppose him calling him and his works evil. Some just assume everyone deserves to go to heaven and God is forced to bless them even if they curse him. Jesus actually speaks of those who are not “with him” meaning- not following him- or not on his side. This sounds so narrow. In our culture we want everyone on the team- even those who don’t want to be on the team; even those who don’t want to listen to the coach; even those who aren’t interested in trying to play.  But Christ does not force himself against those who do not want him.  Those who aren’t on Jesus’ team (or those on another team)- they are against him. These are not my words, but his. The last part of this verse: “whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This refers to those who are on Jesus’ side, but who do not do what he says. They perhaps profess faith, but are perhaps ashamed of their faith. Jesus indicates that they work against him in that being a “half Christian” takes away from the faith. Those who “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk” not only don’t further the kingdom, they deplete the kingdom. In our day this is all too common.

Prayer: Lord, we want to be on your side. Protect us from evil, hurt, and harm. Keep us in your great care.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2/3/10 Matthew 12:22-37 Blasphemy of the Spirit

(Julius Schnorr- 1860 Germany Healing of the Blind-mute)
2/3- Matthew 12:22-37 (pp/ Mk 3:20-22; Lk 11:14-15)

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions without first tying up the strong man? Then his house can be plundered. 30 "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy. But blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in them, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in them. 36 But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Calvin abridged: The people were astonished of his healing of the deaf-mute as it was a visible display of the power of God. A diabolical venom must have seized the minds of the scribes who were not ashamed to slander such a remarkable work of God . The miracle led them to wonder about faith in Christ. The scribes have to admit the miracle occurred, but they obscure the praise of the miracle by turning it into a reproach. The work that was supernatural, was ascribed to the devil.

Thoughts: Jesus wanted the leaders to believe, but they would not even believe when they acknowledged a real miracle had occurred. Even today, when something good happens the media finds a way to make it look bad. I have seen the same thing when people do not want to acknowledge their rival’s success. Democrats refuse to acknowledge anything good from the Republicans and Republicans refuse to acknowledge anything good from the Democrats. But it is not just the inability to distinguish good from evil, or acknowledge anything good that is going on here. But there is a hardness of heart to not allow the Spirit to do his work. The blasphemy of the Spirit is the unforgivable sin- and it is basically a hardness of heart- not allowing the Spirit in.

Prayer: Lord, keep me from hardening my heart to you. Do not let my blindness and stubbornness cause me to forsake you. Instead come into my life, and give me a heart of flesh for my heart of stone.

2/2/10 Mark 3:20-30 Jesus is crazy?

(Left worship area for Wicca at Air Foce Academy-Pravda picture)
2/2- Mark 3:20-30

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." 23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: "How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man's house. 28 Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins and all the blasphemies they utter. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin." 30 He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."

Calvin abridged: Mark skips a long period of time when he passes from the miracles to that wicked conspiracy which the relatives of Christ formed with each other- to bind him as if he were a madman. It is unusual that such wickedness should be found among Christ’s relatives who should have been the first to help him. When Christ gains a following later, they actually encourage him to go to Jerusalem so that people could see his work and admire him (Jn 7:3,4). But now they see that some of the rulers despise him, many others slander him, and a great many people do not like what he is saying. So they, in order to protect the reputation of their whole family, they seek to bind him. Here we see how great the human mind is blinded by the judgments it forms when the glory of God displayed. Since Christ’s work does not please the world, we should not be surprised at the world’s resentment to it. We also should learn from this that the light of faith does not come from our own flesh and blood- but solely from Christ’s grace.

Thoughts: I still remember the reporter on NPR last year who inferred that President Bush was a little crazy to believe that God “called him” to be president (though just about every other president- including Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan, and yes- Obama believes God led them into office). To the world, to think that there is an invisible God who interacts with (much less cares about) people is just crazy. The world believes only in what can be duplicated, in what is probable, in what occurs over and over and they experience with their senses. Basically, if it is not usual, if we cannot see or touch it at will, then we think someone is crazy who believes. Jesus not only believed a little bit. For him the spiritual reality was seen so clearly, and the rest of us were blinded and doubted it. Because he believed so strongly, some thought he was crazy or possessed by the devil. But in reality, to think that all around us is created solely by chance, to call the clear answers to pray coincidences, to ruin our lives and those around us with self-centeredness, to deny a miracle witnessed to by thousands- or even millions (like the resurrection)-because we can’t see it today or duplicate it with our own silly abilities- then we are a little crazy. To shut our ears and eyes to God’s presence and love shows that we are under the influence of evil. To call what is good and moral evil and to call what is evil good shows that we are blinded. For example, yesterday the American armed forces voted to have a worship area (at the Air Force Academy) dedicated to wicca and to druid worship (in the name of freedom) as it this is a good thing. To say that the act of homosexuality is healthy and good and would not distract from our armed forces, is another example. It should be clear from diseases contracted by homosexuality, and simply from the fact that the practice of homosexuality does not fit in with creation physically or produce children that it is wrong. But we insist in our culture that because some people practice something, it is therefore right no matter what the Bible (in Old and New Testaments- Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-28) or even what almost every other culture says. If everyone was immoral, would that make the moral people crazy? In Jesus day this happened. In our own day it is happening as well.  Truth is, Jesus is the sane one and sanity and what is normal is defined by creation and by Him.

Prayer: Though the world disagrees with what you have said, help me to stay faithful to you. If the “normal” of the world is evil, then keep me, Lord, from wanting to be normal. Help me to see that I am called to be sensitive to all, but I am created and re-created to please only you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

2/1/10 Luke 13:10-17 You deserve a Break today!

(Ox in the ditch- Lk 14:15)
2/1/10- Luke 13:10-17

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." 15 The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Calvin Abridged: Here Jesus cures a woman but the Jews maligned him because it was on the Sabbath. The woman had an unusual disease that bent her nerves and was spiritual in nature. The Lord, from whom alone all our blessings flow, makes his glory to shine with peculiar brightness in those blessings which are more remarkable and rare. “Woman you are set free”- Christ shows his purpose in granting relief to the wretched and that he had authority to deliver. “She praised God” because the glory was clearly His, and this makes the synagogue ruler’s comments that much more foolish. 14- “There are six days”- Here the ruler does not directly attack Christ but indirectly condemns him to the crowd. He asks them to come for healing on the other six days as if the power of God goes to sleep on the Sabbath! But when believers assemble for worship they are given the opportunity to ask for Divine assistance. This hypocrite spoke as if the lawful observance of the Sabbath would interrupt God’s favor, hinder people from calling on Him, and take away all feelings of God’s kindness. Christ answers (15) that if it is lawful to be humane to cattle, should we not be kind to the children of God? If they loose the chains of their cattle for water, could he not lawfully loose the chains of Satan who bound her? Christ never performed any work, however great, in which the wicked did not find something wrong. Satan also was at work (then and now) clouding the glory of Christ so that the actions of holy believers are not seen.

Thoughts: Jesus healed on the Sabbath at least seven times. It almost appears he was picking a fight, but he was really trying to make a point. He says that the Sabbath is for doing good not harm (Mk 3:4). He says the Sabbath is a blessing for people (Mk 2:27). He had previously noted that sheep are taken out of harm’s way on the Sabbath (Mt 12:11). This was one of Jesus favorite analogies, and chastised those who would value their animals ahead of human beings.  Jesus saw himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (the one who instituted and ruled over it- Mk 2:27) . Jesus was not eliminating the Sabbath, but redefining it. He regularly was in worship (Lk. 4:16) but allowed for deeds that would truly help people (like eating and healing). In our day in which we overvalue work and the things work does for us (money, houses, things), and overextend ourselves, we need a balance of a day of rest. But we must recognize the day of rest is not a day of torture but a day of help and to help. We live in a stressed out society in which depression is epidemic. We are like plants in a drought without any roots. We need to let our roots go down deep into the eternal help of Christ and find our strength and rest in Him. Taking time for Him on the Sabbath is one way to do that. Jesus is interested more in our healing than our rules. The Sabbath is for healing. It is a way to get a break and put on the brakes for what is really important.

Prayer: In our over-worked but under-employed world, help us, O Lord, to find our rest in you. Thank you for helping us in life by granting us healing and rest.