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Monday, May 31, 2010

5/31/10- Memorial Day- God and Country

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn't we?" But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:13-17)

(Coin with Caesar's inscription)

John Calvin abridged: Jesus lays down a clear distinction between spiritual and civil government, in order to teach us that outward subjection does not prevent us from having a free conscience in the sight of God.  Christ refutes those who thought they would not be the people of God unless they were free from every yoke of human authority (cf. Rom. 13:7).  Christ indicated that there was no violation of God's authority for the Jews to obey the Romans.
He also appears to be concerned about their hypocrisy that they carelessly permitted the service of God to become corrupt and took away God's authority but were overly worried about a trivial matter.  Christ draws a distinction between the political (rendering to Caesar) and the spiritual (rendering to God).  The Lord wishes to be the only Lawgiver for the governing of souls, but the power of the sword, legislation, and the courts do not hinder the worship of God from remaining among us. 
    We might also say that this teaching implies that every person, according to their calling, ought to perform the duty they owe others.  So children should submit willingly to their parents; employees to their employers; that they ought to be courteous adn obliging toward each other.  Those who destroy political order are rebelling against God; so obedience to the government is always joined to the worship and fear of God; but if on the other hand the government claim any authority of God, we ought not to obey them any further than can be done without offending God.

Thoughts: Memorial Day is a great day to think about the role of God and country.  They should normally compliment and not contradict each other- though they do not necessarily have to merge together.  For most Christians, the goal is not a theocracy (as many suppose- overreacting), but a role in which the state allows freedom for other religions but recognizes the virtue and that the majority of the population practices the Christian faith. We do not want an anti-Christian stance, but neither do we necessarily want a theocracy (the idea of a state sponosred religion has deteriorated to almost meaninglessness in most of Europe).  Christians would love to be able to pray freely, speak freely, share their faith freely without feeling persecuted by others.  On the other hand, the great majority of Christians would condemn those who would threaten radical arms against our country (like the Hutaree group in Michigan who were arrested March 30 for a plot against police).  Most Christians believe that if we allow Christianity to have equal footing it will shine forth as the most meaningful, thoughtful, caring way of life.  Calvin rightly said there is a role for governement and we ought not rebel against it unless it is telling us to not worship God.  We should respect those in authority over us and not be so rebellious.  For, in most cases, to rebel against those over us means rebelling against God- just as those who do not honor their father and mother are breaking God's commandment.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the freedom we have- and for those who sacrificed that we might have it.  Bless the men and women in the armed forces in Afghanistan who would help us preserve our freedom. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

5/30/10- Mark 1:9-11 The Trinity of Love

MARK 1:9-11: 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

(Baptism of Christ Salvator Rosa)

John Calvin:  A loud verse was heard that his majesty might be more impressive.  The public appearance of Christ, to begin the office of Mediator was accompanied by this announcement, so that we too may know we are adopted and boldly call God Father. The title of "Son" belongs truly and naturally to Christ alone, but he was declared to be the Son of God in human flesh, so that we may also obtain this blessing of calling God Father.  So when God presents Christ as Mediator accompanied by the title "Son" he indicates that He is the Father of us all (Eph. 4:6)

Thoughts: On this Trinity Sunday, this verse is a great meditation.  For the three persons of the godhead were all present at once- the Father's voice, the Son in the water, and the Spirit descending like a dove.  The voice from heaven indicates the great love the Father has for the Son.  The Trinity is a threefold power of love mixed with truth.  I love my son.  But there are times when I do things to alienate my son, and my son does things to alienate himself from me.  But Jesus does nothing to alienate himself from God- He is sinless. The Father does nothing to alienate himself form the Son.  Jonathan Edwards spoke of the Holy Spirit as the eternal love that flows between the Father and the Son.  In a world that often does not believe in true love- God shows us in his very essence that He is love.  In a world that has a tendency toward alienation, isolation, separation- God shows us reconciliation, unity, and true love.  There have been human trinities- but they all fail.  There was the first Roman triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Pompeii (and Crassus who died) in which they ended up in war. There was the second triumvirate that ended up in civil war between Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar.  Or in more modern history there was Churchill, FDR, and Stalin- that ended up in the cold war that could have destroyed the whole earth.  But God's trinity is the trinity of love- and sets the ultimate example of love for us. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

5/29/10- Sabbath Breaking

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" 25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."
27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:23-27)

Where is the idea of Sabbath today?  It is but a memory to some, forgotten by most, and confined to about an hour or two a week by the devout in America.  Sabbath means rest- and we are a restless society that does not acknowledge the God of time.  We think that our time is our own, instead of thinking it is a gift of God.  There is a happy medium between the Sabbath of three generations ago when people wouldn't wash dishes or go to a movie on Sundays, and today when the Sabbath has been obliterated.  I believe that one of the real reasons for the decline of the Church in America today is this total disobedience of Sabbath.  We will not stop for God- or anyone else.  The Recession has not even made us rethink our ways about the Sabbath.  In the passage above Jesus loosens up the concept of Sabbath.  The Westminster Confession talks about allowing deeds of necessity (like eating grain) and mercy (like visiting and caring for others) on the Sabbath. 

Prayer: Help me, Lord, take the Sabbath seriously. Help me to acknowledge that my days on this earth are a gift from you, and to give back a day to you.  Help me to find my peace, my rest in you.

John Calvin abridged: The keeping of the Sabbath is a holy thing, but not as they imagined- so that they couldn't lift a finger without their conscience trembling.  It was hypocrisy that made them exact about trifling things, but spared themselves in gross superstitions. There was no precept that famishing people should rather die than satisfy their hunger. The only reason for keeping the Sabbath was that we may sanctify ourselves and worship God truly; and that free from worldly occupations- we would be more able to gather together in our assemblies. They blamed Christ for remaining silent and allowing his disciples to gather grain. 

See article in NY Times about University study on Sabbath breaking and happiness: Note the Same study found a significant rise in alcohol and drug abuse/

Friday, May 28, 2010

5/28/10 Sorrow and Joy

18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" 19 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins." (Mark 2:18-22)

John Calvin abridged: Mark has both the pharisees and John's disciples speaking (whereas Luke has just the Pharisees and Matthew has just the disciples of John).  It appears that the Pharisees were trying to draw John's disciples to their way of thinking.  This example reminds us not to let wicked and cunning people cause divisions among us over nothing. It is Satan's delight for us to get distressed over a trifle.  We should especially beware lest the unity of faith and love be broken over outward ceremonies which are often given undue importance (Gal. 4:3; Coo. 2:8). Too often we are tempted to prefer the highest perfection of outward or worldly things. This is often followed by another evil arising out of pride- wanting to compel the whole world to copy our example.  If anything pleases us, we quickly want to make it a law that others may live according to our pleasure.
     Christ compares himself to a bridegroom.  He points out that prayers and fastings may relate to sadness.  Two lessons can be learned: 1) We have no right to murmur. 2) We need to rejoice- but recognize that joy does not last forever.  Christ compares his tender and weak disciples to old bottles and torn garments needing gentle care.  Everyone must not be forced to live in the same way, for there is diversity of character, and all things are not suitable for all.  Particularly, we ought to spare the weak that they may not be broken by violence or crushed by the weight of the burden.

Thoughts: Calvin thought the essence of this passage is that we should be sensitive and kind to each other.  Most would probably say the essence lies in how does new teaching mingle with old.  New wine should be put in new wineskins lest they burst.  That is the Holy Spirit needs to change us so we can receive God's teaching.  Another point is that religion is not all about being dour and sour- obeying rule upon rule.  There is a place to rejoice.  Jesus enjoyed a party- he ate and drank at Levi's house, for example.  God gives us joy in life- but we just shouldn't get drunk on the joy (or the wine).  But there is a time to rejoice and a time to weep (Eccles. 3). John's disciples focused on repentance, but there is more to life than repentance and escaping sin.   The Christian life is a mixture of both sorrow over sin and joy in the Lord (life in general is a mixture of sorrow and joy).  There was the sorrow of the cross and the joy of the resurrection for Jesus and his followers.

Prayer: Lord, in my weeping time, be near me. In my time of rejoicing, fill me with joy.  Let me not be afraid of the joys and sadness of life, but embrace them with you. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

5/27/10- Mark 2:13-17 Hanging around Sinners

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:13-17)

John Calvin abridged: We are reminded that the grace of Christ does not help us unless when we are conscious of our sins and groaning under their load, we come to Him with humility.  There is encouragement here that Christ will not reject sinners.  He calls those for whom he descended from his heavenly glory.  Yet, we must also be careful to repent.  For we are not pardoned in order to cherish our sins, but to live a devout and holy life.  He reconciles us to the Father with the condition that being redeemed by his blood we may present ourselves true sacrifices. 

(Ancient icon of Matthew)

Thoughts: It is perhaps, a lot more comfortable for Christians to seek fellowship with other like-minded Christians than to rub elbows with the "sinners."  But our Lord, whom we follow, gave us an example of pursuing sinners.  He was much less concerned with his reputation than with caring for those who were spiritually hurting.  Too often we are like the lifeguard who will not jump into the water to save someone.  We are like the salt (of the world) that gets stuck in the salt shaker.  Jesus jumped into this world with both feet.  He was fearless- and his love for God overcame his fear of others. 
     In this political primary season- candidates get criticized no matter what they say or do.  I do not envy the public servants of our day.  We gossip without restraint- and have not learned to control our blogs (as if God doesn't care about blogs- but only talk).  For the politicians who are really trying to help us all- remember Jesus- who was publically criticized so much.  But also remember Jesus really tried to please God first.  It is not the people whom we are called to please- it is the people whom we are called to help with God's grace and strength.

Prayer: Help me, as a sinner, Lord, to always welcome you to my house.  Help me as a follower, Lord, to follow you into the places where people need to be rescued.  But keep me from losing my integrity and faith as I go.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

5/27/10- Mark 2:6-12 Jesus Forgives

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the man, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:6-12)

John Calvin abridged: Christ appears to promise something different to the paralytic than what he had requested.  But Christ begins by removing the cause of the disease and reminding the paralytic of the way he should arrange his prayers.  Most do not consider God's chastisement upon them- they only want comfort.  But God doesn't just want to treat the symptoms but the cause. It is true that God alone has power to forgive sins- but Christ is God in the flesh.  Jesus also brings proof of his divinity in reading their thoughts (vs. 8).

Jesus came to help us.  He came to help us physically- and so the lame man walked.  But he also came to help us spiritually.  So Christ offers forgiveness.  In our day everything is about physical healing as if forgiveness and guilt have nothing to do with our physical bodies- or even if it does, it is not very important.   Yet in the end, our souls-not our bodies last forever.  I have a hot water heater that messes up every now and then.  I go down there and set the reset button and it gets going again.  Forgiveness is pushing the reset button. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

5/25/10 Mark 2:1-5 Carrying our Friends to Jesus

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

John Calvin abridged: The glory of this miracle was very remarkable.  A man whose limbs were useless, lying on a bed, lowered by cords suddenly rises up in health, vigor, and agility.  The scribes were offended that Christ claimed to have the power and authority to forgive sins; while Christ intended to confirm that authority with a sign. "When Jesus saw their faith"- It is God alone, who knows faith. Their labor gave evidence of their faith. How much  benefit do people get from the faith of others?  Abraham's faith helped his posterity as his covenant was offered to him and his seed.  The grace of God is thus extended to believer's children's children even before they were born. The prayers for the salvation of unbelievers, and the indirect blessing of unbelievers can be given because of believers.  Yet, if the paralytic had no faith of his own, his sins would not have been forgiven. "Their" faith also includes the paralytic as well as those who carried him. 

Thoughts: Friends carry friends to Jesus.  If the friends had no faith, the paralytic would not have had the chance to walk or be forgiven.  Part of our duty is not just to be self-centered, but to look for those who need to be carried to Jesus, and pick up their cot and carry them. 

Prayer: Give me eyes to see and strength to do your work.  Help me to be a friend to the friendless and helpless and carry them to you, O Lord.  Help me to persevere in bringing others to you.

5/24/10 Jesus Blesses Marriage John 2:1-11

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4 "Woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:1-11)

Today I am celebrating my 30th anniversary with my wife.  At thirty years we can look back and see a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow.  I know that Jesus has helped us through some awfully tough times.  I also know that he has added to our joy.  Yesterday we gave our graduates portable labyrinths to remind them life is a journey with one way in and one way out.  Sometimes the wine runs out, and sometimes miraculously the water is turned to wine.  There are different seasons- a time for every purpose under heaven.  As scripture says "Two are better than one."  For me, marriage to Kay is my calling- my life- my joy. Jesus has turned 30 years that would have just been water - into thirty years of wine.  :)

Prayer: Lord, As you blessed the wedding at Cana, help me to honor the marriages of others. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

5/23/10- Prayer Early in the Morning

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" 38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
(Mark 1:32-39)

It is Pentecost- Time to remember the birthday of the Church- and the Spirit's coming

John Calvin: There maybe two reasons why Jesus did not permit the devils to speak (vs. 34): 1) Because the time of his full revelation had not yet come; and 2) that he refused to have as witnesses and herlads to his divinity those who would soil and injure his character. [Calvin encouraged prayer in the morning, at meals, and in the evening before bed]

One of my most used verses in the Bible is verse 35.  Jesus had stayed up after sunset- late- healing people. I am sure it was very wearing and stressful to Him.  Yet He still made time to get up and pray by himself before the next day.  In some ways this is why I write this blog fresh every morning- and why I would encourage people to read it.  The term "quiet time" is used to describe time alone with God.  The great news about computers and the internet is there are thousands of devotionals out there.  Basically I am writing my daily devotional and thoughts down for everyone to see.  My personal stuff and personal prayers are added to what you see.  David also said, "O Lord in the morning will I direct my prayer to you and will look up." I will never forget my first trip to Israel.  One of the most moving experiences ever in my life was getting up before sunrise at the Sea of Galilee and recalling this verse- seeing the same basic sunrise and landscape Jesus saw- and experiencing His presence anew.

Prayer: Help me, Lord to see the importance of praying to you- even in the midst of my busy-ness.  Give me grace to see that all time is yours and to seek you first in my day. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

5/22/10 Mark 1:21-31

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

John Calvin abridged: The devil's acknowledgement that Christ is "the Holy One of God" was given in order to arouse suspicion in peoples' minds that the devil and Christ were allied.  This happens in our own day, and is the reason Christ rebuked him. While he flatters Christ, he also withdraws from Christ. The devil cannot resist the power of Christ, so he would like to give Christ an empty title.  "They were astonished at his teaching" means that the power of the Spirit shone in the preaching of Christ so that even those who were irreligious and cold admired him.  His teaching was full of majesty and unlike that of other teachers.  Other teacher's doctrine was literal and dead- breathing nothing of the power of the Spirit.  Paul rightly says the kingdom of God is not in word but in power (1 Cor. 4:20). The title "Holy One of God" was probably in general use and given to distinguish the Messiah from all others as someone endued with grace and Head of the Church.  The devil came out of him violently but Luke indicates he did not hurt him. The people were compelled to acknowledge that there is in Christ something more than ordinary humanity.  They correctly race the glory and power of the miracle to his teaching.  The people call it a "new doctrine" not to deride it, but to point out this teaching is unusual and extraordinary.  Their only fault is that they remain in their state of hesitation instead of growing in faith.

Thought: The spiritual world is continually pointing out the divinity of Christ in Mark.  For example, the voice from heaven at the baptism and configuration as well as this demon.  Capernaum became Jesus' home (Mt. 4:13) and base of ministry.  He established his base first by driving out evil and sickness- so the people would see He has come in power to help them.  Today, too many see Christianity as basically a dead philosophy with no real power to help.  It is almost as if they turn away from the power of Christ because it scares them, or they simply do not want to believe in such a power.  Christ is not dead but alive.

Prayer: May your power live in me.  Cleanse me of evil and use me to further your work of cleansing this world of evil.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

5/21/10- Mark 1: 16-20 Calling of the Disciples

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

(Calling of the Disciples Domenico Ghirlandaio c. 1480)
John Calvin: "Sea of Galilee"- Luke calls it "the lake" some called it Gennesaret (Hebrew Chennasareth)- and the bank of the Sea was Tiberias.  Luke relates this calling after the miraculous catch of many fish at the listening of Jesus' request to cast their nets on the other side. The allusion which Christ made to fishing, when he spoke of the preaching of the Gospel, was appropriate because people stray and wander in the world, as in a great and troubled sea, until they are gathered by the Gospel. When Christ called them two things stood out- 1) the power of Christ's voice.  It is not that his voice alone is so powerful to our hearts that is as important as that if the Lord is pleased to lead and draw someone they are inwardly addressed by His Spirit, that they may obey his voice.  2) The disciples quick obedience show that they preferred the call of Christ to worldly affairs.  The ministers of the Word ought to be directed by this example to lay aside all other occupations and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church to which they are appointed. 
Thoughts: Jesus calls all of us to an eternal purpose- to be fishers of people.  In America we are so occupied with fishing for fish (earning money and spending it) that we have little room in our lives to fish for people, and it is so secondary that many perceive the Gospel of Christ really means little to us.  A recession could be the perfect opportunity for some to see how transient and fickle giving ourselves to this world is.  I know many who worked hard, but lost their jobs.  But losing our earthly jobs does not take away from our heavenly one- to care for people.  There are some in our culture who cannot elevate human beings as more important than fish.  Jesus draws a distinction that we should notice, and that makes sense. Luke's story of the calling (Luke 5) and miraculous catch shows that Jesus was Lord over fish and people, and calls us to care for people more.  I used to work for Dunlop Sports Company making golf balls and golf clubs.  We used to joke that some people spent their whole lives living and dying for a little white ball.  But it wasn't the ball as much as the money that was earned by it- both of which will not last. 

Prayer: O Lord, when your voice calls to me, give me grace to drop what I am doing and respond.  Help me not to clinch the world, but to be able to let go for you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

5/20/10 Mark 1:9-15 Baptism and beginning

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!"

(John the Baptist in the wilderness)

John Calvin: Here John could see something beyond the planets and stars.  The words in Mark can have no other meaning, he saw the heavens cleft asunder.  It is not important to know how this happened, as much as we recognize it was a symbol of the Divine Presence. John and Christ received some additional certainty about Christ's calling here.  The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus here as he began his public ministry now.  Isaiah 61:1 (The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor...) indicates that when he began to discharge his duties as Redeemer, the Spirit came in power- not just for himself but for all. Baptism is tied to the Gospel and so baptism began when Christ was preparing to preach the Gospel. The Spirit descended not as fire but as a dove- for Christ's ministry was mild and gentle (Isa. 42:2,3), so we may not fear to approach Christ.  How could John see the Spirit?  The Spirit is everywhere and did not descend in a literal sense. John did not see the essence of the Spirit but a manifestation of the Spirit.

The baptism of Christ was in order to please- well the Father.  So it is with our baptism.  Baptism is not a human ordinance, but a God-given sacrament.  After his anointing in the wilderness, he left John to be tempted in the wilderness.  The good news, is that even in this state of total isolation for forty days (as Moses), the angels attended him.  Christ has a tough row to hoe, and being tempted probably firmed up his resolve. Christ continued John's ministry when John himself could not continue it- as he was in prison.  It was clear to John that his ministry was not fruitless, for Jesus enhanced it. 

5/19/10 Mark 1:4-8 John the Baptist's Ministry

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: "After me comes the one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:4-8)

John Calvin abridged: All the gospels agree about the substance of John the Baptist.  "He who comes after me is stronger than I"- declares that Christ is far superior in power and rank than John. The main thing of his message is that Christ is the source of spiritual baptism, while John saw himself as only the minister of outward baptism. John does not baptize without authority, but his outward baptism takes nothing away from the power and glory of Christ. So we may infer that his intention is not to distinguish between his own baptism and that which Christ taught his disciples.  He does not contrast one invisible sign with another invisible sign. Rather, he compares the master to the servant and shows what is due to each one. John's baptism does not differ from our own (as some contend).  In this passage we are able to deduce what is done in baptism by human ministers, and what is done by the Son of God. The Son of God, the Holy Spirit and ministers are all involved in baptism, but all the honor goes to the  Lord and the minister must be reduced to nothing. Christ bestows all the grace that is symbolically represented in baptism: the death of the old man and regeneration of the Spirit- the washing of souls with his blood- all summed up in the words baptism of the Holy Spirit.

(John the Baptist points to Jesus)

Thoughts: The humility of John the Baptist is truly amazing!  In our day in which we seek to elevate the "self-esteem" of our children, and say things like- "If you don't elevate yourself no one else will" John's words remind us of our true place in life.  John was content with his role as the springboard for the messiah.  His message of repentance was heard because repentance without humility means nothing.  In our day, too many want to point to themselves when we should be pointing, humbly and in repentance, to God.  Yesterday the old familiar song of a person in power falling was sung again (Mark Souder). When the spotlight is turned toward us, the light shows all the dirt.  The light should go toward Jesus.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to have humility this day.  As I humble myself before you today, O Lord, I entrust myself to your care.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

5/18/10- John the Baptist the Beginner


1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" — 3 "a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "  (Mark 1:1-3)

John Calvin's abridged commentary: Mark begins his gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist, for here the Law and the Prophets come to an end (Jn. 1:17; Lk. 16:16).  He quotes from the last of the true and lawful prophets, Malachi (3:1 and 4:5).  In order to inflame the minds of his people with a stronger desire for salvation, the Lord determined to leave them, for a time, without new prophecies. This passage (Malachi 3:1) specifically describes John the Baptist for he drew a distinction between the Law and the new order of the Church. The Lord promises in Malachi (3:1 and 4:5) a better condition for his Church than existed under the Law, and the unquestioned beginning of the Gospel.  But before the Lord came to restore the Church a forerunner or herald was to come, and announce that he was close by.  So the law ended and the Gospel began (strictly speaking) when John began to preach.

(Judean wilderness- aerial view-

Thoughts: God pops out in the most surprising places.  The wilderness (eremo in Greek) is a desolate, abandoned, isolated place. The wilderness in southern Judea where John preached was basically a semi-desert.  Surprisingly, it was in this desert of sand that John washed people.  It is often when we are thirsty that we begin to look for what quenches that eternal thirst.  When we are dry, isolated, alone- and all the things that distract us are wiped away by the sands of life- that we can hear a voice. There are not many other sounds in a desert.  This is often the time God comes to us.  Today there are so many distractions (TV, internet, email, spam, all kinds of sports and entertainment, things that may numb us to reality).  But when trouble-our wilderness- comes, we begin to look for the good news (the Gospel).  When oil spills, terrorist threats, war, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, family troubles come- if you sit up and listen you may hear God's voice speaking through the Holy Spirit speaking through scripture to us- with good news.

Prayer: Today, Lord, may I find in my wilderness your hope, your strength.

Monday, May 17, 2010

5/17/10- Against Us and For Us Mark 9:40; Matthew 12:30

"for whoever is not against us is for us." (Mark 9:40)

"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." (Matthew 12:30)

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

At first glance, these verses seem a bit contradictory.  Many just brush them off as contradictory and do not wrestle with the text and nuances of meaning. 

The first passage in Mark Has a context of someone driving out evil spirits in Jesus' name.  The disciples implied they wanted to stop them from doing so.  But Jesus was more concerned about the person being helped than he was that all of their beliefs were perfect.  In this context Jesus wants to recognize that when people are helped in his name- even if it is done with wrong motives, it is still a part of the influence of the kingdom. So a cup of cold water given to his follower will be rewarded (9:41).  Helping others in his name and helping Christ's people is seen as a good thing. In effect, these people were helping Christ in his work, even though they did not fully understand that. 

The Matthew context is different. Jesus had helped someone- driven out a demon- and his critics said he was doing this by the devil.  Jesus repled that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  He also talked about the unforgivable sin being blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (12:31), and that by their fruits you shall know them.  In effect these folks were calling the good work of Christ evil.

The common denominator in both passages is helping people.  Those who help others- even with wrong motives because of Jesus are "with" him- doing the work of his kingdom.  Those who criticize helping others- or criticize Christ- even if their theology is mainly right- are against his kingdom.  There is an old song that asks, "Who is On the Lord's Side?"  The next line is "Who will serve the King?"  Part of being with Christ is serving him- doing his work.  Indeed, it is as Marj Carpenter said, "Mission, Mission, Mission!"
Paul later adds his doxology- "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  This basically affirms that no one will be able to stand up against God's power and might in the end.  It is simply a reminder that God and one are a majority.  It is a reminder that if we seek to be on the Lord's side, in his service, then we will win the day.

Prayer: Lord, give us grace to be on your side, with your mission, in your service. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

5/16/10- John 8:1-11

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

There is so much here.  Christ does not condemn here though some religious people do.  He gives this lady a second chance.  Yet, he also acknowledged adultery was wrong and she was caught in adultery.  He said,  "Go and sin no more."  He thus called adultery a sin, and that it was possible for her to escape it.  He saved her life, and he wanted to save her soul.  Similarly, he did not alienate the woman at the well, but sought to talk to her (Jn. 4), show her love, and lead her and those around her to God.  Sometimes Jesus told demoniacs after he exorcised them to be careful lest seven other devils take their place.  He would tell those whom he healed to go and not sin again.  Jesus was for helping people, but he also was for our straightening our lives out.  

Prayer:  Thank you for your grace, and your giving me another chance this day, Lord.  Help me to live it for you. 

5/15/10- Matthew 19:3-12 Jesus and Marriage

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
10 The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
11 Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others have been made eunuchs; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

In Jesus' day there were two schools of thought about divorce (both interpreting Deut. 24:1-4 differently).  One was the school of Rabbi Hillel who said that divorce was allowed for any reason (even a burned dinner).  The other school was Rabbi Shammai who said that divorce was only permissible basically for sexual immorality.  Jesus saw marriage as a means to protect women and men, and that there was a special spiritual bond in marriage (becoming one) that should not be separated except for rare occasions. Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:27-28) that "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  Jesus also saw adultery (sexual immorality after marriage) and fornication (sexual immorality before marriage) as the things that come from within and defile a person (Mk. 7:18-23).  Jesus' first miracle was turning the water to wine- a way of not just upholding marriage, but giving his blessing to it- even though Jesus was not married. 
Yet Jesus did not totally rule out divorce.  Divorce was clearly not "for any and every reason."  Divorce for Jesus was not best, but it was a condescension to human sin. In Mark 10, Jesus was asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus' response was "what did Moses say?"  Moses allowed for it. 
There are some Christians today who, I believe, overreact by acting as if divorce is the unforgivable sin. There is one instance where Paul says to "expel the immoral brother" (who was in an ongoing incestuous relationship).  But they were not expelled because of divorce itself- there is no instance of scripture that says we should excommunicate the divorced- even those who are divorced for suspect reasons.
 But on the other hand, divorce is more prominent today in America than any other culture.  It is brought on in part by drug use (16% give this as a reason for divorce), and by adultery (17% give this as a reason for divorce).  The most common reason (57%) given is just "incompatability."  Incompatability is almost the same as "any and every reason."  America has gone from a country that led the world in committment and faithfulness in marriage in 1960 to leading the world in divorce. Divorce has increased 150% since 1960.  In reaction, many refuse to get married until later in life (the average marrying age is higher now than it has ever been in our history- 27- the historical average is 22).  Yet 90% of our children want to get married when they grow up- and 90% will end up getting married.  Marriage has been watered down, but it is still an ideal.  The idea of eternal committed love is still around.  We all know couples who stay married 50 or 60 years and grow old together, and whose families stay around them.  Most would agree that these folks have avoided more heartache than those who go through divorce.  Almost all who get married do not intend to get divorced.  It appears to me we need to have more patience, more forgiveness, and more grace in marriage.  But it also appears that the Church should not condemn or excommunicate those who have gone through the terrible heartache of divorce.  Jesus reached out to the woman at the well who was remarried many times and was now cohabiting with someone. He did not condemn the woman who was to be stoned for adultery- but rescued her and then said, "God and leave your life of sin" (Jn. 8).
Prayer: Lord, help me to love my neighbor as myself.  Thank you for your example of upholding marriage even though you were not married.  Give me grace to be gracious toward those who are hurting.

(Statistics from U.S. Census Bureau and Alan F. Wisdom's study on

Friday, May 14, 2010

5/14/10- The Heart of the Matter

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15-16 Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you." 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? 19 For it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: "What comes out of you is what defiles you. 21 For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile you." (Mark 7:14-22)

21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Lk. 17:21 NIV)

     Jesus was concerned about the heart- not the physical heart, and not just the mushy feeling part of us- but the very core of our being.  In Jesus day (and in ours), many are concerned with spin, with appearance, with the exterior.  Martin Luther said it like this, "Love God and do what you will."  When our heart is right, the rest of us will follow. 
    Now, how do we get our hearts right, and how do we know what they are right?  Again it is not just an experience.  But it is an experience combined with belief and the object of that belief.  For the Old Testament the emphasis was on having an undivided and focused heart- and this is for Jesus too (seek first the kingdom of God).  Jesus said the most important commandment was to love the Lord God with all your heart (soul, mind, and strength)m and the seond was to love neighbor as self- and if we have these two loves straight all the Old Testament (law and prophets) hang on them (Mt. 22:36-40).  The love is not just a mushy love, but a focused love with a true and unabstract object (God and neighbor).  So to have our hearts right isn't just about feeling and experience- though certainly it is about them.  But it is also about the focus of our love- the God revealed in scripture. 
     There have been times that have over-emphasized the object of our hearts(God) and have underemphasized the love which comes out of our hearts for that object.  Paul says that if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love (for God and neighbor) I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:1,2).  Love keeps our faith from being just dry, dusty dogma.  But the object of our love keeps us from being scattered and without purpose.  If I say I love my spouse but do not show any affection or attention our love will wither.  If I say I love my spouse but I am not focused on them but on others then my love is meaningless.  The scripture keeps us focused, but the Spirit enables us to make that love real within us.

Prayer: Help my focus, O Lord, be on you. Help my love for you to be deep and true this day. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

5-16-10 What do you think?

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?" (Matthew 17:25)

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (Matthew 18:12)

What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. (Matthew 22:42).

(Jesus Teaching People James Tissot 1865-1902)

Jesus was always asking, "What do you think?"  ("How think ye" KJV). He did not ask so much, "How do you feel?" Though He cared about the hurts of people- healing the sick, encouraging those who were sad.  But he continually asked people to think- use their heads that God gave them.  He often used circumstances to raise a question-like paying taxes (Mt. 17:25).  He used abstract thoughts- (Mt. 18:12) to prepare them for future actions.  He also asked them to think and examine what the scriptures said (Mt. 22:42).  God is probably less pleased when we put our brain on coast/hold/mute by tuning out watching the TV (My father used to call it "the idiot box'), or surfing meaningless web sites that don't challenge us, or playing video games addictively.  Rest and fun have their place, and Jesus tried to make room for both.  But his primary question is still for us, "What do you think?"  Today, challenge yourself to think just a little bit more instead of zoning out.

Prayer: Help us, Lord, to think and use our heads for you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

5/12/10- Jesus' View of Scripture Part 2- He fulfilled

 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

(First English Bible- 1539 "The Great Bible")

     There were some who saw Jesus as a law-breaker because the Pharisees and teachers of the law had added many more laws to what the Bible said, and interpreted the Old Testament in a very strict manner.  For example, Jesus kept the Sabbath (Lk. 4:15,16)- it was his habit.  But he allowed healing on the Sabbath and getting food on the Sabbath (as the Westminster Confession says "deeds of necessity and mercy").  Yet the Pharisees had no room for that in their interpretation, so they saw Jesus as a law-breaker. 
     Yet Jesus was very conscious of his fulfilling the Old Testament.  He began his ministry by saying "Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk. 4:21).  He faced his death noting that he was fulfilling scripture (Mk. 14:49).  After his resurrection, on the Road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:27,44) Jesus said that  the arrest, mocking, and death of Christ had to happen to fulfill the scripture.  Here in Matthew 5:17 he says that he came not to break the law of the Bible to fulfill what the Bible was talking about.
     Jesus saw the scriptures as futuristic-prophetic.  They were not just prophetic in correcting us, but also in predicting the future.  This led to his saying not the smallest letter or least stroke of a pen (Jot and tittle KJV) would be unfulfilled.  The Gospel writers mention several prophecies fulfilled in Jesus that could not have intentionally been fulfilled by him- born in Bethlehem, Having his garment gambled for and left untorn (Jn. 19:24), betrayed by a friend, etc. His death was the ultimate fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices (Mt. 6:6; Jn. 1:29; Heb. 10)
     But he also saw the Old Testament as a law to be heeded.  He even gives the warning that those who break the least commandment will be least in the kingdom of heaven.  He especially warns that those who teach others to do so will be least in the kingdom of heaven as well.  

     If we are intellectually honest, and take the scriptures with integrity- and as a whole- we will understand Jesus deeply relied and trusted in the Old Testament.  He did not see it as simply an ordinary book, or an historical book, or even a record of one people's view of God.  He saw God in it, speaking through it and to us.  We should too.
    In our day, many do not want to believe, so they vote on what they think Jesus ought to have said, and believe they can rule out the rest.  They may be in danger of breaking the least commandment and being least in the kingdom. It takes faith in the integrity of scripture in order to believe the message contained in it.  

Prayer: Lord, give me faith as you had.  Let me follow you not only in practice, but in faith.  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

5/11/10- Jesus' View of Scripture (part 1)

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39)

4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' (Matthew 4:4)

17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

Why study the Bible?  As followers of Christ we should know how Jesus viewed and used the Old Testament. Jesus quoted the Old Testament 78 times and of these at least 26 times (another 34 referrals) to the first four books of the Bible.  Altogether there are 695 quotes of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and another 3,400 referrals (Roger Nicole, Expositors Bible Commentary, Zonderbvan 1979 p. 667).  He called the Old Testament "the scriptures" (John 5:39- the word "scriptures" literally means "writings"); "the word of God" (Matthew 4:4; Jn 17:17 et al.); the "wisdom of God" (Lk. 11:49); "truth" (Jn. 17:17) as well as "the law and the prophets".  He said he came to fulfill the law not to break it (Matthew 5:17- more on this tomorrow).  He quoted memorized verses (He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4 above, and answered each temptation with a quote from the Old Testament as authoritative). 

(Part of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating to 150 BC- 2,100 years ago)

In other words, Jesus- who grew up in a carpenter shop- knew the scriptures of the Old Testament well enough to quote them extensively.  He quoted the Old Testament to settle doubts, temptations, and arguments.  To our Lord it was authoritative truth to be not only read but followed.  He studied them diligently but also creatively.  He did not accept what the scholars and pharisees of his day said alone, but often wowed his followers and enemies alike with his keen insight and creativity in interpreting the scriptures.  Yet he did not seek, in his creativity to disbelieve or disobey the scriptures of the Old Testament (Mt. 5:16-18). 
Jesus was deeply aware that he was teaching his disciples and followers by his example.  He taught them to memorize a prayer- the Lord's Prayer (in typical rabbinic fashion); He said, after he washed their feet, Now that I your teacher and Lord have done this- you should too (Jn. 13); He said to "do this in remembrance of me" in speaking of the Lord's Supper.  But He also used the scriptures of the Old Testament extensively and encouraged his followers to know it and follow it too.  So his followers learned and quoted extensively the Old Testament.  Paul quoted it 110 times. 
In our day of great skepticism, people feel they can toss out scripture as unimportant, or that we disagree with it.  This was almost the opposite of how Jesus viewed scripture.  He sought to follow the God- His Father- that is found in the Word of God.  Calvin used to say however, that we cannot argue someone into belief in the scripture.  Rather it is the Holy Spirit who makes the scriptures come alive.  

Prayer: Lord, grant me insight to trust your leading and follow your way.  Give me grave to listen to you speak to me in scripture. (Amy Grant singing "Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet")

Monday, May 10, 2010

5/10/10 Matthew 11:28-30 Finding Rest

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

     In Matthew, Jesus said this wonderful passage in the midst of his rejection by many.  He expressed his sadness over how some had rejected John the Baptist and now were hyper-criticizing him (whether he was an ascetic or an imbiber).  He was saddened over the rejection of him in the towns where he did tremendous work- Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum- yet they refused to repent. Then Jesus looked at those following him- and saw that they were like little children.  They were not the smartest, most educated, or in leadership positions.  He said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (11:25).
     Then he said something an ordinary teacher wouldn't say.  He spoke of being the Son of the Father (11:27).  Then he invited his children to come to him. 
     Today, we know Jesus as the living Lord . He still invites us who are weary of bad and sad news to come to Him.  He longs to have us come to him.  In yesterday's blog we saw Jesus longed for Jerusalem to come to him as a mother hen longed for her chicks to come under her wings for protection.
     Now he invites us to come to him to learn the way of gentleness, humility, rest, and peace.  He said to take his yoke upon us and learn.  The oxen yoke was typically a double yoke that pulled the plow.  He was inviting us to join him in the work of the Lord- learning from him as the lead worker.  The rest of Jesus is not sitting around doing nothing, but it is in doing his work that we find rest and peace. 
     People think peace is found in sitting on the couch watching TV, or playing some game, or watching some sport or entertainment.  There is a kind of peace there, but it fades as the event ends.  To feel we have to move from event to event in order to find peace is not peace.  For those who feel they must shop, drink, do drugs, be at the top to find peace, they will find they serve a hard master with a tough yoke.  He invites us away from the sadness to Himself.

Prayer: Lord, today may my soul find peace in you.  (Handel's "Come Unto Him" from the Messiah)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

5/9/10 God Longs for Us as a Mother Longs for Her children

37"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' (Mt. 23:37-39)

We humans are like chicks running away from her mother when there is an enemy in the henhouse.  This mini-parable or word picture is a powerful way to show God is calling us to Himself and we are running in the opposite direction.  The other day I was in Walmart and a mother of three was calling to her kids.  Two of them came back to her shopping cart, but one boy (about three) stopped when she called, looked at her, then laughed and ran down a different aisle of the store.  She tried to run after him, but with two kids in tow could not catch up (fortunately an employee- and not someone who would harm the child, scooped the child up for her).   God calls us today to worship Him.  He longs to gather us under his wings- to nurture, protect, provide for us. 

Prayer: Lord, help me not only to hear your call, but to turn and respond. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

5/8/10- Graduation Time

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  (Mt. 28:18-20)

Today is graduation day/season for so many.  It is a milemarker on which we can look back and see what we have done. It is a celebration of past accomplishments that lead us into the future.  
When Jesus was about to go to heaven he sent the disciples out into the world.  It was a graduation and a commissioning.  The graduation was not before he was crucified or at this crucifixion.  Rather it was when they knew that "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  He is, and our graduates- as well as all of us need to know that we are not alone in the world, but He goes with us.  Psalm 121 extrapolates on some ways He is with us- He is our help; He never sleeps; He watches over us as our ultimate Comfort; He protects us; He is the guard at our going and coming forever.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that you watch over us, and those who are graduating today.  May I lift up my eyes to you today. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

5/7/10- The Pollution of the Sea

By this you will know that I am Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile and it will be changed into blood. (Exodus 7:17)

The second angel sounded his trumpet...A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures of the sea died...(Rev. 8:9)

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth."  The first angel went and poured out its bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.  The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.  The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.  Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgements, you who are and who were , the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. (Revelation 16:1-6)

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.  On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world...When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)

When God was about to deliver his people from Egypt, one of the signs was a plague in which water was turned into blood.  The Nile was a god to the Egyptians and a chief source of their economic prosperity.  The book of The Revelation of John speaks of one third of the sea and the fresh water being polluted at the end times, as a sign of God's wrath (plague) upon the people.  The intention of such plagues was to help people turn to the true God and away from false gods (the Nile, money).  I believe God is still at work trying to get the attention of people who are too busy with their own entertainment, sports, and money-earning to pay Him attention. My take on this oil spill is not that it is the catastrophe finally prophesied in Revelation (which sounds more and more like a nuclear catastrophe- hailstone-like things falling from heaven, grass burned up, sores on people, water polluted).  Yet such catastrophes should not be separated from the idea of God's hand trying to bring us back to Him.  An oil spill has the same affect as turning the water to blood- it pollutes the water so it is unusable and unfit for habitation and fishing.  There have been many signs that should turn us back to God for help and protection.  We are in a nine year war in Afghanistan (and Iraq); the mortgage bubble/double digit unemployment;  terrorist plots that just happen to be stopped before a true catastrophe hits (warnings); the oil spill; and more.  I find it really ironic that on the National Day of Prayer- that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last month- was the same day that the stock market took its largest one day plunge in its history-ever.  Even if it did recover.  I am a great believer in providence, and that God speaks to us in the circumstances around us.  In Revelation at the end, the people refused to see the plagues as a sign of God and stubbornly refused to repent.  Today in the NY Times there is a full page ad blasting belief in God.  I hope our hearts are not as stubborn as those who will live in the times of the last plagues.  My prayer is that we, as a people, will wake up and come back to Him.

Prayer: Lord, have mercy on us as a people.  Draw us, who have strayed away from you back into your fold.  Help us to turn away from doubt and repent.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

5/6/10- National Day of Prayer Mark 11:22-25

Mark 11:22"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Prayer is not an end in itself.  Prayer is to be combined with a power that enables the prayer to be answered positively.  We link our prayers to God by faith in God.  However, the role of faith in prayer is not to simply give us what we want.  The object of prayer is not just to get what we want, but to link us to the divine- to communicate with God- to draw us closer to Him.  So all barriers between us and God should be down in order to draw close to Him.  The first barrier is unbelief- which closes our eyes but also our hearts to the God we communicate with.  The second barrier is disobedience- not listening or heeding what He has already told us (why should God communicate with us in prayer if we are not listening to what He has already said).  The thid barrier is lack of forgiveness.  If we are not getting along with our neighbor, we also alienate ourselves from God (vs. 25 above). If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen.  Prayer is about communicating- talking & listening to God, and we should not let anything get in the way of that.  Prayer is not just talking to ourselves or meditating.  Prayer's object is the God who is able to communicate with us.
Today is National Day of Prayer.  Find someone (or a group) to pray with and join in today.  Certainly in a time of oil spills, economic uncertainty, high unemployment, war, terrorism, we need to pray and call upon God. 

Prayer: Lord, hear my prayer, and listen.  Help our country- its leaders, its soldiers, its people.  Help us, not just because we want your blessing.  But bless us above all with yourself.  You are not only our shield, but you are our hope, strength, and peace.

5/5/10 The Enemies of Christ Testify- in the Gospel of Mark

Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven."  Now some of the teachers of the law were sitting there thinking, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone.  Jesus knew their thoughts and said, "Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven" or "Get up and walk?" (Mk. 2:6,7)

Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? 'I am,' said Jesus, 'And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'  The high priest tore his clothes, 'Why do we need any more witnesses?' He asked. 'You have heard the blasphemy, what do you think?" (Mark 14:62-64)

"Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.  "You have said so," Jesus replied. (Mk. 15:2).

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself!  Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe. (Mk. 15:32)

(Ecce Homo Cigoli 1607; Ciseri 1871);

Yesterday's blog was about the Spirit world's testimony.  Today we read some passages mainly toward the end of the first gospel in which (ironically) the enemies of Jesus testify to his uniqueness and messiahship.  Jesus did things that only God can do- like forgive sins- which the Jews saw as blasphemous.  But more specifically, the chief priest of the land testified that he should be killed for "blasphemy."  The blasphemy was that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah in answer to his forthright question ("I am").  But Jesus claimed more than just a special leadership role for his people.  He claimed power (sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One- the highest position in the universe next to God the Father); and He claimed to be "the Son of the Blessed One" (son in terms of essence- not progeny- which is blasphemy in the Jewish world); third, Jesus did not shirk from making a bold statement.  He added, "And you shall see [the Son of Man] coming on the clouds of heaven."  Jesus, in this third statement, was claiming power over even the chief priest and the Messiah's ability to judge the world.  He was basically saying, "You should be careful to judge your judge."  In essence, Jesus was killed by the priests for claiming to be God, and killed by the king by claiming to be King. 
There are those who say Jesus didn't know he was the messiah until after his resurrection (Jesus Seminar folk).  But these passages (one at the beginning of his ministry, and the others at the end) remind us that Jesus saw himself as able to forgive sins, as the Messiah, the King, the Son of God (Mighty One= God), and the Judge of the world before the resurrection.  The resurrection only confirmed what He taught.  If Jesus is the Messiah, the King, the Son of God (=God in the flesh), and the judge of the world, He is worthy of more than our respect as a teacher.  He is worthy of our worship and praise.

Prayer:  You are worthy of all that I am.  You are the messiah- annointed as prophet, priest and king= and worthy of my homage and allegiance.  You are the Son of God and worthy of my worship.  You are my judge, and I seek to please and humble myself before you today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5/4/10 Voices From Beyond- Supernatural Testimonies from the Gospel of Mark

As Jesus was coming up out of hte water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:10,11 at Jesus' baptism).

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!" (Mk. 9:7- at the transfiguration).

When he [the Gerasene demoniac] saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" (Mk. 5:6,7)

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-- the Holy One of God!" (Mk. 1:23,24)

It is very clear, that for Mark, the world beyond this one testifies to Jesus' divinity as the Son or "Holy One" of God.  It is clear, that for Mark the Father exists and is able to speak, and evil spirits exist and are able to speak.
But what if you don't believe such things?  What if you want to believe in Jesus, but don't want to believe in a spirit world beyond this one?  I would say, it is possible to beleive in Jesus as a good teacher- but then you have to say any miracles Jesus did, any claims made from above or below about his divinity, anything such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus is simply made up.  You would also have to get rid of any reference to Jesus as Son of God, or any claims Jesus made as divine.  This is what a group of "scholars"  from the Jesus Seminar (mainly Vanderbilt and Harvard Divinity School scholars) have done.  The effect of this is to make Jesus a good man and good teacher, but not divine.  They actually say that most of what Mark, Matthew, Luke, and especially John say about Jesus- and the most of the words Jesus says about himself are just made up after the fact.  In other words, they (the gospel writers- some of whom were eyewitnesses, all of whom had contact with eyewitnesses) were just lying to make Jesus look better than he ever claimed to be.  For these first century believers, there was no barrier or secularism that was blinding them to another, spiritual world.  For them the spirit world was just as real as the empirical world.  In our day many close their ears and are purposefully deaf to a voice from heaven or a voice from hell.  We want to believe that this life is only on three dimensions (mathematicians and astrophysicists say as many as ten dimensions exist-  Such limited thinking ignores much of our past and much of what others believe in the non-western world, as well as possibilities for our future. In the west, before 1492, many believed you would fall off of the world if you sailed far enough west.  All the experts held such a view.  Until 1992 many refused to believe in extra-solar planets (now 453 have been confirmed).  There is a world beyond- more than we can see.  It takes faith to believe it is real, and to listen and respond.  In some ways, that is the very essence of being Christian- believing the testimony given to us about Jesus, and then responding to that in both worship of Him and following Him.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the testimony that goes beyond humanity in your Word.  Give me ears to hear and a believing heart to respond.  Thank you that you offer us help beyond what we see.  Thank you for the hope we have by faith.

Monday, May 3, 2010

5/3/10- Jesus the Son of God

"The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God." Mark 1:1

Mark is considered the earliest account of Jesus' life (dates range from 55-75 AD).  It is written by John Mark.  John Mark was cousin of Barnabas, the mentor and co-missionary of Paul.  Mark's mother hosted the early church, and it was in her house that the disciples were gathered when Peter was released from prison.  Early church historians and traditions claim he was a good friend with Peter, and most of the information gathered in this gospel was from Peter.  Several accounts say that Mark was the "young man" who was following Jesus and when confronted fled away leaving his garment behind (Mk. 14:51). 
Mark begins his "gospel about Jesus Christ" (literaly "good news about Jesus Christ"), by identifying Jesus as the "Son of God."  The title "son" is often used of prophets who call themselves the "son of man." It is a way of associating themselves with human beings.  Jesus often used the title "son of man" to describe himself as a prophet. Mark, after evaluating all the evidence calls him "Son of God."  This is a singular title for Mark and one given only to Jesus in the early church.  For them, it meant "of the essence of God." 
In effect, this was Mark's Christmas story. God had a Son who came down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is gospel or good news in that it shows not only the reality of God where we can emperically see it, hear it, touch it, but also that the God who made the millions of stars and the millions of micro-organisms can care about us so personally. 

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to us.  Thank you, Jesus, for coming and showing us how to live here and to live eternally. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

5/2/10- Mark 9:35-37 Welcoming the Unwelcomed

Mark 9:35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." 36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

In Jesus' day, children were to be put in the back of the synagogue so the men could concentrate.  When a special guest came, children were not allowed to be there.  Jesus was always concerned about who was being left out.  He was always welcoming the unwelcomed.  He was generally paying attention to the neglected (lepers, sinners, children). 
This is very similar to the passage in Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus said "as much as you did it unto the least of these, you have done it to me (helping the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, the sick, and the prisoner).  In truth, we have all made ourselves unwelcome to God by our selfishness, greed, ambition and pride.  We need God's grace to be welcomed into his presence. 
Jesus promised his presence when we welcome the unwelcomed- when we welcome a child, we welcome him (his presence).
Today- look for those that most do not welcome. 
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that you offer to welcome me.  Help me to be welcoming to others.