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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

6/30/10 He Touched Me

Mark 5:24 A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

Thoughts: This lady had no hope, except in touching Jesus.  If she could just touch- even his clothes- she believed, she would be healed.  The great thing about God becoming flesh in Jesus is that God shows He is reachable, touchable. This lady had put her hope in doctors who not only did not cure her, but made things more horrible for her and took all her money.  But God helped her because she put her faith in Him.  Many can sympathize with this woman today.  Many have spent all their efforts and time trying to get out of some problem (maybe an illness, maybe financial despair), but have no hope left.  The hope of this lady is our own hope- God's hand upon us- His loving touch upon our lives.  Many believe that they are too small for God to notice, or that they are one among so many- and maybe their problem is not as great as another's (was her hemorhaging worse that Jairus' daughter's death in this chapter?).  Jesus noticed her problem, as He notices ours. 

Prayer: Today, Lord, touch me- make me whole.  Help me to find my hope in you.

John Calvin abridged: It is obvious that this healing was not done by human power but by the Holy Spirit.  Yet it was an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit to touch Christ, and this ought not be seen as a general rule- lest we sink into superstition.  There is no command of God to touch the things of Christ.  The woman had a mixture of sin and error with her hope and faith.  For she hid from Christ at his first question, and trembled with fear before the One she believed could heal her.  Yet Christ graciously helped her anywaym even commending her faith.  God graciously and gently deals with us.  Christ knowingly and willingly healed this woman; He drew her to himself by the Spirit.  Yet he looked for her so she would make public testimony to his healing, and that this healing would not rest on his testimony alone. "Go in peace..." We do not truly enjoy God's benefits except for his promises. (Click to hear "He Touched Me" by Bill Gaither- He wrote this in 1963 when he was an English teacher).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

6/29/10- Bringing Our Chidlren to Christ

Mark 5:21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." 24 So Jesus went with him... [Jesus then healed a woman who was hemorrhaging]
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher anymore?" 36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, "Don't be afraid; just believe." 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

(Ilya Rupin 1871 St. Petersburg Russian Museum)

Thoughts: The father brought his dying/dead daughter to Jesus, and Jesus heard his prayer.  So every father should seek to bring their children to the Lord- when they are sick physically, or sick mentally, or sick spiritually.  In our individualistic society when so much emphasis is placed on individual decisions for Christ, we need to remember the affects of others upon us.  Our faith is not obtained in a vacuum.  Someone passed that faith on to us, and someone-perhaps many- prayed for us. 
Parents brought their children to Jesus for him to bless them; The centurion brought his servant to Christ's attention (Mt. 8). The friends opened the roof in Capernaum to bring their paralyzed friend to Christ.  It is important to bring those who cannot come on their own to the Lord of the universe.
Jesus  was no respecter of persons.  He would help the poor and unknown as well as the rich or well known.  He did not ignore the poor, nor did he despise the rich.  He went to help the synagogue ruler (tradition says he ruled a district of synagogues- much like a bishop/ presbytery executive of our day).  But on the way (vss. 25-34 that we will read tomorrow) he healed the unknown lady who was facing chronic hemorrhaging.  Jesus was not so task oriented and impatient in ministry that he did not help the needy in his way.  We see the patience of God here.  True, because of his delay the daughter died; but also true that in God's power that dying did not matter- in fact the delay helped to show Jesus' power over even death.  For me, it tells me to help those along the way, and be more patient- trusting in God's power.

Prayer: Today, Lord, I pray for sick children.  For those who have physical, mental, and spiritual sickness.  May they find your love and your grace. 

John Calvin: The synagogue ruler ascribes no power to Christ except kneeling as he would before a prophet.  When he hears news of his daughter's death he trembles as if he gave up hope. Yet Christ yields to his small faith.  Though we may not have as much faith as we would like, we still should not doubt that God will hear our prayers.
"The girl is sleeping"(39)- sleep is oftened used in scripture to denote death.  This points to our future resurrection.
Christ enjoined them to be silent because he did not do the miracle in order to make it known, but to help the girl and family.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

6/28/10- Mark 5:9-20 Saving pigs or saving people?

9 Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

(Traditional site of Gerasene Pig Cliff- N. Galilee- the lake came up to this area in ancient times)

How many times does Jesus run into people who prefer the status quo versus helping people.  The Pharisees would rather Jesus keep a Sabbath than heal a lame man on God's holy day.  Here, the gentile group prove they have the same kind of thought pattern.  They were much more concerned about their pigs than they were about the man healed from his many demons.  When Ideals get in the way of helping and healing, then such ideals need to be modified and give way to the way of love.  Today there are those who would elevate animals over people, or elevate their political ideals over helping others.  The other thing we might learn is that once Jesus has helped you, he invites you to go and tell others.  It is the same today.  Whatever help and kindness God has given us is a reason to share what we know about God with others.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to follow you, listening to your voice.  Give me grace to elevate love over idealism.

John Calvin abridged: There must have been good reasons why this man should have endured so severe a punishment as to have an army of devils, so to speak, dwelling within him. What compassion then was it, to rescue from so many deaths a man who was more than a thousand times ruined!  It was a magnificent display of the power of Christ., that by his voice not one devil, but a great multitude of devils, were suddenly driven out. "Out of the area" (or "not into the abyss" Lk.)- As the devils have no other object
than to prowl among men, like lions in search of prey, they are grieved at being plunged into the deep, where they will have no opportunity of injuring and ruining men. "Into the pigs"- This passage shows also the foolish trifling of some of the irreligious, who
imagine that the devils are not actually existing spirits, but merely the depraved affections of human beings: for how could covetousness, ambition, cruelty, and deceit, enter into the swine? Let us learn also, that unclean spirits (as they are devoted to destruction) are the enemies of humankind; so that they plunge all whom they can into the same destruction with themselves. 17 "leave their region"- Wicked people perceive God as judge and therefore ask that he leave their presence.  It is a mark of great insensibility that the loss of their swine gives them more alarm than the salvation of their soul would give them joy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

6/27/10- Mark 5:1-10- What Do you want with me?

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God's name don't torture me!" 8 For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" 9 Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:1-10)

The cry apart from God is really "Leave me alone!" The unbeliever does not want to hear about God (so they would remove all the quotes or possibly mentioning Him in culture- like "In God we trust" or "One nation under God."). So the demoniac asked, "What do you want with me?" The Christian, on the other hand, wants God's presence, God's conviction, God's purifying power upon them. The Christian also recognizes that God is God of all- the believers as well as the demon-possessed, or even those who do not want to deal with God. 

Prayer: Today, Lord, have to do with me. Shape me; mold me; fill me; use me.  We pray today for the people of the Gulf Coast.  We ask your mercy and grace to rest upon them, Lord.  Give them strength to persevere.  May they turn to you for help and also turn to you in faith.   Bring a quick end, Lord, to this disaster, that the world may know and see that you are God of the universe.

John Calvin abridged: When Christ told the water to be silent, he also showed power over all elements- including wicked human beings. In this passage, we see that while he could not naturally break chains, power was given to him through evil spirits to do so.  From this we may gather how sad, wretched and alarming is the tyranny of Satan. Bodily agony, however violent or cruel is not to be more dreaded than distress of the mind.  "He begged him not to send him out of the area"- the demons had sent the man into the tombs.  But Christ shows his superior authority to send the demons wherever he would.  Thus all of Satan's kingdom must bow to the superior authority of Christ, and come before him as a criminal before the judge. "What have we to do with thee?"- shows the state of rebellion the demons are in against God.  Yet, despite their pride, they are forced to submit to the governance of God. 

6/26/10- Jesus and the Elements Mark 4:35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
41 They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mark 4:35-41)

(Rembrandt 1633; Calm Galilee sunrise below)
The Sea of Galilee (also called Lake Genessarett or the Sea of Tiberias) is often calm in the mornings and suddenly stormy in the afternoon.  It is shaped like a bowl, and strong winds from the Mediterrannean are funneled through mountain passes right onto the lake.  A weather anchor with satellite imaging and radar can predict the storm (as could some good sailors in Jesus' day), but no one has the ability to change the weather.  Jesus did not do it regularly or lightly, but only when the disciples' lives were in danger, and to show them He was not an ordinary, good teacher.  Mark adds that other boats that were with them also witnessed these things. 

This past week many made fun of the Louisianna and Texas state legislators passing a law asking for a day of prayer and perseverance about the Gulf Oil Spill  tomorrow, June 27.  The Louisianna declaration basically says, "Whereas humans are doing all they can [and we're still in our 66th day facing the oil spill]" therefore we declare a day of prayer."  Governor Riley of Alabama also declared June 27 to be a day of prayer about the oil spill.  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wrote-" Prayer allows us the opportunity to reflect and seek guidance, strength, comfort and inspiration from Almighty God and citizens of Mississippi are urged to pray....."  Many are making fun of the governors.  Some say it is just a political ploy to look "Christiany."  Some organizations actually are saying governors have no right to ask people to join together to pray-- I guess they'd rather face a drought than ask God for help.  Maybe some- "baptizing my office" stuff is there.  But historically many presidents and governors have asked for God's help in times of crisis.  On the other hand (and I think quite meanly) some Christians are saying that these folks deserve God's wrath.  After all, Hurricane Katrina came, showed a lot of evil up in New Orleans (they say gay prominence- like Sodom; or voodoo; or the crime looting afterwards); washed away the casinos on the edge of the ocean in MS; only to have the same legislators who are asking for God's help now allow the casinos to rebuild-not just on the edge of the shore, but on land!  I guess, if we ask for God's help, we also should ask ourselves, how might we please this God better.  Real miracles in scripture are often tied to faith and repentance (I believe help my unbelief). 
It might be noted that Governor Bob Riley prayed for an end to the drought in June 2007 and it amazingly rained three inches.  Governor Sonny Perdu of Georgia made a declaration praying for rain in the drought of November 2007, and guess what?  In three months Lake Lanier, which was depleting fast, was almost overflowing.  Maybe that is not fast enough for skeptics.  Maybe people want God to be a magic lamp that they rub and we tell God what to do for us- without having to listen to what God says at all.  I can specifically remember in my first pastorate in Hartsville, SC in 1986 there was a huge drought in South Carolina- rain clouds would come and blow over.  We couldn't wash cars, and crops were withering and dying.  The churches got together (through the ministerial association- with blessing from the mayor) and prayed one night.  The next day it rained - which it hadn't done in three months.  Some would say that was just a coincidence.  We called for the prayer 10 days before hand though, and most thought God heard us. 
If God can still the sea... what else can God do?  Can God calm the storm in your heart- definitely.  But don't restrict God's power to nothing.  My prayer is that God will once again show his mercy and kindness to the people on the gulf- even if they don't deserve it.  Really, who does?  If God answers us it is not because we are so great, but because He who calms the wind and waves is so great.

Prayer: Lord, have mercy on us.  Give the people who live along the Gulf of Mexico strength, perseverance, peace, and also deliverance.  When the greatest companies and the greatest governments fail; when our greatest efforts come to nothing, show your great power to aid us in our time of need.

John Calvin abridged: all this was arranged by the secret providence of God, — that Christ was asleep, that a violent tempest arose, and that the waves covered the ship, which was in imminent danger of perishing. And let us learn that, whenever any adverse occurrence takes place, the Lord tries our faith. If the distresses grow to such a height as almost to overwhelm us, let us
believe that God does it with the same design of exercising our patience, or of bringing to light in this way our hidden weakness; as we see that, when the apostles faced the waves coming over them, their weakness was exposed.  "Lord save us" is a pious prayer, but Christ charged them with unbelief.  He does not blame them because they are afraid, but because they are timid.  Fear may elicit us to call on God- and keeps us from being insensitive.

Friday, June 25, 2010

6/25/10- Mark 4:25-34 Kingdom Growth

26 He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

30 Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade."
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:25-34)

Mark has put three seed stories in one chapter- the parable of the sower (emphasizing our differing responses to the gospel); the parable of the growing seed (emphasizing the power of the Gospel itself); and the parable of the mustard seed (emphasizing how the kingdom may start small but grow large).  Jesus lived in a day in which many worked all day just to get enough food to live.  In an agrarian environment it was easy to see how dependent we are on God, and how much is out of our control.  The parable of the growing seed is unique to Mark.  It has an allusion to Joel 3:13 when God comes at the end of time to bring his harvest home.  This too is alluded to in the popular hymn: "Come Ye Thankful People Come" in which the hymn says, "first the blade and then the ear,

then the full corn shall appear; Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be."  Paul perhaps alludes to this parable when he says, "I planted, Apollos watered, but the Lord gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6). 
All Christians are called to bear fruit for Christ by sharing God's good news with friends, family members, neighbors as the opportunity arises (and even seek to make such an opportunity).  We do not need to worry so much about what happens to the gospel after we share it, but entrust the sharing to God. 

Prayer:  Lord, may your Word bear fruit through me today.  Give me peace, that once I have shared your word, I can leave it to your Holy Spirit to help it bear fruit and growth.  

John Calvin abridged: Christ is trying to encourage them about the gospels small beginnings.  In Mark Christ appears to speak directly to the ministers of the word, that they may not grow indifferent in their duties simply because they do not see fruit from their work immediately.  He holds the example of farmers before them who sow seed but do not torment themselves with uneasiness and anxiety but go to bed and rise again- or pursue other daily work until the corn reaches maturity. Though the seed of the word is concealed and choked out for a time, Christ enjoins pious teachers to be of good courage, and to not allow their alacrity (cheerful readiness) to be slackened through distrust.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

6/24/10- Truth is for application more than for dissection

24 "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them." (Mark 4:24,25)

Truth that is not understood or lived will be taken away.  Jesus was telling them to listen- not just with their ears, but with their hearts.  Christians who are quick to judge and gossip- are measuring others but not themselves, and are not allowing themselves to be convicted by the gospel.  God reveals Himself in nature.  Creation tells the glory of God- but we distort that glory, so that many will have even that revelation taken away because they do not apply it to their lives (Romans 1:19-21).  The Bible is not just academic- it is first and foremost applicable.  The academics of the Bible are secondary to the truth of Christ that changes lives for the better.  We live in a skeptical country and a skeptical age, and this is a great way to hide ourselves from the Holy Spirit who desires to love us and make us who we were designed to be. 

Prayer: Lord, give me ears to hear today, and a heart to respond to you.  Help me be quick to listen, slow to wrath, and slow to judge.

John Calvin abridged: "Judge not"- this is not an absolute prohibition from discernment, but is intended to cure a disease that is common to all of us.  Too many overlook their own vices to criticize others, and in doing so seem to give themselves more freedom to sin.  The depraved eagerness to bite, censure, and slander is here restrained by Christ.  Curiosity into the behavior of others is abated.  We are allowed- even bound to condemn all sins.  But we do so recognizing that He is the ultimate judge. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

6/23/10- Mark 4:21-23 Hiding the Light

21 He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear."

America values freedom of speech.  Media reporters use freedom of speech to bring things to light that others would rather hide- disturbing them a bit.  The Gay and Lesbian pride parades- so common in our day- cannot be hidden because of freedom of speech.  The KKK can march freely and in the open because of freedom of speech.   Even pornographers hide behind the idea of freedom of speech.  Yet, we do not wish to give that freedom to those who might raise religious questions.  So Greenville, South Carolina- usually an ideal place to live, has passed an ordinance specifically against street preaching- aimed at Christian preachers.  Last weekend in Michigan four young Christian evangelists who went to a Muslim cultural exhibition were arrested for disturbing the peace.  Trinity College, founded by presbyterians, and still church affiliated, was asked by some students to remove a reference to "our Lord" in their diploma this past month.  Of course, most know about those who wish to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance; and "In God we trust" from our money.  A few months ago one of the students in my church was told to tear his picture of Jesus up in public school art class (his class was told to draw something meaningful to them). There is a tremendous effort by some who do not believe in Christ to silence those who do from disturbing them and to remove all visible testimony to Christ.  If we give freedom of speech only to those who speak evil, and take away freedom from those who would speak of God in public-in anyway- then we are using our freedom to allow evil, but not using freedom to allow good.  If this continues in the direction it is going Christians will ask, "what good is freedom of speech?"  "What good is freedom of religion?" China allows people to go to church- only government regulated churches (they've arrested millions who go to underground churches).  It is hard to build a new church in China.  Cuba used to take names of people who went to church and then use this list to say that these people could not buy a new house, buy a new car, send their kids to college, or get the best jobs.  Now Cuba is not so strict, but it still does not want new churches built.  Many anti-Christian governments will allow Christians to squeeze into their old structures- they just want to cut down on the expansion of Chrisitanity in their culture.
Jesus said not to hide your light under a bowl/bushel.  In fact, Christianity cannot be hidden.  It is the largest religion in the world- and is in every country in the world (the only religion that is), because it touches a human element that transcends cultures. What people try to conceal will one day be brought out into the open.  People may try to hide from God or try to hide God away from them, but this, in the end, is impossible.  Christians need to be more bold about their faith, and stand up for their freedom before the slow squeeze upon our freedom is turned into a choke-hold. 

Prayer: Lord, do not let me hide my hope, my strength in you.  Give me a heart to help others to hear.

John Calvin abridged: The more prominent the person, the more they do injury when they sin.  People should take particular care, lest thinking that what they have done is hidden in darkness- for it shall be revealed.  All are called to glorify God in the way they live.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

6/22/10- Life is Meaningful so we Should Reproduce

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, " 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' "
13 Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown."

Life is meaningful, so we should reproduce.  The goal of the Christian is to bear fruit- to glorify God- physically and spiritually.  Verse 20 gives us the very positive image of a person who hears, accepts, and then produces fruit. 
I have some tomatoe plants who are nice and tall and leafy but are not producing any tomatoes.  I did not plant these tomatoes ($7 a piece- bought half grown- to escape cut worms and early problems) for me to just look at how beautiful the leaves are.  I can buy tomatoes in the store for a lot less than what I paid for these half-grown- and now full grown plants.
Some would question why anyone would bring a baby into a world such as ours.  But it is not our world, it is the Lord's world.  He is King of kings.  God makes this world meaningful, and has a plan for each person.  This is a matter of faith. 
In Europe where they have lost much of their Christian faith, the population growth rate is in the negative now.  I have heard people say if I cannot have a bigger house because I have a child, then I don't want a child.  Life is more than bigger houses or having things.  The way of death is to not want to reproduce ourselves.
But Jesus was primarily speaking of spiritual reproduction here.  Yet it is the same principle.  If we think life is meaningless and faith is not all that helpful, then we will not invite another to faith.  So many of us are like the seed thrown on thorns- allowing this world's worries and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out our ability to bear fruit (vs. 19). Our goal is not wealth, or even self-fulfillment.  Our goal is to glorify Him and spread His glory- bearing fruit for Him. Today, invite someone to take  a step closer to knowing Jesus.

Prayer:  Help me Lord, to walk in the ways of meaningful life- bearing fruit;  Keep me from giving up on you, or to retreat into myself without caring for others and for your glory.

John Calvin abridged: "That seeing they may not see"  When persons who cannot see well come out into the sunshine, their eyes become dimmer than before, and that defect cannot be attributed to the sun, but to their eyes.  Similarly, when the word of God blinds and hardens the reprobate, as this takes place through their depravity, the fault is their own, but is accidental to the word itself. Christ gives four kinds of hearers. The first do not receive seed; the second receive it but it doesn't take root; the third are choked out after growing some; and the fourth produces fruit. He was not intending to say one out of four responds and bears fruit. 
Many are like the first kind who come to hear but remain in amazement but do not respond at all. Luke adds that the devil plucks their seed up. This soil is like a hardened road.
The second kind of seed or person differs from the first in that they begin to respond. Everyone should examine their hearts to make sure the root of the gospel is sinking thoughout the whole heart and not just on the surface.  The heat of the cross or persecutions causes such people to fade away from faith.  Such people are not truly regenerated (1 Peter 1:4,25; Isa. 40:8).
The third kind would have grown if they had not permitted other things to get in the way of their growth.  Other things includes the pleasures of this life, wicked desires, and the anxieties of the flesh.  Each of us should endeavor to tear such thorns out of our heart- for all of us are afflicted with such things.
The fourth kind bear fruit.  What matter s is not how much fruit we bear (thiry-fold or hundred-fold), so we should respect all who bear fruit though they are not perfectly free from the thorns of this world. Those who bear any fruit at all are called "good" soil.

Monday, June 21, 2010

6/21/10- Mark 4:1-9 Having Ears to Hear- Parable of the Sower part 1

1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times."
9 Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." (Mark 4:1-9)

(Mount of Sermon on the Mount- imagining Jesus teaching from a boat in the Sea of Galilee below)

Thoughts: Jesus taught actually on the Sea of Galilee because the crowds were so large.  The Sea of Galilee on the Capernaum side (where Jesus lived during his ministry) was in the shape of a bowl- so it was a natural amphitheater.  Preaching from a boat allowed some distance for his sound to get out and for people to hear. 
At this point in his ministry, he was seeing different levels of committment and knew that this differentiation would continue in the future.  So he described the differences in people by the differences in another living thing that the people dealt with daily- plants.  Jesus was the newest thing- and many came to hear him, but many would fall away.
As I have said many times, many are falling away in America today.  There are many causes.  Some of it is found in the Church- professors in our seminaries who will not combine faith with academics; preachers who take their own ideas and the trendy ideas of today more seriously than scripture; rampant temptation and a lack of shame about sexual immorality, drugs, and breaking the Sabbath; a blanket of secularism that tries to silence prayer and any talk about God- lest someone be offended (whether God is offended or not does not seem to matter).  One of my travelling companions (Bill Gregory) noted that in Israel people were not embarrassed to talk about God- He was so much a part of their lives. 

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to have ears to hear and a heart that will respond.  Deliver me from the temptations that would kill my love for you.

John Calvin abridged: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  These words partially show that all are not endowed with true understanding to comprehend what Jesus said, and partially to arouse his disciples to listen attentively to the teaching that is not readily and easily understood by all.  He makes a distinction between his hearers that some have ears and others are deaf.  Other passages show that it is the Lord who pierces the ears (Psalm 40:7) and that no one obtains or accomplishes this by their own efforts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

6/19/10- The Healing of an Evil Son- Part 1 (Mark 9:14-29)

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." 19 "You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Thoughts: With father's day coming up, I have thought a lot about children going astray.  It seems in my southern USA-western hemisphere culture- we almost expect our children to stray away sometime in high school and college and then come back.  A number of my elders have testified that is what they did.  The problem is that many do not come back.  All three of my children have strayed away some time in their lives.
This miracle is a lesson in bringing a child back to faith and sense- and it does not always jibe with the prescribed method.  First, it is so obvious the father was concerned about his son's spiritual and physical welfare.  I am sure it cost him time, money, heartache and prayers.  He did not give up. 
Second he brought the child to Jesus.  First through the church- the disciples of Christ.  But that did not work.  The father brought the son when the son could not bring himself.  How many people do that today?  When someone is sick physically and spiritually do we bring that person to a minister or to the church?  I think we bring our children to everything BUT the church.  Today we see no spiritual roots to physical and mental problems- we refuse to look into it- lest we be "over-superstitious." 
Jesus response to the situation was to say something about an unbelieving generation.  If that generation was unbelieving, what about our secular generation?  One lesson learned from the Israel trip is how secular and how apart from God's power and faith we are in America.  God is everywhere in Jerusalem, and spoken of often. 
Today, we need to bring our children to Jesus- especially those who are spiritually hurting.  We need to physically bring them to his disciples- to church.  We need to spiritually bring them to him through prayer.  If we love our children as this man did, we need to do all we know to do for them. 
Prayer: Today, Lord, we pray for those young people who are going astray.  We ask you to raise up some young, bold leaders who will help other young people.  We pray for those who are not coming to you and ask that they would come this father's day.
Calvin Abridged: Jesus was not rebuking the man for his unbelief, but the generation of the Jews who had rejected God.  Matthew speaks of him as a lunatic, but both agree that he was mute and had seizures.  Thsi muteness was probably brought on by Satan later in life.  Let us learn from this how many ways Satan has of injuring us were he not restrained by the hand of God. Our infirmities are darts/tools by which Satan wounds us.  We are worst than stupid then, if we do not pray in the midst of our infirmities of soul or body.  It is a consoling truth that Christ has come to bridle Satan's rage- and that we are safe in the midst of many dangers because our diseases are effectively countered by heavenly medicine.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

6/6/10 Mark 3:22-30 Rejection of Forgiveness

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." (Mark 3:22-30)

John Calvin abridged: The scribes prove themselves ungrateful to God by being unwilling for him to reign among them. It is not a light and ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime to knowingly and willingly pour contempt on the Spirit of God. Those who rebel against the Spirit cannot plead ignorance.  It is not the essence of the Spirit that is rejected as much as the grace of the Spirit.

(Elsheimer- Exaltation of the Cross)

Mark couches this passage between Jesus' own family members' rejection of Jesus.  The only unforgivable sin is calling good evil and evil good- or on a higher plane- calling God the devil and the devil God.  If people don't have enough moral and spiritual sense to do this basic thing- they are basically rejecting forgiveness.  How can you be forgiven without any sense of right/wrong good/evil, God and evil powers?  If you call Jesus evil, then why would you want to accept his forgiveness?  If you are forgiven and then you just go back to doing evil what sense is that forgiveness?  The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is refusing to accept the forgiveness of God - because you are not just ignorant but you are adamantly against God.  There is a lot of that going on today- especially among bloggers.  It is like the secret evil of being against God has come out in aggressive writing against those who believe lately.  Such opposition is sad, wanting even insisting that others join them in hopelessness and helplessness and spiritual loneliness. 

Prayer: Today, Lord, may I forgive others as I have been forgiven.  Help me to stand in awe of your holiness instead of being adamantly opposed to it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

6/5/10- Mark 10:6-8 Jesus on marriage

6 "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Mark 10:6-8)

John Calvin abridged: Christ assumes the principle that at the beginning God joined the male to the female, so that the two made an entire person; and therefore the man who divorces his wife tears from him, as it were, the half of himself.  But nature does not allow a person to tear their own body to pieces.  In another argument he says that marriage is more sacred than that which binds children to their parents. God, the Creator, made male and female, so that every man might be satisfied with his own wife, and might not desire more.  For he insists on the number two (Mal. 2:15) though he could have created more- ruling out polygamy.
Leaving father and mother does not mean we do not honor them- but only that the wife has the first claim upon him.

Thoughts: Today my daughter, Rebekah, gets married.  Praying that she and her husband, Jay Gilliam, will be blessed today with a great start.  Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding- showing he can celebrate.  The puritan in me wonders why Jesus would turn water into wine when plain old water will help us survive.  But Jesus is not interested in out just surviving.  He came to give us life abundant.  Marriage is a way to enrich our lives with the gift of human love- when it is the right person.  90% of Americans want to get married- and 90% will.  Many will not have a lasting marriage.  But the ideal of our hearts is expressed here by Jesus who, as a single guy makes a remarkable statement on the appreciation of marriage.  He said "The two will become one."  Marriage is not just a contract, but a spiritual uniting that is expressed and consumated physically.

Prayer: Today, Lord, bless those who are married.  Thank you for the gift of human love.

Friday, June 4, 2010

6/4/10- Mark 3:20,21, 31-34 Jesus and the Relatives

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." ...
31 Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." 33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."  (Mark 3:20,21, 31-34)

(Jesus-12 in the temple- "I must be in my Father's house.")

John Calvin abridged: Mark skips a lot of time when he passes from the miracles to when the relatives of Christ conspired to bind him as if he were mad. It is amazing that such wickedness should be found among Christ's relatives, who ought to have been the first to help him in advancing the kingdom of God.  John records (Jn. 7:3,4) that Christ's relatives wanted him to go to Jerusalem to spread his reputation.  But when Jesus was opposed on many sides by rulers and even the crowd- to prevent any injury or dishonor happening to the whole family, they decided to take him by force, apparently really believing he was derranged. Here we learn how blind the human mind is- forming perverse judgments about the glory of God when it is openly displayed. God's grace causes resentment among the worldly and the relatives gave into fear of the world. We also should learn from this that the light of faith does not proceed from flesh and blood, but from heavenly grace.  So we should not glory in our genealogy but in the regeneration of the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ here lifts us all up to the same honorable rank- as if we who follow him were his nearest relatives.  Christ has been given not to a small number of individuals but to all of us.  When we are justified with Christ we are brought into closest union with Him.

Thoughts: Great leaders are unusual and stand out in a crowd.  Jesus was the most unique and thus unusual.  When Jesus was bold enough to not just fit into the common way, but to challenge the teaching of the status quo, some thought he had lost it.  For he was risking harm for himself- and possibly damaging the reputation of his relatives.  Those who love us and our relatives have the opportunity to encourage us in our faith (as Jesus' cousin John the Baptist did), or they have the opportunity to try to impede us.  Jesus shows here that He is more concerned about listening to his heavenly Father than his earthly family.  The amazing thing is that Jesus elevates all who believe to the same status as Mary and James- the great saints of old.  It is by God's grace that we are made a part of the family of God- the tie that binds us.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your determination to do what is right.  Help me to learn from you.  Thank you too, that you welcome me as your family member.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

6/3/10- Choosing Judas

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means "sons of thunder"), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  (Mark 3:13-18)

John Calvin abridged: By this election, He does not yet ordain them to be Apostles, but admits them into his private instruction training them for Apostleship.  This passage should not be confounded with Matthew 10.  Our Lord went up to the mountain to pray.  This is an example for all of us when we are about to choose pastors to churches- otherwise our efforts will not succeed.  Our Lord prayed as an example for us. If he who was full of the Holy Spirit prayed all night, with such ardor, should not we pray in a similar manner?  Apostleship was not bestowed because of any human excellence, but they were chosen by God's grace.  If they were more excellent than others, then Judas was a mistake (cf. Jn. 15:16; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:25).  Why did our Lord choose Judas, when there were more worthy men, and he surely foresaw the problem and the stain that would be left upon the Church.  Our Lord expressly wanted to prevent us from being offended when unprincipled people occupy the situation of teachers in the Church, or when professors of the Gospel become apostate.  It is not proper that the stability of the Church should depend on human beings.

Thoughts: I like Calvin's discussion on why the Lord chose Judas.  In our day of rampant apostasy, the Church needs to remember this and not despair.  There have always been those who teach falsely in the Church. In our day, it is hard to not have those who are too legalistic on one hand- adding to what the scripture says, an on the other those who ignore the scripture to say what they want to say.  If God waited to choose the perfect teachers and pastors, He would still be waiting.  The good news is that Jesus transformed all but one.  The good news is that we can have grace toward those who do not teach properly and still the work of the Lord goes on- and God even uses bad/false teachers for his glory (as Judas was used to allow Christ to pay the sacrifice for our sins).  Judas was a tragedy, but-ironically without Judas there would not have been the cross- and forgiveness.
Prayer: Thank you for your grace in choosing me to follow you, Lord.  Use me as you will to further your kingdom today.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

6/2/10- Mark 3:7-12 Jesus on Vacation

 7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:7-12) 

John Calvin abridged: Christ tried to withdraw in order to rest, into a desert place before it was daylight.  Mark afterward says, that Peter told him, everyone is looking for you; and Luke says that multitudes came to that place.  Mark and Luke say that he passed through all Galilee to preach in every place. While Matthew says he passed over to the other side (or farther bank)- which does not necessarily mean the opposite side, but refers to the curvature of the lake below Capernaum. So he crossed over to another part of the lake without leaving Galilee.

Thoughts: Jesus was trying to get a break- perhaps go on vacation.  He went to a private place, but the crowds not only followed him- but pressed so hard upon him that he got into a boat in order to get a little space.  This happened many times in Jesus' ministry.  The feeding of the 5,000 happened when Jesus tried to go to a private place, grieving the death of John the Baptist.  Instead of being alone- he looked around and there were 5,000 people- and without food!   So- at the beginning of June- a lesson for all true ministers of the gospel- it's okay to seek vacation- but do not expect perfect rest- and when people need you- our Lord's example is to respond. Jesus ideally wanted time alone, but time alone was secondary to doing God's work.  His rest was found in the Father's presence. Certainly, Jesus did not leave his faith behind when he tried to go on vacation!  He was deeply aware of God's presence and His calling wherever He went.  There have been studies that show Americans tend to be a little more immoral when they leave their hometowns.  Perhaps we need to remember Jesus' example here.
     Another lesson here is that Jesus' ministry early on reached out to the Gentiles.  Healing appeals to everyone- touching a deep human need.  Idumea, Tyre and Sidon were gentile areas.  Jesus knew his ministry was for all the world, and not just for Israel.  We should know that too.  The gospel is not just for those who may think, look like, or talk like us.  It is for all people, and we should have a heart for those who are different from us- who have needs.
     In Mark the Spirit world (the Father's voice at baptism and transfiguration) and the demons exclaim that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew and Luke do this too, but not as consistently).  This is the ultimate testimony for Mark.  Jesus, however, tells the spirits to be quiet because their intent was to harm his ministry. He was already facing huge crowds- and the crowds would get bigger if that word got out, and the soldiers would quickly come before he had a chance to teach.  Even as it was, Jesus only taught for three short years. For some of us, we love popularity no matter when it comes.  We want our moment in the world's spotlight even if it means we cannot teach more.  Jesus had wisdom to show restraint to the popularity of the world.

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to find rest in you. Help me not to itch for the world's popularity today, but to respond to the needs around me.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

6/1/10- Mark 3:1-6 Doing Good Anytime

1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." 4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

(UNKNOWN; Illustrator of Lillie A. Faris's 'Standard Bible Story Readers, Book 1-5', 1925-28)

[John Calvin had no commentary on this passage]

Thoughts: Jesus was in church worshipping God.  He knew God works all the time to heal, sustain and help.  The work of God is not limited to six days a week.  Of course God's work is good work, saving work- not destructive or killing work. Jesus knew people would be critical of his work- helping and healing- but he did it anyway.  This is one of the few times when Jesus is recorded as being angry.  It was a holy anger that they would not care about this person with the shriveled hand.  His anger was rightly placed, because his enemies plotted to kill him simply because he healed this man on the Sabbath.  Jesus honored the Sabbath regularly with worship and refrained from regular labor.  But He also allowed deeds of mercy and healing as part of the work of God.  Jesus' example to us is to do God's work despite criticism and opposition. 

Prayer: Give me strength this day, O Lord, to do your work.  Help me not to seek the applause of people, but your applause.  Give me grace to see the need to help others.