Search This Blog

Saturday, July 31, 2010

8/1/10- Mark 12:13-17 Paying Taxes

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.

(Denarius with Julius Caesar's head)

Thoughts: For those who see Jesus as a radical revolutionary, this has to be a disappointing passage.  But for those who see Jesus as someone whose message goes beyond politics this is an important living parable.  In another instance Jesus told Peter to pay the temple tax by taking the money out of the fish's mouth.  Before this he noted that the owner should not have to pay taxes.  Here Jesus, who was king of kings, submitted to earthly authority.  In the end, Jesus paid taxes to a government that would kill him.  It is an example to us all- not only of paying taxes to government, but also of self-control, and of a proper attitude toward government.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your example of self-control and grace. 

Mark 12:1-12 Parable of the Tenants

1 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. 6 "He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 7 "But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven't you read this passage of Scripture: " 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes' ?" 12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Thoughts: It would be too easy to see the parable of the tenants as simply Jesus' prophesying his rejection at the hand of the religious leaders of his day. But it is a warning to any people and to us as individuals to not reject the Son.  Psalm 2:12 says "Kiss his son, or he will be angry and you and your ways will be destroyed, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."  The basic attitude is,  "If we get rid of God then we can be in control, and we will not have to listen to His correction."  Rebellion against the maker and the tender of the vineyard doesn't work. It also is a warning against wanting to be in control of everything.

Prayer: Keep my heart from rebellion against you, O God.  In place of rebellion- give me gratitude.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

7/30/10 Mark 11:27-33 A Question of Authority

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?" 29 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John's baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!" 31 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' 32 But if we say, 'Of human origin' . . . ." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) 33 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

(Luca fa Presto 1660)

Thoughts: Who has authority to tell us what to do?  Is it those with the guns?  Is it the experts?  Is it that NO one has the right to tell ME what to do?  Lost people- like the Pharisees in this case- have no idea what is of God and what is not- so they have no compass- no true north- no way to tell right from wrong- which means they are lost. One of the problems of the Church today is that we have lost our authority as scripture. There is a watch word out there among some "biblical experts" that we should take the Bible seriously but not literally.  I can understand this somewhat.  When the Bible says the sun sets- it is a descriptive terms.  There is poetry in the Bible that is to be distinguished from commands. We should distinguish between laws that were related to the temple and its ceremonies and our own day.  But, too often the phrase "take the Bible seriously not literally" is a way to rationalize away something we don't want to believe or do.  So, we can pick by our expert leanings which commands we think are relevant to our day and which commands are not.  It is not taking the Bible seriously if we do not do what it commands.

Prayer: Lord, give me a submissive heart to you.  Help me to not only hear you but to listen to you.

John Calvin abridged:  The miracles of Christ testified to his heavenly authority, but the scribes chose to ignore this testimony. They were insisting he did not have true authority because they did not vote him in- as if authority rest solely in them.  This is why Jesus did not answer their question. John had been Christ's herald, yet they had refused to recognize his authority too. The priests did not ask themselves what was true.  So the wicked oppose truth if it goes against their own desires.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

7/28/10 Mark 11:22-26 Power of Prayer

22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23 "Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25-26 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

(Mountain falling into sea)

Thoughts: This passage is about the power of prayer.  Jesus had just withered a fig tree in a curse.  There are those who think that when humans pray it interferes with God's plan.  But since God knows all when He makes His plans- including our prayers and His answer- He includes such answers in His plan.  God is active interacting with creation- it is not that God has set His plan in motion a long time agoand is gone- and any prayer is a pesky burden on Him.  The image Jesus uses is of a woman asking a judge for mercy, or begging a neighbor for bread.  Jesus makes some grandiose claims- moving mountains and "whatever you ask."  But such claims are tied to a God who loves us, cares for us in His providence.

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to have faith in you and your ability to answer prayer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7/28/10- Mark 11:15-18 A Time For Anger

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' ? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.' " 18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

Thoughts: Jesus was quoting from Jeremiah (7:11) where the prophet points our corruption in the temple.  The temple merchants were taking advantage of people's desire to worship God (especially at Passover), and instead of helping them were price-gouging them.  Jeremiah said these words before the destruction of the first temple, and Jesus said it before the destruction of the temple of Herod.  There is a time for anger.  In our anger we are not to sin, yet the corruption of the pure and faithful is cause for even the most patient to stand up for the right. 

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to be patient, yet also to know when I ought to stand up for what is holy and true.

John Calvin abridged: Though Christ frequently entered into the temple, and its abuses met his eye, yet he only corrected it twice: once at the beginning of his ministry (Jn. 2); and the other toward the end of his ministry.  Here he warns the Jews of the pollution of the temple, and also the new restoration that was at hand.
If the Church of God has contracted any pollutions, all the children of God should burn with grief, but since God has not put the ability to do something about it in everyone's hands, let individuals groan privately until God brings the remedy.  While it is smart to be unhappy about the pollution of the Church, and that it is not enough to be inwardly distressed; the people should avoid spiritual disease and speak up whenever given an opportunity.  But let those who cannot change things with their hands, hold their tongues.

7/24/10- Mark 11:12-14, 19,20 The Need for Fruit

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it....
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

Thoughts: In a similar passage about the vine (Jn. 15:5,6):5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."  Christ was concerned that we not just exist as Christians, but be fruitful for Him.  He was going to the temple where the people were not bearing fruit for Him, and within a generation the whole of the land would be in ruin (70 AD) from a war with Rome.  It is important to bear fruit- and we do that by remaining in Him- staying close to Him.

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to abide in you, bearing fruit for you. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

7/26/10 Mark 11:1-11 The King Came Over the Mountain

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' " 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! " "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" 10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

(Ben in the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany- where Jesus started his journey)

Thoughts: Jesus started his journey on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem.  So he came over the mountain into the city.  I have often seen movies (like Braveheart) where the rescuing force crests the top of the hill and their form is silhouetted and clearly seen against the sky.  Or like the cavalry standing in a line atop the mountain waiting to save the homesteaders holding off raiders in the valley below.  Jesus comes from over the mountain- where he was unseen- to save us.  Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  Bethany was the place where the woman anointed Jesus for his death and wiped the anointing oil off with her hair.  Bethany was the place where Lazarus was raised from the dead and Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life- those who believe in me, though they were dead yet shall they live."  Jesus starts here toward his cross and resurrection.  So we also should remember that Jesus comes to rescue us from our sins. When we face our crosses, we should remember that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. 

Prayer: Lord, Help me to be aware of your help in this life and the next. Let me live in your hope today.

John Calvin Abridged: It appears from the prophecy of Zechariah that Jesus rode only on the colt.  When they spoke in earnest, Christ accepted them as heralds of his kingship.  "Hosanna" is similar to when we say, "Thy kingdom come."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

7/25/10 Mark 10:46-52 Don't Stop People Calling Out to God

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means "son of Timaeus"), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." 52 "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Thoughts: A lot happened in Jericho.  Not only did Joshua cause the walls to fall down in this oldest city in the world (8,000 BC), but Elishah cured the water near here; Elijah ascended to heaven near here; the temptation took place in the desert near there; Zacheus met Jesus there; and Bartimaeus was healed there.  It is amazing what God can do- even healing the blind.  We should not limit God.  At the end of June the governors of Texas, Louisianna, FL, AL, MS called for prayer about the gulf oil spill.  Is it a coincidence that the "hurricane" headed there fizzled out and that the spill that had been going on since April stopped within two weeks of the prayer?  The Chicago Tribune had a huge article by Rabbi Adam Chalom (7/6) basically saying the governors should not tell us to pray and that God wouldn't do anything about it anyway [Quoting Ingersoll: "Labor is the only prayer nature answers" and the great theologian George Carlin: "What do you want?  God to change his divine plan...just for you? Isn't that arrogant?"].  For those who do not believe in God's ability to change events- the Gulf Oil Spill has stopped- for the first time since April- after too many engineering failures.  Bartimaeus received his sight.  Jesus stilled the storm.  Personally, I have had too many coincidences to ignore the power of prayer.  That doesn't mean prayer is a magic lamp, or that I don't have to do anything anymore (Bartimaeus DID have to call out- though others rebuked him).  Perhaps those who rebuke people for calling out to Jesus (vs. 48) should learn a lesson from this great story.  Perhaps we should learn a lesson to not be afraid to call out to the Lord, and not try to stop people from praying to Him.
Prayer: Lord, give me grace to pray to you though others tell me to stop. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

7/24/10- Mark 10:17-30 Letting our Possessions Possess Us

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.' " 20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." 28 Then Peter spoke up, "We have left everything to follow you!" 29 "Truly I tell you," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

(Heinrich Hoffman 1889- "Christ and the Rich Young Ruler")

Thoughts: Wealth and things can easily and subtley become our God. We can allow our possessions to possess us.The man had kept the law, but Things were keeping his heart from following God.  He had not learned to drop his nets and follow Christ.  Having wealth/things as our God is a big problem in our society. One sign that this has happened to us is the total elimination of a Sabbath- a day of rest- in our society.  The Sabbath is a check against our consumerism and greed.  One business group is persuaded that they will make more money by staying open on Sunday- and they persuade the governmnet they will make more money on taxes by allowing them to stay open on Sunday- and then (no matter that the people voted in the 1990 referendum in SC all but two counties voted to keep the Sabbath), the legislators and business-folk find a way around  the law.  Because what counts for them is not that God says to keep a day of worship and rest, but that they want more money.  Now we, who have elevated money and production ahead of keeping God's command, have doubled our unemployment hitting 14% (that is, ironically 1 out of 7) in March of this year. If work or money becomes our God, I believe the true God will take that false God away.  The blessing of God comes with following God-- fully.

Prayer: Lord, do not let my wealth steal my heart.  Keep my heart, my time, my life, fully yours.

John Calvin abridged: We don't have a right to deny that the keeping of the law is righteousness (Dt. 30:19), by which a person who kept the law perfectly- if there were such a person- would obtain life.  But as we are all destitute of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), nothing but cursing will be found in the law.  The Young man asked about how he might merit eternal life through the law, and Christ gave him an answer that basically it is impossible to earn eternal life through the law.  Christ asks him about keeping only the second table of the law (5th-10th commandments).  Christ puts his finger on the sore of the man's covetousness.  He does not simply say to sell all but to give to the poor (unlike the man Crates who threw his wealth into the sea to save himself). Christ also asks the man to follow him- taking up the cross.
It is easy to infer that Christ is not commanding all without exception to sell all they have.  The worker who supports their children would do wrong to not care for their children.  To keep what God has put in our power, provided that, by maintaining ourselves and ourfamily in a sober and frugal manner, we bestow some porion on the poor, is a greater virtue than to squander it all. The man went away sorrowful. This teaches us that if we are not prepared to endure poverty with faith, then covetousness rules us.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7/23/10- Mark 10:13-16 Jesus and Children

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Thoughts: It really is amazing how God showed his care, protection, and love for little children.  Jesus was born as a child.  Most Greek gods who came to earth, and most Jewish scholars had the messiah coming as a full-grown king.  Gdo became vulnerable to show his care for children.  He protected children by saying anyone who caused one to stumble would be better to have a millstone around his neck.  Here he showed he wanted to be around little children- not just scholars, kings, and the rich.  God loves people irrespective of all our sophistry and power (which seem as nothing to Him anyway).  So, we should also value children.  In our day children are neglected in order that the adults may both work (as opposed to many cultures where one parent stays home with them).  Children are neglected by being placed in a daycare- which is like a daily foster home.  Adults sacrifice for their children by driving them to so many events/sports/talent builders.  Yet sometimes children need to rest, play, and simply be with their parent.  Looking back, I wish I had taken more time to go fishing with my son than to go watch him play football in front of a lot of people. Let us resolve to not walk past children but to care for them. Church can be one of the few places where people who are not related to you and are of a different generation see you.  This past week I was amazed to see one of our newer retired members who worked for NASA coming to VBS (Galactic Blast) and talk about his work there and show pictures.  The kids absolutely loved it!

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to be concerned about the least among us- those who are helpless or dependent. 

John Calvin abridged: This narrative is highly useful for it teaches us that Christ not only receives those moved by a holy desire and faith come to him, but also those who are not old enough to know they need his grace.  The children may not know that they need his blessing- but when they come to him, he gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father.  The laying on of hands was an ancient and well-known sign of blessing.  Since the inferior are blessed by the better (Heb. 7:7), the parents ascribe to him the office of prophet and show they believe he may dispose the Spirit of God and His gifts upon their children.

7/22/10- Mark 10:1-10 Jesus and divorce

1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
3 "What did Moses command you?" he replied. 4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." 5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 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."
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

Thoughts: Jesus asked "What did Moses command you?"  The answer is clear- he permitted divorce because their hearts were hard.  Yet, divorce is not the ideal.  The Pharisees were basically asking, "What can we get away with?"  Jesus answered by saying what the ideal is.  The ideal is for those who are joined together in God's providence and love to stay together through thick and thin, good and bad times. By the way, 90% of Americans agree with this ideal.   The ideal is for a man and his wife- yes this implies male and female from Jesus lips- to be joined.  Calvin spoke of the human family as the little monastery.  When man and wife love each other; when parents and children have mutual love, this is a great gift of God. The Christian ideal is one God and (if called to marriage)- one spouse- with faithful love toward both.

Prayer: Lord, in our unfaithful culture, teach me faithfulness this day.

John Calvin abridged: Christ's enemies were setting a wicked trap.  If he had said no, they would exclaim that he wickedly abolishes the Law.  If he said yes they would accuse him of being a panderer to the culture instead of a prophet of God.  Jesus disappointed them by sternly opposing unlawful divorces, and at the same time showing that he is not inconsistent with the Law.  There are two parts to his answer: 1) that the order of creation serves as a law; and 2) the husband should maintain conjugal fidelity during the whole of life; that divorces were permitted not because they were legal, but because Moses had to deal with a rebellious and intractable people.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

7/21/10 Mark 9:42-49 Punishment

42 "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43-44 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45-46 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

Thoughts: This passage is about punishment.  For some, punishment and God or Jesus just don't jive together.  But Jesus was concerned about those who would cause a child to stumble for eternity- the ultimate child molestation.  Jesus never questioned the right of God to hold us accountable.  For him the question was-- for what are we accountable.  Jesus believed in an ultimate and eternal punishment.  There are many who believe that heaven is eternal but hell is temporary- but the same adjectives are used for both places, and here hell is described as a place where the worm does not die or the fire is not quenched.  Jesus shifts a little here to salt in a sacrifice (an allusion to Lev. 2:13- "add salt to all your offerings"), and to the antisceptic/conservative nature of salt.  After talking about hell in the life to come- and having a purpose (losing hand, foot and eye to obtain heaven), he now speaks of losing our meaning- our saltiness.  This passage is a warning to escape eternal punishment, and temporary uselessness/meaninglessness.  Many in our day are much more concerned about temporary comforts and offenses than permanent ones.  Christians are called to do the opposite- endure temporary pains in this world (our crosses) to gain a permanent award.
Prayer:  Lord, give me a heart to follow you and escape the punishment out of love and service to you.

John Calvin abridged: "Millstone...thrown into the sea"- When our Lord alludes to this punishment, we are enabled to perceive how dear and precious those
persons are in the sight of God, who are mean and despised in the eyes of
the world.  We ought to be so constant and so zealous in opposing offenses, that we would rather choose to pluck out our
eyes, or cut off our hands, than give encouragement to offenses; for if any man hesitate to incur the loss of his limbs, he spares them at the risk of throwing himself into eternal perdition. What dreadful vengeance then awaits those who by offenses shall bring ruin on their brethren!

Monday, July 19, 2010

7/20/10- Mark 9

Mark 9:38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly be rewarded.

(Francis Borgia 1510 exorcist)

Thoughts: whoever is not against us is for us.  Good was being done- people were being helped because of the name of Jesus.  This, even though those who used the name did not believe.  One of the points of Jesus here is that God can be glorified even if evangelism does not take place.  Salvation is not the only way to glorify God- though surely it is an important part.  Those who give a cup of cold water, or who heal someone even if they don't believe. 

Prayer: Help me to be gracious to those who do good work, Lord, even if their theology is not right.  Help me to be gracious and tender and merciful.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7/19/10 Mark 9:30-37 Non-self-assertion

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child 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."

Thoughts: How do the disciples respond to the idea that Jesus might die?  Their concern would be who would inherit the ministry.  Kind of sad- would have thought they would have been more sympathetico.   Jesus says the greatest is not the one who elevates him or herself- but the one who is least- the servant, the one who is willing to be humble.  So today we need to hear this important lesson.  God uses those who will humble themselves and listen to Him more than those who are seeking self-promotion, self-assertion, and self-ishness.  Today we will start Vacation Bible School at my church.  It is a great blessing to teach and learn from little children. 

Prayer: Give me grace, O God to glorify you more than myself.

John Calvin abridged: The disciples had previously heard Jesus say he would die, but they did not listen.  Mark says they did not understand.  Why?  They imagined Christ's kingdom would be prosperous and delightful and that as soon as Christ made himself known he would be universally received with highest approval. They were guided by a confused piety rather than a clear knowledge of the truth.  They considered his rejection to be inconsistent with the glory of the Son of God.  They also thought it improbable that the promises to the Jews would be annulled by their own leaders.  There are two faults about this debate of greatness: 1) they laid aside the warfare to which they had been called; 2) instead of helping each other through the grief to come, they sought to excel each other out of ambition.  Greatness is achieved in humility, and the symbol of humility is a child.  It is not that children are not totally innocent (1 Cor. 14:20).  But children do not pursue worldly ambition with such focus and zeal.  A person is truly humble who does not claim any personal merit in God's sight, nor proudly despises the brethren or aims at being superior to them;  but reckons it enough that they are one fo the members of Christ and desires nothing more than that the Head alone be exalted.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

7/18/10- 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 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. 21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" 29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer. "

Thoughts: This healing teaches us that everything is possible to those who believe.  But it also links prayer to belief.  Prayer without belief is just speaking- not even wishing.  A wish implies an ability to think in a hopeful way.  This man believed a little, and asked for help to overcome his unbelief.  The disciples tried to cast the demon out- but without help and trust from God. 

Payer:  Help me, Lord to not only believe, but to trust and pray to you.

7/17/10 Mark 9:2-13 Encouragement to go forward

MARK 9:2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.
11 And they asked him, "Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?"
12 Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him."

Thoughts: Before Jesus went to Jerusalem to die, he received a shot in the arm of divine glory.  Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the law) met him.   How did the disciples know they were Moses and Elijah?  They had no name tags, and there is no record of their telling the apostles who they were.  When we get to heaven we will in a similar fashion be able to recognize people.  Moses and Elijah were encouraging him to endure the persecution (they each had endured their own), and that his death and resurrection were all foretold in the law and the prophets.  In a like manner we are often encouraged in life by the law and the prophets (the scriptures) to complete our purpose.  Let us not waver, but boldly serve our Lord as we go forward.

Prayer:  Today, Lord, help me to be encouraged to fulfill your purpose for me.

John Cavlin abridged: I have no doubt whatever that Christ intended to show that he was not dragged unwillingly to death, but that he came forward of his own accord, to offer to the Father the sacrifice of obedience. The disciples were not made aware of this till Christ rose; nor was it even necessary that, at the very moment of his death, they should perceive the divine power of Christ, so as to acknowledge it to be
victorious on the cross; but the instruction which they now received was intended to be useful at a future period both to themselves and to us, that no man might take offense at the weakness of Christ, as if it were by force and necessity that he had suffered.  It would manifestly have been quite as easy for Christ to protect his body from death as to clothe it with heavenly glory.  The idea of three witnesses to this event is scriptural (Deut. 17:6).  God who has bodies and souls in his hand is able to restore the dead to life- as is evident here.

(Mt. Tabor- the Mount of Trransfiguration)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

7/16/10- Mark 8:34- 9:1 Exchanging Your Soul

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 38 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." 9:1 And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

What will you give in exchange for your soul?  All the comforts of the world do not measure up to your eternal life.  Yet, many give up their faith for temporary comforts.  Some walk by sight and not by faith.  So they value what they see far more than what is lasting an unseen.  Wealth, wisdom, and beauty all fade, but knowing God lasts forever. 
There are lots of southern folk tales about people going down to the crossroads (think Eric Clapton's song/"Brother Where Art Thou") and selling their soul to the devil to get some wish or ability.  But we don't have to go to the crossroads to do it.  Many sell their souls by giving their lives and time to something else besides God. 
We need to weigh the cross on earth and heaven forever against the world now and shame forever.

Prayer: May my life reflect that I have chosen you over the world, O Lord.

John Calvin abridged on 9:38-: We must struggle against the dread of death that we may make an open confession of Christ which the world cannot endure.  While the world considers a confession of Christ as a trifling matter, here it is seen as a main part of divine worship and a distinction of godliness. If kings and princes require a verbal pledge, ought we also to make one of God so we may maintain his glory?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

7/15/10- Mark 8:27-33 The suffering Christ

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"
28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

Jesus is the one who is rejected, suffers and rises.  Elijah and John the Baptist were forerunners of him- in their holiness, in their asking others to repent and turn back to God.  Elijah suffered at the hands of Jezebel who tried to kill him, and John the Baptist at the hands of Herod.  Jesus suffered at the hand of Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas.  The religious leaders suffered at the hands of the rulers. 
Peter wanted Jesus to not suffer, but smoothly rule the world.  But this was not God's way.  In America we would much rather cope with the suffering and ease the suffering than truly change.  We would rather smooth things over and compromise than to face the cross and rise again.  But the difference between Jesus and Elijah and John was that Jesus is the Savior.  He is the messiah who came to save his people from their sins. He is not just telling us how to cope with the consequences of ous sin, or get around the consequences, or even just repent, but He came to tell us to repent and be saved.  Jesus, himself, is our hope.  His salvation came by what Peter was telling him to avoid.

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to recognize your carrying the cross and to follow in your footsteps. 

John Cavlin: The latest rumor [of who Jesus was] was from those who spoke of Christ with respect- the flower of the church.  Yet even these people did not get it right.  How great is the weakness of the human mind;  for not only is it unable to understand what is right and true, but even with true motives it coins errors.  "Who do you say that I am"- though the world may be enamored and carried away with its inventions, true believers should continue to adhere to Christ.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

7/14/10 Mark 8:22-26 Gradual Healing

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" 24 He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around."
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, "Don't even go into the village."

Thoughts: Jesus healed Bartimaeus just by saying, "Go your faith has healed you" (Mk. 10).  Jesus healed two men by touching them (Matthew 9).  Most healing he did was instant healing.  But here in Mark 8- he spit, touched the man's eyes, and then it was only a partial healing.  Why?
One missionary to a tribe in South America, once gave a story years ago about this verse.  He said that the witch doctors in his tribe always spit when they healed others.  The most effective witch doctor was called "the chief spitter."  The missionary believed that Jesus spit so this particular tribe could be reached.  For when they read this verse, they finally responded to the power of the gospel- because Jesus was the ultimate spitter.
But Jesus' healed gradually, to show us that sometimes it is God's will to help us a phase at a time. In our instant world- (think microwaves, instant oatmeal, instant messaging etc) it is important to note that God works in His timing and His way. 
Prayer: Help us, O Lord.  Heal our blindness.  In your timing, in your way lead us into your hope.

John Calvin abridged: This miracle is included in Mark only because speaks of Jesus' healing not in an instant but gradually.  In doing this, Jesus proves he has full liberty to the method of his healing.  So the grace of Christ which is poured suddenly on so many flowed by drops on this man.

7/13/10 Mark 8:14-21 Beware the Yeast of the Pharisees and Herodians

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod." 16 They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no bread."
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied. 20 "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." 21 He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"

Thoughts: A little bit of yeast works its way through the whole bread- like a little drop of poison can poison the whole cup.  The yeast of the Pharisees is legalism- valuing outward show and rules (Mk. 7:6-13) and holding their own traditions above the scripture (Mt. 23:23).  But what would be the yeast of Herod?  Matthew mentions the yeast of the Pharisees and Saducees (16:5).  All of these sects held two things in common- 1) they were hypocritical, and 2) they followed their own way rejecting the simple meaning of scripture.  It is well known that Jesus rejected the Pharisees as hypocritical (Mt. 23:23); But the Herodians wanted to pretend to be godly while following other gods and not obeying God.  For example, Herod built the temple, but was well-known as a ruthless ruler who murdered his wife, son, and the children of Bethlehem.  Herod was one who wanted to be called a believer all the while secularizing the society.  Both the Pharisees and the Herodians (and the Saducees too) found rationalization and excuses around the simple meaning of scripture.  So today, scholars try to find rationalization around the simple meaning of scripture about sexual morality-especially homosexuality and adultery (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:24,25).  The Church becomes not only corrupt but useless as we focus on our excuses and traditions instead of the simple scriptures.  God is the only real provider- not those who find ways around God's law.  Excuses and hyposcrisy poison the Word, taking away from its power.  We need to trust in God's Word, not in the rules or even excuses of people.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust in your provision and your Word- the bread of life.  Keep me from show and excuses that would dilute my heart's love for you.

John Calvin abridged: Jesus was exhorting his disciples to beware of every abuse that makes an inroad on sincere piety.  The Pharisees started this corruption, the Saducees joined them, and Herod- a very wicked man and an opponent and corrupter of sound doctrine.  In the midst of these dangers it was very necessary to warn his disciples to be on their guard; for, since the human
mind has a natural inclination towards vanity and errors, when we are surrounded by wicked inventions, spurious doctrines, and other plagues of the same sort, nothing is more easy than to depart from the true and simple purity of the word of God; and if we once become entangled in these things, it will never be possible for the true religion to hold an entire sway over us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mark 8:1-9 Feeding of the Four Thousand

1 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2 "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance."
4 His disciples answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?" 5 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied.
6 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. 7 They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. 8 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 9 About four thousand were present. And having sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Thoughts: Perhaps this is the most neglected miracle that Jesus performed.  The feeding of the five thousand is more prominent-featured in every gospel; has a revered place (Tabgha)- Matthew says this took place on a mountian in Galilee (Mt. 15:29); certainly there were less people than the miracle of the 5,000.  But 4,000 people out in the countryside is still a lot of people to feed!  He fed them on the third day- a symbolic reminder of God's provision for us after a period of waiting and hunger- like the resurrection.  As three days assures they had run out of food, so three days in the tomb assured Jesus was really dead. 
In tough economic times we need to remember God cares about our needs.  It is not that Jesus is so spiritual or ethereal that he doesn't care- and restricts himself only to helping us spiritually.  God still cares about our needs- but we need to turn to him as provider and not turn away.  Perhaps a lesson to learn today is that our companies are not our provider; the banks or credit card companies are not our provider; the government is not our provider; but the Lord is the One who cares and can provide daily bread- or keep us alive in famine (Psalm 33:18; 1 Kings 17:1-4).

Prayer: Jehovah Jirah- my provider- thank you for all you have done.  We look to you for help and your provision in our times of need.
John Calvin abridged: Christ satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, while, on the present occasion, four
thousand men are fed with seven loaves and a few small fishes; and that twelve baskets were then filled with fragments, while out of a greater abundance a smaller portion is left. Let us learn from this, that the power of God is not restricted to means or outward assistance, and that it is all one with Him whether there be much or little, as Jonathan said when speaking of his own moderate army and the vast multitude of enemies: there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few,(1 Samuel 14:6.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7/10/10- Mark 13:1-3 The destruction of the temple

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" 2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

(Picture of my daughter next to an excavated stone above; picture of stones thrown down near southern wall)
[Most consider Mark written about 59-62 AD and the destruction of the temple was in 70 AD- less than 40 years after Jesus' death].

Jeremiah 7 says that the people were trusting that they had "the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" But their hearts were not right.  Jesus said a similar thing- that the people were consumed with looking right on the outside, but their hearts weren't right on the inside.  Our religion in America is quickly turning into a shell of its former self.  We have "In God we trust" and pledge "one nation under God" but our hearts are not set on trying to please God.  In the name of tolerance we are running after other gods that would destroy us.  In the name of helping others many are winking at adultery and homosexuality and worst in order to "get along" instead of "repent"- making up excuses.  Perhaps the oldest in the book- "They were born that way."  The Jews consider Jesus a prophet in part because he predicted the destruction of the third temple- one of the wonders of the world at the time.   But the words of Jesus to get our hearts right need to penetrate to our ears and hearts. 

Prayer: Help me, Lord to trust in you, listen to you, and get my heart right- so that you will dwell in me as you dwelt in the temple.

John Calvin abridged: Many are amazed that Jesus would talk about his kingdom without the splendor and wealth of the temple. Many in my day believe the wealth and splendor of the papacy should not be spoken against either.  All of this tells us about the fading and transitory aspect of the world.  This ought to correct the vanity of our senses, which too eagerly follow pomp, luxury, and pleasure.

(Josephus said the temple stones were 15 x 12 x 8 cubits and the sun would glisten off of them-almost blinding those who saw it).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

7/10/10- Mark 7:24-30 Helping Those who are Hurting

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27 "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." 28 "Lord," she replied, "even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter." 30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

(Sebastiano Ricci 1659-1734, Venice)

Thoughts: Someone who worships other gods would open themselves up to the possession by these so-called-gods (if they existed- whom Moses and Paul called "demons"- Lev. 17:7; Deut 32:17; I Cor. 10:20,21).  At least a portion of scripture recognizes a spiritual reality behind the worship of other gods. 
So, Jesus, who- on the surface (and I believe in reality)- recognized the existence of the devil and demons did not want to help someone who may not be a believer, and who opened themselves- and their children- up to more infection by evil.  He may have seen it like a person who puts a bandaid to heal a wound, only to have that the patient open the wound up again- making it worse instead of better.  Jesus spoke of a concern to not heal someone of demons and then have that person open themselves up to more possession- which would be worse (Mt. 12:43-45).  Yet, the woman came to him with a measure of faith, and a willingness to do whatever it takes (shown by her persistance) to heal her daughter.  This contrasts with those who would say they can live unrepentantly like an unbeliever (especially in terms of sexual morality), and still hope to obtain blessing by Christ.  Christ did not seek to bless her daughter despite the demon, but sought to bless the daughter by casting the demon out.
To me this indicates the Lord's willingness to help us, even if He knows we may fall back into more problems; even if we know we should not be in his line of focus; even if we feel God's power is limited.    God hears our pain, and the heartfelt cry of a woman aching for her child.  Jesus is not cold-hearted, or legalistic, but showing he knows how things ought to work, He goes beyond that to mercy- for God's blessings are not finite. 
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and kindness. 

John Calvin abridged: Jesus began to give a glimpse of his mercy to the Gentiles that would be freely offered after his death and resurrection.  The woman was from a heathen nation- often the Jews would call all Gentiles Greeks.  She had aquired some taste of piety for she called him "Son of David" (Mt. 15:22).  Christ, at first, did not speak in order to whet her zeal and enhance her ardor.  Often when God does not speak directly, He would have us remember his promises and character as Redeemer. It should take away our pride to note that we are reckoned "dogs" and to pour blessings upon us would be to "throw" them away.  It also should astound us that we, who were once considered dogs, are now considered children (Eph. 2:14).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

7/9/10 Mark 7:31-36 Allowing the Deaf to Hear

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

I found out today that my denomination, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., is for the fourth time since 1997 sending a resolution (rescinding G-6.106b) that we say that each presbytery may decide about the ordination of practicing, unrepentant homosexuals.  We are like a people who see the waterfall; hear the waterfall; but do not turn back and paddle away from the deep waterfall that is drawing us to our deaths.  Our denomination (if combined) was 6.2 million in 1962. Now, despite population increases, we are 2.1 million, and we have lost half our members since reunion of 1984.  We refuse to listen to the clear scriptures Romans 1:26, 27 (26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error); or Leviticus 18:22 (" 'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.").  It is a terribly sad, sad day. Yet some are rejoicing that they are heading down the path of least resistance- they are deaf to God and to others yelling at them.  They need our Lord to open their ears to scripture and to reason.

7/8/10 Mark 7:9-23 Cleaning the Inside as well

9 And he continued, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.' 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." 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."

Thoughts: Many religions focus on the outside stuff- doing things, working hard, eating things, exercising.  Jesus was trying to get his followers to focus on the heart.  In the end, for Christians it is about love.  Evil thoughts cause evil actions.

Prayer: Lord of my heart, make my heart a home for you.  Cleans my heart that I may be claen inside and out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

7/7/10 Mark 7:1-8 The Bible Versus the Experts

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. ) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?" 6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions."

"Experts Say..."  Who are the experts?  Who are the authorities?  If someone has a Phd. and lives far away, does that give them more authority than time proven scripture?  A year ago I was in a conference on John Calvin, and the lead speaker had said that it was time to interpret scriptures in the light of our superior expertise, and not just take scriptures for what they say.  In other words, our new "traditions" are better than scripture.  This is (ironically) what Calvin spoke against.  Adding to or taking away from scripture by our  "expertise" gives authority to experts who may not believe or may be writing things out of pride, and dilutes the power of God's Word. If we "know better" than the scriptures, then the scriptures have become a rubber knife- not a sharp, two-edged sword that convicts us (Heb. 4:16).  One of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation is that the Church of that time had elevated tradition to the same status as the scripture.  The watchword of the Reformation was "sola scriptura." 
In this passage, the Pharisees had elevated their tradition above the scriptures- letting go of the commands of God in order to follow mere human rules.  Let us not do this in our day, even if the new tradition-makers, the experts, tell us to do so.

Prayer: Lord, give me ears to hear your word clearly.  Holy Spirit, convict me, lead me, guide me through your Word.

John Calvin abridged: It was always the will of God, that He should be worshipped according to the rule laid down in his word, and therefore no addition to his Law can be endured.  Now as he permits believers to have outward ceremonies, by which they can exercise their faith, this does not mean that He allows them to mix these ceremonies with His own word as if religion consisted in them. Whenever we are so eager to keep human laws so that we pay less attention to keeping God's own law, we are transgressing the law of God.  Whenever holiness is said to consist in anything else than in observing God's Law, people are led to believe that the law may be violated without danger. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

7/6/10 Mark 6:45-56 Trusting in Christ's Power

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

(William Hole 1908)

Thoughts: Mark records "they were amazed for they had not understood about the loaves- their hearts were hardened."  What had they not understood?  Could it be the same thing many of us do not understand- that is, the power of God over life- and even the elements?  Perhaps we are willing to secularize our country and our lives so much- regulating God to a very small portion- because we do not stand at amazement at His power?   The One who changes a little bit of food for enough for many- can change our lives for the better.  The One who changes the wind and walks on water is the One who has offered to be a help to us.  It is truly a great thing when Christians obey God because they trust Him.  We find peace and strength from our Lord when we know we can rely on Him- even in the middle of the storms in our life.

Prayer: Lord, soften my heart; open my eyes; give me grace to understand and trust in you as my everyday Savior.

John Calvin abridged: 46- "He went up to a mountainside to pray" While Paul enjoins us to pray "at all times and places" (1 Tim 2:8), this does not stop the need to pray in solitude.  The slightest interruptions may destroy or cool the passion to  pray.  Praying alone to God encourages us to 1) be more on our guard; 2) to pour our heart into his bosom; 3) be more diligent in self-examination, and 4) remembering we have to do with God and rise above ourselves.  Christ permitted his disciples to be tossed about in a perilous condition by an opposing storm so that their attention would be more powerfully focused on the assistance which he brought to them.  The adverse wind rose about midnight and Christ appears three hours before sunrise.  Their arms were not more fatigued by rowing than their faith was shaken by grievous terrors.  52- They were charged with blindness because they allowed the revealing of his divinity-and his ability to help his disciples- that he showed when he multiplied the loaves to fade from their memories.  Mark uses the term "blindness" to remind us that our hearts are hard unless we are enlightened from above (Deut. 29:4). It is not a new thing when people are blind to the manifest works of God.

Monday, July 5, 2010

7/5/10- Provision in Jesus

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." 37 But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take almost a year's wages ! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" 38 "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see." When they found out, they said, "Five—and two fish." 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

(Tabgha altar with Mosaic 4th cent)

The disciples came to Jesus excited about what God had accomplished through them.  Jesus had just learned of John the Baptist's death (Mt. 14:12,13).  Jesus wanted to get away and so he withdrew by boat to a solitary place.  Jesus was seeking to regroup, grieve, and get refreshed.  But the crowds followed him, and they became Jesus' probelm- for there were no places to buy food around.  So Jesus took a little and made it into a lot.  This is a reminder of what God did through Moses- providing food and water in the desert, and through Elishah (2 Kgs 4:42-44).  It is a reminder to us all that God will provide when we do not see a way for Him to do so.  This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels and even the Gospel of Thomas.

Prayer: Help me, Lord to trust in your provision.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mark 6:17-28 Against Total Power Resting in One Person

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled ; yet he liked to listen to him. 21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." 23 And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." 24 She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" "The head of John the Baptist," she answered. 25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Thoughts- On this Fourth of July- American Independence Day- we can be grateful for our freedom, and that one man does not have such absolute and whimsical power.  Herod Antipas felt he could do whatever he wanted to do. He even divorced his wife to marry his brother's widow-who was also his niece, Herodias. Ssome rumored he had a part in his brother's death too.  When John the Baptist, popular though he was, rebuked him , he was put in prison.  Here the king made rash promises. He obviously would rather not break a drunken promise than take a prophet's life.  He would rather show off his power than do what was right.  America's system of checks and balances on the executive office by both the legislature and the justice system are not to be taken for granted. 
Prayer: Lord, please preserve our country.  We thank you for our freedom, and pray that you will preserve it for us.

John Calvin abridged: John the Baptist has furnished us an example for all teachers- not to wink at the faults of those in authority, in order to gain or keep their favor- even if that favor would be used later for the public interests.  Herod shows us how the Spirit of God works even among unbelievers.  In some measure he obeyed God's commands [by not killing John at first],  Yet, whenever unbelievers are hard-pressed, they escape from God's way, and break out into stubborness and even irrational rage. 

7/2/10 The Need to Listen to Rebuke (Mark 6:14-16)

Mark 6:14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 Others said, "He is Elijah."
And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago."
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"

Thoughts: Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned here- son of Herod the Great) had married his niece and his brother's widow, Herodias.  He divorced his wife, the daughter of King Aretus of Nabatea, to do so.  John the Baptist rebuked him for this, and in the end this relationship with Herodias was his undoing.  Not only did he imprison and kill John the Baptist for this- and he obviously- according to this passage- felt guilt about that; but eventually King Aretus fought a war with Herod Antipas- and won.  The Roman Emperor, Tiberias, was going to invade Aretus's land to stick up for Herod but died before he could do so.  The new emperor had no wish to do so.  Herod was furious, lost favor with the emperor, and was exiled to Gaul (France). 
    Herod was a pagan who gave lip service to the Jewish religion.  He wanted to secularize the country, and did not apply God's law to his own way.  When John the Baptist rebuked him for his sin- instead of recognizing the rebuke, he imprisoned him.  Contrast this with King David, who, when Nathan rebuked him for a similar sin, came to God in repentance, keeping Nathan as his life-long advisor.  David was willing to submit to God.  Herod was not willing to submit to anyone- and lived in disfavor with his people, his overseers and his God.
     So how do you handle it when you are caught in some sin?  How do you handle rebuke?  Herod did not know it, but it was a blessing for John the Baptist to rebuke him.  If he had repented, he would perhaps be remembered differently, and may not have played a role in the death of the messiah.  The scriptures say, "Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you" (Pr. 9:8).  I do not see our leaders today listening to rebuke or submitting to advice.  Instead, I see too many grabbing for power as Herod did.  Perhaps they too will be haunted by their own misgivings.
Prayer: God bless our country with leaders who will listen- and listen especially to you.  God bless me with an ability to listen as well.
John Calvin abridged: Others had suggested to Herod that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead; some said he was powerful like Elijah; others that he was a great prophet or a great man that should be approached in excellence.  It is astonishing that the true interpretation of Jesus' identity was not brought out by anyone.  They knew God had promised a Redeemer, and that they were in desperate need for redemption.  As for Herod, it is important to note that even though the wicked try to harden their hearts to God- and to escape agitation, God comes to them with such blind terrors and gives them no rest.


Friday, July 2, 2010

7/2/10- Spreading the Light Mark 6: 6-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 8 These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Thoughts: Where the good news spread, evil was defeated.  You can go to and see which parts of the earth are in day and which parts are in darkness.  As the disciples went from town to town, evil fled that place.  So today, when the good news spreads, and people really respond to the gospel of Christ, sexual immorality and its problems (STDs, HIV) go down; crime decreases, and lives are changed.  The spreading of God's gospel is not a curse, but a blessing to the land.  This July 4th weekend- if only we really believed, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."  (Psalm 33:12).  Too many want to hide from God- to ignore His blessings (and perhaps hide from the consequences of reaping what we sow). 
The Good news is still alive, and still powerful.  As believers, we should seek to spread it in a culture that lacks deep meaning, in people who are caught up in the possession of evil.  When good spreads, evil flees- of all kinds. Talk about making the world a better place...

Prayer: Lord, use me today to spread a little light- a little good news.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

7/1/10- You Can Never Go Home Again

Mark 6:1Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

(Cliff at Nazareth- Luke 4 records they tried to throw Jesus off here)

Thoughts: Thomas Wolfe said "You Can't Go Home Again."  Wolfe finally did return to Asheville, NC in 1937 before his death in 1938.  However, it is hard for someone famous to go back and live in the place you grow up.  Relatives and childhood friends still see you as the little child, and will not listen.  Jesus was able to go home, but people there were not willing to believe in him.  Luke 4 tells us they tried to throw him off a cliff (see below).  In America, the average person had been moving every 2.5 years.  The question arises- where is their home?  Army (or Armed Services) Brats and Preacher Kids used to be the only ones who didn't know where their earthly home was, but industries today like to move families everywhere-even overseas (adding tot he instability of the family).  It is hard to reach relatives and childhood friends for Christ. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your willingness to reach out to everyone- even those who are hard to reach.  Help me to reach out to my relatives and childhood friends.

John Calvin abridged: The people rejected Christ who had not been educated by humans (but was employed in everyday labor) because of his lack of letters.  They were compelled to admire him, but treated him with contempt, choosing to cover themselves with their own darkness.  We can see here that people look for reasons to ignore Christ- despite miracles he has done.  Mark states strongly "He could not perform many miracles."  Those who should have been the first to recognize him, were the last.  Their unbelief and obstinancy binds the hands of God- but do not overcome Him (Mark says some miracles were still performed there).  The amazing thing is that thought they tried (and we do too) to hinder the grace of God, it rises despite their best efforts against it.