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Thursday, September 30, 2010

10/1/10- Matthew 21:1-11; Zechariah 9:9

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."  4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 "Say to Daughter Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' " 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)

(James Tissot "Throught the Streets of Jerusalem"- on Palm Sunday)

Thoughts: All the gospel writers speak of Jesus' coming to Jerusalem in a parade-like atmosphere.  Matthew alone speaks of both the donkey and the colt of the donkey being prepared for Christ to ride on them in exact accordance with Zechariah 9:9.  A donkey is a humble animal.  Though Israelite kings and judges had ridden on donkeys in the past, it is clearly a symbol that the king comes in peace, not war.  A donkey is slow and unmajestic.  Jesus did not enter into Jerusalem on a white horse (Rev. 6:2 and Zech. 6:6) bent on conquering.  He came as the Prince of Peace into his own dominion. 
     Yet, he came to his own and his own received him not (Jn. 1:11).  In rejecting their Prince of Peace, they literally rejected God's protection and peace.  Within a generation of his death the nation, Jerusalem, and the temple were obliterated (70 A.D. as Jesus had predicted).  In rejecting God, we reject our source of peace, protection, and strength.  Blasphemy- an open and verbal rejection of God (a la Bill Maher), is a terrible thing.  While freedom to speak is important, kindness toward those we disagree with is also important.  The Pharisees tried to squelch the praise of the people.  They accused Jesus of blaspheming the high priest, but they killed the One who offered them peace- the ultimate blasphemy.  Our task is to be able to recognize God when He comes to us.

Prayer: God, give me eyes to see you and a heart to believe and trust in you.

John Calvin abridged: Jesus sought a donkey not because he was weary but to show the nature of his kingdom.  He had been refraining others from calling him king, but now he welcome it at the end. The donkey was borrowed.  There was no saddle on it- they had to throw their cloaks on it.  The crowd praised him, but this crowd was the poorest of the poor.  Jesus had to show himself king, but did not want to use only earthly riches to do this.

9/30/10- Matthew 21:14-17 Worship for all

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself'?" 17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

(Christ Healing in the Temple- Benjamin West 1811 designed for and placed in the first hospital in America in Pennsylvania)

Thoughts: According to Leviticus 21:18-21 the physically impaired could not offer sacrifices at the temple.  So in effect, Jesus was opening up the worship of God to these who were impaired.  He was building a spiritual handicap ramp so they could come. 
Why would the priests be mad that he healed these and that the little children were calling him the "Son of David?"  The status quo was changing, and "that's just the way it is" wouldn't work anymore. 
All people are welcome to come and worship.  Christ, however, seeks to change us, heal us so that we will be whole physically, mentally, and spiritually.  In heaven, we will be made whole in every way- and our sin (which we too easily embrace- Prostitution was made legal in Canada yesterday) will be washed away and we will not desire it anymore.  To be made whole and pure in the presence of God is a wonderful hope!

Prayer: Lord, as you healed people in the temple, so heal my heart to worship you. 

John Calvin abridged: Christ showed he had authority to cleanse the temple with his miracles. The lame and the blind were witnesses to his power. We see how ungodly and malicious were the scribes and priests who opposed him.  For they not only opposed him for the childrens' songs, but also because of his miracles. Christ was showing his kingship, and those in tyranny did not like their power diminished.  Christ acknowledges it is unnatural that children should praise him instead of the priests who were called to do so. But even if the children were to be quiet, the very rocks would praise him.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/29/10- Luke 19:28-48 The Time to Speak Out

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' say, 'The Lord needs it.' " 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34 They replied, "The Lord needs it." 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" 40 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

(Palm Sunday Procession- from the Mt. of Olives- Tissot 1896)

Thoughts: The procession to Jerusalem began not in Bethany or the Mt. of Olives, but in Jericho 17 miles away from Jerusalem (Lk. 19:1).  Jesus had set his face toward going to Jerusalem, and he boldly rode into the city as a king.  Jesus had been hiding his kingship up until this time.  John records that after he fed the 5,000 they wanted to make him king but he refused.  Several times Jesus told those he healed to "not tell anyone" (Lk. 8:56) and refused for the demons to testify to who he was (Lk. 4:41).  Now the children cry out, and even the rocks cry out- the hills clap their hands that Jesus, the King has come to Jerusalem.  The time for his revelation as king had come, but it would be short-lived.
      Yesterday the President of the United States was asked why he was a Christian.  He said he did not grow up in a Christian home, but was a Christian by choice, noting that the grace of God seen on the cross met a felt need.  I am grateful for his testimony and hope maybe some will stop to think about Christ a bit more because of it.  It was said in a backyard in answer to a question, but was proclaimed on the rooftops and on world-wide news (  He did a fine job of describing the need for humility and grace.  We are all called to give an answer to the reason for the hope inside of us (1 Peter 3:15).

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to proclaim the truth of you as King of kings.  When I am asked to take my stand, and give my testimony, give me grace to stand up clearly and boldly for you.

Calvin abridged: Christ shows his divinity in sending the men ahead to get the colt- for he knew ahead of time, and bent the wills of others to his own.  The disciples set an example for us in complying with his wish quickly.  The evangelist tells us that the people proclaimed him as king.  Luke adds the words "peace in heaven and glory in the highest" which were the words of the angels to the shepherds at his birth.  It is through Him that people enjoy peace in this world. 

9/28/10 John 2:16-19, Psalm 69:6-12 Zeal for Your House

     Perhaps a little direction of where we are going is in order.  During the summer, the blog went through the Gospel of Mark bit by bit.  During the fall we are back to following the scriptures listed in the Disciple Study "Jesus in the Gospels".  Thsi fall the theme will be the Passion and Resurrection.  In January through May 2011 we will concentrate on the Gospel of John.
     This week (and next) we have been on Chapter 17 of the study, which focuses on the Cleansing of the Temple and the Entrance into Jerusalem.  The blog is written so it is not necessary at all to be in the Disciple study.  To me, the passages we study are the heart of scripture.  Occassionally, as today, we will look at Old Testament passages that give fuller meaning to Jesus' actions and sayings.  We have about 80 people in my church going through this study, and this is meant as a help to them, and to any others who just want to study Jesus as he is portrayed in the scriptures.
     Every day we read a scripture passage (from the TNIV); my thoughts reflect on that passage and how it applies to every day life (written each day- pray I don't get sick!).  I also try to summarize and put into modern day English some of Calvin's commentaries on the passage.  Calvin is brilliant, but his commentaries are not up to date, and they often are too lengthy.  I started doing this as a way to celebrate Calvin's 500th anniversary.  Try to give a visual image/art to go along too.  Enough housekeeping! 

Psalm 69:6-12: 6 Lord, the LORD Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel,
may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me. 7 For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.
8 I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother's children; 9 for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. 10 When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; 11 when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. 12 Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.

John 2:16-19: 16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then responded to him, "What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

(Ippalito Scarzella 1550-1620)

Thoughts: Jesus was not simply for keeping the status quo of comfort.  Sin usually has a way of seeping into things- almost like dust and grime slowly gather on a good painting.  It is the easy thing to ignore the problem. Every blue moon, care should be taken to clean a good piece of art in order to preserve it.  So, reform is necessary in our lives and in the Church, and we should continually re-evaluate what we are doing- not by how we feel, or what the latest polls are saying, but by the Word of God.  In fact, Psalm 69 points out that when zeal for doing things properly and for God's glory consumes us, it often- if not always has a tendency to isolate us or bring insults on us.  Certainly, this aggravated the Jews so that some wanted to kill Jesus after his cleansing of the Temple at the end of his ministry (Mk. 11:18).  The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was linked by Him to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD (Jn. 2:19; Lk. 19:28-48- which we will study tomorrow).  Jesus was concerned about the purity of individuals (Mt. 5:8), but also about the purity of the religious structures.  The love of money and human lust for power can easily corrupt a church or a heart, and are to be continually fought against.

Prayer: Lord, help me today to live a generous and kind life.  Convict me of my sin, and show me where I can live my life better for you.  I also pray for my church and the Church in general that you would make your Church more pure today. 

John Calvin abridged: Christ declares himself to be the Son of God in order to show he has the right and authority to cleanse the Temple. He drove the buyers and sellers out in order to restore the purity of the worship of God, which had been corrupted by human wickedness. This passage does not apply to church buildings as much as to the Church as a whole- which is the heavenly sanctuary of God on earth.  We should therefore keep before our eyes the majesty of God which dwells in the Church, and not let it be defiled by any pollutions. This cleansing was a witness to the disciples that Jesus was the One who would restore the kingdom of God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27,2010 Matthew 21:18-22 A Fruitless Tree Withers

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."

(Fruit tree effected with fire blight-hypp pathology)

Thoughts: This is a reminder of John 15:2- "He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit."  The fig tree in Jesus' day was a symbol of Israel.  As Jesus was about to die in Jerusalem at the hands of the leading authorities of Israel and Rome, he once more- in a different way- was prophecying the withering or destruction of Israel (in A.D. 70). Historically, when the Church has failed to bear fruit for God, it withers and must be re-made.  Today the Church in the West is in a spiral of disbelief and wonders why it has no power or fewer followers/practitioners.  The Church needs to bear fruit- the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6), the fruit of obedience, and the fruit of a bold witness to the power of Christ to change things- and lives.
The overall point, however, is the greatness of the power of God.  God can wither trees immediately or cause mountains to be moved.  Jesus, was teaching his disciples how to harness the power of God through prayer.  The caveat is that prayer must be made in faith- so whatever we pray must submit to God's will.  Faith is the switch that turns the power of God on in life.  It is what is missing in the skeptical, questioning, doubting Church today. 

Prayer: Lord, may my witness be bold and powerful for you.  Today, we pray for your Church that it would bear fruit that would be pleasing for you.

John Calvin abridged: Mark and Matthew differ as to when they discovered the withered tree, but it is only that Mark gives more detail.  Jesus here uses his human hunger as an opportunity to bring glory to the Father.  His point was to show the end that awaits hypocrites, and at the same time to expose the emptiness of their ostentation. This passage is useful in pointing out the power and nature of faith.  Faith is a certainty relying on the goodness of God, and does not allow doubt.  The true test of faith lies in prayer. Faith leads to prayer, and true prayer is an outpouring of faith.  If some say that we do not see mountains being thrown into the sea, the answer is that Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of people, that they should desire anything of their pleasure.  The Spirit holds all of our affections by the bridle of the Word of God.  Christ demans a firm and undoubting confidence in an answer, and where else is that found other than in the Word of God.  Christ promises nothing to his disciples unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

9-26-10 John 12:9-11 The Problem of Lazarus

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

(The author climbing up from Lazarus' tomb June 2010)

Thoughts: Lazarus was a problem for the Jews.  He was a walking, living testimony to the power of Christ.  There was a crowd of people who had seen Lazarus' resurrection, and could testify to his death in Bethany- just over the hill of the Mount of Olives (and just a few miles from Jerusalem).  For Jesus to heal a blind man is one thing, but to raise someone from the dead is totally different, for death is the ultimate sickness that comes to us all.  One tradition says Lazarus went to France (but most scholars say that is a later tradition that confuses the biblical Lazarus with a bishop named Lazarus d. 407).  A stronger tradition says Lazarus was not killed, and after Jesus died he lived another thirty years and perhaps went to Cyprus.  Wherever Lazarus went, he was a living testimony to the power of Jesus. 
     The problem for atheists today are those Christians who are changed by the power of Christ.  The drug addict who stays off drugs; the marriage that is saved; the weak who are strengthened.  The witness of Christ is found best in the living testimony of lives changed.

Prayer: Lord, you are the resurrection and the life.  May your power in me be a living testimony to others of your amazing presence and grace.

John Calvin abridged:  As Christ neared his death, powerful testimonies were given that people would not be overcome by the sadness of the cross.  One testimony was the recent miracle of Lazarus.  It is insane fury to put to death one who had been raised from the dead.  The enemies of Christ were not just mistaken or foolish, but purposefully wicked, so that they did not even shrink from making war on God.  This also tells us that God's power was not dimly seen in the resurrection of Lazarus.

Mark 11:17-19 The Price of Reform

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.  19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

(Cleansing the Temple, Bernardino Mei)

Thoughts: Jesus attack upon the temple and its practices got him in real trouble.  At his crucifixion Jesus also was derided for saying something against the Temple: (Mark 14:57) Jesus' main accusation was that he said that he would "destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another not made by man."  In this passage (Mk. 11) the chief priests and teachers of the law sought to kill him because he tried to drive out the money changers. Jesus was not saying anything that was not true to reality, and was not trying to make up his own changes.  He was trying to change the temple by quoting scripture and trying to cleanse away the layers to get to the truth.  The church today needs to be reformed as well.  When the church refuses to listen to scripture, it is in danger of not only losing purpose and direction, but also losing its hope and faith.  The church is more than psychology, positive thinking, just entertainment, and being nice and looking nice on the outside. Any reforms will not be easy.  Most real reformers- Jesus, Savanarola, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Billy Graham paid high prices to change the church for the better.

Prayer: Reform your Church, O Lord, according to your Spirit and your Word.  Reform me that I would not be corrupted by pride and my own habits.

John Calvin abridged:  What is it that really bothered the scribes and Pharisees?  [Matthew records that Jesus healed in the Temple and that the children were shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David"- Mt. 21:14-16].  It was ungodly malice and outrageous contempt against God as seen by their being bothered by his miracles and the applause of the people.  They wanted to hold onto their power, which would be diminished by giving Jesus the title of King.

Friday, September 24, 2010

9/24/10 Mark 11:15-19 Need for Reform

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?  But you have made it a den of robbers." 18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

(Cleansing the Temple by Luca fa Presto 1660)
Thoughts: The cleansing of the temple teaches us to be careful to be self-critical and continually look for ways to cleanse and reform the church and ourselves.  Someone said that a young boy went to his neighbor (who was a pastor) and said, "My daddy said you have sinners in your church."  The pastor said, "Yes, we have lots of them!"  The little boy then ran home, slammed the door and went into his perfect-sin-free home.  If there were no sinners in the church, the church would be empty and out of business.  But because there are sinners in the church, there continually needs to be cleansings, and self-critical examinations.  Such cleansings are not pain free or non-offensive.  Such reform movements go against the idea that "anything goes as long as we love each other."  This passage goes against the image some have of a gentle, nodding, super-tolerant Jesus.  Jesus cared about holiness, and spoke against greed and corruption. The church should be reformed according to the Word of God.  Jesus here sought to make His house less worldly and more holy. 

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see my own faults.  Wash me, cleanse me, and I will be whiter than snow.

John Calvin commentary abridged: Though Christ saw this abuse many times, he only interupted it twice- at the beginning and end of his ministry.  Christ declared himself both king and priest with authority over the temple. If the church of God contracts pollutions, all the children of God ought to grieve. Not everyone is able to make change in the church.  But let those who see the need, oppose with their tongues what they cannot oppose with their hands.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

9/23/10 Luke 18:1-8 Perseverance in Prayer

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4 "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!' "  6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Thoughts: The lesson is clear that we should always pray and not give up.  "Always" is a continual, long time- it is an absolute that we cannot fill.  Yet it is a worthy goal.  Likewise never giving up is quite a task.  We live in a faithless age in which many feel that we should give up, not bother God in prayer for He is too busy. 
But someone who has nowhere else to turn, desperately wants help, and believes it is in the power of God to help- really and truly- has reason to be importunate and persistent.  This lesson is almost foreign to us who give up easily, who are taught impatience and instant gratification in an instant age. Yet we need to persist and persevere faithfully in prayer.  We put our trust in secondary-secular helps and not in the ultimate-primary help- God.

John Calvin abridged: Perseverance in prayer is rare and difficult.  Yet when our first prayers are not answered, we immediately throw away all our hope as well as the ardor of prayer.  The parable's point is not that we gradually bend God's will to ours, but that we should persevere.   If the wicked and hard-hearted judge gives in, will not the gracious and merciful Father care for us? Let us contend against our impatience, so that a long delay does not make us discontinue our prayers. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Luke 17:1-4 Stumbling and Forgiveness

1 Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves. "If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."

Millstone in Capernaum- probably for olives

Thoughts: Things happen that encourage people to stray off the path.  But when people stray off, there is always room to come back.  In fact, Jesus says when they try to turn around we must allow them to do so.  He runs the risk of people abusing His grace- and just saying "I repent" without meaning it.  Our forgiveness does not depend on our ability to gaze through the crystal ball and see the other person's motives.  When someone asks to be forgiven, we should not be all wrapped up in whether they mean it or not- just saying it is a step in the right direction.
     Also, this is a tough lesson for those who advocate passively or actively leading people away from God.  Those who act as if sports is their god- advocating their children skip church rather than a sports practice- who make football or any other game their god- could learn a lesson from Kenny McKinley.  McKinley, NFL returner for the Denver Broncos, said when injured that he didn't know what he would do if he couldn't play football because that was all he knew- and he took his own life (  As our society moves away from the true God, we turn to other gods to fill the vacuum of our soul- money, sports, gambling, knowledge, sex, drugs.  Those who lure people to forsake god and substitute other things are the millstone wearers.  There are tons of blog sites out there advocating people to turn away from the true God and make something else their lord.  There is a line between enjoying the gifts of God- things, sports, knowledge, sexuality et al. and making these things our lord and god- where there is no meaning without them.
Prayer: Lord, give me wisdom to enjoy life, but not make anything or anyone else my god.  May my heart be true to you so that I may not only glorify you, but enjoy you in life.
John Calvin abridged: Christ is elevating modesty and encouraging the disciples to endure the contempt of those who treat them disdainfully and trample them for their simple, focused life.  Even if the world insults them, God does not despise them. Christ also warns here of building up oneself by treating the already-humbled poorly.  The person who shows no concern for the weak does so because they do not render them the honor which they deserve.  The offense here is causing another to stumble on the path, to be slowed on the path, or drawn astray on the path to God.  We are encouraged to actively stretch out our hands to those in low estate, and help them to keep their duty, staying on the right path.  The millstone punishment was reserved for the worst offenders.  Therefore we should see how precious are those to God who are simple and despised by the world.

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/21/10 Luke 12:35-40 A Thief in the Night

35 "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

(Ten Virgins, William Blake 1822; They were told to keep their lamps ready Mt. 25)

Thoughts: Just heard a few minutes before I wrote this that a young 23 year old man, Kenny McKinley, a player for the Denver Broncos and former University of South Carolina football star, died.  For most, this was a total shock.  Kenny held about five receiving records at his university.  Most would have loved to have been in his place.  Yet there was sadness there as well-- in his family and in his repeated injuries that kept him from playing.  Now he is dead- at 23.  Life is fragile and short- even if you live to 100.  Life is full of surprises- like a thief in the night.  God is not controlled by our expectations, and our time is not our own.  We should always be watchful and ready, for every single day is a gift in this short life of ours.

Prayer: Lord, be with those who are grieving today out of crushed hopes and expectations.  Be with the McKinley family.  Help me, Lord, to trust in you despite the sadness and surprises of life. ("Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" Hot Tuna 1986)

John Calvin Abridged: Luke places this parable in a collection of sayings. He prefaces this saying that disciples should wait for their master with their loins girded and carrying burning lamps in their hands.  He contrasts being ready with sloth, and the holding of the lamps with the darkness of ignorance.  He enjoins us to be ready and equipped for the journey, that we may pass rapidly through this world not having any home in our hearts besides heaven.  God gives the title "His children" only to those who acknowledge they are pilgrims and aliens on this earth; we should not only be prepared to leave it, but we should also move forward in an uninterrupted course toward the heavenly life.  We are surrounded on all sides by darkness.  Yet God furnishes lamps- like those who are travelling on a journey at night.  The first thing to know is that we need to run vigorously, and second to make sure we are on the right road- so we do not go astray. "Girding of the loins" refers to the custom of holding up their long robes in order to move quickly. 

9-20-10 Luke 13:22-30 The Narrow Door

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, 24 "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' 26 "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' 28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

Thoughts: The narrow door is built to keep the enemies out, and is easily defended.  Matthew 7:13,14 speaks of a narrow way and a wide way, and that many go along the wide way.  Truth is usually smaller than we might wish it to be.  A narrow door like the one pictured to the left can only be entered one at a time, and even then uncomfortably.  Many in Jesus day thought that because they knew who Jesus was, and even entertained him in their house, that this meant they were his followers, and would be saved by him.  Today many think that because their parents or grandparents were Christians, and they are not Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or actively atheist- and because when they pray they may pray to Jesus, that they are therefore followers- and will enter the narrow door. There is a sharp distinction between knowing about Jesus and having a relationship with Him. As James says, the demons know about Christ (but that doesn't mean they are saved). Perhaps the difference can be defined by trust- do we trust in Him?  Perhaps the difference can be seen in what Jesus describes as the first commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Anybody can say they believe, but it is another thing to trust and love God- having a relationship with Him.  The image of being born again fits here too- going from one side (the womb) through the door of the birth canal to the other side.  A result of belief is this transformation of how we look at life.  Yesterday, CNN reported president Obama went to church for the first time in six months.  In reaction to this article, many said (in effect), "what difference does someone's religious practice make for their ability to be president?"  That perhaps indicates the problem and weakness of religion in American life.  For faith in Christ is a narrow door that squeezes out dishonesty, insincerity, coldness of heart, and changes us into better people- thus better politicians, better business people, better moms and dads, better dogcatchers.  If we are not changed by Christ's love and following the narrow way of truth, then maybe we should question whether our faith is still going in the broad way of destruction.

Prayer: Lord, may I follow you through the narrow door of truth.  May my love for you and trust in you be the rope that leads me through the dark of life into the narrow way to the other side.  May my life today, Lord, reflect my love for you.

John Calvin abridged- from Geneva notes: Christ here speaks against those who had rather err with many than go right with a few, and because of this through their own indifference they are shut out of the kingdom of God.  It is vain to be in the Church if one is not of the Church; and whether or not one is in the Church is shown by the purity of life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

9/19/10- Luke 12:13-21 Focus on God and Others

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." 16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21 "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God."

(The Rich Fool- Rembrandt van Rijn- 1606-69)

Thoughts: The man interrupted Jesus publicly to be on his side about his inheritance. His lack of hesitation (not waiting to talk to him privately) shows how he was consumed with the issue.  The parable of the rich man- shows us someone who was wise in the ways of the world, but who still had to submit to God.  He was building bigger barns so he could sell the grain for a higher price when it was needed (following Joseph's example of saving up- Gen. 41).  But he had no thought of others.  He uses the first person pronouns (I, my, me) about 8 times. His sin was his focus- he was leaving God and neighbor out.  He sought to have more simply so he could live easily.  He saw his wealth as only from himself and for himself.  We should learn to be careful to not wait until we have more to do what God calls us to do.  In a recession- we do not need to wait until we have bigger barns- more savings- to help others.  Each day is a gift- and we are called to be generous stewards of that gift.  God gives us wealth- not simply so we may eat, drink, and be merry, but that we might use that wealth (as all gifts) to glorify Him. 

Prayer: Help me Lord, to be a good steward of my time.  Help my focus to not be on me but on you and others.

John Calvin commentary abridged: Why did Chist not judge for the man who asked him to do so?  He did not want to appear to be an earthly judge- as the Jews wanted-and stir rumors that he was effecting a this-world redemption.  He also sought to make a distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the government of the Church.  Thirdly, Christ saw this man was neglecting God and looking only to his own worldly concerns.  Thus Christ warned the man against greed and covetousness. The root of greed is thinking that the more possessions we have the happier we will be- thus not relying on God's providence. This parable shows us 1) that life is short and transitory; 2) riches do not help in prolonging life; 3) (this is an inferrance) that both rich and poor should seek a remedy for greed in relying on God's providence for daily bread.

Friday, September 17, 2010

9/18/10 Luke 12:4-7 God's Providential Care in the Face of Trouble

4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Click Here for "His Eye is on the Sparrow" sung by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount)

Thoughts: Jesus had just confronted the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law and they were beseiging him with questions.  Jesus was again made aware that these same religious authorities will arrest and kill him.  He was concerned that his disciples not be people who fear others, but people who trust God.  So he reminded them of God's power (to throw into or preserve from hell), and God's care (who cares for the lowly sparrows).  In a time in which government is becoming more and more invasive and powerful, and the recession makes us concerned about God's providential care, these are tremendous words for us.  If the growing religion in America and the West is deism, then this is a marked contrast.  The deist needs to be more afraid of humans than of God, and does not believe in God's care for humans- much less sparrows.  Deism leaves us without hope but with fear, but Jesus' will is for us to trust in God's care.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your wonderful care.  Help me trust in your ability to help us and your care that is able to reach to the individual.

John Calvin commentary abridged: To encourage the disciples to despise death, Jesus argues that this frail and perishing life should be lightly regarded by people who are created for heavenly immortality.  The fear of God is dead in those who fear earthly tyrants and abandoned their confession so they become animal-like.  We should not dread the cruelty of people as if we were not under the protection of God.  Christ differs from the philosophers who speak of God governing the world but do not believe God sees individual creatures. There is uncertainty, but it is not blind chance- but the will of God that ultimately regulates things.  We also need to contemplate providence as a ground for confidence and an excitement to prayer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/17/10 Luke 9:51-56 Setting Out to Die

 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them ?" 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Thoughts: The King James says, "He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem."  Isaiah 50:7 has the similar words that "the Lord God will help me...therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."  From Luke 9:51 to 18:1, Luke records some unique sayings of Jesus given in the light of his knowing he was going to Jerusalem to die.  Ironically, he was going to die, and his death opened up salvation to the non-Jews- including the Samaritans.  But the Samaritans did not welcome him though he was going to die for them.  James and John, the sons of thunder, wanted to push the nuclear bomb button and blow the Samaritans away.  They didn't like them anyway.  But Jesus was much more merciful. He was going to save them from the wrath they deserved, not blow them away.  In a graceless age where we condemn quickly those who differ from us, especially those who look, speak and act differently (the way the Samaritans were seen as foreigners and enemies by the Jews of their day), we might do well to remember Jesus' mercy.  He was clearly determined to be merciful- for He was going to Jerusalem to show mercy not wrath.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you do not treat us as our sins deserve or reward us according to our iniquities.  Help me to be merciful because you have shown me mercy.

John Calvin abridged: We see here 1) the divine courage of Christ in despising death 2) the enmities produced by differences in religion; 3) the impatient fervor of the disciples; 4) the example Christ sets for meekness. We see here that Christ struggled with his death and overcame his terror.  If he did not dread, or was not anxious, had no difficulty or struggle, then he would not have had to set his face steadfastly. This does not diminish his glory, but shows us the great love He has for us.  He laid aside his own self-regard for our salvation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9/16/10- Luke 10:25- 37 Who Is My Neighbor?

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

(Good Samaritan Aimee Morot 1880)

Thoughts: What was the difference between the priest, Levite, and the Good Samaritan?  Not just their action, but their attitude that motivated their action.  As someone said, "The difference is that the priest and Levite were asking themselves, 'What will helping him  this cost me?'  But the Good Samaritan was asking what will not helping him cost him?"  We are to love our neighbor, and we must broaden our understanding of our neighbor to include those who are not like us- who speak a different language, look differently, who are hurting when we are not.  The neighbor is any human being in need, even if we are busy and on our way to another destination. 
Prayer: Lord, give me grace to get outside of myself and even outside of those who are close to me to love the neighbor in need.

John Calvin abridged: But here, as I have said, the chief design is to show that the neighborhood, which lays us under obligation to mutual offices of kindness, is not confined to friends or relatives, but extends to the whole human race.

To prove this, Christ compares a Samaritan to a priest and a Levite. It is well known what deadly hatred the Jews bore to the Samaritans, so that, notwithstanding their living close beside them, they were enemies. Christ now says, that a Jew, an inhabitant of Jericho, on his journey from Jerusalem, having been wounded by robbers, received no assistance either from a Levite or from a priest, both of whom met with him lying on the road, and half-dead, but that a Samaritan showed him great kindness, and then asks, Which of these three was neighbor to the Jew? This subtle doctor could not escape from preferring the Samaritan to the other two. For here, as in a mirror, we behold that common relationship of human beings, which the scribes endeavored to blot out by their wicked sophistry; and the compassion, which an enemy showed to a Jew, demonstrates that the guidance and teaching of nature are sufficient to show that man was created for the sake of man. Hence it is inferred that there is a mutual obligation between all people.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/15/10 Luke 16:19-31 A Parable of Rewards and Punishments

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

(Rich Man and Lazarus-Unknown artist French 17th cent.)

Thoughts: The key point of this parable is not just that the poor should be helped and the selfishly rich should be punished.  The key point is that there are both rewards and punishments.  How do we have any idea what heaven or hell exists except from someone who has some experience of the other spiritual life- as Jesus did? 
The secondary- yet also important point is the nature of these rewards and punishments.  Jesus speaks of a spiritual side- with angels carrying us when we die to the presence of the saints who have gone before.  It appears those in torment can see heaven but for the most part those in heaven cannot see those in torment (so those in heaven are not pained by the torment of their loved ones who didn't make it).  The warning we have in life is not from the  ghosts of the dead, but the scriptures (Moses and
the Prophets), and the resurrection of Christ.  We are all warned to not be selfish or inconsiderate of the poor. 
Americans today are giving less to the poor and charity and more to savings accounts.  It is not only in times of bounty that we are called to care for the needy.  The parable of the sheep and goats (Mt. 25:31-46) also associates care for the needy and eternal life.  One of the signs of true Christian faith- is not just a profession, but a real love for neighbor- especially the ones in obvious need.

Prayer: Give me eyes to see the poor, O Lord.  Give me also hope of your justice and award.

John Calvin Commentary abridged: Christ confirms his last discourse here. He points out the punishment that awaits those who neglect the poor in order to indulge themselves.  These are people who indulge themselves in drunkeness while their neighbors pine away in hunger- even who kill with famine while they are gluttons.  It is easy to love new clothes and sumptious food without any moderation.  But this rich man is condemned for allowing Lazarus to suffer right outside his gate without his care.  To be carried by the angels to Abraham's side is more desirous than many kingdoms; but the torments the rich man suffered was worth avoiding in a hundred lives.

Monday, September 13, 2010

9/14/10 Luke 16:10-15 Money as a Test

10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? 13 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.

Thoughts: Maybe you haven't thought of money as training you for handling more important valuables.  For many of us, money is THE most important thing that can purchase most other time and space things.  Even religious people like the Pharisees can be caught up in loving money- which is the root of all evil.  Having money is a test for us.  So the real question found in verse 12- is how can I be trustworthy?  How can I be trustworthy in the way I handle money so that when real riches come, I will be found to be a good steward of the gospel?  Integrity, honesty, faithfulness prove themselves in little things (like money) as well as big things (like love, hope, faith, neighbor and God).  Greed for this world is imcompatible with love for God.  In a recession, it is important to not lust the money and worldly things we cannot do anymore.  In fact, a recession is an opportunity to get our hearts right about what is important.  A recession is like a house fire where lives are saved but the house is burned up.  There is sadness, but hopefully we recognize that houses can be rebuilt, but people and life is more valuable.  Spiritually, it does not matter how much money you have, as much as that you are not greedy after it and handle money with integrity, honesty, faithfulness and generosity.  Yes, generosity- even in a recession.  For generosity is a great check on the love of money.

Prayer: God grant me grace to love this world less and love you more.  Help me to be a faithful, generous steward of what you have given me.

John Calvin Commentary Abridged: Christ exhorts his disciples to act faithfully insmall matters that they may prepare themselves to act with fidelity in matters of highest importance.  Those who act unfaithfully with the transitory riches of this world should not be entrusted with the immeasurable treasure of the Gospel. He describes the covetousness of the Pharisees which keeps them not only from being able to hear Christ, but enables them to treat him with contempt.  Anyone who speaks of despising riches or giving to the poor are regarded by the covetous as mad.

9/13/10- Luke 16:1-9 Using Earthly Things for Higher Purposes

1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6 " 'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.' 7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' " 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' 8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Thoughts: The man was about to lose his job.  However, the point of this parable is not, "how to get ready to lose your job" as much as a reminder that worldly wealth does not last, so we should use it for eternal purposes.  In a time of high unemployment (over 9.5% nationally and 11% in our state), it is important to put money in perspective.  Love of money is the root of all evil.  Some have it and use it greedily, others don't have it and want it enough to lose their integrity to get it (which is also a form of greed).  Jesus talked about using wealth to gain friends for yourself.  The way to do that is like this shrewd manager who was generous toward others.  Sometimes little gifts can make great friendships.  My uncle was great at that.  He would send a box of mountain apples (from a grove near his house) to various influential people.  Another friend had an extra set of football tickets that he gave away regularly to others.  A young college student I know had little money, but she would paint or make things for other people just to let them know she was thinking about them.  Jesus' point is to use money in generous ways for higher purposes.

Prayer: Lord, today, when so many are hurting financially, give me wisdom in my stewardship of what you have given me.  Help me to be a kind and generous person today.

John Calvin abridged: The point of this parable is that we should deal kindly and generously with our neighbors so that when we come to the judgment seat of God we may reap the fruit of our liberality. It should be noted that no one is so frugal that they do not waste property entrusted to them.  We may also learn that mature and deliberate liberality may keep us from extravagant and selfish spending.  Another thing we may learn is that generosity (as opposed to cruelty) brings down upon us the mercy of God.  Jesus says that ungodly and worldly people are often more industrious and skillful in conducting the affairs of this fading life, than the children of God are anxious to obtain the heavenly life.  So he charges us with criminal indifference in not providing for the future with at least as much earnestness as the ungodly show by take care of their own interests in this world.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/12/10 Luke 15:17-31 Return of the Lost

17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

(Prodigal Son- Rembrandt)

Thoughts: It needs to be remembered that Jesus told this parable about caring for the lost- as he was criticized for eating and drinking with "sinners."  So the youngest sons' humble repentance contrasts with the older son's pride and jealousy.  Our sense of fairness and pride can actually distort reality and keep us from celebrating a valid joy.  In our culture we are subtley taught religious superiority and to put up walls against those who believe differently from us.  Christians are to have compassion for those who have wandered away in life.  We are to have missionary hearts, not proud and isolated hearts (as the oldest son had).   It would be great today to look for those who are wandering away and seek to do something to draw them closer to God- perhaps eating with them.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart for prodigals.  Help me to care more about the souls of others than the soiling of my reputation or comfort.
John Calvin Commentary Abridged: The last part of the parable charges those who would limit the grace of God with wickedness. While this was directed toward the proud scribes, it has a lesson for us all in that if we wish to be considered children of God, then we must forgive our brother as the Father forgives us.

9/11/10 Matthew 24:1-2,6-10 The tragedy of 911

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." ...
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other

Thoughts: On this ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9-11, we might remember these words of Jesus which speak of the destruction of buildings, wars and rumors of wars.  Jesus was not interested in the maintaining of the temple building as much as he was interested in the spreading of the Holy Spirit in millions of temples- the hearts of the people.  There is great tension in our world between ideas- mainly secular western ideas and Muslim ideas.  Yesterday, President Obama said, "The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It's contrary to what this country -- this nation was founded on."  Yet the U.S. military destroyed Bibles in Afghanistan May 5, 2009 by burning them (  Would that we would not burn Bibles or burn Korans or burn flags or symbols that are precious to others.  Our troops are fighting for freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom to vote.  It is not simply the freedom of Muslims- though that is assured as well.  It is freedom of all faiths- the minority and the majority that is important.  The tragedy of 9-11 is that there are those who would be violent against those who are of a different faith or way of life.  The Christian minister who threatened to burn Korans was wrong-abusing his freedom.  The Imam who seeks to build an Islamic center/mosque near the site of the 9-11 tragedy is being insensitive as well- abusing his freedom. We should enjoy our freedom by being kind and considerate toward our neighbor. Wars, rumors of war, hate, persecution, faith growing cold- all these are tragic things that we should seek to avoid.

Prayer: May we, Father, rely on you for our protection and our true freedom. 

John Calvin commentary abridged: We ought not to suppose that buildings and edifices are blessed because they are big and wealthy; whereas those who are poor and simple are not so blessed.  The disciples were astonished at the vast expense of the building as Herod had 10,000 workers employed for eight successive years on the temple; Yet the huge building veiled the eyes of the disciples so that they could not see the true reign of Christ.  Our senses too eagerly follow pomp, expense, pleasure and worldliness.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

9/10/10 Luke 15:13-16 Prodigal Squandering

13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

(Gerard Van Honthorst 1650s)                                                            (Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1660s)

Thoughts: How many in our culture have wasted their lives, their futures and their fortunes in self-indulgence.  The debt crisis in our culture shows us how we have lived beyond our means- like the prodigal.  Many are recognizing that their debt affects the welfare of others.  If someone's house is foreclosed on down the street, it affects the ability to sell your own- even if you have been careful.  So the father and eldest son are hurt by the rebellion of the prodigal son.  The Christian ideal is self-denial not self-indulgence.  Jesus set that example and also said "If anyone wants to come after me let them deny themselves" (Lk. 9:23).  Americans have had a great moral and spiritual inheritance, but we squander it away in self- indulgence. Let us keep the faith, keep close to the Father, and deny ourselves.

Prayer: Lord, show me how I am indulging in my ways, and help me to straighten into your way. 

John Calvin abridged:  Christ describes a tendency among the young to be carried away and maddened by their passion and unrestrained by fear and shame.  He then describes the consequences to spendthrifts and prodigals. They are not moderate in eating the best bread and are reduced to eating acorns and husks. They become the companions of pigs and made to feel unworthy of human food and comforts. No one pitied his poverty because those who throw away their property are not likely to be relieved or helped.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

9/9/10 Luke 15:11,12 The Prodigal Son "Mine Now"

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
(Prodigal Son James Jaques Tissot 1836-1902)

Thoughts: The Son was rebelling against the father in asking his father for the inheritance early.  It was as if he was treating his father as if he were already dead- or wishing he was.  He was forsaking his father's ways, his father's house, his father's morals, his father's god, and his love for his own father who gave him birth.  It is the epitome of the "I want it now" mentality, that is so familiar to America.  Perhaps we wouldn't be in the housing crisis or the credit crisis we are in if we did not have this "I want it all and I want it now" thinking. We may learn patience from this, and we may learn loyalty to parents and God here. 

Prayer: Lord, you are my whole inheritance.  May I find rest in what you have provided.  May I have patience for my inheritance which is found in you. 
John Calvin abridged: It is a mark of wicked arrogance in the youth who in desiring to leave his father and thinking he could not be right unless he indulged in his own debauchery- free from his father's control.  There is ingratitude in leaving the old man, in witholding the duties owed him, and crippling and diminishing the wealth of his house. He follows this with wasteful luxury and wicked extravagance by which he squanders all he had.  After so many wrongs, the father should have been cold toward him.  Our Lord uses this to tell us that no crimes- however wicked can deter us from the hope of obtaining pardon. 

9/8/10 Luke 15:8-10 Celebrating Over One Individual

8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

(Parable of the Lost Drachma by Domenico Feti 1618-22)

Thoughts: One thing that these three parables in Luke 15 share- lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son is not only that there was a losing, but also that there was a rejoicing in each case (15:7,10,24).  The lost sheep emphasizes that God is concerned about the individual who is lost.  The lost coin emphasizes how much he is concerned- searching .  The concern spills over into how much the woman rejoices.  God not only cares for us as individuals, but rejoices over our being found by Him- as individuals.  Ten coins were lost, but one was found and celebrated.  This is not the utilitarian way of doing things- where the majority rules and the minority is ignored.  God does not just do what is best for all- all of the time.  He leaves the 99 to find the one.  He rejoices over one- not just cutting His losses.  God is not just concerned about the overall picture with no sympathy for His individual creations- made in His image and for whom He died.  This is an amazing providential and spiritual care.  It is not selfish for us to think that God cares for individuals and celebrates when they are found.  Rather, it adds to the greatness and glory of God to recognize His ability to do so.  It also means we can pray for the individual who is lost, wandering away, the prodigal.  But we should also celebrate with the angels of God when someone repents. 

Prayer: I rejoice, O God, in your ability, knowledge, care, and willingness to save me. Thank you that your arm is not too short to save and your ear is not too deaf to hear.

John Calvin abridged: If the angels celebrate with each other when what has wandered away has been restored, so we too- who have the same common cause with them- should be partakers of the same joy.  The rejoicing is greater because it is an unexpected good- someone destined for destruction, amputated as a rotten member of the body delivered by the amazing mercy of God! The word "repentance" here is not used of daily repentance, but of a one time conversion. Those who have already begun to regulate their lives by the divine law do not need this kind of repentance- though they must groan under the infirmities of the flesh and work to correct them.  No person is exempted from this- getting on the right road the first time.  Yet, there is a distinction between a person who leaves the road entirely and the person who merely stumbles, falls or slightly goes astray on the right road.

Monday, September 6, 2010

9/7/10 Luke 15:1-7 Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

(The Lost Sheep by Alfred Soord 1868-1915)

Thoughts: There is an idea that we are too little for God's concern.  Even the Psalmist looked at the stars and said "what are mere mortals that you are mindful of us?" (Ps. 8).  Jesus points out God's individual concern here as well as pointing out that God is very concerned about those who have strayed away.  His point is that we shouldn't be prejudiced against those who are not part of the fold- buiding up walls against them; Rather, Jesus is setting an example for us to not only know the lost, but value the lost above the safe. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your great love- not just for the world in general but for me in particular.  Help me to have your heart for those who are wandering away from you in life.

John Calvin abridged: Christ tries to show that a good teacher ought not to labor less to recover the lost than to preserve those who are in his possession.  He also teaches that we should have patience with our Lord's disciples when they go astray, and bring them gently back to the road. We should be careful that we do not drive away those whom God wishes to be saved.  Luke indicates that the whole human race belongs to God, therefore our job is to gather those who have gone astray from Him.  We should rejoice when they are found as one rejoices over a grief relieved.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

9/6/10 Matthew 9:35-37 Pray for Laborers

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Thoughts: There are many needs that Jesus sees.  He has compassion on people. Jesus had sympathy on people, and sees the need to get help for them.  Jesus sought to multiply the help he was bringing.  Jesus saw the people as harrassed and helpless.  How were they harassed and helpless?  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  The Lord is our shepherd who leads us to the rest of green pastures, quiet waters, and through the valley of the shadow of death.  Jesus mixed a mataphor of farming and ranching- reaping a harvest and leading sheep.  But the point is the same- the people are in need of being led to the Great Shepherd of the sheep, and Jesus wants laborers.  The first and primary step is to ask God to raise laborers up. The need for our day is not just to have a plan and labor hard.  The Lord's work, needs the Lord's guidance, the Lord's help, and the Lord's blessing.  On this day off- this Labor Day- let us pray... that God will raise up laborers.

Pray: Lord, we need you, your wisdom, strength, and blessing.  Raise up workers who will do your work of helping people back to you- the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. Today, Lord, we recognize that all work is a gift from you.  Help our country to see that we need your help and to look to you for work. We pray for those who are unemployed and looking for work.  We ask that you would be a source of strength and courage for them, and guide them to the right job at the right time.  Help us, O Lord, to live our lives and do our work for your honor and glory. 

John Calvin abridged: There were a number of priests of his day who gloried in the title of pastor but were lazy gluttons as Christ indicated there were no shepherds and the sheep (the people) were wandering.  Christ's being moved with compassion shows that He is a true servant of God and was fulfilling his mission of bringing salvation to his people. Christ has not abandoned the care of his Church, but looks after his wandering sheep, or rather- He gathers His flock which had been cruelly torn by wolves.  "The harvest is plentiful" means that many of the people are ripe for the receiving of the gospel. Though their number is limited- God values a small band of his own followers than the rest of the world. "Pray for laborers"- As no person will of themselves become a sincere and faithful minister of the gospel, and they need the Lord to raise them up and endow them with the gifts of the Spirit- so whenever we observe a shortage of pastors we must raise our eyes to Him.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

9/5/10 Matthew 20:3-16 Parable of the Workers

3 "About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went. "He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 7 " 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' 8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his supervisor, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' 9 "The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'
13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

(Workers in the Vineyard- Francesco Maffei c. 1650)

Thoughts: On this Labor Day weekend, this is a good passage for us.  God has the right to not hire or choose any of us.  If any of us are chosen, it is by grace, not because we deserve it.  He also has the right to reward as He wishes.  We may question the justice of God, but God's eternal omniscience and love define justice.  God turns our human ideas of fairness on its head.  Our idea of fairness is- "Who is first?"  But our timing is not as important to the eternal God.  So there is room for the thief on the cross to come into his kingdom at the last minute.  This means while we have breath there is still time to come to his kingdom. 

Prayer: Help us, O God to find peace in your pleasure and yours alone.

John Calvin abridged: People have no right to complain of the bounty of God when He rewards people beyond what they deserve.  God defrauds no person of being hired justly, so there is no cause for complaint.  People who are called before others ought to run with greater alacrity.  Christ also exhorts all people to be modest and not to give themselves the preference above others- but willingly share with them the common prize.

9/4/10 Matthew 20:1,2 Choosing Who Will Be Hired

1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

Thoughts; God is like the landowner; we are like the workers; the world is like the vineyard; the wages are our eternal reward.  Jesus' point in this parable is to tear down human pride, and help people to see that God is just in choosing and rewarding as He pleases.  In America, this parable is particularly tough on us.  For we are taught that you earn by the hour, or by experience, or by degree, and not by the desires of the one who hires us.  Yet, even in America we see exceptions to this.  I remember working for Dunlop Sports Co. and our product and sales were tanking to the brink. The company hired a young expert from a rival company paid him twice what the same position paid before.  Most in the plant murmured and complained, and criticized this person.  But in the end, this guy brought creative ideas that saved the company for many years- and all our jobs in the process.  Our human pride makes us think that we are worthy of being in God's kingdom simply because we exist (no matter how unperfect we are- we think we deserve the perfection of heaven).  Some think they deserve heaven because of their heritage- growing up in a Christian home- even if they do not follow Christ as Lord.  Some think that they deserve being in the kingdom more than others because they have served Christ longer.  This parable challenges our assumptions, and lets us know we are all standing in need of being chosen.  The choosing, by the way, is not just to have the reward/wages but to do the work.  We are not Christians simply in order to be saved, but we are chosen to go out and glorify God with our lives. 

Prayer:  Today, Lord, take away my pride.  Help me to see the wonders of your grace.

John Calvin abridged: This parable is a confirmation of the preceding sentence (Mt. 19:30) that the last will be first.  It is not talking about the equality of our eternal glory, or the future condition of the godly.  He only argues that those who were first in time do not have the right to insult or degrade those who were chosen later. The Lord has the right to choose any he had disregarded for a time and to make them equal or even superior to others.  We may infer from this that every person is created for a purpose and has their province assigned to them by God to do His work.  We may also infer that our life is unprofitable until we answer God's call.