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Saturday, October 30, 2010

10/31/10 Matthew 4:10,11; James 4:7,8 Resisting Evil

Matthew 4:10,11
10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' " 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Thoughts: Halloween is a great time to think about resisting evil.  Jesus taught his disciples the prayer that contained his basic teaching.  Part of that basic teaching was to "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. (or the evil one)."  The first step to resisting evil is to focus on God.  James said it like this- "Come near to God and He will come near to you."  Jesus said, "Worship the Lord God and serve Him only- then the devil fled."  It is almost like anything.  If you want to hit the ball to the flagpole on the golfcourse- look at the flagpole- not at the lake or the sandtrap.  If you want to drive down the road, don't look off into the woods or at the shoulder, but keep your eyes on the road.  So the author of Hebrews says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith."  The worst thing we can do is to focus on evil. 

Prayer: Lord, come near to me this day.  Accept my worship, my prayers, my songs- and draw near to me as I draw near to you. 

John Calvin: The submission he talks about is humility for the Spirit of God rests on the humble and meek (Isa. 57:15).  Paul says our contest is not with flesh and blood.  So we are urged into the spiritual fight.  God is never lacking to us except when we alienate ourselves from Him.

10/30/10 Matthew 24:15-28 Every eye Will See Him

15 "So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17 the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!' — do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, 'Look! He is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look! He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Thoughts: Revelation 1:7 says, "Every eye will see him."  Yet, Acts 1:11 (and Zecharaiah 14:4)  seems to indicate Jesus will come back to a specific place- the Mount of Olives.  Jesus here says that he will not come secretly, but openly- again an indication of many seeing Him.  He says as the lightning comes from the east and flashed to the west, so will his coming be.  I have often wondered how can he appear in one specific place and every eye see him?  Perhaps it is the same way millions can see a camera shot from around the world- satellite TV or internet.  Today you can access a live web cam view of the golden gate.  The Jewish tradition is that the messiah will come back to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem. This tradition was so strong that the Muslims walled up the Golden Gate when they controlled Jerusalem.  Interestingly, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate.  Instant- lightning fast viewing happens today.  It is possible for Jesus to come back to one spot and yet every eye see Him.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you do not hide yourself from us.  Thank you that every eye will have the opportunity to see you.  Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

10/29/10 Luke 17:20-37 Remember Lot's Wife

20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst." 22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.  26 "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.  28 "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  30 "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot's wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35-36 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."  37 "Where, Lord?" they asked.  He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

("Lot's Wife" Rock Formation by Dead Sea)

Thoughts: How sudden is the incoming of God?  Jesus was right there, but many around him did not recognize him at his first coming.  The kingdom comes inside of us.  The temple of God is ourselves (Col 3:16; 1 Cor. 3:16) and the presence of God is inside of us.  Jesus comes into our hearts.  In that sense the kingdom cannot be observed.  Yet when the kingdom of God comes in fullness and power- when Jesus comes back again- it will happen suddenly like in the days of Noah and Lot- when there was much wickedness and worldliness.  Destruction came at those times suddenly.  Lot's wife is a symbol of someone dismayed at the suddenness and desiring to go back to the world.  Lot's wife is a symbol of our time.  Many Christians do not want Jesus to come back because they are so content with our world.  I have heard Christians say things like- I don't want the Lord to come back before I get my promotion; or before I move into my new beach house; or before I get married; or before I see my first grandchildren.  God wants us to enjoy life, but He also does not want us to love this life more than loving Him and putting faith that His reward in heaven is greater than our blessings here.  So Jesus says, "Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it." 

Prayer: Come into my heart fully, O Lord, that I may love you more than all this world has to offer.  Help me to say along with the saints of old, "Come Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

10/28/10- Luke 12:49-53 Non-Peace on Earth

49 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

(Jesus the Just Judge)
Thoughts: Many people have Jesus as a toothless, weak, non-powerful uncaring grandpa. Jesus brings peace to those who seek peace, but for those who seek wickedness, Jesus is judgmental and divisive- even without trying. To those who steal, lie, cheat, commit adultery- it is hard to find Jesus as a friend.  There is no peace, Isaiah says, for the wicked.  Yet if the wicked repent, Jesus is as welcoming as the father of the Prodigal Son. To those who ignore God to go their own way, Jesus is divisive.  A gang member who turns to Jesus is divided from the gang members who are still practicing gang violence.  If a family member comes to Christ, but the rest of the family does not practice their faith- that family member is alienated.  It is also true if a family member leaves the faith they have divided themselves from the rest of the family.  It is difficult to say, but while sometimes family members help faith, sometimes family members get in the way of faith.  Our ultimate loyalty is always to our God. 

Prayer: Help me, Lord to seek you above all earthly loyalties. 

John Calvin abridged:  The gospel is compared to a fire because it violently changes the face of things.  "A baptism" refers to his death.  We are to learn from His example to endure the cross and the trials of life. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

10/27/10- Matthew 10:17-21 Unsurprise at Persecution

17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;

(Iraqi Church damaged by bomb blast)

Thoughts: Jesus said these words in Matthew 10 when the twelve were sent out to spread the good news.  The verse right beforehand says that he is sending them out as sheep among wolves.  We should not expect that we will be honored by others; rather we should expect opposition.  It is ironic that Christians who generally are non-violent are the target for many.  One doesn't have to look hard on the internet to see many Christians getting bashed.  Follow almost any news story and people will be against Christians just because they are Christians and have standards about sexual purity or right and wrong.  About one Christian is assaulted for their faith every three minutes.
For more information see:

Prayer: Lord, be with your children who are persecuted today.  Help me to stand firm to the end for you, unwavering in my love and devotion to you.

10/26/10 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 Unbelief, Superstition and Wicked Deception

1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 6 And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, 12 so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

(Superstition- Azrainman)

Thoughts: It is too common for people today to degrade God to almost nothing so we do not fear Him or think anything out of the normal can or will happen.  The second coming of Christ is the ultimate intersection of the supernatural (wtih power) with the natural.  The day of his coming is not "already here" (vs. 2), as if it were another ordinary day with a super-ordinary person.  Too many today are secularized so much that God is relegated to the natural and commonplace and we don't want to believe in this intersection of the supernatural with the natural.  Ironically, as we move away from supernatural good, we move toward supernatural evil.  So, in our secular culture, less believe in God and His angels, but more believe instead in UFOs and have a fascination with horror, devils, vampires and ghosts- especially this week (Halloween accounts for over $5 billion in retail sales in America- though granted for most it is just a "dress up" day or an excuse for a party).  The "lawless one" described here (Anti-Christ in other passages), fools the unbelievers with wicked miracles.  But these same unbelievers refuse to see God's hand and love the truth and so be saved. Just because something is supernatural does not mean it is good.  So the ultimate lawless One fools people by "wicked deception."  Ironically, there is a link between unbelief and superstition.  Historically, when people try to move to an atheistic, secular way of thinking they find theirselves falling to unchecked superstition.  It is no accident that the secular Nazis and atheistic communists in the USSR did extensive experiments with esp, psychics, and mind control.  The ancient pagan Romans were not devoted to their gods as much as they were superstitious (reading entrails and bewaring the Ides of March, etc.).  The pagan Druids also lived in fear and superstition.  Christ gives us the benefit of eliminating fear of life with trust in the Creator of Life.  We do not need to live in fear of horror, but should seek to trust God- who will redeem us from the fear of this world.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see your hand, and strength to listen to you.

John Calvin abridged: There were some who were saying the resurrection may have been the second coming, and others who were saying the day was very close when Christ comes back.  This shows lack of human patience at God's timing.  For when the day is said to be near, if doesn't arrive quickly, humanity-in our impatience- begins to languish and languishing turns into despair.  There were three kinds of falsification here: false spirit (false prophecy- we are called to test the spirits 1 Jn 4:1), false word (false doctrine and teaching), and false letter (using Paul's name falsely).  It seems that saying "as if the Day is at hand" is at odds with other passages that infer that the Day is near.  But it is near in God's eyes- as one day is as a thousand years (2 Pt. 3:8).  Today we should be constantly waiting for him in such a way that we do not limit him to a certain time.  We should learn from this passage that when the Church has entered into a "scattered condition" we should not be surprised.  This passage definitely is not referring to the fall of Rome.  The rebellion (vs. 4) may refer to the destruction of half the church by Islam, and the "lawless one in the temple of God" may refer to those who corrupt the Church that is left.  While the Antichrist may deceive many (vs 10), he will not deceive the elect- so the power of Satan is limited.  Believers are called to "love the truth" meaning that faith is always joined to a reverence for God.  We do not properly believe the Word of God unless it is pleasant and lovely to us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

10/25/10 Matthew 24:9-14 Closer to the End

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, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

[Instead of just a picture today is a short video of the Persecution of Christians in Sudan- which has divisive elections coming up.]
Video of Persecution of Christians in Sudan:

(Sudanese persecution)
Thoughts: If these things are signs of the end, then we are much closer to the end than we were.  In terms of persecution (vs. 9)- more people have died for their Christian faith in the last hundred years than all the other centuries combined (in part because of the atheistic communist persecutions in China and the former USSR and Vietnam).  As people turn away from a firm belief in the Bible they turn toward false prophets (Sun Myung Moon, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, New Age gurus et al.).  Verse 12 is especially cutting for our culture.   There is a definite increase in wickedness.  Sexual immorality- sex outside of marriage- is rampant in our society. There is a marked rise in gang activity as people lose their moral moorings. As it is more fashionable to be evil than good, many turn away.  As noted many times there has been a ten percent decrease not only in attendance, but in affiliation with Christianity in the lst 12 years in America. This "love growing cold" has already happened in Europe- where for too many the faith is generally staid, cold, and meaningless.  Verse 14 has been fulfilled within the last generation.  Some say 1984, but certainly by 1988, for the first time in all of history, every country on the face of this earth has adherants of one religion (Christianity) in it.  All nations have a testimony in them to the faith.  While not every tribe has been reached yet, every country has. So what are we called to do?  We are called (vs. 13) to stand firm to the end, and thus be saved.  We cannot dismiss the teaching of the second coming as if it were secondary or irrelevant.  There are 316 prophecies of the second coming in the 260 chapters of the New Testament.  There are over 1,800 references in the Old Testament of the Messiah's coming in power. 

Prayer:  Lord, give me grace to put my hope in your coming, adn to stand firm to the end.

John Calvin abridged: Christ foretells another kind of temptation the disciples will face (9)- that they will be hated and detested by the world.  The children of God are not only afflicted evenly with the ungodly but even more so that we may be conformed to the image of his son (Rom. 8:29).  The doctrine of the gospel, of which they were to be messengers, would never be pleasant or agreeable to the world. This is written so we would not be suprised and fall from the faith. Here (11) he says that false prophets will not only come, but will come at every age.  We should not be dismayed that they come, but expect it as another temptation for our faith.  A third temptation (12) is that love grows cold and even good minds lose their ability to be kind and generous.  Paul warns us not to be weary in performing benevolent deeds despite the sin of many around us (2 Thess 3:13).  Yet despite all the afflictions and temptations believers face, the gospel will be spread throughout the whole world (14).  The end does not "come" (14) when the Temple and Law are destroyed, but only after the Church has endured a long period of testing and the Gospel is spread to the entire world.  Christ was not setting an exact time- for such signs have happened throughout history.  Rather Christ was encouraging his followers to be patient - as their redemption was not as close as they had imagined it to be- but they must go through a long, winding journey.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

10/24/10 Isaiah 13:6-13 The Day of the Lord

6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
7 Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man's heart will melt.
8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them;
they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame.
9 See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.

(Last Judgement- Sistine Chapel- Michelangelo

Thoughts: Jesus' prophecy (Mt. 24; Lk. 21) of how the end of the age will look hearkens back to Isaiah's words. The "end of the age" is "the day of the Lord." It is a day of fear with God's wrath showing itself in earthly and heavenly signs.  The heavenly signs are stars, sun, and moon being darkened (Mt. 24:29).  The earthly signs are human de-population (death, famine, plague 13:12), earthquakes, and lots of fear.  For what purpose does Isaiah (and Jesus) say these things?  They are warnings to not turn away from the Lord.  They are warnings that God will not allow evil to triumph forever.  They are reminders that God is in control of the earth, of heaven, and human history and destiny.  Our response to such things is not to fear, but to humble ourselves before God in obedience to Him as Lord of all.

Prayer: Lord, you are Lord of heaven and earth.  Despite our great abilities, they pale compared to yours.  Give us humble hearts and obedient lives today.

John Calvin abridged: When the Lord delays his judgment it appears he has stopped his duty as God (like judges when they refuse to pass sentence).  We would gladly make God subject to our disposal, that he might immediately pass judgment on the wicked.  But he has his own appointed time ("The Day of the Lord") to both punish the wicked and help the good.

Friday, October 22, 2010

10/23/10 Matthew 24:1-8 Destructive Endings

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." 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" 4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and will deceive many. 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.

(Inscription on the Arch of Titus showing menorah from the destruction of Jerusalem's temple)

Thoughts:  There were two cataclysmic events spoken of here- the destruction of the temple and the end of the world.  If Matthew was written after the fall of the temple (70 AD- Luke surely was), then not only did Jesus say them together, but Matthew made sure these sayings stayed together for a reason.  Sometimes Matthew liked to group sayings by theme (like the seven woes against the Pharisees), but here he left this prophecy about these two destructive events next to each other- the fall of the temple (70 AD) and the end of the world.  The destruction of the temple and the nation felt like the end of the world, and was a foreshadowing- a precursor- of the end of the world.  Many Jews considered Jesus a prophet for he clearly predicted many times that the temple would be destroyed.  His accusers said he was worthy of death because he said he would "destroy this temple and raise it up in three days."  Jesus speaks of destructive things- the temple's destruction, wars, famines, earthquakes as signs of the end of the age.  Our Lord is warning us to not take life for granted like it will go on forever as it always has.  Shocking events like the 911 attack or Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, wake us up to appreciate what we have, but also recognize life is not static, but changing.  The ability of Jesus to predict these things assure us that God is in control and can take even devastation and use it for His good purpose.
Prayer: Help me Lord to not take life for granted and to always trust in you. 
John Calvin abridged: Jesus was paying his last adieu to the temple. It took Herod (according to Josephus) 10,000 men working for eight years to establish the temple. The stones were so big (22 x 18 x 12 feet0 that the disciples were dazzled at its wealth and power.   We too eagerly follow the transitory pomp and luxury of this world. We should not confound the perfection of Christ's reign with the commencement of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

10-22-10 Matthew 23:16-22 Understanding What is More Valuable

16 "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.' 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but whoever swears by the gift on the altar is bound by the oath.' 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.

(Jerusalem- Model of the Temple- where Jesus said these words)
Thoughts: Seeing what is most valuable and what is of secondary value is very important in life.  The Pharisees valued the gold of the temple more than the temple itself.  God's presence in the temple and in heaven made those places of more value than gold or any gift given to God.  The greatest value of all goes beyond this time and this earth- it is the eternal God.  In a secular age we value worldly success above success in the eyes of God.  But we need to look harder and see that pleasing the eternal God is a far greater reward than anything this world can offer.  So Jesus says in another place, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these (other things) will be added to you as well" (Mt. 6:33).

Prayer:  Lord, help me to see the true value of things and of you.

John Calvin abridged: It is natural for us to corrupt worship.  A brighter mirror of God's glory is found in the presence of God in the temple and heaven than in other things. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10/21/10- Matthew 23:15 Evangelists for Evil

15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and then you make that convert twice as much a child of hell as you are.

(Pharisees James Tissot)

Thoughts: An evangelist to the cause of evil is a worse than if someone just stumbled onto evil.  In our day there are many who want to change the world by making evil look good and good look evil.  So those who promote sexual sins as if they were healthy and good for society; those who say alcohol abuse or drug use is good for society (CA is voting to legalize a drug in two weeks); those who seek to not only allow but promote abortions like a baby was a piece of dead skin; those who seek to recruit for gangs and gang violence;  those who seek to evangelize people to turn away from God; and the list can go on.  We live in a world where too many people promote lust over love; drunkeness for spirituality; death over life; hopelessness over hopefulness. 

Prayer: Lord, give me clarity of conscience and strength to live and promote your holiness over what you have defined as sin. 

John Calvin abridged: The scribes had become famous for travelling far to bring strangers into their church. But they were not to be applauded for this as they brought their converts under more and more condemnation. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10/20/10- Matthew 23:13,14 If the Atheist is Wrong

 13-14 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

(Warner Salman 1941)

Thoughts: There are seven woes against the teachers of the law and Pharisees in Matthew 23.  This woe was written against them for not only rejecting their redeemer (and redemption), but encouraging others to reject him as well- thus "shutting the door" to God for them as well. These religious leaders of Jesus' day were not interested in the kingdom of heaven as much as they were in being seen as "right."  In a similar way, the self-righteous atheists of our day not only don't want to go to heaven, but they don't want others to go either.  They want other people to be just like them in order to feel justified- whether God is proved right or not.  If the atheist is wrong everyone loses- and heaven is missed.  If the Christian is wrong, no one loses but the needy, the widow, the orphan, the hungry (who are better cared for because of Christianity).  If the atheist is wrong- love for God and love for neighbor (statistically Christians give much more per capita to charity than atheists) is missed.  If the Christian is wrong people are loved anyway.  The atheists oppose Jesus' redemption as did the Pharisees of Jesus day- leading people toward their own destruction. There are also religious leaders of our own day who oppose Jesus' redemption (think Jesus Seminar).  We should beware of those who bring woe upon themselves-- bringing others down with them.  Instead, we should seek to encourage people to look toward heaven.

Prayer: Lord, may I seek your will and presence ahead of my own pride and self-righteous.

John Calvin abridged: Here Jesus does not so much seek to curse the Pharisees as seek to draw the common people and simple followers away from their sect.  The religious leaders opposed the redemption offered to them to the detriment of all.  We should follow Christ's example of loudly scaring away the wolves who would devour the sheep.  If the purpose of religion is not to open heaven for us, what purpose does it serve?

Monday, October 18, 2010

10/19/10 Matthew 23:1-12 Humbly Pursue God

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

(Teaching in the Temple- Tissot?)

Thoughts:  Jesus made the stinging accusation that "everything they do is for people to see."  The opposite would have been that "they only cared that God saw them."  The scribes were thus seeking their own glory, not God's.  To serve the great God, we must recognize His greatness, and our own humility compared to it.  So we are not to pursue titles, or praise, or to exalt ourselves.  Rather we are to humbly pursue God. 

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to escape my pride.  As I look upon your greatness and majesty, help me to see my own humility, and that my value is found in serving you.

John Calvin abridged: Jesus gave this warning in concern that people not discard the Law which is our natural tendency.  This is especially true when our leaders and pastor's lives are dissolute- not corresponding to their words.  Many thus intentionally accuse pastors so that they may have (false) excuse to sin. In attacking the scribes, Christ first vindicates the Law. Yet, we also need to see that Christ was not so afraid of offending others that he did not expose ungodly teachers as they deserved.  They have no desire other than to please people and exalt themselves. An upright worshiper of God should never give into the ostentatious but empty parade by which hypocrites puff themselves up.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

10/18/10 Luke 20:45-47 Religion looking good, but being bad

 45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."

(Boy Jesus in the temple- William Holman Hunt 1854-60)

Thoughts: Barclay says that rabbis expected to be greeted properly and had a proper order for being honored.  They expected, as teachers, to be honored above best friends and even one's own father.  "If a man's father and teacher are carrying a burden he must first help his teacher and afterwards his father."  Today too many people are all about getting the honor of others rather than the honor of God.  This is fake sincerity, plastic religiosity.  Those who parade their honors, their titles, their resumes, the size and budget of their church- do so not for God but for self- and pride.  Pride leaves little room for God.  But religious pride means a kind of sick godless religion.  This is a perpetual human danger- and should be resisted strongly.

Prayer: Humble me, this day, Lord, that I might have more room for you and less room for selfish-pride.  Especially may my devotion to you be focused on you.

John Calvin abridged: The Essenes and Sadducees preferred the literal reading of scripture while the Pharisees a mystical reading.  Because they were the specialized interpreters they were held in high esteem.  It is not enough to possess a title and occupy a station. The scribes and Pharisees sought idle display and to distinguish themselves from the rest of the people. How ingenious people are at concocting vain deception and pretext  in order to conceal their vices. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

10/17/10- Luke 10:25-28 Defining Love

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."

(Gaugin 1898 "Whence, What, Whither?")

Thoughts: The Law, when properly understood is a Law of love.  Martin Luther used to say, "Love God and do what you will."  The love we have for God keeps us straight with God.  Jesus said it like this, "If you love me, you will do what I say" (Jn. 14:15).  When we love someone (think of a young couple in love) we hang on their every word, look for their every gesture, and we want to please them.  Loving God is primary, for it inspires, motivates, and holds us to account for the second command- loving others.  Without love for God, then the love for others loses its definition.  Some, apart from God, define love for others merely as sexual love.  Some define it merely as philanthropy.  But God is love.  The very definition of kindness, justice, and consideration is based on who God- the eternal Creator- is.  We should never assume that people left to themselves will naturally love.  The people of New Guinea- before they found Christ were naturally cannibals (cf. "Lords of the Earth" by Don Richardson).  Perhaps you remember the story of the painter Gaugin, who idealized primitive cutlures- believing that if we could just get back to these primitive cultures we would find truth and innocense.  But what he found in Tahiti nearly led him to suicide- brutality and meanness (so he painted "What, Whence, Whither?").  God's love defines love for us and a purpose for us.  The purpose is both verticle (loving God), and horizontal (loving others). 

Prayer: Lord, may your love inspire me to listen to you, and inspire me to love others.

John Calvin abridged: Mark [12:28-34] and Matthew [22:34-40] are in different settings than Luke [10:25-28], though all depict a scribe asking a question to tempt Jesus.  Jesus' reply, "What is written in the law" surprises the scribe, as he was offended that the Gospel seemed to him against Moses. While no person can keep the law perfectly (and therefore the law only condemns), the law itself is righteousness.  While we are to love God more than people, love is required of God even more than worship or honor. Worship without the heart does not please Him.  No one will obey God unless they love Him. Let us learn that the commencement of godliness is the love of God.  God disdains the forced woship of people, and chooses to be worshipped freely and willingly.  Let us also learn that love for God also includes the reverence due Him.

Friday, October 15, 2010

10/16/10 Luke 21:1-4 The Widow's Gift

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

 (Widow's Mite- Tissot)(coins-lepta-"thin one" Bolden)

Thoughts: The size and cost of a gift is not what makes it valuable.  Rather, that the gift was given sincerely and sacrificially makes the gift precious.  How did Jesus know this was all the widow had?  His divinity showed itself once more.  But he was trying to teach the disciples to not be wowed at the gifts of the wealthy.  One wealthy person can make up for the lack of gifts from many poor people, but the quantity of the gift is not so important to God as the quality of the giving.  Giving during a recession, is more valuable than giving during time of prosperity for most- for the sacrifice and risk are greater.  But putting our wealth and welfare in God's hands shows great faith- as this widow had.  She entrusted herself to God.  We do not know what happened to her, but we do know she is always remembered for her gift and her faith. 

Prayer: Lord, teach me to give.  Help me to be inspired by this person who put her faith in you and her life in your hands in trust.

John Calvin abridged: Whatever we offer God ought not to be estimated by apparent value but of the heart. So the poor who appear not to have the power to do good are encouraged.  This also is a rebuke to the wealthy to not be proud of their gifts just because they surpass the gifts of the poor.  This widow's obvious piety testifies that she and all she possessed belonged to God. It may also be noted that the offerings were not used properly, but that should not discourage givers to do what was holy and in obedience to God's commands.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

10/15/10 Matthew 22:23-33 Power to Raise the Dead

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
29 Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

(Mario Sepulveda- Chilean Miner rescued-

Thoughts: The Saducees did not believe in the resurrection but the Pharisees did (cf. Acts 23:6-8).  The point for us is not only are we changed when we die, but that Jesus reaffirmed the idea of resurrection.  Jesus said that these Saducees did not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  The Scriptures refer to life after death, and God who made life, is able to make it again. 
Part of the message of what happened in Chile is that no one gave up, but they were clinging to the hope of the miners escaping their mine-tomb.  Chilean President Sebastian Pinera thanked the families of the miners "who maintained faith – this faith that ended up moving mountains."  Mario Sepulveda, the second miner rescued, said, "I was with God and I was with the devil. But God won. I held on to God's hand. At no point in time did I doubt that God would get me out of there."  The Christian hope is based on the scriptures and the power of God to get us out of the trap of death.

Prayer: May I never give up hope and faith in my resurrection, Lord.  Let not my understanding, my despair, my fears keep me from believing in your power and the Scriptures.

John Calvin abridged: The Saducees and Pharisees combined forces against Christ.  The Saducees had doubtless used this argument before against the Pharisees.  They assumed that people made in the image of God were to be counted as brute beasts.  When he says we shall be like the angels of God- he doesn't mean in all respects, but only regarding the infirmities of the present life. We will no longer die, and therefore will not need to propogate our species.  Jesus then refers to Ex. 3:6 to prove to them from Moses' law that the resurrection is a reality.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10/14/10- Acta 2:29-33 Chilean Rescue and Our Rescue

 29 "Brothers and sisters, we all know that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God

(Mario Gomez standing beside Fenix 2- Hugo Infant Getty Images)

Thoughts: Why does this Chilean rescue appeal to us so?  Why are millions so interested in this?  Perhaps deep within us there is a longing that when we are deep down, buried without hope, there is still the possibility of a rescue.  When the miners began to come out, one brave rescuer (Manuel Gonazlez) went down to them first.  He had to go down in order for the others to come up.  That is what Jesus did for us. 
But the difference is that Jesus was raised first to show us our own resurrection is possible. 
One miner (Mario Sepulveda) said,  "I was with God and with the devil. And I reached out for God,"  The good news is that God is reachable for He comes down for us. 
Millions witnessed this Chilean resurrection.  But billions witness to the resurrection of Christ.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you did not leave us to face our decay, but you came down for us.  Help us to celebrate and witness to your great love that sets us free! (video of Manuel Gonazlez going to rescuers)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10/13/10 Escaping the Tomb Jonah 2:2-9; Psalm 130:1,5-7

 2 [Jonah] said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple. 8 "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit God's love for them. 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, 'Salvation comes from the LORD.' "
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

(Trapped Chilean Miners- Reuters Ho)

Thoughts: Today the Chilean miners will be taken "out of the depths" from the realm of the dead.  They were barred from life and sunk into the "roots of the mountains."  "Patience and faith," trapped miner Mario Gomez wrote to his wife. "God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive. "  Barrios Rojas, sister of a trapped miner, said  "We all have the hope that they were all alive. So the news was very beautiful, especially that it was on a Sunday, a day of God."  We can join in the prayers of those who are praying for a safe escape from the collapsed mine in Chile.  We can also see in this a type of Jesus' resurrection and also our own rescue- in this life and from death itself.  We are trapped by sin and death, but God provides a way out. 

Prayer: Lord, we ask your help for those who are trapped in Chile. Help them to escape their tomb safely.  Help us as well to escape the snares of our own death, and our own problems.

John Calvin abridged: Jonah was, in a manner of speaking, doomed to eternal ruin.  The belly of the fish was hell or the grave to him.  But Jonah gathered courage and prayed to God.  When the Lord heavily afflicts us, it is a legitimate and seasonable time for prayer, and not just give into despondancy.  The servants of God do not gain the victory without a great struggle. Jonah felt that he had deserved God's wrath and that the mountains were closing in on him, and hope of pardon was gone.  Yet, he had no hope of deliverance unless God stretched forth his hand in a manner new and incredible.

63 year old Mario Gomez's rescue- 9th man out (and quoted above):


Monday, October 11, 2010

10/12/10- Luke 14:16-24 The Kingdom of God is a Party

Luke 14:16 Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' 18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' 19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' 20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' 21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 22 " 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' 23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

(Parable of the Great Banquet- everything was ready but the invited would not come)

Thoughts: If something could be defined as "The Universal Greatest Event on the Earth", would we let other things get in the way to prevent us from fulfilling our invitation?  The kingdom of God is a party- the greatest joy.  Jesus said, "I come to give life and give it to its fullest" (Jn. 10:10).  Three people give excuses that are common in our own day.  None of these excuses trade something totally evil for what is totally good.  Rather they are making what is good take the place of what is best.  The first lets business get in the way.  Lee Iacoca, chairman of Chrysler surprisingly said, "No man puts on his tombstone: 'I wish I had worked just a little more.'" The second person is a slave to novelty and fashion.  There are many who want to try the new thing out, or try the new thing on.  In America we have traded Sundays in church for Sundays going shopping.  So we become slaves to consumerism and the latest fashion or fad.  The third person allows another relationship- and being totally absorbed in it- to keep them from the greatest party around.  Many people miss out on the joys in life by their excuses.  Many do little with their lives except be absorbed in their own selfishness- and business, fashion, and sometimes even absorption into our own family can be selfish.  The truth is we often turn away from Christ in order to turn to ourselves.  But we miss the great feast when we choose to eat tv dinners at home-even if they are the newest tv dinner fad.

Prayer: Give me grace, O God, to not trade anything for you.  Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

John Calvin abridged: Long ago a Spartan said the Athenians knew what was right but did not practice it.  How sad that those in Jesus' day knew so much about God but rejected Him.  These three people were so involved with earthly things that they found no time for God.  This is still universally present; for hardly one in a hundred prefers the kingdom of God to fading riches.  There are no pretenses or excuses for rejecting God's kingdom.  Why does God give us earthly blessings if not to make us grateful and draw us to God?  Those who are so entirely preoccupied with earthly cares that they find no value in the divine invitation shall perish in famine and want.  So whenever God calls us, let us be prepared to follow. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/11/10- Luke 20:20-26 The Lordship of God vs. the Lordship of Government

Luke 20:20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" 23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 "Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. 25 He said to them, "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." 26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

(Coin with Caesar's picture on it)                                               

Thoughts: The coin Jesus talked about was inscribed "Tiberius Son of the Divine Augustus."  Jesus' point was that we who bear the image of God should give themselves to God alone (Archaeological study Bible).  Jesus was not the radical zealot/patriot that some wish he was.  His teachings invited conversion and radical spiritual change. But he was not fomenting a rebellion against Rome.  If the people had Rome's money, and were using and enjoying Rome's benefits, taxes were due.  In a subtle way, Jesus was contrasting Rome's lordship with God's.  While Rome provided many benefits, they did not compare to what God renders to us. Too much talk and credit is given today to what governments can or cannot do.  Governments are limited at most to the here and now, but God's government goes deeper- to our soul; and longer- to eternity.  It is not the Son of the divine Augustus but the Son of the true God who deserves our ultimate allegiance, energy, and hope.

Prayer: Help me O Lord, to know where my loyalties are, and to render to you my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

John Calvin abridged: The coin was stamped with Ceasar's likeness.  So it was evident that the Jews had already given up their voluntary service to the Romans for they had given them the power of the sword. Christ lays down a clear distinction between spiritual and civil governments.  Outward subjection does not prevent us from having a conscience free in the sight of God.  So he refutes those who thought that they had to be free of every human yoke in order to be the people of God.   Paul also agrees with this- that we can serve God alone while obeying human laws (Rom. 13:7). So too, every person is called to perform the duty they owe others.  Children should listen to their parents; employees to their employers.  Those who seek to destroy the political order are rebellious against God.  But if rulers claim God's authority for themselves, we should not obey them when it offends God. 

10-10-10 Fun on the Number Ten

The Ten I AM's of Jesus in John

1. "I am the Bread of Life" (6:35).

2. "I am the Bread of Life which came down from heaven" (6:41).

3. "I am the Living Bread" (6:51).

4. "I am the Light of the world" (8:12).

5. "I am One that bear witness of Myself" (8:18).

6. "I am the Door of the sheep" (10:7,9).

7. "I am the Good Shepherd" (10:14).

8. "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (14:6).

9. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (14:6).

10. "I am the True Vine" (15:1,5).

(Ten Virgins- Franken 1680)

Thoughts: Okay, it's 10-10-10.  Today my worship service is at 10:00.  Today Jericho, the oldest city in the world (which I visited in June- where Zaccheus lived, Elijah and Elishah prophesied, the blind man was healed by the road) is celebrating its 10,000th birthday.  The number 10 generally symbolizes completeness. Noah was the tenth generation; there were ten commandments; ten virgins were looking for the bridegoom's coming; Psalm 119 is divided into ten parts-clearly on purpose; We are called to give a tenth (tithe) back to God- representing he owns the whole. 
     Some say that ten represents human failure and God's provision (  Of the twelve spies sent- ten failed;  Of the twelve tribes- ten rebelled against God and failed first (1 Ki 11:31); There were ten lepers cured (only 1 gave thanks). |
     I think this is a bit contrived.  Completeness (7 x 3) seems to be a bit clearer- Rev. 2:10 10,000 times 10,000 angels; The dragon in Revelation had ten horns representing ten kingdoms over the whole earth (12:3; 13:1; 17:12).
     In our culture ten also symbolizes completeness.  So we have our top ten; on a scale of one to ten- ten being the highest; the perfect ten; In our decimal system we have numbers in increments of ten.  
     Numerology in scripture can easily get carried away.  Yet clearly numbers were used on occasion symbolically.  So we are called not to miss the significance.  Just a thought. 
Prayer: Lord, you are the only perfect ten.  In you there is completeness.  I am complete when I am fully with you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

10-10-10 Luke 20:9-19 Loyalty to the Owner

Luke 20:9 He went on to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.' 14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. "What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others." When the people heard this, they said, "God forbid!" 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written: " 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone' ? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed." 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

( Parable of the Vineyard Marten Valckenborch 1580)

Thoughts: Christ is the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone.  Christ is the rejected owner's son who came to his own vineyard.  Anyone can see the injustice of treating the owner's son in this way, yet when we reject Christ, we are on the same side as the vineyard workers.  The Pew Forum found that 28% of Americans leave the faith in which they were raised to go to another or to be unaffiliated (  A growing number (over 12%) are unaffiliated with any faith.  Many are refusing to be identified with the owner, either claiming there is no owner, or saying the owner does not matter.  Our task is to be faithful, and good stewards of the life God has given us. 

Prayer: In a faithless world, help me, O Lord, to be faithful to you. 

John Calvin abridged: It is not a new thing if religious leaders try to defraud God of his right.  Christ is trying to tell the priests they will be punished for his death, but also tries to assuage the hearts of those who believe and see him crucified.  We should not be perplexed at the wickedness of men rising up against God- for God has told us this will happen.  At the same time, we should realize that no matter what the wicked plans of men are, God will be victorious. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

10/9/10 Matthew 21:28-32 Getting it Right In the End

Matthew 21:28 "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29 He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

(Two Sons- Davis Collection)

Thoughts: This is a brilliant parable contrasting those who claimed to be righteous but did not follow through, with those who are unrighteous but then turned around toward righteousness.  In our day this is a lesson for those who claim to be Christian, but do not worship as Christians or live the Christian life; compared to those who come to Christ later but never claimed to be righteous.  In our culture- too many claim to know Christ but do not live the Christian life.  It doesn't matter so much what you say on the outside if it is not matched by your heart on the inside, or your actions.  The need of the hour is for Christians who don't just claim Christ but whose heart and actions match that claim. 
Prayer: God, may my words, my heart, my actions all honor and glorify you today. 
John Calvin abridged: Christ here unmasks the hypocrites.  For though their ambition, pride, cruelty, and avarice were known to all they wanted to appear as different persons.  Faith does not consist solely in a person's consent to true doctrine, but it involves the lofty devotion of the whole self to God.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

10/8/10 Fear and Ignorance Mark 11:27-33

The devotions from this blog for the next two weeks will focus on the sharp exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders in the Temple (at least that's where Mark describes their happening in Mark 11:27- 12:44).

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."

(Jesus teaching in the temple)

Thoughts: 11:18 says that Jesus' enemies "feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching."  11:32 says they feared the people and were afraid to speak against John.  They were afraid of losing their power and their earthly position.  They were blind to see that God was behind Jesus' power and also behind John the Baptist's ministry.  This fear and ignorance worked together.  In contrast to this is the boldness of John and Jesus who were concerned about pleasing God, not human beings.  The fear of God is not ignorant superstition.  But fear of people can lead to blindness and hiding our heads in the sand from the obvious presence and power of God. 

Prayer:  Lord, give me grace to fear you above all others.  Give me the power to be bold for you. 

John Calvin abridged: Here the enemies of Christ do not question his teaching (which they had done many times before), but his calling and commission.  The evidence from the miracles was that Christ was the messiah.  But they insisted that because he did not have their votes he was not authentic.  Christ brings John into this to show they were not worthy of their authority and that they had questioned a holy prophet of God.  Since John had pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, it was impossible to ascribe him authority without ascribing authority to Christ.  Jesus elevated John above all other prophets (Lk. 7).  The Pharisees did not care about truth, but abour maintaining their own tyranny.  So all the wicked, though they like to be perceived as pursuing truth, shut the gate of truth when it opposes their wicked desires. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

10/7/10- Psalm 24 The King Comes

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.
3 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who do not put their trust in an idol or swear by a false god.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty— he is the King of glory.

(Jesus enters Jerusalem- Harry Anderson d. 1996)

Thoughts: This Psalm connects the cleansing of the temple and the King's coming into the city (cf. Jesus' coming and cleansing Lk. 19:28-48).  Vss. 7-10 speak of the King of glory coming into the gates of the city.  Verse 3 talks about who may ascend the hill of the Lord- the one who is clean of hands and pure in heart.  The Psalmist and Jesus saw that worship was to be a clean, pure, holy thing.  When the King comes to his kingdom, cleansing is the order of the day.  So it is when Jesus comes into our hearts- He cleans us.  When we have a spiritual renewal, we are inspired to clean up and straighten up. 

Prayer: Come to me anew, O Lord, and cleanse me and make me pure that I may come to you.

John Calvin abridged: Though the sanctuary was open to all Jews, He was not near to all of them.  He was close only to those who fear Him and serve Him with sincerity.  All those whom God calls into his flock- He calls to holiness.  They are under obligation to be holy by their adoption.  Isaiah (1:12) rebukes those who come unworthily into his courts.  How vain it is to make an outward profession without the inward heart to match.  True purity has its seat in the heart, but its fruit in its hands.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

10/6/10- Corrupt Religion Isaiah 1:10-20

10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right!
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

(Isaiah and scroll- Raphael)

Thoughts: Corrupt religion is not just meaningless, it is "detestable."  When sincerity is taken out of religion, rituals and assemblies lose their holiness, to the point that Isaiah calls them "evil."  Nominal religion that does not show itself in caring for others- the poor, the orphan, the widow- but seeks only its own protection and comfort is corrupt.  The good news is that though our sins are scarlet they can be made as white as snow if we repent and do not rebel.      
     Niebuhr said "The wost corruption is a corrupt religion."  Money, selfishness (such as seeking only the fulfillment religion brings), immoral behavior, lust for power and pride are some of the things that can corrupt true faith.  Yet these are human problems that in the end faith limits. Those who see corruption solely in religion also need to examine the alternatives (for example the 20th century atheistic states and their rampant corruption and death camps- Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Jung).  But corrupt religion is worst not in terms of effect (the Inquisition does not compare to the 23 million killed by Stalin or the 60 million by Mao), but in that it corruption steers people away from the true and only hope of getting outside of their sinfulness to altruism and gracious living.  Jesus quoted from Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book because Isaiah was continually calling the people back to the heart and truth of faith. Yet, though our sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.  It is possible to reform corruption in faith, doctrine, and practice.  The reformation comes by humbling ourselves in repentance with listening ears to our Creator and Redeemer.

Prayer: May my heart be sincere O Lord, and may my hands be willing to help those in need that I meet this day. 

John Calvin abridged: The prophet calls the rulers of Israel Sodom and the people Gomorrah because they are both guilty together. He strips away their pretenses, and shows that God is not pleased with mere outward forms and ceremonies.  The profonation of the worship of God is not only unprofitable but a sacrilege.

Monday, October 4, 2010

10/5/10- True Worship and Justice Amos 5:14,15, 21-24

Amos 5:14- Seek good not evil that you may live.  Then  the Lord God will be with you just as you say He is.  Hate evil, love good. 21 "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos and the People- Guy Rowe d. 1968)

Thoughts: We cannot ignore being true in life and expect our worship to be seen as true to God.  The context of Amos 5 is that the prophet rebuked the people for not being fair in the courts; accepting bribes; treating the poor with contempt; He calls them to hate evil and love good or the Day of the Lord's wrath will come upon them and they will be taken away.  Religion is not just to make us feel good and comfortable or to fulfill some need we have.  True religion and worship spawns care for the neighbor who is hurting, as true love for God elicits love for neighbor. 
In our day we are called to hate evil and love good.  We do not define what is evil and good apart from God's Word or despite God's Word.  Rather we are called to listen to how God has defined what is right and seek to love the Lord's definition of righteousness not our own wishes and feelings about what is right.  The heart is evil, and can deceive us.  Our best reasoning can be corrupted by our pride and selfishness.  Religion that just makes us feel good, or that is only about tolerance (which also is injust in that it refuses to hate evil) misses the mark.  All the singing; all the giving; all the crowds mean nothing if it does not change our lives and even change the world for better!  Jesus was saying this to the Pharisees- there is exterior worship that is for show and comfort; and there is worship from the heart that changes lives and the world. True worship makes true hearts which brings forth true justice and righteousness.
Prayer: Lord, let your justice roll through me to others.  Give me strength and insight to hate what is evil and love the good.

John Calvin abridged:  God sought to bless the people, but they turned away from His blessing- seeking evil instead.  When the consequences and punishment for doing evil came, they complained about their misery as if it were solely God's fault! But they were not only alienated from good, they were eagerly seeking what was evil.  God, the holy, will not dwell with us unless we seek to be holy and sanctify ourselves (Lev. 11:44).  The sacrifices of the people were often reprehended by the prophets when not accompanied by godliness and sincerity.  They believed they pacified God with external sacrifices yet continuing obstinately in their sins. 

10/4/10- John 12:16-19 The World Has Gone After Christ

John 12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, "You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!"

(Raising of Lazarus- Rembrandt)
Thoughts: Yesterday was World Communion Sunday.  It was a day in which we celebrated Christian unity in the world.  There are 30,000 McDonalds in 120 countries.  But there are 3.7 million Christian churches and there is a church in every country in the globe. 2.2 billion call themselves Christians- that is more than any other religion.  Churches all over the world had communion today in part as a show of unity.  In this passage, the Pharisees were frustrated that the children were saying "Hosanna"; that the crowd that had seen Jesus raise Lazarus was continuing to talk to people about this outstanding and public resurrection; that a crowd had gone to meet Christ when he came to Jerusalem.  People got angry that Christ, who they saw as a simple carpenter, maybe a magician of some kind, was having such a huge following.  It is amazing that a person who did not seek political power- he left when they tried to make him king (Jn. 6:15); someone who did not seek a religious office; someone who sought only to help people and teach about having faith and love in the heart was so derided, criticized, and crucified. Some today are amazed that people can be so anti-intellectual to listen to their faith instead of only to reason all the time.   But we do not live only by our bodies, or only by our reason.  The resurrection of Lazarus was not a reasonable, expected act.  Yes, the message of the Gospel appeals to people- it doesn't always make sense, but the evidence is in that the Good news of Christ touches a nerve.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that people of every race, tribe, gender, major language group, and country has those who claim you.  Help us to claim you as well. 

John Calvin abridged: ("They did not understand at first")- As the seed thrown in the earth does not immediately spring up, so the result of God's work is not immediately seen.  ("Written of him")- We are blind guides unless we have the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit speaking to us in them.  Let us learn to form our judgements about Christ not by our feelings but by the Scriptures.  The crowds had good reason to follow Him as Messiah because of the extraordinary power shown in the miracle of raising Lazarus. The opponents of Christ were throwing themselves into greater rage by looking at the crowds following Him.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

10/3/10 John 8:2-11 Stopping Stoning

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

Thoughts: Here Jesus gives justification to stop capital punishment for spiritual sins.  Christians do not stone without forgetting their own Savior's example.  While there have been historically gross and horrible exceptions, Christians today do not crucify or burn others for spiritual sins.  After all, Jesus, the Christian leader and Lord, was killed for a spiritual sin he did not commit (Yes, he really was God in the flesh Mark 11:62-65). 
Last week the Pastafarian group at the University of South Carolina was trying to raise money for Amnesty International and call attention (semi-tongue-in-cheek) for "the need for secularization" by holding a "Stoning a Heathen" event.  I believe they were asking for $1 per water balloon.  But the solution to senseless human killing is not secularization.  I don't know why people ignore the horrible atrocities done in the name of secularization and the common good in the Soviet Union's gulags (23 million) or by the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodia killing fields (1.7 million) or the millions killed by Mao (60 million) or even the 1.6 million killed by Kim Il Jung  ( If anything, religion brings meaning and value to life, so that humans are not just computer generated numbers or "senseless acts of careless evolution."  Each person is valuable- made in the image of God.  Sexual immorality is condemned as one of the highest human wrongs because it treats a person (and the making of persons) too lightly.  Jesus recognizes the sin of sexual immorality when he says to go and sin no more.  But he does not condemn her by stoning.

Prayer: Lord, help me to value others- even those who differ from me, because you made them.  Give me grace to be as gracious and holy as you.

John Calvin abridged: The Pharisess brought him a woman to try to trap him.  By doing nothing but writing on the sand, Christ was showing how unworthy they were of being heard.  ("He who is without sin")- Here Christ is not saying that a judge has to be perfect in order to send a criminal to prison; rather he is rebuking those who hypocritically condemn others easily, and overlook their own faults. ("Go and sin no more")- When forgiveness is offered to us, we ought to respond with repentance.