1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “...for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way--Jesus--so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth--Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives....” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man--our Lord--Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

1 Timothy 1

Today’s devotional reading is 1 Timothy 1.

When we read Acts 19, way back on May 24, I noted that Ephesus was an important place in the story of the New Testament. Paul spent two years there on his third missionary journey. Then, toward the end of that journey (Acts 20), he stopped nearby and called the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could speak with them and pray with them. Of course, he also wrote the New Testament book we call “Ephesians” to that church as well.

Things were not well in the church at Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter we call 1 Timothy. Paul had been released from the house arrest we read about in Acts 28 and was out planting churches again when he heard reports of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). He sent Timothy there to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” In verse 5, he said, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These verses indicate how important good doctrine--pure doctrine--is to the health of the church. Good doctrine creates “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” which produces love in God’s people which makes the church a loving, Christ-like place. Bad doctrine, then, corrupts one’s faith and one’s “good conscience” (v. 19) which inevitably leads to problems in the church--both problems between people and moral problems within people.

Doctrine is not a popular subject in the church. Instead, churches today run on emotionalism, entertainment, and self-help. Emotions have an important place and making disciples involves helping believers deal with their problems but if that plus entertaining services is what a church is about, that church will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrine. False doctrine hollows out a church, corrupting the pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith (v. 5) God called us to have as followers of Christ. So, never denigrate doctrine or underestimate its importance in your life or in the church. Instead, learn the great doctrines of our faith and let them purify your heart and strengthen your conscience. Then, as we learn and grow together in the truth, we will become a loving place.

Mark 16

Today’s reading is Mark 16.

After Jesus was crucified, Matthew 27:57-61 records that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who became a disciple of Jesus, received permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’s body. Remember that Jesus died on Friday and that, in the Jewish world, sunset marked the beginning of the next day. That sunset meant the start of Saturday and if they had taken time to properly embalm Jesus’ body, they would be breaking the Sabbath command. So, Joseph (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John 19:38-40) wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean cloth with some spices (Jn 20:40) and placed it into the tomb Joseph had purchased for his own burial place. In today’s reading from Mark 16, three women came on Sunday morning to do the job right (vv. 1-3). The stone in front of the door to the cave seems to have been a standard practice since the opening to Lazarus’ tomb was also covered by a stone (Jn 11:39). The women were concerned that that no one would be there to roll the stone away for them (v. 3) but that turned out to be a non-issue. Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 6-7) and angels were waiting to give the news to the women and the disciples.

This is how the gospel according to Mark ends--with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a record of the fear the women experienced. It seems like a strange ending which is why other verses were added by well-meaning Christians in later manuscript copies. But Mark is complete as it is, ending at verse 8 because ti records the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is just as essential to his story and our faith as his crucifixion is. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that, without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 15:17) there is no hope of eternal life (1 Cor 15:17), our faith is a lie (1 Cor 15:14) and the apostles are all liars (1 Cor 15:15).

Fortunately, Jesus did rise from the dead as we read here in Mark 16. The fact that his disciples were willing to be persecuted and even martyred for Jesus is a key point on the subject of the resurrection. These were the same men who abandoned him and fled when he was betrayed. Peter, who denied him three times, later gave his life for Jesus as did many other early disciples. They were willing to do that because they saw the resurrected Lord. Having seen him, they knew that his testimony about himself was true and that promises he made guaranteed eternal life to those who believed in him. As 1 Cor 21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

This is the hope that will sustain you through the trials and problems of life. It will encourage you when those you love die and it will calm your fears when the time comes for you to die. Jesus rose from the dead and he promises to raise each of us from the dead when he returns. There is no fear, no problem in life, nothing that is bigger than that. It is a promise that you can hold to and that will hold you no matter what life has in store for you.

Mark 15

Today we’re reading Mark 15.

Yesterday, when we read about Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14, we read these words in verses 48-49, ““Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Christ was pointing out how absurd it was to be arrested by so many men who were so heavily armed. Jesus was a peaceful man and a public man who could have been arrested easily many times.

The reason for the precautions, of course, was the miraculous power he displayed. If you were Judas and had seen him casting out demons and walking on water, you’d bring an army to arrest him, too. Had he chosen to resist, of course, all the armies in the world could not have detained him. Although he had shown miraculous power, it was never violently directed. Though Christ arrived in Jerusalem like a king and exercised authority, he never attempted a military coup.

Barabbas did, though. As we read today in Mark 15:7, “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” Not only did Barabbas try to overthrow the government, his group killed a man while doing so. Yet, when given the choice to release either Jesus--the merciful healer or Barabbas, the violent revolutionary, the crowd wanted Barabbas, not Jesus, released.

Why?

Because of how dark the sinful heart of humanity is. Given a chance to kill God, the author of life, humanity jumped at the opportunity to rid the earth of him. Only the sinful heart of man would think it was better to have a killer like Barabbas on the loose than the merciful son of God.

This illustrated why we needed Christ’s redemption. Humanity longs for god, but not not the true and living God because he is holy and we are accountable to him. In order for any one of us to be reconciled to God, God the Son allowed himself to be taken into the hands of sinful men so that he could die as our substitute. Due to his death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” giving those who believe in him free and open access to God the father. This is something to praise God for; it is also something that should draw us in to speak with God in prayer. The way is open, the channel is clear, and God is listening because of the atonement of Christ.

What will you asking him for today?

Mark 14

Today the schedule calls us to read Mark 14.

Some people are just really dependable. Hopefully, each of you reading this has multiple people in your life that you can count on no matter what. In our hearts, we probably all aspire to be someone who can be counted on by others. Maybe you would go so far as to say that you are someone that others can trust to be there in any situation.

Peter did. He had a close friendship with Jesus and a fierce determination to stand with Jesus no matter what. Christ warned the disciples, “You will all fall away” in verse 27. He even quoted scripture (Zechariah 13:7) to prove his point. Peter spoke right up to say, “Not me. Not me, Lord. You can count on me, no matter what.” Or, to quote rather than paraphrase verse 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” Jesus pushed back and said, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (v. 30). Instead of pleading with Jesus for his grace to prevent that from happening, Peter raised his promise to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31).

Of course, Jesus was right and in verses 66-72 Peter did exactly what Christ had prophesied. Instead of standing and dying with Christ, Peter did everything he could to distance himself from Jesus. The reason, of course, was fear that he would also be crucified with Christ--exactly the thing he told Jesus he was ready to do. But, when “it got real” as they say these days, Peter’s bravado didn’t hold up.

One reason why this passage was given to us is to show us the tender mercy of Jesus. Peter failed Jesus but Jesus loved him and restored him anyway. Perseverance in the faith is taught in scripture and is an important doctrine for believers to understand. But most, if not all of us, will fail to stand for Jesus in some way or other at some time in our lives. Either we will be ashamed of something in his word that the world ridicules or we will not identify with his people because of fear. If this has happened to you and you feel the shame that Peter felt in this passage, take heart! Jesus is loving and forgiving even when we don’t follow him perfectly.

How does this passage square with the doctrine of perseverance? Remember, perseverance is the truth that those who are truly regenerated and belong to Jesus will follow him from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives, continuing and growing in faith and good works. How do Peter’s failures not contradict this doctrine? The answer is that Peter did not renounce Christ in his heart; he allowed fear to keep him from honestly affirming what was true. Peter did not genuinely fall away from Jesus; he distanced himself from Jesus because he was afraid, even though he still believed in Jesus.

Perseverance does not make us immune to failure. It means that we will, by the grace of God, grow strong enough to overcome our failures and stand for Christ as we grow in maturity. This happened to Peter. In the very text where Jesus restored Peter (John 21), he also prophesied that he would die for Christ someday (John21:18-19. This prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, too. God was gracious to Peter and strengthened the man who failed until he became the dependable disciple he aspired to be in Gethsemane.

May God continue this growing, stabilizing work in our lives, too. Confess and forget your failures to stand for Christ and call on his grace to strengthen you in the future when you are put to the test for him.

Psalms 111-113

Today you can prepare for our worship service by reading Psalms 111-113.

At times we can look at God’s word as a burden. It is filled with commands and obligations and we are called to obey it all. The scripture warns of great judgement for those who refuse to obey God’s word and, even when we find forgiveness in Christ for our disobedience to God, we often still suffer sorrowful affects of our sin. These things can make God’s word feel heavy to us and cause us to be fearful whenever we open the scripture.

What we need to remember, though, is that God’s commands are not burdensome. They are not tedious, meaningless regulations like sitting at stoplight when there is absolutely no traffic coming from any direction but you have to sit there because it is the law. That’s not what God’s commands are like. In fact, according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us. They are given to us to make us happy, not burden us.

Verse 6 of Psalm 111 says, “all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” This is something to be happy about because they give us something solid on which we can build our lives. One of the scariest things about life is the uncertainty of it. There is no guarantee that the plans you make in life will succeed. There is no certainty that the market will want your product. Even if people want it today, something better might come along tomorrow. Even though you may feel completely healthy, things can change.

If our plans, our jobs, our health, and many other things are uncertain, then how can we ever really feel joy and contentment? The answer is by building our lives on what is certain rather than hoping in things that are very uncertain. What is certain are God’s precepts--his commands and teachings. Verse 8 says, “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” You might lose everything, but if your life is built on God’s commands, they will uphold you when everything else falls apart.

Without Christ we cannot build our lives on God’s faithful commands because each of us has an unfaithful heart that leads us astray. But, in Christ we have a new heart that desires to obey God’s word and the Holy Spirit who leads us to walk in his ways. These are great blessings to God’s people for, as verse 10 says, “all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” It is only when God turns on the lights in our hearts through regeneration that we understand how wise it is to follow God’s commands in obedience. But when we obey God and experience a stable life because of his commands, we can’t take credit. Verse 10 ends the Psalm by saying, “To him belongs eternal praise.” This is why I wrote earlier that, “according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us.” It is God’s word that gives us insight on which we can build a stable life so all glory and praise go to him for his revelation and the blessed life that results from being built on it. This is something to praise God for as we gather to worship him today.

Proverbs 22:1-16

For your weekend reading pleasure, read Proverbs 22:1-16 today.

Many people--most of us, probably, at some point in our lives--live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed....” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems. This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Mark 13

Today’s reading is Mark 13.

I enjoy architecture and appreciate a well-designed and good-looking building. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing about architecture; I just like places when they are done right. At least one disciple of Jesus shared this quality with me. According to verse 1, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” If he’d said that to me, I would have said, “I know! Aren’t they cool! Herod has his problems, but he did build us a nice temple!”

Jesus, however, was not impressed and he told that disciple not to get too attached to that building. In verse 2 he said, “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

Ahem.

Well, at least Jesus called the buildings “great.” Though..., maybe he just meant large.

Peter, James, and John--his closest disciples--asked Jesus privately about this. Peter’s brother Andrew also got in on the discussion, according to verse 3. What Jesus said in the rest of this chapter is called “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus spoke these words on the mount of Olives while overlooking the temple. Going into what Jesus taught in this chapter is beyond what I could cover in a devotional, but there is a message here for us just in the first two verses. The magnificent temple that awed at least one disciple was gone within 30 years or so after Jesus said these words. It happened during the lifetime of these men. Long before the temple was destroyed, though, it stopped mattering to these men. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit moved powerfully and saved thousands of people. And he kept moving and kept saving men, spreading his work throughout the rest of the world in waves that ripple out to us. No longer did they need a great building to have a spiritual experience with God. They had their memories of Jesus and his words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and thousands of disciples to nurture. Buildings are impressive and incredibly useful but if we love the building more than God or the souls of men, we’re doing it wrong.

Suzanne and I were part of a few church plants before we came to Calvary so we know what it is like to use someone else’s building. One thing that does for you is make you thankful for the building you have when you get one. I like our building here at Calvary and I’m so grateful that the Lord provided the funds we needed to fix the leaky roof and (finally!) carpet the upstairs. But this building will be destroyed someday--hopefully a long time into the future, but someday. The impressive monuments in Washington and the stately buildings there will not last forever. Someday everything we know will burn up and be replaced by a city made by God where righteousness dwells. We can’t take any buildings with us to that city, but we can take people who hear the gospel message and are rescued from an eternity apart from God.

So, let’s be thankful for the stuff we have--our church building and grounds, our homes, clothes, cars, etc. But don’t fall in love with those things; use them to reach and disciple and love people for Jesus Christ.

Start with your own family and you’ll be on the right track.

Mark 12

Today’s reading is Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority--in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy. If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

I dunno; but its seems strange, doesn’t it?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in absolute terms, in relative terms her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything--all she had to live on” (v. 44). It was generosity that made an impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why is that? Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Though others may have given huge amounts, their amounts were much smaller when compared to the percentage of their overall income. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did--not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

Mark 11

Today’s reading is Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But...

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week--the passion week before Christ was crucified--was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here. So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem... or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before. The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, this miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see--again--that he had authority over everything, including nature. The curse set up his teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25 that we’re thinking about in this devotional today. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. He was rejected and crucified--all according to God’s plan--but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well... there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole” which means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke this way often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, no only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it. If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddled that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things--forgiving someone who has sinned against you bigly, overcoming an addiction, praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ, asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin, grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?

Mark 10

Today’s reading is Mark 10.

Two people join together in the covenant of marriage with great hope for what their lives together will be like, great intentions about how they interact with each other, and an expectation that their marriage will last for the duration of their lives. This is how God intended it to be, as Jesus said in verses 6-7, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” If Adam and Eve had not sinned, every marriage would be perfect because two perfect people would enter it with the ability to have perfect obedience to God’s intentions and commands for marriage.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. When two people marry, both of them bring a sin nature, a sinful past, and sinful desires and impulses into the marriage. No matter how strong their resolve and how good their intentions may be, they will have an imperfect marriage. If problems accumulate and are unresolved, one or both of them may start thinking about what it would be like to be married to someone else.

In Moses’ time, men held all the power. They decided whom their daughters would marry and a man who had the means could accumulate several wives (or several hundred wives, in the case of Solomon). Part of the reason for polygamy was that war and farm accidents created a world where there were not enough men available to marry all the women who existed. A man who disliked his wife, then, could just add another one to his life and hope she would do for him what the first wife did not. But if he disliked one of his wives enough, he could kick her out. Because he inherited his property from his father, he had absolute ownership and his wife had no legal ownership at all. If he told her to leave, she was trespassing if she didn’t go immediately.

If a man sent his wife away, she didn’t have many options. She could return to her father’s house but dad might not be able (due to age or poverty) to care for her and her children. If another man liked her, he would be in a tough position because what if her husband cooled off and wanted her to come home? Moses, in the words of verse 4, “...permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” The certificate of divorce clarified a woman’s status. It told a potential second husband that a woman was free to remarry because her original husband had repudiated her and dissolved their relationship legally. This is why Jesus said, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” in verse 5. The “hardness of heart” referred to the tendency of men to marry a woman, then kick her out but without actually divorcing her so that he would have the option of bringing her back into his life and his home again. This would be an abuse of his power so, to protect a woman from being starved and homeless due to a husband who wouldn’t decide whether to live with her or break it off legally with her, Moses required any man who kicked his wife out to make it all official and legal-like.

Divorce came into existence, then, to protect women from being legally bound to men who wouldn’t keep his commitment to his wife. If a woman is legally married but moves in with another man, we call that adultery. If she has been divorced, however, there is no adultery--legally speaking--because the divorce legally dissolved the marriage agreement.

All of this makes sense to us and it made sense to Jesus and his audience. If you sign a contract with Comcast but then decide that they are not keeping up their half of the bargain, you can dissolve the contract. There may be penalties to pay (as there are in divorce, actually) but nobody will judge you for using legal means to end a bad contract.

Jesus, however, taught that marriage is more than just a legal contract. His teaching reflected the intentions of God as stated in Genesis 2:24 and quoted by Jesus in verses 7-8 of our passage, Mark 10: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” We know from 1 Corinthians 6:16 that “one flesh” refers to sexual intercourse. God created sex not only so that a couple could make children together but also so that they would be bound together at a physical level, not just a legal level. Divorce dissolves the legal aspect of marriage, but it is impossible to dissolve the psychological bond that physical intimacy creates. Sex permanently bonds you to your partner in a way that is impossible to completely break. This is why remarriage is, according to Jesus, an act of adultery because God created and intended marriage to be one man and one woman for one’s lifetime.

The disciples were concerned by how strict Jesus was about divorce so they asked him to clarify his remarks in verse 10 of our chapter today. Jesus explained that someone who divorces his wife to marry another person has committed adultery. Legally, they can do that but morally and spiritually, they cannot. Notice that Mark here did not include the exception clause that Matthew included in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The exception clauses allows someone to divorce and remarry for “sexual immorality.” In that case, Jesus said, the divorcing spouse has not committed adultery because the sin of adultery was already committed by the spouse who was sexually immoral. Sexual immorality is a breach not only of the legal covenant of marriage but of the “one flesh” relationship. You are supposed to be “one flesh” with only one person so adultery separates “what God has joined together.” Mark did not include the exception clause because most divorces are not due to adultery. Jesus warned us all in this passage that, although divorce is legal and (regrettably) sometimes necessary because of a hard hearted spouse, it is not what God wants nor what God intended for marriage.

The application to all of us is obvious, isn’t it? If you’re unmarried, don’t become one flesh with anyone except for your spouse after the wedding. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse and determine to stick with the marriage for the duration of your life.

Although it takes two consenting adults to get married, it only takes one to divorce. It is sad, but true, that your spouse can unilaterally end your marriage whether you want it to end or not. If you’re divorced and this passage opens an old wound for you, I understand and am sorry. The application for all of us is really the same, however: be obedient to what God wants no matter what situation you are in now. If you are married, don’t get divorced or commit adultery. If you are single (whether because you’ve never been married or because you’ve been divorced), live a pure life now and seek to uphold God’s design for marriage in your own life as best as you can.

Mark 9

Today’s reading is Mark 9.

Because we are sinners, it is easy for us to tolerate the existence of sin. If someone sins against us, that can be tough to take, but if we see one person sin against another or we sin against someone else, it is easy to excuse it. We don’t condone it, necessarily, but we say to ourselves, “I’ve sinned too” or “I’m capable of doing that” or “I’ve been tempted to do that” or the ever-present, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus coached us to be much harder on sin than we are. Not to be hard on the sin of others, but to be hard on ourselves. We read about that in verses 42-48. In verse 42, he warned us not to cause someone else to “stumble.” Stumbling means to fall into sin; ultimately, we cannot force someone into sin but we can tempt them to sin or put them in a position where they will be tempted to sin. I can’t make an alcoholic drink; but I could invite him to go bar-hopping with me. That one compromise--I’ll go along, but not drink, will put him in an environment where it is easy to drink one glass and hard to say no. One glass may lead to two and, pretty soon, he’s falling down drunk. It was his choice, but I laid down in front of him and said, “Don’t trip and stumble over me!”

Jesus said that someone who causes one of his children--a believer--to sin will receive harsh punishment from God. He said it would be “better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” That sounds like a terrifying way to die, drowning to death and unable to stop it. But Jesus said a person who drowns that way will be better off than the person who causes another believer to sin.

In verses 43-48, he went on to warn us about causing ourselves to stumble. His advice was to deal radically with our sin. If it is your hand that causes you to sin, cut it off! Why? Because it is better to deal with the horrible wound of amputation and the disability of that amputation than to go to hell. Same with your eyes; if one of them causes you to sin, get rid of it so that you won’t go to hell.

What do we make of this warning from Jesus? Is he suggesting that some sin could cause us to stumble so thoroughly that we lost our salvation? No; salvation does not depend on our efforts but on the grace of God. The point of these verses is not to teach us how to deal with sin. Our hands and eyes don’t actually make us sin; it is our hearts that lead us to sin. A person with no hands or feet or eyes or hearing still has a heart that desires evil things.

And that’s the point of these words--to teach us that nothing we can do would be radical enough to rid us of the sin tendencies that will condemn us to hell. Only God’s righteousness, credited to us in Christ, can get us forgiveness for the sins we have committed and will commit. And, only his grace through the Holy Spirit and the new nature within can change our evil hearts so that we actually learn to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.

So the person who believes they will be saved on the day of judgement but who is careless and callous about his or her sin should read this text and realize how much trouble they are in. They should feel the desperation of a certainty in hell and fall on the mercy of God, asking him to save them from the eternity they deserve.

And God will be there; he will answer that prayer of faith with full forgiveness and the power to change without amputating your limbs. God sees the true danger of sin and wants us to be much harder on it than we tend to be, calling out for his grace and help. If you’ve never trusted Christ, this is what you need to do because cutting off your limbs won’t stop you from sinning. If you have trusted Christ, you need to pursue holiness in your life, asking God to cleanse you when you sin but also to purge from you the desire to sin, replacing it with a passion to be holy like he is.

Proverbs 21:15-31

Today’s reading is Proverbs 21:15-31.

You’ve heard people say, “We live hand to mouth.” Maybe you’ve even said it. When someone says that, they are telling you that they do not save anything. Whatever they earn in income is immediately consumed. Every penny is spent and, with easy credit these days, many people have already spent more money than they will earn for many paychecks to come.

This is the American way, unfortunately.

But it isn’t the wise way. According to Proverbs 15:20, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Remember that wisdom has a moral quality to it in Proverbs. The way of the wise isn’t just something that smart people do; it is what godly people do. If a person takes God’s word seriously, that person knows that God created people to work and provide for ourselves. Also, God’s word tells us to prepare for difficult days. These revelations from God’s word are what cause a wise man to “store up choice food and olive oil.” A believer in God understands that difficult days will come so he prepares for them by saving.

A fool, by contrast, is a consumer. He or she craves the experience of pleasure, the excitement of new purchases, the status provided by nice things. Instead of saving, then, the foolish consumes everything as soon as it comes in. And so, verse 17 of our passage today prophesies, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

A person’s savings or lack of savings is not the only indicator of faith and godliness. Every Christian has areas where they are doing well and areas they need to improve. If you’re reading these devotionals every day, you’re taking a positive step toward a holy life. If you’re putting into practice the things that you read, that’s even more important. Maybe today’s proverbs will give you a new area in your life to work on for developing godliness. If you’re not saving anything, understand that is both a financial and spiritual problem, then ask the Lord to help you curb your spending and start saving.

An excellent first step on this would be to sign up for Financial Peace University this fall, which we are offering as one of our small groups. You can sign up for it on Sunday in your response cards or go to http://calvarysmallgroups.com and register for it right now.

Mark 8

Today we’re reading Mark 8.

Do you remember the Judiazers from passages we’ve already read in Acts, Galatians, and Colossians? They were a group of people who called themselves Christians but tried to impose Old Testament ceremonies on the Gentile believers who came to Christ and became part of the church in the cities where Paul traveled. Here in Mark 8:15, Jesus forewarned the disciples about them when he said, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees....’”

It seems surprising that Jesus would need to warn the disciples about the Pharisees. They were a constant problem for Christ during his ministry on this earth, so I would expect that the Twelve would be wary about them. Maybe they were; however, we need to remember that the disciples grew up in synagogues that were dominated by Pharisaic leadership and interpretation of the Law. While they may have distrusted the Pharisees based on their experiences with Jesus, they were probably sympathetic to the outlook on life and spirituality that the Pharisees had.

Jesus warned the disciples that the teaching of the Pharisees (and Herod, but that’s a different story) would be like yeast. I don’t know anything about baking but I am told (like, here) that a small lump of yeast will grow and spread throughout an entire batch of dough. A little Pharisaism, then, in the church would grow and permeate the whole congregation. So Christ warned the disciples not to let them and their rules into the church.

There are some groups of Christians who would like to bring the church back under observance of the law. Our church, however, is more likely to be infected with Pharisaic attitudes than classic Pharisaic theology. We might never tell a newly converted man that he needs to get circumcised and stop eating ham. But we might be tempted to try to impress others with our pious words in prayer or with our extravagant giving to the church. We might never try to revert to observing the Sabbath, but we might judge someone for not wearing the right Christian uniform.

Do Christians need manmade rules to keep us from sinning? Maybe and we shouldn’t judge another believer who has different convictions about this or that than we do. But we also shouldn’t judge other Christians if they are living obediently to God’s word but apply it specifically in different ways than we do. That is a Pharisaic attitude and once it infects our hearts and our church, it will grow and spread until it permeates the whole congregation. fThis is true of all false doctrine, actually. How much error is good for your Christian life? How much false teaching can a church tolerate and still be healthy? According to Christ, not much because it spreads so we need to know our theology well and never dabble in or tolerate bad theology in our lives our our church family.

Mark 7

Today’s reading is Mark 7.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were careful to observe the ceremonial washings that other men had created (vv. 1-4) and they were offended when Jesus and his disciples did not follow that tradition (v. 5). Jesus used their complaint to charge them with hypocrisy for holding religiously to man-made traditions while looking for religious reasons to avoid doing God’s will (vv. 6-13). Christ used the specific example of “Corban” to illustrate this sinful choice. One of the Big 10 commandments was to “honor your father and mother” (v. 10). We talk about this command to children and of course it applies to them. But the command was originally given to adults which suggests that there were responsibilities that adults had to their parents. If a man is going to honor his parents, that may mean giving them financial assistance as they get older. In a society without a concept such as “retirement” and no financial way to prepare for getting older, an elderly person would have to work until he/she died or live on the support of their children. Jesus applied the commandment to honor your parents to this kind of financial support. To Christ, if you want to honor your parents, you’d better share your home, your food, and/or your income when they have needs. This is a very logical application of the commandment to honor your parents.

The most religious people in Jesus’ society found a way to use their religious rules to render themselves unable of helping their parents. They would take a portion of their income or some of their assets and vow an oath to give that to God (someday). If it were devoted to God, then it would be morally wrong for them to give it to someone else, even their own elderly parents. They applied God’s word, then, in ways that helped them avoid the difficult applications of other portions of God’s word. In the words of Jesus, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (v. 9).

Do we do that? Do we ever apply scripture in ways that let us off the hook for obeying other passages of scripture? If we use the truth of God’s electing grace as an excuse not to share the gospel, then we are doing something like the Pharisees did. What about if we buy a large house for the good of our family but can’t tithe and pay the mortgage at the same time? What about if we volunteer to serve in one ministry in order to avoid getting into a small group or coming to the worship service?

These are just a few things that come to my mind at the moment. The human heart being what it is, I’m sure there are other ways we do something like what the Pharisees did here. If something comes to mind for you, consider what Jesus said about this practice of the Pharisees: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ’“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”’” Don’t apply one command so favorably that it helps you avoid obeying another command. That reveals a heart that is distant from God, not one that wants to honor and obey him.

Mark 6

Today’s reading is Mark chapter 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important--a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some might remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem; how is he now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes. He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “...they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God. The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism--aka their unbelief--meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance. I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

Mark 5

Today’s reading comes to us in the form of Mark 5.

At the end of Mark 4 yesterday, Jesus calmed the storm and caused the disciples to ask themselves, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Here in chapter 5 the answer emerged from an unlikely source--namely a man possessed by a large number of demons. This man “the demoniac of Gadara” knew exactly who this man was and he called him, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (v. 7). After Jesus liberated this man from his demons (vv. 8-13), the word about Christ spread and people in the town came out to see for themselves. They found the man “sitting there, dressed and in his right mind” (v. 15) He was most likely listening to Jesus teach.

This man had terrorized this region (vv. 3-5), yet after Jesus released him, the people in the town “were afraid” (v. 15c) and “began to plead with Jesus to leave their region” (v. 17). After Christ did what nobody else and even the strongest metal chains could not do, I would expect them to want Jesus to stay. Wouldn’t you want to more about this powerful man? Wouldn’t this demonstration of his divine power make you want to know more?

But that didn’t happen in this case. The people were not in awe of Jesus, begging to be transformed by his power. They were afraid of Jesus and wanted him to leave. Scripture does not specifically tell us why they did not respond positively to Jesus but given the truths about the human heart we read in other passages of scripture, it seems likely that they had sins they did not want to turn away from. While nowhere near as sinful and scary as the demon possessed man, they still had things they wanted to hide from God. Maybe the man Jesus delivered made them feel better about their own sins since they could easily point to someone who was “worse.” But if Jesus could transform a man who was that sold-out to Satan, what excuse could the average sinner have for not receiving Christ in faith and repentance?

Have you ever seen someone transformed by Christ and felt odd about being in that person’s presence? Does someone else’s testimony of spiritual growth or deliverance from sin make you feel exposed? When you see God dramatically transform someone else, does your heart cry out for that kind of transformation too or are you more likely to stay away from that person and hope they don’t rub off on you. The people who asked Jesus to leave there region were not Christians. That’s why they asked Jesus to leave--they didn’t want to become his children. But even we Christians sometimes are repelled by someone else’s spiritual transformation, so much so that we put some separation between them and us. Don’t do that! Rejoice whenever God saves someone or sparks a work of dramatic growth in their lives. Then, humble yourself and ask God to work in your life, too.

Mark 4

Today we’re reading Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41). Some of these parables explain the same truths I taught in yesterday’s message. The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25, for instance, describes how failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers. The parable in verses 26-29 also teaches one of the truths I’ve talked about the past two Sundays. Jesus said in verses 26-27 that the kingdom of God is like a farmer. He scatters the seed into the ground and.... that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.” Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c even says, “...though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process. So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works nor do need to anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know... how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure. But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come. Are you planting anything?

While we’re on this subject, some of our church members are involved in campus ministry and they will be attempting to share the gospel with thousands of incoming students. Pray for them to find the good soil and plant the seed of the word. And, if you have time to help and want a bootcamp in evangelism, contact Bryce or EJ and volunteer to help them.