OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[May 22]--People Magnet

Mark 2:13-17

Is it wrong to want to hang out with people who look like you? People who act like you? People who share your values? I’m actually of two minds concerning it. On the positive side, we have to acknowledge that this is nigh-universal behavior. And no, it’s not a white thing or a black thing or an Asian thing or a rich person thing or a poor person thing. It's a human thing. Whether it should be or not, we all have to admit that it is. It seems to be a natural tendency to want to associate with people who are like you.

But is it right? Well, that’s another issue. I think it’s usually a good idea to stretch your boundaries a little and come into contact with folks who are different than you. Maybe. . .gasp!!! Maybe even people who disagree fundamentally with your core beliefs.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Scripture tells us to encourage each other daily, which would entail spending at least some of your time with fellow believers so that you can lift each other up and also challenge each other. And if one of us is flirting with a kooky theological notion, then hopefully his brothers can step in and intervene.

There also might be the issue of falling back into an immoral lifestyle. If you were involved with, say, drunkenness on a regular basis, then it’s probably not the best idea to hang around with heavy drinkers, at least not until you can handle it. If they’re influencing you more than you influencing them, then there’s a problem.

But having said all that, if we’re not associating with people who are deeply involved with sin, then we’re not following the example of our Savior, are we? Today’s reading tells us the story of Jesus’ calling of Levi. We aren’t told of any prior contact with him, so presumably Christ just walked up to the man—while sitting at the tax-collector’s booth—and called him into discipleship. Luke’s account mentions that Levi left “everything” behind, which apparently meant all the money that had been collected. And of course you also know him as Matthew, the writer of the 1st Gospel.

You’re probably heard this before, but it’s hard to overstate just how hated the tax collectors were. Every one of them was a collaborator with Rome, the state that was oppressing them. And on top of that, they regularly collected more than was due, and kept the extra for themselves, flagrantly robbing their fellow Jews.

And this was the type of man whom Jesus called. And what did Levi do? He called all his friends so that they could meet the Master. And what kind of people would be his friends? You can surely guess. Of course other tax collectors, but also Mark notes that “sinners” of other types were there as well—people known to be involved in immoral lifestyles.

And here are two amazing things about this dinner party. First, there’s no mention that the “sinners” were unhappy to be around Jesus. For some reason, he didn’t put them off. And the other amazing thing is that there’s no indication that Jesus was uncomfortable with them.

How do we reconcile this with the fact that Jesus is holy God incarnate? The God who can’t stand sin, like we read about recently? Well, the only explanation that I can offer is the one presented by Jesus himself: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” He absolutely hates sin, but he loves the sinners. It’s just like any doctor who loves his patients and hates the cancer that kills them. In fact, he hates the cancer because he loves his patients.

By the way, how do we interpret this distinction he makes between “the righteous” and “sinners”? Are there some people who actually are “righteous”? Not according to Paul: The apostle makes it clear that none of us are righteous, at least as far as God's court of justice is concerned. It makes perfect sense if you imagine the word "righteous" here in quotation marks, in other words referring to people who call and think of themselves as righteous. There are two types of people in the world—Those who know that they’re lost and in desperate need of a Savior, and those who don’t know, who think they're righteous before God. If you don't think or know that you're a sinner in need of a Savior, then Jesus isn't calling you, in the sense that he really has nothing more to say to you until you do. It's the same sense in which AA has nothing to say to you until you admit that you have a problem with booze.

As a preacher I heard once put it, Jesus doesn't call white people or black people, men or women, Americans or Brazilians or Chinese or whatever other identity you have. He calls only one type of people: Sinners. And if you come to him, that's the only basis on which you're going to do so, bringing nothing to this meeting except your sin and your need.

I can see how this applies to us, can’t you? First, this is a reminder that I need to take any notion of self-righteousness and drive a stake through its heart. My sins are not as public as some folks’, but I need the blood of Christ as much as anyone else. Second, I think it’s time for me to pray for opportunities to stretch my “comfort zone.” Or maybe I just need to pray for eyes to see the opportunities he’s already placed in front of me.

Lord Jesus, where do you want me to go? Who needs to be told about and shown your love?

[May 21]--The Great Reversal

Mark 1:40-45

This passage will always hold a special place in my heart, since it’s the one that I was forced to expound upon for one of my Bible courses in college. I had to dissect these verses word-by-word. I had to examine at least five different commentaries and cite them frequently. I had to do a study on the background of leprosy and what this man probably experienced in that community and during that time. I also had to cite other Bible verses (like from Leviticus) which gave commands concerning situations like this. In spite of all this, it’s still one of my favorite passages in all the Gospels. Let’s take a look.

I think it’s hard to overestimate the misery that this man had undergone for as long he had this disease. By the way, it’s likely not referring to what we think of in terms of modern leprosy: The Greek and Hebrew both used general terms which could apply to all types of contagious skin diseases. But whatever the disease was, it completely sealed this man off from everything and everyone he held dear. If he walked down a street, he had to call out “Unclean! Unclean!” in order to warn everyone to stay away. Little children would run screaming from him. He would have no contact with his family. He was completely dependent on the charity of others, since there was no way he could ever hold a job. And of course he could forget about ever entering the temple to worship with others. He undoubtedly had to live outside the town, and the only companions he would have would be other outcasts. For someone in that culture, which prized family connections so highly, this would be a living hell.

And then the man heard about Jesus. He pled with the Master to heal him. And here’s something that’s especially poignant. Mark’s Gospel is the only one that specifically mentions that Jesus was “moved with pity.” He saw this man’s plight, and was moved to do something about it. And then all the Synoptic versions of the story tell us that the Savior did something extraordinary in response: He reached out and touched him.

Why would he do this, and why would the Gospel writers point it out? Keep in mind that this man needed more than just physical healing. He'd been cut off from all human contact, possibly for years. No one had touched him. He needed emotional healing as well as physical restoration. And Jesus, moved by compassion, reached out and touched him.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting, at least to me. If you had to do so, you could sum up the entire Old Testament Law with one word: separation. The people of Israel were to be separate from the Gentiles around them. You had clean and unclean food, houses, animals, and clothing. Yes, you couldn’t mix different fabrics in your clothes. You couldn’t mix different crops in your garden. You had holy vs. common days of the year. You had holy vs. common people (priests vs. laity). And worst of all, you had clean and unclean people. Most people would be unclean at some time in their lives, if only for a short period. Women were unclean a few days out of the month, and a man could be unclean if he visited a grave site. Most of the time, you washed yourself, avoided human contact, and couldn’t enter the temple for a day or so. If you touched someone or something, then your uncleanness was spread like a disease. And if you were leprous, you were probably going to be unclean for the rest of your life.

And then Jesus arrives, and the whole process is reversed. He reached out and touched the man, and the uncleanness of the leper didn’t infect him. Instead, the Savior's “cleanness” spread to the man. For the first time in recorded history, the horrible process of spreading uncleanness was not just quarantined off but reversed.

And it didn’t stop there. Jesus had a heart for those whose uncleanness was on the inside instead of out. The prostitute, the tax collector, and the swearing fisherman all experienced this. And when he died, the curtain separating the holy presence of God from the rest of us was torn in two. Not from bottom to top (as if a human could accomplish it) but from top to bottom.

And this Great Reversal is supposed to be reflected in our lives as believers as well. All too often, believers take an O.T. approach to "unclean" people: We quarantine them off from us, lest they spread their infection. I understand the concern: We can't let ourselves be dragged into other peoples' sin. I get that. But the coming of Jesus brings a new era, a whole new paradigm of how to deal with this, Our ultimate goal is not to seal ourselves off from unclean people but to be agents of the cleanness of our Savior to people who need him. After all, salt does no good still in the shaker, and a candle can't light up a room if it's under a bowl. Light is meant to invade darkness, and salt is meant to be mixed in with food, right?

Am I following that principle? Not nearly as much as I should. All too often I find myself slipping into the O.T. method--quarantine--rather than participating in the Great Reversal. And I'm making the effort to do that.

And the first sign of it that we see in Mark’s Gospel is a poor leper begging for relief.

Thank you, Lord Jesus. I was once was as filthy as I could be, but you cleansed me with one touch. Let me just meditate on that for a moment. And then, please let me be your agent of spreading your cleansing power everywhere I go.