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.

[Sept 24]--When Friends Part Ways

Acts 15:36-41

After the big dust-up with the controversy concerning Gentiles coming into the church, Paul made a proposal to Barnabas. What that proposal entailed and what became of it are two issues worth considering.

First, let’s look at the proposal itself. Paul and Barnabas had started several churches in several different towns. They went into a town, usually went to the synagogue to preach and present the Good News, and used that as a base to reach others in the town with the Message. The synagogue was a great place to start for other reasons besides sentimental ones (an attachment to one’s fellow Jews). Any city or town could establish a synagogue if there were ten Jewish males. It'd be pretty rare, however, for a rabbi to take up residence and teach on a regular basis. Therefore, the Jews and God-fearers in attendance would welcome itinerant preachers/teachers to serve on the Sabbath as a guest speaker. As well-trained in the Law as Paul was, he'd be very attractive as a guest speaker—unless and until there were Jews from other towns to oppose him and stir up trouble. As some of the Jews and God-fearers became believers, they would be the best option for approaching the pagans in town.

It should be noted at this point that Paul was not a “hit and run” evangelist. He usually stayed about 2-3 years in a town (if possible) in order to get the church firmly established before they left. They'd appoint leaders and make sure they had at least the rudiments of basic apostolic doctrine down.

Now Paul wanted to return to some of their church plants and check up on them. There’s one word that comes to my mind when I read this: Accountability. He wanted to check on them to make sure they were staying true to the Good News, that they were abiding by the decision of the Jerusalem Council’s decision, and to take care of any other spiritual need. Most importantly, he wanted to make sure they were growing in their faith and becoming more mature in Christ. In order to be accountable, there has to be a system in place for checking up on someone. That’s the essence of making disciples. This followed the pattern set by the Master: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” Let me repeat—Accountability is an essential aspect of discipleship.

Now we come to the less than pleasant aspect of today’s passage. Barnabas replied to Paul’s proposal with enthusiasm, but there was a catch. Just like last time, Barnabas wanted to take along his cousin John Mark. Paul insisted that they not take Mark along this time; Mark had left--Paul probably would've characterized it as “abandoned”--them on an earlier missions trip. Paul didn’t consider Mark reliable. I can understand the thought process: The Mission is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing. It’s much more important than my own life, so it’s even more important than some kid’s feelings. We can’t let the mission depend on undependable people. The fact that he’s your dear cousin doesn’t change anything I’ve just said.

Barnabas understandably stood by his cousin. I can see his thought process as well: Yes, he did a horrible thing by abandoning us before. But he’s repented of it, and he deserves a second chance. He was pretty flaky before, but I see a lot of potential in him.

To be totally frank, I’m of two minds concerning their dispute. I can actually see both sides, and I don’t think either man was completely wrong. Yes, the mission was all-important. On the other hand, Barnabas had a history of seeing “diamonds in the rough” and standing up for them while others were reluctant to accept them. Remember, he'd done this for Paul. Despite Paul’s history and others’ reluctance to forget that, Barnabas had vouched for him and brought him into the inner circle.

As it turned out, his vision of Mark’s potential was spot-on. Church tradition states (and there’s no reason to dispute it) that this is the same guy who collected the teachings of Peter into what we know as Mark’s Gospel. Yes, that Gospel. And at the end of his life, Paul was apparently reconciled to him. In the final days before his execution, Paul asked specifically to have Mark by his side.

What can we learn from this? Your past doesn’t have to define your future unless you let it. And don’t be too quick to write off that person who made a mistake and even let you down. Could be you’re discarding a diamond in the rough who needs someone to believe in him.

Father God, is there someone around me who needs that? You’ve done it for me. You’ve demonstrated over and over in my life that you’re the God of second chances. Can I pass that along to anyone?

[Sept 23]--No Additions or Subtractions

Acts 15:1-21

Here we have the first ever Church council. Church history records seven within the first couple of centuries, but this is the only one which is actually part of Scripture. The later ones were important: They helped clarify what the Bible tells us about the nature of Christ and the Trinity. But they don’t have the same authority as this one does.

So what was the question at hand? Simply put, what must a person do to be saved?

What started it all was some false teachers who came into the church and started teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Now to be fair, there was some honest confusion on this point. Once again, this was a time of transition. We were transitioning out of the Law into the Gospel, and from a total focus on the Jews to a worldwide Church where there’s no difference between Jew and Gentile. It would be understandable for some people to be confused.

So we clarified it. The apostles and other leaders of the Church sat down and discussed the issue. They received testimony from three major parties.

First we got testimony from Peter. He was the first one to actively share the Good News with Gentiles back in chapter 10 (Cornelius and his house). He didn’t even finish his sermon before the entire household believed in Christ and God publicly put his stamp of approval on what was happening by performing a “Pentecost-lite” right there and then.

Second they heard Barnabas and Paul relate how the Lord was working through them to bring multitudes of Gentiles into faith in Christ. Just to make it clear that this was from God, the Lord was verifying what was happening through various signs and miracles.

Finally we hear from the chairman of the Council. Quite a change from when he didn’t even believe in his brother as the Messiah! He stood up and presented the official consensus that Gentiles are saved by faith in Jesus. No ceremony is required, nor are they required to follow the Law of Moses. The only thing they asked of the Gentile converts is that they abstain from food associated with idol worship, sexual immorality, from blood and from meat from strangled animals. The reason they asked this is clearly laid out in vs. 21: In considerate sensitivity to their Jewish brothers, the council asked them to avoid public activities which would be most offensive to the Jews. This is not a requirement for salvation, but just an issue of sensitivity to fellow believers who came from a different background.

I wish I could tell you that this was the end of the controversy, but you know I’d be lying. Paul fought for the rest of his ministry against legalists who wanted to add something to the Good News of Jesus. The entire book of Galatians (probably his first epistle) is a refutation of this nonsense.

And it continues to this day. There are plenty of churches which call themselves Christian but don’t present the simple Good News of Christ. There are churches that teach that you need to be baptized for salvation. There are others that teach that unless you’re a member of their church, you’re not saved. Or they hold that unless you take the Eucharist regularly, you’re not saved. Why? Why is this so hard to get? It’s not as if Paul isn’t clear enough.

Simply put, it’s human nature. There’s something inside us that rebels against the Good News. It can’t be that simple. There has to be something more than simply putting your trust in Christ. It actually offends our pride to think there’s absolutely nothing--zip zero nada--we can do to be saved. It's offensive to my sense of self righteousness to hear that when I come to Christ, I bring nothing to the transaction but my sin and my need.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Every other religion in the world tells us we need to do something in order to be right with God. The Good News of Jesus tells us done.

In this world, it’s pretty unpopular to say that not all religions are the same. It’s not politically correct to say that the details of how to be saved are really that important. But this is something for which Paul was willing to lay down his life. I’m sorry, but this is something on which we can’t negotiate.

Once again, if this is a point of confusion to you, if you're not absolutely sure that if you died today you'd be in Heaven, then please please please read this.

Lord Jesus, there’s nothing I can do to be made right with you. There’s nothing I could ever do to take away my sin or add to what you did on the Cross. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your Cross I cling. Please give me the strength to stand for what’s right.