SAINTS AND SINNERS

But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Matthew 9:11-13 (NLT)]

The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. [John Stott]

moth mulleinLast week, after posting the second of two devotions mentioning David Bennett, Sr. (who received a pig’s heart in a ground-breaking transplant), I checked news links for an update on his condition. I was surprised to learn that 34 years ago, when Bennett was just 23, he was convicted of stabbing Edward Shumaker seven times, a violent assault that left the 22-year-old paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Bennett was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served 6 of those years before returning to society and moving on with his life. As for Shumaker, after enduring 19 years of staph infections, sepsis, bedsores, a stroke, and moving in and out of nursing homes, he died a week before his 41st birthday.

Understandably, Shumaker’s survivors had difficulty processing the news that the man who caused such heartache and suffering for Edward not only went on to have a normal life complete with children and grands but also received a new lease on that life with his life-saving heart transplant. For Shumaker’s sister, it seems outrageous that someone guilty of such a violent crime could undergo this lifesaving procedure when so many more “deserving” recipients die or become too ill for transplant surgery before a heart becomes available.

Officials at the Baltimore hospital where Bennett received his new heart explained that the decision about Bennett’s transplant eligibility was based solely on his medical records, explaining that they provide, “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University, elaborated, “The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are.…We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints.”

Caplan’s words made me think of Jesus—the Great Physician who came into this world to heal mankind. There is no record of His assessing the purity or sinfulness of those he restored to determine whether or not they deserved healing. He didn’t evaluate people’s righteousness before making the lame walk, the blind see, or the deaf hear. He didn’t categorize acceptable from unacceptable sins or sort out the honest from the corrupt, the moral from the immoral, or the law-abiding from the criminal before healing leprosy, mental illness, fevers, or hemorrhaging. When He fed the multitude, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to offer food only to those virtuous people worthy of receiving it and He broke bread with both the respectable and the disreputable. When it comes to God’s healing, mercy, love, provision, or forgiveness, not one of us is more or less deserving than the next; none of us are worthy because we all are sinners!

Just as the medical profession is not in the business of sorting sinners from saints, neither is the Church. Someday, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats but, until that day comes, let us remember that His Church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints! We don’t scrutinize those who come to us and weed out all of the swearers, liars, ex-cons, crude, self-righteous, alcoholics, doubters, adulterers, divorced, gossipers, or scoundrels before welcoming them through our doors. If we did, both our pews and pulpits would be empty! Our pasts, no matter how soiled or violent, do not bar us from the healing and restoration of the Lord!

Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite. [Harry Ironside]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

lotusI was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another begins, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could have a do-over, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of our past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Tomorrow is the start of a brand new year and we can make a fresh start. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones (and memories) where they belong—dead and buried.

The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

THE LAST SUPPER (Part 3 – Bathing and Washing)

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [John 13:8-10 (ESV)]

Apparently speechless when Jesus washed their feet, John records no one objecting to His doing so until Jesus came to Peter. After protesting that Jesus never would never wash his feet, the Lord warned the disciple that unless he allowed Jesus to wash him, Peter wouldn’t belong to Him. Eager to show his devotion to Jesus, Peter then enthusiastically offered the rest of his body for cleansing. Jesus explained that, because Peter already bathed, only his feet needed washing, while adding that not all of those present were clean. Since we know the rest of the story, we know He was referring to Judas. The reference to Judas not being clean, however, tells us that this exchange is about more than washing the filth of Judah’s roads off the disciple’s feet. Since Jesus wasn’t giving a hygiene lesson, what did He mean?

When Jesus said he must wash Peter’s feet, the Greek word used was niptó, a word used for washing or wetting only a part of the body, as we would with our hands before dinner or as Jesus did with the men’s feet. But, when Jesus said the men already were clean because they had bathed, the Greek word used was louó which meant bathing the entire body as we would in a long hot shower. Using both words in John 13:10, Jesus said that the one who bathed (louó) was completely clean and didn’t need to wash (niptó) except for his feet. What do bathing and washing have to do with mankind’s relationship with Jesus?

The total bath—the louó—occurs when we come to Jesus. It is when our sins are forgiven “as far as the east is from the west” [Psalm 103:12] and our scarlet sins are made “as white as snow.” [Isaiah 1:18] Once-and-done, the bath of salvation does not need to be done over and over again. With the exception of the unclean Judas, all of the disciples had bathed by trusting and believing in Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins (past, present, and future) once and for all time.

Having once been bathed and made new in Christ, we don’t need another bath. That our eternal salvation is secure in Christ, however, doesn’t negate the need to repent of our daily sins and ask for His forgiveness. No matter how clean they were every morning, the disciples’ feet got soiled while walking through Judah’s dirt so they needed to be washed daily. As clean as we are because of bathing in the righteous of Christ and try as hard as we might, we’re bound to step in some mud puddles and become soiled by the world’s sins as we walk through life in our fallen world. If we want to walk in daily fellowship with our Lord, we must confess and repent of the sins that soil us and allow Jesus to wash (nipto) away the filth of our fallen world every day. Salvation (the bathing) is a one-time act but sanctification (the washing) is a lifelong process; it is what allows His forgiveness to change our lives.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE LAST SUPPER (Part 2 – Continuing the Lesson)

And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. [Luke 22:25-27 (ESV)]

African irisWhile researching 1st century dining habits, I learned how guests traditionally were seated. Although da Vinci’s famous mural places Jesus in the middle of the group at a long rectangular table, the position of Jesus (as the host) would have been second from the left on the left side of a U-shaped table. Customarily, a trusted friend was seated to the host’s immediate right and the guest of honor to the host’s immediate left. The rest of the diners were seated to the left starting with the highest-ranking person and proceeding on down to the least important. If a servant were present during the meal, the last seat was his since it was closest to the door. With no servant, it was given to the youngest or lowest ranking guest.

Based on references in Scripture, it is believed that John (who was described as “lying close to the breast of Jesus”) was the trusted friend to the Lord’s right and Judas (who “dipped his hand in the dish” with Jesus) was in the honored position to His left. Since Peter had to signal John to ask the identity of the betrayer, scholars think he probably was directly across from John in the least important position at the far end of the right side of the table. As the host, Jesus would have determined this seating arrangement—and it seems to have been as much about role reversal in God’s kingdom as was Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Normally, one would expect Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build His church, to have the place of valued friend to Jesus’ immediate right and John, the youngest of the men, to have the last place at the table. Jesus, however, seated the least in the first place and the soon-to-be leader in the servant’s spot. Was this yet another way to impress upon His followers the importance of the servant leadership?

But what of Judas? Not only did Jesus wash His betrayer’s feet, but He also gave him the guest of honor’s place immediately to His left. Judas didn’t just eat from the same bowl as did Jesus, John reports that Jesus actually dipped bread into a bowl and gave it to Judas, an action that openly honored the man. How could Jesus do that and why? As Jesus’ head rested close to Judas’ chest, was this a way of giving Judas one last chance or a way of assuring the man of His love? Was this a lesson for the disciples about God’s love for even the worst of sinners? Was it a lesson for all of us about the undeserved, unconditional, unselfish, and never-ending love of Jesus? Can we love and serve the way our Lord did?

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. [John 13:15-17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COME AS YOU ARE

“Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. [Matthew 22:9-10 (NLT)]

My in-laws were great ones for giving theme parties. When they hosted a “Backwards Party,” guests entered through the back door, wore their clothes backwards (which my mother-in-law admitted made it difficult for the men), and ate dessert before dinner. At another get-together, attendees came dressed as children, received jump ropes and jacks, pulled taffy, and played games like “Mother May I?” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” My introduction to their parties was in 1966 when they turned their house into a Prohibition era speakeasy and guests needed a password to enter. Women dressed as flappers while the men wore fedoras, vests, and spats. Another party had the theme, “Come as You Wish You Had Been.” My mother-in-law, dressed in shorts with a whistle around her neck, came as the PE teacher she once dreamed of becoming and my father-in-law dressed as the train conductor he once aspired to be. Other attendees dressed as ballerinas, weight lifters, princesses, cowboys, or baseball players.

The one theme party they never hosted was “Come as You Are!” After all, no one wants to come as they are. If we can’t be someone else entirely, at least we want to be a better version of ourselves! If I were invited to a “Come as You Are” party, I know I would cheat. I’d change out of my yoga pants, tee, and Crocs into an outfit that would suggest my life is far more exciting than it really is. Then I’d put on make-up, touch up my nails, comb my hair, and spritz on perfume before leaving the house. Yet, “Come as you are!” is exactly how God invites us to come to Him.

We don’t have to be neat, clean or accomplished, nor do we have to repair what’s broken in our lives to accept the invitation to Jesus’ party. Our Lord didn’t invite the elite or influential to be his disciples; He invited twelve ordinary, uneducated, and imperfect men. He knew Peter was impulsive, John and James hot-tempered, Judas flawed, and Matthew a traitorous tax-collector. The woman at the well and the thief on the cross didn’t have to pretend to be anything but the sinners they were and neither do we! The blind, lame, adulterous, afflicted, possessed, soiled and corrupt—they all came to Jesus, not as the innocent children they once were nor as they once wished they could have been, but just as they were. It’s hard to believe that our perfect God could love and accept us, as imperfect and flawed as we are, but He does.

Although we can come to Him as we are, make no mistake about it, we won’t remain that way. We must shed the old us and put on the new in the same way that Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee, did when he became Paul, the Apostle. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to come as we are, He will make of us what we should be.

The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together. [James H. Aughey]

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” [Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)]

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:10-11 (NLT)]

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THE APOLOGY

She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say.” [1 Samuel 25:24 (NLT)]

roseWhile visiting my son last summer, I was walking in his neighborhood when a car raced out of a blind driveway and, without even slowing to look for cars or people, sped down the street. If I hadn’t paused briefly by the gate to get a flower photo, I would have had an intimate encounter with the vehicle. After thanking God that I hadn’t become road kill, I continued down the road and turned onto the walking path. I was a little disconcerted when a car approached and stopped but, when the driver lowered his window and called out to me, I realized it was the driver of the speeding car. After offering an earnest apology, he explained he’d been late for a meeting but added that his tardiness was no excuse for his recklessness. Ashamed of his behavior, he’d returned to make sure I was OK. Assuring him I was fine, I wished him well. I was both shocked and touched by the unexpected apology. While unnecessary, it was much appreciated since I knew the driver probably lost another ten minutes by turning around to find me and apologize.

The story of David, Nabal, and Abigail highlights the importance of apologies. David and his men were hiding from King Saul in the wilderness when they came across Nabal’s shepherds and flock of sheep. Rather than stealing any animals for themselves (as might be expected by a hungry army), David’s men formed a line of protection around the flock so that no harm would come to them or the shepherds.

When sheep shearing time arrived, David sent ten men to Nabal to request provisions for David’s troops. This was not an inappropriate request. By accepting David’s protection, Nabal’s shepherds had obligated their master to make provision for the men. With 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, Nabal was a wealthy man and some of that wealth was because David’s men had guarded it! Moreover, Israelite law and tradition demanded that hospitality be offered to travelers. While an honorable man would have met his obligations, Nabal (whose name meant “fool”) lived up to his name and refused the request with rudeness and contempt. When the men reported Nabal’s boorish response, the angry David gathered 400 of his men and set out to kill every man in Nabal’s household.

In the meantime, a servant reported his master’s rashness in offending David to Nabal’s wife Abigail. Knowing an apology can do a lot to diffuse a difficult situation, the wise woman quickly packed up an enormous quantity of food and wine and went to meet David. After humbly apologizing for her husband’s boorish behavior, she offered the provisions to David’s men. Considering Nabal’s personality, this probably was not the first time Abigail had to apologize for her husband’s foolish and offensive conduct. Her heartfelt apology averted the senseless tragedy that would have occurred had David carried through his attack. Upon learning of his wife’s generosity, Nabal suffered a stroke and died ten days later. In what could be called poetic justice, David ended up marrying the lovely and wise widow.

An apology isn’t just saying we’re sorry, especially when, as often is the case, it includes justification for our poor behavior. A true apology is like the driver’s and Abigail’s. It is offered with a humble heart, admits being in the wrong, expresses regret, and makes restitution for any offense. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus; one of the ways we make peace is with an apology!

Never ruin an apology with an excuse. [Benjamin Franklin]

Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation. [Proverbs 14:9 (NLT)]

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. [Psalm 34:14 (NLT)]

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