Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 88 – Proximity

Read: John 13:31-38

Proximity control is a technique many teachers use to manage the behavior of their students. The concept is rather simple: as a student becomes more disruptive or deviates from the assigned task, the teacher moves nearer to that student. The closer the proximity, the greater the likelihood the student will stop the unwanted behavior. Proximity control works as long as the teacher stays nearby.
Religion is sometimes used as a form of spiritual proximity control. As long as religious institutions, symbols and friends are nearby; we tend to toe the ethical line, but as the distance from these reminders increases, so can our awareness of God. But God is not satisfied with proximity nor does proximity to God mollify the deepest longing of our hearts. The human heart was designed for more than proximity; it was designed for intimacy.
Some seek intimacy through irreligious means: sex, wealth, security, power, fame. Perhaps the disciple who most reflected this approach was Judas. His financial greed, coupled with his disappointment in Jesus' failure to seize power, revealed his irreligious motives.  Others, like Peter, seek intimacy through religion, attempting to put themselves in proximity to God by going to church and doing religious things. Peter had correct theology, right answers, and was zealous (see Matthew. 14:29; 16:16 and John 18:10). It is easy to assume that God prefers the religious over the irreligious efforts, but while religion can make us aware of our proximity to God, it doesn't necessarily guarantee intimacy with Him. Proximity to God is not a substitute for intimacy with Him.
One of the most striking features of John 13 is the juxtaposition of love and betrayal, glory and treachery. These opposites are never as far apart as we think. The difference between them may be the difference between proximity and intimacy. Both Judas and Peter, perhaps the two disciples in closest proximity to Jesus, left the upper room and betrayed Him. Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, and Peter to save face. 
While Judas and Peter offer examples of the failures of proximity, both religious and irreligious, there was another disciple present in the upper room who demonstrated the power of intimacy: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (13:23-24, NKJV, italics mine).
Over the past 90 days, we have journeyed together with the Gospel writer John to this critical moment, the moment that I believe defines "the disciple Jesus loved." Which disciple was that? Was it Peter with his bold proclamations of faith, or Andrew with his consistent witness? Perhaps it was Nathanael or Thomas and their questioning spirits, or Judas and his frugality? No, it was none of these. Please don't misunderstand. Jesus loved all of these men. But "the Disciple Jesus loved" was the disciple who drew near enough to rest his head on Jesus' chest.
I've thought a lot about this. I've asked myself, "When was the last time I rested my head on a man's chest?" As a man, I find that to be an awkward question. After all, men don't typically rest their heads on other men's chests. What would it take for me to assume such a posture? Trust, humility, love, surrender, freedom, and security are just a few of the words that come to mind.
While John doesn't specifically name this disciple, we know that the Gospel writer is talking about himself. We also know that John's intimate relationship with Jesus led him to be the only disciple to follow Jesus all the way to the cross physically. The intimacy of their relationship also led Jesus to entrust the care of His mother to John.
What about you? Have you confused proximity to Christ for intimacy with Him? Have you allowed religious rituals and correct theology to replace your need to draw near to Jesus, to lay your head on His chest? If you are more like Peter than John, perhaps you should read Peter's warning very carefully: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Even though Peter's denial happened years earlier, it was surely on his mind as he wrote these words. Words that echoed the warning Jesus gave just hours before Peter's denial, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Peter thought that his proximity to Jesus was sufficient to protect him. It was not, and he bore the scars to prove it.
The disciple Jesus loves encourages us to seek real intimacy with God through Jesus. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Rest your head on His chest. Draw near enough to Him that you can rest your head on His chest. Be still and hear the rhythm of His heart.

May I never be satisfied with proximity when You have invited me into an intimate relationship. Forgive me for my religious and irreligious attempts to find that intimacy. Like John, I want to draw near to You, to hear Your voice and feel the beat of Your heart. Thank You for making intimacy possible. Thank You for the price You paid so that I might be able to know You and draw near to You.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Day 87 – Judas’s Feet

Read: John 13:1-30

One of the great ironies captured in John's Gospel is Judas's participation in the events that took place in the Upper Room.  John doesn't mention that any of the disciples, other than Peter, refused or even resisted Jesus as He knelt to wash their feet.  Perhaps Peter was the first person Jesus approached. Maybe their exchange defused any resistance the others might have had.  Maybe the disciples were all too shocked to say anything. Whatever the reason, there is no evidence that anyone other than Peter argued with Jesus, not even Judas, whose feet were certainly among those Jesus washed that evening.  That had to be difficult for both men.  Judas, knowing what he was about to do; Jesus, knowing that not only was Judas going to betray Him but that he was willing to sit and allow his feet to be washed by the Man he was about to betray. Why didn't Judas resist Jesus' attempt? He had not failed to voice opposition when Mary knelt to wash Jesus' feet (John 12:4-8).
Maybe Judas saw the act of foot washing as the final straw. Maybe it was all Judas needed to finalize his decision to betray Him.  After all, a real Messiah would never bow down to perform such a lowly task. Perhaps Judas reasoned that if Jesus was stupid enough to wash his feet, He apparently couldn't know what was in his heart, and if He didn't know what was in his heart, He couldn't be who He claimed to be.
Of course, Jesus did know, and after washing all 24 feet, Jesus revealed that He would soon be betrayed. The revelation stirred the group, who tasked John with asking Jesus about the identity of His betrayer.  Jesus chose to quietly expose Judas to John by discreetly handing him a piece of bread. John tells us that as soon as Judas took the bread from Jesus, "Satan entered into him" (John 13:27).  What had only moments before served as a foreshadowing and symbol of Jesus' broken body, was now the very thing used to expose the one whose betrayal would result in Jesus' body being broken.
Judas, with his feet cleansed by Jesus' hands, with his belly full of the bread that symbolized Jesus' broken body, with his mouth moist with the wine representing Jesus' blood, left to betray the Savior of the world.  John punctuates his account of these events with the simple sentence, "And it was night." John's phrase is more than a reference to the time of day.  It takes us back to John's prolog where he told us that Jesus came to bring light into our darkness.  John warned us, however, that some preferred darkness. Some still do.

Because Your hands have washed my feet, may my feet walk in Your ways.
Because my hunger has been satisfied by You, the Bread of Life,
may I use the strength of my body to serve You.
Because my deepest thirst has been quenched by Your blood,
may my mouth speak forth Your praise for all of my days.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 86 – The Other Foot

Read: John 13:1-9

I have spent my entire adult life in a career in which I am privileged to help other people. Responding to the needs and crises of others is a big part of what I do, and I love doing it. So in 2003 when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, I struggled to accept the kind of help I had found so much joy in offering others. My mom’s unexpected illness and death, my wife’s prolonged bed rest with our fourth child, that child’s premature birth, and another child’s diagnosis with a chronic disease all left our family reeling and desperate for help. Because we have been blessed to be a part of loving, Christ-like congregations, there was never a shortage of individuals willing, wanting and even demanding to help us. But even as they joyfully and willingly served my family, I couldn't help feeling bad about the help they were offering.
That may be the way the disciples felt as Jesus knelt to wash their feet. It was certainly how Peter felt. His unwillingness to allow Jesus to wash his feet was a protest against the very humility Jesus said is essential to enter His Kingdom.  Peter rightfully acknowledged that Jesus should not be the one washing feet.  The idea that the God of the universe, the One who formed the stars and holds the planets in place, whose hands had made the mountains and carved out the depths of the oceans, that this very God would kneel before twelve men and wash their dirty feet is scandalous! It was Peter and the rest of the disciples who should have been washing Jesus’ feet.  I suspect that Peter knew that if he allowed Jesus to wash his feet, the tables would be turned, signifying a radically different world order. A world in which power is not derived by being served, but by serving.
And there was the problem I faced in 2003. I had come to accept Jesus' invitation to serve others, not as a sign of humble submission, but as a sign of power. If I was the one holding the towel, then I was the one in charge. To be on the receiving end was a sign of weakness and need. Like Peter, my unwillingness to be served was evidence of pride. And pride, even if it is found in helping others, will separate you from God. "If I do not wash your feet," Jesus told Peter, "you can have no part of me." Peter replied, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (John 13:8-9).
Wanting nothing more than to be with Jesus, Peter relented and allowed Jesus to wash his feet. I am glad to tell you that I made the same painful choice and it has made all the difference, not only in how I receive help but in how I offer it to others.
Do you have trouble accepting help from other people? Have you ever thought that perhaps, like Peter, that could be evidence of a pride that is separating you from God? Are you quicker to pick up the towel than you are to roll up your pants? Perhaps it’s time to set the water basin down and allow Jesus to teach you a lesson in humility.
Humble Jesus,

Forgive me for allowing my service to others to become a source of pride.
Wash away the filth of my pride and teach me to receive from
You the mercy that will keep me Your humble servant.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 85 – The Mind of Jesus

Read: John 13:1-3

The beginning of chapter 13 offers important insights into the mind of Jesus. Insights that help us understand why He was willing to wash the disciples' feet and, more importantly, to lay down His life. Insights that may also reveal why the rest of us often struggle to serve the needs of others selflessly.
John tells us that Jesus knew:

  • That His hour had come (13:1)
  • That the Father had given all things into His hands (13:3)
  • That He had come from God (13:3)
  • That He was going back to God (13:3)
It all comes down to personal security. Jesus was the only completely secure human being ever to live.  He was secure in His Father’s provision and timing. He was secure in His own position. And He was secure in His ultimate destiny. 
With security comes the freedom to be humble. An entirely secure person has nothing to prove and no one to impress, but it's difficult for an insecure person to be humble.  Insecure people are so concerned with their own standing and position that they cannot risk humility and the acts of service it might require.
Jesus could kneel and wash the disciples' feet and endure the shame and humiliation of the cross because He knew who He was, Who had sent Him, and where He was going. Humility is the faith to believe that God has not forgotten you.  It is the faith to say, "I know I am God's and He is mine."  Without faith in God's love, it is not just difficult; it is impossible to be humble.  Without humility, we can never stoop to the level of service Jesus modeled and called us to practice. That is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
Do you know who you are? More importantly, do you know Whose you are? Are you living with the confidence that God has given you everything you need to live in complete obedience to Him? Do you struggle with personal insecurities? Maybe you are compensating by working hard to convince others that you are strong enough, smart enough, resourceful enough, but in your effort to prove yourself, you’ve failed to take up the towel and basin.

Give me the faith to be completely secure in You.
 Forgive my insecurities and fears and the doubt they reveal.
Give me the humility of Christ
 and the confidence of knowing You even as He knows You.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 82 – Divine Oversight


Read: John 13:1-5

The disciples had planned for what they didn't know would be their last meal with Jesus. The room was secured, the food was prepared, the disciples had gathered, everything was perfect -- well, almost everything. As they entered the room and began the meal, the disciples would have immediately recognized one small yet significant oversight. No one had secured the household servant to wash the feet of those entering the room. The streets of Jerusalem were dusty and sandal-clad feet were dirty. This was going to be a problem.
The menial task of washing feet was customarily the responsibility of the lowest, non-Jewish servant in the house.  Having borrowed the room for their Passover celebration, the disciples might have overlooked this minor, but important, detail. Finding no servant available had likely cast a cloud over the gathering.  Who had forgotten to secure the servant? Which one of them would perform this lowly task?  The evening progressed, the meal was served, and still no one volunteered to do what was certainly beneath even the least among them. The disciples were all too willing to jockey for positions of power (see Mark 10:37 and Matthew 20:21), but were reluctant to stoop to such an ignoble position as “chief foot washer.” 
After supper, Jesus seized the awkward moment and began to do what everyone knew should have been done, but no one was willing to do themselves.  By doing so, Jesus offered a convincing demonstration of one of the defining distinctions of His Kingdom. The image of Jesus washing the disciples' feet is the picture of what it means to be a servant leader. And all this because someone dropped the ball!
Our “oversights” often serve as opportunities for God to teach us better ways to live. I wonder if in our rush to fix, cover, recover, blame, and dodge, we are missing the point?  God uses our faux pas and failures to demonstrate and teach us about His grace and sufficiency. For it is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect. It is in our foolishness that His wisdom is made known. It is through our failures that we discover the sufficiency of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:25 and 3:19; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Sure, someone should have scheduled a foot-washer for the Passover celebration, but think about what we would have missed if they had. Maybe God is doing the same kind of work in your own mistakes and mishaps.

Thank You for redeeming my mistakes, oversights, and missteps.
Thank You that Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.
Help me to lay aside the pride that tempts me to cover up, blame and dodge my failures, and in so doing, miss the redemption You have already planned for me.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Day 81 – The Crowd

Read: John 12:12-19 & 37-43

Have you ever been swept away by the emotions of a crowd? If you've attended a major sporting event, perhaps you have. Even if you weren't a fan when you entered the stadium, by the time you left you were shouting and cheering like everyone else. It happens at sporting events, concerts, protests, and political rallies. It is called the "herd mentality," and it has the power to influence us to do what everyone else is doing. But being in a crowd can also have the opposite effect, keeping us from doing what we assume someone else has already done. For example, a crowd of people stands around watching a man die of a heart attack, each person thinking someone else has already called 911. Sociologists call this the "crowd effect." Crowds have the power to move us to action or immobilize us entirely. There is power in a crowd.
Understanding this power leads me to an important question as it pertains to the Christian practice of corporate worship. Do I believe what I believe because I actually believe it, or because I have been swept up in the emotion of a particular crowd? Am I worshipping what is true or simply what has been predetermined by the crowd in which I find myself?
After leaving the party given in His honor, Jesus received a hero's welcome in Jerusalem, where He found a huge crowd waiting for Him. But why had this crowd gathered? Did their presence mean they had finally accepted Jesus as the Messiah or did they have other motives? No doubt, as in any crowd, there were all kinds of people with various motives gathered there on that day. John reported that some people were there because they "believed in him," (John 12:42) while others only "loved the glory that comes from man" (John 12:43). We would be wise to remember that those same motivations drive the crowds we find in our churches today.
Here are at least four things to consider about the “crowd” and its effect on you and your faith:
First: What you believe and how you behave tends to reflect the crowd to which you belong. This principle is why your mama always told you to choose your friends carefully. But it's about more than those with whom you decide to hang out. The family and culture into which you were born, the schools you attended, and even the media you consume, all have an effect on you and what you believe. No one is exempt from the impact of their culture and family.
Second:  You will most likely choose to belong to the crowd that best reflects what you’ve already determined to believe. We are all on the lookout for evidence to support what we believe. Beliefs are much easier to maintain in a community that shares those beliefs. Our crowd becomes a filter for anything that doesn't fit what we've already decided to be true. That filter can also be a blindfold, however. Bill Bishop, in his book, The Big Sort, says,
Like-minded … groups squelch dissent, grow more extreme in their thinking, and ignore evidence that their positions are wrong. As a result, we now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear, and the neighborhood we live in.[1]
But truth is not subject to the determination of any crowd. Democracy is great, but a majority VOTE doesn't determine truth. Something is either true or is not true, regardless of who or how many people believe it. The claims of Christianity are rooted in historical facts that are either true or not, despite what our "crowd" happens to believe about those claims.
Third: Just because the crowd is growing does not mean truth is flowing. Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover accompanied by a crowd of people who had recently seen Lazarus raised from the dead. But He and His posse were entering a city that may have swollen to over a million people preparing to celebrate the Passover. There were certainly people in the crowd with misconceptions about Jesus. Many people saw Him as a military savior who had come to overthrow their Roman oppressors.  This unmet expectation may explain why, just a few days later when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, that same crowd turned on Him. Many who had shouted, "Hosanna," would soon be shouting, "Crucify Him!" In fact, it was only a small remnant in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday who were actually worshipping Jesus.
Fourth: The emotion of the crowd cannot substitute for the devotion of your heart. I love Christian concerts, conferences, and full worship services, but they are no substitute for time alone with God. It is in our solitude, away from the noise and influence of the crowd, where the actual condition of our heart is revealed. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught" (Isaiah 29:13).

As you take time alone with God today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your worship based on your deeply held beliefs and convictions or simply untested family or cultural tradition?
  • If everyone in your congregation were just like you, what would your next corporate worship experience be like?
  • Is your heart near to God, or just your mouth?

Dear Jesus,

My fickle heart is easily swayed. Given the crowd I'm with and the power of their influence over me, I may praise You one day and deny You the next.  You, however, are unchanging, ever constant, and always true. Give me faith based on Your Word and the courage to stand on that faith in the face of any crowd.


[1] Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (Boston: Mariner Books, 2009), 39.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 80 – The Language of Love

Read: John 12:1-8, Mark 14:3-9 & Luke 10:38-42

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman describes five ways he believes people communicate love. For some, it is physical touch, or gifts, or quality time. For others, it is acts of service or words of affirmation. Chapman teaches that if you can speak someone's love language, you can connect with them on a deeper level and express and receive love in a more satisfying way. Simple concept, but a challenging reality when you consider the constant need to translate from one love language to another. John 12 gives us a picture of three people who, in their own language and with varying degrees of sincerity, attempt to express love for God. 
First, there is Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary, who expressed her love through acts of service. On this occasion, Jesus was passing through town, and Lazarus and his family were throwing a party in His honor. To be more specific, Martha was throwing a party. Verse 2 tells us that it was Martha who was serving while Lazarus was reclining. Typical man. But it wasn’t just Lazarus avoiding the kitchen. We also read that Mary was preoccupied with other things as well. If this is the same occasion described in Luke 10:38-42, Martha had had her fill of doing all the work while Mary sat around at Jesus’ feet.
Second, there is Judas. That's right, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would later betray Jesus. It's true that Judas was a thief and that his noble-sounding sentiment was a lie, but no one knew that at the time. So if we take Judas at his word, he was arguing that the money from the sale of the nard should have been used as a gift for the poor, which is, in effect, a gift given to express love for God. We know from Mark 14:4 that Judas wasn't the only disciple who felt this way.
Finally, we have Mary. Her extravagant expression of love was hard to miss and easy to criticize. That's how it goes with extravagant love. When we play it safe, when our love is subtle, we do not run the risk of being noticed or criticized. But Mary's love was unmeasured. Unlike Judas and the other disciple, Mary did not take the time to count the cost of worship. Mary did not hold back or cut corners. Jesus was worth any price. Her love was unrestrained. Cleaning someone's feet was the job of the lowest household servant, and so Mary, taking on that role, let down her hair (itself a scandalous act) and cleaned her Savior's feet. Finally, Mary's love was unselfish. I don't just mean it was generous. She clearly had no concern for herself or what anyone else thought about her or her act of love. When you are consumed with love for God, you become strangely unaware of the thoughts and critiques of others.
Now to all of you who express love for others and God through acts of service or gift giving, please do not hear me say that these are lesser ways of expressing love. There was nothing wrong with the fact that Martha worshiped Jesus through acts of service. There would have been nothing wrong with Judas and the other disciples expressing love for God by caring for the poor.  But in both of these examples we see beyond the external expressions of love into the hearts of the worshipper, and what we see is that their hearts are not satisfied in Jesus alone. That is why Martha and Judas were both quick to criticize Mary. When our love for God is more about the show than a true reflection of our hearts, we tend to be restrained, cautious and self-centered -- all the things that Mary's love was not.
This remarkable scene and these three unique characters have much to teach us about loving Jesus. Judas raised an important issue with his faux concern for the poor, but Mary shows us that when it comes to loving God, we should never allow the important to replace the essential. Martha's commitment to service is admirable, but Mary shows us that there is no place for anxiety in our relationship with God.
Jesus said it best when He responded to Martha’s concerns by saying, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” (Luke 10:41-42). What is the “one” thing that is needed? Mary showed us.  It is love, true love, regardless of what language you speak.
Dear Jesus,

I struggle to know how best to express my love for You.
Like Martha, I'm worried
about many things and often fail to consider the only thing that matters,
the only thing that will even endure. Help me to trade my anxiety for peace
as I fall at Your feet in worship.
Like Judas, my intentions are often clouded by selfish desires. I allow the important to crowd out the essential and misrepresent my selfishness as an act of worship.
Help me to pour out my wealth and dignity and to remain empty at Your feet.
Teach me to love You as You have loved.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Day 79 – Soliloquy


Read: John 12:1-8

The sounds of laughter and conversation filled the house. The guest of honor sat quietly at the table enjoying the commotion but slightly embarrassed to be the cause of so much fuss. He was a living, breathing miracle. The crowd gawked at him like those gathered around a circus freak. The attention was uncomfortable, but that discomfort was overcome by the gratitude he felt for another man sitting just across the table. He was the real attraction. He was the true guest of honor. It was, after all, this other man that had made it all possible. Had it not been for Him, this day of celebration would have been another day of mourning.
The women were all busy preparing and serving the guests. This banquet was the biggest the village had ever known. How do you thank someone for saving the life of your brother? Well, not really saving his life … it was something far more incredible than that. This "Miracle Maker" had been here many times before. The lady of the house knew all of His favorites. She had been gathering ingredients and preparing food for days. The party was her way of saying, "Thank you." She recruited every woman she knew to help. Word had quickly spread and curiosity seekers were coming by the dozens. The house was overflowing with people. Given the size of the crowd, she could have used another pair of hands. Where was her sister?
Mary wasn't much for the domestic scene. She preferred to be where the action was, and the action always seemed to be with Him. She had sat at His feet many times listening to His words. Wonderful words, words that could open minds and had recently proven could open tombs as well. While others argued, she listened. While others debated, she absorbed. While others sought to be heard, there was only one voice she wanted to hear. He had once rescued her, and now He had saved her brother. She loved Him.
Quietly, unnoticed, she got up and left the room. If anyone saw her go, they probably assumed she was going to take up her proper place with the other women. Martha would surely appreciate the help. She passed by the women and went to her room. She knew right where it was and exactly what she was going to do. She had been saving this for years. A woman's dowry was her future. All her hopes and dreams of a family, all the security of a husband who might one day provide and protect, the dream of children. She had been saving this for just the right time. What else do you give someone who has given everything to you?
She slipped back into the room. She didn't think it was possible to fit any more people into the room, but as she returned, she noticed the crowd had grown. She had to press herself along the wall to make her way back to His feet. She had to get back to His feet. The crowd was deafening, but she couldn't hear them. She barely saw them once her eyes found Him. His eyes caught hers just as she knelt at His feet. For a moment there was no one else in the room. As she opened the vase, the strong aroma of the pure nard began to permeate the air. The noise level decreased as the aroma pushed the sounds out of the space it would not share. Eyes turned toward the source of the aroma. There was Mary, emptying the final drops of the nard on Jesus' feet. She slowly took her hair down, revealing the long black locks never before seen in public. The scene was getting embarrassing. She slowly began to wash His feet with her hair. Not a sound was heard. The fragrance of her offering, the audacity of her actions made everyone uncomfortable. This was inappropriate.
Judas waited as long as he could. He waited for Jesus to stop her, to put an end to this spectacle. Jesus didn't seem to mind. Could He be enjoying this? Surely one of the other disciples, Peter or John, would intervene, but they seemed frozen, unsure of what to do.  It was Lazarus' responsibility to oversee the actions of his unmarried sister.  As Judas looked at Lazarus, he noticed that he was crying. Lazarus was unable or unwilling to call his sister out for her scandalous actions.
"He's probably still not well," Judas thought. It seemed that if something were to be done, it would be up to him. What to say? There was so much wrong with this situation that one had to choose one's words carefully. As the financial officer of the group, it seemed wise to approach this situation by calling out the obvious waste of resources.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Judas’ words cut through the silence. “It must be worth a year’s wages.” It was worth so much more.  It represented a lifetime of hopes and dreams. It was Mary’s future.
Jesus’ response was soft. He did not lift his eyes off of Mary. “Leave her alone. It was intended she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Then He turned and looked directly at Judas. “You will always have the poor; you won’t always have me.”  His words seemed to hang in the air along with the fragrance of the perfume.
Two fates were sealed that day. Mary would embrace her emptiness and tie her hopes and future to Jesus. Judas would cling to his future and follow it to the end of despair.
Dear Jesus, 

As Mary broke her alabaster jar, may I also be broken before You. As the precious oil was poured out on your feet, may all that I am be poured out for Your glory. I am overwhelmed by your love and mercy. May my worship be a pungent aroma crowding out the noise of distraction and drawing every eye to You. 


Monday, April 3, 2017

Day 78 – Jesus and Politics

Read: John 11:45-57

Seeing a dead man raised to life has a way of knocking you off the fence.  After the resurrection of Lazarus, many Jews began putting their faith in Jesus, but others had seen enough and decided it was time to report Jesus to the Pharisees.  At the meeting of the Sanhedrin, the debate did not center on Jesus' identity, background, or even the validity of the reported miracles.  After all, skeptics, and believers alike, had witnessed Lazarus's resurrection.  The old arguments against Jesus would no longer work.  The debate now turned to what had been the real issue all along: the threat that Jesus posed to the people who were in power.
As much as Jewish leaders hated their Roman occupiers, they understood that they derived their power from the very Roman government they claimed to hate.  If people began to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the rightful King, it could upset the balance of power.
John tells us that Caiaphas settled the debate when he said, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish,” (John 11:50).  John clearly believed that this was a prophetic utterance by the high priest.  The words Caiaphas used to condemn Jesus were a declaration of life for all the people of the earth.
This encounter raises an interesting biblical principle: God alone puts people in positions of authority, and even those who are opposed to Him will ultimately be used to accomplish His sovereign purpose. In His trial, Jesus told the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate that the only reason he had any authority was that God had given it to him.
For all of the Pharisee's fear that the movement toward Jesus might lead to rebellion against Rome, Jesus' actual words and actions only suggested complete and total submission to governing authorities. Jesus demonstrated this when He instructed the Pharisees to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's."  He reinforced it to the disciples when He miraculously produced coins from the mouth of a fish to pay His taxes.
Centuries later, like saplings growing in the cracks of a sidewalk, the teachings of Jesus led to the destruction of the mighty Roman empire, but that destruction didn't come with swords.  It came through submission and love and an abiding faith that God is the ultimate authority. We are all in the hands of God and will be used to accomplish His purposes.  The choice is ours to participate willingly or unwittingly.  Every knee will eventually bow, and every crown will be laid at his feet.
Sovereign Lord,

When I become anxious about the governments and authorities of this world,
remind me that it is You who are in control.
Give me faith to submit to others out of reverence for Your Son
and courage to stand for truth despite the consequences.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 75 – The Stink of Death

Read: John 11:18-44

The seventh sign recorded in John's Gospel is perhaps Jesus' most well known. His command for Lazarus to "come forth" is certainly one of His most famous commands, but it is not the only command He gave as part of this miracle. Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, He commanded the crowd to "take away the stone" sealing Lazarus's tomb. Understandably reluctant, Martha objected, "by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days," (nothing like the KJV!) There is no indication that Martha was wrong about that. The grave clothes Lazarus wore must have been pungent with the aroma of death. The smell is no doubt, what led to Jesus' third command: "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Stop and think about that. One minute you're grieving and the next you are reluctantly rolling the stone away from a grave you know is filled with the stench of a decomposing body. One moment you are comforting a grieving family and the next you are unwrapping the corpse of their recently deceased loved one. If Jesus could raise the dead, certainly He could have miraculously removed the stone and the grave clothes. Why these additional directives requiring the crowd's participation?
First, I believe Jesus wants His followers to know that, like Lazarus's resurrection, the miracle of salvation is instant, but that the miracle of transformation takes time. When Jesus called you from death to life, you also came out of the tomb wearing grave clothes. You also had the stench of death on you. The sanctification process is the process of removing grave clothes. If we have indeed died and been raised to life, the church is the gathering place for people who have just come out of their tombs, in various stages of removing rotting grave clothes, which is why the church can sometimes stink of death.
Second, the miracle of salvation is solely the work of God, while the miracle of sanctification is a partnership. Paul told the Christians in Philippi to, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12). The partnership is between you and God, but it is also a collaboration among believers, which is why, as much as we try to resist bad smells, we should be concerned if we never smell the stench of grave clothes. Perhaps we would rather light a candle and cover up the smell, but Jesus called Lazarus's friends and family to work together to strip him of his burial rags.
Third, while only Jesus raises the dead to life, He expects His church to remove the grave clothes from those He calls out of the tomb. Too many times the church assumes the newly raised will strip off their own grave clothes. This is impossible. It would be like trying to get out of a straight jacket. You cannot do it alone. Sometimes the newly raised are too ashamed to allow their grave clothes to be taken off. That is understandable. It is embarrassing to be stripped naked in public. Many would rather keep their rags of death to cover their nakedness. The church should be a safe place where grave clothes are removed and replaced with robes of righteousness sewn from the faithful teaching of His Word.

Grant me the faith to roll away every stone You would have removed,
regardless of the fear of what lies in the tomb.
Fill me with Your love as You invite me to help remove the grave clothes of those called from death to life.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 74 – Jesus Wept

Read: John 11:17-37

Mary's conversation with Jesus stops short as He is suddenly overcome with emotion. "Jesus wept," (John 11:35). Not only is this the shortest verse in the New Testament, it is also one of the more puzzling.  Why did Jesus cry?  It is doubtful that it was because He was merely sad about the death of Lazarus. After all, Jesus knew what He was about to do. He understood that Lazarus would not be dead much longer. It is also not likely to have been because of the grieve of His friends Mary and Martha. Jesus knew that within moments their grief would become unspeakable joy. If anything, Jesus should have been giddy with the anticipation of what was about to happen.
But there is another, more fundamental question raised by this little verse: What kind of god cries? A vengeful, angry god? A disconnected and distant god? A god who cries hardly fits those stereotypes. And to be clear, this was not the only time Jesus wept. Luke tells us that as Jesus "approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it," (Luke 19:41). The writer of Hebrews reflects, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears," (Hebrews 5:7). The fact the Messiah would come weeping should have come as no surprise. The prophet Isaiah said He would be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah 53:3)
First, Jesus' tears demonstrate His humanity. They remind us that He is familiar with our suffering (Hebrews 4:15) and is willing to bear it for us (Isaiah 53:4). Jesus meets Mary in her grieve and responds to her doubts by crying with her. In some ways, He absorbed her grieve with His tears. Second, I believe Jesus weeps so that we will know mourning is not disbelieving. Some Christians act as if grief is evidence of a lack of faith. At Lazarus's tomb, Jesus dispels that myth. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to grieve, but to do it as people who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). 
But most of all, I believe Jesus cried because of the condition of humankind. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Death was not original to His Father's plan. While Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus to life, He also knew Lazarus would again face death -- the same death that awaits each of us.
Jesus was overwhelmed with the condition of a broken world. For every disabled person He would heal, there would be millions more. For each blind person whose sight He restored, countless others would remain in the dark. God cries for His children and longs for the day when all the dead will rise, and death and sickness will be no more. Until then it is nice to know that God cares and shares in our grief.

Cry with me as I mourn the suffering of a world racked with pain.
Weep with me as I consider the plight of millions whose suffering
seems to know no bounds.
Mourn with me over a worldly system that appears to perpetuate injustice.
May I see in the reflection of Your tears, the love poured out on Your cross,
And may my mourning be turned into dancing
as I share in the power of Your resurrection.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 73 – If Only…

Read: John 11:17-37

After a delay of nearly a week, Jesus finally arrived in Judea. By then, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. His sisters had long since given up hope -- hope for their brother’s recovery and any hope that Jesus might respond to their need. When Martha heard that Jesus had finally come, she reacted with both disappointment and cautious optimism. As she rushed out to meet Jesus, her first words reflect the deep pain she felt, “If you had been here … “
How many times have you shared Martha's disappointment with God?  Times when you've begged for God's intervention, but He was silent. Moments when God could have changed the course of events, but He remained unmoved.  Circumstances that would have only required a small miracle, but the miracle never came, and you were left asking, "Does God care?" "Is He not powerful enough to answer my request?"  Those seem like logical and obvious questions in moments of deep disappointment. And even if we can muster the faith to believe in a God who can do anything, we are often forced to explain why He sometimes doesn't.
Many of our saddest stories begin with the words, "If only." "If only she hadn't been drinking." "If only he had not left." "If only they had not made that investment … taken that job …. sent that email … gotten in the car … stayed the night." "If only." Not only does "If only" defy reality and deepen our sense of regret, but it also threatens to undermine our faith in God. Whenever we say "If only," we could always finish the sentence with, "God loved me," "If only God were powerful enough," "If only God had been here."
Martha quickly recovers from her raw emotions as her overwhelming faith in Jesus overtakes her fear and doubt.  In spite of her deep disappointment, she still believes and that is the real test of faith.  Not how we respond when God provides and intervenes, but how we respond to His silence in our hour of deepest need.
God of the Silence,

I know You know my need and are not ignorant of my circumstances.
Please give me the faith to wait patiently for Your intervention. Give me hope past the point where hope seems reasonable. Help me to set aside my “if only”
 thoughts and replace them with the assurance of Your love,
power, and purpose – even in the midst of my doubts and fears.
In Jesus Name,


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 72 – Walking into Darkness

Read: John 11:1-16

When Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea to check on Lazarus, they quickly reminded Him that people had tried to kill Him the last time they were there.  His response to their warning is curious, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him," (John 11:9-10).
So what does this recurring theme of light and darkness have to do with the disciples’ fear of returning to Judea? Jesus is reminding them that His followers have nothing to fear at night because He, the Light of the world, is with them.  The people seeking to kill Jesus only had 12 hours in which they could walk by the light of “this world” and not stumble. They might prevail for a time, but the night would soon overtake them. Jesus is making an important distinction between “the light of this world,” and the “Light of the World." At the end of every day, the sun will set, and darkness will fall as the light of this world fades. But the darkness cannot overtake the Light of the World. In Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). "Stick with me," Jesus says, "and you don't have to worry about the darkness."
Of course, the disciples would soon witness Jesus' arrest and trial. Both of which took place at night under cover of darkness. Even His death by execution would be accompanied by a total eclipse of the sun (Mark 15:33). In a matter of days, it would appear to the disciples that the Light of the World could, in fact, be overcome by darkness. All of that would change three days later when the Son rose from the grave, and the darkness was finally defeated. But that was still in the future. For now, the disciples faced the very real danger of walking into a hostile situation, and while they may have sympathy for Lazarus's condition, they were justifiably concerned about what may happen to them and their leader if they returned to Judea. 
I love Thomas’s response to Jesus’ plan, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  That is a statement you might expect from a man who would soon come to be known as “doubting Thomas.” While he had the faith the follow Jesus into the danger, he lacked the faith the believe that Jesus could deliver them safely through it. Thomas’s response sounds a lot like me. I often have the faith to follow Jesus, but I sometimes lack the faith the trust Him with the outcome. The secret is to stick with the Light of the World, even as He leads you into the night.
It reminds me of the child who was terrified of the darkness. Even when she walked with her father, the fear was overwhelming to the little girl. One night, walking with his daughter across a dark parking lot, the father realized that his daughter was calmly walking along side of him, holding his hand, humming her favorite song. After they were safely in their car driving away, the father said to his daughter, “Honey, I’m proud of you for being so brave when we walked across that dark parking lot.” The daughter smiled and said, “Daddy, I learned that as long as I’m holding your hand, I can close my eyes and the darkness goes away.”
What darkness is awaiting you, and whose hand are you holding?

I am afraid of the darkness that awaits me. While I may have the faith to follow You, I often lack the faith to believe that You will see me safely through the trials to come. Please forgive my lack of faith and give me the faith I lack. Thank You for walking beside me, lighting my path and holding me close.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 71 – Love You to Death


Read: John 11:1-16

It was a relatively straightforward request, at least it would have been simple for Jesus. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, want Jesus to come and heal their brother, Lazarus, who has fallen ill. John has already described six other miracles performed by Jesus: water turned to wine, healing a nobleman's son, healing a paralyzed man, feeding 5,000 people, walking on water, restoring sight to a man born blind, and these were just the few John chose to record. We know there were many others.
After countless miracles, curing a friend of what was probably a fever doesn't seem like much to ask.  He had done greater things for total strangers. Jesus' disciples don't seem overly concerned about Lazarus. They're even quick to point out how dangerous it would be for Jesus to go back to Judea since they had tried to kill Him when He was last there.  Besides, Jesus Himself said that Lazarus's illness wouldn't end in death, so what's the rush?  Later, Jesus informs the disciples that Lazarus is asleep and everyone feels better knowing that he probably needed the rest.
While the disciples are totally misreading Jesus’ words and the seriousness of the situation, Jesus’ friends back in Judea must have been wondering why Jesus didn’t seem to be taking their request more seriously. Does Jesus not care about Lazarus? Is He unable or unwilling to minister to this friend in the same way He has ministered to others?
John, looking back on this situation, attempts to frame the truth about Jesus’ unusual behavior, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). Really? He LOVED them? He has a curious way of showing it. Wouldn't love respond immediately to a need as severe as this? Does love delay when time is of the essence? To complicate the issue further, consider Jesus’ words to the the disciples when He finally revealed the truth about Lazarus’s condition; "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15). Jesus said He was glad Lazarus was dead. That means that Jesus’ delay was intentional. He knew that Lazarus would die, and He was glad for that outcome. Let that sink in for a minute. If you are like me, your mind will quickly go to the end of the story, but don't let it. Stay in this moment. Live with this consequence in real time, and let the reality of this story weigh on you like it must have weighed on Lazarus’s family.
If Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, how could He possibly justify His inaction which resulted in Lazarus’s death? Again, the key may lie at the beginning of verse 15, “…and for your sake I am glad I was not there." Jesus allowed Lazarus's death to occur for the good of His disciples. I believe that includes every disciple who would ever follow Jesus. I believe that includes you and me. Jesus wants His followers to know that death isn't the end. But the only way to know that death is not the end is to pass through it to the other side. You cannot fully understand the resurrection until you've endured the crucifixion. 
“Okay,” you might say, “but that seems like a cruel way to teach the disciples a lesson, even a lesson as valuable as that. How does this demonstrate Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters?” The answer is in the two letter word, “so.” Let’s read verses 5 and 6 again, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
Jesus loves His disciples, all of His disciples, even Lazarus, and his sisters. He loves them enough that He would not only allow them to die to discover His power to overcome death, but He also invites them to do so. Read the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus' summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life.[1]
If the only way to experience life in Christ is to die, it is no wonder Jesus loved Lazarus to death … and back again.
Patient Jesus,
Thank You for being patient enough to allow me to die so that You might raise me to real life. I struggle every day, fighting to hold onto a life that You have called me to release. I am afraid. Afraid of what it may mean to die to self and live for You. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of loss. As You lovingly waited for Lazarus to die, so I beg You, wait for me.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (NY, Touchtone, 1995), 89.