Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 16 – High and Lifted Up

Read:  John 3:1-21 & Numbers 21:4-9

Forty years of listening to complaints and criticism would be enough to drive anyone to a fit of anger. Moses must have been worn out by the Israelites’ constant grumbling. In Numbers 21 we find that even God had tired of it. The Scripture reports that God sent venomous snakes among the Israelites. This must have been a terrifying experience. For many it was deadly. The Israelites begged Moses to pray for them.

Before we go on, I want to confess that I don't think I would have prayed on their behalf – at least not right away. After all of the griping and backstabbing, I would have let the Israelites suffer a little longer. I would have at least waited until my biggest critics were swollen up and in some serious pain before I asked God to remove those snakes. Moses didn't do that. He immediately prayed, asking God to rescue his people. And God did. He instructed Moses to "make a snake and put it on a pole." Moses then held the pole up before the people allowing anyone who had been bitten to look upon the snake and be healed.

This is an odd story. Why wouldn’t God just remove the snakes and heal the people? I believe it was because God was offering a glimpse of something that was still to come. There would be another servant who would be sent to lead His people out of slavery. This servant would also suffer the rejection of those He came to save. This servant would Himself be nailed to a pole and lifted up for a dying world to see. And like Moses’ snake in the desert, anyone who looked upon the Cross of Christ would be healed.

Jesus explained this to Nicodemus when He came to question Him. John was there and captured the exchange for us in chapter three of his Gospel. I do not believe that either Nicodemus or John understood the comparison that night. Both men were later present at Jesus’ crucifixion. As they stood at the foot of the cross looking up at Jesus, His words from this night must have come flooding back to their minds.

Jesus, high and lifted up,

Thank You for interceding on my behalf even though I deserved the wrath of God.
 I am powerless to save myself, but I look to Your cross as the source of my healing. Thank You for being willing to intercede on my behalf.
Thank You for dying a death that was rightfully mine to die.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Day 15 – Jesus After Dark


Read:  John 3:1-21 & Jeremiah 29:11-13

Today we read of a religious leader who approached Jesus after dark. The timing of his visit underscores its controversial nature. For the Jews and many cultures of Jesus' day, anything undertaken at night would have been considered questionable.

Perhaps it was Jesus’ radical actions in the Temple that inspired the Pharisee named Nicodemus to come. It was certainly why he chose to do so at night. After all, Jesus had not made many friends among Nicodemus’s colleagues. Maybe Nicodemus had himself questioned the religious practices in the Temple, but was unwilling or unable to take the bold steps necessary to bring about reform. Whatever the case, we know by his words and the timing of his visit that Nic was earnestly searching for answers. Jesus, whom you’ll remember, “knew all people,” certainly knew the sincerity of Nicodemus’s heart. Whereas most of Jesus’ encounters with Pharisees and religious leaders are combative in nature, Jesus’ approach to Nicodemus is more instructional. This is because Jesus knew that Nicodemus was sincere and teachable.

God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, told the nation of Israel, “‘You will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:12-14a). God responds to those who earnestly seek Him. Nicodemus was searching for God with all his heart. The darkness did not prevent him from finding what he was looking for. After all, the Light of the World cannot be hidden by a little darkness.

What or whom are you earnestly seeking? If it is God, you can claim the promise of Jeremiah 29:13. It is okay to come to him in the darkness of doubts and fears. He will meet you there with the warm light of His love.

Light of the World,

I often come to You in the darkness of my sin and shame. Thank You for meeting me there and bringing Your light into my darkness. Thank You for understanding the sincerity of my heart and answering my call. Thank You that, like Nicodemus, I can find You if I am earnestly seeking. 


Friday, January 27, 2017

Day 12 – Knowing the Human Heart

Read:  John 2:24-25; Psalm 139

John 2:24 and 25 offer an interesting insight into the mind of Jesus. John says that though many people followed Him, Jesus "would not entrust himself to them," because He knew people and what was "in them." Psalm 139 details the extent to which God knows us, understanding our thoughts better than we understand them ourselves. He knows our words before they are formed on our tongues. The Psalmist exclaims that "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain" (Psalm 139:6). We might all agree and perhaps admit we wouldn't even WANT the burden such knowledge would bring.

Can you imagine knowing the thoughts of every person you encounter? While it might be interesting for a moment, it would soon reveal more about the human heart than we could handle. Just consider all of the thoughts you entertain about the people you encounter on a daily basis. What would that lady you work with do if she knew what you were thinking while she went on and on about her sick cat? What would the man working the cash register do if he knew what you were thinking about him as he was scanning your groceries? How would your spouse react if he or she could know your every thought? I venture to say our world would be a much more hostile place.

John has already established Jesus as the Creator. He now reminds us that this same Creator knows the hearts of those whom He creates. Jesus never had to be "told" about anyone. He already knew (and knows) each and every person. He understands our frailties and weaknesses. He knows how fickle we can be. He knows the thoughts you've had about the lady with the cat, the man running the register, and each of your family members. What is more, He even knows what you think about Him. How you have deep doubts and questions. How occasionally you make bargains and test His love. How you evaluate His faithfulness based on the balance in your checkbook or the score on a test. Yes, He KNOWS you. What's more amazing still is that with all of that knowledge He loves you.

As you pray today, confess your impure thoughts, unspoken doubts and hidden fears to Jesus. After all, He already knows them. The only one you are deceiving is yourself.

All-knowing God,

Your knowledge of me is too wonderful for me to comprehend. You know me better than I know myself. Thank You for loving me anyway. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Day 11 – My Father’s House

Read:  John 2:13-25

As Jesus approached the Temple for the Passover festival, the sights and sounds resembled that of a common marketplace. People were buying and selling religious items and exchanging their money in order to pay the temple tax. Religious leaders were profiting from a celebration that was intended to remind people of God’s mercy and grace. Grace and profit margins seldom go together. Jesus responded by driving all of the merchants out of the Temple and reminding the people that the temple was not a market, but His “Father’s house.”

It is interesting that Jesus' first assault on the establishment was aimed at the religious and not the political class. This was certainly a shock to His followers who assumed the Messiah would overthrow those who were oppressing God's people. The presence of Roman soldiers in Jerusalem was a constant reminder of Rome's power over the Jewish state. These would have been easy and accessible targets for Jesus. As His ministry unfolds, the religious leaders continue to be the target of most of Jesus' rebukes. Jesus expresses almost no concern over Rome's political oppression. Instead, He consistently focuses on the spiritual abuse that permeated the religious establishment.

We live in a political climate where it may seem easy to identify groups opposed to God’s Kingdom. The ever-increasing secularization of our society makes twenty-first century America not so unlike first century Rome. Given the similarities, it is important for Christians to follow Jesus’s lead. While politics and our civic responsibilities are important, we need to maintain our witness as people who have been set apart. The church is not a marketplace or a political action committee, but the very house of God. Christians must work to preserve the sacred space the church offers to those seeking to know God’s mercy and grace.

Righteous Jesus, 

Thank You for demanding that Your Father’s house remain a place of grace and mercy. Forgive us for anything we have done to use it for selfish gain. Make us as passionate about its purity as You were on the day you cleansed the temple.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Day 10 - Wine, Weddings and a Woman


Read: John 2:1-12 & 20:30-31

Chapter 2 opens with Jesus’ earliest recorded miracle. John calls this “the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory” (John 2:11). As mentioned yesterday, John’s gospel contains seven such signs. The seven signs are included for two reasons: one; so readers will believe that Jesus is the Messiah; and two, that by believing this, they will have life in Him (John 20:30-31).

I have always been fascinated by Jesus' reluctance to perform this "party trick." I remember as a child hearing a Sunday school lesson based on this story. The point of the lesson was that "even Jesus obeyed his mother." I didn't like that lesson. Not because I didn't like Jesus, but because I wasn't convinced that my mother was always right. (As I've gotten older, I realize my mom was right most of the time!) While this may have been Jesus' first public miracle, Mary's confidence in His ability to fix the problem may reveal that she had already witnessed her son's "special" abilities. John admits he was selective in choosing the miracles he recorded. He says, "If every one of them were written down … even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

Because this first sign lacks the "pizzazz" of His latter miracles, it may be tempting to brush past it. That would be a mistake. That Jesus' first public miracle involved wine is no accident. This miracle is key to understanding the direction John's gospel will take. It beautifully foreshadows events to come. Jesus will later compare the wine the disciples drink during the Passover meal to His blood. Blood which He says will be poured out for the sins of the world. Like the grapes used to make wine, Jesus' body would be crushed. Like the fermentation process, Jesus would lie dead for a period, and like the sweet rewards of "the best wine," saved for last, Jesus would be resurrected at the end of three days.

Jesus' command to the servants to fill the empty stone jars with water is the same command He gives to each of us. As we allow His Spirit to fill us, our empty hearts of stone become the place where God's miracle of new life begins (see Ezekiel 11:19 & 36:26). Perhaps today you feel cold and empty. Jesus can perform the miracle you need, just ask His mom.


I know You are the great miracle worker. I invite You to work Your miracle in me. Fill my heart of stone with Your spirit. Renew me from within. Thank You for Your sacrifice of love and how it has the power to convert my emptiness into Your fullness. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day 9 - A Recipe for Faith

Read: John 1:43-51; Hebrews 11 & 12:1-3

We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). What we may not understand is that apart from doubt there can be no faith. Faith is made from the confidence in things we can only hope for and assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). When you combine what you do not have with what you cannot see, you get doubt. But add in a small measure of confidence, a dash of hope, and a pinch of assurance, and you'll get yourself a nice portion of faith.

In religious circles, people are often criticized for their doubts. Many people see uncertainty as an obstacle to faith. What if, however; doubt is the beginning of faith? What would happen if we were able to add just a portion of hope, assurance, and confidence to our doubts? What if instead of seeing doubt as the opposite of faith, we viewed it as the beginning of faith?

Nathanael's theological questions and doubts fade after He meets Jesus. Simply by demonstrating His intimate knowledge of Nathanael, Jesus overshadows all of his questions with the reality of His person. Nathanael seems sufficiently impressed, but Jesus says, "Aw, that was nothin'!" (Gary's Translation). Jesus then invokes a familiar story. He tells his audience they will see "'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." This reference comes from a story in Genesis in which Jacob saw a vision of angels ascending and descending a set of stairs into heaven. Jesus has replaced the ladder with Himself, declaring, "I am the Way to God."

Bring your doubts to Jesus. He will add the assurance, hope and confidence your recipe lacks, and you will be left with a heaping portion of faith.

Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel, 

I confess my doubt to you. Make me like Nathanael, willing to pursue you in spite of my many doubts. Add to my doubt the assurance that comes from your knowledge of me, the hope that comes when I see that you are the way to heaven, and the confidence in knowing you will one day reveal yourself as King of kings and Lord of lords. Until that day, increase my faith as I seek to follow you. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Day 8 - Can I Get a Witness?

Read: John 1:40-46

Have you ever had such a profound experience that words utterly failed to describe it accurately? Perhaps it was your wedding day or the birth of a child. Maybe you met a famous person or traveled to some exotic location. No matter how good your communication skills, there were simply no words. Regardless of our ability to articulate to others what we've experienced, we feel compelled to try. This desire comes from a need to validate our experience, a longing for others to share it, or a combination of both. After our words fail to capture the experience, we may finally resort to the phrase, "I guess you just had to be there."

Before John gets through the first chapter of his Gospel, he introduces us to two men who are attempting to describe the indescribable. Andrew and Philip are two of the first evangelists in the New Testament. John introduces Andrew as "Simon Peter's brother" (John 1:40). This introduction indicates that Peter would have been far more known to John's audience than Andrew. However, here we learn that Andrew's famous brother only came to Jesus at the invitation of his little brother. Philip also responds to Jesus' simple invitation to "follow me." Philip, in turn, invites his friend Nathanael to come and meet Jesus. Nathanael tries to resist based on an old religious debate about the Messiah's hometown. Philip is undeterred by Nathanael's argument and simply invites his friend to "come and see."

We learn an important lesson from these two evangelists; a simple invitation to meet Jesus is far more effective than strategies, arguments or philosophic debates. Some things cannot be known apart from a personal experience. Andrew and Philip had one thing to offer – Jesus. Their encounter with Jesus must have had an immediate and profound impact. Not much more will be heard from these two disciples, but not much more is needed.

Whom do you know who needs to hear the simple invitation to “come and see.”

"Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky." (Rabbi Mayer, 1096).

Word of God, 

help me experience your presence. May my experience with you so change me that others cannot help but see in me what my words alone can never adequately describe. Give me the boldness of Andrew and Philip as I invite others to "come and see."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day 5 - Come and See

Read: John 1:35-42

We live in a culture saturated with visual stimuli. You no longer have to read an account of an event or place. Just Google an image or type your search into YouTube and you can see almost anything at any time in any location. Never has the statement, "seeing is believing" been truer. While technology has increased access to events and places never before accessible to our eyes, the hunger to see the unseen remains and long preceded present technology.

John the Baptist’s disciples must have heard John speak of the coming Messiah many times. They were also present as the Pharisees questioned him at the Jordan River. While they may not have known His name or seen His face, their curiosity had no doubt been piqued by John’s description. As John is baptizing his younger cousin, Jesus, the Spirit descends on Him and John comes to know that this is the Messiah (John 1:35-37). The man the disciples had only heard about was suddenly standing before their eyes. They too witnessed the Spirit descending and heard the voice proclaiming, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Two of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus after His baptism. Most people agree the two were Andrew and John. Andrew would later bring his brother Peter along, and John would begin to refer to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.”

The first words of Jesus in John's Gospel may have been the first words He ever directed to the Gospel writer: "What do you want?"… a simple yet profound question for anyone seeking to follow Jesus. I imagine Andrew and John stammering and stumbling over their words as they try to answer the question. What do you say to God when He asks, "What do you want?" When they finally answered, the best they could come up with was, "Rabbi, we want to know where you are staying." In addressing Jesus as "Rabbi," they were expressing their desire to become his disciples. Jesus welcomes them, not with an answer to their question, but with an invitation to "come and see," for that is truly the only way any would-be disciple of Jesus finds His dwelling place.

Rabbi Jesus, 

I long to see you like John and Andrew saw you. I admit following someone you have never seen can be difficult. Open my eyes of faith and allow me to see you in ways my eyes alone cannot. I want to follow you to your dwelling place and know that my willingness to follow will always precede my ability to see.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 4 - Humility on Display

Read: John 1:29-34; Matthew 3:13-17

John's baptism was for the repentance of sin (Matthew 3:11), so why would Jesus, the only perfect person, come to John to be baptized? In Matthew's Gospel, we read how John himself questioned Jesus about this. Jesus doesn't explain but merely answers, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15)

John obeys, and in Jesus' baptism, we see the humility of both men. For such a humble servant to be selected to baptize Jesus is a testimony to his significance and a reminder that God's economy is not our own.

There is nothing more humbling than being asked to perform a task you do not feel worthy to perform. Notice, I did not say "qualified" to perform. There is a big difference between being qualified and being worthy. A person may have all the proper credentials, training, education and experience to perform a task, but be totally unworthy to perform it. I have felt the weight of humility on several occasions as a pastor. It happened when I was called to serve as Senior Pastor of the church where I was baptized at the age of nine. I recall seeing the faces of men and women who had taught me as a child. People who played significant roles in my spiritual development were now looking to me to offer them spiritual direction. I had completed seminary and served for more than 15 years in churches. I was "qualified," but I will never be worthy of such a task. On many occasions, I have performed funerals for men and women whose faith and devotion dwarfs my own. I have performed countless funerals. I am qualified to perform funerals, but there have been many times I have felt unworthy to speak about the deceased when their life has spoken more of the Gospel than my words can ever repeat. Humility comes when we do not allow our qualifications to overshadow our worthiness.

Like his life, John's humility is completely overshadowed by Jesus. "The Word made flesh," the Creator of all things is humbling Himself in the waters of baptism at the hands of a man He created. Jesus does this not because He must, but because He is setting a pattern for those who would follow Him. His baptism foreshadows His ultimate act of humility on the cross. When Jesus invites followers to take up their cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34), He is inviting us on a journey of humility.

As Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, God confirmed to John, and everyone watching, Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (John 1:31-34). From the point of his baptism forward, John’s role decreased as the notoriety and reputation of his younger cousin increased. This is the same destiny for everyone who would walk with Christ. We become less as He becomes more. Only the humblest of hearts can tolerate such an exchange.

High and exalted King, 

Be highly exalted in me. Forgive me for allowing my qualifications to overshadow my worth. Keep me mindful of Your humble acts of service that I might not become satisfied with my own. Pride so easily deceives my heart. I invite you to cast your shadow over my life that I might be lost in You even as You are found in me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 3 - Humble Cousin John

Read: John 1:6-28

Humility is perhaps the most elusive of all virtues. The minute you think you have it, you've lost it. It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather not thinking of yourself at all. We are told in Philippians 2 to have "the mind of Christ" who "humbled himself." Throughout the New Testament, we find humility as a key ingredient in living the Christ life. Enter humble cousin John.

After spending the opening verses establishing Jesus as the main character in his Gospel, the writer next introduces John the Baptist. Although John's role in the Gospel is short, it is among the most significant in all Scripture. Jesus once told His disciples, "There has never been a living person greater than John" (Luke 7:28). What was it about John that warranted such a high compliment from Jesus? It was certainly no mystery to the Gospel writer who knew John the Baptist well, having been one of his disciples. The author John would ultimately leave John the Baptist to follow Jesus (John 1:35-39). While it may have been offensive in Jewish culture to leave one rabbi to follow another, John the Baptist's own testimony points others to Jesus as "one greater" than himself. It requires humility to bypass the applause and acknowledgment of others, allowing God to receive the glory for which He alone is worthy.

John's ability to draw a crowd had gained the attention of the religious establishment. They sent a delegation to question him. They wanted to determine if he might be the Messiah. This could have been his moment to shine, but instead he deflected the attention onto another he claimed was far greater. John points to Jesus as one whose "sandals I am not worthy to untie" (John 1:27). He diminishes his role to that of a servant preparing the way for the true Messiah (Isaiah 40:3). He strengthens this claim by stressing Jesus' eternal being in verses 15 and 30, saying that although Jesus came "after" him, both in birth (John was six months older than Jesus) and into the public arena, He existed before John and all things created.

John also correctly identifies the true nature and purpose of Messiah Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is a remarkable revelation. The common understanding of the Messiah’s role in John’s day was one of a political and military savior. John never makes such a claim, instead rightly describing Jesus’ role as the sacrifice of God freeing the entire world from their bondage to sin.

John continually points to Jesus when asked about his identity and the purpose of his ministry. Would that every servant of the Savior, including this one, be so clear in purpose – so far from pride and self-importance that Jesus was not only the center of our teaching and ministry but was acknowledged as the sole end to all of our endeavors.

Jesus, My Humble King, 

Help me to have your mind as I seek to follow after you. Deliver me from pride and self-promotion. Like John the Baptist, allow all I do to point others to you. Make my only desire to make you known even as I am forgotten.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day 2 - Light in the Darkness

Read: John 1:4-5; Genesis 1:3; 1:27-31; 2:15-17 & 3:1-19

As a boy, I remember hearing my great-grandfather talk about life before electricity. Kerosene lanterns and candles were essential. People would wake long before dawn so they could make use of every minute of daylight, and everything ended before sunset so people could get safely home.

We live in a very different world today. The availability of electricity and the light it produces is taken for granted. We no longer fear the dark because we are seldom faced with it. Flip a switch and darkness flees. Flood the streets with lights and there is no reason to go home early. We don't value the light of day because we can easily make our own. That is until a storm comes and the power goes out. Then we are confronted with the reality of darkness and our powerlessness against it. Suddenly, we fear the darkness and the dark intent of those who lurk within it.

After the creation of the heavens and the earth, God’s first order of business was to turn the lights on. He dispelled the darkness by creating light even before creating the sun. The first words the Bible records from God are, “Let there be light.” (Genesis. 1:3) John picks up on this in the opening of his gospel account. After referring to Jesus as the “Word” of God, he says that in this Word was the “Light” of all humankind. The Word and the Light are the same: Jesus Christ.

The world without Jesus is a dark place. Jesus came into the darkness of our world, but more importantly, into the darkness of our hearts. Not even an electric light can illuminate the dark heart of humanity, and so we follow the example of Adam. We try to hide from God to avoid exposure to His Light. We do not want our darkness revealed to others, to ourselves and especially not to God. But Jesus came to meet us in our darkness and offer us His light.

After the fall in Genesis 3, creation was once again plunged into darkness. This darkness, while spiritual in nature, appeared to overcome God’s light. John now offers us a glimpse of a new creation account. God has again sent light into the world. This Light will not be overcome by the darkness of sin. This Light is life for all those who have been lost in the darkness.

Light of the World, 

Shine your light on my heart. Dispel any darkness in me and help me to walk in your light as You are the Light. As your light shines through me, use me as a lantern in a dark world to lead others to the source of Light.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 1 - This is no "Once Upon a Time"


Read: Genesis 1:1-27; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17; Revelation 21:5

Our favorite childhood stories all begin with the words, "Once upon a time." Those words captivate our hearts and open our minds to the endless possibilities of knights, dragons, princesses and trolls. "Once upon a time" stirs our imagination with dreams of adventures that take place at any time in any location our minds can imagine. The mystery and wonder of "Once upon a time" come with the unknown of what may have already happened. Why was Snow White's stepmother so vain, and where did she get that mirror? What happened to Cinderella's father? Why is Gepetto all alone? These questions come when we are dropped into the middle of a "Once upon a time."

As John opens his Gospel account, he does not use any random point in history, any "once upon a time." He begins by taking his reader to the very beginning of time itself. There is no question what happened before; there is no "before." "In the beginning" there was God.

John's quote of the first words of the Torah must have captivated his original readers. An old story they knew well was suddenly new. The curtain was pulled back, and we begin to make the connection between God and a man named Jesus whose story John is about to unfold.

From the Genesis account, we are told creation came into being by the spoken Word of God, "God said, ‘Let there be …'" and it was so. The rhythm of the creation poem reiterates that creation came to be by the power of God's spoken Word. Now, millennia later, John explains that this Word became flesh and came to dwell on earth (John 1:14) and that all things were made through Him (John 1:3). Later the Apostle Paul adds that not only was everything made by Jesus, but the entire creation is held together by Him (Colossians. 1:15-17). The author and sustainer of life has come to live among us. Long before Jesus was known as a teacher, healer, philosopher or prophet, He was and is the very Word of God, through whom God spoke all things into existence.

This story is not a fairytale, but a beautiful account of a new beginning. Jesus has come to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Perhaps you would like to start over. This same Word that spoke the world into existence stands ready to do a transformative work in you.

Word of God made flesh, 

Breathe new life in me. As you spoke creation into being, speak to my heart that I might know you even as John knew you. I have no life apart from you. You hold me together. Help me surrender to your embrace and live my life as you intended in the beginning.