Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Day 44 – Consuming Jesus

Read:  John 6:53-71

Jesus is big business. Publishers and distributors have discovered a market for books, movies, music, conferences, and home d├ęcor that feature Christian themes. Jesus has always had the ability to draw a crowd, and wherever there's a crowd there's money to be made! Our consumer culture devours merchandise and media and gorges itself on the profits. The problem with consuming Jesus is that the world has always preferred profits it can control to prophets who refuse to cooperate with marketing strategies. If Jesus had had a publicist, he would have quit after the events of John chapter 6.
Jesus had never been easy to manage. Consumers were demanding a very specific kind of savior, and while Jesus' ability to perform miracles made Him appealing to many; He had a reputation for saying things that made people uncomfortable. He refused to shy away from controversy. Nor did He practice the kind of political correctness that produces the vanilla reputation everybody willingly accepts. He had already compared Himself to the manna God provided during the Exodus. This comparison was absurd to the Jews. To the extent He compared Himself to Moses, they thought Him arrogant; to claim to be the Son of God was downright blasphemous. However, none of these claims drove the crowds away. If anything, Jesus' radical claims continued to draw the crowd. "Where is He going with all of this?" they thought.
Jesus' next statement is the logical conclusion of His bread analogy. After all, what do you do with bread? You eat it, of course! It is not enough to receive bread; you must consume it for it to have any nutritional value. (Here is where the publicist begins to get nervous.) One of the earliest and most basic Jewish laws prohibited eating anything with its "life blood" still in it.  When God first permitted Noah and his family to eat meat from clean animals, He clearly stated that they had to ensure that the meat had no "life blood" in it (see Genesis 9:4). Jesus' command to "eat my flesh" was shocking and repulsive to the crowd, but to explicitly say that they must "drink" His blood even went beyond cannibalism.
This exchange is reinforced at the last supper where Jesus said, “This is my body, take and eat” and, “This is my blood, take and drink.” The symbolism of that meal and Jesus’ shocking statement to the crowd would only be fully understood after His death on the cross. But here in Capernaum, long before His death, Jesus’ invitation for the consumers to consume turned stomachs and drove away potential customers.
We like the marketed version of Jesus, the one that stays on the book cover and out of our wallets. We prefer a Jesus we can sing about to the Jesus who convicts. We are thrilled when Hollywood "finally gets it right" and portrays a real Christian hero. We just don't want to be that hero if it means we must give up our plasma screens and surround sound. We want to go to the latest Christian conference where we will be inspired and challenged to "Live for Jesus," and then we curse the traffic on the drive home.
To consume Jesus means we take Him into ourselves. He permeates every part of our being and resides on the inside where He gives life. To follow a consumer Jesus means we only accept Him on our terms and add Him to our collection of possessions. To consume Jesus is to be controlled by Him. To follow a consumer Jesus means we are pursuing a savior we can control. A consumer Jesus, or one who consumes Jesus, there is a difference. Which do you prefer?

Bread of Life,

Thank You for refusing to appeal to the popular demands of our human fickle hearts. You died so that I might live. You are the source of life; there is no life outside of Your body and blood sacrificed on the cross. I humbly come to the table and gratefully partake. As I consume You, fill me with your life that it might be You who consumes me from the inside out.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 43 – Illegitimate

Read: John 6:25-59; 8:12-58

When Jesus claims to be the bread that has "come down from heaven," the crowd immediately grows suspicious. Knowing Mary and Joseph, they reject the idea that Jesus is "from heaven." Jesus' origins have already been an issue with one of his disciples (see John 1:46). Questions concerning His true identity and background had always been a source of fuel for Jesus' critics. The questionable circumstances of his birth must have been public knowledge among the people of Nazareth. In Chapter 8, His critics will go so far as to imply that Jesus was illegitimate. Surely rumors of Mary's premarital conception had been circulating for years. Like political hit men, the Pharisees were digging up any dirt they could on this "would-be Messiah."
This underlying concern may explain why John, unlike Matthew and Luke, did not give an account of Jesus' birth. Instead, he focuses on Jesus' true origin as the Word who was with God and was God and was sent from God. John wants his readers to know that Jesus is more than a man. He is God in the flesh. That God would come to earth disguised as an illegitimate child of a teenage refugee is hard to comprehend -- unless you are the illegitimate child of a teenage refugee.
My mom was only 15 years old when she gave birth to me. I can still remember the glances and comments of adults who thought I was too young to understand their disgust. Many people have been born under a cloud of social suspicion. It may be due to the color of their skin, the amount of money their parents had (or didn’t), or the legacy of some generational sin. Whatever the reason, the scarlet letter of social judgment sears itself into the soul and leaves scars that alienate its victim.
I remember the overwhelming sense of peace and joy I felt when I realized Jesus understood what it's like to be rejected by people who question the legitimacy of your birth. I needed a Savior who could understand that. A savior born in a castle with a picture-perfect royal family would have been hard for me to comprehend. But a Savior born to a teenager? I can relate to that kind of a Savior!
We all need a Savior who meets us in our dysfunction but is still strong enough to carry us out of it. That is the beauty of the God-man, Jesus; He knows our suffering firsthand. He inserted Himself into our reality to rescue us from it. And the truth is, everyone can relate to that, no matter who your parents are. Because of sin, we have all been born as illegitimate children. Each and every one of us has inherited the scar of original sin. Jesus came to heal those scars. Because Jesus was willing to lay aside His rights as God, we have been offered the gift of adoption. In a letter, John later wrote to the church he says, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God" (1 John 3:1-2). Now that is what I call Good News!


I praise you, Father, for You are loving and compassionate in all Your ways. Thank You for entering into my reality and rescuing me from it. Heal the scars of generational sin and make me an agent of that healing in this sin-weary world. Thank you for adopting me and calling me your child.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Day 40 – Here’s Your Sign!

Read:  John 6:25-59

The crowd responded to Jesus’ call to place their faith in Him (John 6 29) by asking, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (John 6:30) Their question picks up on an underlying irony in John’s Gospel. Having been drawn to Jesus because of the miracles He performed, having eaten bread and fish He miraculously multiplied, and having followed Him across a lake He somehow miraculously crossed, they now ask for a sign? So far John has carefully recorded five of Jesus’ many signs. He has also included the failure of many to see and understand those signs.
The crowd, motivated by hunger and their recent dining experience with Jesus, pick Moses as an example of a miracle-working prophet. Again, the irony is not lost on John and should not be overlooked by his reader. Jesus makes two important distinctions between the manna provided in the desert and what He came to offer. First, He points out that it wasn’t Moses who provided the bread, but God. He also distinguished between the temporary nature of the manna and the eternal benefit of the “Bread of Life” (John 6:40-50).  In a statement strangely similar to that of the Samaritan woman (John 4:15), they ask Jesus to “always give us this bread.”  Jesus’ answer to the crowd is also similar to his answer to the Samaritan: “I am what you are seeking.”
While some insist on signs to prove Jesus' claims, Jesus insists that signs are not now, nor have they ever been enough. Seeing and eating miraculously produced manna was not sufficient for the children of Israel. The crowd had seen Jesus' miracles. They had eaten the bread He multiplied and still they did not fully believe. There are those who believe with little or no evidence and those who will never believe regardless of the evidence produced.
If people are only convinced that God is real based on the miracles He performs, then miracles will never be enough. Jesus is not a genie in a bottle. While God does not owe us proof, He has provided it because of His grace. We have all asked God for a "sign." God may or may not answer that prayer, but based on what we've read in John, it is also likely we would misinterpret whatever sign He provides. The problem with "signs" is that we believe we can determine what they mean. God has given us something better than a sign; He has provided us with His Word. That Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ and has been recorded and preserved for us in the Bible. Perhaps, rather than praying for a "sign," we should pray for the faith to believe what God has already revealed to us in Jesus Christ. 
Sign of God,

Give me the faith to understand Your Word and rightly apply it to my life. Help me see Your Spirit at work in and around me. I set aside my agenda and invite You to reveal Your truth to me. Forgive me for seeking a sign when You have provided me a Savior.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Day 39 – Through the Storm

Read:  John 6:16-24; Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-51

That evening Jesus had not returned from the mountain where He had gone to escape the would-be kingmakers. Two other gospel writers tell us Jesus "made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him" (Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45). No sooner had they left the shore than a strong wind began to make their trip impossible. Mark tells us Jesus "saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake" (Mark 6:48). It is impossible to know how long Jesus watched His friends struggle before He set out on his stroll across the sea. However long it was, it was certainly longer than the disciples would have liked. John tells us they had rowed for three or four miles in the terrible storm before they saw Jesus walking across the water.
It was no accident that Jesus sent the disciples alone into the approaching storm. He eventually demonstrated His power to calm the storm. But couldn't Jesus have done so from the shore when He first saw the disciples struggling? This sequence of events teaches would-be followers some valuable lessons. First, not only will Jesus send you directly into the storms of life, He may allow those storms to rage on while you struggle to reach your destination. Too often Christians live with the false expectation that following Jesus means a life of peace and security. They are discouraged to learn that not only do the storms of life persist; they may arise because of our decision to obediently follow Jesus. Twenty-first century Christians living in the West have a particularly difficult time with this reality.
Second, it can be difficult to see Jesus in the middle of a storm. All three accounts of this story tell us the disciples did not recognize Jesus as He approached the boat. We should never try to view God through the lenses of our circumstances. Instead, we must seek to understand our circumstances through the nature of God's character. Can you imagine what would have happened if the disciples had not let Jesus in the boat? 
Finally, Jesus' decision to walk through the storm reminds us that He does not always come to us on the beaches of our pleasure, but sometimes through the storms of our discomfort. We can become so preoccupied trying to survive the storm that we fail to see Jesus coming in the middle of it. If you only seek Jesus on the safety of the shore, you may think Him a "ghost" when He approaches in the midst of a storm.
Master of the Storm,

I do not understand why You allow the storms of life. I want to faithfully obey You, even when it means going into the raging sea. Give me the faith to see You through the swelling tides and torrential rains. Thank You for coming to me in the midst of my fear. I invite You to be the calm in the midst of my storm and carry me safely to the other shore.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 38 – When the Needy Meet the Need

Read:  John 6:1-15

Andrew was standing nearby when Jesus tested Philip with His question about feeding the crowd. Andrew, having no more faith than Philip, at least answered Jesus' question by pointing out the meager lunch of a small boy. Jesus uses the kid's meal to miraculously feed more than five thousand people, with each person getting "as much as they wanted."  To further emphasize the abundance, we see Jesus directing the disciples to collect the leftovers.
Hungry crowds are not a new problem for God. When the children of Israel were in need of bread in the wilderness, God sent it down like rain (Exodus 16). When Jesus was fasting for forty days in the desert, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus could have used anything to feed the hungry crowd that day. His use of a boy's little lunch highlights an important aspect of how Jesus works in and through His followers.
While ministering in a small farm town in Texas, the church I attended decided to prepare a thanksgiving dinner for the migrant workers who lived and worked in the community. The church was made up of mostly lower-middle-class folks who, like the migrant workers, struggled to make ends meet. No one knew for sure how many migrant workers there were or how many would come to the dinner. The night of the event came, exceeding everyone's expectations as scores of migrants streamed into the small elementary school cafeteria. The tension in the kitchen grew along with the line of immigrants, which soon stretched outside the building. I'll never forget Diane Ballard serving mashed potatoes praying with each scoop that the line would end before the potatoes did. At the end of the night, there was one turkey leg left, and no one missed a serving of mashed potatoes. Some might say the event was an example of effective planning. Anyone who would say that was not in attendance that night. We all knew it was a miracle. The sacrifice of church members was a witness to the entire town and certainly to the migrants who worked there. But those whose faith were most impacted were the people who knew that God had worked a miracle that night. What was intended to be a ministry to others was a blessing to the church.
As I reflect back on that little church, I understand that the poverty of God's people is the best reflection of His generosity. God often provides what we need by the very people He sends us to reach. Rather than seeing the boy with the lunch as another mouth to feed, Jesus shows how his offering can be used to meet the needs of the entire crowd. This does not detract from the miraculous work of Jesus but is an example of how God may choose to provide through the faithful acts of average people.
The person you believe God is calling you to serve may be the very instrument God uses to increase your faith and meet your needs. This is the reciprocal nature of the salvation message. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
What's in your lunchbox?
Bread from Heaven,

Help me to see the needs of others as an invitation to behold Your glory.
I confess that the little I possess is insufficient to meet the needs, but I surrender what I have for Your purposes. Open my eyes to see the resources
You are making available through the very people You have called me to serve.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 37 – God’s Will, God’s Bill


Read: John 6:1-15

It has been a year since Jesus cleansed the Temple (chapter 2). The Passover is mentioned three times in John’s Gospel. Each reference is a signal to the reader that something significant is going to happen. The first mention was in chapter 2 before Jesus cleansed the temple. The third will be in the upper room just before Jesus’ crucifixion. The second mention heralds the fourth miracle in John’s gospel and the only one recorded in all four gospels.
Word of Jesus' extraordinary power was spreading, and the crowds of curious onlookers were growing. After crossing the Sea of Galilee, Jesus climbed up on the side of a mountain with His disciples.  This location provided Jesus with the optimal setting from which to teach.  Not only would the elevation allow the crowd to see Jesus, the mountainous background served to amplify His voice as He taught the throng.
As people gathered, Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed the crowd. Philip told Jesus they didn't have enough money to buy that much food. But that is not what Jesus asked. Philip was not the group's treasurer (that job belonged to Judas) so Jesus wouldn't have addressed such a question to Philip anyway. Philip allowed the perceived lack of resources to frame Jesus' question. Jesus asked, "Where can we buy?” But Philip heard, “Do we have enough money to buy?”
Jesus asked Philip this question to test him (John 6:6). Jesus continues to use the same question to test His disciples today. And like Philip, we still frame Jesus' question with what we lack rather than with faith in the sufficiency of Christ. We sing with great passion, "Jesus is all we need!" Then the bread supply runs low, and suddenly Jesus doesn't seem like enough.
What if Philip’s response had been, “Lord, I don’t know where or how we can buy enough bread to feed these people, but I believe You are more than sufficient to meet every need.” It is easy from our perspective to second-guess Philip’s response, but how will you respond the next time you are confronted with a need that exceeds your resources? When you hear Jesus asking you to meet a need, resist saying there isn’t enough and instead remember He is. After all, if it is God’s will, it is God’s bill. 
My All in All,

Thank You for being more than sufficient to meet every need.
Thank You for inviting me to join You in responding to the needs of others. Forgive me for relying on resources other than You. Increase my faith so that I will truly believe and act upon the knowledge that You are always more than enough.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 36 – Blinding Pride

Read:  John 5:31-47

Jesus knew the religious leaders would not believe what He was telling them. They had already "sent to John" the Baptist asking for his opinion. Apparently, these leaders had, at some point, believed John (John 5:35). Now that John's teaching about Jesus did not align with their opinion, they discounted his testimony.
Jesus' second witness is far "weightier" than John. Jesus says that God Himself bears witness about Jesus. The works Jesus is doing are works that God has given Him to do. The reason these religious leaders do not recognize God's testimony about Jesus is that they have never heard God's voice or seen His form (John 5:37), nor does His word "dwell" in them (John 5:38). These are certainly strong indictments against leaders who seek to teach others about a God they apparently do not know.
Jesus' third witness is the Holy Scripture. Religious scribes and Pharisees dedicated themselves to the study and memorization of Torah (John 5:39). They rightly believed the words of Scripture contained eternal life but failed to see the "Word" when it was made flesh and standing right before them.
Jesus’ final witness is Moses, who wrote about Jesus in the Torah. When invoking Moses as a witness, Jesus reverses roles with His accusers, declaring that they are the ones who will stand accused by Moses since it is his teaching they have rejected.
From John the Baptist, a contemporary prophet they had seen and heard, to God whom they have never seen nor heard, to the Scriptures they so diligently studied, to Moses whom they revered for writing those Scriptures, these leaders failed to see and accept the truth. The reason for their failure was the absence of the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42). These leaders were seeking glory from each other -- glory as great teachers, glory as respected leaders -- just not the glory that only comes from God. 
How often are we content with the false glory that comes from the praise of others? The human heart is designed to seek the glory of our Creator. In the absence of a deep and sincere love for God, we will settle for a poor substitute – the praise of men. Once we seek the counterfeit, it becomes difficult to recognize the genuine article.
With the perspective of two thousand years of history, we marvel at the failure of the religious leaders to see the visible signs. But we are just as susceptible to their blinding pride. How many times have I failed to recognize Jesus because I have allowed the love of God to be replaced by the praise of men?  How often do I miss the truth of the Scriptures because I am more interested in making them say what I want? How many times have I marveled at the prophet while missing the prophecy?
The words of John’s introduction to the Gospel form the perfect preamble for all we have read so far: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)
Glory of God,

I confess I often miss your Glory because I am busy seeking my own. Forgive me, and “open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.” *


Friday, February 17, 2017

Day 33 – Clearly Stated

Read:  John 5:16-30

If Jesus' encounter with the religious leaders in the Temple was not enough to put Him in their crosshairs, His encounter with the lame man at Bethesda was. Jesus not only incited this man to violate the Sabbath but had done so Himself when He healed him. The fact that His accusers charged Jesus with breaking the Sabbath indicates they recognized He had, in fact, healed this man. Despite this stunning example of His power, these narrow-minded critics chose to ignore the obvious and pursue their petty agenda of legalism.
What began as an effort to persecute Jesus (John 5:16) turned into an all out conspiracy to kill him (John 5:18). Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son pushed the religious leaders to their theological limits. But His response to their question also implied that God Himself was in violation of Sabbath laws: “My Father is always at work.”
In Jesus’ ensuing message He claims that:
  • He knows all the Father is doing (5:20).
  • He has the power to give life and raise the dead, just like the Father (5:21).
  • God has left all judgment to Him (5:22, 27).
  • He is worthy of the same honor as the Father (5:23).
  • Faith in His words is the bridge between life and death (5:24).
If the signs Jesus performed were not enough, His words were certainly clear, "I am the Messiah, the Son of God." Had Jesus made such claims apart from the miraculous signs, He might be just another deranged lunatic. What troubled these leaders were not the claims of a mad man, but the claims of a man who could perform such mighty signs.
That is still the trouble faced by Jesus' critics today. How does the ranting of a deranged first-century peasant carpenter from an obscure middle eastern village have the power to impact lives 2,000 years after His death? Jesus should have faded into obscurity. Had He not been a threat to the religious establishment of His day, He would have, no doubt died a natural death and we would not know of Him today. It is the combination of His words and the display of His power that threatened His critics then and now.
Son of God,

Thank You for making the power of the Invisible God visible through Your work on earth. Thank You for the evidence You have left behind in the words of the Gospel. Give me the faith to believe Your words and see Your awesome works.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 32 – When Healing is Not Enough

Read:  John 5:1-15

Jesus healed the man by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. Performing such a miracle on the Sabbath was considered a violation of the law. Jesus not only broke the law, but He also instructed the man to do the same when He told him to pick up his mat and walk. When the religious officials saw this man, they had no doubt seen sitting helplessly by the pool for 38 years they were not amazed by his sudden ability to walk. Instead, they were dismayed because he was violating the law by carrying his mat on the Sabbath.
When confronted by the religious leaders, the man responds by saying, "The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'" The obvious questions at this point surround the miraculous healing and the man who performed it. Instead, these leaders demand to know, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" But the man is unable to identify Jesus.
After his encounter with the religious leaders, Jesus finds the man and reminds him that he has been cured (a fact that should be obvious) and then tells the man to “stop sinning.” The man’s response is not repentance (like the woman in Samaria) or faith (like the royal official). Instead, he returns to the religious leaders and identifies Jesus as the man they are looking for. Once again we are confronted with the reality that Jesus’ miracles seem insufficient to convince people of His identity as the Messiah. The third “sign” goes unnoticed, even by the man who benefitted from it.
In this chapter, we see a picture of humanity's response to the miracle of salvation. God meets our deepest need only to be denied and betrayed. Jesus ultimately dies at the hands of the very people He came to save. Why did Jesus reveal Himself to this man the second time? Didn't He know the man would betray Him to the religious leaders? The answer is, "Yes." He revealed himself for the second time because He knew what this man needed wasn't the ability to walk, but deliverance from sin.
Just because someone has experienced the healing touch of Jesus does not mean they have accepted Him as Lord.

Thank You for healing me. Forgive me for failing to recognize what You’ve done. Forgive me for betraying You even while You were dying to save me. Open my eyes to see Your work of grace in my life and throughout Your creation.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 31 – Passive Paralysis

Read:  John 5:1-15

The pool of Bethesda was near the Sheep Gate and had developed a reputation for having mystical healing powers. The legend promised that the first person to enter the pool after the water stirred would be miraculously healed. As Jesus passes by, He initiates the third miraculous sign recorded in John's gospel. We have seen Jesus perform two other miracles, but they were both in response to requests -- first by His mother (chapter 2), and the second by a royal official (chapter 4). The person Jesus heals is a paralyzed man who has been in his condition for 38 years. There must have been other disabled people gathered at the pool that day. Why did Jesus pick this man and not any of the other people assembled by the pool? This question becomes all the more puzzling when we see the man's response – but we'll discuss that tomorrow.
Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” The question must have seemed offensive to the man and other bystanders. Without answering Jesus’ question, the man explains what was obvious to everyone; his condition has prevented him from being first in the pool. But that is not what Jesus asked. Jesus knew the pool was powerless to heal, and after 38 years of observation, the man probably knew this too. Whatever he had been doing for 38 years had little to do with healing. His religious devotion to the pool held out the promise of a better life, but like a carrot mounted on a stick, kept the man grasping for what was always just beyond his reach. Jesus does for the man what he is unable to do for himself and the man walks away carrying his mat without so much as a “thank you.”
"Do you want to get well?" I believe every person who comes to Jesus must answer this question. Many of us would give an answer similar to the lame man. We offer excuses for why we haven't done what we are powerless to do anyway. We continue to hold out hope that if we find the right therapist, the right diet, the right spouse, the right church, if we read the right book, attend the right seminar, land the right job, then surely we can be healed. We mock the man for lying helplessly beside the pool for 38 years only to discover that we've been right beside him. We are powerless to save ourselves, but content to live with the lie that healing is always possible. Then Jesus walks into our passive paralysis. He doesn't ask us about our feeble plan to save ourselves (He knows it is futile); He just asks the question, "Do you want to get well?"
Well, do you?
Great Physician,

I am helpless to heal myself and weary of trying. Thank You for seeing me in my need, while I was blinded by self-reliance. I invite You to heal my brokenness.
I know it is You and You alone who can make me whole.
I renounce all of my self-effort and surrender to Your healing.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 30 – The Sheep Gate


Read:  John 5:1-3

Upon his return to Jerusalem, Jesus entered the city through the northern gate. The "Sheep Gate," as it was known, was the primary entrance for shepherds and their flocks traveling to Jerusalem from the north. Many of these animals would be sacrificed in the Temple. Commentators tell us the pious religious types often avoided this gate because it was considered "unclean" -- probably because of the animals and what they left behind. Like undesirable real estate today, this gate became the place where many of Jerusalem's undesirable people gathered.
Every city has its undesirable side of town. These neighborhoods often include things that are critical to the welfare of the entire city. Factories, power plants, landfills, water treatment plants and other necessary but unattractive agencies are hidden from view. The gate where the sacrifices entered Jerusalem was like that. Everyone needed the sacrifices, but no one necessarily wanted to deal with the reality of the sheep and their shepherds.
It is no surprise that Jesus chose to break with convention and enter through a gate most Jews avoided. John has already established Jesus' propensity to go where other nice religious folks would not. His recent stay in Samaria was a much more radical example, but don't overlook this subtle example. John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Now the Lamb of God is entering Jerusalem through the gate designated for temple sacrifices. Unlike the many sheep slaughtered before, this spotless lamb would be the final sacrifice atoning for the sins of the world. Jesus is also known as the "Good Shepherd." In caring for the needs of His flock, Jesus is willing to go where others are not, and do what others will not.
Religious folks still try to sanitize and purify the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice. We prefer the Jesus dressed in white to the naked, bloody man hanging on the cross. We welcome Jesus into the well-decorated foyer of our life, but we cringe to think of Him present in the septic tank of our lust, greed, envy and hatred. Unless we recognize the Jesus who enters through the sheep gate, we will miss the Lamb of God. Until we welcome Him into the undesirable real estate of our heart, we will never truly know how good a shepherd He is.
Lamb of God,

Thank You for entering the “Sheep Gate” of my heart. Thank You for being the perfect sacrifice for my sin and the sins of the world. Forgive me for avoiding the “Sheep Gates” of my own heart and community. Give me the faith to go where others will not, that I might tell others of the “Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.”


Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 29 – Samaria and Galilee

Read:  John 4:39-54; Romans 10:1-17

When Jesus invited His disciples to open their eyes and "look at the field," He was probably motioning to the crowd of Samaritans who were gathering. This crowd was so touched by Jesus' teaching that they convinced him to stay in Samaria for two days. If passing through Samaria was not offensive enough, Jesus had now engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation and stayed among this despised group for two days. As a result of Jesus' teaching, many Samaritans began to believe in Him. John says this was the result of Jesus' words (John 4:41). The Samaritans themselves tell the woman who led them to Jesus that after hearing Him, they "no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). John wants his readers to know that the Samaritans' faith was based solely on the words of Jesus and not on His ability to perform miraculous signs.
As John transitions to the next scene, he subtly contrasts the faith of the Samaritans with the opposition and doubt of the Jews. In a parenthetical comment, John tells us that "Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country" (John 4:44). As Jesus enters Galilee, the crowds were ready to receive Him. Many had witnessed His encounter at the Temple, and the story was spreading, heightening the curiosity and speculation about Jesus and His intentions. Amid all the excitement, a royal official seeking help for his dying son approaches Jesus. Jesus' response to the man seems cruel: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe" (John 4:48). A closer reading of the text, however, reveals that Jesus was not talking to the royal official, but the gawking crowd of onlookers whom He calls "you people."
Fresh off His encounter with the believing Samaritans who were content with only His "words," Jesus is now confronted with a crowd who has been listening to His words but is unwilling to believe until Jesus proves Himself through signs and wonders. Jesus does something that must have disappointed the onlookers; He tells the man to go home, and his son will be healed. No fireworks. No fanfare. Just go home. The man does and he finds his son recovered. This miracle leads to his entire household believing in Jesus (John 4:53).
In Samaria, Jesus' words led an entire village to faith. In Galilee Jesus had now performed his second miracle (John 4:54) and still people doubted. The Samaritans believed what they heard; the Galileans refused to believe what they could see. John will again highlight this contrast later when Jesus appears to Thomas after the resurrection. Thomas famously told the other disciples, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25).
After Jesus’ appearance to Thomas, Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  Jesus is championing a faith that comes not by sight, but by trust in God’s Word – a Word that became flesh.
Are you willing to believe God based only on His Word, or are you waiting for some miraculous sign? Those who can only be convinced by what they see can never see enough to be satisfied. After all, "faith comes by hearing."
Word of God,

Forgive me for being too much like the people of Galilee, always wanting visible proof of Your power. In spite of my lack of faith and because of Your grace, You demonstrate Your love and faithfulness to me in many ways I can see. Increase my faith so that I, like the Samaritans, might believe you based only on your Word.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Day 26 – Secret Food

Read:  John 4:27-38

In the middle of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, the disciples returned with food for Jesus. Although they are quietly astonished to find Jesus engaged in a conversation with a woman, John is careful to point out that no one questioned the woman or Jesus about their unconventional exchange. Perhaps, after following Jesus for some time, the disciples had finally become accustomed to His radical habits. The woman, perhaps uncomfortable with the disciples’ presence, runs off and tells her neighbors about her conversation. Still amazed by Jesus’ knowledge of her life, she proposes the possibility that this man is the Messiah. This news intrigues her neighbors who begin to make their way toward Jesus.
While the crowd was forming, the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat. No doubt they could see the approaching crowd, and being aware of Jesus’ condition upon entering Samaria (see John 4:6-8), were anxious to provide for His needs before He was once again called upon to minister to a crowd. The disciples must have been shocked to discover Jesus’ newfound strength and sustenance. He tells them that He is “fed” by doing what God sent Him to do. His conversation with this broken outcast must have been a feast! Jesus’ renewed strength didn’t come from food or water, but from fulfilling God’s purpose in proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom.
While on a short-term mission trip in Kenya, I spent every day from sunrise to dusk with a group of young Kenyan pastors sharing the Gospel from village to village. Each morning as I left the western-style resort where I was staying, I was handed a sack lunch. My Kenyan friends, who lived in a nearby village, had no lunches. Not willing to eat while they went without, I shared the contents of my little meal. On some days there were as many as six of us. Having little more than half a banana or small piece of bread, we would eat what we had and continue on our way. Every day we walked for miles in the hot Kenyan sun until we came to a village open to hearing stories about Jesus. The amazing thing about those long days is that I never recall being hungry. Not a day went by that several people didn't listen and respond to the Gospel, and each time they did, I felt a sense of energy that no PB & J can produce.
Are you hungry for something food can't seem to satisfy? Try telling someone about Jesus. Sharing the Gospel isn't only about feeding others, it is about nourishing the soul of the person sharing. When the Bread of Life is distributed, the recipient and the distributor are both filled.
Bread of Life,

I admit the food I eat does little to satisfy the hunger of my soul. While I am starving, You continually place before me opportunities to feast on obedience to Your will. Help me to see how offering nourishment to others will also nourish me. Give me the confidence to do what will be uncomfortable, and even unconventional, as I share the good news of Jesus with a hungry and thirsty world.


To purchase a printed copy of The Disciple Jesus Loves, click here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 25 – Questions

Read:  John 4:1-26

Religious people usually have at least one current "hot button" issue. I'm not sure who decides what it is or when the conversation should change, but listen to enough church leaders and read enough blogs, and you can quickly determine the latest topic. This tendency predates the New Testament. The subject during Jesus' day had been one Jews and Samaritans had argued over for years: the proper location of worship. The Jews believed worship could only take place in Jerusalem, while the Samaritans worshiped on a local mountaintop. The controversy may seem silly to us, but given enough time, most controversies do.
While affirming that salvation comes "from" the Jews (an indication of source, not a claim of exclusivity), Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that this religious controversy was quickly becoming irrelevant. For Jesus, the spiritual condition of the worshipper always trumps the physical location of worship. Confused, the Samaritan tries to end the conversation by saying she would wait for Messiah to come and explain it to her. Jesus responds by saying, "I am he."
When my son was a toddler, every time we put him in the car he would furrow his little brow and say, “Where you takin’ me?!?!” He was concerned about something over which he had little comprehension and no control. What I wanted most from him was trust. Our hardest questions about God require the same kind of faith in a loving father.
Jesus is the source of and solution to all of our difficult questions about God and our human condition. As we wrestle and strive for answers to questions that are fading into irrelevancy, Jesus stands nearby with His living water saying, “I am he.” 
Jesus Messiah,

I quickly become overwhelmed by the questions and controversies of a world that is shrouded in darkness. While I look for answers, forgive me for lacking the faith to see that You are standing right in front of me inviting me to trust You. Help me to rest in Your sufficiency to quench my thirst. Help me accept that You are the answer to the questions I have.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day 24 – Thirsty

Read:  John 4:1-25 

Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman is another example of His insight into the human heart (John 2:25). The dialogue begins with Jesus' request for a drink from the well but quickly turns to the woman's spiritually dehydrated condition. We see the depth of Jesus' knowledge of this lady's life when He reveals that she has been married five times and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Shocked and embarrassed, the woman tries to change the subject, but Jesus will not be distracted. He knows this woman is dying of thirst and is determined to give her Living Water.
Jesus' statement about this woman's broken lifestyle does not come across as accusatory or judgmental but as simple declaration of fact. Rather than pointing to the source of this woman's thirst, Jesus was pointing to evidence that she was thirsty. It wasn't because she had been with six men that she was thirsty, it was because she was so desperately thirsty that she continually sought to satisfy her thirst with men. She was not spiritually dehydrated because she had trouble with men; she had trouble with men because she was spiritually dehydrated. Jesus understands that sinful behavior is not the problem, but a symptom. J.I. Packer says, "We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners." Jesus was not interested in treating the symptoms of her thirst, but in giving her the only thing that would finally quench her thirst: Himself.
What are the symptoms of your spiritual thirst? Do you eat to find a satisfaction no meal can provide? Do you drink or take pills to medicate a pain that will never leave? Are you seeking intimacy through sexual activities that only leave you feeling used and alone? Do you work harder and harder to get more and more and yet find there is never quite enough? These issues, as serious as they are, are not the source of your problem; they are symptoms of your thirst. Invite Jesus to quench it. He is the only one who can.

Living Water,

I am thirsty. I confess to You that I am trying to quench my thirst with things that do not satisfy. Please forgive me. I ask You to quench my thirst with Your living water.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 23 – Ancient Wells vs. Living Water

Read:  John 4:1-25

The well at which Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman took place was a significant historical marker for the Jewish people. Known as "Jacob's Well," it gets its name from the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. God changed Jacob's name to Israel, which would become the name of the nation. Jacob's well was certainly a source of national pride for the Samaritans, who were considered "half-breeds" by the Jews. The well's presence in Samaria helped justify the Samaritans' claim that they were descendants of Jacob and a legitimate part of the nation.
With this reference to Jacob's well, John is contrasting the sufficiency of Christ with the heritage represented by the well. As deep as the well of legacy and heritage may run, we learn from Jesus that it will always leave you thirsty. He is the source of "living" water, as opposed to wells dug by dead ancestors.
Christianity cannot be inherited from our parents. The faith of our ancestors, while a treasure for those who come from a Christian background, is not biologically transferred from one generation to the next. Those who cling to the faith of their parents or grandparents will be left thirsty. Those wells always run dry. Many people in our world claim to be Christians. When pressed to define what they mean, some can offer no more explanation for their faith than their family heritage. They, like the woman at the well, are spiritually dehydrated. No matter how much water they seek to draw from their ancestor’s well, it will never suffice.
Jesus offers "living water" to all who are thirsty. The source is not found in wells dug by ancestors, but in Jesus, the Living Water. As you reflect on your religious heritage, how have you relied on the wells dug by your fathers? Do you depend on them to quench your spiritual thirst?
 Living Water,

Thank You that I do not have to depend on wells dug by my father to access Your living water. I come to You thirsty. I know You alone will satisfy me.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Day 22 – Jesus and a Samaritan Woman


Read:  John 4:1-9

The disciples left Jesus to rest by a historic well while they went into town to get some food. As He was resting, a Samaritan came to the well. Jesus asked her for some water. Jesus’ request initiates one of the most famous conversations recorded in John’s gospel. Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman is remarkable for several reasons. First, the inclusion of Jesus’ physical limitations highlights the reliability of John’s gospel. Given who Jesus claimed to be, it seems like His advocates would focus exclusively on His divine qualities, avoiding any mention of His human limitations. John does neither. He presents Jesus as He was, fully divine and fully human.
Another noteworthy aspect of this story is Jesus' willingness to engage in a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This was certainly not a story that would win many converts from Judaism. John, however, is more interested in demonstrating Jesus' broader mission as the prophesied Messiah, coming for the salvation of the world. "For God so loved the world …" John moves from a declaration of this concept in chapter three to its demonstration in chapter four. Through John's account we see an intentional progression from Jesus' interaction with common Jews – Philip, Nathanael, Andrew, and Peter – to an exchange with a religious leader – and now a Samaritan woman. John wants his readers to know that Jesus' mission is to reach everyone, regardless of their religious, social or ethnic backgrounds.
Two thousand years later, the church struggles to learn from Jesus' example. We like people who are like us. Crossing racial, social, and economic barriers was part of Jesus' mission and should be for His church as well. We cannot convince people that "God so loved the world" if we are not willing to love it too. That will mean putting ourselves in difficult and uncomfortable circumstances. 
God, Who Loves the World,

Thank You for loving me. I acknowledge Your mission is broader than I can see or comprehend. Thank You that no one escapes Your notice. Open my eyes to see the people I might otherwise ignore. Forgive me for neglecting people who are not like me, people You love and for whom You died. Fill me with Your love so I might love those I would otherwise ignore.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Day 19 – The Best Man

Read:  John 3:22-36; Revelation 19:6-9; Matthew 25:1-13
After His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus, and His followers again cross paths with Jesus' cousin, John the Baptizer. This was an especially significant moment for the Gospel writer who had, until recently, been one of "the Baptizer's" disciples. As Jesus' fame grew, others also left John to follow Jesus. When some of the Jews with John pointed this out, John's humility is once again on display.

The Baptizer describes his role as that of a best man at a wedding. The best man is an important part of the marriage ceremony. He plays a significant role in the life of the groom. He is the primary witness to the wedding ceremony. It is an honor to serve as someone's best man. It is not, however, the most important role in the wedding. It doesn't even come in second. There are two people far more important: the bride and groom. Without them, there would be no wedding. The Gospel writer, John, will return to this analogy in his final work, the Revelation, where he describes the church as "the bride of Christ." An analogy he no doubt learned from his former teacher, John the Baptizer.

John the Baptist states a simple yet profound truth: “The bride belongs to the bridegroom.” Those of us who serve in the local church would do well to remember that. The church does not belong to the pastor or a group of elders or deacons. She is not the possession of a board or a presbytery or even of her members. The church belongs to her groom, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who has purchased her and rescued her. It is Jesus who will cleanse her and prepare her, and it is Jesus who must build her and lead her. “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Our responsibility is to be faithful attendants at the wedding. We are witnesses for the groom and caretakers of His bride. While we play a significant role, it is a role that would not exist without the bride and groom. 

Righteous Groom,

Thank You for allowing me to serve as a witness and caretaker of Your bride. May I, like John, continue to diminish in the sight of those attending the wedding so they may see You and Your love for Your bride, the Church.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Day 18 – Dressing in the Dark

Read:  John 3:16-21
The problem with light is that it reveals too much. On the mornings I need to get ready before my wife is awake, I dress in the dim light of my closet. Often, as I pass by the mirror in my dining room, the morning light reveals the truth about my clothing choice: I do not match. I must confess that, at that moment, I despise the light. Were it not for the cold hard truth of the light, I would be free to continue about my day ignoring my poor choice.

What is true about dressing in the dark is also true about issues of the soul. There are parts of our souls that resist the light of day. Light exposes the dirtiness and shame, revealing what is true. The darkness, however, lets us ignore the truth and continue to live as if the dirt does not exist. The absence of light does not negate the effects of our sin and shame, but only hides them. If someone comes along and shines the light of truth in the dark corners of our souls, we recoil and hide, avoiding the light and resenting the one who brings it.

After describing Nicodemus’s nighttime encounter with Jesus, John returns to a theme he established in the opening of his Gospel: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). The darkness may not overcome the light, but it certainly tries to resist it. “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20). That describes me on the mornings I get dressed in the dark. That describes my soul when I know there are deeds, thoughts, lies, and shame I would rather keep hidden in the dark corners of my soul. The problem is I cannot come to Jesus and avoid His light. I must choose between the light and full exposure or darkness and the absence of Jesus.

What are you trying to hide in the darkness? Pray for the Light of the World to illuminate your heart.

Light of Mankind,

I confess I have loved the darkness because it has deceived me into believing my sins are hidden. But my sin is never hidden from You. The darkness is a lie. Shine Your light in the darkest corners of my heart. I may recoil at Your brightness and squint with the pain Your light brings, but I choose the light of Your love and the warmth it will bring.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Day 17 – To Do and Not to Do

Read:  John 3:1-21 & Luke 6:37-42

John 3:16 is arguably the most famous verse in the Bible. From homemade posters in the stands at football games to the great cathedrals of Europe, this verse has been proclaimed so that even those who know little of the Bible can quote it from memory. Equally important but far less known is the verse that follows. If verse 16 provides the reason God sent Jesus into the world, verse 17 clarifies something God did not send Jesus to do.

Most people are familiar with "to do" lists. Some people live by them. I have friends who make lists that include things they have already done so that they can check them off the list! Many of us, however, would benefit from making a "don't do" list. This is a list of things we should never do because they are outside the scope of our mission, gifting, calling and purpose. Knowing God's purpose for you, your family and your church is important, but you should also consider those things that may be a distraction from that calling. Once you've identified those items, add them to your "don't do" list before you find yourself off task and outside of God's purpose.

John 3:17 says God did NOT send Jesus to condemn the world. The reason this was unnecessary, we are told, is because the world already stands condemned. It would have been like sending Jesus to collect parking fines from prisoners on death row. Unfortunately, many Christians believe the primary mission of the church is to do the very thing Jesus did NOT come to do. Such Christians face two problems. One, they are unqualified to judge the world. If Jesus, who was without sin, was not sent to condemn the world, certainly His sinful followers are not qualified to do so. Instead, the church must focus on proclaiming the message of God’s grace. The condemning Christian’s second problem is that they not only defy Jesus’ example, but His instructions: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
If you are starting a "don't do" list, you may want to put "judging and condemning others" at the top. According to John 3:17 it was on the top of Jesus' list too.

Merciful Loving Father,

Thank You that in the midst of my sin You loved me enough to send Jesus to rescue me from death. Rather than focusing on my problem, You delivered the solution I need. Please forgive me for passing judgment on others. Make me bold as I live to tell others of Your amazing love, and the hope found in Your Son, Jesus Christ.