Proverbs 26:17-28

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:17-28.

Verse 17 of today’s reading starts with a strong image to make an important point. Imagine a German Shepherd walking along the road. It is looking for food because nobody owns it and it is hungry. All of a sudden, someone walks over the to the dog, grabs its ears, and picks it up. What will happen?

My guess is that the person who picked up the dog will be bitten squarely in the face. And he will deserve it! He picked up the dog in a way that would be excruciatingly painful for any dog. He also disrespected the dog by picking it up. Finally, given that the dog is a “stray” (v. 17), the dog has no loyalty to the stranger who laid hands on his ears. Of course he will lash out in self-defense against someone who appears to be a threat.

Verse 17 tells us this is what will happen to someone who jumps into an argument where he is not the injured person or the injuring person. Instead of being the mediating influence that he expected to be, he is going to be severely hurt.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” but that doesn’t describe someone who got involved in an ongoing argument without any first-hand knowledge. Only God knows the real truth; the person who wants to drag you into his or her argument wants to convince you that they are on the side of justice. Unless you are appointed or elected to interpret the law, stay away from someone else’s dispute. It will hurt you and do little to no good for anyone else.

John 20

Today’s reading is John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29). Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders....” Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “... breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.

John 19

Today’s reading is John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate... was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim. Pilate, however, did not laugh. He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

Let’s harness this power of the word and share frequently and scripturally the message about Christ.

John 18

Today we’re reading John 18.

In today’s chapter, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and tried by Pontius Pilate. Simon Peter moved like a pendulum from defending Jesus violently (v. 10) to denying him three times (v. 17, 25-27). Peter’s denial is famous because Jesus foretold it and because it was seemingly out of character for such an outspoken person. It seems to me that Peter’s attack on Malchus is less well known than Peter’s denial but his attack is important to the story in a few ways.

First, when he rebuked Peter in verse 11 for the attack Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This language of the “cup” you may recognize from the other Gospel accounts which recorded Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer he asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He then repeated that prayer twice more according to Matthew 26:42, 44. So three times Jesus asked for release from drinking the “cup” which is a reference to the OT description of God’s wrath. Each time, however, he indicated his submission to the Father’s will.

Here in John 18:11 when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” we see that he was reconciled and even resolved to do the Father’s will. Although he expressed his desire to avoid it in his prayer, he would not tolerate the use of force as a means of avoiding the Father’s will.

Later, when asked about his kingdom by Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36b). This testimony to Pilate, then, explains even further why he rebuked Peter. The kingdom of God is not a political entity. We do not send armies to conquer foreign nations and forcibly coerce them into becoming “Christians.” Christianity is about listening to Jesus (v. 37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”) and waiting for him to supernaturally establish his kingdom on earth, as verse 36e says, “But now my kingdom is from another place.”

America was founded on many Christian principles, but it is not a “Christian nation” in the sense of being the kingdom of God politically. So we should never be so proud to be Americans that we fail to identify as Christians--citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom--first. We also shouldn’t spend so much energy and time in American politics. This republic will not last for eternity. It will be superseded by Christ and his kingdom. As citizens of that kingdom, we should spend more time and money on evangelism, church planting, and missions than we spend on elections and politics. Don’t look to engineer God’s will on earth through military and political action. Instead, offer the gift of eternal life in the kingdom of God to others. That will give them eternal life, a far better result than winning an election.

John 17

Today we’re reading John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “...so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth--the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

I keep thinking of more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth--the word of God--to find our unity there.

John 16

Today’s reading is John 16.

Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for life without him. He spoke the words of this chapter just shortly before he was betrayed. He made disturbing prophecies about what they would face in the days ahead (vv. 2-3, 20-21, 32). Yet he also promised that they would not be alone; instead “the Advocate” (the Holy Spirit) would come and empower their work (vv. 7-11).

One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work would be to guide the disciples as they wrote the Scriptures. That’s what the promise at the end of verse 13 meant when Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The disciples would not lead the church from their own mistake-prone thinking and human judgment. Instead, the Holy Spirit would guide them.

This is one reason why we value the Bible and believe it to be without error and fully reliable. It is not the collected opinions of a few good men. It is the written word of God recorded by godly man as they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

I’m glad you’ve been reading these devotionals and hope they have been truly helpful to your life. But my words are only correct and helpful as they correctly describe and apply THE WORD, the spirit-inspired scripture. It is what we need to become who Jesus called us to be, so value the Word and learn it for your own growth in godliness.

Proverbs 26:1-16

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:1-16.

Self-discipline is a character quality. It is the ability to do things that are necessary or required ore productive when you don’t feel like doing them. Someone else defined it as doing what you don’t want to do in order to get a result that you do want to get.

Self-discipline does not come naturally in every area of life for us. You may be painfully aware of some areas where you are not as disciplined as you want to be or should be, but there are some areas where you are very disciplined, but you just don’t think about it. If you brush your teeth every day, twice a day, you have self-discipline in that area.

But there is probably at least one area in your life that is suffering from a lack of self-discipline. Verses 13-16 in today’s reading describe the opposite of self-discipline which is laziness. A “sluggard” is another word for a lazy person. What is he like?

  • He makes up crazy excuses for his lack of action. Verse 13: “a fierce lion is roaming the streets!”
  • He moves a lot, but only within his comfort zone. Verse 14 says he turns on his bed like a door turns on its hinges. That describes constant movement but only in the horizontal position. Sometimes we do a lot for our own comfort when we should be doing the uncomfortable--but much more productive--thing.
  • He quits halfway through a productive project. Verse 15 says that he puts food on his fork, but never moves it to his mouth. This is like getting your paycheck but being to lazy to take it to the bank and cash it. The benefit is right there, but it requires a little effort to receive it. The sluggard--the undisciplined person--can’t be bothered.
  • He thinks he’s got all the answers. Seven wise people can all give him the same bit of great advice, but the undisciplined person thinks he has better ideas.

Do you see any of these qualities in your life in areas where you know discipline is lacking? Why do we act this way? Often it is about fear. We fear putting in effort and having the project fail anyway, so we make excuses, stay in our comfort zone, quit doing productive things just before the productivity benefit shows up, and refuse skillful advice.

Living a self-disciplined life requires faith. It requires believing that God has structured the world in ways that reward productive behavior. Could it be that your laziness in one or more area of life is really an expression of unbelief? God has promised that a person reaps what he sows and you see it everyday in the corn fields that surround our church building and are throughout our community. Don’t let laziness and unbelief rob you of the blessings and benefits of disciplined work. God will reward effort that is invested in productive things.

John 15

Today we’re reading John 15.

This section, John 13-16 records the final extended teaching Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. Here in chapter 15, Jesus told the disciples that they would bear fruit for him (vv. 1-17), be persecuted because of him (vv. 18-25), and testify for him (vv. 26-27). Each of these is demanding. However, Jesus does not command any of them. Instead, he describes them as products of being “in him.” If disciples “remain in me,” Jesus said, “you will bear much fruit” (v. 5b). Likewise, the world would persecute them “because of my name” (v. 21b) and they would testify “for you have been with me from the beginning.” So Jesus does not command us to do these things. Rather, his command is “remain in me” and all these things will flow out of that.

So what does remaining in Jesus mean? It means to keep believing in him, to maintain our faith in him and continue following him as Lord. This is another way of describing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. That doctrine teaches that all those who are genuinely saved will continue from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives in faith and good works. Anyone who does not “remain in Jesus” then, goes to hell (v. 6). That person’s attachment to Jesus was superficial not genuine.

If you belong to Jesus, then, it will show in your life. Not every branch has the same level of fruitfulness but all the branches bear some fruit. Do you see the evidence of Christ’s work in your life? is there spiritual growth in your life so that you know Christ better and trust in him more now than in the past? This is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise in this passage. We can’t produce spiritual fruit on our own because “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b). Cultivate your connection to Christ by faith, then, and God will work on your life (“he prunes” v. 2) and through your life to make fruit through you for his glory.

John 14

Today’s reading is John 14.

We usually don’t expect a leader’s followers to be more successful than the leader himself. In the NFL, a great coach like Bill Walsh has had a number of his assistant coaches go on to become head coaches. None of them, however, had the kind of sustained success that Walsh had. Not even close.

Bill Parcells was another great football coach whose assistants became head coaches themselves. One of Parcells’s assistants, Bill Belichick is an exception to the principle I’ve been talking about. Belichick has been more successful than his mentor, Bill Parcells, but Belichick’s assistants who became head coaches have been failures. Being tutored by a great coach, then, does not necessarily set one up for success. Athletics is just one example. I think you will find this to be true in music, in business, and in ministry. It is rare that a student surpasses his master.

It is surprising, then, to read Jesus’s statement here in John 14:12b, “...whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these....” Jesus prophesied that his disciples would do greater things than he did, that we would be more successful than he was. What was he saying, exactly?

First of all, the next phrase explains why Jesus said this: “...because I am going to the Father.” Disciples do greater works than the Lord himself because the Lord himself did not remain here physically. That’s one reason, then, why Jesus said his disciples would do greater works than he did. Jesus preached to thousands early in his ministry, but only a handful of disciples remained even after his resurrection (see Acts 1:12-14). By contrast, the disciples of Jesus would reach thousands with the gospel (see Acts 2:41), so the raw numbers of believers were greater.

But verses 13-14 give a greater answer for why the disciples of Jesus did greater works. The answer is not that they were greater than the Lord but that their works were empowered by the Lord. As verse 13 put it, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We are capable of doing more than Jesus did because he will work through us when we ask him to use us for his work. We have his empowering promise and we need it because he is almighty and we are weak and incapable without him.

Do you live and serve God in light of and based on this promise? Do you expect God to use you in service to him? Do you ask him to use you, in his name, to do great works for God? If something is lacking in our ministry for Christ, maybe it is that we just don’t ask the Lord to use us and keep his promise to do greater works through us. But Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Live by this promise when you share the gospel or open the word or do any kind of ministry. Ask Jesus to do powerful work through you that only he could do. He promised that he would! All we need to do is claim that promise by faith and serve God accordingly.

John 13

Today’s devotional reading comes to us from John 13.

How could the disciples ask Jesus who would betray him (vv. 21-25), see a very clear indicator that Judas would be the one who betrayed him (vv. 26-27), but not be able to understand (vv. 28-29)?

One reason is, of course, spiritual blindness. There were many events in the life of Christ that were clear but not comprehended by the disciples of Jesus. This is, in one sense, merely one more of those.

But another reason is that Judas sure seemed like an authentic disciple. He did all the works the other disciples did. He seemed as genuine and pious as them all. This is why no one stood up and said, “I knew it!” when they saw Jesus hand Judas the bread (vv. 26-27). Instead of seeing who the sign Jesus gave them pointed to, they devised a more plausible explanation (v. 29).

This shows us how difficult it can be to distinguish genuine believers in Christ from the impostors masquerading among us. Some impostors will be revealed by sin and a lack of repentance as we saw here in Judas’s life. But other impostors, the scriptures seem to indicate, will successfully deceive everyone else and even themselves right up until the day of judgment (see Matt 7:21-22).

This should make us careful about questioning the salvation of others. Judas betrayed Jesus but Peter denied him (vv. 37-38). Those were not the same sin or even equivalent in wickedness but they both looked like unbelievers in the moment. So when people we love and respect sin, watch for repentance rather than assuming or suspecting unbelief in Christ.

These stories should give us pause, though. While assurance of salvation is real and really important, the Bible teaches that there are impostors among us. Search your heart and soul and be certain of your own faith in Christ. Then love other Christians and live for Christ to demonstrate your genuine faith in him (vv. 34-35).

John 12

Today, read John chapter 12.

There is a strong contrast between a disciple who loves Jesus and is unashamed of being his servant and those who believe in Jesus but want to follow him secretly.

We can see the contrast right here in John 12. It opens with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with “about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” (v. 3a) which she poured on his feet then removed with her hair (v. 3b). Her appreciation for who Jesus is, her gratitude for what he had done, and her desire to glorify and worship him overcame any inhibitions she had. Giving this gift of anointing to Jesus was far more important to her than blessing the poor with it (vv. 5-6), not because the poor were unimportant but because she was devoted to Jesus.

The opposite of her unique act of worship was exemplified by the “leaders” (v. 42a) who “believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42b). They wanted to follow Christ in secret. Why? Because “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (v. 43). Mary was unashamed because she was devoted to God and, therefore, worshipped his Son openly without shame. These men who were leaders feared God but they feared social ostracism more.

Most, if not all of us, go through phases in our lives where we want to hide our faith in Christ because we fear people. It is a common spiritual issue, one that even the great Simon Peter experienced when he denied our Lord three times. So if you’ve ever hidden your faith or been embarrassed to admit that you’re a Christian, that does not automatically mean that you are not sincerely saved.

Eventually, though, the time comes when we must confess Christ openly. We must do so to become part of the local church through baptism. We must confess him openly to tell others about salvation in him. And, some of us must confess him openly by giving up our lives to follow him. As Jesus said in verses 24-25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Are you willing to die for Jesus? Then why are you afraid to talk about him in your workplace? Why are you unwilling to sacrifice financially for his work? May God use this chapter to pull us out of our protective shells, to teach us to fear Him more than we fear others and even to love him more than we desire the praise of men. Then we will show ourselves to be his true disciples.

John 11

Today’s reading is John 11.

We consider people heroes who risk or give their lives to save the lives of others. On the other hand, we don’t think much of someone who could save the life of another--without risking his own--but just wouldn’t do it. If you could donate a kidney to save a friend’s life or donate bone marrow for the same purpose, your love for that friend and strong social pressure would urge you to make that gift and save that life.

Knowing all of this makes Jesus’s actions in this passage perplexing. Verse 5 told us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Verse 3 told us that Lazarus’s sisters informed Jesus of Lazarus’s need for healing. Verse 21 conveyed Martha’s faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he wanted to and verse 37 shows that even people in the crowd thought so.

Why did Jesus delay, then? Why did he allow Lazarus to die when he could have easily saved his life, without even coming to Judea? Did he not love Lazarus? Of course he did (v. 5). Did he not hear the sincere request of his sisters and see their faith in him? Yes, he heard them and knew that they believed (vv. 21, 32).

So, why? Verse 4b told us: “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And how was God glorified? Most importantly, God was glorified by how the resurrection of Lazarus authenticated the claim of Jesus to be Messiah (v. 42). Second, God was glorified when “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Third, God was glorified in that Mary and Martha learned to trust Jesus even when they didn’t get what they wanted (v. 27). Finally, God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.

Let’s focus on that last one a bit more: “God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.” Although Martha affirmed that Jesus could raise the dead (vv. 22, 24-27) she tried to talk him out of opening Lazarus’s tomb (v. 38). Her understanding of the resurrection and her faith in Christ’s ability to raise the dead was all focused on the future, not in the present. Without discounting her faith in Christ for the end times, it is a lot easier to believe that something will happen in the future than it is to believe that it will happen today. By allowing Lazarus to die and be buried, Jesus exposed some areas of unbelief in his dear friends Mary and Martha. When Jesus did not answer their request in the way that they wanted, it revealed to them how much doubt still remained in their hearts about Christ. Allowing Lazarus to die then raising him from the dead allowed Jesus to take their faith in him to an even deeper place.

Are you asking God for something that is precious to you today? What if he chooses not to answer in the way that you want but, in order to bring greater glory to God, allows the thing that you fear to happen in order to teach you to trust him more? Will you trust Christ no matter what and believe that whatever happens will ultimately bring more glory to God? Is it enough for you that God is glorified even if you don’t ever get the answer to prayer that you wanted? That’s what real faith in God is all about--absolute surrender to the will of God.

Proverbs 25:15-28

Today, read Proverbs 25:15-28.

I have been the leader here at Calvary for almost 8 full years now. Before that I was the assistant pastor here, a staff teaching pastor (not the lead pastor) at a church in Illinois, a senior pastor for 2 years before that, and a seminary staff member. So, I’ve been the main leader and I’ve been a leader who was subordinate to the leadership of others. I think I’ve learned some things about leadership but I have also learned some things about being a good follower. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation--the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it. This means that the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost--people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc. Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower. So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.

John 10

Today, read John 10.

There have been so many religious leaders throughout human history and they have spawned so many different religions. Some of these are connected to Jesus in some way, denying some biblical doctrines about him while affirming others. How does someone know that they have found the truth?

A big answer to that question is given to us here in John 10. Jesus described to the religious leaders (v. 1--“you Pharisees”) many truths about himself and his followers. Using the metaphor of shepherds, sheep, and the pen those sheep are kept in, Jesus taught that the true sheep know the difference between him--the good shepherd (v. 14) and false leaders (vv. 1, 8, 10, 12-13). Because they are true sheep, they know Jesus, Good Shepherd (vv. 3, 14). Because they are true sheep, they enter through Jesus, the true gate (v. 9). All of this describes the spiritual life that God gives to those who genuinely come to Christ. Following Jesus is not a matter of rationally choosing him over other leaders and instead of other religions. It is the result of the new life that God gives by faith. That new life--we call it regeneration--causes us to recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (to paraphrase 14:6).

Do you ever wonder why some people follow Jesus intensely for a time, then are diverted by the voice of another shepherd? It is because they are not really sheep. Do you ever wonder why some sincere people don’t receive Jesus as the one the Bible describes him to be? It is because they are not true sheep. Anyone you meet who tells you that they are spiritual, that they love God, and/or that they like Jesus but don’t think he was really God is telling you that they are not part of God’s flock (vv. 25-26).

One of the benefits of being part of God’s flock is eternal security, which is taught here in verses 27-30. Verse 28b says, “they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The reason is given in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no need to worry about losing your salvation. Your salvation is not up to you because salvation is a gift given by God that makes you a sheep. It is not dependent on you to remain saved because Jesus and the Father are holding on to you. So, take joy in the gift of eternal life and follow the voice of the shepherd. Continuing to follow him--the doctrine we call preserving in the faith--is evidence of your genuine nature as one of his sheep. Like literal sheep, you may stray at times, but when the shepherd calls you in repentance, you will listen and follow him. This is how you can know that you have eternal life. Let it give you confidence and joy as you serve him today.

John 9

Today, read John 9.

Peer pressure--the desire for social acceptance--is a powerful driver of human behavior. Sometimes this is a good thing; when something that is evil is also unacceptable socially, the fear of being exposed and shunned will help people to resist temptation and make good moral choices. But peer pressure is often a bad influence in people’s lives. It suffocates righteousness by embarrassing someone for doing the right thing.

This is what we saw in John 9. Jesus healed a man born blind (vv. 1-17). Because the Pharisees had their own moral and political reasons for rejecting Jesus, they pressured the man and his parents not to glorify God for this miraculous work but to be quiet about what Jesus did. His parents submitted in fear (vv. 20-23) but the man himself did not. Ironically, the Pharisees told him, “Give glory to God by telling the truth.” But then they told him the “truth” they wanted to hear: “We know this man is a sinner.” This is what pressure groups do. They create their own version of “truth,” spinning out lies that empower them and using the natural human desire to fit in against everyone.

We see this happening in our society as well; more and more, powerful pressure groups seek to silence our witness for Christ and get us to back down from what we know is right. They will be successful with many people, too, because it is hard to resist the flow of social pressure. But those who trust the Lord instead of conforming to the expected in this world have Jesus with them (vv. 35-38). There is a cost to following him, but the freedom and benefits of knowing him are far more valuable.

John 8

Today’s reading is John 8.

This chapter presents to us an extended argument between Jesus and the Pharisees (v. 13a). The argument began with a promise of Christ in verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about the implications of that promise. Without Christ, very little in this world makes sense. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Is this life all that there is? If so, why should I do anything other than what I want to do? Why should I do anything for others if it does not benefit me? Why should I respect their rights and avoid hurting others? But, if I just do what I want, then do I feel unfulfilled, even guilty? If this life is not all that there is, how can I know that?

Life is maddeningly strange without Christ and nothing really matters but your own pleasure, but living for pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Jesus came along and said, “Whoever follows me... will have the light of life.” Why? Because he is “the light of the world.” Knowing him, believing him, receiving his teaching and obeying it give you hope for the future and purpose for this life.

But how can you know if Jesus’s promise is true before you commit to it? There are several ways but the main one in this passage is the witness of the Father (vv. 14-30). Those who knew God (like Abraham) looked forward to the coming of Christ and prophesied about it (vv. 33-41, 54-59). Those who know God now recognize the authentic word of God in Jesus the Son (vv. 42-47). This is why the gospel brings conviction of sin and stirs the heart of those who hear it, even if they don’t receive it. It is the witness of the Father to the light-giving person of the Son.

If you’re reading this and, for some reason, have never received Jesus, this is God’s offer to you. Trust in Jesus, follow him, and he will give you the light that brings life (v. 12c). Only he can do this because only he is “the light of the world” (v. 12b).

For those of us who have received Jesus, this is why we must continually remind ourselves to trust God’s word in obedience instead of believing the lies of the devil and the world around us. They are not legitimate sources of light; following them means “walking in darkness.” Jesus rescued us from that, but we must continue to follow him to have his light illumine our path through this world.

John 7

Today we’re reading John 7.

People often become skeptical when what they “know” (actually, what they believe or assume) to be true is challenged. You and I have assumptions that seem true to us and seem to have served us well throughout our lives. Those assumptions seem “true” to us and they affect how we process anything that we hear and see. When someone challenges those assumptions, we respond defensively with skepticism. Skepticism rises because it seems to conflict with something we think has already been proven true. The more important the principles are to you, the more skeptical and defensive you get when they are challenged.

John 7 shows us this over and over again. Jesus’ brothers are skeptical about him (vv. 1-9), the common people tended to be more open to Jesus (v. 12a, 40-41a) but many of them had suspicions about him (v. 12b, 15, vv. 25-27, 42b-44). The religious leaders were very threatened by Jesus and his teaching, so they were looking for him (v. 11) and were desperately trying to discredit him (vv. 20, and silence him (vv. 19-20, 30-32).

What was Jesus’ answer to all of this skepticism? “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (v. 17). In other words, the skepticism of the people indicated an unbelief in God. Those who were seeking God genuinely, eagerly trying to know him and serve him would instantly recognize Jesus and believe in him. But to eagerly seek after God requires his grace. He must lift the blindness of unbelief from one’s eyes in order to see the light of God’s glory in Christ.

This is why we must pray for those we want to see saved, in addition to giving them the gospel. The gospel is an immediate, direct challenge to anyone’s belief about God, about the world, about their own right and ability to choose. So, we must pray.

It also reminds us of our absolute need to submit to Christ always in all things. Many things the Word commands us to do are a direct challenge what we want, what we believe, and what we think we need. Our skepticism about believing, obeying, and living by faith in God is an expression of unbelief. So put aside your unbelief and just trust God--then you will find out that Jesus is the truth, not the other way around.