Malnourished Sheep (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 22, 2015)

One thing the boys and I first noticed when we moved to Utah was the number of sheep farms. (In fact, Utah has the 5th highest number of sheep in the country!) Our city even has an annual sheep parade, where they shut down Main Street for a few hours to let the sheep meander through downtown.

 

I recently heard someone talking about what to look for when purchasing a sheep for your flock (not that I’m buying any sheep, but there’s a point to this story; I promise). He shared several tips, and one particular comment resonated with me. He described how you need to dig your hands deep into the sheep’s wool and feel its torso. If the animal’s ribs or hip bones jut out, then that is a clear indicator of malnourishment. Underneath all the fluffy wool could be a terribly sick animal!

 

The question for us is this: what is beneath our fluff?

 

Are you healthy, or are you malnourished? If someone could reach through the exterior of your life – your work clothes, your family portrait, your Sunday morning smile – and touch the core of who you are, spiritually, what would they discover?

 

The Bible uses the analogy of sheep and a shepherd repeatedly to describe our relationship with the Lord (check out Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 15, John 10, and 1 Peter 2, among others). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in case you didn’t already know, sheep stink. Seriously, they smell horrible. They are also pretty dumb and have a tendency to get themselves lost and/or injured.

 

Honestly, I can think of other animals I would rather be compared to, like a graceful bird or sea creature. But since the shoe fits, I am a sheep. Sometimes my attitude stinks, and sometimes I wander aimlessly and get myself hurt instead of listening to the Lord – our Good Shepherd.

 

Let’s do a spiritual wellness checkup this week and be sure that we stay healthy.

Things God Hates (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 26, 2015)

Complete this sentence: God [blank] divorce. Did you fill in the blank with “hates”? If so, I’m not surprised, because yet another verse in the long list of Bible passages that I’ve heard taken out of context is Malachi 2:16. Granted, some English versions do read, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord …” or, “The Lord God of Israel says, ‘I hate divorce …’” However, several other English translations interpret the verse this way: “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord …”   Even the historically beloved King James Version says that God hates “putting away” and advises the reader to “deal not treacherously.” English is complicated, and whichever way the verse begins in the translation you prefer to read, it ends with the same sentiment: be faithful. The context of the verse is about unity within marriage, and the context of the whole chapter is a warning to the priests of Judah for a whole litany of reasons, not just marriage.   It’s very easy to make the leap from “God hates [fill in the blank]” to “God hates ME because I fit that profile.” Don’t buy into that, dear friend. If you get nothing else out of this message, understand this: God loves you with the deepest, most passionate, most enduring love that your brain can imagine. In fact, he loves you even more than you can fathom!!   So, what does God hate? Proverbs 6:16-19 itemizes several issues: “Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family” (MSG).   Our character and the attitude of our hearts is what concerns God. Is your life characterized by the types of problems listed above – arrogance, lies, wickedness, deceit, etc. – or does your life reflect a heart that strives to honor the Lord? Whether you are single, married, widowed, or divorced is not the point. How are you being faithful to God in whatever situation you are in?

Hashtag Blessed (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 15, 2015)

The other day, I overheard someone who I don’t think of as being very spiritual describe a situation that had happened to her, and she added that she was “blessed” by it. That word caught my attention, and I thought about what she said – as well as my preconceived ideas about her. I thought about sports figures pointing to heaven or making the sign of the cross when they complete a great play. I thought about musicians and other performers mentioning God in their long list of people to thank for this-or-that award. I admit that sometimes I question their sincerity because those token acknowledgements often come across as fake to me.

 

Out of curiosity, I did a quick search on Twitter for posts with the hashtag #blessed. I found entries about new babies, Valentine’s Day gifts, waking up without an alarm, spending the day at the lake, a heart-shaped breakfast biscuit, meeting a famous person, and a new car. A few posts actually mentioned God, but most of the ones I read did not. Are these things really blessings, and should I even care whether they are or not?

 

In Mark 9:38-41, we read that John approached Jesus to let him know that he and the other disciples had taken a stand against a man who was performing miracles in Jesus’ name. The reason they stopped the man was because he wasn’t one on their group. I can relate to John’s perspective, because I think it’s the same attitude that I had above, judging people for saying that they were blessed.

 

I like the way The Message paraphrase interprets v. 41: “Count on it that God will notice.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think God is particularly bothered by people mentioning him in passing and offering quick words of thanks; however, he desires a deeper relationship with us. Those of us who walk with the Lord have an opportunity, like John and the other disciples, to mentor and be an example to the “hashtag blessed” crowd and help them become committed followers of Christ.

 

It’s great to give God credit for the blessings in our lives, but our faith-walks should be more than mere lip service to God. We shouldn’t have to rely on #blessed for people to see that there’s a real difference in our lives with Christ, compared to who we were before.