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.

Are you an Andrew or a Paul? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 27, 2015)

Have you ever wondered about your qualifications for serving the Lord? I’d like to share two examples to encourage you. First, we’ll talk about Andrew. He was a blue-collar worker – a fisherman by trade, not a scholar. We are introduced to him in Matthew 4:18 & Mark 1:16, where he is described in both instances as Simon Peter’s brother.

 

Let’s pause there for a moment. I have five sons, and I know that it doesn’t go over very well when any of them are routinely described as so-and-so’s brother. Everyone wants his own identity. Andrew did become one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, which is pretty amazing, but I wonder if sometimes he felt like the also-ran in comparison to his more famous brother. For example, in John 1:40-42, we read that Andrew started out as one of John the Baptist’s disciples, and he even introduced Simon Peter to Jesus. Verse 42 in that passage talks about Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, yet there seems to be no acknowledgement of Andrew at all. One historical reference I read said that Andrew was actually the elder of the two, so I imagine it felt even more humbling to be overshadowed by his little brother.

 

Then, there’s Saul-turned-Paul. In Philippians 3, Paul tried the “Annie Get Your Gun” tactic of “anything you can do I can do better” to explain how we should not put too much confidence in ourselves, especially when it comes to ministry. Paul described himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews” and itemized a whole list of reasons why he would be considered the cream of the crop. He wasn’t being conceited, though; he was trying to prove a point that no matter how stellar your qualifications, it all pales in comparison to Christ.

 

So, whether you relate more to Andrew or Paul, remember that both individuals were used mightily for the Lord, regardless of their qualifications. After all, don’t you think that Andrew was better suited to witness to the common folk than Paul (especially considering his early career of persecuting Christians)? Paul, on the other hand, was perfectly poised to speak truth to the know-it-all religious leaders of his day.

 

The point is that God calls each of us for an individual purpose, and our callings may not resemble each other in the least. We may have a high-profile role like Paul, or we may work behind the scenes more like Andrew, but as with both of them, God wants to use us in his sovereign plan. Are you willing?

Buried with him (Prayer Devotional for the week of June 28, 2015)

Do you ever wonder what Lazarus’ life was like after Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11)? When I first read Don Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, I was struck by the way he described the intense longing for heaven that he experienced after he was brought back to life an hour and a half after paramedics declared him dead at the scene of an automobile accident. How could anyone not want to return? Of course he was happy to be reunited with his family, and he learned to reevaluate God’s call on his second chance at life, but there was still a piece of him that wanted to go back.

Lazarus had been dead for days (verse 39) when Jesus ordered the tomb opened. I can only imagine the amazingly awesome heavenly things that he witnessed in that timeframe! Then, to be yanked back into his creaky old body – to eat, drink, work, live – only to die again at some point in the future … I wonder what he felt.

Lazarus was brought back to life by Christ himself, and then he had to watch his dear friend die on the cross. Can you imagine the roller coaster of feelings that Lazarus went through during Jesus’ death and leading up to his resurrection? Just, wow.

Something truly remarkable happened when Jesus died. (Actually, several somethings amazing happened, and I encourage you to read the whole scenario in Matthew 27.) At the moment Christ died, there was an earthquake, the temple curtain tore in half, and … people rose from the dead. Seriously, check it out in Matthew 27:51-53.

When we talk about being “buried with Christ” in our decision to follow him, it’s symbolic of our desire to give up our old, sinful lives and begin a new, different life with him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes it as becoming “a new creation.” This week, let’s pray through 1 Peter 1:3-9 and think about how astounding – how wonderful! – is his great love for us.
(Originally posted March 11, 2012)

Check Yes or No (Prayer Devotional for the week of June 7, 2015)

The year was 1986. His name was Danny. He was funny, cute, never once called me “four eyes” like some other mean boys who shall remain nameless, and I had it bad. I mustered up the courage to write Danny a “check yes or no” note to see if he LIKED me liked me, or if he just, you know, plain ol’ liked me. Days and eons passed with no reply, and my self-esteem plummeted. Finally, one day on the way to P.E., he passed me in the hallway, smiled and handed me a folded note. He’d drawn a heart on the front of it.

 

This story isn’t about a sappy, romantic outcome, because Danny moved away shortly thereafter, and we lost touch. (Back then, there was a per-minute, long-distance fee to phone another town, and we had to use these things called stamps to correspond in writing.) What it boils down to is a question that we all need to know the answer to: Do you LIKE me like me, or do you just like me? The question goes beyond tweenage crushes and cuts to the core of our hearts, because it’s something that Christ asks each of us.

 

Jesus once put Peter on the spot and asked him a similar question in John 21. You may remember Peter from the crucifixion story—he’s the one who denied knowing Jesus three times over the course of one night. Our story picks up after Jesus was raised from the dead, and he appeared on the shore where Peter and others were [unsuccessfully] fishing. They realized who he was and had a meal together—after Jesus helped them haul in a miraculous catch. During the course of their conversation, Jesus posed the question three times to Peter: “Do you love me?” It was his way of reinstating Peter for denying him.

Jesus isn’t going to force us to love him or drag us along as mindless followers, without a will of our own. He offers us a choice to love him passionately and to follow him wholeheartedly. The Bible is his love letter to us, filled with grace, mercy and an eternal promise. Will you check yes or no?

(Originally posted January 22, 2012)

 

What’s Your Title? (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 29, 2015)

I heard a sermon recently that shed some wonderful new insight about a story in John 9, and I can’t wait to tell you about it. You may have heard the story before: the Pharisees berated Jesus for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. However, that’s not the part of the tale that we’re going to talk about today.

 

On two occasions in the story (three times if you count his parents’ account of his birth), the person healed by Jesus is simply referred to as “the man who had been blind” (John 9:13 & 24). We don’t know his name, but he was given an informal title of who he was before he encountered Jesus.

 

Do you have a title? I don’t mean Mrs., Mr., Dr., Esq., or some other courtesy title. I’m referring to the “title” of who you were before you met Jesus. I’ve been thinking of mine for days, and the one that keeps coming to mind is “the woman who had been afraid.” Fear (and the removal of it) is the essence of my testimony. I went through a period of time where I was afraid of things that now seem laughable, but at the time were crippling. I once cried in school because I had to give a presentation in front of my classmates. And look at me now: I’m a professor! I talk in front of people every day, and I love it.

 

Fear of being in the spotlight was only the tip of the iceberg; I was also very afraid of dying. By the time I finished middle school, I had attended more funerals than I can even recollect, and the number has at increased by at least 15-20 since then. It was actually the fear of dying that led me to the Lord. I was afraid of not knowing if I would go to heaven. I wanted to know for certain that I had eternal life with Jesus, and after I gave my life to him, I clung to verses like 1 John 5:13 for reassurance.

 

I love the title of “the woman who had been afraid,” because it reminds me of how good and faithful God has been to me during our journey together. Have there been times when I felt afraid even since I became a Christian? Absolutely, but those moments are fleeting and no longer debilitating. Fear doesn’t define me like it might have before.

 

The neat thing is, if you have a descriptive title of who you were before Christ, then you have the beginning of a faith-story to tell others. Like the man in John 9, you have a unique experience to share about what Jesus has done in your life.

Confidantes (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 22, 2015)

One of the most difficult things about moving (for me, at least) is keeping up with friends left behind and building new relationships. Thanks to technology like Skype and Facebook, staying in touch is a lot easier than the old days of handwriting letters (although, I still love sending and receiving snail mail!) and sending rolls of film away for processing.

 

As great as technology is, there’s something truly special about spending time with someone one-on-one that breaks down superficial walls, builds trust, and creates an atmosphere of confidence where you are assured that the thoughts you share will be kept secure. That’s a much different level of relationship than most of our bantering on Facebook; wouldn’t you agree?

 

I came across a familiar passage in John 15 this week, and a verse caught my eye in a different translation. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) records verses 13-15 as: “The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. And you are my friends, if you obey me. Servants don’t know what their master is doing, and so I don’t speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me.”

 

I love the way the Living Bible (TLB) uses the verb “confide in” instead of “speak to.” It implies a more intimate friendship, the unfiltered kind where you can share your most important, deeply personal thoughts. Jesus is telling his disciples that they are not just his students or trainees, but they are his confidantes.

 

We all need that level of openness and accountability with someone – to know that we can let down our guard and still be loved unconditionally, yet be challenged to grow in our faith-walk. Jesus invited his disciples into that innermost circle. May we, too, desire that level of closeness with our savior.