The Last Word (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 14, 2016)

Between the Old Testament book of Malachi and the gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John), there were no prophets in Israel for about 400 years. To put that gap into perspective, let’s imagine what the last 400 years would have been like without hearing from the Lord since the early 1600s. That would mean no Billy Graham, Corrie ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, John or Charles Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, or John Bunyan, to name a few.

 

Malachi 3:1 referred to a new prophet who would pave the way for the Lord; chapter 4 described this individual as someone who would turn the hearts of the people back to God. When John the Baptist finally entered the scene as the first prophet in several generations, some were confused about who he really was. Jesus confirmed that John the Baptist was the long-awaited prophet in Luke 7:27. John preached that the kingdom of God was near, went about baptized people, and gained quite a following. Yet, even John’s disciples wondered if he was in competition with that Jesus guy who had just begun his own ministry (John 3:26).

 

John responded to his disciples by likening himself to the best man at a wedding – happy to stand by and support the groom. He went on to say in verse 30, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (NLT). John the Baptist directed attention toward Jesus, rather than himself. We would do well to follow in his footsteps, because it’s not about me, and it’s not about you!

 

It’s not my job to point fingers, but we don’t have to look far to see prominent Christians today who are drawing attention to themselves and/or their ministries, and not necessarily to Jesus. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with popularity, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with material success, but our lives (and certainly our ministries) should be purposeful in pointing people to Christ, not devised for worldly pleasure or gain.

 

John the Baptist was the last word, the final prophet leading up to the big reveal of Jesus Christ as the much anticipated Messiah. John accepted his role humbly and went about his calling not only dutifully, but also passionately and without compromise. May we honor his memory and his service to the kingdom by ministering to those around us in a way that draws them closer to Christ.

A Compassionate Touch (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 17, 2016)

I come from a very huggable family. When my brother and I were little and our family would go to visit aunts & uncles, cousins, and grandparents out of town, we used to wait impatiently after our mom would say it was time to leave … and then spend the next half-hour hugging and kissing everyone goodbye. As an adult, I look back on those days with fond memories, and especially since many of those loved ones have passed away by now, I would love to have 30 minutes again of hugging and kissing all of them.

 

There’s something very special about human touch. Physical touch is one of our primary senses. It’s so important that researchers have found skin-to-skin contact to be vital in babies’ development. Physical touch is even one of the five “love languages” defined by Dr. Gary D. Chapman about how we express affection to each other. Even if you aren’t the touchy-feely type, there’s still something special about tender, loving contact with another person.

 

I find it interesting that although Jesus had the power to heal people remotely – and he did perform many miracles from a distance or with a simple verbal command (remember Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11 or the paralyzed child in Matthew 8:5-13?) – he sometimes chose to make physical contact with people as part of their healing process. There are many examples in the gospels, including a crippled woman in Luke 13:10-13 and Peter’s feverish mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14-15, among others.

 

One passage that sticks out to me, though, is Mark 1:40-42. The author records that Jesus was “moved with compassion” when a man with leprosy approached him and begged for healing. Jesus touched him, and the man was healed instantly. Jesus didn’t have to touch the man; in fact, it was socially uncouth for him to do so, since the man had leprosy. He could have simply spoken a word, and the man would have been healed. Instead, Jesus extended a compassionate touch to an untouchable person.

 

So, the question for us is this: Who in our lives is “untouchable,” yet in need of compassion? How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting people in our world?

 

The Lord has need of ME?? (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 13, 2015)

In a passage frequently referred to as “Jesus’ Triumphant Entry” (see Mark 11, Luke 19, Matthew 21, & John 12), we read the story about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Here’s an excerpt from Mark’s account:

“As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’” (Mark 11:1-3, NLT)

 

If you’re like me, you may have heard that story so many times over the years that it feels very familiar, but let’s look a little more closely. First of all, a lot happened around Bethany in the New Testament, and this story is no exception. Bethany was the hometown of Lazarus, the raised-from-the-dead friend of Jesus (John 11:1); it is also where a woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume (Matthew 26:6); and, it is the place where Jesus cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:12). Bethany is also where Jesus blessed his disciples after his resurrection, right before he ascended into heaven! (Luke 24:50-51)

 

Next, Jesus chose a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, but I find it interesting that God – in his wisdom and sense of humor – selected an untamed colt as his animal of preference. He could have specified any magnificent creature on earth, yet he chose a lowly, stubborn, beast of burden. (May we remember that little fact whenever we think too highly of ourselves in the Lord’s work – if he can use an untamed jackass … er, donkey … then who are we to think we’re so important?)

 

Lastly, Jesus instructed his disciples to respond to any inquiries by saying, “The Lord needs it.” This word for Lord is the Greek word Kyrios, which is translated “master.” In essence, the Master of the universe is asking to borrow a lowly, untamed donkey so that he can ride into the city where he will ultimately sacrifice himself on our behalf. Let that sink into your heart for a few moments.

 

God always has a reason for why he asks things of us. He does not demand them of us, but he gives us opportunities to partner with him in his work. Sometimes the things he asks of us don’t make any sense right then, and to be frank, they may not ever make sense in our lifetimes. But, one day, all will be revealed in his perfect, eternal timing. In the meantime, we are called simply to obey. The Lord has need of you … are you willing to serve?

Do the Impossible (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 29, 2015)

Think of something that you do really well for the Lord. For example, perhaps you volunteer in the nursery on rotating Sunday mornings: playing with babies or doing arts & crafts is right up your alley. If you felt like God was calling you to step up your game and volunteer more often or take some sort of leadership role, it wouldn’t sound too crazy, right? Or, maybe you serve as a greeter and enjoy welcoming visitors each week. If God compelled you to do a little more in that area, it wouldn’t be too much to ask, would it?

 

But, what about when you feel that tell-tale nudge on your heart from the Holy Spirit prompting you to do something wayyyy outside of your comfort zone, like share your testimony in front of the church, give a gift bigger than you’ve ever donated before, or go on a missions trip?

 

We all need to use our spiritual gifts and our natural skills & talents to serve the Lord, but when it comes to doing the impossible – those breakthrough moments that you look back on in awe because you know without a shadow of a doubt that God did something miraculous – that takes a leap of faith.

 

In my experience, God tells us to do impossible things in our areas of weakness. If he only worked through our strong suits, then I think we would be tempted to take the credit for ourselves. (“Look at what a great thing I did, and by the way, God helped.”)

 

When God calls you to do impossible things, you either obey, or you don’t. There’s no middle ground. Case in point, read the parable of the rich man (Matthew 19, Luke 18, or Mark 10). He had a solid track record for doing good, religious things; however, when Jesus instructed him to do the seemingly impossible, he balked. He had the opportunity right in his lap to see God move in a miraculous way, but his pride kept him from obeying.

 

May we not be like the man in that parable, who missed out on the chance to be part of something much, much bigger than himself. God is at work all around us, each and every day. May we be observant and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s nudging to get involved, even when it seems impossible.

 

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.

Hitting Rock Bottom (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 11, 2015)

I was talking with a friend recently who confided in me some struggles that she’s had with her adult son. She mentioned that he had hit rock bottom – again – and had started going to church “to find God.” I heard in her voice a mama’s heart that was aching for her wayward son, and her words stuck with me.

 

Have you ever been working on a repair project and dropped a tiny screw onto the carpet or in the grass? They can be pert near impossible to locate. Worse yet, if you wear contacts, then you have probably experienced the frustration of crawling around on your hands and knees, half-blind, trying to find the thin, shimmery sliver on the floor. I wore contacts for 20+ years, so I’ve been in that lowly position more times than I care to recollect … kind of like my friend’s son.

 

Three of the gospel accounts (Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5) record the scene when Jesus called Matthew (also named Levi) to be his disciple, and Matthew held a banquet in his home in Jesus’ honor. Some religious leaders were in attendance, and they were offended that low-lives like tax collectors were invited to dine with them. Jesus’ response is the same in all three recordings: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (NLT). Matthew, however, included an additional comment that Jesus made, and it is recorded in v. 13: “Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’’”

 

I think it’s beautiful that the disciple who happened to be the center of the story was also the one who recorded a statement about mercy and what Jesus expects of us as his followers. Matthew had not hit rock bottom in a material sense; in fact, he probably made a very good living as a tax collector and had a comfortable life. However, Luke’s account says that Matthew left everything behind when he got up from his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. Once he found what he was looking for, he didn’t turn back.

 

Whether you’ve hit rock bottom in a physical/emotional sense or whether you have finally put on your spiritual contact lenses and seen Jesus for who he truly is, I encourage you to be like Matthew and not look back. Leave your past, your sin, your old life behind and follow Jesus.

 

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?