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.

Advertisements

Only One King (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 24, 2016)

I am teaching two sections of American National Government this semester, and I love it. Some people don’t like teaching freshmen because they are, well, freshmen. I think it’s awesome. I love those light bulb moments when they realize that my class isn’t going to be a complete snorefest like they expected. Anyway, we were talking last week about different forms of government and how the colonists were trying to escape what they viewed as an oppressive government. Although our Founding Fathers disagreed on a lot of things, one thing they rallied behind was NO KING. They did not want to create another monarchy.

 

I thought about that particular class when I came across a passage in Matthew 27. Verses 32-44 detail Jesus’ crucifixion. The soldiers, religious leaders, and even the general public seemed to be hung up on the notion of Jesus as King of the Jews, or King of Israel, as some translations state. They hung a sign of mockery above his head reading, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (v. 37). The religious leaders taunted him, saying that if he’s the King of the Jews, then he should save himself (v. 41-43).

 

Here’s the catch: whether we’re talking about a political science class or trying to make a spiritual application, there can only be ONE king. In a monarchy, there may be a ruling family who passes down the crown from generation to generation, but at any given time, there is one king or queen in charge. Trying to have two people wear the crown is a recipe for disaster.

 

The same concept holds true in our spiritual lives. Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 remind us that we cannot serve both God and money. We have to choose one over the other – either God or our worldly desires.

 

Jesus did not come to serve as a political leader. Instead, he challenged our traditional ideas of rulership by introducing us to a personal relationship with the Lord. We don’t need a political king to sweep in and take over; we need a spiritual Lord to whom we willingly submit our lives. He is fully capable of leading and guiding us, but only if we allow him that position in our hearts. He does not demand our loyalty. We retain the free will to choose the world over him, if that’s what we really want.

 

However, I implore you to give him authority over your life, and I feel confident in saying that you will not regret it. Walking in a relationship with Christ is more spectacular than all the ticker tape parades and inauguration parties in the whole, entire world.

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?

Spot the Sinner (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 6, 2015)

My vocabulary has expanded since we moved to Utah, including yummy terms like “fry sauce,” which is a delicious blend of ketchup & mayo and found in every restaurant. My new word bank also includes less kind terms like “plyg,” which is slang for polygamist. It’s a subculture that is publicly looked down upon but seldom talked about until something horrible makes the news.

 

Plygs aren’t hard to spot. I suppose there are some who are permitted to dress like you may have seen on so-called reality TV, but the women I’ve seen dress like actresses in an Old West movie, complete with the ankle-length pioneer dress and a poufy bun or long, braided hair. The women always shop together; I have never seen a man with them. The boys tend to wear normal clothes, but the girls look like mini-me duplicates of the women.

 

Remember last year when a local Waco lawyer wore an orange prison jumpsuit during Lent, to draw attention to the struggles that former inmates face in finding jobs, etc.? That guy popped into my mind the other day when I was at the store and spotted another pioneer-looking woman. My heart broke for her, and I was torn because I felt helpless to reach out to her. What I wanted to do was hug her and tell her that she’s not alone; the One True God loves her so very much; and there are people who could help her. That seemed like a rash and totally inappropriate thing to do in a store that might get me arrested, so instead I just prayed for her.

 

As I moped around the store wondering what has become of our society, I couldn’t shake the images of the lawyer in his jumpsuit and the women I’d seen time and time again around town. Then, I began to think: Wow, what if my life was on such public display? What if everyone could read my sins as easily as they could check out my outfit? I’m not a fashionista on a good day, but how distasteful would *that* sin or *that* sin appear?

 

Like it or not, we all have a reckoning coming our way. Ecclesiastes 11:9 and Matthew 12:36, for starters, tell us that we will give an account to God for every slip of the tongue and every action we took during our lifetimes. Don’t fall for the lie that if you can keep it under wraps, then no one knows your sin. Some of us might be able to cover up many of our sins and lifestyle choices and perhaps even fool those around us, but one day sooner or later, they will be exposed before a holy and righteous God. Thanks be to Jesus who sees all of our faults yet still loves us so much that he came to earth on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let that wonderful truth soak into your heart this Christmas season.

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.