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.

On Planets, Politics, and Prayer (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 27, 2015)

It is an interesting time to be a political science professor, because everyone is talking about the upcoming presidential elections. One question I’ve heard tossed around lately is: What would you do if you were President? The answers range from poignant to completely ludicrous (and make me wonder whether most adults today ever took, much less passed, a basic civics/government class in high school), but I digress …

 

Instead, I would like to suggest a different question: What if you had a direct line to the President? You know, like in the movies when someone important picks up the phone during an emergency and it rings directly at the Oval Office or aboard Air Force One … Would you use it? What would you say? Would you hesitate and feel like you were pestering the President, or would you feel confident that what you needed to say was worth interrupting our Commander in Chief?

 

Honestly, you and I probably will not ever be privy to the President’s private line (or Batman’s Batphone, which would be even cooler), but we already have 24/7 access to someone way more awesome: the Creator of the universe. We don’t need any gadgets or special equipment, either! We can talk to the King of Kings (President of Presidents?) anytime, anywhere, for any reason – simply through prayer. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to “Never stop praying.” God wants to be in constant contact with us, and he invites us to chat with him regularly.

 

Do you take him up on that insider access, or do you feel like you shouldn’t bother God because he might be too busy doing more important things like keeping the planets in orbit? Dear friend, please rest assured that he wants to hear from you. He can handle planetary trajectories and your personal issues simultaneously; I promise.

 

We ought to be in frequent communication with the Lord about every aspect of our lives – and not only that, but we also need to be praying for each other. I would encourage you to read Ephesians 1:15-20 and see what the apostle Paul had to say to fellow believers about how earnestly he prayed for them. What an example for us to lift each other up in prayer! Let’s focus this week on specific ways that we can do just that.

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.

Office Hours (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 11, 2015)

Last semester, I was in my office a minimum of six hours each week outside of class time (though usually much more than that) for my designated office hours. Out of the dozens of students in my classes, only a handful ever came to see me during office hours. They were all invited, but very few ever showed.

 

A couple of those who came were my best students, and sometimes they popped in just to say hello, not because they needed anything. A few times, students would stop by with a question about an assignment. One student was at risk of failing my course and came by three times to talk to me about his challenges and progress, as the semester went on. Unfortunately, two other students who did end up failing never came to see me at all. They never answered emails or responded to my attempts to contact them.

 

I invited them, waited for them, reached out to them, and pursued them as best I could, but ultimately, the choice not to come was theirs.

 

At the risk of making students everywhere roll their eyes by comparing professors to God, doesn’t it sound a lot like the way he invites us to come to him … but we don’t?

 

On one occasion (among countless other times when the religious leaders of the day got their knickers in a wad over something Jesus said or did), the Pharisees and Sadducees started griping about Jesus sharing a meal with “notorious sinners” like a tax collector (Luke 5:30, TLB). He answered them bluntly by saying that sick people need a doctor, not those who are well. In the same way, sinners need a savior. He explained, “My purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think themselves already good enough” (v. 32).

 

Several English translations use the word “called” in this verse, but I like the way some other translations insert the word “invited.” When I hear or read the word “called,” it sounds obligatory – like when a parent calls a child, and they are expected to come immediately. “Invited,” on the other hand, is an offer – a gift, you might say. Jesus invites us to come to him. Have you RSVPed?