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.

Are You Even Listening to Me? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 13, 2015)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, except that my kids don’t really have a frame of reference for scratched vinyl albums, so the cliché is lost on them. The point, as many parents will agree, is that I feel like my words go in one ear and out the other. I don’t talk just to hear myself speak, for cryin’ out loud!


Sometimes I wonder if God feels the same way about us. He communicates with us through his word, the Bible. He also communicates through messengers, like the sermon on Sunday morning, a worship song on the radio, or a godly friend’s counsel. He communicates through prayer and the nudges of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Case in point: Have you ever heard a particularly poignant sermon that echoed something that had been on your heart for a while, and then a song came on the radio that was spot-on about what you were dealing with? Lo and behold, you open your Bible later and seemingly coincidentally stumble upon a passage that reiterates everything God has been trying to tell you?


God is so patient with us; isn’t he? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul explains that scripture comes from God’s inspiration, and it is not only useful to teach us, but also to redirect us, point out our mistakes, and build character. All of these things, in turn, work together to equip us to do the work that God calls us to do. Think back to when you started your current job: you might have attended an orientation, gone through training, perhaps even had a mentor. You probably weren’t an expert on Day One; it took time to learn the ropes.


Our spiritual journey is not much different. We have ample training opportunities through church and studying the Bible. You can build mentorship connections through Life groups. You can gain on-the-job training by serving in a ministry. Even people who have walked with the Lord for decades will admit that they have much to learn, but each day should find us growing closer and closer to the Lord. Check out Philippians 1:6 – God is in the business of finishing projects, and how wonderful for us that he never throws in the towel!


Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God’s word will not return empty-handed; he speaks to be heard, and he communicates with us in order to bring us into a deeper relationship with himself. Are you listening?


Baby Food (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 8, 2015)

I came across an old home video this week while looking through archived files on my computer. It was of my youngest kiddo eating in a highchair. He had just learned to pick up finger foods, and he was eating peas and Cheerios – complete with green mush on his chin. The kids had a big laugh watching the video, especially with my sing-song voice in the background praising him for being such a big boy and feeding himself.


With kids, we get excited about every little milestone, don’t we? We ooh and ahh about moving from milk to baby food, then finger foods, and finally table food using a fork and spoon. In some ways, this progression mirrors our spiritual development. We start out our new spiritual lives needing to be nourished with the simple truth of the gospel. Peter described it this way: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3, NIV). Yet, our development doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) stop there.


In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he scolded them by saying, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV).


Likewise, the writer of Hebrews challenged readers for being unwilling to grow in faith: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14, NIV).


What, then, does it mean to be ready for solid food, spiritually speaking? Partly, it means that there should be evidence of our growth. We should seek out spiritual instruction that challenges us to stretch and grow even more. It also means that we should begin teaching, mentoring, and leading others to help them grow in faith.

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?

March Madness: Supreme Court Version

I really should get some sleep, but I have to jot down some thoughts about class tonight first. This was one of the most fulfilling days that I have experienced as a college instructor, thus far. The chapter that we covered is probably the driest material in the entire textbook: the judicial system. There are several Latin terms, a lot of procedural dos and don’ts, and it is difficult to make it sound interesting. It is important; don’t get me wrong … just not particularly riveting.

I took my lecture notes with me to lunch earlier today, to spend some more time prepping before the 6pm class. As I was looking back over a few sections, this picture began to piece together in my head. I thought it might be corny, but it was worth a shot!

Here’s what I drew on the whiteboard when I got to the classroom:

The players in the judiciary

The players in the judiciary

Using the March Madness basketball theme, I sketched a basketball court for the University of Common Law whose motto is “stare decisis.” The “C” in center court stands for Constitution. The referee has “jurisdiction,” while the two coaches are yelling, “Justiciable controversy!” and “Standing to sue!” to have their issues heard.

The player with the ball is “activist,” because he’s on the offense, and the player who is just standing there is “restraintist.” The two baskets represent types of precedent that the judiciary weighs when making decisions: case law and statutes.

The cheerleaders represent interest groups on the side of the court. The Supreme Court justices are on the right (there are 9), and four of them are circled, since that’s how many have to agree to hear a case. The Senate is in the lower right corner, keeping an eye on the court and saying, “Bork” because they might not want to confirm one of the judges.

Appellate Courts Bracket

Appellate Courts Bracket

On the far right, next to the Common Law seal (with a scroll to symbolize the Constitution), I put sample brackets to represent the U.S. District Courts (there are 94), U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals (only 13 of these), and finally the end of the line: the Supreme Court.

I really liked being able to reference the board instead of just the PowerPoint slides as we went through the material, and I think it helped to put some of the concepts into practical (albeit silly) terms.

I was pleased enough that the lesson went over better than I had hoped, but that isn’t even the best part of the class. One of the students who is doing really well in the class came up to me at the end and asked for my advice about possibly switching his major to political science. Wow! I know it isn’t just because of my awesome teaching (lol), but I’d like to think that I had a little bit of influence toward his interest in the subject! 🙂  It made my day.

Teaching evaluations

Today I received the evaluation summaries from my fall course in Federal Government. Even though I believe that I am a good teacher, the packet of student comments that arrives in my mailbox the following semester makes me a little nervous. Was I really as effective as I thought I was? Sure, they laughed at my stories and analogies, but what if they were really just laughing at me? Did they think the course was a waste of time? Was I boring?

Thankfully, it appears that I am my worst critic. The most common complaint about the class was “having to wake up early.” 🙂 It was a 7:20am class, so I certainly can’t fault them for that!!

Some of the remarks that made my heart smile (I didn’t correct spelling):

  • “She is very chilled and layed back, not to mention she is hilarious.”
  • “I don’t not like her at all.”
  • “I also liked the personal feel of the classroom and the freedom I felt I had to ask questions.”
  • “Knowing that she cares about us is encouraging.”
  • “She makes waking up early for class not miserable.”

Hooray – I made an early morning government class not miserable! 🙂 By the way, could someone please tell my kids that I’m very chilled, laid back, and hilarious? They seem to think that all I do is bark at them.