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.

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.

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.

What would you do for … ? (Prayer Devotional for the week of July 27, 2014)

Do you remember the jingle from the Klondike® commercials, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” with people doing silly antics to earn one? What if the stakes were higher than just a square chunk of chocolate-coated ice cream?

What would you do for $100? $1,000? $1,000,000? Would you eat bugs? Would you violate your moral convictions? Would you put your life at risk?

In this age of reality TV, it’s obvious that many people will do just about anything for attention: live in the wilderness for months, subject themselves to public scrutiny and berating, face grueling physical challenges, even marry a virtual stranger. What if the stakes were higher than just a few minutes of television fame or a prize jackpot?

What if the stakes were eternity?

The Amplified Bible translates Psalm 125:3 as: “For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the [uncompromisingly] righteous, lest the righteous (God’s people) stretch forth their hands to iniquity and apostasy.” Uncompromisingly righteous … that seems to mean that people who otherwise live righteously still make unrighteous choices sometimes. We compromise. We give into lesser stakes—but for what? For fame? For glory? For something that feels like love? For a sense of self-worth? For spite?

The Psalm goes on to say, in verse 5, that our “crooked ways” boil down to our indifference toward God. When we compromise, we say to the Lord that we don’t care what he thinks. The Bible is clear that God does not want anyone to perish (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), but when we turn our backs on him, sometimes he lets us keep walking. Psalm 125 ends with a sobering image of God’s people walking off with evildoers. Is any amount of worldly gain worth separation from God?

Originally posted July 31, 2011