Routine History (November 26)

Scripture:        Matthew, chapters 23-25

Matthew 24:1-14 (MSG) – Jesus then left the Temple.  As he walked away, his disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was.  Jesus said, “You’re not impressed by all this sheer size, are you?  The truth of the matter is that there’s not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble.”

Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives, his disciples approached and asked him, “Tell us, when are these things going to happen?  What will be the sign of your coming, that time’s up?”

Jesus said, “Watch out for the doomsday deceivers.  Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’  They will deceive a lot of people.  When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic.  This is routine history; this is no sign of the end.  Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over.  Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places.  This is nothing compared to what is coming.

They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my  name.  And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.  

In the confusion, lying preachers will come forward and deceive a lot of people.  For many others, the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in – nothing left of their love but a mound of ashes.  Staying with it – that’s what God requires.  Stay with it to the end.  You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved.  All during this time, the good news – the Message of the kingdom – will be preached all over the world, a witness staked out in every country.  And then the end will come.”

Observations: The phrase that caught my attention this morning is this:  “This is routine history; this is no sign of the end.”  I fear that a lot of people don’t really understand this passage and ones like it; they quote the more familiar translation, “wars and rumors of wars,” as though that were a sign that the end is near.  Peterson’s rendering makes it clear that this is not a sign of the end; it’s routine history.

It’s routine history because ever since sin entered the equation, people have fought against each other.  Greed, power, lust – it doesn’t matter what lies behind it, the fact is that people fighting against each other is routine history, not a sign of the end.

Jesus goes on to say that some other things that people today often fixate on – famines and earthquakes …Christians thrown to the wolves and killed… the world becoming dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other – are still not the signs that the end is here.  Those things, too, are routine history. Throughout history, there have been famines and earthquakes.  We may hear more about them today, because our technology alerts them to us and our media make us aware of them, but those things have always been a part of living in a fallen world.  Christians have always faced persecution – first from the Roman Empire, at times from each other, today at the hands of ideologies that seek to stamp out the Christian faith – but that too is routine history.  That doesn’t mean that we should welcome these things, of course, nor does it mean that we should stand by and do nothing while they happen.  But we shouldn’t read too much into them, because they are not in and of themselves a sign of the end.

Staying with it – that’s what God requires.  Stay with it to the end.”  Rather than looking for the end to come and “bail us out,” we should be striving to be faithful each day, because we don’t know when the end is coming.  Jesus may return today; he may not return for another thousand years or more.  But today may be the end for any one of us; thousands of people meet their end each day.  We need to stay with it, doing all that we can to proclaim the Message of the Kingdom and bear witness to the real life that comes from knowing Jesus.

Application:    God is reminding me today that too many people get caught up in looking for “signs” instead of living faithfully this day that is before us.  If I stay focused on staying with it, I’ll be ready for the end no matter how and when it comes.  The conflict and strife and bitterness and anger that we see in our world is regrettable, of course, and it seems to be getting worse – but in reality, this is just routine history, the predictable by-product of people who are self-focused and self-absorbed.  The answer is to live a God-centered life, allowing him to direct us and fill us with the joy and peace that will show the world that there is another way to live.

Prayer:   Father, I thank you today for your faithfulness.  I thank you that in the midst of the world’s turmoil, you remind us that this is just ‘routine history.’  Help us to walk in obedience today, ‘staying with it’ so that we may bring honor and glory to you.  Amen.

The Full Story (November 25)

Scripture:        Matthew, chapters 20-22

Matthew 21:1-11 (MSG) – When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you.  You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her.  Untie her and bring them to me.  If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’  He will send them with you.”

This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:  “Tell Zion’s daughter: ‘Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a pack animal.’”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus had told them to do.  They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted.  Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome.  Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat.  Others went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s Son!”  “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!”  “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken.  Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here?  Who is this?”  The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Observations: My attention was captured this morning by the phrase, “the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet.”  “The prophet” is Zechariah, who prophesied during the reign of King Darius of Persia, about 500 years before Jesus’ day.  As Peterson puts it in his introduction to Zechariah in The Message, “Zechariah was a major factor in recovering the magnificence from the ruins of a degrading exile. Zechariah reinvigorated their imaginations with his visions and messages.  The visions provided images of a sovereign God that worked their way into the lives of the people, countering the long ordeal of debasement and ridicule.  The messages forged a fresh vocabulary that gave energy and credibility to the long-term purposes of God being worked out in their lives.”

Zechariah’s messages promised that God would restore his people, and then that his people would represent him before the whole world.  In Zechariah 8, the chapter that precedes the one which Matthew quotes, Zechariah says: “People and their leaders will come from all over to see what’s going on.  The leaders will confer with one another: ‘Shouldn’t we try to get in on this?  Get in on God’s blessings?  Pray to God-of-the-Angel-Armies?  What’s keeping us?  Let’s go!’  Lots of people, powerful nations – they’ll come to Jerusalem looking for what they can get from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, looking to get a blessing from God” (Zechariah 8:20-22, MSG).  Then, in chapter 9, the passage which Matthew references in regard to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:  “Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!  Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem!  Your king is coming!  A good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.  I’ve had it with war – no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.  He will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas” (Zechariah 9:9-10, MSG).

But the phrase that I’m pondering today is “the full story of what was sketched earlier.”  Zechariah had talked about a humble king, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey -hardly the stuff of military conquest.  But by Jesus’ day, that’s exactly what they were looking for – a military Messiah who would fight the way his ancestor David had to free the people from foreign domination.  The full story, however, is much better: a Savior-Messiah who would deliver people and set them free from the domination of sin, a freedom that would indeed extend to people “from all over” as Zechariah had prophesied.  The full story was much more than what the people realized, much more than most of them could even dream.’

It is the same way for us.  For too long we have been satisfied with just a part of God’s story.  We’ve been satisfied with forgiveness rather than freedom.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that God gave us a fresh start so we could try to “do better,” rather than recognizing that instead of a fresh start working with the same old flawed material, God has recreated us, and infused us with the presence of his Holy Spirit to free us from the bondage of sin.  The full story is a story of empowerment, of being free from sin and being free to live life the way God always intended.  No wonder Zechariah calls on us to “shout and cheer” and “raise the roof” – and no wonder Peterson talked about these visions “working their way into the lives of the people.”

Application:  God is reminding me today of the freedom that he has given us in Jesus – freedom to actually live in his presence.  As we look ahead to the start of the Advent season, we will all think about the promise of “God-with-us-Immanuel,” and hopefully understand that God really is with us, in the person of his Holy Spirit – and that God’s ultimate end is to dwell with his people forever.  When God created, he wanted to live with his people, but sin ruined that.  Ever since, God has been at work, providing ways for us to be able to live in his presence – but none of those ways was the full story until Jesus came.  Now, we can live in God’s presence – but we still wait for the full story to be completed when we will live in his presence forever in his Kingdom.

Prayer:   Father, we pray each day that your kingdom would come.  Help us to long for that day, and to live in the joyful reality of your presence and your kingdom with us right now.  And help us to know your will, and to do your will, so your kingdom may come in ever greater measure.  Help us to understand the full story, and to live in its reality each day.  Amen.

More than Extravagant (November 17)

Scripture:        2 Corinthians, chapters 7-10

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 (MSG) – God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do just what needs to be done.  As one psalmist puts it, “He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon.  His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.”

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you.  He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God. 

Observations: I’m struck today by the number of ways that Paul tells us that God is good to us:  God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways…This most-generous God…more than extravagant with you.  He gives you something you can then give away..   But it’s also important to note what Paul tells us that our response should be.  He quotes Psalm 112:9 – “He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon.  His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.”  Paul’s not talking about God when he says that; he’s talking about us.

Generosity on our part is a faith-response to God’s goodness and God’s promises to supply all that we need.  If we really trust God to provide for us, we can release anything – and everything – because we trust that the God who supplied whatever we release can supply more.  However, when we refuse to release what God has entrusted to us, we’re trusting in ourselves and what we already have rather than trusting God who is most generous with us.  The key to what Paul is teaching is that God gives us something we can then give away.  

God has given us life in Christ, which we can give away to others.  God has given us material blessings that we can give away to help others to come to know God’s love.  God gives us energy that we can give away to others, serving them the way that Christ has served us.  Everything that we have came from God; everything that we have belongs to God.  When we learn to recognize that, and live that way, we will truly come to experience the blessings of the God who is more than extravagant with us.

Application:  God has been showing me quite a bit lately about his blessings, and the ways that he expects us to use them.  Today, I’m rejoicing because of the blessings that he has given me.  I’m in Cyprus, working with children from about 15 different countries, teaching them new songs, and watching them express the love of Christ that is in their hearts.  One of the songs that we’re learning is called “Thankful,” and the chorus goes like this:  “I wanna be thankful, I wanna be grateful, I wanna remember everything that the Lord has done.”  I love that the kids love that song, and I love the attitude that it expresses.

If I had tried to figure out a way that I could come to a beautiful place and experience something like this, I’m not sure I every could have done it.  But when we learn to live in obedience to God, he is more than extravagant with us.  We just need to remember to take that first step of faith, trusting that the God who has promised to bless his people will do it when we follow his leading.

Prayer:   Father, I thank you today for the ways that you have blessed me.  I thank you today for the blessing of being here, working with these children, helping them to know your great love for them.  I want to be thankful, I want to be grateful, I want to remember everything that you have done – and to look forward to all that you will do.  Amen.

The Proof Is in the Details (November 16)

Scripture:        2 Corinthians, chapters 3-6

2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (MSG) – Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.  God reminds us, “I heard your call in the nick of time; the day you needed me, I was there to help.”  Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.  Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing.  Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details.  People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.  

Observations: “Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details.”  It is often easy to do the “big things” that people grab people’s attention.  We can put on a big show at church, with the types of music and activities that pique curiosity – but if all we do is pique curiosity, have we really done anything?  In fact, the problem is that if we only pique curiosity – if we get people watching us – they will be as prone to see our flaws as our show.  That’s why Paul says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details.”  When people are watching, it’s the little things that demonstrate the truth of our walk with Jesus.  

It’s surprising to me how often people talk about wanting to do the “big things” for the Kingdom of God.  The big things get done in God’s way, in God’s time, according to God’s plan.  Our part in that plan is to be faithful in the little things, and trust that God will use us for his purposes.  The reality is that many times we don’t understand what that “big things” are in God’s plan.  What we think is important may be just that: what we think is important.  The Bible makes it clear that “importance” in the Kingdom is often the opposite of what we think is important.  

This week, we’re in Cyprus, doing children’s ministry in conjunction with the Eurasia regional conference.  The Bible School materials we’re using are focused on the story of Moses and the Israelites, so I’ve been thinking about that story quite a bit.  We think about Moses as one of the “giants” of the faith, and he is – but there was one time that he was not obedient in a small detail, and the result was huge for him.  When God told him to speak to the rock to bring forth water, Moses instead struck the rock with his staff.  The water still came out, but because of Moses’ failure to be obedient in that “small detail,” God declared that Moses would not be the one to lead Israel into the Promised Land.  It was a small detail – but it had a big impact.  God’s work – both our work for God, and his work in us – is validated in the details.

Application:    God is reminding me today that details matter:  they matter to Him, and they matter in the way that others see our faith.  Anyone who hears the Gospel understands that following Jesus means a life-transformation – something Paul has addressed in chapter 5 of today’s reading.  “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.  The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!” (2 Corinthians 5:16b-17, MSG).  If we are created anew, that means that we’re different – and the difference shows up in the details.  If it’s real, it’s real all the time – and that means the details!

Prayer:   Father, thank you for reminding me that the small things matter; they’re the building blocks for what you are doing in me.  Help me to be faithful in the details, so that others may see the truth of the Gospel in me.  Thank you for a transformation that impacts every area of life – every habit, every action, every attitude.  Help me to bring glory to you today in the details of my life, and help me to recognize that every detail has a purpose in your plans.  Amen.

Crusts and Crumbs (November 15)

Scripture:        Job, chapters 41-42; 2 Corinthians, chapters 1-2

Job 42:1-6 (MSG) – Job answered God:  “I’m convinced:  You can do anything and everything.  Nothing and no one can upset your plans.  You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’  I admit it.  I was the one.  I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.  You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.  Let me ask the questions.  You give the answers.’  I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand – and from my own eyes and ears!  I’m sorry – forgive me.  I’ll never do that again, I promise!  I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Observations: As I read today’s passages, this one stood out to me – particularly the sentence, “I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”  As I read that, God brought to my mind how many people are living in a relationship with God that is based on crusts of hearsay and crumbs of rumor.  What does that mean?  I think it means living what we think is a relationship with God that is based only on what we’ve heard from others, rather than what we’ve experienced ourselves.  If we go to church and listen, or turn on the television and listen, rather than engaging God through prayer and his Word, we’re living on crusts of hearsay and crumbs of rumor.  

That doesn’t mean that going to church is unimportant; it doesn’t mean that listening to teaching on the television or radio is bad (although we do need to be careful what we’re listening to).  It simply means that if we’re not engaging God on a personal level, we’re living on crusts and crumbs.  Job – who was described as upright – “honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil” (Job 1:8, MSG) – still said that he had been living by rumors of God.  There is more to our relationship with God that right living, although that is important, it is the evidence of our relationship with God, rather than the cause of our relationship with God.  As we live in a vital relationship with God, our lives are transformed so that we naturally do what pleases God. 

Application:    It’s interesting to me that we think of the Word as spiritual “bread,” and Job talks about living on crusts and crumbs.  God has given us a whole table full of bread in the Word, and there is no reason why we should settle for crusts and crumbs!

Prayer:   Father, I thank you that you provide everything that we could ever want, and there’s no reason for us to settle for “crusts and crumbs.”  Help us to embrace you by spending time in your Word, and in prayer, allowing you to direct us, feed us, strengthen us, and transform us in the image of your Son, Jesus.  Amen.

Warning Markers (November 11)

Scripture: Psalm 122; 1 Corinthians, chapters 9-11

1 Corinthians 10:5-14 (MSG) – The same thing could happen to us.  We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did.  And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did – “First the people partied, then they threw a dance.”  We must not be sexually promiscuous – they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day!  We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes.  We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

These are all warning markers – DANGER! – in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes.  Our positions in the story are parallel – they at the beginning, we at the end – and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were.  Don’t be so naïve and self-confident.  You’re not exempt.  You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.  Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless.  Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face.  All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.  So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.

Observations: “The same thing could happen to us.”  I think that’s one of the most humbling things to remember, especially in conjunction with “remember where you’ve been.”  When we have an accurate understanding of where we were before God rescued us, and when we remember that the same thing could happen to us, it will keep us from being too critical of others who are struggling.  All we have to do is remember what our lives were like before Christ to realize what our lives would be without him now – and without him, we are dead.

The Israelites – the “they” Paul keeps referring to in our passage – should have had no problem remembering.  They had been slaves in Egypt, serving at the pleasure of Pharaoh.  They cried out to the Lord, who sent a deliverer to lead them out of slavery.  But as soon as Egypt was in the rear-view mirror, they started complaining – caught up in wanting their own way.  They were never satisfied; no matter how God blessed them, they complained and demanded something different.

Paul tells us that these are warning markers for us, to see how the Israelites responded to God’s leading and God’s blessing.  Warning markers tell us to stay away – DANGER!  But how often do we walk right past the warning markers, determined to do things our way?  There is a difference between trusting in God and presuming upon God, and that difference is based on who is in the “driver’s seat.”  If God is leading me somewhere that could be dangerous, I can trust in his goodness and his purposes for me.   But if I’m making the decisions and expecting God to “save me from myself,” I’m presuming upon God.  We must never forget that this was one of the temptations that Satan tried to use with Jesus; unfortunately, Satan has more success with us on that one that he did with Jesus.

The Message’s rendering of verse 13 is very interesting – and very helpful in making sure we don’t misunderstand how God works.  Many people summarize this verse as “God won’t allow you to be tested beyond what you’re able to bear.”  Here’s the problem:  that statement is only partially true.  I think a better way to say it is that “God won’t allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear with his help, as we submit to his leading.”  The Message puts it this way:  God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.  

Too many times we think that because a test is “hard,” God should bail us out of it.  If we view tests that way, we’ll never grow.  If athletes quit training every time they were sore, every time their muscles said “enough,” they’d never get faster or stronger.  If we ask God to bail us out of a test every time we start to struggle, we’ll stay spiritually immature, never developing the muscles that will help us grow and serve God.  As Paul puts it earlier in the passage, “We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of serving him.”  

Application:    Paul closes this passage with this statement:  When you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.  The danger is that as we listen to people who think and act that way, their ideas can seep into our minds and start to infect our thinking.  As Paul puts it in another of his letters, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  Let God transform you by keeping your mind sharp; don’t let the self-oriented thinking of those who try to use God as a means to an end dull your mind.  God is reminding me not only to keep my mind sharp, but to encourage and help others to recognize the ways that faulty thinking can stunt our spiritual growth.

Prayer:   Father, thank you for the fact that you reveal yourself to us.  You have given us your Word, which leads us in your way; you have given us your Spirit, who leads us into all truth.  Thank you for the cautionary tales that we see in your Word of those who wandered away.  Thank you also for the truth of your grace, which tells us that you wait by the side of the road for any of your prodigals who find their way back to you.  Help me today to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Amen.

What Happens When We Live God’s Way? (November 7)

Scripture:        Job, chapters 31-32; Galatians, chapters 5-6

Galatians 5:22-26 (MSG) – But what happens when we live God’s way?  He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity.  We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.  We find ourselves in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.  Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good – crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives.  Each of us is an original.

Observations: “What happens when we live God’s way?”  What a powerful question!  This brings a whole new perspective on this familiar passage.  Many of us could quote the first verses of this passage from our “more familiar” translations:  “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  The “problem” with lists like that is that we can tick off each of the items on the list without really thinking about what we’re saying.  But living God’s way transforms us – exuberance about life, serenity, a willingness to stick with things, a compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

The only problem that I have with Peterson’s rendering of this passage is that he begins the list with affection for others  – which is a weak, watered-down understanding of the Greek word agape.  Paul began the list with agape – “love” – and the fact that he used the word agape is important.  There were other Greek words available to Paul if he wanted to talk about “affection” or “friendship,” but he didn’t choose those words; he chose agape. Agape is that self-giving love that Jesus modeled for us, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can cause that kind of love to sprout in us.  People can show affection for others without any understanding or experience of God, but the only way that our lives bear the fruit of love is through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

As the passage notes, legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.  It gets in the way because legalism turns the focus away from God and onto us – our performance.  Legalism turns our attention away from God as we compare ourselves and our performance with that of other people.  No matter how hard I work, there will always be that nagging sense that it’s not good enough; the only way that we can dispel that sense (apart from the Spirit’s work in us) is to compare ourselves with others, and try to console ourselves that “at least I’m not like them!”  That’s the exact opposite of the love that the Spirit brings.  Love lifts others up, encourages them, strives to serve them; legalism and comparison lead us to put others down, to disparage them to make ourselves feel better.  That is the way of death.

The life we’ve chosen – the God-directed and God-oriented life, empowered by the Spirit – permeates every area of our lives.  It’s not just an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts; it’s the abundant life that Jesus came to make available to us. That’s what happens when we live God’s way!

Application:    God is reminding me today to reject any ideas of comparing myself to others – no matter how I feel about the comparison.  I should not compare myself to someone else and think that “they’re so much better than I am”; I certainly should not compare myself to others and think that I’m better than they are.  “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” not on how we compare with each other.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives, because God is always at work forming and developing the new creation that each of us is in Jesus.  Each of us is an original, and God’s work brings out the unique gifts and graces that he has given us.  That doesn’t happen by comparing ourselves to each other; it happens by focusing on God and embracing what he brings to us.

Prayer:   Father, thank you for reminding me that you have called us to life – not the slavery of trying to live up to someone else’s standards or expectations.  Help me today to embrace the life to which you’ve called me, to experience the exuberance of life in Jesus, and to model that joy and peace so others may be drawn to you.  If I start to fall into the trap of comparing myself with others, remind me that you’ve called me to be like Jesus, not to be like someone else.  Thank you for the peace that comes when we realize that you are in control.  Amen.