“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  – Matthew 6:33.

So what is the goal of the Christian life? The purpose of the Christian life is to know Christ and to be like Him.  Christianity is not a religion of rules and rituals that we must work at keeping to climb the ladder to heaven. Instead, it is a personal, growing relationship with the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ that results in our growing conformity to Him. It is living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel isn’t a formula you apply to your life; it’s the story you’re meant to inhabit. So what is your place in that story? 

Becoming a Christian requires that you know some things about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament points ahead to Christ; the New Testament tells us of His life, His death for our sins, and His resurrection and present reign in heaven. It also tells us of His coming again and future kingdom. It expounds on His teaching and reveals His will for His people. We can never know Him fully because He is infinite and we are finite. But we can know Him definitely as Savior and Lord and we can and must spend our lives focused on the goal to be more like Him. ”

As we come to know Jesus, we will become more and more like Him because we know who to imitate because we see Him more clearly. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 We become like the One who stretched out His hand in compassion to heal a leper, who had mercy on the woman caught in adultery and resist the temptations of the devil.  As we see Jesus submit to His Father’s will—“I want your will to be done, not mine.“—we learn to submit to our wills to the Father’s will. And as we gaze upon Jesus enduring all things because of His love for us, we learn to endure the sins and failures of others out of love for them.

 As we see Jesus empty himself and make himself poor so that He might make us rich, we in turn learn to empty ourselves. As we marvel to watch Jesus kneel before His disciples the night before He is to die and wash their feet, the Holy Spirit grows us in humility.

 But where do you start? Transformation in Christlikeness is a process. Try focusing on one change in character at a time, even if the change takes time. Most of us fail in our efforts to change and become like Jesus because we try hard for a while and then give up. We don’t keep our focus long enough, and we don’t go deep enough; we don’t develop a plan for how we can work with God’s grace to change to become like Jesus on the inside in that one area.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most important step to becoming more like Jesus?
  2. What can you do this week to take that step?  

And Now For The Rest Of The Story

“Christmas celebrates the awesome and amazing fact that God is grander, wiser, and more mysterious than we could have ever imagined.” – Dan Schaeffer.

Paul Harvey was one of the most famous radio personalities in America in the 50s and 60s.  Millions of loyal listeners tuned in to his “The Rest of the Story” broadcasts for their unique blend of true historical facts laced with mystery.  The rest of the story filled in the details of a story that most people did not know about. It would be nice to know the rest of the story of the most influential man in history. The birth of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, is the greatest gift that God has ever given.

We know so little about Jesus’ birth. Luke summarizes it all in one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

It’s kind of a  letdown, isn’t it? If we had been writing the story of Jesus’ life, we would have page after page, maybe several books. We would tell the rest of the story. For example, explaining why Mary was traveling with Joseph, to begin with, why no one in Bethlehem welcomed them into their home, why there was no better place for them to stay than a barn, who was with them when the baby was born, and so many more details. We probably would have drowned the story in detail. God doesn’t always give us all the details we want, but He always gives us the details we need.

There is one, clear indisputable detail in the Christmas story. Jesus comes in a humble matter. Luke talks about Augustus, the mighty Roman emperor. With a word, he could force people to travel significant distances to register for taxation. This is the most powerful man on the planet. But Luke doesn’t talk about him. Instead, he talks about a little baby, born in the most inglorious and humble circumstances. Born to a virgin, born away from home, born in a barn, laid to rest in a feed trough. The contrast is powerful and undeniable. The rest of the story would include a mighty Messiah, born in circumstances befitting a king. But no. Everyone in town turns away from His parents. They have nowhere else to go, so He is born in a barn and is laid to rest in a feeding trough.

Why? Because God will teach us through Jesus. God taught us that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the world’s eyes. God taught us humility’s a trait that God blesses. And He will teach it first and best through His very own Son: “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

He came as the least, and He came for the least. That is the rest of the story.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn about from our Lord on the essence of true humility?
  2. What will you do, beginning today, to cultivate a Christlike attitude of humility? 

An Illustration Of Meekness

John answered, a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” – John 3:27

He was an unusual dude. He lived in the wilderness and made his own clothes out of camel hair. Sporting long hair and a beard, he was a man’s man. You’re not far off if you’re picturing Grizzly Adams, Jeremiah Johnson, or Hugh Glass from The Revenant. That was John the Baptist.

In Matthew 11, Jesus says no man was greater than John the Baptist. That’s pretty high praise coming from Jesus. At the time, John the Baptist was a leading man leading a very large ministry. People came from miles around to hear him speak and to be baptized. Throughout his ministry, John spoke about someone far greater who would be coming, the Messiah. Finally, at the height of John’s popularity and amid the crowds of people gathered, Jesus showed up to be baptized by John. Imagine that for a second. He was the one who got to baptize Jesus. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. A voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy ” Jesus’ baptism provided several things for the people. It confirmed his identity as God. His baptism also enabled Him to identify with people and marked the beginning of His public ministry. From this point on, John’s voice became less, and Jesus’ voice became greater.

The attention moves from John to Jesus. John’s followers see this and become concerned that they are losing their fame and popularity. They are concerned that they would lose their followers.

John does not get mad, frustrated, or combative because of Jesus’ rising popularity. He doesn’t frantically try to hold on to his fame. John recognizes his place in a much bigger story. He understood all along that this was never about him. He sees his story in light of God’s plan and glory. This is an illustration of meekness. John recognizes that God has given each of us a story, and the point of our story is to reveal His glory. The fact is, it has always been about God. Any fame or popularity that comes our way is all about His name, not ours.

God may be using your life for significant things, but when held up to the bigger story of God, they are not as significant as we may think. The extent of John’s humility is convicting. What about us? Do we acknowledge our unworthiness in light of Jesus’ greatness? This kind of humility changes our response to God, and to others. When we see who we are in light of who Jesus is, we ought to be filled with humility and moved to worship the One who alone is worthy of all glory and praise.

Meekness is an invitation to live for the story that matters most.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be meek?
  2. What is the blessing of a God­ controlled life?

Blessed Are The Meek, For They Shall Inherit The Earth

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer

The first beatitude—being “poor in spirit”—is about recognizing our insignificance compared to God on a very personal level. The second beatitude is about mourning for sin and its many devastating effects. Together, these two beatitudes set the stage for the third: meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5 ESV) A bunch of meek people gaining control of the earth? Seems unlikely. Most people believe the strong will inherit the earth. Here’s the thing for us who are Jesus’s followers: Jesus took time in His limited earthly ministry to talk about it. He wanted us to know about it on this side of eternity. Logically, meekness is something that God desires and shows favor on. The challenge is understanding the word meek.   

Meekness is a controlled strength that puts everything in the hands of God. It’s founded on a trust of the Lord, and it always denies self. It seeks another person’s interest at the expense of its own, and it’s pure, peaceable, gentle, and open to reason. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  How counter-cultural is that in today’s world?

There are many biblical references to the word “meek.”  Bible Psalm 37:11 (ESV) mirrors that of Matthew 5:5 by stating, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”

Meekness should not be confused with cowardice or weakness. It’s not being afraid to stand up to someone; rather it’s having the courage to trust God for justice. In the eyes of God being meek is seen as being peaceful, humble, and clear-minded about what is most important in life. Being meek means that you will follow God’s guidance in this life.  Meekness is a trait that is necessary for a Christian’s life. It is not just power under control, but power under God’s control. For a Christian, meekness is about surrendering everything to God and being completely at His disposal.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3 (ESV). 

Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most extensive and significant collections of His teaching that is recorded in the Bible. This foundational message begins with a series of traits or ways of thinking called Beatitudes, which, when practiced, yield joy and peace of mind. The first is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Since Jesus is the one giving the sermon on the mount it is no accident that the first beatitude is about being poor in spirit. This is a primary trait for a Christian—a fundamental requirement to following God’s way of life. A humble spirit enables us to develop the rest of the characteristics that Jesus lists in the sermon on the mount.

When used in the spiritual sense, “poor” refers to someone who is humble enough to recognize how powerless he or she is compared to God and someone who is willing to submit to that power. Compared to God, we are nothing. The poor in spirit don’t compare themselves to others: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). After looking at how insignificant one is compared to God, it’s impossible not to feel humbled. Psalm 39:4-7 says, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”

After God gave Job a glimpse of His greatness through the creation, Job declared, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 ESV).  

There are many reasons God requires this deep humility. An example is Psalm 25:9 which tells us that the humble are teachable: “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” The humble are repentant: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)  And the humble acknowledge and accept their dependence on God and recognize His greatness: “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when you felt especially poor in spirit—a time when you were keenly aware of your need for God. How did He meet you?
  2. Where do you especially need to grow in humility? (at work, as a parent, in your marriage, in the way that you approach church, etc)

I Surrender All

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” – James 4:10.  

You are probably thinking, “Surrender. Ugh.” I get it. In the eyes of the world, surrender equates to humiliation. No one wants to give up and wave that white flag of surrender. So, no wonder the idea of surrender is often deeply resented. But here’s the irony and the paradox of the Christian faith: Surrender is the beginning of the victorious Christian life. Jesus was all in for you, He wants you to be all in for Him.

Fulfilling our purpose in life and creating the future we desire can be frustrating.  But we have a choice. We can give up or give in, or we can surrender it to the Lord. Surrendering isn’t the same thing as giving up — not when God is involved. Surrendering to God means letting go of our plans, and letting God have His way in every aspect of our lives. Allowing Him to guide our steps and direct our decisions. As Christians this means we surrender our will for His perfect will, and follow God.  As Christians, we are called to turn over every aspect of our lives to God’s control. There is no one-step way to surrender to God, it’s a daily, moment-by-moment choice to give it to God.  

As we surrender to the Lord, our giving up is replaced by His lifting us up: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7). When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we begin to see His mighty hand at work.  

In surrender, God may—or may not—give us what we want. But when we surrender, He always wants to give us Himself. When we surrender, we always receive what is best: the Lord Jesus.

Surrender isn’t about giving up; it’s about giving in to the One who knows what is best for us, to the One who knows us most and has a perfect plan.  Surrender is the only real way to experience His peace. It’s the only way to true joy.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an area of your life that you know you need to surrender to God? 
  2. What might you be giving up if you do surrender that area to God? 
  3. Do you believe that surrendering to God could actually benefit you? How?

Earning Respect From Others

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them…Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching….” – 1 Timothy 4:12-16. 

Timothy is said to have been acquainted with the Scriptures since childhood. God had called Timothy to the gospel ministry. He was the protege’ of the Apostle Paul, but he was young. Would people follow his leadership? Would they respect him enough to listen? Through the Spirit’s inspiration, Paul taught Timothy how to overcome the liabilities of youth and earn respect.  And it starts by living a Godly life. 

Proverbs 11:27 says, “if you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!” What does Solomon mean by good? He means mercy, not cruelty, righteousness, not wickedness, doing what pleases God, not what displeases Him. Think of the people in your life that you genuinely respect: chances are most of them will be very godly people. If you want to earn the respect of others, you must live with godliness.

To live a godly life means we walk in humility. Proverbs 29:23 says, “Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.” Humility is not denying your accomplishments. It’s realizing God gave you the ability and the opportunity to realize those accomplishments. 1 Corinthians 4:7 tells us “For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?  

Make loving people a priority in your life. Love people eagerly and faithfully. As you become the example, you create a pattern for others to follow. This visible transformation earns respect and influence, regardless of your age and experience. You can act in a way that generates respect regardless of age or experience.

Titus 2:7 sums it all up pretty well: “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.“

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Living a godly life generates respect. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. Treat others with humility. The more you lower yourself, the more others will respect you. Agree or disagree and why? 

Pride Yourself in Prayer

“ All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” – 1 Peter 5:5-6

In the Pray First – a Personal Prayer Guide, there is a section entitled Warfare Prayers – Pride Prayer. That is the subject of this devotional.

It is wise to periodically evaluate both strengths and weaknesses as a Jesus follower. It makes sense to sit down and reflect on what it takes to effectively live the Christian life. You can’t spend much time analyzing the Christian life before you come across the idea of humility. Humility is at the core of Christianity and paradoxical to society’s norms. We Christians basically admit we aren’t all that, that we tend to mess up all the time and we are in constant need of forgiveness.

The Bible agrees with us and thus has a lot to say about pride and humility: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)

Commenting on the revival in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1737, Jonathan Edwards said: “The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. Pride is the main handle by which he has hold of Christian persons and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces to clog and hinder a work of God.  Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.”

Humility is more than a concept, it is a tool for every Christian. It increases our desire to study God’s word and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells “with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,” (Isaiah 57:15).

Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen over night. In fact, it takes a lifetime. It ‘s like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it can happen. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root and grows.

2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. There is a difference between God humbling you and you humbling yourself. What are some ways you can place yourself in a humble position with God, at home, at work, or with friends?
  2. Read Jeremiah 49:16 and Daniel 5:20. Read Proverbs 16:18, and 16:5. How do these verses warn us about pride?
  3. The reality is that everyone struggles with pride. What does surrendering to God look like? What are some ways a person could embrace humility and turn away from pride?
  4. Take some time to communicate with God and ask Him for help to grow humility in your life. If there is an attitude that needs changed, give that to Him and ask for Him to work in your life. 

Connect With God Relationally

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4: 6-10.

Let me ask you a question: Would you walk up to someone you don’t know, somebody you have no relationship with, and ask them for a favor? You meet someone at the checkout line in Publix and inform them these are the things that you would like them to do for you. You tell them they can start by paying for your groceries. Before they can answer you tell them, “We can get to know each other at another time…you understand how it is, right?” 

If you had the chutzpah to do that, you would get some pretty interesting responses. You may even get some pointed remarks about your ancestors. And why not. Requests without relationships won’t get far. If that’s true when we speak with other people, is it true with God as well? How many of us talk or pray to God only when we want something? How often do we give God His to-do list without seeking a relationship? Prayer is relationship, not just requests. If God is a complete stranger to us and the only time we talk to Him is when we want something from Him, then we don’t have the level of relationship God desires to have with us.

A relationship with God is impossible without prayer. That’s because prayer is communication, and where there’s no communication, there’s no relationship. Prayer is pouring out our thoughts to God and paying attention to what God is thinking. It’s experiencing God’s love and expressing our love for Him.

Prayer is having a real conversation in which we not only talk to Him, but also listen to Him and get to know Him and become closer and closer to Him. As prayer lifts our hearts to God, it also fills God’s heart with pleasure. The Bible says, “…the prayer of the upright pleases him.“ (Proverbs 15:8). God loves us to come to Him in prayer. God enjoys conversations with His children. God savors the praises of His people. 

Belonging to Jesus Christ isn’t just a set of beliefs or behaviors – it’s a relationship. That relationship certainly involves believing certain truths and behaving in certain ways, but at the heart of the relationship is a personal connection with God.

Do you long to know God better, yet find all sorts of things getting in the way? Do you find prayer a struggle? Well, don’t give up. Don’t stop listening and talking to God just because it’s not always easy. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to pray and stay connected with Christ. Use the 21-day prayer challenge to connect and improve your relationship with God through prayer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If desire for God is a thermometer in your relationship with Him, on a scale of 1 to 10 (highest) where would you rate your desire right now, and why? What role does prayer play in your answer? In your relationship with God? 
  2. Psalms 37:3-5: What do these verses say about relationship with God?
  3. How can we can build our relationship a little better with Jesus Christ over the next week?

Through a Glass Darkly

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)    

It seems that the more we accomplish, the more we have to learn. With all our knowledge, how little do we actually know?  And when it comes to God, we do see through the glass darkly. The glass referred in 1 Corinthians is a mirror, but not what we know as a mirror today. Mirrors in biblical times were most likely brass and they required constant polishing. It was probably a cloudy reflection.

The Amplified Bible says it this way: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us.”

We all see thru the glass darkly when it comes to our past and our present. It is like peering backward through a telescope or microscope. If you look through the wrong end, you will get a little light, but what you will mainly see is your own eye reflected in the glass. It does not provide a clear picture. So it is in dealing with our past. If we are are looking backward we are looking in the wrong direction. And, as a result, we struggle for peace and we forget the author of peace, Jesus. The past, the present and the future does not seem nearly as intimidating when we place our faith in the risen Savior. 

Faith is the belief that Jesus is in your corner, that Jesus is looking past your past and has plans for your future. Faith is believing that Jesus knows you and loves you right precisely where you are at, regardless of any baggage you bring into the relationship. Faith is trusting that He is fighting for you, loving you, forgiving you, seeing you and sitting with you in your darkest moments, and celebrating right along side you in your greatest joys and when you experience His peace.

If I think, really think, about how much God has loved us all these years — it is overwhelming. But here is where it gets challenging. When I catch a glimpse of what that love has meant to me, it can be life changing. The truth is that the kind of love, the kind of depth of relationship, the kind of forgiveness and mercy and grace and gentleness that we hold so close is like peering through the fog, of the true extent of love that God has for us.

The love of God exceeds all comparisons, and is strong enough to move past our past, regardless of what that past looks like.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is seeing through a glass darkly a metaphor for life? If so, what areas?
  2. How does humility apply to seeing through the glass darkly?
  3. Do you think God’s love changed based on our past? 
  4. What steps can you take to broaden your faith in and vision of God?