Extraordinary
life.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

Last week we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. Getting ready to engage we now come face-to-face with the reality of competition.

We could categorize this time of year as the season of competition. A couple of weeks ago we watched football’s ultimate competition, the Super Bowl. That competition encompasses a time of preparation and training and a whole season of smaller competitions. This weekend is basketball’s All-Star game and all the competitive/show-off events that surround it. March madness is ahead and of course the various musical, stage, and movie award nights have taken over our televisions.

Throughout history people have enjoyed competition. Economists tell us that competition is an essential force in maintaining productive and efficient markets. Even the human quest for love is not free of competition. For most people, there is something compelling about competition. Perhaps that’s because, as some argue, “competitiveness” is a biological trait that supports the human need for survival.

In this season of competition, Paul asks us to check our competitiveness because life in Jesus is not a rivalry, trial, match, race, or struggle. It is a gift given and by grace we already own it. We own the whole promise of God. We can trust that God has placed us where He wants us, where we can make the most difference, while we rely on His grace. But what to do with our competitive nature? Do we deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist? Do we sublimate it? That wouldn’t last too long; only as far as the next time our favorite team plays or we go after that item that’s on sale and that everyone else wants.

Paul isn’t denying our competitive nature, or saying we should ignore it. The message is that we need to bring our lives – our physical and psychological selves, our gifts and competitiveness – into accord with the way life should be. This is the life the prophets proclaimed and that Jesus revealed. Our competitive nature is real and is to be used to glorify God and to build up His body.

But Pastor, how can we do that? How to make Jesus’ way real and tangible. How do I make competition work for good? Our visitors from Church Journeys did exactly that. They took Paul’s words to heart and have focused on ending the sorts of competition that separates the Body of Christ into the factions of Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world into a shared journey that builds up and glorifies what God is doing in our community, right here, right now.

As they have done, we need to set our competitive ambitions and energies on the very hard work Christians need to live (not just do). Stretched and ready, we need to take on those who would strike us by offering ourselves up as a complete sacrifice. For those who would seek our coat we need to hand over our wardrobe. For those who would demand a mile of us, we need to be ready to walk the entire journey with them. We need to use our competitive energy for a love that surpasses that of the world, a godly love that embraces enemies and persecutors.

Making Jesus’ way real and tangible requires we live the big above and beyond; our competitive instinct turning us from ordinary to extraordinary people taking all that belongs to us and competing to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

Let’s hurry
up – part 2

The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Last week we heard that Mary had hastened to care for her kinswoman, Elizabeth. This hastened journey was part of a long line of journeying that had occurred throughout salvific history.
Like Mary, we are urged to faithfully journey toward Christ. We were asked, as part of our Advent preparation, to show forth our acceptance of God’s will and the great joy that comes from His service.

Now the Christ child is among us – with Christmas joy – reborn in our hearts. We are now asked to show forth a new perspective and a refreshed sense of happiness and peace.

Today we hear that the shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ coming. They had a choice. They could remain where they were or they could take up the journey. They immediately responded by setting out on a journey to Bethlehem. “Let us go over to Bethlehem…

The coming of Jesus was not the end of journeying, but the start of a new journey – the most important and magnificent one of all – to true joy.

These humble shepherds had the first opportunity to respond. They were extraordinarily humble people who had been extraordinarily blessed. They could have focused on the place where they were, where they existed, but instead they got up to go – to take the journey to Jesus – the source of all that is extraordinary.

Like these humble shepherds we have an opportunity. We can maintain our ordinary lives and get by. We can stay where we are and attend to the shepherding of our work, laundry, child rearing, shopping and so on, or become extraordinary shepherds. To become extraordinary shepherds, we like the humble shepherds must set out on the journey to make known the saying which had been told concerning this child.

That does not mean that we get out of our work, laundry, child rearing, shopping and so on but that it in all those things we have the opportunity to spread the joy of the Great Shepherd. Each task and each trip will be a new opportunity to live joyfully in Jesus.

It has been said that we idealize the past and dream of a perfect future. If we take up the journey, each day will be extraordinarily joyful.