Advent: The Season of Preparation

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There were 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New.

400 years where God did not speak. 400 years with no angels, no prophets–only the promise of hope to cling to. For Narnia it was always winter but never Christmas. Our world slumbered in spiritual darkness–always night but never dawn. Till one day the sun started to glimmer over the horizon–Aslan was on the move and God was getting ready to redeem his people.

But first God had to prepare his people. They needed a messenger who would shake them awake and remind them to be on the lookout so they didn’t miss the Savior.

It was a season of preparation, and God started with Elizabeth and Zechariah

Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth, his wife, was also from a priestly family. They were righteous, faithful, and obedient. But their faithfulness had not been without hardship. They were faithful, they were old, and they were childless. Elizabeth was barren. Luke takes only a sentence to convey a lifetime of sorrow: “Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were well advanced in years.” Months of hope gave way to years of grief and finally a sorrowful acceptance. They were well advanced in years, and it had been a long time since Father Abraham. Yet they remained faithful despite their sorrow, and God–whose timing is always perfect–had not forgotten their prayers.

God shattered 400 years of silence with an angel’s voice. Zechariah was chosen by lot to offer incense before the altar of the Lord in the temple–something that only happened once in a priest’s lifetime. There, alone in the stillness with the heavy cloud of perfumed smoke swirling about him, Zechariah was startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance. Gabriel’s message was simple: God has heard your prayers. Elizabeth will have a child. You will name him John, and many will rejoice at his birth. John would not be the Messiah, but he had a role to play. He was the forerunner–the one who would prepare the people for the Savior.

The last word God speaks in the Old Testament are the first words he speaks in the New. Before Messiah comes, God will send a prophet “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who would make the way ready for the King. Like Elijah, John called the people to repentance. Repentance is a realigning of our hearts where we turn from our sin and toward the Savior. It is an active choice in which we reject darkness and align ourselves with the kingdom of Light. In repentance we say no to sin and yes to God, and repentance always prepares us for what God is going to do.

Zechariah stammered around and asked for a sign (as if an angelic message wasn’t sign enough). His sign was the gift of silence. 9 months of waiting and watching in silence. 9 months of putting it all together; of silently witnessing as Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit and his wife broke out into joyous song when Mary entered the room. Little Mary, the mother of the Lord? Could it be? But even his unborn child recognized what Zechariah could hardly believe. God himself had chosen to enter the world through the unlikely vehicle of a virgin’s womb, and Zechariah’s baby would prepare the way for the Savior’s coming. The silence was over. God was moving among his people proving his mercy once again. They had lived in darkness, but God was sending light. And little John would herald the Savior’s coming.

The Lion of Judah was on the move, and it was time to get ready.

In Advent, we also prepare ourselves for the Savior’s coming. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we cultivate faithfulness so we are ready when God begins to move among his people. We practice repentance, tuning our hearts to hear the footsteps of our Lord. And we prepare by being watchful, looking to see where God is moving so we can join him in his work. Christmas, after all, was only the beginning. The Lion of Judah is still on the move, eagerly seeking those who will worship him. When he roars, will we be ready to answer? Christmas is about welcoming Jesus. Is your heart ready to receive him?

How are you spiritually preparing yourself this Advent season?



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Advent: Our Season of Anticipation

unsplash starry nightChildren know Christmas means anticipation. They start the countdown as soon as we flip the calendar page, marking off days and counting again every morning. They make out their wishlists and forge their own creations from felt and popsicle sticks so they have something to put under the tree too. Something wonderful is on the way–Christmas is coming.

Simeon and Anna  understood anticipation (Luke 2:21-38). They didn’t just wait–they were waiting for.

God promised Simeon he would not die until he saw the Messiah. So Simeon waited. He waited as eyes grew dim and hair grew gray. He waited in Jerusalem, watching, searching. I wonder if he watched the young men in the marketplace, looking for one whose eyes burned with a prophet’s zeal. Maybe now and then his attention was drawn to a boy that stood a little taller, a little bolder than the rest before he remembered what God had told another prophet who searched for a king. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). So Simeon waited and he watched. He looked. And one day he felt something–that tugging, that stirring in his spirit that led him into the temple courts. There was a child there. Eight days old. Nothing to catch the eye; nothing to make this ordinary couple stand out from all the rest. But Simeon looked with the eyes of the spirit, and around this child lingered the echoes of angel song. With God’s “Yes” ringing in his ears, Simeon took the baby in his arms and declared that this was the promised one–the one for whom the whole world waited. This child would bring salvation to all nations. Savior, Messiah, Anointed King–God had kept his promise. Simeon had found the one he was waiting for.

Anna stood nearby. Anna the widow, Anna the prophet who had lived in the temple most of her eighty-four years. Worship was the air she breathed; the food she ate. And because she felt God’s very heartbeat, when Simeon took the child in his arms Anna saw Him too. As Simeon finished speaking, Anna sang out in praise. She gave thanks to God and proclaimed to all who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem that the Redeemer was here. The Lion of Judah was on the move; the kingdom was near. And this tiny, unremarkable babe was the fulfillment of all she had longed for.

Simeon and Anna didn’t just wait. They looked. They waited with expectation, like watchmen who wait for the dawn’s certain coming. They anticipated because they knew what God had promised he would fulfill. Something wonderful was on the way: the Messiah was coming.

Our waiting tends either to anxiety or anticipation. Anxiety comes easy because sometimes in the waiting “not yet” starts to feel like “not ever.” What if we got it wrong? What if God didn’t really mean what he said? What if when it happens, how it happens, isn’t the way we want it to happen? What if we have to give up control?

Anticipation shifts our focus. In anticipation we don’t just wait–we wait with expectation. We wait because God keeps his promises. We wait watching, looking, being alert because our God is on the move and we want to be ready to march with him. Something wonderful is on the way, and we anticipate his coming.

Advent is our season of anticipation. We remember those who waited and looked for the Messiah’s coming. We celebrate with them, and we keep on waiting and looking for his return. We live ready, watchful, searching out his ways and tuning our hearts to his. We listen for the stirring of the spirit that tells us the kingdom is near, and we prepare our hearts and our world for the coming of the One who is the fulfillment of all we long for.

The countdown is on, and Advent reminds us to do more than wait. We anticipate.

How are you practicing anticipation this Christmas season?



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Advent: The Season of Longing

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Advent is the season of longing.

Nights are long, days are short.  We long for the light to return.

We scurry through  presents and parties, yearning for peace.

We look at the last crumpled page on the calendar and hunger for the new year’s promise.

We feel the aching in our souls and cry out to be filled.

Eve was the first one to feel it. Do you think she lay awake some nights, replaying that moment she reached for the fruit? If only she hadn’t reached for it. If only she hadn’t listened to the serpent. If only she hadn’t gone close to the tree that day. If only. The seeds of sin birthed the bitter fruit of rebellion and exile, but the Creator hadn’t left her without hope. Her seed–her offspring– would crush the serpent’s head. How she wanted to see that day. Maybe then she could take her husband and family and go back to the garden. The Tree of Life was still there, and she longed to taste its fruit.

Sarah knew the longing–the longing of empty arms that yearn to be full. She had one job-one job–to birth babies for her husband. God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars sounded like mocking to her ears. God promised, but days turned into years and her womb stayed empty. Yet there was that promise–that one kernel of hope that ached within her soul–and she longed for it to be fulfilled.

Isaiah longed for the story’s completion. God gave him glimpses of his plan, one puzzle piece at a time. Immanuel, God with us, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The one who would cure our sin-sickness, one who would bear out griefs and be pierced through for our transgressions. He puzzled over it sometimes, trying to make the pieces fit. A child born of a virgin who would die for the sins of the people. One who would somehow in himself become the sacrifice for our sin, who made himself the offering and still saw his days prolonged and his kingdom unshaken. A king, a suffering servant, life conquering death–he didn’t understand it. But he believed it, and he longed to see the day.

Advent is the season when we long for God’s promise to be fulfilled. We remember the night the darkness was shattered with a baby’s cry, and we long for the day he returns to take up his rightful throne. We remember a night when shepherds worshipped and angels sang, and we long for the world to know there is good news of great joy for each and every one. We remember the day the serpent’s head was crushed with a cross, and we point to a great throng from every tribe and tongue and whisper, Mother Sarah, these are your children. We read Isaiah’s scroll next to the gospels and marvel at how the pieces fit–and yearn for the day the lion finally lies down with the lamb.

This Advent season, let yourself feel the longing. Don’t squelch it; don’t drown it. Experience it. All creation groans for the day of redemption–join in the cry of longing.

And remember that all longings are satisfied in Him.

What do you long for this Advent season?

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How Thanksgiving Shapes Happiness

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Turns out the shape of happiness is a U.

According to an article in this month’s Atlantic, our happiness levels have a U shape over the course of our lives: higher in our twenties, lower during midlife, and rising again in our late 50’s and early 60’s. The What struck me as I read the article was story after story of people struggling with happiness in midlife because life hadn’t turned out like they thought it would. They hadn’t advanced in their careers or written the great American novel. They had divorced, their children were struggling, or they were caring for aging parents. Somehow at midlife they looked around and found themselves wondering is this all there is?

And discontentment crept in.

The good news is that Thanksgiving has the power to shape our happiness.

Read the rest and join the conversation at 5 Minutes for Faith.

And don’t forget that Nayon still needs his own Compassion sponsor. Will that sponsor be you?



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Help Me Find Nayon a Compassion Sponsor

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Update–Nayon has his sponsor! But other children are still waiting for sponsors. You can find your child to sponsor at Compassion’s website.

I’ve written before about how I was inspired to help hold up the sky by sponsoring a child through Compassion.

Today, I want to give you a chance to do the same thing.

I’m participating this month in Compassion’s Speak Up for a Child project, and I’m trying to find a sponsor for just one child:  Nayon.

Nayon Babu is 5 years old, and he lives in Bangladesh. Nayon helps at home by running errands. His father sometimes works as a laborer and his mother maintains the home. There are two children in Nayon’s family.

Nayon likes to run and play group games. He attends Bible class regularly and is in preschool.

In Nayon’s region of Bangladesh, most homes are made of mud with dirt floors and tin roofs. The most common languages are Santal and Bangla, and the diet usually consists of fish, rice, potatoes, and lentils. Most adults in this region work as day laborers and earn about $36 a month. Children in this region are vulnerable to exploitation.

This video gives you a glimpse of a day in the life of a child in Bangladesh:

If you choose to sponsor Nayon, your spoonsorship gift of $38 a month will help provide Nayon with Bible teaching, Bible story books, nutritious food, medical treatment, hygiene and health education, sports, special celebrations, picnics, tuition, tutoring, uniforms, and shoes through his church based center. Your letters will also encourage Nayon and let him know that he is prayed for.

So, will you help me do this thing? Let’s find Nayon his sponsor.

You can help by praying for Nayon.

You can help by sharing this post.

Or you could sponsor Nayon. If you want to become Nayon’s sponor, please shoot me an e-mail or comment below.

And remember that Nayon is only one of many children still waiting for their sponsors. You can find your child by visiting Compassion today.

 

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Let Your Thankfulness Show

I’m reposting this from my archives because I need the reminder today. Thankfulness is a way of life–and it should show:

cc image courtesy of Nossirom via www.sxc.hu

cc image courtesy of Nossirom via www.sxc.hu

I braved the grocery store today with two children in tow.  Today being two days before Thanksgiving.  And I survived.

Somebody needs to give me some serious mom points.  Just kidding.  Mostly.

Anyway, the store was a seriously crazy place today.  Traffic jam in the baking aisle kind of crazy.  Watch your small children so they don’t get run over kind of crazy.  The kind of crazy that normally would have me pulling my hair out and one step short of murdering the kids before I got done.

Yet today we managed.  We got the shopping done, and there was no screaming involved.  I’m telling you, this is a Red-Sea parting kind of miracle here.

Apparently other people noticed too.  I was in the middle of helping the kids count out 40 apples (don’t ask) when a man walked up to me.

“You know,” he said, “People watching is fun.  There’s all kinds of people in here looking all stressed out and angry, and here you are happy and just doing your thing.  I think that’s great.”

Please note two things: 1)This occurred 5 minutes into our shopping trip.  My stamina had not yet been tested.  2)  I’m pretty sure he had been drinking. Consider the source before you ask me if you can borrow the keys to the invisible jet.

Today in the midst of the crazy shopping, I kept noticing these red-shirted islands of calm.  Here and there were store employees cheerfully assisting stressed out customers.  They steered wheelchairs.  They stopped traffic so customers on scooters could navigate crowded aisles.  They happily dropped what they were doing to help me find what may have been the last can of pumpkin in the entire store.  They pointed people to the shortest checkout lanes, and calmly chatted with customers as they rang up endless piles of groceries.

If we have Jesus in us, shouldn’t we be the same way?

Faith looks like something.  Having Jesus should impact every part of our lives–even crazy-making trips to the grocery store.  We have the Spirit of the Living God inside us, and that makes a difference.  Love, peace, joy–these things are fruits.  They aren’t qualities we strive for, but the natural result of having God with us.  Being connected to Christ transforms us, and it should be visible to the world around us.

It’s appropriate to talk about all this Thanksgiving week because thankfulness should be our default setting as children of God.  When God has blessed us so greatly, how can we not be thankful?  God had every right to leave us in our sin, but he didn’t.  He gave us mercy.  He could have stopped with just pardoning us and sparing us punishment, but he went beyond that.  God gave us himself, restoring our relationship with him through the cross.  Our natural response to such a great gift should be thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, I think, has the power to transform us.  Thanksgiving insulates us against discontent.  Cultivating thankfulness helps us rejoice in what we do have, rather than lamenting what we do not.  And there is a sense in which thanksgiving opens us to receive God’s blessings.  Perhaps Paul commands us to pray at all times with thanksgiving because thankfulness reminds us of who we really are:  recipients of God’s great favor.  It is when we come before God with hands open that we begin to understand the power of God.

Believe me, I am far from perfect in this.  I have been the crazy mom at the grocery store, and I probably will be again.  Thankfully, bad moments don’t necessarily make bad mothers.  Chief among the things I am thankful for is God’s lavish grace.  But this Thanksgiving, I want to celebrate the power of having Jesus in me.  By God’s great mercy, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is alive in me.

And I want it to show.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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Choosing Good to Create Good

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The emotional undertow started tugging at my ankles while I was mopping the kitchen.

Yesterday’s confrontation with a coworker played through my head, and my emotions went along with the wave. Anger. Hurt. Powerless. Trapped.

My thoughts tugged at me, tempting me to sink deeper beneath the surface. Why didn’t you speak up for yourself? You’re such a coward. And what’s her problem, anyway? You were right. You ought to go back in there tomorrow and make sure your boss knows what happened.

It was a familiar cycle: rehearse it all in my head, chewing over the hurt and offense like a cow chewing on the cud. Let my emotions spin me up and over while my thoughts churned, stirring up the anger and driving the hurt down.

I slapped the mop into the wringer. “Not today.” I whispered. “God, she was wrong. What she did hurt and what she said wasn’t true. But I choose to forgive. Help me choose good.”

We are sinful people living in a world with other sinful people. When our broken edges rub up against other people’s jagged edges, we get hurt. Sin hurts. It hurts those who commit it, and it hurts those who are impacted by it. On this side of heaven we will get wounded by sin, but when it happens we have a choice: return evil for evil or overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

If we are redeemed, then the Spirit of the Living God dwells within our hearts. His light shines in us, and we bring that light with us wherever we go—our homes, our churches, our work. We will be hurt by sin, but we get to choose how we respond. Will we respond with the world’s cycle of getting revenge and giving cold shoulders? Or will we respond by drawing on God’s supply of unlimited grace? We get to choose forgiveness over bitterness, blessing over accusation, and justice over revenge. We can choose to be both just and kind, remembering that there is no one God does not desire to redeem. When we choose to do good, all of heaven’s power joins with us in the battle. We don’t just do good—we create it.

We create goodness by letting God’s goodness be displayed in us. In those moments of decision, we can draw on his power and strength to choose what is right. Returning wrong for wrong doesn’t fix situations—it only adds to the mess. We will never overcome evil with evil, but we can overcome evil with good.

This post is part of the Share Your Story Link-Up at The High Calling



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Blogging for Compassion: Children of God

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One of my favorite gospel truths is that we are children of God.

Through Christ we are sons, not slaves. We don’t have to beg God for his favor; we boldly come before the throne of grace. We are accepted, adopted, and set free. We see God face to face, and we call him Father.

As children of God:

  • God lavishes his love on us (1 John 3:1)
  • We have fellowship with the Father ( 1 John 1:3)
  • Christ’s blood purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7)
  • The kingdom belongs to us (1 John 1:7)
  • We are led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:4)
  • We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Roans 8:7)
  • We live in freedom and glory (Romans 8:21)
  • We are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26)
  • The Spirit lives in our hearts (Galatians 4:6)
  • God disciplines us as his sons and daughters Hebrews12:6-8)
  • We are not condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • We call God “Father” and do not fear him (Romans 8:25; 2 Corinthians 6:18)
  • We are destined to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29)
  • We are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Jesus, God’s beloved son (Colossians 1:13).

The miracle of the gospel is this: while we were still lost in our sin, God longed to adopt us as sons. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost–bringing all the children home to the Father. The same God who sees a sparrow fall passionately seeks his children, drawing our hearts to Jesus so all his sons and daughters can come home. Like the father in the parable, God never stops watching the road. And he always runs to welcome his children home.

There are 600 million children worldwide living in poverty.  And every one of those 600 million children is precious to the Father. We can help. When you sponsor a child through Compassion, your sponsorship helps provide food, clean water, health care, and education for a child living in poverty. Because Compassion is a distinctly church based program, your sponsored child also gets to know the embrace of a loving church community–and is encouraged by your letters and prayers. Sponsorship helps these precious ones know that they too can become children of God.

Children are waiting for sponsors. Will you become a sponsor today?



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My Quiet Place Through the Holidays

I’m thrilled to have my sweet friend Katy Kauffman guest posting on the blog today. Christmas is just around the corner–and so are the stress and hectic schedule that seem to come with it. Katy has some suggestions to help us get our hearts ready and to celebrate Christ’s birth. Be sure to check out her Bible reading plan!

By Katy Kauffman

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI already want to decorate for Christmas. After all, the mall is decorated with garlands and white twinkle lights,  Hobby Lobby has been selling their Christmas decorations since July, and my favorite Christmas shop just opened! Rush, rush, rush—that seems to be the theme of shops and malls that want to benefit from selling Christmas goodies early. Rush, rush, and rush can also be the motto for how we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I love all the parties and food and festivities, but in the middle of all the hectic busyness, I need some quiet. Somewhere to get away and just celebrate with God the things I am thankful for, the reason why we celebrate these holidays in the first place.

So where can I find the “quiet” I need for my soul to stay sound and balanced? Where do you find your “quiet”? In time alone with God. It may be hard with the family’s busy schedule and our daily duties. But there’s something special about the joy and peace we find when we make time to be with God. The beauty of His Word captivates our hearts, the promises of Scripture give us hope, and talking with Him and listening to Him in prayer calm our inner turmoil and remind us of what really matters. There’s beauty and charm in the sights and sounds of Christmas, but there’s also beauty in sitting before God and learning from Him and His Word. The truths we learn and the love we experience prepare our hearts for traffic jams, noisy crowds, busy schedules, and opportunities to reach out to those around us. The holiday season is one of the best times to minister to people we might not see or be around the rest of the year. It’s the perfect time to show the Love of God which came down to earth two thousand years ago.

What passage of Scripture quiets your heart before God and helps you to hear His voice and sense His peace? In your holiday schedule, I recommend reading the passages below. There is one passage to read each week, starting this Sunday and going through New Years. Print this post, and stick it in your Bible or prayer journal. When you have a few minutes of “quiet,” pull it out and read the designated passage for that week. May God’s truths warm your heart and strengthen you this holiday season, and point you to the One who is the Giver of every perfect gift, God Almighty who gave His Son for us.

November 9th: Matthew 6:25-34 – How to handle stress and worrying

November 16th: Colossians 3:12-17 – How to treat those around us

November 23rd: Romans 8:28-39 – What our reality is with God

November 30th: 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 – How to share God’s love with those around us

December 7th: Psalm 91:1-16 – Who our safe place is

December 14th: Romans 12:9-21 – How to be good and do good when it matters the most

December 21st: Isaiah 9:6-7 – Where to keep our focus—on Jesus!

December 28th: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – An example of what our choice is in the New Year and always

© Copyright 2014 by Katy Kauffman

katy headshot Katy Kauffman is the author of 2 Timothy: Winning the Victory, a Bible study on how to win the spiritual battles of life and ministry. She is a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies and a graduate of Luther Rice Seminary. Her heart’s desire is for people to know and love God, understand the richness of His Word, and fulfill His plan for their lives. She makes her home in a cozy suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

 

 

 

Important Links

Katy’s Blog: http://lighthousebiblestudies.com/katy-kauffman-blogkaty cover

Katy’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KatyKauffmanAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatyKauffman28

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/katykauffman

Katy’s book on Amazon, available as an e-book or a paperback:

http://www.amazon.com/Katy-Kauffman/e/B00FIT3YQA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

 

 


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The Difference Mercy Makes

distant sailboat unsplashYour theology is only as good as your character.

Believing the right thing–yeah, you get some points for that. But knowing the answers only gets you so far. Theology isn’t just for dusty books and ivory towers. It’s more than late night wrangling over cold coffee and those conversations where you sharpen your debate skills as much as your knowledge of the word.

Theology–what we believe about God–is only as good as what we do about God. If we believe Jesus is Lord, that belief should impact our character.

Paul knew this.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)

Therefore–in light of everything Paul has said in the first eleven chapters of Romans–because of God’s mercy, we are called to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Romans is an intensely theological book, yet Paul doesn’t close without reminding the Romans of what that theology is supposed to look like: Loving your enemies. Respecting authority. Living in harmony with others. Pursuing peace. In the closing chapters of Romans, Paul reminds us that the gospel is not just something we speak but something we live.

Living the gospel means presenting ourselves before the Lord as a living sacrifice. Presenting our bodies is a way of saying that we give God our full self. No compartments; no masks; nothing withheld–just the gift of our total surrender to the Lord who gave himself for us. This is our worship–our theology lived out in the mess and the complexity of daily life. That’s where we wrestle with the hard questions of what truth looks like for me, right now, in this situation, with these people, in this room. It’s loving our enemies when we can write their names beneath the verse. Choosing peace when everything in us desires to fight for what is ours. Willingly laying aside our rights to seek harmony in the body. That’s where it gets real. And that’s where we worship.

And why–why do we choose this path of sacrifice and surrender? Because of God’s mercy. God has shown us mercy. Instead of judgment, he gave us Jesus. Instead of demanding our blood he spilled His. We deserved justice. God gave us mercy, In thanksgiving we offer ourselves to him.

Mercy undergirds our worship. Our position before the Father should be one of grateful adoration. That gratitude spills over into how we live. We show others mercy because God has shown us mercy. We love our enemies because while we were still God’s enemies God loved us. We are patient with the weak because God has shown patience with our weakness. Out  of his great mercy God sacrificed his own son, and now we offer ourselves as living sacrifices before him. We put our theology into practice, and it gets attention.

When they ask why, you know the answer. Because God has shown me mercy. How could I give him any less than everything?

That’s the difference mercy makes.

 

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