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Mercy, Not Sacrifice | Discipleship Prayer Day 13

Let love and mercy be the starting point of everything I do.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.     ―  Hosea 6:6

Some people see the New Testament as a complete departure and overturning of the Law of Moses and the Old Testament sacrificial system.  However, even in the Old Testament writings we catch glimpses of the heart of God breaking through the words of the ancient writers—mercy, not sacrifice.  It was not thoughtless sacrifice that God desired, but heart-felt mercy; not the aroma from the smoke of burnt offerings floating the heavens, but hearts turned toward the Heavenly Father in all circumstances and situations.

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

Paul picks us this theme in Romans when he reminds us that it is because of God’s overwhelming mercy to us that we can then lay ourselves down as living sacrifices on the metaphorical altar. In doing this, we give up our own way for God’s way.  We becomes less so that Christ might become more.  As living sacrifices, we become the pleasing aroma of Christ in the world.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.      ―  Luke 6:36

What does mercy look like in our world?  There is no single way to express mercy to others. There not even a menu of acceptable mercy entrees from which we must choose. Mercy look like you, growing in Christlikeness, and responding to the needs of people in your world.

Love those who hate you

Pray for them, too

Return evil with good

That’s what Jesus would do

Help the helpless

Speak for the speechless

Sit with the lonely

Be hope for the hopeless



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

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Agape Love | Discipleship Prayer Day 12

multicolored abstract painting

Let love and mercy be the starting point of everything I do.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.         ―  1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks in depth about the spiritual gifts that we use to serve in the church and for the common good of humanity

  • wisdom, knowledge, and faith
  • prophecy, miraculous powers, and discernment of spirits,
  • discernment of spirits,
  • languages and interpretation of languages

Each of these is given by the Holy Spirit and each is needed for the Church to carry out its purpose.  All are good, all are important, and all are essential.  However, at the end of chapter 12 Paul reminds us that the love (agape) poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) is the most excellent way – more foundational that all the spiritual gifts we have been given.

The New Testament writers understood love to be the foundation and fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10, Gal 5:14, James 2:8).  In the same way, these spiritual gifts, given by the Holy Spirit to each member of the church (1 Cor 12:17) must be built upon a foundation of agape love.  If not, they are of no good use.

  • I can speak every language, known and unknown…but if I do not have agape love for God and neighbor, my words are nothing more than white noise in a busy, distracted world (1 Cor 13:1),
  • I can prophecy, understand the mysteries of the universe, have unsurpassed knowledge, and even have the faith to move literal mountains…but if I do have agape love for God and neighbor, I am nothing; it’s all meaningless and empty (1 Cor 13:2).
  • I can give everything I own to help the poor and those in need. I can be willing to suffer hardship, pain, and persecution…but if do not have agape love for God and neighbor, then I gain nothing; it’s all for naught (1 Cor 13:3).

Love is not one among many laws given by the Father, not one among many gifts of the Spirit, and not one among many visible marks of the Christlike life.

Love is the law.  Love is the gift. Love is the Christlike life.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.          ―  1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

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New Creation | Discipleship Prayer Day 11

photo of person s hand with paint colors

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.

―  2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

The magnificent diversity of the created world is mind-boggling!  From the smallest ant to the largest elephant, the most delicate flowers to the fortress-like Redwoods, the sweetest strawberry to the sourest lime, not to mention the incredible diversity of humanity.  The artwork of God truly is amazing!

Perhaps most amazing is the fact that all of this diversity is coded into the world with DNA, a molecule found inside every living organism, and consisting of only four molecules – adenine (A), cytostine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T).  All of that diversity and creativity of God is found in these four simply molecules that become the building blocks of the limitless diversity we see in the world!

“We have the DNA of our Lord Jesus Christ.”     ― Herschel Walker

When we put our trust in Christ we become a “new creation,” with new kingdom DNA!  Our thoughts, words, and actions are constructed with new building blocks – love, mercy, justice, truth, grace, peace, and blessing – and, like the natural creation, are seen an expressed in limitless variations in every place, every situation, and everyone!

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…      ―  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

When we become new creations in Christ we experience the transformation of our hearts and minds. Some of this happens quickly, while other parts of it will take a lifetime of growth. What is important is growth in Christlikness.  We are not the same. We don’t think the same.  We don’t speak the same.  We don’t live the same.

Over the next few days we’ll be exploring these building block of kingdom DNA.  Today, take a moment to thank God for the transforming work of the Spirit in your life, and begin praying that love, mercy, justice, truth, grace, peace, and blessing would more and more become the building blocks of your life!



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Your Kingdom | Discipleship Prayer Day 10

Let your kingdom rule in my body, my relationships, and my world.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.      ―  Luke 11:2

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the first request is “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God – the jurisdiction, domain, or administration – is found where God’s will is being done, the purpose and mission of God is being carried out, and the name of God is holy, sacred, and honored.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”     ―  John 3:3 (NIV)

God’s kingdom is not physical kingdom.  There are no geographic borders; no nation in the world is interchangeable with the kingdom of God.  The border of this kingdom are found in the heart and soul of those who have been born again. Citizenship in the nation of God comes by faith and is seen only by those who have surrendered themselves to the rule and reign of God in their lives.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,…       ―  Colossians 1:13 (NIV)

When John wrote that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b), he was referencing a rescue operation that takes place when puts their hope and trust in Christ – a rescue from domain of darkness and sin to the city of hope, peace, salvation, and new life.  In Christ we are new people with new priorities and new purpose.  All of this newness shines on our:

  • Personal lives : the way we live — our habits, routines, time, and money;
  • Relationships : the way we relate with people – family, friends, and the people with whom we engage and interact regularly;
  • The World : the way in which we engage the people in our world, locally an globally, particularly of different faith, priorities, and ways of living.

Our citizenship in God’s kingdom touches every part of our life.  As we learn and grow in Christ the right and responsibilities of this citizenship – love and mercy, justice and truth, and grace and peace, will become increasingly evident in all we do.


→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Thankful Hearts | Discipleship Prayer Day 9

We bow before you today with humble, thankful hearts.

But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.     ―  Psalm 5:7

Coming before God with humble and thankful hearts requires awareness of how far we have fallen short (Rom 3:23), the great sacrifice that was made for us (Rom 5:8), and the great love we have in that has been poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5).  We are able to bow before God, with humble hearts full of gratitude for all of God’s grace and mercy, and be made new, beginning and journey that would have seemed impossible prior to Jesus’ arrival on the scene.

Paul writes,

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.     ―  Ephesians 3:6

The full inclusion of Gentiles into the church was a scandalous notion at the time of the early church.  In the Jewish mind of the day, Gentiles were sinners, immoral, and ungodly, among other things.  Yet, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reveals a “mystery” which had been long unknown by God’s people—that is, God’s grace and mercy was for all people, Jews and Gentiles! 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.     ―  Ephesians 3:14-17

If your ancestors are not Jewish, then this prayer from Paul was written for your family. God knows you and your family!  And not only that—God promises strength and power to all who put their trust in Christ, along with the personal presence of Christ—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—in our hearts!

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.     ―  Ephesians 3:17b-19

 The unending, unrelenting love of God the Father…

The undeserved, self-sacrificial love of Christ displayed on the cross…

The Christlike love, shaped in the image of the God who created our innermost being, poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit…

…this is the soil in which we have been planted.  And when we begin to understand just how wide and just how deep is this love, it fills us with the same kind of love.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.     ―  Ephesians 3:20-21

To this God – the God who has done, and will continue to do, more than we could possibly ask for or even imagine possible – we bow, we kneel, we bend our most stubborn knee in humbleness…and gratefulness…and thanksgiving.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Plans and Purposes | Discipleship Prayer Day 8

mountain covered snow under star

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.    ― Jeremiah 2:11

         You don’t have to be in Christian circles for long before you hear first quoted or given to someone as a form of encouragement or promise. This verse, however, is a great example of the dangers of picking out a single verse from Scripture and then using it to teach something that it really isn’t intended to teach.  Jeremiah 29:11, for example, is being written to the nation of Israel (not to any individual) during a specific period in history (not specifically to our contemporary situation).  So, to begin with we need to realize that this verse was not written specifically to you or to me as a promise of success and prosperity.  We might wish this was the case, but it is not.  Not at all.

         When we read the verses prior to verse 11, we see something even more disturbing. First, these words were written to the survivors of Israel’s exile to Babylon, meaning that many had been “harmed” and would never experience prosperity of any kind.  Second, Jeremiah informs people that these promises will be fulfilled after seventy years in exile.  So, God has a plan for Israel as a people, and it will come to fruition after seventy years of difficulty! 

In other words, God has a plan for Israel…and it will come to be…but in the meantime some individuals will suffer harm, some will experience difficulties, and some will never experience any sort of prosperity.

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.     ― Psalm 33:11

         In the same way we await the return of Christ.  In the waiting there is a great promise of salvation, renewal, and restoration of all creation.  The promise of God is Jeremiah 29:11 can be applied to the church—God does have a plan and a purpose for God’s church. Much like the promise of God to Israel, however, as we wait some will endure difficult times filled with anything but prosperity and the absence of harm.  At various times and places believers will suffer persecution of all sorts.  Some individuals will suffer while others prosper.  Jesus confirmed that this would be the case:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”     ―  John 16:33

       And that is why Jesus, time and time again, commands us to love one another, to carry each other’s burdens, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn, and so much more.  Life happens…and when it does we need each other.  We were never meant to walk alone.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Perfect in Love | Discipleship Prayer Day 7

purple leaf

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes — agape love

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.     ―  1 John 4:8

God is love—love is the defining, foundational, and central characteristic of God’s nature. The kind of love that is God, in Greek, is known as agape.  It is NOT a love based on attraction (romantic relationships), obligation (parental relationships, or shared interests (friendship relationships).  Instead, the agape love of God is:

  • selfless and sacrificial (Jn 15:13, Rom 5:8, 1 Cor 13:4-6)
  • holy and pure (Jn 4:7-11, Rom 5:5, 1 Cor 13:6)
  • overflowing (Ps 69:13, Joel 2:13)
  • unconditional (Eph 5:1, Ps 86:15, Rom 8:35)
  • unending (1 Chr 16:34, Ps 51; 52:8, 1 Cor 13:8)
  • reveling (Zeph 3:17)

The mark of Christ emblazoned on the life of a disciple is the outpouring of agape, which has been embedded into his or her heart by the Holy Spirit, to the people around them.

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.     ―  Romans 5:5b

When we are growing in Christlikeness we are growing in agape.  By contrast, all that is anti-agape (selfish, unholy, conditional, limited, etc) is anti-Christ; that is,  not according to the perfect plans and purposes of God.  What does this agape look like in the life of increasingly Christlike believer? Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (1 Cor 13:4-8) and to the Galatian church (Gal 5:22-23) give us some clues.  Agape love is—

  • patient and peaceful
  • kind and consistent
  • humble and hopeful
  • authentic and ready to serve
  • honoring and respectful to others
  • forgiving and faithful
  • truthful and trustworthy
  • joyful and persevering
  • nurturing and never-ending
  • persevering
  • good and gentle

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love…against such things there is no law.     ―  1 Corinthians 13:13 and Galatians 5:23



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Holy and Worthy | Discipleship Prayer Day 6

person walking between green forest trees

Your name is holy and worthy to be praised above all others.

Let them praise your great and awesome name.  Your name is holy!

―  Psalm 99:3 (NLT)

“Your name is holy…

For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

―  Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

God is a God of “most” – most high, most holy, most loving, and most of a lot of other things, too – and it would be very easy to think that all of these “mosts” must put God on a very high pedestal; high up on the heavens where God watches us from a very far distance. This is how my Muslim friends view God and it’s how Bette Midler sings about God.  It’s also how many Christians live their lives—as if God if far, far away and not paying very close attention to how they live their lives.

Isaiah reminds us, though, that while God does dwell in a high and holy place (God is God after all), God also is very close to the contrite (crushed, repentant, remorseful) and the lowly in spirit (humble, poor, common, ordinary). In other words, God knows us, this world we live in, and the messiness of our lives. And God desires to be near us to…

  • revive what is dead,
  • restore what has been harmed,
  • repair what broken,
  • recover what has been lost,
  • restart what is stalled,
  • renew what has been ruined, and
  • rescue what is lost.

As such, the name of God is…

“worthy to be praised above all others.”

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

―  Psalm 99:3 (NIV)

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.

―  John 3:33 (NIV)



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Triune God | Discipleship Prayer Day 5

blue and green sky and mountain

Almighty, Triune God

If we take a look at the statements of faith regarding the triune nature of God, most Protestant denominations we likely see something like the following:

“The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”    

Church of the Nazarene “Articles of Faith”

Nabeel Qureshi, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells of his journey to Christ and the nearly insurmountable mountain of questions that stood in his way. It was impossible for a man to be God, he told himself, yet that is exactly what Christians taught… and with great enthusiasm! The idea of God being made up of three separate entities – God, Son, and Spirit – all existing as one was simply impossible.

Then, one day while sitting while sitting in a undergraduate chemistry class staring at a diagram of a nitrate, the professor ended her lesson by saying:

“These drawings are just the best way to represent resonance structures on paper, but it’s actually much more complicated. Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time…it’s all the structures all the time, never just one of them.”     

— Nabeel Qureshi, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Before that moment the very idea of a Trinitarian God—three persons simultaneously existing as one God—was a “ridiculous doctrine that merited divine retribution,” Qureshi told himself.  But now, having realized that such a things exists in nature—in the very building blocks of creation—suddenly made the whole notion of a triune God became a possibility, though the journey to a full embrace of the doctrine was still a long journey away.

It should be no surprise that the image of a Triune God is difficult to understand. When we live as though God sits far away on a heavenly throne, disconnected from our daily lives, all that can be seen from such a distance is a vague silhouette of oneness. But when God is Emmanuel—with us, connected, personal, unafraid to get his hands a feet dirty by walking with us in the scruffiness of our lives—we can begin to see more of God’s true identity as:

  • Father…and also Shepherd (Ps 23:1) and Daddy (Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6);
  • Son…and also Brother (Mt 12:48-50; Rom 8:29) and Friend (Jn 15:15; Mat 26:17-30);
  • Spirit…and also Bringer of New Life (Jn 3:8, Ez 37:1-14), Companion and Guide (Jn 16:13), Power-giver (Acts 1:4), and Fruit-bearer (Gal 5:16-26)

Father, Son, and Spirit.

Almighty, Triune God.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love…