From Manger to Grave, God’s Love Calls To You (Romans 1:1-7)

Text: Romans 1:1-7

Theme: From Manger to Grave, God’s Love Calls To You

4th Sunday of Advent


Did you know that today is December 22nd? That means Christmas is in only a few days. Are you ready? Are you getting excited? Are you feeling the spirit of Christmas?

I remember back when I was a kid, these were some of the most exciting days of the year. School was out and the countdown to Christmas began. It became hard to sleep, minutes felt like hours, I obsessed with thinking about all of the things that I might find wrapped in pretty paper under the tree with my name on it.

It’s Christmas time. The past weeks (or the next few days, depending on how much you procrastinate) have been a whirlwind of Christmas music, movies, baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating.  The Christmas season is in full swing and it is about to culminate, Christmas is almost here!

…but it’s not here yet J. I know it may be a little Scrooge-like of me, but this morning I want to ask you to take a step back from the cloud of tinsel, glitter and sprinkles in which you find yourself engulfed this Christmas season – take a step back from it all with me and ask yourself one very important question: What’s the point? Why do we make such a fuss every year for December 25th?

I mean I know this is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I have to be honest with you: when I look at how this country observes Christmas, when I watch as money and toys, and gifts and gadgets take the place of Jesus in so many homes, I can’t help but ask myself: what’s the point? A part of me wants to protest celebrating Christmas because of how worldly our celebration of Christmas has become.

Shame on me, I know. Scroogly of me, I know.

But I’ll ask it again, what’s the point? I think this is an incredibly important question that we need to ask ourselves if this Christmas season is going to have any lasting value for us beyond a floor full of torn wrapping paper and new toys that will soon follow in the footsteps of every other toy that became outdated, worn and broken. If we are going to make this Christmas matter, not just for the 24 hours that it lasts, but into eternity, then we need to ask ourselves, what’s the point?

Now I know that I am, by no means, alone in this desire to examine the point of Christmas. The slogans are as popular as they are witty: “Keep Christ in Christmas,” “Don’t forget the real reason for the season.” We see and hear these constantly mixed in with all the other ads of Christmas.

But I can’t help but wonder how often even those who promote the “reason for the season” get it wrong. Because the reason for the season is a whole lot more than just a cute baby Jesus, comfortably resting in his mother’s arms under a perfectly clear starry sky with some shepherds watching on.

We do ourselves, and we do Jesus, a great disservice if we think that the perfectly groomed manger scenes we see this time of year accurately reflect the reason for the season.

To really understand the point of Christmas, to give some meaning to that night in Bethlehem, you have to focus on not only the good, but also on the bad and the ugly of that first Christmas.

So at the risk of being Scrooge to your Christmas spirit, let’s talk about the point of Christmas, let’s talk about the bad and the ugly.

The fact is, the manger scene was a bad experience for Jesus, not a peaceful, happy-go-lucky day in his life. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ birth into this world was part of his humiliation. What happened in Bethlehem that night was humiliating for Jesus.

Think about it this way: How would President Obama feel if he came to this church to talk to you, to meet you, and none of you showed up? What if the only people to show up were a couple of migrant workers from a lawn service company?

This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is the creator of the world and the best welcoming he received is a handful of shepherds. What happened in Bethlehem was a slap in the face to Jesus.

Today when a baby is born, sanitation is of utmost importance. Jesus was born in the place where animals lived, where animals urinated and defecated. Before Jesus was conceived in Mary, he lived in perfection, and this disgusting, far from sanitary environment is how he was to enter the world he created?

I’m sorry if it flies in the face of how you always imagined that night to be, but there is nothing cute about what took place that night. Add to the horrible reception and circumstance of Jesus’ birth, the fact that when Jesus began his life on earth, he did so knowing that it would be a life cut short some 33 years later on a Friday afternoon, on a hill not far from where he was born, and you are beginning to see with me the bad and the ugly of that first Christmas for Jesus.

But the bad and the ugly of Christmas doesn’t stop there.

What a shame it is when the celebration of the birth of Jesus becomes a reason and excuse for our own sinfulness to multiply this time of the year…Think about what I just said… think about your heart… Am I right, or am I wrong?

The point of celebrating Christmas, the point of taking time off every year is supposed to be so that we can enjoy a prolonged Sabbath rest, so that we can have a prolonged time of quiet reflection on Immanuel, what it means that God came to be with us.

The point of celebrating Christmas is supposed to be so that we have a break from all the stress and distractions of this world to focus on Jesus, our relationship with him and what he has to say to us in his word.

The point of celebrating Christmas is supposed to help remind us that our only true source of joy in this world ought to be Jesus.

So are you less stressed this Christmas season, or more? Are you more focused on Jesus and the importance of praying to Jesus, learning from Jesus, reading about Jesus this Christmas season, or less focused on those things? Are you finding your Christmas joy in Jesus, or is your heart completely wrapped up in food and friends and things?

My heart, which is far from pure, is a big part of the bad and ugly of Christmas. My disgusting heart is the reason Jesus entered this world of suffering and humiliation like he did. The bad and ugly is a big part of the point of Christmas. It’s a part that isn’t all that fun to look at, but it is important to look at it, if we want this Christmas season to be something more than just an opportunity to give and receive gifts that are destined to decay.

It’s good to remember and look at the bad and the ugly behind the reason for the season because it helps us realize and better appreciate the good. Only when we realize and recognize the bad and the ugly of Christmas can we really understand the amazing goodness found in that night in Bethlehem.

You see, the manger of Bethlehem is not only connected with humiliation, and the cross, and broken hearts, it is also intimately connected to an empty grave and a beautiful promise. And that connection – the manger to the grave to the promise – is the connection that Paul focuses on in the reading from Romans. That connection is the real reason for the season. That connection is the real point of Christmas.

What is the point of Christmas? Easter! Easter morning is the point of Christmas. Because without Easter Morning, Christmas would mean nothing! Think about that, if Jesus had not accomplished what he did on Easter Morning, then Christmas would not be a holiday worth celebrating. If Jesus had not finished his task of defeating death on Easter morning, then his birth in Bethlehem would be no different than any other birth.

Do you want to know the real point of Christmas, the real reason that December 25th is worth celebrating? The beauty of Christmas if found in this: When we were trapped in the filth of our own sin, Christmas tells us that there is a God who loves us enough to come and live with us, there is a God who loves us enough to save us from this suffering by his victory over sin which was proven on Easter morning.

The real beauty and meaning of Christmas is found in the fact that the humiliation of that first manger was blown away by the glorious victory of Easter morning. The mission that was begun on Christmas was a success.

I know it may seem weird to talk so much about Easter during Christmas. But you can never divorce one from the other because the reason Jesus came on Christmas was to save you, and you weren’t saved until he rose from the dead on Easter.

This is the real reason for the season. This is the “gospel of God” as Paul put it. This is the good news that Christmas is founded on. The good news that the Son of God “who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,” born in a humiliating way that first Christmas, that same Son was also the one “who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.”

This is the gospel of God friends, the good news that calls to you. It calls to your broken heart and it tells you a love story beyond compare. It calls you to see and believe the real reason for the season.

Take a step back this Christmas season and hear the love of your God calling to you, from the manger to the empty grave he proved his love for you. Remember the point of Christmas. The point of Christmas is a celebration of a life that culminated on Easter morning. The point of Christmas is that there is a God out there who was willing to live with you in this sinful world so that he could take you from this world to live with him in his perfect world. Keep your eyes focused on the point of Christmas. From manger to grave, God’s love is calling you.

Advent Home Devotion Week 3:1

Third Week in Advent (December 15-21)
Prepare the Way By Proclaiming the Good News
Devotion #1: Isaiah 35:1-10

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The world just isn’t right, is it? Everywhere you look there is trouble and pain. There are places in the world where children go to bed hungry almost every night. There are places where if you get sick, chances are you will die, because there is no access to medical care.
The world just isn’t right. You see it sometimes when babies are born. The child is born blind or deaf or perhaps missing a hand or a limb.
The world just isn’t right. You see that in the fact that much of the world is completely unlivable. Try living in the scorching heat of the desert. Try living in the brutal cold of Antarctica. It can be done, but it’s miserable.
The world just isn’t right. You can probably see it in your own life too, can’t you? What is it? Is it a child at school who picks on you and won’t stop? Is it a job that seems to be going nowhere? Is it the people who laugh at you for your Christian beliefs? (If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. Many people in the world think Christians are backwards and not very smart.)
The world just isn’t right. And sometimes that makes us sad. Sometimes it makes us afraid. Sometimes it makes us feel weak.
But then, through his Word, God speaks to us. “Be strong! Do not fear! Your God will come!” This lesson is talking about Jesus. It says that when Jesus comes, he will make everything that is wrong with this world right again. God will make the blind see. Those who can’t walk, Jesus will make walk. Jesus will change the unlivable places — deserts and frozen wastelands — into beautiful gardens full of fruit and flowers. And if anyone has hurt you and has not repented for that sin… Jesus will avenge you.

That almost sounds too good to be true? How can we believe that Jesus is going to come to our world and make everything right? Christmas.

Christmas proved that God keeps his promises. God promised that he would send Jesus into the world to take care of the cause of all the world’s problems — sin. Jesus did that. We are going to celebrate that in not too long.
But in the lesson we just read, God promised that Jesus is going to come a second time and eliminate the results of sin too. The fact that God kept his promise to send Jesus the first time makes us certain he’ll keep this promise too.
Do you know someone who is hurting or frightened? You have some good news to tell them! Jesus is coming. He is coming to save us. He is coming to make everything right.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Show them this picture. Ask, “What is something that happened in the past week that made you sad, something that you would like Jesus to take away?”

Answer: There are an infinite number of answers. Perhaps your child was sick or was sad that someone else got sick. The point is simply to demonstrate to your child that there are things in this world that make us sad. But Jesus will fix them! We just need to be patient.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “The lesson told us: Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid. Your God will come to save you.’ The lesson was asking you to tell others about Jesus. Why is that important, and what are some times you might be able to do that?”

Answer: Jesus doesn’t want anyone to live afraid or sad. But people will be both of those things unless they know the good news about Jesus.
There are lots of ways children could share this news. Tell them that whenever a friend of theirs is sad or afraid, that is a time for your child to remind that friend that we have a Savior who loves us perfectly and who is going to give us a perfect, eternal home where there will be no problems. Witnessing isn’t just something your children can do with unbelieving children. Christians often forget the promises of God, and therefore grow sad and afraid. What a blessing it is to have other Christians (including Christian children) to remind us of God’s promises!

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “The devotion mentioned babies being born with birth defects. Does that seem fair to you? How can a baby do something so bad that they deserve to be blind?”

Answer: Part of this answer lies in the fact that children are born of sinful parents. They inherit the sin of their parents, and sin always has consequences. However, the entire premise of the question is false. It paints a picture where the comfort or trouble in our life is directly proportional to how much or how little we sin. It doesn’t work that way. Sin has simply broken the world so that it doesn’t function the way God designed it too. Therefore, people suffer even when they haven’t done anything wrong. That is why Jesus is so excited to come again, destroy this world, and create a new and perfect world in its place.

Come, Jesus! Come and save us! The world is so broken. We know you can come and fix everything that is wrong. We are ready for you to do that. We want you to do that. Come, Lord Jesus! If we have to wait much longer, then please send us your Holy Spirit to give us patience and strength and courage. Give us the courage to share the Good News of your salvation with others. Amen.

Advent Home Devotion Week 3:2

Third Week in Advent (December 15-21)
Prepare the Way By Proclaiming the Good News
Devotion #2: James 5:7-11

7Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Imagine if you were a farmer. You plow the field, breaking up the soil so that you can plant it. Then you go through that field and plant seeds in the ground. Then before you go to bed, you water that field. Would you be angry the next morning if you woke up and that field wasn’t full of corn? How silly! Even if you aren’t a farmer, you probably understand that crops don’t grow instantaneously. It takes time! And so, if you are a farmer, you need to be patient.
It is no different for Christians. Sometimes, we have this silly idea that when we became Christian, everything in our life should have instantly turned hunky-dory. You might see this in your prayer life. You are having some sort of trouble. So you pray about it. Then you are confused and upset when that trouble doesn’t disappear in the next 10 minutes. Silly! That’s just as silly as a farmer wanting his crop to grow up overnight.
We need to be patient. Parts of your life are perfect already. For example, the way God looks at you is perfect. In your baptism, Jesus perfection was wrapped around you like a robe. When God looks at you he sees perfection, because he sees Jesus.
So parts of your life are perfect already. And eventually, all of it will be made perfect. But you need to be patient. Our lesson tells us to consider the example of believers who went before us: prophets like Moses or Elijah, heroes of faith like Job. Those fellow believers were great men of faith. They served the Lord well. Yet, their lives were far from perfect. But they were patient. And now, they live in heaven. Things for them are so perfect, they can’t even remember any of the hardship they had here on earth. So it will be for you too! Just be patient!
A big part of Advent is learning to wait… learning to be patient. And so for four weeks we think about Christmas without really celebrating it! We are learning to wait.
It’s a lesson we desperately need today. We have fast food, high-speed internet, instant text messages. We are used to getting what we want quickly. But the greatest blessings, the ones that provide lasting happiness, are ones for which we must wait.
For what it is worth, Jesus has to wait too. There is nothing he wants more than for you to be in his home right now, enjoying a perfect existence. He wants that so badly, he was willing to die to make it happen. But he has to wait for you. Jesus knows that for now, you have work to do — sharing the Good News! And so both Jesus and we wait patiently for the perfect life that, soon enough, will be ours.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “Can you give me some examples of times when it is hard to be patient and just wait?”

Answer: There are many possible examples. One of them could likely be waiting to open the presents under the tree! Explain to your child that all these times in our life when we have to wait train us to be patient, which is a Christian virtue. There are many times in our live when giving God glory will require patience. So it is a good thing when we learn to wait.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “When you have to wait for something, what are some things you can do to keep you from getting bored while you wait? What are some things we can do while we wait to go to heaven?”

Answer: The point of this question is simply to illustrate that waiting for something is easier if we can keep ourselves occupied. For example, a child reads a book while on a long car trip. He is waiting to get to the destination, but he is passing the time productively. Likewise, one of the ways we wait to go to heaven is by keeping ourselves occupied with the good and noble work God has placed before us. There are countless opportunities for us to serve God.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “Sometimes, people are not impatient when it comes to heaven. Sometimes people don’t even think about going to heaven. When do you think it is that people don’t think about heaven — during really good times of life or really bad times of life?”

Answer: When life is going really well, we tend not to think about heaven. We are comfortable enough. Human beings set the bar for happiness way too low! A comfortable life is considered good enough to make us forget about a perfect, vibrant existence in heaven. The follow up question to this is: Does this help you understand why God sometimes allows our life to be hard? God wants more for us than we want for ourselves! And so he makes it impossible to fall completely in love with this world. He allows us to experience pain and sorrow so that we long for our true home, the place where those things do not exist.

Holy Spirit, we humbly ask you to give us the gift of patience. You have already provided us with so many blessings. You have given us faith. You have given us peace in Christ. You have given us the power to live a meaningful life. But since we are impatient, we want the perfection of heaven now. So please, give us patience. As we wait for heaven, help us to pass the time by doing things that help others, including telling them the good news of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Home Devotion Week 3:3

Third Week in Advent (December 15-21)
Prepare the Way By Proclaiming the Good News
Devotion #3: Matthew 11:2-11

2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
7As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

John the Baptist was a very important man. In fact in our lesson Jesus himself says that John was one of the greatest men who ever lived. John the Baptist served God well. He helped prepare people to meet their Savior.
But then John the Baptist was thrown in prison. Some of the things John taught angered King Herod, who had John locked up. Therefore, in our lesson, some of John the Baptist’s followers went to Jesus and asked a question. They asked, “Are you really the Savior? Are you really the Son of God?”
We understand why John and his followers might be wondering that. They were thinking, “If Jesus is really the Son of God and really loves us, then why would he let John the Baptist go to prison when John didn’t do anything wrong?”
Look at how Jesus answers. He doesn’t get angry and say, “Of course I’m the Son of God! How dare you question that!” Nor does Jesus explain exactly why John is in prison. Instead, Jesus points to the loving and powerful things he is doing. The fact that he can make the blind see proves that Jesus is powerful. The fact that he wants to make the blind see proves that he is loving. By reminding John the Baptist and his followers that he is both powerful and loving, Jesus assured them that he really is our Savior. And that is all they needed to know to be comforted.
What a wonderful lesson! Because there are times in our lives when we might have questions too. Something in our life isn’t going the way we think it should. And so we have doubts. “Is Jesus paying attention to me? Does he care about me? Does he really have the power to help me?” When that happens, we learn from this lesson where we should go. Go straight to Jesus!
Go to Jesus in prayer with your concerns. Then go to his Word so he can speak to you. What will Jesus tell you when you read his Word? He will tell you that he came to earth on that first Christmas, just for you. He will tell you he loved you so much he was happy to die for you to pay for your sins. He will tell you that he is so powerful, he was able to rise from the dead. He will tell you that he will raise you from the dead too and take you to live forever with him inheaven. That is all you need to know to be comforted.If you ever have questions about Jesus… ever question whether he cares for you… go straight to Jesus with those questions. Go to his Word. He will completely comfort you with very good news. He is your loving Savior.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “Tell me some things that Jesus did to prove that he is both very loving and very powerful?”

Answer: Any of Jesus’ healing miracles would illustrate these things. Ultimately, Jesus did miracles to prove that he was true God. That means when he died on the cross, that was a very special sacrifice! It is a sacrifice great enough to pay for the sins of the entire world.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “If you ever have doubts about some of the things that God tells you in the Bible, does that mean you are an unbeliever?”

Answer: No. Every believer will, from time to time, have doubt creep into his heart. It is sinful to doubt what God says, but it doesn’t make you an unbeliever. Like all sins, we take the sin of doubt to Jesus and we ask him to forgive us. More than that, we ask him to send us the Spirit through the Word to take our doubts away. The goal here is to assure your children that if they ever begin to have doubts about Scripture, it doesn’t mean they are unbelievers! But they do need to deal with their doubt by taking it to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did in our lesson.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “When we have questions about life, why is it important that we go to Jesus? Why not just listen to our peers and friends?

Answer: Because they are sinful human beings, they don’t always have good or correct answers! For example, imagine if John the Baptist’s followers had gone to the Pharisees and asked, “Do you think Jesus really is the promised Savior?” The Pharisees would have given the wrong answer! Likewise, if your high-school aged child has doubts about how the universe came into existence, he probably shouldn’t take that doubt to his non-Christian physics teacher. If your teenage girl has doubts about what is appropriate/inappropriate to do with a boyfriend, it is silly for her to seek the counsel of her BFF, who thinks premarital sex is just fine so long as it is “safe”. When we have questions about life, we go to Jesus. He tells us what we need to know. And his answers flow from a heart that is pure love and only wants our eternal happiness.

Dearest Jesus, please forgive us for any time that we doubt your love for us or doubt the things you tell us in the Bible. You proved your love for us beyond all doubt when you died for our sins. You proved your power beyond all doubt when you rose from the dead. Help us to just trust you. Help us to trust that no matter how our life may be going, you are acting in love. In your name we pray. Amen.

Take Heart, Jesus Is Who You Believe He Is (Matthew 11:2-11)

3rd Week of Advent: Prepare the Way for the Lord!

Text: Matthew 11:2-11

Theme: Take Heart, Jesus Is Who You Believe He Is

            Have any of you ever been to prison? I have…

No, this isn’t some true confession where you find out that your pastor is a convicted felon. You see, when you study to become a pastor, it turns out you get to take fieldtrips just like you do in grade-school. Only, instead of visiting museums and zoos, seminary students visit nursing homes, hospitals and maximum security federal prisons to get a flavor for the different places being a pastor can take you.

Even though many of you have probably never set foot in a jail, I’m guessing you have at least some picture in your mind of what prison is like. With the passing of Nelson Mandela, pictures of his jail cell have been all over the news. Plenty of movies and TV shows depict life in prison.

This morning I want to ask you to bring up that mental image you have of a prison. Try and imagine what it is like to be ushered through a series of security check points and have the gate slam shut behind you at each point. Imagine what it is like to see and smell and feel the cold darkness imposed by bare cement floors and cinderblock walls.

Picture the other people in prison, with their filthy, defiant language shouted at you from behind their tiny cell doors. Picture them, if you can, shuffling down the hall, single-file in their prison scrubs. Picture the violence and danger that they endure on a daily basis.

What does that jail cell look like? A cell that is just long enough for you to lay down in and just wide enough for you to stretch your arms out and touch each wall. Imagine what it would be like to call this cell your home, the place where you spend 22 hours a day, day after day after day.

Are you with me so far? Ok, now take it one step further and imagine that you are in that jail cell not as a visitor or fly on the wall, but as an inmate. Continue reading

Advent Home Devotion Week 2:3

Second Week in Advent (December 8-14)
Prepare the Way with Sincere Repentance
Devotion #3: Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11″I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

When you call someone a snake, it is always an insult, isn’t it? When you call someone a snake, it means you think they are being evil. In the lesson we just read a very important man named John the Baptist called some people a “brood of vipers.” He called them a big pile of snakes!

John was not trying to be mean. He was trying to warn a group of people called the Pharisees. John the Baptist’s job was to get people ready to meet the Son of God. He did that by telling people to repent of their sins. But the Pharisees did not think they were all that sinful. The Pharisees went to church. They read their Bible. They gave offerings. They thought that because they did those things, they were better than other people. They assumed, “God has to love me more than the people who don’t go to church.”
The Pharisees would ignore the sins in their life, things like arrogance or greed or gossip. They thought that since they read their Bible and went to church, it didn’t really matter that they did those things. They figured that the good they did outweighed the bad. They forgot that God is holy, and he created us to be holy. God created us to be perfect, without any sin.

So John the Baptist called the Pharisees snakes. He told them that it is evil to think that your sins are not that bad. He told them that it is evil if you think that going to church or saying some prayers means you are ready to meet the Son of God. You are not ready to meet Jesus unless you admit that you are sinful and desperately need a Savior. Again, John was not being mean. He was trying to get the Pharisees to see how much danger they were in. If they did not repent of their sin, then instead of saving them Jesus would have to condemn them to the fires of hell.

So as we prepare for Christmas, let us do so by remembering what real repentance is.

Repentance is not going to church every week and mumbling a confession of sins without thinking about what we are saying. Repentance is not trying to make up for the bad we did today by doing more good tomorrow.

Repentance is being disgusted by our sins and admitting they make God disgusted too, even if the rest of the world thinks we look like “good church-going people.” Repentance is admitting that when it comes to obtaining eternal life we are completely helpless and desperately need salvation. Repentance is believing that the one born on Christmas is just that — the Savior, Christ the Lord. Repentance is trusting that only because of what Jesus did, our salvation and our eternity in heaven are assured. Repentance will be demonstrated by fruits of repentance. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will struggle against those sins.
John the Baptist preached the Word of God to the people, so that through that Word the Holy Spirit might give people the power to produce true repentance. May the Spirit do the same for us today.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “When we hurt someone, what are some ways we can show them that we are truly sorry?”

Answer: We can tell them we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. We will also try and not hurt that person again. This is meant to illustrate fruits of repentance. We know our sins offend God. Therefore, since we love God, when we repent of our sins we won’t just say that we’re sorry for them. We will struggle to avoid committing those sins in the future. Parents, be sure to be crystal clear. We do not struggle against our sin so that God loves us. He loves us already! We struggle because he loves us and proved that love beyond all doubt when he sent Jesus on Christmas.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “The Pharisees thought that if they did something sinful, they could balance it out by doing someone good. Why will that not work?”

Answer: In the devotion we said that God created us to be in his image — holy and perfect. If I commit one sin and then do ten good things, I’m not perfect or holy. This does NOT mean that we shouldn’t try and set things right with others when we do wrong. For example, say someone steals $10 from his mom’s purse. When he repents, he will give that $10 back. But giving the money back (even with interest!) wouldn’t erase the fact that he stole the $10. So he would give the money back to show he’s sincerely sorry, but not to erase his sin. Only Jesus can do that.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “Twice in our lesson John the Baptist describes how Jesus himself will eventually throw unrepentant people into the fire of hell. How might that image be shocking to people today? How does that differ from the way a lot of people view Jesus?”

Answer: When people think of Jesus, they focus on his love. However, Jesus is both perfectly loving and perfectly holy. Because he is holy, he hates sin with a hatred that we cannot fathom. When he sees sin, he demands there be punishment. But because he is loving, he was willing to take that punishment for sin upon himself. When someone does not repent, they are rejecting the loving work of Jesus. All that is left for them is Jesus’ wrath, which is just as real as Jesus’ love.

Most Holy Spirit, just as we need you to give us the power to believe God’s Word, so also we need you to give us the power to produce sincere repentance. Help us to do that! Help us to acknowledge how dangerous and disgusting sin is. Help us to trust that in our baptism, you washed us clean and covered us in Jesus’ righteousness, so that when God the Father looks at us he sees people who are as holy as Jesus. Finally, help us to fight against sin with all our strength as a way of giving glory to you, the Father, and Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.

Advent Home Devotion Week 2:2

Second Week in Advent (December 8-14)
Prepare the Way With Sincere Repentance
Devotion #2: Acts 3:19-26

19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.
24″Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Think about the last time you did something wrong, something really bad. Maybe you took something that wasn’t yours. Maybe you told a lie to your boss. Maybe you said something so mean that it made someone else cry. Think of something horrible that you have done.
So when you did that bad thing, how did you feel? You felt awful! If it was a sin you committed in secret, you probably worried about getting caught. You felt sick to your stomach because you know you couldn’t hide your sin forever… that eventually secret sins are found out.
If you hurt someone, you might have felt awful when it dawned on you how you would feel if the tables were turned and you had been hurt like that.
Or maybe part of what made you feel so bad was you know that God saw that sin. Because you love God you were upset that you did something that offended him.
What is the only thing that can bring you relief at that time? Repentance.
Repentance is when you bring those sins that are making you sick out in the open and confess them to God. You don’t hide them anymore. You don’t pretend they don’t exist. You just confess your sin boldly, “Here it is, God! I’m not going to deny it. I have sinned!” Our lesson says when we do that, it is “refreshing.” You just feel better! What makes you feel better? God’s goodness. When you repent, confessing your sins to God, he doesn’t scold you and say, “You should be sorry!” He does not say he might forgive us if we try harder to avoid that sin in the future. Our lesson says that God wipes our sins out! He immediately and completely forgives them. God can do that, because Jesus paid for our sins with his own blood.
What sin are you holding onto right now? What secret sin is eating you up inside, because you are afraid of being found out? Do you want relief? Then repent! Turn away from that sin and turn to God. Confess your sins today. All of them! God isn’t going to hammer you. He is going to comfort you with his love and forgiveness. He is going to assure you that in your baptism, those sins were washed away. And God is going to send you the Holy Spirit who will live in you and help you to try and avoid those sins in the future.
You will be refreshed!

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “What is one sin that you did today for which you want to repent?”

Answer: Your child will probably be able to come up with something. If not, do not be afraid to confess to them something you did or thought that day for which you would like to repent. The point you want to make —Christmas is all about forgiving that sin. Not presents or decorations or vacation. Christmas is about forgiveness. Jesus was born so that on the cross he could win forgiveness for that sin. Assure your child that sin is forgiven, and that God will help them try not to commit that sin tomorrow.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “In our devotion we said that when we do something wrong, we generally feel sick afterwards. That is because of our conscience. Why is that a good thing, to feel bad when we sin?”

Answer: Feeling bad is a sign that something is wrong. If you have a sore throat, you know something is wrong. When you break a bone, it hurts. That is good! You know something is wrong. Likewise, it is good that we are able to feel bad when we sin. It is no fun to feel bad, but it tells us that something is wrong. But we take that bad feeling to God — our guilt and our shame — and he takes it all away. He tells us how he will always forgive us, and that makes us feel the opposite of bad! His love “refreshes” us.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “The first verse of our lesson said, ‘Repent and turn to God.’ So it describes repentance as a type of turning. What do we turn away from when we repent? What do we turn to?

Answer: In repentance, we turn away from our sin. We want nothing to do with it anymore. We turn to God’s love and God’s forgiveness and to the better way of life he lays out in his Word.

Heavenly Father, we repent tonight of all our sins. We are not going to lie and say we have not sinned. We have sinned many times today. We are not going to pretend that our sins are not a big deal. We know that you are holy, and therefore every sin offends you. But Christmas tells us that you are also merciful and loving. For you sent Jesus to take our sin away by his life and death and resurrection. Just as you sent us Jesus, we ask you to send us the Holy Spirit through the Word we have studied today. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we will strive tomorrow to avoid those sins for which we have repented today. Amen.

Advent Home Devotion Week 2:1


Second Week in Advent (December 8-14)
Prepare the Way With Sincere Repentance
Devotion #1: Isaiah 11:1-10

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

How far back can you trace your family tree? You probably know the names of your grandparents. Do you know the names of your  great-grandparents? What about the names of your great-great grandparents? We call this — the names of our ancestors — a “family tree.” If you would trace Jesus’ family tree backwards, it would come to a man named Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, the greatest of all the kings of Israel. But many of King David’s descendants did not care about the LORD. As an act of judgment, God took the royal throne away from that family. Imagine how sad that was! Can you imagine if your family was a royal family, ruling over a nation, and then one day that came to an end? That is what happened to Jesse’s family.
We see that at Christmas. Even though Jesus is a direct descendant of King David, when he is born he is not treated as royalty. He didn’t have a palace to sleep in, but only a manger. Jesus’ parents were not royal or even wealthy. Joseph was just a carpenter.
In this lesson, the prophet Isaiah, who lived a long time before Jesus, saw that this was going to happen. He saw that Jesse’s family would be humbled. That mighty family tree, which once contained kings, would be cut down and turned into a stump. But Isaiah also saw that stump would eventually start to grow again. King David would have a great-great-great-great (and many more greats) grandson who would once again be king. This new king would create a new type of kingdom. It would be a perfect kingdom. It was going to be a place so wonderful and so peaceful that you could put a baby next to a poisonous snake and not be afraid. For in this new kingdom no one will ever be hurt or harmed or killed. So… a great-great-great (many greats) grandson of David who would establish a perfect kingdom where no one would die or get hurt. Can you guess who it is? It is Jesus, of course.
God takes sin seriously. God hates sin! That is why he took the royal throne away from David’s family — to teach them how bad sin is. But God is also so loving and merciful. That is why he sent Jesus into the world. By dying and rising for us, Jesus forgave our sins. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us to give us the gift of faith, so that we might be part of his kingdom. The fact that God hates sin so much makes us want to turn away from our sins: disobeying mom or dad, gossiping about a kid in our class, disrespecting the teacher, fighting with our brother, holding grudges. We know God hates those types of actions, and so we want to leave those things behind. But the most amazing thing about God is that even when we fail to leave those things behind and slip into sin, he forgives us simply because of what Jesus did when he came on that first Christmas. And God doesn’t just forgive us. He promises us a perfect home, where the wolf and the lamb can live in peace. That amazing kindness of God just makes us want to turn away from our sin all the more.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “In this lesson, it talks about putting a wolf and a lamb together. It talks about putting a lion and a cow together. What do you think would happen if we put those animals together in our backyard?”

Answer: The wolf and lion would kill and eat the other animals, obviously. The point of this question is to illustrate that heaven will be so much nicer than earth. There will be no death. Nothing will hurt anything else. Parents, do not be afraid to use this lesson to paint a delightful picture of heaven for your young children. It would not be overstating Scripture to say, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to pet a lion? We might get to do that in heaven!” You are simply creating in your child a longing for the better world that is to come.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “The fact that Jesus has a family tree… that you can trace his ancestors… proves that he is not just true God, but also fully human. What are some reasons it is comforting to know that Jesus is a human being?”

Answer: Since Jesus is a human being, he understands us. Tell your children that no matter what hardship they are facing, Jesus  experienced the same hardship. He was a child, just like they were. He knew what it was like to be picked on or teased. Because
he understands us, we should be quick to go to him in prayer when we are troubled. And because he is true God, we can trust that he can do what is necessary to help us.

  •  For older children/teens: Ask, “God once promised that King David’s descendants would rule forever. But the nation of Israel doesn’t even have a king anymore. Did God lie to David?”

Answer: No! God cannot lie. Everything God has ever promised has come true! David’s descendants no longer rule over the political nation of Israel. But Jesus Christ, who is a direct descendant of David, rules over the universe. And he will reign over everything for the benefit of believers for all of time.

King Jesus, we understand how much you hate sin. Sin hurts us and others. Send your Holy Spirit to us through the Word we have studied so that we might have power to turn away from sin. Thank you for paying for our sin on the cross. Because you rose for us, we know that one day we also will rise from the dead and live forever in your perfect kingdom.


Advent Home Devotion Week 1:3

Advent Week 1

First Week in Advent (December 1-7)
Prepare, for the Lord Will Come Again Unexpectedly
Devotion #3: Matthew 24:36-44

36″No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42″Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

In this lesson, Jesus compares Judgment Day to the great flood at the time of Noah. How are those two days similar?
Before the flood, no one really gave much thought to the possibility that the world could come to an end. And so people just went about their days. When the rain started to fall, people probably didn’t think much of it. When it was chest high, then they realized they might be in trouble. But it was too late to escape the flood.
Likewise, there are many people today who are unaware that the world could come to an end at any moment. When Judgment Day comes and Jesus and the angels descend, then people will realize they might be in trouble. But it will be too late for them to escape the judgment.
The second way the great flood and Judgment Day are alike is that to be safe on those days you needed to be prepared.
Noah and his family prepared the way God told them to prepare. They built an ark, a massive boat bigger than a football field. When Noah began building the ark, he didn’t know exactly when the flood would begin. But he knew it would come eventually, because God promised the flood would come, and God never lies. So Noah prepared for the flood by doing exactly what God told him to do. He built an ark.
Likewise, we don’t know exactly when Judgment Day will come. However, we know God doesn’t lie, and so we believe Judgment Day will come. Therefore, we need to be prepared. Since Judgment Day could come at anytime time, we want to always be prepared.
We prepare ourselves for Judgment Day by going into something much sturdier than a wooden ark. We are prepared for Judgment Day when we are placed in a super strong boat called the Church. When we go to church we hear God’s Word, which strengthens our faith. We remember our baptism, when God washed our sins away. If we have been confirmed, we receive the Lord’s Supper, which gives us God’s forgiveness. We do this again and again, not only because we enjoy to hear about Jesus, but because these things make us prepared for Judgment Day.
Even doing this devotion, we have the Church—our little family of believers — listening to the Word of God. And so if Judgment Day comes tonight, we are all prepared.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “We know when Christmas comes. December twenty-fifth. It is on the calendar. Can you find Judgment Day on the calendar?

Answer: Obviously not. With this question you are trying to drive home the point that only God knows when Judgment Day is. Even the angels don’t know! And so Christmas and Judgment Day are very different. With Christmas, we know when to put up the tree and turn on the Christmas music. But with Judgment Day, we just need to be ready all the time. You could add, “That’s why we read God’s Word at night like this. It’s how God makes sure we are ready for that day.”

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “If Judgment Day comes tonight, would you be scared or excited? And why would you feel that way?”

Answer: Children (and adults!) may feel both nervous and excited. That is not surprising. There is much “unknown” about Judgment Day, and the unknown tends to make us nervous. But assure the children that there is nothing to fear, because God has placed us into the ark of the Church, which is God’s family. Tell your child if they ever are afraid of Judgment Day, they should go to a sink, turn on the water, and then touch it. Tell them that water should remind them of their baptism, which is where God adopted us into his family. Tell them that just if your house was in danger (by flood or fire), you as a loving parent would rescue them, so also when Judgment Day comes, our God is going to rescue us. Our baptism reminds us of that.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “Imagine today is your last day on earth. Imagine you knew that for certain. What types of things would be important to you? What types of things would not be important to you?”

Answer: This question is intended to force your child to evaluate priorities. Is whether or not he starts for the varsity team that important if today is the last day the world turns? If this was his last day, is that really what would matter to him… that he got to start at left guard? Probably not. But what about telling his good friend, the one who hasn’t gone to church in his entire life, about Jesus? That would become a very important thing to do. The point of this lesson is that the unbelieving world lives as though the world will never end. Believers understand it will, and that makes our priorities so much different than the world’s.

Dearest Jesus, we have studied your Word, in which you tell us that all our sins are forgiven. Your Holy Spirit has enabled us to believe in this. Therefore, we are ready. If you come tonight… if Judgment Day is tonight… we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus! Take us home. But if you do not come tonight, then help us to use tomorrow to share your Word and your love. In your name we pray. Amen.


Advent Home Devotion Week 1:2

Advent Week 1

First Week in Advent (December 1-7)
Prepare, for the Lord Will Come Again Unexpectedly
Devotion #2: Romans 13:11-14

11The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Have you ever noticed that if someone is going to do something bad, they do it when they think no one is watching. And so if a child is thinking about stealing a cookie from the cookie jar, the child will make sure mom isn’t around. If a teenager is foolishly thinking about trying smoking, he is not going to light up a cigarette right in front of his father. The teen goes someplace he thinks his dad won’t see him. We do bad things when we think others will not see.
That is why so often crime is committed at night. People think since it is dark, no one will see what they did. And so if a thief is planning on breaking into a house, he does it in the middle of night, not the middle of the day.
In our lesson, the Apostle Paul tells us that is a silly way to think. First of all, God always sees everything. God sees everything we do, whether it is light or dark. He can even see into our heads and read our minds! On top of that, the Son of God could literally just appear out of the sky at any moment. Judgment Day could come at anytime. Imagine you were in the middle of doing something really bad, really naughty, and… never mind your parents or your boss catching you… Jesus caught you! Would that be terrifying?
It need not be. Because what is Jesus coming to bring? Paul told us: “your salvation is nearer now than we first believed.” Jesus will come again unexpectedly, but he’s not coming to try and catch us doing something bad. He suffered and died to pay for all our sins. Therefore, when Jesus comes again on Judgment Day, it is to give us all the blessings of heaven. Jesus loves you so much that even if you were in the middle of sinning when he came back, he would forgive you.
That fact that Jesus is so loving does not make us want to sin more. It makes us want to sin less! In Paul’s words, Jesus’ love makes us want to “behave decently” as a way of thanking Jesus for the salvation he won for us when he rose from the dead.
Christmas is coming. When you get presents, you say thank you to the giver. You perhaps write them a thank you note. Trying to avoid the types of naughty, sinful behavior that people do in the dark is one of the ways we say thank you to Jesus for giving us the best gift there is—eternal life in heaven.

The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “What are some ways we can thank Jesus for saving us from our sins?”

Answer: There are countless answers: praising him with our songs, giving him offerings, saying prayers of thanks. The point of this question is simply to get your child to acknowledge that Jesus deserves our thanks, and that we can do by living in a way that pleases him.

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “Paul talks about our salvation being nearer now. In what sense does our salvation get a little bit nearer every single day?”

Answer: Every day brings us one day closer to when we meet Jesus face-to-face. It brings us one day close to Judgment Day. But the day of our salvation could also be the day of our death. We are one day closer to that too. As a parent, this concept provides you an opportunity to teach your children about death. Perhaps you might ask them if they can think of any kids that died. You could ask them if there is any possible good that could come from a child dying. The answer is that if that child is a Christian, then when they died, it was the day of their salvation!

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “Did you notice how Paul brings up a number of different types of sexual sins in connection with the darkness? Why do you think Paul talks about those?”

Answer: Sexual sins are almost always committed behind closed doors. We might say a curse word in public. But a sexual sin, we would be completely embarrassed if anyone found out about it! But God sees sin, even that which is done behind locked doors with the lights out. God also forgives all sin. Christ died for all sin. The reason Paul warns about sexual sin is not that such types of sins are too big to be forgiven. It’s that they are very common. Satan has been using sexual temptation to lead mankind away from God for a long, long time. How do we avoid such sin. Paul told us to monitor the thoughts that slip into our heads. “Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” And Paul told us to put on the armor of light. God’s Word gives us light. Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens us so we can fight against temptation.

Almighty God, we know that you see every single sin we commit, even the ones we commit in the dark. That fact makes your love all that more amazing. You don’t get sick of us. But you forgive us again and again and again. When we were baptized, you took Christ’s righteousness — all his beauty and perfection — and you wrapped it around us like beautiful clothing. Because of Jesus, we look good to you, even though we still sometimes sin. Help us to live in a way that shows how thankful we are for your love. Amen.