Other-Centered: A Key to Worship

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field,
keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Luke 2:8

Read Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds… they lived out in the field keeping watch… their hearts other-centered… not self-centered…

They did not live in town seeking social status or climbing ladders of corporate success… they looked out for sheep… without much thought to themselves… how they looked… or smelled…

Because they looked outside themselves they were available to receive the angelic message… the birth announcement of the Messiah…

They had the inclination… to go… seek out this wonder… because they were other-minded… and had a heart for worship…

Their outward seeking… and wonder-full worship… brought encouragement to a young mother who risked everything for this child… and spread the news to a people whom God had readied for this day…

An other-centered attitude opens a heart to God’s message… prepares the heart for worship… glorifies Him… and builds His kingdom…

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Where do you find your focus…? on yourself…? others…?
Are you missing God’s message… by being centered on self…?

Father God, turn my eyes from me… help me remember to look outside myself… to You… and others… I do not want to miss another opportunity to live a life of worship…

Worship through Watching

“The eye is the lamp of the body. 
If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. …”
Matthew 6:22
Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible because it is a summation of chapters 1-11, and is a practical guide on how to make Jesus Christ the Lord of every area of life.  A worthy goal here is to aspire to be a Christian who lives like a Christian every day of his life!
Romans 12:1 tells me that to live a life of worship is to not just engage in ritual activity–perhaps in a Sunday worship service–but to involve your heart, mind, and will in living in obedience to God. 
About 5 years ago, my wife began a family tradition of watching the 2006 movie, The Nativity Story, each year around Christmas time.  With each viewing, I grow in appreciation for the Bible’s story of the birth of Jesus.  This well-done film really “humanizes” the characters of Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth, as well as the wise men and shepherds.  Watching the beautifully powerful birth scene becomes an act of worship for me!
Merry Christmas!
Russell Edwards

Worship in the Waiting

It seems we are always waiting for something.   When we are young we can’t wait until we get bigger to do bigger things.  Christmas seems to come ever so slowly.  We are waiting in line or in traffic. We can’t wait to get out of high school, college, or to get a job.  We are anxious to be successful, and then we are waiting to retire.  There is always something to wait for.  We really need to stop, relax and smell the roses and count our blessings along the way.

The only thing we really need to be waiting for is our Lord’s return.  I hope all of us are working so that all of our family and friends will be ready for His return.
May He truly bless you this Christmas season.
But those that wait for the Lord-
who expect  look for and hope in Him –
shall change and renew their strength and power;
they shall lift their wings and mount up
[close to God] as eagles
[mount up to the sun];
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint or become tired.
Isaiah 40:31

Billie Nielsen

Worship Through Charity

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these 
brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:40

What do you think of when you hear the word “worship”? Do you think of going to church? Of participating in — or, at the very least, observing — such a liturgical event? Or something else entirely?

When I saw the theme of this year’s Advent devotional — “as worship to you” — I got to thinking about different things worship can mean. Merriam-Webster.com offers 2 options: “reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence,” and “a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual.” But these definitions — this idea of worship being merely an act of revering some divine being or attending a church service or Mass — seems to me to fall short, or at least be too limiting.
These definitions also seem to emphasize verbal worship. I believe there is yet another option: silent, charitable action.
I have a friend who is going through a very rough time. I didn’t even know how rough until recently when she confided in me and 2 other friends about her predicament and the drastic action she felt she had to take to try and rectify the situation. While I did try to offer words of support and comfort, they seemed to fall short. Finally, when we had to leave each other, I asked her if I could give her a hug. I felt, at that point, that it was the very least I could do. She said yes, and we spent the next few minutes in a strong embrace. It was my last gesture of love in that encounter.
A few days later, I read an e-mail from her. She did not comment on any of the words I said, but on that hug. She indicated that this “simple,” wordless act of charity — a hug — had been the most important thing I had done.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

In Matthew 25:31-46, the King (Christ) invites those into the Kingdom who attended to his needs. Those turned away ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” To which the King replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
While I am not saying everyone should shun religious practice, I do say that silent, and vocal, works of charity towards all people — friend and foe alike — can in and of themselves be important as acts of worship.

Andrea D. La Vigne

“Our Father Who Art”… About Worship

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. …”
Matthew 6:9
I recall on one occasion early morning when I awakened, I sat on the side of the bed and had just set my feet on the floor and began to pray, “Our Father who art…” Suddenly my dog jumped up to my knee interrupting my praying. Needless to say, it also broke into my prayer time and I never finished praying the Lord’s Prayer that morning.
But I soon thought about just the short phrase, “Our Father who art…”  over, and over, throughout the day, that thought broke into my consciousness. Just that short phrase seemed so profound as it drew my thoughts toward our all-knowing, awesome God.
I continued every morning, as it was my practice, praying “Our Father who art…” sometimes even before crawling out of bed. The prayer held such a powerful awareness of the Lord’s being — calling forth a sense of closeness.
Worship is a personal response to God. A way of communing while holding God in awe. It has been said by psychologists the first five minutes upon awakening can influence your whole day.
Thus, praying the Lord’s prayer upon awakening is my way of beginning the morning by giving reverent honor to the Lord; and keeping God in Christ as an anchor in my life. It also helps keep other distractions from ruling my day.
I find this prayer is a means of comfort and encouragement. As the day begins, God restores my hope through Christ and reinforces my faith. I experience God’s peace and mercy through this intimate relationship with God.
This is one of my precious experiences of worship which became one of God’s teaching moments for me.
Rev. Enid Doris Shepherd

Worship is Willing to Toss Out Tradition

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him 
and took Mary home as his wife.
Matthew 1:24

Read Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph, a righteous man, saw no choice but to break the engagement with his betrothed — Mary — who was pregnant.

He knew the law… his culture’s tradition. He lived it as best he could.
He knew the child was not his, and the hard stand Jewish law took with unwed mothers… cut them off from the people
But Joseph, being compassionate and merciful, decided to take care of everything according to the law… quietly.

Before Joseph could act on his decision, God interfered. The call came to Joseph in a dream… a request so outrageous he would never have entertained the idea in a conscious state… God asked this righteous man to toss out the law and tradition he knew…

Do not be afraid… take Mary home as your wife…

In a step of trust… and obedience… he did.

Joseph took Mary home as his wife… under questionable circumstances… ones that marred his reputation and that of his new family… he willingly set aside his understanding of the law… and obeyed…

Trusting God… when He asks you to break with all you’ve known to be right… what you’ve counted on to guide and direct… to follow His definition of right… even when it means alienating yourself from a certain church tradition or denomination… sacrificing your understanding… becomes an act of worship…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding…
Proverbs 3:5

Lord, may I always listen to You above my own understanding. May I never be too afraid to break with culture or tradition in order to obey You.

Are you willing to set aside your tradition… church culture… your understanding… to follow Him… and do whatever He asks…?

Family Devotional: Love

Second Sunday of Advent
“Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer 
and intelligence.  This is the most important, the first on any list.  
But there is a second to set alongside it:  Love others as well as you love yourself. These two commandments are pegs; 
everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.””
Matthew 22: 37-40 
The Message

Have you ever wondered why the English language only has one word for love.  I mean we can love pizza, our best friend, and our husband or wife.  All types use the same word…but it is not really the same kind of love.  The language of Christ’s day had several words for love.

–Agape which means God’s love

–Eros was the kind of love that describes physical attraction
–Philia is the kind of love that is reserved for friendships

Now would be a good time to relight the first candle and then the second candle of your Advent wreath. If you are not using an Advent wreath consider lighting any candle.

Tell those with you that we are lighting this candle for love
Ask the question…“What do you love?”  Make a list if you want.

Read Matthew 22: 37-40 in a different version of the Bible than the one above.

The writer of The Message compares… heart to passion, soul to prayer, and mind to intelligence. Use some of the following questions to get the discussion going.

Do you think you love God with a passion?  What does that look like?  

How often do you find yourself praying? 
Do you need special words, a special place? 
What do you think God says about prayer? 
How is it that we can love God with our mind or intelligence?

Closing:  Jesus told us to love God… that was the most important commandment… and the second to love others.  Loving others is a way to show our love for God.  How can we show others God’s love?

Prayer:  Have the oldest in the group give a prayer of thanksgiving for the list of things loved from the beginning of the devotional. 

Worship through Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. 
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
John 15:12-17
Love IS the message of Christmas. We have heard that Love came down at Christmas… came in the form of Baby Jesus to fulfill the prophecies and to show us the way and to save the world. Love is one concept that everyone understands and that nearly everyone has experienced — hopefully experiences on a regular basis. It lives in our hearts, as we sing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling” — asking that love dwell in our hearts.
Especially during the Advent/Christmas season, our hearts are filled with love for our friends and family, but also for our fellow human beings, especially those in need, those less fortunate, those without opportunity, those who barely exist, those who are marginalized in any way. There are ways for us to show love and understanding, compassion and generosity if love truly dwells in our hearts. Let this time of year be our opportunity to show our love as God would have us do.
Barbara Hugghins

As Worship to me….

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 5:18

Worship is to pray daily. I do this in many ways, at home, in my car, at work. Some days all day. I thank him for all things in my life. I repent of my sins. And I ask for help with things. By doing this my mind is at peace, my body full of energy and all things become manageable. The busy days; you know the ones; the days you just don’t want to take the time to pray. Stress level fully engaged. Nothing seems to go right and bad decisions are made. 

Worship is to seek knowledge. For me I do this through small group studies, Sunday school, worship on Sunday morning, reading my bible and reading books. How can I worship someone without knowing as much as I can about them? I thirst for knowledge, to understand things to learn more. This brings me closer to God.
Every night during prayer time with my daughter, I thank God for the gift from heaven, Haylin (my daughter) who truly is a gift as are all children. 
As I volunteer on Wednesday afternoons at Mini Methodist seeing all the children I see God at work. He has truly blessed this ministry. He has blessed ME through this ministry. The children love to come. It’s not a babysitting club, by any means. The afternoon of the Halloween carnival several children attended from the program, but one family in particular came. I saw the 4 siblings coming up from the parking lot full of excitement then they noticed me, off they started running to me and all gave me a hug. A gift of love, from God at work.
Don’t let your praying knees get weak.
Renita Pontenberg

Worship through Thanks

From the fullness of his grace we have all received
one blessing after another.
John 1:16
As we approach the Christmas season, I am again reminded of how thankful I am for the good health of my husband, Don. He seldom complains about anything, much less the six times he has had Cancer beginning the Christmas season of 1996. 
To start at the beginning, that fall Jennifer was a senior in High School, and we had let a young man from Donnie’s class stay with us rent-free as long as he did some chores around the house like mowing the lawn. When Don came home the last Friday before Christmas week, he was upset to find that the young man had done NOTHING asked of him that week, and he had regularly been doing less and less for several weeks. First, Don told the young man how disappointed he was, then told him to leave. Saturday morning Don got up early and worked in the yard until late in the afternoon. At bedtime, he confided in me that there was blood in his urine after all the exercise. We decided to call our doctor first thing Monday.
We saw Dr. Weaver early Monday. He referred Don to Dr. Perry, a urologist. Because it was the last few days before Christmas, Don could not get in to see Dr. Perry until after Christmas. Believe me, that was one very quiet, prayerful Christmas!
Dr. Perry scheduled Don for bladder surgery January 5, 1997. We were blessed to learn that all the cancer was removed during that operation. Don continued to have regular checks with Dr. Perry, and then Dr. Roberts, all through these years since.
I got in contact with the young man and thanked him for his negligence in the case of our yard because it saved Don’s life. He had found another place to live, and has since married and has a successful life.
But my thankfulness doesn’t stop there!
In 2005 Don and I took a much-needed vacation in August. We went to New Orleans the last full week before Hurricane Katrina struck there.  We had such a nice time sightseeing and eating a lot of delicious food!  During the drive home Don showed me a large lump on his neck. I told him it was on a lymph node, and we would need to see a doctor. Dr. Weaver saw Don the following Monday, and set up an appointment with Dr. Arielle Lee, an oncologist in Tyler.
Dr. Lee has been such an angel to Don and me! God has blessed us with a tough, understanding doctor in Dr. Lee! You might have seen her if you have needed to see an oncologist. She has taken care of several people in our Sunday School class, alone! She always calls Don “quite a character” and tells people how strong he is. One visit Dr. Lee told us we have one very unique class!!
Long story short, Don had stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Follicular Lymphoma. Dr. Lee said it was over all of his organs, his lymph nodes, and even up and down his spine!  He had several months of chemotherapy at Dr. Lee’s clinic followed by one injection of a VERY EXPENSIVE ($50,000) radiation drug to finish off all the cancer. By the following spring Don was once-again declared Cancer-free.
During a scheduled PET Scan to make certain Don’s Lymphoma had not returned in 2008, a spot of Cancer showed up in Don’s Pancreas the first time after my surgery. We took it as another blessing because Dr. Lee told us we caught it very early. Only three weeks later Dr. Blake Harrison operated on Don to remove the diseased part of his pancreas.  By that short time, nearly all of Don’s pancreas and his spleen had to be removed.  Two long weeks in the hospital later, Don came home to recover. He didn’t even need chemotherapy or radiation!!
My story goes on………
In early fall 2010 Don went in for his scheduled PET Scan, and Dr. Lee called to tell him his Lymphoma had returned.  MORE MONTHS OF CHEMO!!! He only needed the chemo that time.
As if that wasn’t enough, in August 2011 Don went for his annual check-up on his bladder. He and I were joking as we waited for Dr. Roberts to return to the room after Don dressed. Dr. Roberts told us as soon as he came back in that he had found Cancer in his bladder again!!  It felt like all the air in that room was GONE!!!!  I couldn’t even breathe for a few moments!!! After saying a silent prayer, I looked at Don and let him know I would stay with him at each chemo session again.  I went to each one!
As you can see, Don is an exceptionally strong man. With God’s help he has continued to travel and work each day, no matter if it was just making phone calls, these past 15 years.  He has counseled more people who had Cancer than I can count. And he has remained strong. The members of our Sunday School class call him our unofficial poster child!  He has helped my faith to remain strong, and my prayer life to blossom through his love of God.
Oh! You say that is only FIVE times Don has had Cancer.  Well, this spring Don and I were getting ready to go to Tyler one Saturday, and I noticed something bleeding on his left temple. When I asked him about it, he said it was a mole that kept bleeding every once in a while. The next week I got him an appointment through Dr. Weaver with Dr. Lambert in Tyler. You’re right. It was Cancer………again!  He had it biopsied and removed shortly after that at Dr. Lambert’s facility in Tyler.  Luckily, it was just a Basal-Cell Carcinoma.  There are no more spots at this time.  We jokingly call this last episode with Cancer a “speed bump”!
When you feel like life just isn’t fair, and you are on the bottom looking up, STOP!!  Give God thanks for all the blessings you have. You really do have MANYBLESSINGS! He sent his Son to save us. We are blessed beyond belief! Enjoy all that Christmas has to offer us. I do. I know that our Savior is taking care of us with the Father. Christmas proves that.

Jackie Gruber