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

Living Worship

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
Luke 1:46

Read Luke 1:26-38

Talk about a life lived as worship!
Through obedience and trust, she gave birth to God’s glory

She risked everything to say Yes to God…

To say Yes to God meant she became an unwed mother… in a culture and tradition that called for the stoning of such women…

To say Yes to God meant complete trust for provision… and protection…

To say Yes to God meant personal heartache… watching her sinless Son… die a shame-full death… crucified… helpless to save… or comfort…

To say Yes to God meant grace and glory… wonder and salvation…

A soul that lives a life of worship magnifies God in all they do. Bearing and revealing His glory, through trusting obedience… and living sacrifice…

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word.”
Luke 1:36

Can you take Mary’s words as your own…can you say Yes to God?

Father God, let it be to me according to Your Word…

A Song of Worship

Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
This Advent season, we were asked to write about what worship means to us as individuals. When proposed with this question I thought, “What on earth can I write about?” As quickly as that thought came to mind, God told me, “music and singing of course.” So I have thought about my personal soloistic and choral experiences and realized that this is when I am most with God.  No wonder I am so passionate about music. It is simply because this is how I worship God. 

After a recent rehearsal, that was becoming a little frustrating……the altos couldn’t get their part while I played it on the piano and at the same time I’m singing the soprano part…….I stopped.  I told the kids that I considered this—even practicing—to be what we are capable as giving to God as our sacrifice, our worship. See, I feel to just meander through the music, wait for someone else to sing it for you first or someone else to be the “leader”, to me is a very lazy way to serve God. I feel when we open our mouth to sing it should be the most beautiful thing we can summon out of our very soul to offer God.  

Granted, I do understand that some are more gifted than others but God says in Psalm 33:3,” Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”  Again, it doesn’t say play mindlessly but rather, skillfully. It doesn’t say only sing if you have a “good” voice.  I feel we should all take steps towards skillfully praising God. Give 100% in all you do. God has blessed me with a beautiful instrument and many others which I have the privilege to work with on Wednesdays and Sundays. So, what is stopping us from using these instruments to skillfully praise God?  FEAR! 

You see, the devil would love for us to sit idle in the pew, not open our mouths, play the role of aimlessly doing…… guessed it…….nothing! HE WINS—-simple as that. Each Sunday morning I look out over the congregation and see those singing, raising their hands in praises to God, children opening hymnals to the wrong page but still trying to follow along and sing. Then, there are those who stand there with their mouth shut through the entire hymn. It could be the most upbeat-happy song and nothing, no emotion of happiness or a tapping of the foot. I ask myself, “How can this be?” My heart sinks in sadness. I am so saddened that these people are so fearful….and of what, someone might hear them? Psalm 66:8 says, “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” It doesn’t say; let the sound of his praise be heard by only those with “pretty” voices.

So as we go into this Advent season, I challenge each of you to sing like you have never sung before, skillfully use your voice, however God has given it to you whether it be scratchy, breathy, loud and off key–open your mouth and more importantly your heart, as a sacrifice to God. Pour out your very soul! You might be surprised at what comes out!

As I close I leave you with this, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the Earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!” I hope we can all do this, give it a go and don’t be scared.

For in his name and glory we sing!!
Monica Hamilton

Family Devotional: Hope

Each Sunday you will find a devotional designed for families to use with an Advent Wreath.  If your family is like mine we often sit down together for supper, and this is usually the time I plan to begin discussions about God in our lives.  Isn’t that all a devotional really is?  An opportunity to talk openly about how God is working in our daily living.  I want to encourage you to take the time, sit with those you love and talk about Jesus.  Merry Christmas!

First Sunday of Advent

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”–Isaiah 7: 14

The prophets spoke of a coming Savior.  Challenging the Israelites to turn from their sinful ways.  They did not and the prophets all died, and God was silent for 400 years.  What did the people do during the silence?  They waited and hoped.  Hope is a hard word to define.  Webster’s dictionary defines hope as “cherishing a desire with anticipation, to expect.”  The people were hoping for a Savior.

(Light the first candle of your Advent wreath or any candle will do.)

As you light the candle ask those around you…what are you hoping for in your life?

Read Matthew 1: 18-25

Immanuel means “God with us”.  And isn’t that the hope of all persons…that God would be with us.

Discussion Starters:  Do you think God is with us?  How do you know?  What happened today that proved that God was with you?

Closing:  We celebrate this season because Jesus is God with us.  God himself, wrapped in skin, born as a baby.  The hope of all the world.

Prayer:  Ask the youngest in your family to give a thanksgiving prayer for the baby Jesus.

Waiting Around

Advent Wreaths…

Take some time this month to make an Advent wreath for your home.  Four colored candles and one white candle are the only must haves…the rest is left up to your own creativity.  There is symbolism found in using an evergreen circle, and color of the candles.  It is a long time tradition and you can find tons of information about it.  Families can make it as complex or simple as they want.  
My plan is to create one that will be a center piece for the dinner table.  Each week we will gather over a meal or before bed…light the candle for the week and talk about the word it represents.  A way to keep us focused on the celebration of Jesus in the midst of our holiday bustle.

Each candle represents one week in the Advent season, each paired with a meaning of hope, joy, love, and peace.  All candles are lit on Christmas Eve including the Christ candle (the white candle in the center of the wreath).

During Advent the posts each Sunday will be a devotional to go along with your Advent wreath.

Before the Rush

Christmas cards…

Consider this week… the first of November… who you would like to bless with a Word of His coming…

Make it a spiritual discipline…
praying for those who will receive the Word…
that they might know His peace…

Select cards that convey the heart of the message of the Season… ask Him to guide in your selection and preparation…

Begin now… with a goal of having all addressed and blessed… before Thanksgiving…

Then early December… at the beginning of Advent… you can send them on their way… to make ready a heart to celebrate Him…

All you have made will praise you, O Lord;
your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Psalm 145:2

In the Waiting

In the quiet of my laundry room, the sacred space, I picked up an old journal.  I flipped through and stopped on the 46th lesson.  Nothing special about it except one word in the title…wait.

You can find the story in 2 Samuel.  David has settled in as king and the nation is experiencing a time of rest.  It left a king, used to constant battle, with nothing to do.  It is the sort of calmness that keeps David’s mind wondering…what now?   And so he finds himself a project.

He decides with Nathan’s blessing to build the Temple.  Most often God’s ways are not ours, and David was not chosen for this task.   Instead God promises David that his son will be the one to build it.  David must wait…not for weeks, or months, but for an entire lifetime.  He doesn’t even get to see the dream come to pass.

What does David do while he waits…he makes a plan.  He prepares and stores up all that will be needed for the season of building.  This in itself was an act of worship.

Thirty short days remain until the Advent season begins.  Maybe like David we should make a plan for the season.  Organizing our calendars and making a gift list could be a time of worship, couldn’t it?  Have you considered sharing scriptures at dinner time during the Advent season?  Or maybe creating a special Advent calendar.

During the month of November you can come here to find ideas for just those things.  Ways to keep our focus on the true meaning of the season. 

And so join us in the planning…as we wait.