A year ago on this date, our family went to a Christmas party for pastors and their families. After the party we went into the sanctuary of the host church and just sang Christmas carols and worshipped our Lord Jesus. When we were getting ready to leave, adults started talking and visiting, and little Miss Elizabeth got bored (quickly) and started looking around. We hadn’t taken an offering that night, and she’s been in worship enough to know we usually “pass the plates.” So when she saw the empty plates, she walked around giving folks a chance to give to Jesus.
So many people expect the church to meet their needs; MY kind of music, MY kind of ritual or casual style, MY pastor ‘feeding’ me. But our granddaughter, still a month before we finally were allowed to adopt her, had caught one of the keys of real worship: Real worship is about what we bring to church to GIVE to God. Clear back to Old Testament times we read how the people worshipped by taking an offering to give to God (a bull, a lamb, a bird, some of your grain perhaps). Other than that, you would bring your praises and singing, your prayers, and a heart that was ready to listen for God to speak in your heart. And then worship continued as you went home and lived for God according to His ways as much as you were humanly able.
As I look at this picture of our granddaughter/daughter with her attempt to mimic the missing piece of worship that night (in her eyes), I am reminded that as we approach Christmas and as we approach any Sunday worship gathering: What gift am I giving to Jesus? How about you? What will you give him?
Give him your teachable heart. Give him your listening ear. Give him your excitement and praise and joy. And yes, give him whatever physical or financial offering you feel he’s leading you to give. And there’s one more thing you COULD give… Give him the one silent, unspoken, often unrecognized gift you can offer: the gift of giving God your time by simply being present. That’s often one of the hardest parts because there are lots of good activities and good groups that decide to make competing programs, practices, and fundraisers at the exact same time as the time your church has worship services. For you to give your time is truly a sacrifice. Which is how worship started so long ago.
What will you give Jesus this year for his birthday? Give him your best!
At some point when I was in school, Rev. John Clark, pastor of the Shinglehouse UMC, ran a prayer in the Sunday bulletin that caught my attention. I remember buying transparent contact paper in order to laminate it and then carried it in my wallet for over a decade. I used to pray it every day.
It still is a touchstone for me.
I have no idea who wrote it or what it’s title is. If you do, please let me know! Thanks!
Here it is…
God, give me eyes that I might see The work that can be done by me.
God, give me ears that I may hear The cries of those who need me near.
God, give me lips that I may speak Comfort and peace to all who seek.
God, give me a mind that I may know How to help those who need me so.
God, give me hands that I may do Some large or simple task for you.
God, give me prayer that I may pray Thy help and guidance every day.
And this one thing all else above God, give to me a heart to love.
Filed under prayer, worship
“This is the air I breathe… Your Holy Presence living in me ” Michael W. Smith sings a worship song that starts with those words.
This morning I picked up Abingdon Press’s Wesley Study Bible: NRSV (2009) and it literally fell open to an article on John Wesley’s understanding of “Spiritual Respiration.” I immediately thought of Smith’s song and began hearing it in my mind as I read these words:
Our need for God can be compared to our need for air. We must breathe air in order to live physically, and we must breathe God in order to live spiritually. John Wesley uses this image of ‘spiritual respiration’ to help us think about the closeness we ought to have with God — constant and intimate connection. When God fills our lives the way that air fills our lungs, we are refreshed, alert, and energized for God’s work. The image also helps us to see what happens when we do not pay attention to that relationship. If we stop breathing God, we will lose the connection that is essential to our spiritual lives. Our relationship with God is not automatic the way our physical breathing is, so we have to concentrate on it through prayer, Bible study, worship, and other practices that help us cultivate our spiritual lives.
(from the Wesley Study Bible p. 753. It also refers to two of John Wesley’s sermons with this article: Sermon 45 “The New Birth” and Sermon 19 “The Great Privilege of Those Born of God.”)
No wonder Smith’s little song repeats, in and out like breathing, “I’m desperate for You” and “I’m lost without You.”
Oh God, I need you even MORE than I need to physically breathe air… and I get busy, even as a pastor, and sometimes get to doing things in ministry by habit or by necessity without seeking You first! Forgive me… and help me remember to BREATHE!
FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Reynoldsville
ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING LITURGY
December 24, 2007
READ SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:6-7
READING: In this prophecy, Isaiah offers hope to the people of Galilee of the Gentiles… for out of them will come a great light shining in the darkness… a Deliverer to free them from oppression. And with those famous words: “For unto us a son is born…” God let them know that the Deliverer would be one of their own… Born into the chosen people of God who would know them and their ways and understand them in their entirety.
But the oppression the Deliverer would set them free from wasn’t just a political system… as evidenced by the names God ascribes to the Deliverer… “He will be called WONDERFUL COUNSELOR… MIGHTY GOD… EVERLASTING FATHER… and PRINCE OF PEACE.” They didn’t yet realize it, but God was telling them in advance that this Deliverer would come to rule a kingdom of hearts… and set them free from the oppression of evil… And destroy the power of Satan.
As we light this last candle in our Advent Wreath, the white candle in the center that we call the CHRIST CANDLE, we remember that Jesus came as Deliverer… for them and for us… to deliver them, and us, from the oppression of evil. Thousands of years have passed, and Jesus still offers to deliver people from the effects of sin and evil… if we will allow him.
Let’s make this Christmas complete by inviting Jesus to be our Lord, our Savior, our Friend, and… our Deliverer… Let’s allow Him to reign as King and Lord of our lives.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we welcome you to our church, our homes, and our lives. Reign on the thrones of our hearts as our King and Lord. Deliver us from evil and help us to follow you for the rest of our lives. AMEN.
This is the liturgy for our fourth week of Advent Candle Lighting.
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SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:2
READING: Isaiah offered hope to those who lived in times of spiritual darkness… There was a LIGHT that was coming… and that light would shine forth and pierce the darkness. All in darkness would be able to see the light… even those that actually lived in the midst of great darkness… even the ones that lived in the shadow of death would see the light.
Hope WOULD come!
The light WOULD shine!
As we light this fourth Advent candle, we remember that although Isaiah’s prophecy spoke about Jesus coming some 2000 years ago, it also speaks of His second coming which is yet to happen. And like that first coming, He will come as the light when there is a time of great darkness… and everyone living in darkness will have a chance to see the light… Even those who live in the darkest recesses of the darkest, most grievous shadows of death itself.
Hope IS coming!
The light WILL shine!
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you said you were the light of the world and then, for those who follow you, you said we also would be light. Lord, as we live our lives we recognize more and more the deepness of the darkness around us. We need to be light like we’ve never been before… sharing the good news that YOU love us and want to save us. But ultimately Lord, it’s YOUR light that we hope for and wait for. You are coming! HALLELUJAH!!! AMEN.
This is the third reading for our Advent Candle Lighting.
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SCRIPTURE: Haggai 2:6-7
READING: In today’s Scripture lesson, the prophet Haggai shares God’s warnings about upcoming events for the people of ancient Jerusalem about rebuilding the city and His temple. But almost lost in the midst of this old prophecy is a reference to the Messiah who would one day come and be known as “The Desire Of All Nations.”
This week, as we light our third candle, we notice that it is not purple like the candles of the last two weeks. This time our candle is pink, reminding us of the HOPE and the JOY that we can look forward to in the midst of Messiah’s coming.
Jesus is the very one that All Nations Desire… even though they may not yet be aware of it yet. The peace and hope and joy the world longs for will only come when Jesus Himself comes back.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You are the Desire of all nations and we pray that you will help us to be ones that desire you personally. Come quickly, Lord, Come quickly. AMEN.
This was the Advent Candle Lighting liturgy from this past Sunday.
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SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 7:14
READING: In this second prophecy about the coming Messiah, the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, has just delivered God’s message of hope to Judah’s King Ahaz… Judah will NOT be conquered by the enemies that are threatening them. God offers to give King Ahaz a sign that he’ll keep his promise… and says that Ahaz can ask for any sign he wants that God will really deliver His people.
Ahaz has always tried to be non-committal with Isaiah, trying to play it safe, and so he tries that same thing now with God… he refuses to ask for a sign… even though God has commanded him to.
So God picks… The sign will be a virgin who will conceive and then bear a son. And as that child grows, the people will be delivered from their enemies. In Ahaz’s day, there was a partial fulfillment of this. A young woman who was a virgin when Isaiah spoke these words, truly did conceive and bear a son… but it was in the normal way that sons were born. And before that son was grown, the people actually were delivered from their enemies … the two kings that Ahaz had so feared, were dead.
But God also had a deeper message of a longer lasting deliverance in mind when he prophecied to Ahaz through Isaiah: There would be another virgin who would conceive… as a virgin! And her son would not only bring deliverance to His people, but he would actually be the deliverer!
So many times in Scripture, and in our daily lives as well, we think we understand what God means and what He has said. But quite often, we only understand a portion of His word… only a part of His will is truly understood. As we light the second purple candle in our Advent Wreath, we do well to remember the apostle Paul’s words from centuries later, when he wrote “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am known.” Only when Christ comes back again, will we finally be able to see the big picture the way God sees it… and has seen it all along.
PRAYER: Father God, we read your word and hear your message, and we think we understand your will and your ways. But just like Ahaz and Isaiah, Paul and the prophets, we only see a part of what you are doing. We don’t understand your ways or what you’re trying to do. Teach us to trust You and Your Holy Spirit as you lead us and guide us… whether it makes sense to us or not. AMEN