When I was growing up at First Methodist Church in Houston, I often attended worship after our youth met on Sunday evening. The service always closed with an opportunity to pray at the altar and that became a lovely moment for me each week. There was something about our beautiful sanctuary that was comforting, and I felt truly God’s presence in that very room.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:15-16
I leave my house early every Sunday morning. It is dark and there are very few cars on the road. Before I leave my driveway, I turn on my worship playlist and begin singing songs of praise to God as I prepare myself for worship that morning. Sometimes, I sing all the way to the church. Sometimes, I turn off the music and spend time in prayer… I’m glad it is dark or other drivers might just think I am crazy.
I remember in my childhood, during the Advent season, making the paper chains to count down to Christmas day. Each day, we would remove a link of the chain, counting the days remaining until Christmas. I continued this tradition with the many children I have cared for in the 20-plus years working in childcare. Growing up, I never really understood what Advent meant and why it was such an important time. Like most children, I just wanted to get to the Christmas celebration.
It might seem odd, but barbecue and chocolate pie have been an important part of my Advent for most of my life. It began when I was a young boy growing up in Houston. My parents were devout Methodists. On Christmas Eve they would make the same 30 minute drive we made every Sunday morning but on that night it would be for the midnight Candlelight service. It was the pivotal moment that declared Jesus Christ has been born and has brought joy to the world!
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! (Psalm 98:4-6)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.[a]
The Apostle Paul started the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey. Philippi was a city in Greece situated on a major road that connected Rome to much of its territory to the east. It was a great city for Paul to establish a church where the good news of God could travel freely throughout the empire.
The summer of my senior year of high school my youth group headed to Juarez, Mexico. The purpose of this trip was to build a house for a family living on the outskirts of the city. We loaded up on our church bus, which was a repainted, beyond used, school bus. We piled our luggage in the back few seats and started our ten hour journey.