Because of the tender mercy of our God,
New Year's Eve is a time for looking back over the past year. As I thought about what I would write today, I decided that the best post was one that I posted last October. So I post again this day (just in case a few of you missed it before.) I pray that after looking back you will then look forward to a new day with new adventures.
My husband and I have just entered a new day and time in our lives as we are now retired after many years of teaching. It is this retirement time that have allowed us to have adventures and do things that we never could while we are working. It is a new day for us.
In his latest album Ken Medema captured exactly where I find myself right now. Since his words say them so much better than I can, here are the words from his song, Ocean Beach, on his album, Nothing Like the Rain. (You should go to his website or purchase the album from iTunes.)
I stand by the ocean, looking back at the land
I remember my childhood when I played in the sand
Heedless of danger, I ran to the sea to leap in the whitecaps that set my soul free
Now I am older and cautious in so many ways
But I know there are beaches and whitecaps and journeys for these my best days
This is my choice I want to leap into this strange new day
To taste and to turn, to love and to learn what I could not know yesterday
No turning back, yesterday’s gone
I’ll relish this day, I’ll treasure this dawn
What a romance taking the chance of life
I walk in the city, down the streets I have known
I remember my young days when these streets were my own
I knew I was called here, this place held my heart
And now when I walk here I feel like a stranger, it tears me apart
I will not return here, that die is cast
But I’ll run to the present and love it as much as I treasure the past
I will run with a stranger and I will walk with a friend
I will dance til I stumble and I’ll get up again
I will not run for shelter when the path is unknown
For I am surrounded by friends and companions, I am not alone
I want to love the night, I want to seize the day
I want to run the race, don't want to dream my live away
This is my choice I want to leap into this brand new day
To taste and to turn, to love and to learn what I could not know yesterday
No turning back, yesterday’s gone
I’ll relish this day, I’ll treasure this dawn
What a romance taking the chance of life
I stand at the ocean, I look back at the land
Lord of Sunrises and New Days
Thank you for the beauty of a sunrise on a new day. Give us courage to treasure each day as we walk into new adventures you have prepared for us.
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
Being able to see my grandchildren enjoy Christmas was a true delight. Now that we are back home I close my eyes and see the joy and excitment in their eyes as they open their gifts. I hope that they will always know how special they are to me and what delight they bring to my life. And to think that God takes this same delight in us. I know how much I love my children and grandchildren but that loves pales in comparison to the love that God has for us. God takes delight in watching us grow and our response is joy, like the joy and wonder of children on Christmas morning.
Thank you for loving us, for taking delight in us. Thank you for giving us the gift of your son to come and save us. Help us to be faithful and to find our joy in you.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
At this time of year many of us either go home or think about going home. We all long for home. Home is a place of peace and rest. Issac Watts in his hymn, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, describes home with these words; “Here would I find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.” Not everyone has an earthly home where this kind of peace is found, but all can find a home where perfect love abides. We find our true home when we open the door of our heart and ask God to come in. Then we abide in God’s love and God’s love abides in use.
Show us the way to the open door of your home where we abide, "no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home."
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
A baby - Jesus came as a baby to a first time mother - the creator of the world as a tiny baby. Jesus, fully human and fully God, Savior of the world. Sit in awe and wonder. Merry Christmas.
We bow and worship you this day as the shepherds did when you were born.
Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
The sun broke through the clouds this morning on the way to church. For a short moment there were blue skies. The clouds have returned and it is raining now, but my heart is filled with joy. There will always be cloudy days but today I rejoice for those days when the darkness is gone and the splendor of light that can only come from God breaks into our lives. On this day, I pray that you find joy by looking to Christ and thereby find light. Join me as I sing this hymn by Walter Smith that tells of the “splendor of light,” as my prayer.
Immortal, Invisible God
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; oh, help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
The first thing we do when we get out of the car with our grandchildren is to tell them that they must hold an adult's hand. We tell them that streets and parking lots are dangerous places for children and they willingly grab hold. They hold our hand because they trust us and accept our help getting to a safe place. As adults we often find it hard to trust others and accept help when we need it. Taking hold of an outstretched hand means we give up control, we admit our weakness. Holding hands is also a way of showing and accepting love. God promises us his outstretched hand and his help in difficult times. But we must take hold of it, let got of control and admit our weakness. Whose hand do you hold today? If it isn’t God’s then let go and take hold of the hand that you can trust to help you.
We admit our weakness and need for your protection. Give us the desire to hold on to your hand like a child willingly grabs hold of a parent's hand.
And Mary said,
I clearly remember the day that I took this image, one of my most favorite images of all I have ever taken. All the conditions were just right. There were some clouds and a little fog but no dark rain predicted. We were the third car in line at the gate to the Cades Cove Loop Road before the gates opened at sunrise so we could move quickly around the one way road. I knew exactly where I wanted to be and I made it there just after sunrise at the beginning of the golden hour. It was just a wondrous and glorious feeling when I looked at the images on the back of my camera. Everything came together and I got it. I think that we all have times like this in our everyday lives when everything just comes together; the project is finished successfully, the goal is accomplished. We also have those times in our walk of faith. We have questioned God, we have spent time reading the scriptures, and we have looked at all our experiences. Everything comes together and our faith is sure. In the words of Timothy Keller, “In the end faith always moves beyond mental assent and duty and will involve the whole self - mind, will, and emotions.” Everything comes together, our faith is sure.
In the gospel of Luke we read of the time when Mary’s faith came together. She had been visited by Gabriel and submitted her will to God. She had made the journey to see Elizabeth. She had received Elizabeth’s blessing and was assured that what was happening to her was truly from God. And the result was her beautiful, exulting song of praise that is called the Magnificat. We know that there were future times when Mary would question again, but we see her standing at the foot of the cross, still there even in what must have been the hardest time of her life.
Christmas is drawing near, the time of waiting is almost over. Read Mary's song of praise and the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. Be amazed again at the incarnation and the coming of Christ into our world. I pray that you will have a time when your faith will come together and you will be able to truly rejoice in Christ.
Thank you for the story of Mary’s faith. Strengthen our faith until it involves our whole self and may we rejoice in you.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
This sunset at the Snake River Overlook in the Grand Tetons was especially glorious and thrilling. With the sun rays radiating from behind the cloud it reminded me of a crown being placed on the head of a king. I thought of the majesty of God, creator of these mountains, that outshines any earthly king. In our world today we don’t have a lot of experience in relating to a king. The scriptures that we read during Advent teach us how to relate to the King of Kings in the story of Mary.
Mary was visited by the angel, Gabriel - the messenger of our God, the King of Kings. After the angel appeared to Mary, the scripture says she was "greatly troubled." She had been told an amazing story. She asked questions - "How can this be?" And after listening to all the angel told her, she submitted to the will of God. She understood and accepted the authority of God. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is only when we do submit to God, the great King, that we find true peace. May this image of the crown cloud remind us of the only way to peace - to bow before the King of Kings.
Great King of Kings
We find it difficult sometimes to submit to your will. Humble us and show us the way to peace. We bow before you now.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
I love early morning walks. In the quietness of the early morning I find it easier to be silent and just listen. It is in listening and trusting that I find strength. God often speaks to us in quietness, in a “still, small voice.” Maybe one of the quietest times he spoke was on the night Jesus was born. Sure there was a glorious angel chorus but it was heard by only a few shepherds outside a small village. There was no fanfare as their would have been for earthly kings or wealthy people of power. Only these shepherds and Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus has slipped silently into this world. The words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Philip Brooks remind us that Jesus still comes silently into the hears of those who quietly and humbly accept him.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear my hear his coming but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Willingly and quietly open your heart to Jesus today and you will find the blessings of heaven.
Make us willing to return to you, to open our hearts, and find strength in quietly trusting you.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Becoming a photographer has turned me into a day hiker. I now have a backpack that allows me to carry my camera gear as well as what I need to be safe on a hike. While it is not that much heavier than a regular day backpack, it is still a relief when I set it down by a stream to photograph and take it off my back. However, after I have finished then I must pick it up again and put it back on my back. I was thinking that we do this to ourselves with the burdens we carry that can’t be physically seen. We lay them down only to pick them up again. We never seem to quite lay them down where they need to be, at the feet of Jesus.
Today in my devotional reading (December 18) from Timothy Keller’s book “God's Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs”, I found these words that suggest one reason we seem to pick our burdens up again:
Only when you see Jesus dying on the cross for your sins can you lay down the ultimate burden, of trying to prove and justify yourself, of trying to earn your self-worth and salvation. The gospel of the cross is the only true wisdom that will give you this rest. “Lay your deadly doing down—down at Jesus’ feet. Stand in him, in him alone, gloriously complete.”
Prayer: (for the devotion for December 18, from Timothy Keller’s Book)
I am weary, and I blame how hard I’m working, but it is more of an inward, spiritual condition. I am working to prove myself, to win approval, to make a name for myself. I am ready to lay down that burden and receive the deep rest that comes from the gospel. Help me to do that.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
One place that I can find peace at least for the moment is the mountains, especially on early mornings when the crowds haven’t made it yet. But I can’t stay in the mountains forever and I need a peace that is more than just a fleeting moment. Paul wrote to his dear friends in Philippi who were facing hard times and gave them a way to find peace in what seems an unusual way. He told them to rejoice always, to develop an attitude of rejoicing, which I think is more than just happiness that results from good circumstances. Rejoice for all the Lord had done for them and then with thanksgiving tell God what they needed. As a result the peace of God which transcends all understanding would guard their hearts and minds. These words teach us also the way to find peace.
Develop in us an attitude of rejoicing in you. Teach us to lay aside our anxieties and replace them with thanksgiving knowing that you will hear our requests and give us peace that surpasses time and place.
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
We can not find our way through Advent without walking through the message of John the Baptist. We must heed his call for repentance and apply it to our own lives. The path has been cleared but it is a winter path with no leaves on the trees, no green fields, and a cold sky. It takes courage to walk through a path of self-examination; to see your need; to repent; to accept the grace of Jesus’ gift for you. This is especially true in our society that worships self-sufficiency. We tend to look down on others who need help rather than admit our own need. But true repentance means that following Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We need to find ourselves in the people who asked John what to do after hearing his message of repentance and do what he told them.
Teach us to walk through the paths of winter, to look at our lives and see where we have failed to follow you. Give us the courage to admit our sin and our weakness and accept your grace and mercy.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
As I read these words this morning, “he has done gloriously,” I started thinking about all the glorious things in this world. I decided that a good picture for this verse would be one that I took on our trip to the Rocky Mountains. While those mountains are surely awe-inspiring and are certainly glorious works of our God, I decided that I didn’t images taken from a long distance away. There are many places close to home that certainly reveal God’s glory. I think sometimes we think we can only see God’s glory in special places and at special times. I have learned that we can see God’s glory everywhere, if we just look.
I remember the evening I saw this sunset sitting on the curb at the pull off on the Blue Ridge Parkway with my camera on the tripod. I remember the tears of joy silently running down my face as I looked into this sky. And as beautiful as that evening was, the more glorious thing, the thing that makes me sing for joy no matter where I am, is that God is in our midst, this great God, who “has done gloriously” when Jesus walked in our midst and gave his life for us.
We sing for joy for your glorious works. Open our eyes to your glory today. We kneel in awe that you would walk in our midst.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
When you are driving along the Little River Road you will see this pull off that is a little longer than most by a stone retaining wall. If you stop and look back across the river in the dark forest you will see these falls, hidden away but in plain sight. We can all feel like this, hidden away in a dark place but in plain sight, as the Christmas carol says, “in this world of woe.” Sometimes the woe can be of our own making and sometimes the woe is not of our doing. The prophet Zephaniah wrote these beautiful words to the people of Israel who were experiencing times of woe after he had taken then to task over their rejection of God’s ways. His words comforted the people in dark times with this promise of God that there would be a time when there would be rejoicing again because the “Lord your God is in your midst.” In your times of woe, God speaks this same promise. Let God’s love quiet you and bring you peace. And while you may not hear it all the time, just like you won’t see these falls if you are not looking, the Lord God will sing over you like a mother sings over her child.
Emmanuel, God With Us,
Quiet us with your love and open our hearts to hear you singing over us and then open our mouths to share this joy with all we meet today.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
I enjoyed almost every single day of our trip to the Great Lakes this fall, even though most days were cloudy, for each day brought more amazing sights. This was the first time that I had seen the Great Lakes since I was a child on a family vacation. Seeing them as an adult helps you to understand why they are called the Great Lakes. When you stand on the shore you realize that there is something amazing about their vastness. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are not at the ocean; that this is a lake filled with fresh water. As vast and amazing as these lakes God created are, they pale in comparison to the vastness of God’s grace and mercy. He bids us to come and draw our salvation from him and in so doing find our joy. In turn our only response is to sing his praises and tell others of his greatness.
We rejoice and give thanks for the vastness of your love and for wells of salvation that will never run dry.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
We all cry; we all have times of weeping and sadness. We weep over difficult circumstances, over our families and loved ones, and over our own sin. God doesn’t promise to take away our tears, he promises to turn our tears into songs of joy. He will do this in his own timing. In a physical garden it takes time for a plant to grow and bloom. Beautiful blooms don’t happen overnight, they come in their own time. We must trust the Master Gardener’s timing and wait for the seeds watered by our tears to turn into songs of joy.
Help us to trust in your timing that will turn our weeping into songs of joy.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
And so begins the the first verses of the first book of the New Testament. I will admit that all too often I just skip over this and the many other genealogies in the scriptures. Two of my favorite authors, Timothy Keller and Calvin Miller, point out in several places in their writings and speaking why these verses are so important. These verses tell us that Jesus lived in a real time and place, he isn’t a fairy tale or a good story or a place for good advice, for each person mentioned in the list demonstrates that God works in our world. Each person was like a stepping stone across a stream. Some names are well-known and some names most people don't know, but each person mattered and played a role in God's plan. That gives us both a hope and a challenge. The hope is that we are loved and matter to a God who stepped into our world, giving up his place above and coming down to show us the exact imprint of God. The challenge is to be a stepping stone for those around us and for those who come after us.
God Our Father,
Thank you for all the stepping stones in my life, the people who have led me to you. Remind us that we are to be stepping stones to those around us so that we can live our lives leading others to you.
During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
One of the traditions that my husband and I started with our family when the children were young was to make putting up the tree a celebration. Each child would find their special ornaments and put them on the tree. Afterwards we had a fancy meal with chocolate fondue for dessert. It was our way of preparing for the holidays. As much as I have enjoyed making this preparation for Christmas each year, this year I want to think more about preparing my heart. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for Jesus and he did that by calling the people to repentance. The first step in preparing for Jesus is to carefully examine our lives and seek God’s forgiveness. Only then will we be able to make way for the Lord to come into our hearts.
As we prepare our homes for Christmas, prepare our hearts for your coming. Help us to take time to examine our lives, realign our priorities and values, confess our sin, and seek your forgiveness.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
True friendship is indeed a rare gift. It isn’t easy and sometimes it causes bleeding hearts. Jesus certainly bled for us. In Paul's letter to the Philippians you can almost feel the great love he had for his friends in Philippi. He knew that they were there even in the hardest days of imprisonment. And he also knew that the the reason this friendship was so strong was because it was anchored in God 's grace. Who do you hold in your heart today? Take time to tell them how grateful you are for their friendship. Maybe even send them a flower, a bleeding heart.
Thank you for the gift of friendship that is anchored in your grace. Thank you for friends that remind us of your love, even in hard times, and help us rekindle hope.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The big trees towered over us on the trail. I stopped a minute and stood in awe at their amazing strength and beauty. In their height, their trunk, and branches you can see their many years, their history. They have made it through many seasons. But in each one is also the promise of new growth waiting for the next season. We look back over our lives and see the way Jesus has stepped into each season. We see him today as we try to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. And now we wait for our blessed hope, of when we will see our precious Jesus.
We wait for your coming today as we walk with you. We wait for that time when you will come again in your glory. As we wait help us to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.
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