Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
So small this tiny piece of moss on the side of a tree covered in snow, only about an inch in length. On the day I took the image it was cloudy and cold and so quiet. Few people were in the mountains that day. Each melting drop of snow looks like a many faceted diamond. So beautiful was this tiny piece of moss yet it would be noticed by hardly anyone. Here it is in all its quiet and extravagant beauty.
John, in his gospel, refers to the miracles of Jesus as signs, for signs point to something, describe something. The first sign that John describes is the turning of water into wine at a wedding in Cana. It tells us much about Jesus. It was a quiet miracle, not done on the temple grounds in Jerusalem but at a wedding in Cana, done quietly in the service of others. I find Jesus more often when I sit in quietness
And it was so extravagant, it wasn’t just a bottle of wine, but 180 gallons. According to one commentary, based on the price of $30 a bottle of wine this would be worth some $27,000. Jesus’s love for us is as extravagant as the value of this wine as we see when he drinks the cup the Father set before in the Garden of Getheseme and made his way to the cross. He loves each one of us with as extravagant love even though in light of the vase universe we are as small as the snow covered moss.
Come to us today in quietness, for there are no words for such extravagant love. Show us your glory and help us to believe in you as your disciples did that day. Open our eyes to your beauty.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
While I love hiking in the mountains I also enjoy just walking in places close to home. We often go to the picnic area at the lake to get in our daily walk. On this particular late afternoon the sun was breaking through the clouds low in the sky so we stayed to watch the sunset. It was like a gift, a special time to worship God. Matthew, in his gospel, tells us about a special time of worship experienced by the wise men, who “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” These men had come a very long way to worship the new king. After they presented their gifts they went back home, a totally different way then the way they had come. They went back to their daily routine. We don’t know anything else about them. We don’t know what impact seeing Jesus had on their lives, but I think they always had a story to tell about their encounter with King Herod and finding the King of the Jews. We need worship to be this way for us; to break into our daily routines; to change us; to lead us in another way.
Prayer (from Eugene Petersons’s Praying the Message of Jesus)
Connect the deepening and centering of life that I experience in moments of worship with the routines and duties of my weekday hours so that all of life will be glorified by your presence.
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Even though I can see the Great Smokey Mountains from where I live, I still will drive for at least an hour to be in them. Yesterday was such a day. I wanted to see sunrise from a place that I had not been to in awhile. When we got there we ended up having to turn around because, unlike the prediction, the clouds were so thick that they would cover the sun for most of the day. We drove on to the cove hoping to see something besides clouds. Most of our time in the mountains was still cloudy, but there was this one brief moment when the sun broke through the clouds and you could see the mountains covered with a light dusting of snow.
There are times like this when it seems that God is so far away. There is injustice everywhere we look. And then the light breaks through and we see the mountains that were there all the time. When I read this Psalm I had a hard time understanding these words, “Your righteousness is like mountains of God,” until I rearranged them and replaced the pronoun with its antecedent - God’s righteousness is like God’s mountains. God’s mountains are always there even when they are covered with clouds so God’s righteousness is always there even when we don’t see it. God is faithful. His love for us is steadfast and precious. We can take refuge in God at times when we can’t even see his mountains.
Righteous and Steadfast God
In times when injustice seems to rule and nothing seems fair, remind us that you are still there. Break into our lives like the sun breaks through the clouds.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Sometimes it is hard to think about a new day. In our sadness we see only cloudy skies and wonder if the sun will ever break through the clouds again. In those times we cling to the promises of a God who has always been and will always be faithful. We look forward with hope to a new day, for God will come to dwell with man as our God. As surely as a new day dawns with the promise of blue skies, God will make all things new.
Trustworthy and True God,
Shine your light and break into our darkness. Restore our hope and dwell with us. Wipe away our tears now until in your timing you take them away forever.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Water is mesmerizing to me; it can bring out so many different emotions as I watch it. I find peace in the quietness of a gurgling stream and stand in awe at the power of a roaring waterfall. I watch the always changing waves as they crash against the shore and think about how they will surely change the landscape as all water eventually does.
I wonder what emotions water brought to Jesus. I wonder what Jesus felt when he stepped into the river Jordan to be baptisized. Did he feel the peace of a quiet stream or the raging power of a waterfall? Did he sense the danger that water can be, the dangers that he would face? The waters of baptism were a defining moment for him. In his baptism we see both his human nature and divine nature. We see him join other people, to identify with us. In the voice from heaven we have proclaimed his divine nature, the true son of God. We know that after his baptism he faced challenges to that identity, tempted to take the easy way out, to be an earthly king instead of a sacrificial lamb. His baptism was a defining moment in his identity for it was in this moment that he heard the Father say, “you are my beloved son.” It was beginning of the road to the cross and because of that cross we can now hear the Father say in a fresh way to us, you are my beloved - not because of anything we did but because of what Jesus did.
Open our hearts to hearing our name, to being called beloved. Remind us of our own defining moment when we found our identity in you.
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
Sometimes our lives seem to be filled with just storm after storm after storm. It was like that on our trip to the Great Lakes. I had envisioned beautiful sunrises and sunsets and clear blue skies, but most of the days were just filled with clouds. I had to move beyond being disappointed to being open to seeing the beauty that was present, to see the flowers and the stormy skies at the same time. This isn’t an easy thing to do on something as unimportant as a vacation but even harder when you face storm after storm in your own life. King David faced many storms in his life and the Psalms he wrote describe how he endured them. He found his strength in the Lord and ultimately a peace that comes after the storm, a peace that only God can give.
Lord of the Storm
Help us look beyond the hardness and fear of storms to see your promises of beauty and peace.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Last summer I attended a photography workshop at the Chicago Botanical Gardens and learned so much. I was with about 100 people and 10 instructors who all loved photography. I had wonderful instructors and great class sessions but the best thing was actually going out to photograph with other people who loved photography as much as I do. My photography improved so much because of that week. I believe that worship is like this. While we can worship alone and anywhere, there is something special and necessary about worshiping with others. Many of the Psalms were written to be sung in corporate worship, as in Psalm 29 where all who worship in God’s temple cry "Glory. "I think these words by Frederic J. Sheets in Feasting on the Word Year C expresses the importance for us to worship with other Christians:
As some point, faith requires that we embrace and trust the God whom the Christian community has witnessed in Christ. Hope emerges for the texture of our experiences and gives winds to our dreams, integrity to our actions, strength and substance to our efforts to be witnesses and agents of God in the world.
We bow together to worship you. Through our worshiping with others teach us to love and strengthen us to better serve you.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
I stand in awe at the majesty of mountains. Maybe it is because I will never have the skill or strength to climb them. Maybe it is because I feel so small when I stand in front of them. Maybe it is because of the dangers of wind, ice, snow, and wild animals that lie within them. Maybe it is because when I am close to them I feel closer to my God who created them and see his majesty and glory. King David grew up living in nature as a shepherd seeing the natural word God created. In Psalm 29 he exhorts us to ascribe glory to majestic, God creator of the world. Ascribe means more than just to give, it means to bestow. God’s doesn’t need man to bestow glory on him but ascribing glory to God makes God’s glory more real to man. When we truly worship we stand in awe of a God who not only created majestic mountains but whose love for us is beyond human understanding.
Great Lord and King
We praise you for majestic mountains. We worship you and stand in awe of your love.
For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
The light fell on the road that fall morning, golden light, beautiful, breath-taking light. And I got to see it for I was the only one there. I had been to the falls to see the sunrise and there was no one in sight. It was so quiet the whole time I was there and on the road back I just drove slowly with my window down listening and watching the light. Without light we see no color, no detail. We can't even tell what an object is without light. When I read these words from Paul I was amazed again that we are light in the Lord. We are to walk in God’s light and use that light to discern what is pleasing to him. Walk today in the light of God’s love and you will produce fruit that is good and right and true.
Father of Light
Help us to walk in your perfect light. As we walk in your light may we show others that live in darkness your perfect light.
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Fog is like a blanket that covers the earth in quietness. Fog requires that you slow down. Following God also requires that you slow down and wait. Waiting is hard because we are giving up control, moving at someone else’s pace. Waiting on God means that we surrender control to him. We let him cover us and quiet us as the fog quiets the early morning. Take time each day to just sit quietly with your heart open to God and he will lead you.
Lord and Savior,
Teach us to wait quietly for you, to slow down our frantic pace and listen for you.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
I love my church. I love that I have always been a part of a church. I love that my children have found a church home. Churches are not perfect, but they were never meant to be. Church is not always easy for church is about relationships and those are rarely easy to maintain but essential for growth. Church is a place where forgiven sinners seek to encourage one another to keep growing in Christ. Being an active part of a church is getting harder. There are many things to pull you away. No longer is being an active member of a church seen as being of value by our culture; a culture that honors being self-made and individual rights over the common good; a culture that doesn’t think it needs church anymore. Every time I go by a church I breath a quick prayer for the believers that worship in community there. I pray that your church is so important to your life that you can do nothing else but be faithful to the family that meets with you there to worship and to serve.
Thank you for church. Help us to be faithful to our church. Make our churches a place where we think more about encouraging and supporting others than ourselves.
This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
When I read this verse from the lectionary this week it made me stop and ask myself, what is my life’s work. Paul knew his purpose, but it wasn’t always his purpose. Remember the first thing we read about Paul is that he was passionate about stamping out the apostasy of followers of “the Way,” Christians. For 36 years my life work was teaching. Seven years ago I purchased my first DSLR so that I could take pictures at my son’s wedding. I would never have imagined that God would use that purchase to write an “almost” daily devotional blog with my pictures. It has truly been a real surprise. I have never considered artist expression to be one of my natural abilities. But God has equipped me for this my new life’s work. I believe, I know, that he has given me the right books and YouTube videos to learn this art of photography. He has developed in me a desire to hike and be in his world that I never really had before. He has taught me to write something besides lesson plans.
I offer you today one of my favorite pictures that I have taken this year. It is a sunrise, the beginning of a new day, in a place far away from where I live, a place I never really thought I would go. I still have so much to learn about photography and even more to learn about God’s word, but I am trusting a God who will equip me and use me in his way. The lesson is that this is what God does. He gives each of us a life’s work and he uses this to share the gospel. And sometimes, as with me, the thing that you never thought would be your life’s work becomes a way to share the gospel in ways you never could have predicted. And also like me you stop and think I am so in over my head, but that is the time that God can use you the most. As Paul learned, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Open our hearts to your calling. Come to us in a fresh way. Give us a new day. Guide us to our life’s work and equip us to share Jesus with all we meet.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
Our earth revolves around the sun in a continual orbit, without a beginning or an end. But man, through the centuries, has felt the need to mark a beginning time for practical, cultural, religious, and political reasons. In modern North America we celebrate the “beginning” of the year in the darkness of winter. Like our physical winter, we each have winters in our lives when the daylight hours are short and the hours of darkness are long. Thankfully we don’t have to live in the long, dark days of winter, for each day from here forward, as in our physical world, the hours of light increase. When darkness comes over you, look to these words of Isaiah. Even when it is hard, “Arise, shine” for Jesus has brought the light of God’s glory into our world. We have this promise: “the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” In this new year of 2019 may you arise, shine and walk into the light of God, sharing that light with others.
Shine your glorious light in our lives and help us to walk in it this year. Give us the courage to arise and shine and reflect your light to others.
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.
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