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.
Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Sometimes I feel like this log - worn and crooked and filled with knots. These are the times that I need to stop and remember God's grace. I need to let go of all the things that are making me feel so crooked. I need to prepare my heart to come before God’s throne of grace, knowing that here I will find mercy in his love. I need to admit that I need his help and quit trying to walk in my own strength. I need to open my heart to God’s healing hand so that he can make my knotted, crooked life beautiful.
We bow before you with confidence and gratitude for your grace and mercy. Prepare our hearts to worship you.
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
Another yellow lady slipper - how would you compare it to the image of the lady slipper in the previous post. I am sure that if I ask any ten people which image was better each image would be selected by at least one person. Often after I put images on my computer I struggle trying to decide which one is the best. In the end I am not sure that it matters which one is best or even which one is better. The ultimate goal of my image is that I create something that people enjoy, images that make them appreciate the beauty of God’s world or think deeply about his word. Spending time comparing each image at the computer will sap my energy and passion that I had when I took the image.
Constant comparison does that in our lives. In our society it seems that we are always reducing things to numbers so we can tell which is best - highest number of 5 star reviews, number of likes, size of church membership, and on and on. It is such as easy sin to fall into, comparing ourselves with others. Paul warned the Galatians of the poison of comparing. Instead of comparison he advised the believers to test their own actions. The more we know our own heart the less likely we are to look down on others. The more we examine our own motives and the lives we create without comparing ourselves to others the more we are able to carry our own burdens and have the courage and strength to help shoulder the load of our brother’s burdens.
Forgive our sin of comparing. Help us to see that you have created each one of us with unique gifts. Teach us to test our own actions without comparing ourselves to each other. Open our eyes to see ourselves the way you see each of us and give us the courage to stop comparing and start carrying each other’s burdens.
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
It was lush and green, this path that I have walked on so many times, but it was different that day. The impending storm made the skies dark and the well known path ahead foreboding.
Jesus had walked into Jerusalem on this road many times before, but on this day it was different. It wasn’t an accident the way he came into Jerusalem; he had planned for the donkey to be available (Mark 11:1-6); he came in from the east, opposite from the procession of the Roman soldiers on their horses who came from the west for crowd control during the Passover. His followers and the crowds were rejoicing with loud Hosannas, but he knew what he was doing. He knew the road ahead was going to be dark for him and for his disciples. It wasn’t easy for him. His soul was troubled, but he knew that the whole purpose of his life had been this hour. He faced that hour for you and me.
Make this day and week for us, a week to be amazed at your love. Fill us with wonder again at the story of a God who loves us so much that he sent you to take away our sin. Fill us with a joy at this love that our lives are daily changed by its truth.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13, ESV
We have had so much rain in the past month that water is dripping from everywhere. Along the side of the road on the way to the cove the water dripping over the rocks was turned to ice when the temperatures dropped to well below freezing. All the plants were covered, actually encased in ice. Nothing escaped. As the temperatures were gradually moving above freezing the ice was beginning to melt and form beautiful sculptures as clear as glass.
During Lent we see our lives covered in sin like these plants covered in ice. All of us are frozen in our iniquity. But Jesus's love melts the ice in our hearts and takes away our sin if we call on his name. Jesus is Lord of all. He gives his rich grace to all who call on him.
Show us our sin and melt the hardness of our hearts. Warm us with your amazing love when we call out to you.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
The Lenten journey leads down a road through the dark valley of our sin. It won’t be easy, as it wasn’t easy for Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem to face his death. We can only make this journey through the valley because Jesus walked it for us.
Help us to look full on at our sin and then see the enormity of your sacrifice for us. Comfort us with your rod and staff and lead us into your amazing grace and love.
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
The path to the falls was well marked - actually it was a boardwalk through the forest. There was no getting lost on this path and even though the woods were dark and deep we knew that when we got to the end there would be beautiful vista before us.
Jesus knew where he was going when he departed the mountain of transfiguration, the path was laid out before him. He knew what lay ahead. It was time to depart from the mountain for his final journey to Jerusalem to complete the task for which he had come. He knew he his path would go through darkness. And down the mountain he departed, for you and me.
I invite you to depart on a journey to the cross during the season of Lent that begins this week. Spend more time with Christ thinking about what he accomplished for you and me on the cross. Bow your head to him, knowing that you have been made worthy by his sacrifice of love.
Jesus Our Lord
Bring us to a deeper knowledge of your love for us as we walk with you to the cross. Make this season of Lent a time of being with you on the mountain and then departing the mountain to serve you.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
You don’t need a caption under this image to know that it is a rose, even though there is no other rose like it in the world. Each variety of rose shares some of the same characteristics - petals, thorns, leaves - but each one is unique in how these characteristics show up. Christians are like this. We are each unique in who we are and how we come to Christ but we all have experienced the risen Christ in our lives. Still, we all search for our identity and an understanding of who we are in Christ - what is it that makes us a rose. Paul found that identity in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the words of Lewis Galloway from Feasting on the Word, Year C:
Just as Paul did not hide his past, stifle his personality, or suppress his anxieties, so Christians today can recognize that they are who they are by the grace of God. Each person’s struggles, pains, joys, accomplishments, and dreams are stories of the gospel that can light the way for others.
We are each saved by the grace of God and it is by this grace that we understand who we are, who God made us to be. Only when you look at your life, your failures, your sin, your personality, from the perspective of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection will you be able to say with Paul, “but by the grace of God I am what I am.” Because you have received much grace and have much to tell, work hard to share that grace and tell your story to others knowing that you can do this through the power of the grace of God.
Lord Jesus Christ
Help us to find our identity, our purpose, in you. Give us courage to tell our stories of grace to light the way for others.
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.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Slowing the shutter speed in a photograph of a waterfall lets the viewer see something that can’t be seen with the normal eye. It slows time in a way and the result is silky smooth water. And so it is with waiting that seems to slow down the passing of time. Waiting gives us time to see things in new and different ways, things we would have never seen without slowing down and waiting.
Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new church year. The season of Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting is hard, especially in our technology ‘speeded-up’ culture. We wait today for God’s promises still yet to be fulfilled as we rejoice over the fulfilled promise of the Messiah. Take time during this season to reflect on what the promise of a Messiah coming into our world means to you and what it requires of you. Take time to think about the grace of God and to seek forgiveness.
Teach us to wait on your perfect timing. Teach us to slow down and use our waiting to seek more of you, to be amazed not by glittering lights of the season but by your steadfast love and grace.
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
To take an interesting picture you always have to consider the background. Sometimes you want the background to fade away and sometimes the background is the focus of the image. For example, without the mountains in the background this image would just be a picture of a dilapidated old gate. As with images, we need to think about what is in the background of our lives. For what is in that background impacts our own growth and our relationship with others. Timothy Keller in his book, The Prodigal Prophet, encourages us to make God’s grace the background music of our lives.
“Grace becomes, as it were, the background music of your life. If that is the song your heart sings much of the time, it changes you.”
In this season of Thanksgiving, sing praise to God for his grace with all your heart and let that grace change your heart and fill your relationships with others.
Remind me today to be thankful for your grace. Make my background music always be a song of thanksgiving.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
No single image can capture the exact nature of what the photographer sees and feels when the shutter is pushed. If there is not enough light then you get a dark image. You can try to slow the shutter speed down to capture more light but any movement in the scene changes the way object appears, flowing water becomes smooth. If there is too much light then the camera just records only white light with no detail, places in the image where there is no color. Like the camera we can’t truly see all of God, so Jesus came, the exact imprint of the nature of God. When we look at Jesus we see the radiance of God’s glory. We see the amazing grace of our Savior.
Great God, Creator of All Things
Thank you for sending Jesus to reveal your nature to us, to have relationship with us, to love us. Help us to sharpen our focus on him so we can lead others to see the radiance of your glory in Jesus Christ.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
You can’t see the garden without stepping through the open gate. The open gate invites all into the garden. These beginning verses of Luke are like this open gate written for Theophilus. It is a story of who Jesus is. It is a story that we are a part of and it is a story that we are to tell to others. So many times I have just skipped over these verses - it is just the beginning, not that important, but when I read this commentary written by James R. Luck from “Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary” it made me think about these verses in a different way. I give you his words:
Even in the rites of baptism, whether young or old, whether sprinkled or immersed, we are doing nothing less than weaving the story of an individual into the fabric of all those who have gone before us. It is a story of adoption and naming and grace and love. This is our story. Our responsibility as congregational leaders is as simple as it is daunting: we are to help others live into our Christian stories, so that they might become part of the story; so that they might become a living, breathing sacrament of God’s grace.
Maybe these words spoke to me so strongly because I have now watched three of my grandchildren be baptized and will watch another one be baptized very soon. Truly I have seen the story of grace of Jesus woven in my life and now to see it woven into the lives of my of children is blessing beyond blessing.
Author of All Stories
Help me weave the story of your love into not only my children and grandchildren but to all who need to “become a living, breathing sacrament of God’s grace.”
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Roses have thorns - something beautiful on top of something painful. God’s word is like this. It is both painful and beautiful. When we really study God’s word, it pierces our soul. It is difficult to truly look at your life laid bare. The beauty comes because we have opened our hearts to God’s word. We see our sin but we also see the great sacrifice of Jesus. Only when we see our sin do we see the need for Christ. Open your heart to the piercing of God’s word and then look to Jesus and see yourself through his eyes of forgiveness, grace, and love.
Great High Priest
Use your word that is living and active and that pierces our souls and lays bare our hearts before you. Thank you for your gift of grace.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I live among rolling hills and mountains, so seeing prairie grasslands on our trip out west was new to me. At first I thought I wouldn’t like the prairie, that it would be boring without green fields, trees, and mountains. But I was wrong, for I found beauty in the soft muted colors of the prairie. There was a gentleness there that I had to learn to see. As I have seen watching my young grandsons with their newborn sisters, gentleness is something that has to be learned. And it is only possible to learn gentleness when we know that we are dearly loved. Paul told the followers at Colossi that we need to clothe ourselves with gentleness. When we consciously put on love like we put on clothing then we can be learn to be gentle, forgive each other, and seek to love as Christ as loved us.
Gentle and Loving Father
Remind us of how much we are loved. Teach us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Bind us together with your love.
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Early in the morning on a calm day, before the boats move onto the lake, the water is so still it becomes a mirror. Paul wrote to the members of the Corinthian church that they were to be like the reflections on the lake that morning. They reflected the Gospel that Paul had delivered to them. Now they, like we, have the love of Christ written on our hearts, open for the world to read. We need to remind ourselves each day that we are to be reflections of his love. We can only do this when the waters of our lives are calm because we are depending on his strength and grace.
Calm our worried souls. Make our lives a reflection of the love and grace that you have written on our hearts.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
One of the things that a photographer must do is to see the way the camera sees. No camera can capture exactly what the human eye sees. Sometimes the camera is limited. For example, cameras can’t capture the range of light that the human can see. Sometimes the camera can see things in ways a human can’t, like waterfalls that look smooth and silky. Pictures like these were achieved by slowing down the amount of time the shutter stays open.
Like the difference between how the camera sees and the way a human sees, God sees differently than humans. And like the photographer who must learn to see what the camera will see in order to make beautiful images, we need to learn to see ourselves and others more like God sees. As the photographer must study the capabilities of the camera, we need to study the word of God. Only then will we see ourselves they way God sees us.
Teach us your ways. Open our eyes so that we can see the way we look in your eyes. Help us to see others the way you see them.
Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
Now they knew what Judas had done when he left the upper room that night they had eaten the Passover together. They had seen him greet Jesus with a kiss that dark night in Gethsemane. And they had run away in fear as the guards took Jesus away. This night and Sabbath day must have been the darkest time of their lives. Their Lord, the one they thought was going to be the conquering Messiah, had died on a Roman cross.
It is hard to look at your suffering and the weight of our sin that you carried on the cross. On this day of darkness help us not to turn away, for we can only understand your sacrifice if we look at you on the cross. We humbly bow, amazed at love we don’t deserve.
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus spoke these words he had just been met by a crowd shouting praise as he entered Jerusalem, but his soul was troubled. The crowd just didn’t understand the kind of Messiah he was, even after a voice called from heaven. Their vision was limited to a Messiah that would free them from the darkness of Roman occupation, but Jesus was coming to provide freedom from a much greater darkness, the darkness of sin.
As we sit in the darkness of our sin, we must let the light of Jesus shine into our darkness as the light from this window spills onto this pew in the Smokemont Baptist Church. We no longer have to sit in darkness. Ask Jesus to shine through the open window of your heart and into the darkest part of your life. This won’t be easy for there are some things we want to keep hidden. But only after we expose our hearts to the light can we begin to let the light of God’s love forgive our sin and break into our life.
Dear Jesus, Messiah of Light,
Shine your light into our hearts. Teach us to trust your loving light and follow you out of our darkness to walk as children of light.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This is one of my favorite images. It is clear and sharp with no camera shake and the light is perfect. But actually the fact that I got this image is more due to luck than skill. I didn’t have my tripod with me that day; we were just doing a little hike from our campsite when we found this butterfly garden. It was the right time of year for the butterflies to be passing through for there were many there that day. It was the middle of the day and there was no wind. I shouldn’t have been able to get this picture and I have tried to take many pictures of butterflies since and none have been as beautiful as this one.
Unlike this accidentally beautiful image of the butterfly, God doesn’t create by accident. His workmanship is always purposeful. When we accept the grace of Christ, he will make us, create us, into new creatures. And because we are his workmanship, his creation, we can bring beauty to the world when we walk in him and do the good works for us to do along the way.
O Great Creator God,
May we accept your grace and be examples of your workmanship. As we walk with you show us the good works you have for us to do this day.
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