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.
The Lord is in his holy temple;
Even though I don’t have a good voice or much musical training I still love to sing in my church choir. It is something that I have done for more than 40 years. It is special to me to worship in this way. There are songs that make me smile and songs whose beauty makes it hard to sing through the tears that fill my eyes. But there is another way that I have come to enjoy worship and that is in the stillness and quietness of morning. I stand in awe of God and worship in silence. We need these times of silence and in our very loud and noisy world it is getting harder and harder to find them. We must make the effort to find them and bow in silence before our Lord. For it is when we are silent that we are more able to listen.
Grant us time today to stand in silence and worship you in your holy temple, in the beauty you have created for us.
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.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
Anything that is white is hard to photograph because the range of light that a camera sees is much less than the dynamic range of the human eye. The light reflected from something pure white is beyond the dynamic range of the camera and as photographers say, too hot. There is even a warning on most cameras called the “blinkies.” Areas in the photo where there is so much light that the camera’s sensor cannot record anything will blink on the LCD on the back of the camera. In other words anything that is blinking in the image on the LCD won’t have any detail and can’t be edited. It will just be pure white.
This dogwood was so beautiful against the green of the grass and the blue of the skies, but I just couldn’t capture it without blinkies. I tried many different angles and positions, but the only one that could capture the beauty and purity of the dogwood was looking up through the petals to the light. John, in the book of Revelation, gives us a glimpse of a pure, white in the robes of those who worship God on his throne. Right now our ability to capture what it is like to wear a white robe is limited for we can only read of their purity. We do know that the robes are white because they have been made pure by the sacrifice of Jesus. We take these words of Revelation as a promise of what it will be like to one day after our time one earth to put on these white robes and serve God sheltered in his temple.
Right now I can only catch a glimpse of the heaven you have promised in your word. I can’t image or even fully understand what it will be like one day to stand before you in pure, white robes. I can only accept your gift of love that has always been and will last forever. I bow before you and worship you now.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
In fall every individual tree adds to the glorious beauty of the mountains. Individually they are nice, but together they are glorious. In the same way, individual worship is important but the most beautiful worship happens when we join with others “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In the words of Michael Pasquarello, III, “worship is central to our identity and mission as God’s people, since it is worship that shapes the human community in response to the God of Jesus Christ.” We worship a Savior who is worthy and it is through his sacrifice that we find our way to worth.
We bow in worship to you who covers and sin and shame with the wounds of Jesus, your Son. With our brothers and sisters we sing now and forever, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”
But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
One of the gifts of photography for me has been time to be silent. To get good light on a beautiful scene you usually have to get to the place early to get set up and then sit and wait on the light. Even if you are at a popular location, once you get set up, the waiting is quiet. Our lives can get so noisy with the demands of work and pressing needs of loved ones who need our care. It is in these times that we need to find a quiet place to sit or walk and just be silent before God. For me being in nature is being in God’s holy temple. When I am silent I will find him in the world he has made.
Close our mouths and open our eyes and ears. We bow before you in silence.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
All I know about this budding flower is that I saw it in a garden in the state park. I just was taken by its beauty covered with fresh dew. The practice of Lent is something like this for me. Growing up I only knew that Lent began with Ash Wednesday and ended with Easter. In the past several years I have learned more about it and have tried to develop ways to practice it. I want to develop a way to practice Lent that will be meaningful to me and help me grow closer to Christ as I think about his suffering for my sin.
When I read these verses as part of the revised common lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday they seem to be in contradiction with the visible act of wearing ash and other practices of Lent. I think that what matters is not the wearing of the ash but the reason that you choose to wear the ash or participate in a special Lenten practice. What Jesus is teaching here is that our acts of worship and giving must be authentic. If they are acts of worship then the focus must be on God and not on what I am doing to worship God. If they are acts of giving then they need to be centered on the person that I am serving rather than how I feel about giving. I am still searching for exactly what I want to do during the season of Lent. I know that I will begin it with being part of my church Ash Wednesday service. It may not be just one thing but several different things. I encourage you to think about how you will experience Lent this year. I pray that you will find a way to make this an authentic time of growth in your life - as beautiful as the bud of a flower when it comes to full bloom.
Show us ways to be authentic in our worship and giving. Make this a season when we grow into something beautiful, bringing joy to others.
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain;
When we walked down to Lake Jackson on Colter Bay I stood in awe of the beauty of those mountains. I don’t know what it looks like to see God’s holy mountain, but I like to think it looks something like this - majestic and foreboding, shrouded with a layer of clouds. Truly it was a time for worship. While this was an awe-inspiring sight, wherever we are can become a holy place when we bow the knee and worship God. So many times we come to God with our wants and forget to worship him, to desire to be in his presence, to see that He is Holy. Take time to worship and exalt God today for truly he is a holy God.
Holy God, Maker of Mountains
We bow before you today and exalt your name.
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.
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.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
Fall is an exciting time for photographers, the colors are so rich and vibrant. To capture the beauty of fall, a photographer must seek out places and times of day to get an image that stirs the viewer's heart. Like I seek out places to photograph, I have found that I must seek out time to worship God. I need to set aside time to worship him, time when I sit in humble silence and let praise for him fill my heart as the glory of his world in fall fills my eyes. We need to make holy places in our lives, places where the attitude of our heart ascribes glory to God. Then we will see the splendor of his holiness.
Help us to seek out a time and place to worship you this day, to ascribe glory to your name, to see your beauty.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
Although not an active church now, many generations worshiped in this church in the park. Fathers and mothers teaching their children the greatness of God, praising God for his goodness. Even though my family live in different places now, we all worship and teach God’s greatness to our children through the churches of which we are a part. This morning I watched my son and daughter in law hold my granddaughter while she was baptized. I am so grateful for my parents who taught me the greatness of God. And now to see my children commend the works of the Lord to the next generation brings me joy beyond words.
Great and Loving Father,
Thank you for the promises of your word that I have seen fulfilled in the life of my family.
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
These are the words of King David, a song of thanksgiving after the Ark of the Covenant had been recovered and brought to Jerusalem. It was a time filled with joy and celebration for the Lord is coming to rule and govern his people. Even the trees are to sing. How do trees sing for joy before the Lord? For the dogwood tree, I think its singing comes in its beautiful, white blossoms. When I see the blossoms of the dogwood tree, I want to remember to sing for joy and worship our good God who loves us with a steadfast and everlasting love.
O Great King,
We bow in thanksgiving for your goodness and love. Make our hearts sing with joy as we see your beauty in the blossoms of the dogwood.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
The temple in Jesus' day was magnificent and beautiful, but it had lost its function. It was no longer a place of worship and sacrifice but had become a place of commerce. People came to fulfill their religious duties and the businessmen were there to help them meet their religious obligations. The sense of holiness and awe were gone. Just like the people of that day, we can loose our sense of holiness and awe. Going to church can become a routine obligation rather than a time of true worship. Our lives and our worship can become cluttered. We need to let God's light shine through the windows of our heart like it shines through the windows behind the simple altar of the Missionary Baptist Church.
Break into the altar of our lives with your light. Clear away the clutter and cleanse our lives of sin.
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
Unlike other mountain ranges, the Grand Tetons have no foothills. They just rise up out of the plain and the Snake River Valley. On this Sunday, this day of worship, may we exalt the Lord's name above everything else in our lives. Stand in awe of God's mountains and the mountain of Calvary where Jesus loved us with his great love, the greatest love of all.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
About This Image:
This Bible was left in the Baptist church in Cades Cove. I don't know who left it there or how long it had been there. When I saw it I thought about all the many different Bibles that had been opened by people worshiping in the pews of this church throughout the years. So I opened it to the Psalms and took its picture on one of the pews. God's word has come in many forms throughout the ages - oral tradition, hand-written scrolls, illuminated manuscripts, printed books, and digital files. No matter what form I use to read God's radiant commands, it gives light to my eyes. And it is this light from God's word that helps me see God in his world.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
About This Image:
I had seen this tree many times on trips to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains, but not until this day in the fog did I see its beauty. It is in a field where the horses graze at the beginning of the loop road and I usually rush by to get to more scenic views. This morning the loop road was closed to all but walkers and bicyclists. The fog covered all the business of the field that I usually see and because we were walking, there was no rushing. It was so quiet and still. It is not easy to be still and wait, especially in silence, in our busy world. To wait in silence requires trust in a God who is stronger than you, who loves you with a steadfast love. Silence, an inner stillness, peace, only come when we put our focus on God. It can't be achieved any other way.
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