O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
The Carter Shields Cabin was probably built in the 1830’s. Just think about that, it has been standing for almost 200 years. It is a simple one room cabin with a loft, a porch, three doors, and two windows. When the national park was created there were lots of structures like this still standing. Some of them were kept as a way of preserving the way of life of the early settlers for future generations to see. When I visit this cabin I always go around to the side door and look through the cabin and out the window to the beautiful trees that surround this place. I think about what it was like to walk through this doorway a hundred years ago. It is like looking into the past. As I grow older I want my children and grandchildren to be able to look into my life, like I look through the door of the cabin, and see a wondrous God. I want to be taught by God all the days of my life. I want my life to proclaim his goodness to another generation. I want them to know and be taught by God who has shown me his love from my youth.
Thank you for all you have taught me from my youth. Make my life proclaim your goodness to another generation.
Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come;
Our family has camped at Fall Creek Falls State Park for many years. We have special places in the park where we like to go every time we camp. One of the special things we like to do each time is watching the sunset at Buzzard’s Roost. You have to do just a short walk, climb down over some rocks with the help of a tree that whose bark is worn smooth, then step over a rock bridge to be at the top of a large rock outcrop overlooking the gorge. There is a peace and comfort and joy that I find here, every time we come. While I can’t make the trip to see the sunset at Buzzard’s Roost when I need strength and a place of refuge I can always go to God. No matter how many times I come running to him, he is always there. And the more I go to him, the easier it is to find him. He has saved me and is my rock and fortress.
Strong Rock of Refuge
Remind us to always return to you, for no matter how far away we have run you are always there, a strong fortress.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
For those of you who have been following my blog you know that I never thought I would be a photographer or a writer. Yet here I am. I am only a novice photographer with a lot yet to learn. And while I have read the Bible since childhood, I still have so much to explore in God’s word. I do know that God has used my photography to show me the beauties of his world in ways that I would have never seen before I picked up a camera. While I would have enjoyed seeing a pretty sunrise or sunset now and then, I would have never gone searching for them much less have known how to take a picture of one. The more I learned about landscape photography the more I wanted to see and know about Creator God.
There are times when I feel so inadequate as a photographer and a writer, but in those times I hold on to the way that God has spoken to me through his word and world and has given me the courage to share the word he speaks to me through my images and his word. So I will continue to develop my photography skills but more I seek to experience God’s word in a way that moves beyond intellectual knowledge. In the words of D. A. Carson in an article in the NIV Theological Study Bible, “Desiring merely to maser the text is not enough; we must desire to be mastered by it.”
Jeremiah didn’t expect this call to be a prophet and he made excuses about why he wasn’t a good choice. But God had different plans. The road Jeremiah followed as a prophet wasn’t an easy one. I do believe that God has a call and a plan for every life, a plan which can change throughout our lives. Like me it may not be the one you expected or feel qualified to accomplish, but as I have found, God will give you what you need. It may not be to speak to thousands but to simply take one step and take a picture.
Lord God, Creator of all Life,
Speak to our hearts and fill us with the courage to follow you.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
I was amazed when I happened to look at the dandelions in the field on that frosty morning and found them covered with frost. When I looked at them closely through my lens I saw the tiny drops of water turned to ice. From little beginnings, even those covered with frost, grow big things. This seems to be the way God works. God has always shone himself a little at a time as we see in the pages of scripture. The Bible is a story of how God works to bring about full maturity. This is the way we grow in grace. We begin with a tiny seed of grace and it grows until it changes our lives and we then can impart the story of God’s grace to all the world.
King of Heaven
Grow us up into your grace and the purpose you have for us this day.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I try to walk every day, usually in my neighborhood. I enjoy being outside, even in cold weather, but sometimes it is just hard to leave my warm house. I would rather just rest by the fire. When I do walk I see scenes like this just down the subdivision road from my house. So there was work, and cold, but there was also rest that came from the simple joy of seeing this quiet scene only a hundred yards from a busy highway. Sometimes I think about what it takes to follow Jesus, the call to serve him wherever he leads. It seems like just hard work ahead and no rest; but he promises rest. So how do we have rest and work? We yoke ourselves to Christ. We depend on his strength to do the work and guide us to the work that he has for us, not the work that we do for ourselves or the work that others set before us. There is a peace and rest that comes from trusting Jesus and working in his strength. Yoke yourself to him today and you will find rest and peace.
Teach us to move forward yoked to you, in your strength. Quieten our souls and give us rest.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Without a word nature speaks volumes, from a sunset that paints the sky gold and orange and the mountains purple to the smallest plant and creature. In these wonders we see the glory of the Great Creator God. But God speaks in a more specific and personal way in his word. Ground you live in his words today. Make them a part of your life and you will find a stronghold that will never give way.
We thank you for the glory we see in the heavens, for the joy we see in the sky. Implant your words in our lives today so that we may reflect your glory.
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
I live close to the mountains so I don’t often get the chance to see a sunrise or sunset over a large body of water. I don’t think that I have ever actually seen the sun seem to be kissing the edge of the water and then watch it move out of sight as I did that evening on Lake Superior. It was just an amazing thing for me to watch something that I had never seen before. It filled me with excitement and joy. I find joy in many places, like photographing that sunset, but the best joy, the joy that lasts, the joy that changes me, is the joy of the Lord that I find when I really study his word.
In Nehemiah we find a description of this kind of joy experienced by a people who hadn’t heard God’s word in a long time. The people had returned to their homeland from exile and under Nehemiah’s leadership had been rebuilding the city wall. After the wall is finished they have a special worship celebration and Ezra, the teacher of the law, is called on to bring out the book of law of Moses. He stands on a platform to read the Law at the city gate; a place where all can be present women, men, clean and unclean; a place where decisions and judgements were rendered. They listened to teachers who were there to help them understand what was being read. They were overcome and wept with emotion. The people that day found a joy that can only be found in the Lord. In that joy they will find the strength to re-establish their home. I pray that you find joy in studying God’s word; a joy that will sustain you even when there are clouds that cover the sunset; a joy that stays in your heart as you go about your daily life.
Dearest Lord, Source of Joy
Thank you for the strength that results from the joy that can be found in your word. Open our hearts to hear your voice and see your beauty in your word and world.
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 an 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.
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