All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
One of the most popular pull-offs on the Cades Cove Loop road is this one at just about the halfway point on the loop. Here the cove opens out before your eyes, surrounded by the mountains. One way to capture this scene is to use a wide angle lens. Like any other speciality lens you must learn to use it.
Christ has set before us a wide angle view of the world and we will need to learn to use the wide angle lens that he has given us to see the way he sees the world. Opening out before us is a hurting world that needs to know the love of Christ. He calls us to a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation isn’t easy because it begins with forgiveness. Christ paid the ultimate price to reconcile us to God. Since we have been forgiven then the we must forgive others. We must learn to forgive and thereby begin a ministry of reconciliation.
Open our hearts to accept your forgiveness. Help us to share that forgiveness with the world.
“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”
Taking pictures of wildflowers is a challenge. First you have to know where to find them and do some hiking to get there. Then the conditions have to be just right, soft light from the right direction and little or no wind - and a few drops of rain are even better. You also have to have a camera that can focus on close objects. Our modern digital cameras are really amazing light machines, especially the ability to autofocus, which works when we simply push the button. The simplest and most accurate kind of autofocus is called contrast detection. It works by looking for the contrast, the difference, between areas of light. Still taking a picture of an object as small as a hepatica bloom less than an inch across requires the photographer to develop skill and have patience.
In a way our eyes work the same way that a camera interprets light to create a clear, sharp image. How you focus your eyes, where you gaze, illuminates your thoughts. When we set our focus on God his love dispels the darkness of the world. But is easy to get drawn out of focus. It takes effort to develop our contrast detection autofocus abilities. When we do allow our focus to be drawn to God we see his beauty and the beauty of his world. It changes us from the inside. His light illuminates us and we can be a light in the darkness of this world.
Father of Heavenly Light
Help us hone our focus on you. Open our eyes to your beauty. Illuminate our souls so that we can see where we can best meet the needs of others in the world.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
It is wildflower season, otherwise known as spring, in the Smokies. Yesterday I took my first “photographing wildflowers” adventure of the season. It was the perfect day for this, cloudy with rain drops still on the vegetation. There were only a few flowers in full bloom, but there were buds. Each spring I get another chance to develop my photography skills, for taking good images of wildflowers is a challenge for me.
Seasons are one way that I think that God uses nature to teach us about his love and ourselves. Every spring the plants that have lost their bud and lain dormant during winter sprout again. So in our lives we have the chance to be new, to lay our sins at Jesus feet and experience his forgiveness. We have reason to sing new songs when we see the beauty of the spring wildflowers that God uses to paint his world.
Thank you for teaching us of your love through the seasons of your world. Make our hearts new again. Teach us to sing new songs of your love.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Sometimes I try to see myself as the younger son in Jesus's parable of the Loving Father. He had decided that he was going to leave home and chart his own course. His way had been exciting at first filled with good times and easy days, but those days were over. Instead of the happy, easy existence he had imagined he found himself at a dead end. He took a good hard look at himself and decided that he must make the long journey home. It wouldn’t be an easy journey.
I wonder if the roads he followed were like this one, with dark clouds and few people. We were a long way from home as we drove this highway at the end of our road trip with still a hard week of driving before us. Repentance is never an easy journey filled with dark clouds and mountains of sin like the mountains and clouds we found on our road back home. The younger son rehearsed the words he would say to his father never expecting to see his Father running toward him. As we walk the lonely mountain road through our sin we move forward knowing that the Loving Father waits expectantly for us. He has been looking for us everyday. It is only with the Father that we will find ourselves at home.
“God of homecoming, be with us as we journey through Lent. May we learn to relinquish our old ways so that we are ready to receive your newness.
(Prayer from A Way Other Than Our Own, by Walter Brueggemann)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
It is only about a five minute walk from the visitor’s center parking lot on a wide, level trail to Cataract Falls. It is so very easy to get to that it is the only waterfall that many of the 1.5 million people who visit the park every year ever see. To see much grander and more beautiful waterfalls you must hike at least a mile. Your desire to see a beautiful waterfall must be greater than your desire to take it easy. When our desire to see God is stronger than our desire to seek the wide, level path then we will see much more of his power and glory. We will see his beauty and experience his steadfast love when we earnestly seek him.
O God, My God
Make me thirsty for your presence. Teach me to earnestly seek you. Give me a desire to be with you that is stronger than any other desire for material things.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
One thing about picnic tables that I only noticed when I started taking pictures is that most of the time they just unused. When they are used, it is usually some kind of special occasion like a holiday or just a day spent at the park with special food prepared before or even cooked right at the table. Sometimes I think we treat God like we do picnic tables. We think of him only in special places and special times. God invites us to come to him everyday in our ordinary times of meals and rest. Accept God’s invitation and come to his table for that is the only place where we will find satisfaction for all our needs. Then celebrate and sing for joy for a God who is your help and shelter.
God Our Help and Shelter
Bring us to your table. Teach us to find our satisfaction in the food you provide. We sing for joy and praise you as long as we live.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Today is a kind of mountain-top experience, or maybe a remembrance of 365 little moutain-top experiences. This is my 365th post, a year’s worth of scripture, words, and images. When I began this website on November 11, 2017, I had no plan or really even idea about how often I would post or how long the website would last. I still don’t have any idea about those things. This whole experience has truly been God’s work, from the initial idea about what to do with my images, to the verse from Proverbs 119:130 that became the focus of the website, “the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple,” to the words that I write today. I look back at the images and the words and I can’t believe that I took those pictures or wrote those words - and then I realize that I didn’t. God gave me the images from his world and the words from his word.
Two years ago I would never have even imagined that creating this website would be the job that God would give me. I would never have planned this myself or even thought it possible that I could create this many images or write these words. God’s ways are truly higher than our ways and this new job of writing has led me closer to him. I see God now in ways that I never did before I picked up the camera. I see the beauty and connection and completeness in his word in greater depth through the commentaries and resources based on the Revised Common Lectionary that I have come to love. I long to walk in God’s world along the trails of the mountains, even if I never take my camera out of my pack. I know there is much more to learn about chasing the light in God’s world and his Word. Wherever God leads me with this website and blog, I want it only to bring glory to him. I am grateful to friends and family who take time to read my posts and send encouraging words. I am grateful for each image and each word he has spoken to me and I pray that you see him in every post for as long as God gives me images and words.
Soli Deo Gloria, to God only be glory, for your ways and thoughts are higher than ours.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
The homes that remain in the park are really only shells of what they were when people lived in them. Even though they seem primitive in comparison to the homes of today, they still offered protection. They were filled with life, joy and sadness, and set in a truly beautiful place. We all seek home, a place where we are loved and protected, a place where we see beauty. Jesus offers us that home. He has offered his life for us. He made himself a refuge for us, even those of us who run away from him.
For the home you give us, for the protection you offer, for your heart of love for us that weeps when we run away, we bow in gratitude at your gift of love. Bring us home and help us show others the way.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
There was a light dusting of snow on the mountains and the daffodils were blooming at Hyatt Lane in the cove. I was trying to get a picture of both the mountains and the daffodils without a car on the road. Then as I was just about to get a break in the cars, one car parked and these two friends got out. Instead of just giving up and heading back to the car, I decided to wait patiently until they finished taking their pictures. I could tell from their conversation that they were good friends out for a day to enjoy the mountains and see the daffodils. I watched them walk arm in arm back to their car. So I decided that the picture that I wanted with the mountains and the daffodils, the one that I had waited on, wasn’t the best picture. It was this picture of two friends enjoying the beauty of God’s world together that God gave me this day.
We so need each other to walk the Christian life. True that each person must decide to follow Christ individually, his own choice and not the choice of his family or his culture. But once we make that decision we need brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we love, who are our joy and crown. When we stand together we stand firm in the Lord.
Thank you for teaching us the importance of loving each other, of having friends to walk along the road with us, to find our purpose. Help us to help each other to stand firm in the you.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
There is nothing like a blue sky day early in the morning to bring a sense of joy and new life. The sun shining low in the sky intensifies the green of the grass against the deep blue of the sky. It is the color and direction of the light that makes the colors so vivid and made my heart so full of joy that morning I took this picture. After studying photography for a while I have come to think about light more deeply. I am learning to understand light, to see its color and notice its direction and intensity. Knowing more about light helps me to understand and appreciate more what David meant when he describes the Lord as his light. It is the Lord who brings direction and color and intensity to my life. It is in God’s light that we see our salvation. It is the light of the Lord that takes away the fear of darkness.
Lord of Light
Break into our day with your light. Teach us to see your light in our world.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
You can still tell that it is a green blade of grass even though it is encased in ice. After the ice melts it will again stand in its place in the hollow of the rock along the side of the road. We can get so weighted down in our sin we feel like our hearts are encased in an ice that will not melt. We forget what the joy of forgiveness feels like. But Jesus has paid the price, we are still God’s children. Go to God and repent your sin. He will melt the ice of your heart and restore your joy.
We come to repent and seek your forgiveness. Melt the ice hardness of our hearts and restore our joy of fellowship with you.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Last fall we got to take a road trip to the Great Lakes. One of the places we wanted to find was Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota. It is here where the Mississippi River begins, yes this mighty river begins as a creek flowing out of Lake Itasca so small you can rock hop across it.
Our road trip was a journey to find new places of God’s world, like Lake Itasca. Today I found a wonderful book by the Australian photographer, Ken Duncan, “Where Jesus Walked.” He took pictures of the Holy Land and wrote about them. These are words from this book about Jesus’s journeys: “People often take journeys to find themselves. Jesus journeyed to find us.” So as the mighty Mississippi begins as a small creek so our journey begins with a rock hop across a small stream all the while knowing that Jesus is seeking us and he will find us. Be amazed at such love.
Jesus, Seeker of the Lost
Thank you for finding me. Open our eyes to see you and journey forward knowing that when we walk with you we will never be lost.
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.
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.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Over the past couple of years I have learned many of the secret places where the daffodils bloom in great numbers in the cove. We headed out on this beautiful sunny day to find them again. They were still blooming even after the constant rain and freezing cold. But today I just happened to find the biggest stand of them that I have seen in a new place. This stand of daffodils will be my secret place. I hope you have a secret place where you like to go to see God’s beauty.
Like the secret places of the daffodils in the cove, we all have secret places in our hearts - places where we hide our greatest joys, our greatest hurts, and our greatest fears. Sometimes it is hard to see and hear truth in the inward places of our hearts. It takes great wisdom to truly search and grow here. We need to open the secret places of our heart and seek God’s wisdom, for out of the secret places of our hearts come our words and actions.
Wise and Loving God
Give me the courage to seek your truth in my inner being. Teach me wisdom in my secret heart so that I may live a life of integrity and service.
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.
As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
The first hike I went on with my husband was to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove on a beautiful summer day. On our way back we stopped to rest at the big rock at the top of the hill about three-fourths of the way back to the parking lot when there was this loud crack of thunder behind us. It was close and terrifying. We almost ran back to the car with lightning cracking all around us. We made it back just before the downpour. If you have ever been in the mountains when a sudden afternoon storm blows up you know how terrifying and dangerous it can be.
I wonder what it was like for Peter, James, and John when the mountain was suddenly enveloped by a cloud like we were when we heard the thunder crack above our heads that day. What was it like to be that close to the glory and power of God? Sometimes I think we read the Bible as a simple re-telling of ancient facts without thinking about the impact of the events on the lives of the real people in the Bible passage. Reading the passage and thinking about the emotions and the way the words might have been said and felt by the people present has helped me develop a deeper understanding of God’s word and a deeper relationship with Jesus.
You are awesome and powerful, more powerful than any storm. Help us to remember that when we read your word. Help us to read the Bible as more than just a retelling of ancient stories but as a living and breathing word from you.
And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.
I have been on Little River Trail in all seasons. I have seen it lush and cool in the spring and summer, beautiful and brightly colored with the leaves of fall, and stark and bare in the winter. I have seen it with clear blue skies and like this last time with the fog quietly rolling in. I want to see Jesus like this - in all seasons on clear days and foggy days. I want to seek him just out of sight around the next corner following the path he has laid out for me. I want to be like Zacchaeus who wanted to see Jesus so much that he risked what others thought of him and climbed a tree. Not to many adults I know climb trees. On that day Jesus saw him, the real him, the person behind the short hated tax collector. And he looked into Jesus’ eyes and saw how much Jesus cared for him. The fog was lifted on his way of life. He immediately changed everything he had been, the hated tax collector and followed Jesus.
I want to be like Zacchaeus who sought to see you and then saw himself through your eyes of love. I want to seek to follow you on whatever path you lay out for me.
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