Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
Today, Sunday, Christians will worship in many different kinds of churches. I am so grateful for my church, the other churches I have been a member of in different places I have lived, the churches that my children attend. I have learned so much from watching the faithful, the saints in the land, who have committed their lives to Jesus and have served him through his church. True, they weren’t always perfect, but they stay the course, admit their mistakes, and reach out to one another in love. These are my delight. These are the ones who have said, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
Thank you for all the faithful ones that bring growth, delight, and joy to my life. Thank you for my church and the faithful ones I see there.
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Fall is a season of transition; the hot days of summer give way to the beginning days of winter. You can feel the change in the crisp air and beautiful blue skies. The leaves change their color from green to reds and golds, each tree at its own pace. Just as we feel the changing of the seasons, Elisha knew that day that change was coming for his mentor, Elijah. Somehow he knew that Elijah was leaving before the prophets of Jericho told him. He knew that it would be the last time that he would see his mentor. We know that Elisha felt deep grief because he tore his clothes in two places. And after he grieved he picked up the cloak of his master and walked into his new beginning as the prophet of God. We all have transitions in our lives; some are joyful and some are sorrowful. Like Elisha sometimes we will grieve. It isn’t easy to trust God when big changes come in our lives just like it wasn’t easy for Elisha. Still he walked forward. He knew that God had been faithful to Elijah and that God had promised to walk with him. We may not have the stunning experience of a cloak falling from a fiery chariot, but still God speaks to us through his word and through the encouragement of others.
Lord of Transitions
Thank you for mentors and friends who have modeled for us what it is like to walk with you. Guide us through times of transition when we grieve over the ending of something we have loved and give us courage to walk forward to a new beginning.
When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
When I started taking pictures I asked many technical questions, e.g. what is an aperture, what is an f-stop, what is ISO? After learning these basics then the questions became a little more advanced, e.g. how can I use aperture to keep the most of the image in focus, what shutter speed do I need to use to make the water appear silky smooth. Now I ask much harder questions, e.g. why am I taking this picture, what about the flower do I find beautiful, what about the flower amazes me, what do I want my viewers to feel when they see this image of the flower. It is the questions that help me make a good image.
Jesus began his conversation with the man he had just healed with a simple but important question, What is your name? In that question he led the man from his pain and fear to a place where he could find his identity. In many stories of Jesus encounters with people he began with a question: “what are you seeking?” (John 1:38), “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5: 6), “What do you think, Simon?”(Matthew 17:25), “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 10:36). When we take time to listen to Jesus’s questions, even thought they are hard, we begin the journey of finding our identity in him. It is the questions that lead us to Christ. And it is in him that we find the answers.
Open our hearts to hear your questions and give us the courage to speak the answers that lead us to you and then to ourselves.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
Whenever I go to the mountains I am drawn to the streams and cascades. I must have hundreds of pictures of these streams. I find so many things in those streams from peace and quiet to happiness and noisy joy. The longer I stay away from them the more I want to go, need to go, back to them. I long to be back sitting beside one of those streams with my camera.
I have felt the same longing in times when I have been far away from God, times when God seems only a distant memory. I wonder where God is and why such bad things happen. I have only one giant question, “Why?” This psalm was probably written for a people who were in exile, far away from God. The psalmist questioned why God seemed so far away as he poured out his soul. Instead of an answer to the question the Psalmist turned to his memory of walking close to God and being safe in the house of God. Then he asked another question, “Why so disturbed within me?” The answer: put your hope in God and praise him. It is hard to choose to praise God when he seems so far away, times when we see great sadness, times when we are thirsty for his presence. Follow the psalmist instruction and remember all the times you have found God in his house and put your hope in God again.
Lead us to streams of water. Restore our hope in you. Help us to walk with others who are in deep sorrow and be for them a memory of your love even when we have no other answer to their questions of why.
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
We usually go to Fall Creek Falls to camp several times a year. Each time we go we go to all the familiar places: the big falls, Piney Falls, the cascades, the trail to the big falls, the lake trail, buzzard’s roost. It would be so easy to just sit in the campground and not make the effort to see these beautiful places, after all I have seen them countless times. Each time there is something new to see, some beauty I would miss.
God’s word can become like this, so familiar that we don’t make the effort to read the story again, to seek a deeper understanding of His Word. This story of Elijah’s encounter with God is as familiar to me as all the places of Fall Creek Falls. When I read it I even have a sound track that plays in my head - Mendlessohn’s chorus from the Elijah, “Behold God the Lord Passes By.” It would be so easy to just skip over it - to say I learned my lesson, God speaks to us in a “still, small voice.” But this time, when I took the time to really read the story I learned something more about encountering God. It is so much more than God speaks to us in the unexpected still, small voice. God comes to us in the way we need to hear him at that time to accomplish the purpose he has for us; sometimes in a quiet stream and sometimes in the power of a waterfall. Elijah was feeling like a failure and was running for his life into the wilderness. God prepared Elijah for the encounter on Mount Horeb, got his attention, and then asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah? It was a question, God asked Elijah a question. Then God told him to go back and do the work of being a prophet. So I must listen to God’s question, “What are you doing here?” and trust that God will answer.
Open our eyes, ears, and hearts to encounter you in your Word. Break through the familiar and teach us something new today.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
In some ways I have always been afraid of hiking in the mountains - of getting lost, of getting caught in a sudden, strong storm, or bears and other wildlife. My desire to hike has been fueled by my desire to take pictures of God’s beautiful world. So I started learning about hiking and the hiking trails of the Smokies. One thing that I haven’t mastered, though, is the ability to use a map and a compass to find your way. So I stay on the well-marked and well-traveled trails. I am grateful to the trail makers who carve steps out of rocks and make it possible to go to places that I would never have the ability to go by myself.
In our lives we also have a trail maker, the Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted his disciples and all those who follow him to know that he wasn’t leaving them without a trail to follow. Sometimes that trail can get a little hard to climb but Jesus promised his disciples and us that the Holy Spirit would guide us into truth, even when that truth is hard to understand.
Great Triune God
When we come to times when we no longer understand, give us the courage to accept your guidance. Open our ears to your words and keep us on the trail you have laid out for us.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
As we made our way up the trail to Hidden Falls we were passed by a group of very strong men all in red shirts with backpacks. After a while of steady up hill we got to a broad place along the trail overlooking the lake where we could take a rest. I looked up and saw those tiny red specks on the mountain and realized those were the men that had passed us. So big and strong when we first saw them and now against the mighty mountain they were only specks of color. (Look closely at the bottom of the image for the red specks)
When I look at God’s world I feel like those men so small against something as majestic as the mountain they were climbing. I question how could God care for mankind so small and insignificant in this vast created universe. David also asks this question in the middle of his beautiful Psalm 8. Instead of an answer to the question, the psalm just begins and ends with praise. There are times when we will all question God, doubt his care for us, be overcome with our insignificance. In those times we speak the words of this psalm and doubt and praise exist together. Anxiety is replaced by awe. And we continue climbing trusting in the God who made the mountain.
When we look at your amazing world we stand in awe of your majesty. We sing your praise even when we don’t always understand how and why you care for us. Replace our anxiety with awe.
And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?
Come and sit with me by the creek. Listen to the mountain stream. Feel the soft breeze through the trees and the coolness of the evening air. Come and see the mighty works of God. Each of us hears, sees, and experiences God in different ways. He made us that way. After we have walked with God alone, through valleys and mountains, then we need to sit with each other and share those times. When we take this time to step across boundaries of language and culture, then we learn new ways of experiencing God. And we hear him even stronger in our own language and stand amazed in his presence.
Come and sit with us today. Teach us to listen and to appreciate the many ways you speak to your children.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This week I was given a wonderful opportunity to see an amazing experience of nature, the synchronous fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains. No one really knows exactly why this specific species of fireflies flash synchronously but it is related to mating ritual for these beetles that live for only 21 days once they reach adult stage.
(While I did try to take pictures, I don’t have enough knowledge or the equipment to actually take a good image. To really capture what we saw I think would take a very special cinematic camera and lens. A photographer would also need the ability to do something called light painting or take images on a full moon, both of which impact the fireflies. So this image is the best I could do. )
The occurrence of the fireflies in early summer has become so popular that the park has developed a lottery for parking tickets and then transports the lottery winners by trolley to Elkmont campground. My friend won one of the 1,800 spots out of the 28,000 entries and could take a carload. We arrived in Elkmont at dusk, found our spot by the little bridge just off the Little River Trail, put up our chairs, and just waited.
It wasn’t what we expected to see - it was much more amazing than I can describe. I guess I thought it was going to be kind of like a flashlight that someone would turn on and off to signal someone. It was more like a thousand twinkling lights followed by a period of deep darkness. Even though there were a lot of people there it was quiet, like a sacred moment when being still is more important than talking.
This experience comes to me during Pentecost and it has made me think much more about the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples and followers of Christ who were waiting in the house as Jesus had directed them, I waited in the woods with good friends for this special experience, none of us knowing exactly what to expect. This made the experience even more special. At first there was only a random light of a firefly here and there as I see each summer, but gradually the lights got closer together and the longer we waited the more the fireflies synchronized their lighting. There, in the darkness when we could no longer see each other, the fireflies were like sparkling jewels surrounding us. Each twinkling at their own pace but at the same time. The longer we live in community, each one using the diverse talents the Lord gives, and do the hard work of loving as Jesus loved, the more we see the Holy Spirit accomplishing his purpose in our lives. And as scientist can’t really explain the synchronous fireflies completely so we cannot explain the ways of the Holy Spirit. We only open our hearts to the experience knowing that in some ways we will never be able to explain it or prove it. It will be an experience that we will never forget, that will change us, and that will fill us with awe.
Bring the twinkling of your light into our midst. Teach us to love each other and to wait for you to lead us.
How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all;
The wood lily’s bloom is not just one but many small blooms. You don’t see this until you get up close and see that it is a flower made up of flowers. While each little flower is similar it is also unique in its coloring. And this is just one small part of God’s creation, a creation full of amazing diversity. When I see the wood lily, this small part of God’s creation, I can hardly fathom the wisdom of God that created this diverse, complex, and interrelated world. So I sing praise to him and I will sing to the Lord every time I step into his beautiful, amazing world.
Great Creator God
May our praise be pleasing to you this day in your beautiful world.
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
It is that massive, ancient boulder that controls the boundary of the mountain stream and the smaller rocks that create the cascades. Even when you can’t see the stream you can hear the water as it follows the course set by the boulders and rocks. The constant sound of the water is like the clapping of an audience after the performance of a master. We have such a master, a great King, the Lord Most High. Follow the course set before you by a great and loving King and you will find joy.
Lord Most High
We clap our hands with the mountain streams. We sing for joy to you. As we walk with you set our course and replace our anxiety with trust of your greatness.
Get In Touch
If you have something to share with everyone reading the blog, click on Comments to add your thoughts. Remember that your comments will be seen by anyone reading the post. If you want to just share your comments with me then click on the Contact link in the menu above.
If you are looking for a particular scripture or post title then enter the word in the search box below. You can also find posts about specific topics in the Topics section.