In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
When the alarm sounded this morning it was still very dark and it was warm and comfortable under the covers. I almost didn’t get up, especially since I was going to have to go by myself. I am so glad that I did make that effort. I began my day with a sunrise at one of my favorite sunrise spots. The clouds made the sunrise one of the most unusual ones that I have seen. I spent the rest of the day going to many of my favorite places and took lots of images. With each place I stopped, I was more overwhelmed by the beauty of the heavens and earth God created. It was a special time of worship as each place became a sanctuary, a sacred place.
Great Creator God
I bow before you in awe at your creation for your beauty was everywhere I looked today. Teach me to treasure each day and relish each sunrise.
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
One thing that all waterfalls have in common is that they are gradually changing the surface of the earth. The constant wearing of the water on rock gradually deepens and widens the river, sometimes making great canyons. Like waterfalls deepen and widen the river, love deepens and widens our hearts. We begin life knowing only about love through being fed and protected by our parents. As we grow and learn to love others, love deepens and widens our hearts, sometimes gradually sometimes instantly. My children and now grandchildren have deepened my heart and opened it wide. And as deep as my love is for my children and grandchildren, how much more is my Father’s love for me and them. Truly he has given me good things. This Sunday I experienced one of these good things when I watched my fourth grandchild be baptized and heard my daughter and her husband promise, with the members of their church, to lead her to know Jesus.
For all good gifts we thank you, especially for the gift of watching our children follow you. Deepen and widen our hearts as we seek to share your love with others.
When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.
You don’t really know what is in the other room through the door. The only way you can find out is to step through the door. Since you know that this door is in a cabin in a national park, it is very likely safe. It doesn’t take a lot of faith to step through the door. Unlike this simple action, there are times in our lives when taking the next step through an open door will take great faith. The man in this story came to Jesus desperate for Jesus to heal his son. He had a choice to believe Jesus and go or turn the other way, defeated and dejected. He chose to go and found his son healed when he returned home. We also have a choice each day - to believe and step through the door open for us or to turn away. Today make a step of faith towards Jesus, even if it only a small step. You will find what you truly seek.
Strengthen our faith today. Give us courage to take a step of faith through the door that you open for us today.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Tasting is an action. You must open your mouth if you are going to taste something. To experience God we must open our hearts to God, like this rose whose petals have unwrapped around its heart. To the degree to which we do open our hearts to God, we will experience God. When we do open our hearts and taste God, experience God with our whole being, we find blessings in the way he cradles and protects our open hearts.
Good Lord and Master,
Give us the courage to open our hearts to you, to taste your goodness.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
It is hard to explain how different the rivers and waterfalls of Minnesota and Wisconsin are from the waterfalls that I see in the mountains where I live. There seemed to be no way to get to a position where I could capture the flow of water over the massive rocks in one image. While my images may help you to get an idea of their power and beauty, you can never fully know what they are like unless you experience them yourself.
Like these waterfalls, we can hear of God from others but we will only see God in a transforming way when we experience God for ourselves. The book of Job tells how Job learned of God through experiencing him. Job was a man who suffered greatly. He questioned God about the cause of his suffering. He refutes the answers to his dilemma offered by his friends. In the end, God doesn’t give Job the reasons for his suffering, but after experiencing God in the whirlwind he no longer seeks an answer. He experiences God in a new way and bows in humility to a sovereign God. Like Job, it is when we honestly seek God, question God, cry out in anger to God, that we experience God.
Honestly seeking you isn’t easy. It means we must lay open our hearts with all our questions, fears, and anger. Speak to our hearts and transform us so we see you in new ways.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
I live in the mountains far away from any lighthouse, so on our recent trip to the Great Lakes I was looking forward to photographing one especially beautiful one, Split Rock Lighthouse on the north shore of Lake Superior. The day we had scheduled to visit started out very foggy. I hoped that the fog would soon blow off, but it never did that whole day and even into the night. The images I had in my mind of this colorful lighthouse against a clear, blue sky or the light of the golden hour was not going to happen.
The kingdom that James and John pictured was not the kingdom that Christ was teaching. Even though in the preceding verses from Mark, that Jesus had been trying to get the disciples to understand what was going to happen to him. They were just in a fog of their own making. We read also in these verses that some who followed Jesus were afraid. It is easy to look at this request of James and John as arrogant and presumptuous. Another way to look at the reply of Jesus is described by Dr. Charles Campbell in Feasting on the Word Year B Commentary:
However, in the larger context of the story, Jesus’ words may also be read as an extraordinary promise: “You will not always be driven by your fears and your need of security. Rather, you will be empowered to take up your cross and follow me. You will be faithful disciples to the end.”
After I thought about the images that I did take of Split Rock lighthouse, I realized that the fog was the reason the lighthouse was built. Look to Jesus' words even when we find them hard to understand and afraid to follow. Trust his promise that we will not always be driven by our fears and he will lead you out of the fog. As we daily seek to walk with him, we will become more like him, even to the point of drinking the cup that he drank for us.
Jesus, Lord and Savior
Shine your light of understanding on us. Calm our fears as we walk in your light.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
One of the things that I have learned about photography is that to make a good photograph the first thing to think about is your subject. What are you really trying to capture in your images, what message do you want your image to tell? Before you take your image you need to think about where the subject is in the frame and what things do you need to include and what needs to be left out. I think that one of the reasons that I like this image so much and other people have liked it also is that it has a clear subject, the water lily. Where I put it in the frame makes it looks like it is glowing from the inside.
The same idea about composing a good photograph applies to our relationship with Christ. To really know Jesus you must make him your single focus and remove the things in your life that detract from him. When you make Jesus the single focus of your life, his love will light up your life from the inside like the light on my lily. Your life will then send a clear message to all those who see that your life has a clear focus.
Sharpen my focus on you each day.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
As a landscape photographer you are told that your best images won’t come in the middle of the day. It is only in the golden light of early morning and late evening when you will make an image worth keeping. While I love the golden light when the sun is low in the sky, there are times when I find such joy in a clear, blue sky with white fluffy clouds in the the middle of the day. Sometimes we need to just ignore man's rules, rejoice in God’s beautiful world, and go out and take a picture in the middle of the day. And, even when it is hard, when the clouds cover the blue sky and rivers rush with the power of a flash flood, I will remember the blue sky days and sing praise as long I have being.
Great Creator God,
We sing your praise and stand in awe of your world and your love for us.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Work is an important part of life. From the very beginning of the Bible we see that God worked and he was pleased with his work. Since we are made in his image I believe we are made to work, to create. There is a special joy when we work hard to create something, even if the thing we created never wins fame or is even noticed by people. While walking on the trails that surround St. John University we came upon this beautiful little covered bridge. There was really no need for a covered bridge at this place, a couple of raised boards would have been sufficient to keep the water off the trail. Indeed this day there wasn’t even any water under the bridge. Still here it was, the result of hard work on someone’s part. You can see the craftsmanship in all the woodwork. It brought joy to me to see the beautiful little bridge as it brought joy to the two friends sitting on the bridge we passed on the way back that were engrossed in conversation. We may never know if our work brings joy to others, but if we work for God and not ourselves, for his eye and his honor, then we know God will use our work to draw people to him. And if we work only for his eye we are more likely to keep work in balance with other parts of our daily life.
Teach us to keep the right perspective on work - to not overwork or underwork. Teach us to work for you and bless the work of our hands.
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
My husband and I have just entered a new day and time in our lives as we are now retired after many years of teaching. It is this retirement time that have allowed us to have adventures and do things that we never could while we are working. It is a new day for us.
In his latest album Ken Medema captured exactly where I find myself right now. Since his words say them so much better than I can, here are the words from his song, Ocean Beach, on his album, Nothing Like the Rain. (You should go to his website or purchase the album from iTunes.)
I stand by the ocean, looking back at the land
I remember my childhood when I played in the sand
Heedless of danger, I ran to the sea to leap in the whitecaps that set my soul free
Now I am older and cautious in so many ways
But I know there are beaches and whitecaps and journeys for these my best days
This is my choice I want to leap into this strange new day
To taste and to turn, to love and to learn what I could not know yesterday
No turning back, yesterday’s gone
I’ll relish this day, I’ll treasure this dawn
What a romance taking the chance of life
I walk in the city, down the streets I have known
I remember my young days when these streets were my own
I knew I was called here, this place held my heart
And now when I walk here I feel like a stranger, it tears me apart
I will not return here, that die is cast
But I’ll run to the present and love it as much as I treasure the past
I will run with a stranger and I will walk with a friend
I will dance til I stumble and I’ll get up again
I will not run for shelter when the path is unknown
For I am surrounded by friends and companions, I am not alone
I want to love the night, I want to seize the day
I want to run the race, don't want to dream my live away
This is my choice I want to leap into this brand new day
To taste and to turn, to love and to learn what I could not know yesterday
No turning back, yesterday’s gone
I’ll relish this day, I’ll treasure this dawn
What a romance taking the chance of life
I stand at the ocean, I look back at the land
Lord of Sunrises and New Days
Thank you for the beauty of a sunrise on a new day. Give us courage to treasure each day as we walk into new adventures you have prepared for us.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
While visiting the Chicago Botanical Gardens I learned that there were some cacti that only bloom one day a year and that day was projected to be the next day. So the first place I went the next morning was the desert greenhouse and there, along with a good number of other visitors, I saw the showy blooms. But while everyone else was looking at the big blooms I happened to notice a little ways away this small little cactus, only about 6 inches high, with the smallest little bloom. I thought it was so striking, the pink flower against the white and green of the plant. Sometimes we see our self as this little plant, unnoticed, unimportant and of little value. But like this little plant you have made us beautiful. No matter how small you may feel sometimes remember that you are of great value to our loving father.
Remind us that you see us as valuable and love us so much even when we feel of little value. Help us to see the beauty in all those around us, especially those the world considers unimportant. Make our actions reflect the love you have for us for those who need to know how much you love and value them.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
It was getting a little late in the day and we only had time for one more hike at Tettegouche State Park in Minnesota. We decided to take the hike to Cascade Falls. We had a little trouble getting started because the signs in the parking lot were confusing. We finally figured out which trail to take. The trail followed the river so there were lots of little side paths that went to down to the edge. After we got to one of them a couple coming the opposite direction asked if these were the falls. They had been walking for a while and they said that they didn’t see any sign of a waterfall so they had decided to turn back. We were pretty sure that we had not been hiking for 1.2 miles, the distance to the waterfalls, but there were fewer and fewer people on the trail. So we kept going, the trail got harder until it just seemed to stop at this large rock. We were on the shore of the river and could hear waterfalls but now no trail. We climbed over this large rock which took some maneuvering, and there they were, what we had come to see. We knew that we might not ever come this way again so we kept going and in the end were rewarded with these beautiful falls on this clear blue-sky day.
In these verses from John we learn that after hearing these words of Jesus many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Many times we think only of the twelve disciples and forget that there were others who followed him in the beginning. The twelve were the ones who kept following him. Peter knew Jesus teachings were hard and he didn’t always immediately understand them. So like us on our hike that day, Peter knew that there was no where else to go but to keep following the difficult path walking with Jesus. Peter knew these hard words of Jesus were the words of eternal life and there was no where else where he would find them. Like Peter and the other disciples, walk on when the path seems hard knowing that the only place where we will find life is walking with Jesus.
When the way is difficult and we find your Word hard to understand, give us the insight and courage to keep going, to keep following you. Speak your words, even when they are hard, into our lives.
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.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The attributes of God are revealed in the world God created. Take time to stop and think about what that means for our understanding of God.
The more I study and photograph nature the more I learn about God. Sure we are overcome with wonder when we see a grand vista, but there is so much more to learn about God in nature than just wonder. I have learned many things about God from waterfalls. Waterfalls show us the result of the power of water to wear away even the strongest rock. God’s powerful love can open even the hardest heart. Waterfalls change with the seasons, sometimes filled with water and sometimes only a trickle. God wields power the way we need it, sometimes in great bursts and sometimes in a slow and steady flow. We experience waterfalls with our senses, we see them, we hear them, we smell the fresh air they create. We experience God with our senses. Truly we have so much to learn about God from the world he created.
Great and Powerful God,
Open our eyes to your invisible attributes in the world you created. Teach us the deep attributes of your nature in the world you have created.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
I love willow trees mostly for their contradiction. They grow strong and tall but their leaves are small and move so easily with just the slightest wind. From afar they look so fragile and wispy and soft but up close the trunk and branches are strong. In one of my new favorite songs by Ken Medema, “Have a Blessed Day,” a song about the Beatitudes from Jesus’ teachings, he defines the word meek as gentle and strong. He sings, “blessed are the gentle and strong for the earth shall be their happy place.” Ken’s song made me think about this verse in a new way about being gentle and strong.
When you are gentle and strong you see a beauty and find a joy in God’s world that you don’t see when you are only strong or only gentle. When you are only strong you focus on taking action and getting the job done and don’t take time needed to see beauty. When you are only gentle you don’t see the complexity of God’s world and see only the few things on the surface. But when you are gentle and strong you see past the surface to the deeper things and then take the time to intently gaze at God’s beauty. God’s world becomes a place where you have the strength and gentleness to see beauty and joy in the place where you live.
Strong and Gentle Master
Teach us to be both strong and gentle and to see beauty and joy in the world you have created.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Storms fill most everyone with just a little bit of fear. Sometimes you can see the storm coming or sometimes they come out of a blue sky. While the storm in this story brought fear to experienced sailors, the greatest fear came after Jesus calmed the storm. It was the storm that brought them face to face with the idea that Jesus was no ordinary teacher. Now they must decide who Jesus was and if they were going to follow him. We also must decide who Jesus is. Will we accept him as a good teacher or the Powerful Son of God? Will we awaken him, call on him, and let him calm the storms in our lives?
Jesus, Controller of Storms
We bow in amazement at your power and accept you as Lord. Strengthen our little faith. Calm the storms in our life and bring us the peace that comes from trusting you.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
An important part of our recent road trip north was time spent in the Chicago Botanical Garden. Here I experienced the beauty of a garden in a new way. Every plant, every walkway, every statue, and every bench is in its place for a purpose. It is easy to find silent places in a garden, especially a large garden early in the morning, to just sit and wait on God.
While I don’t have a garden as beautiful as the Chicago Garden to go to every day, I do need to learn to sit in silence and wait on God. I think I do hear him in a special way when I can sit in a garden, for it was in a garden where God first put man. It is in the silence of his presence that I find hope and strength to move through the noisy world. Take time today to sit in silence and view God's world if only through a window. Open your heart to him and find hope.
Creator of Gardens
Thank you for the beauty and lessons I find in gardens. Teach me to wait in silence each day for you. My whole being rests in only you, my refuge from the noisy world.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
As we entered this state park it was like driving through a tunnel, not a tunnel made of stone but one made of beautiful, old, tall, strong trees. (The stone wall on the left side of the road was up to my shoulders to give you an idea of scale.) These trees that have endured many seasons of storms still tower above the road. It is hard to describe the immediate feeling of peace that came over me on that road, enveloped by such beauty and quietness.
In my life I have been surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses like I was surrounded by those trees. I remember so many beautiful family and friends who have run and are still running the race set before them. They have supported and encouraged me. So now I desire to run with the endurance the race set before me, the endurance that I can only find when I look to Jesus. I want to follow the roads that will lead me to Christ. I want to be like those trees that surrounded me that day and surround all those in my life with support and encouragement to always look to Jesus.
Jesus, Who Endured All For Us,
Thank you for all the strong witnesses that have surrounded me in my life. Forgive the sins I sometimes cling to and help me to lay them aside so that I can run with endurance the race you have set before me.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
I do really love mornings. The sky is more beautiful, even on cloudy days. The light is so much softer and it is so quiet before the noise of the day begins. In the summer it is cooler and in the other seasons the air is crisp and clean. A beautiful sunrise makes morning even more special. When I get to somewhere special to photograph a sunrise there is time to wait and think and pray. There is a joy I can't explain when after waiting in the dark, you see the sun come over the horizon and fill the sky with color.
Lord of the Morning
Thank you for the blessing of waiting on the sun to rise. Thank you for hearing me when I pray in the morning. Make each morning a time for me to open my heart to you and give you my day. Give me patience to watch your working and your timing and to wait on you during my busy day.
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