Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Sometimes I feel like this log - worn and crooked and filled with knots. These are the times that I need to stop and remember God's grace. I need to let go of all the things that are making me feel so crooked. I need to prepare my heart to come before God’s throne of grace, knowing that here I will find mercy in his love. I need to admit that I need his help and quit trying to walk in my own strength. I need to open my heart to God’s healing hand so that he can make my knotted, crooked life beautiful.
We bow before you with confidence and gratitude for your grace and mercy. Prepare our hearts to worship you.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Rainbows are rare treasures. The conditions have to be just right, sun low in the sky and the right amount of moisture in the air. So when I saw this one I got home as soon as I could, grabbed my camera and my tripod, and ran up the hill to a place where I thought I could get a good picture. I knew that I wouldn’t have long, for the light was golden and the shadows were growing. I was so thrilled when I caught the last fleeting colors before they disappeared. I want to be that thrilled about seeking the kingdom of heaven. It is hard sometimes to think about totally surrendering to God’s will. I do know that the times when I have fully surrendered and followed Jesus, even when it was difficult, I have found great joy and beauty. I also know that unlike the rainbow, the kingdom of heaven will not disappear. It is truly a treasure that is worth selling all you have to buy.
Give us the courage to sell all and follow you; knowing that the only real treasures of beauty and joy are found in you.
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Fog limits our vision and brings a mystery to our world. We often use fog as a metaphor to describe something that we are having trouble understanding. God is so above our ways of understanding that he is a mystery. Knowing Christ unveils the mystery of God, lifts the fog. In Christ we find hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The more we know Christ the more hope we have that we can trust a mysterious God who reveals himself in Christ. One day there will be no more mystery. We will worship God and know him as we are known by him.
Great and Mysterious God
Lift the fog from our hearts. Open our lives to treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ and renew our hope.
Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of how the Israelites who had been in exile rebuilt the walls and temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. It has become one of my favorite books because of the lessons there are to learn in its pages. When I have read this book I will have to admit that I usually just skip chapter 3 because it is just a list of people with names I can’t pronounce who helped rebuild the wall. Until I read it again, really read it closely, and noticed something new about those people. It seems that Uzziel and Harhaiah were goldsmiths and Hananiah was a perfume maker. These artisans were known for their talent and trade, not exactly the skills needed for wall building. Still they worked on the wall and I think they probably got a lot of on-the-job training in wall building. By using these new skills they helped to restore Jerusalem so that the people once again could worship and renew their covenant with God. Rebuilding the temple was an important part of God’s plan. It took lots of people who worked outside of their talent and skill.
So why the picture of the Queen Ann’s Lace and the waterfall? Even though I have stood in front of this waterfall for many years and taken many pictures I have never noticed the flowers before. I have never gotten down and taken a picture through the rails. This day I saw the whole scene differently. My camera has taught me to see things differently, to use an artistic talent that I didn’t think I had. The images that I have taken and this new way of seeing has led me to write. I am not a trained photographer, nor ever imaged that I would ever give myself that title. I have learned on the job, so to speak, from books and YouTube videos. I also am not a writer. Sure, I had to write in my job as a teacher but not this kind of writing. I am not sure exactly why this writing and photographing came about but it is my prayer that it helps rebuild a wall for you. I don’t write to teach theology, as one can tell from my writings, but I do write to encourage and to share my journey with Jesus with you. Read this list of people in Nehemiah 3 and think about all the people it took to rebuild the wall. Be open to God's call to rebuild the people of God in ways that you never expected to be your talent (and use your talents, too).
Lord God, Giver of Talents
Open our hearts and eyes to see things that need to be rebuilt in the lives of people around us. Develop in us the talents we need to do the rebuilding.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
I had never seen a blue heron on the lake at Fall Creek Falls until this early morning. It stood at the edge of the water watching for danger and for food. I was able to get an image from far away with a long lens but when I tried to move closer it saw me and flew to the other side of the lake. I thought about his watchful eyes. He was so still but he knew when I moved just the slightest distance. Knowing that we walk under the watchful eyes of God’s love we can replace fear with trust and despair with hope. When we face danger we face it knowing that we will forever live in Christ.
Lord of Watchful Eyes
Teach us to look to you and to trust your watchful eyes when we face difficult times. Help us to move forward knowing that your unfailing love will give us courage.
But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Black and white images are hard for me to create. I have learned that a successful black and white image is one that is simple, clean, minimal. It takes seeing something in a different way. I still remember the day I took this image; seeing this tree that I pass every time I drive on the loop road in a different way.
It is often hard to do the simple thing, the easy thing. It was hard for Naaman in this story of his healing. Instead of doing something difficult that would have proven that he deserved his healing, all Elisha the prophet told him to do was to wash in the Jordan River. This meant he had to take off his armor and be vulnerable. A simple task, a common task, but one that meant he had to accept stooping down from his own pride. And Jesus asks us in the same way, simple yet hard, “take up your cross and follow me.” I love these words from one of my favorite writers, Debie Thomas, in her " Choosing What is Easy" essay on the Journey with Jesus webzine (one of the best Christian resources I have ever found and recommend it to everyone every week).
It's amazing how often I needlessly complicate the Christian life. “But what does God want me to do?” I groan. What is God's will? How shall I hear God's voice and discern God's plan?
Are the answers really all that hard? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Pray, listen, learn, and love. Break the bread, drink the wine, bear the burden, share the peace. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Get off your high horse and get in the water. Sit down at the dinner table and speak peace to those who are feeding you.
Help us do the hard but simple thing to follow you, to see in a new way, to lay down our armor and allow you to wash away our sin.
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb:
I am not exactly sure why the tree in the field across from the Lawson place in the cove is so special to me. I still stop to take a picture of this tree every time I go to the cove. To give you an idea of its size, I can easily walk under its branches without bending over. The last time I visited the cove, this tree had something else to teach me. This day this large, strong tree was dwarfed by the clouds that heralded the coming storm. I stood there amazed at the vastness of God who made all things and my own smallness in relation to the tree. And then I hear his promise that this God who made all things will hold my right hand. Overwhelmed.
Lord God, Maker of All Things
Thank you for taking hold of our hands and leading us through the vast and beautiful world you have created. May we humbly reach out and accept your love.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
It had been several years since we hiked to Spruce Flat Falls. In the past I thought of it as a relatively easy hike. It is only a mile to the falls. We didn’t even start out very early. However, the trail wasn’t the way we remembered it. It seems that while it is a well-marked and well-traveled trail, it isn’t a maintained trail. There were many places where the trail was worn away and now there were large steps over roots and several places where the trail was covered by rocks that had to be climbed over. It seemed more like rock climbing than hiking. If this had been our first time to the falls we probably would have turned around halfway. But we kept going because we knew what was at the end of the trail, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.
There are many difficult trails in our lives, times we thought would be easy. We take trails that can lead us far away from God and we turn away from him. We can get so lost we wonder why we keep going. Then we remember that God restored our lives from the pit before and we keep going on the trail to see the beauty that awaits us. We experience God’s discipline and weep, but joy comes in the morning. Beauty, peace, and rest rise before us as we sit again in his presence.
Lord of the Morning
Remind us of your love and presence along difficult trails and during dark nights. In the morning we sing praises for your beauty as we sit in your presence.
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.
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
Since there was only a sidewalk between our motel room and Lake Michigan it was going to be easy to get sunrise pictures, or so I thought. As soon as I walked outside I was glad the safety of the motel was very close. I would have not wanted to be very far away from shelter that morning. The wind was getting stronger, the waves higher, and the clouds darker each second. You could feel the power of the coming storm. There were times when it was completely dark and then times when the light would break through the clouds bringing amazing color.
Sometimes we lose sight of the power of God. His power is like the power of a storm, elusive but present. Unlike an earthly storm that brings destruction, his power brings righteousness and justice. We don’t always understand God’s power, yet there are times when his light breaks into our lives and we stand amazed. The Lord reigns. Accepting the sovereignty of God isn’t easy for us. We fight too much to be our own king. But there is a peace that comes when we rest in the authority of a trustworthy and loving God that allows us to rejoice in the power of the storm.
We stand amazed at your power and bow in your presence.
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