They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
The tree on this hill has stood for many sunsets. Its very presence is a testament to its ability to withstand the forces of wind and water. These words of Isaiah written to a people in difficult times brought a promise from God that one day their days would be like the days of a tree maybe like this one that stands so beautiful and strong on this hill. God promised that their needs would be met and their work would have purpose and something that they would enjoy.
These promises also bring us hope in difficult times for we are God’s chosen people. We will stand like this tree tall and strong because Jesus stood on a tree for us. When we follow him our work becomes full of purpose, his purpose, and brings joy to our lives.
Strong and Loving God
Make our lives like a strong tree. Show us the purpose for our work today and through it bring joy to our world.
For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.
We decided to take the scenic detour over the mountains on our way back from spending the week celebrating our grandson’s birthday. The summer flowers were in bloom along the roadside and I saw these flowers of different types all together, each unique with even a lady bug enjoying them (you have to look close, I didn't see it when I took the picture). It made me think of my four grandchildren, each so very different and each so precious - one who shows every emotion on his face and runs into your arms, one young man who loves playing games that involve numbers, one sprite of a little girl who loves to run after bubbles and balloons, and another little girl whose sweet smile and dark eyes will melt your heart when she says “I love you.” Like the roadside flowers, each child made by God is unique and precious. I am so grateful for their presence in my life; but even more grateful for their parents and their other grandparents who demonstrate God’s love.
I praise you for the hope you are in my life and for my parents that taught me to love you. I ask your strength and grace for my children as they seek to teach their children to love and praise 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.
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.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
I have lived in sight of the mountains most of my life. I have hiked in them many times, yet I have never really hiked to the top of one until last week. We didn’t really go that day with the intention of hiking a mountain. We were just going to go a short distance up the trail to arch rock but when we got there I decided to keep going to Alum Cave Bluffs. As I climbed higher the view became more and more amazing. It was truly a mountain top experience. There were many people on the trail that day, seeking the clear views that can only come from the top of a mountain.
Climbing a mountain is a physical experience and also a metaphor for a spiritual experience. There are times when we see God more clearly; we catch a vision of what God has planned for his world. While it won’t be like John’s vision of the Holy City from the great, high mountain it will be the vision that we need to keep climbing. We won’t be able to stay on the mountain top. The vision that once was clear will fade at times while we are on this earth. But, as the book of Revelation promises, there will come a time when the mountain top experience will never end. We will see God and live in. his presence.
Thank you for mountains - times when we see your world and you more clearly. Give us this day a vision of your radiance and glory and the strength to keep climbing.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
It has been stormy and cloudy for the past two days. I had hoped that this morning the weather would be different but the predictions weren’t promising. I just wanted to see a special sunrise this morning. I decided that it wasn’t going to happen and that I would not try to go to a special place to see a sunrise. Instead I would just get up before dark and read the resurrection stories.
So this Easter morning I sat in my sunroom and read my bible in the dark (you can do that if you read your bible on an iPad). It was very cloudy but I just happened to look out my window that faces east and saw a slight bit of color. I grabbed my camera and put on my coat. I didn’t have time to change lens, get my filters, or tripod. I ran up the hill and through a neighbor’s yard that I knew wouldn’t mind to the field on the other side of my neighborhood.
And there was this beautiful sunrise, unexpected glory. I was so glad that I didn’t just sit in my sunroom. It is cloudy again now with the sun behind the clouds. When the women went to the tomb that first Easter morning they only expected to see Jesus’s body, but that was not what they saw. I believe that Jesus still comes to us in unexpected ways. And when he comes he brings light to the darkest night. When we follow him, he will always show us unexpected things.
He is Risen! He is Risen!
Open our hearts to the unexpected and give us courage to follow you into new life.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
I have only had the desire to become a hiker since I started learning about photography. Hiking still scares me some. You never know what is going to be around the next curve in the trail because the mountains are filled with snakes and bears and other many other dangers. My fear has kept me from hiking a trail with a water crossing, hiking a trail longer than 8 miles, or solo hiking. (I tried that one time and after 20 minutes headed quickly back to the car.)
There are fearful times in our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble afraid of what will be around the next curve. We face enemies of many kinds - sickness, loneliness, loss, temptation, addiction. We don’t have to be paralyzed by fear because we can choose to walk with God who stretches out his hand to us. We can walk forward around the curve because we walk with a loving Lord who knows where the dangers are and delivers us from all of them. Even though I am afraid I still hike to see where the trail leads, be it a peaceful level path, beautiful waterfall, or a mountain vista, for each hike has its purpose. When we walk with God he will fulfill his purpose in our lives. He will sustain us with his steadfast love even though we walk in the midst of trouble.
Let us walk with courage, knowing that you have purpose for the path you have set for us. Your steadfast love will sustain us in the midst of trouble.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Sometimes it is hard to think about a new day. In our sadness we see only cloudy skies and wonder if the sun will ever break through the clouds again. In those times we cling to the promises of a God who has always been and will always be faithful. We look forward with hope to a new day, for God will come to dwell with man as our God. As surely as a new day dawns with the promise of blue skies, God will make all things new.
Trustworthy and True God,
Shine your light and break into our darkness. Restore our hope and dwell with us. Wipe away our tears now until in your timing you take them away forever.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
When you are driving along the Little River Road you will see this pull off that is a little longer than most by a stone retaining wall. If you stop and look back across the river in the dark forest you will see these falls, hidden away but in plain sight. We can all feel like this, hidden away in a dark place but in plain sight, as the Christmas carol says, “in this world of woe.” Sometimes the woe can be of our own making and sometimes the woe is not of our doing. The prophet Zephaniah wrote these beautiful words to the people of Israel who were experiencing times of woe after he had taken then to task over their rejection of God’s ways. His words comforted the people in dark times with this promise of God that there would be a time when there would be rejoicing again because the “Lord your God is in your midst.” In your times of woe, God speaks this same promise. Let God’s love quiet you and bring you peace. And while you may not hear it all the time, just like you won’t see these falls if you are not looking, the Lord God will sing over you like a mother sings over her child.
Emmanuel, God With Us,
Quiet us with your love and open our hearts to hear you singing over us and then open our mouths to share this joy with all we meet today.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The big trees towered over us on the trail. I stopped a minute and stood in awe at their amazing strength and beauty. In their height, their trunk, and branches you can see their many years, their history. They have made it through many seasons. But in each one is also the promise of new growth waiting for the next season. We look back over our lives and see the way Jesus has stepped into each season. We see him today as we try to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. And now we wait for our blessed hope, of when we will see our precious Jesus.
We wait for your coming today as we walk with you. We wait for that time when you will come again in your glory. As we wait help us to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;
Hope and trust are related to each other like two sides of a bridge. The way to hope requires trust and when we trust we have hope. The important thing to know before crossing a bridge is its quality - is it well built, can it hold my weight. We know we can put our trust in God for his love is steadfast and sure. Even knowing this we will sometimes walk through waters of worry when right above us is a perfectly good bridge that will carry any weight we put on it. And our hope to turns to fear. Look for the strong, trusty bridges that God builds and they will lead you from fear to hope.
Strong and Steadfast Savior,
Teach me to look to you, to trust you instead of walking through waters of worry. For you, O God, are my bridge to hope, strong and steadfast.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
There is something about a budding flower that symbolizes hope. The plant has found what it needed to survive in the soil in which it was planted and now there is hope of a new life of beauty. If we are to find hope in our lives to grow and bloom then we will need to make sure that we plant our lives in the soil of God’s love. On this the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope, look to the God of Hope so that through his power you will find a hope that will not fail.
God of Hope
Fill us with your hope. Open our eyes to places where we can share the hope we have in Jesus Christ with all those we meet.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
I don’t know how flowers get their common name, but I think “bleeding heart” describes this flower well. It is a beautiful small heart-shaped flower with several blossoms on each stem. There are times in each life when we are brokenhearted and these are the times when the Lord seems nearer. I say ‘seems’ because God is always the same distance from us, just a cry away. But it is in the brokenhearted times that we actually cry for help and we feel him nearer. I think this flower has something to teach us about dealing with brokenhearted-ness. As the blooms grow taking nourishment from the same stem, so we need to be close to others who find their nourishment in Christ. We need others who will walk with us and carry us to Christ in their prayers. We also need to be sure that we reach out to those who are hurting. This small flower is beautiful and in its beauty we find hope when we are brokenhearted for it was Jesus’ bleeding heart that saves us and brings us hope.
Lord of the Brokenhearted,
When we cry out to you from a broken heart, we are grateful for your presence. Open our eyes to those who need us to carry their hearts to you. Most of all thank you for the bleeding heart of Jesus who saves us.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord
Seeing a beautiful sunrise is hard, especially in summer when the days are long. Many times it means not just getting up early but getting up in the middle of the night to get to a good location and driving and/or walking in the dark. When you see the sky begin to fill with color then you know it was worth the work. To photograph sunrises takes discipline and desire. Waiting on the Lord also requires discipline and desire. But it is in discipline of studying his word that we find hope like the colors that fill the sky of a beautiful sunrise.
Renew our desire to seek you in your word. Fill us with hope that only you can give.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
I love a sunset in the mountains. Since I have lived close to mountains all my life, they have come to symbolize steadfastness and endurance for me. We got to the spot where I thought I could get a good sunset and we waited. I have found that photography involves a lot of waiting - for the right time of day, for the wind to stop blowing, for the sun to get in just the right place in the sky, for the fog to move in or out, and for the people to move into or out of the frame.
While waiting for a sunset doesn’t always yield results, waiting on God always does. It is hard to wait for anything in our instant gratification culture, much less to wait in silence. This is something that we need to learn, to cultivate, for it is only when we are silent that we hear God, the source of our hope.
My Rock and Salvation,
Teach me to wait in silence for your voice. Open my ears to your words and my eyes to your beauty.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Winter trees seem so bare and lifeless. They wait for the spring when the leaves return and their bare branches are filled with life. We all have times in life when we feel like we are wasting away. One day we will see that the difficult times we face today are preparing us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We will come to see the beauty in the branches that was there all the time. God’s love and care is eternal.
All Seeing God,
Give us the courage to look beyond the trials we face today and see the beauty that lies before us in your eternal love.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The little boy looked up at the great big tree along the trail and he wanted to climb it. What did he think about as he stood there looking up at it? Finally after some coaxing from his grandfather, he moved on down the trail.
I wonder, on this day of Ascension, if the disciples felt like the little boy looking up in amazement at that great big tree as they watched Jesus move out of their sight. Their wondering was stopped by a question and a promise. Jesus had given them a task so why were they looking up? After a short while, it would be time for them to follow the path from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But they wouldn’t go in their own power for they would have the power of the Holy Spirit. They would also go with this wonderful promise - Jesus would return one day.
We have that same task, power, and promise. We are to be witness to the saving love of Christ. Sometimes, like that little boy, we stand in amazement at the task before us. But we also have the promise, Jesus will come again. And so we move on down the trail with the power of the Holy Spirit leading the way.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Give us courage as we set out to be your witnesses. Give us joy as we think of your return. Keep us close to you through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
You can hear the roar of the waterfalls as soon as you open the car door at the pull off. Even though they are set off from the road you still hear them. Powerful waterfalls can fill us with a sense of awe but also danger. One wrong step, one slip on wet rocks, and we could be swept away.
When we come upon times of trouble in our lives we can feel like we are going to be swept away. Even though the writer of this psalm felt overcome by the waves he still knew that the waterfalls were God’s waterfalls. Instead of looking at the power of the waves he remembers the steadfast love of God and even in his darkest night he sings the song God gave him to sing.
Creator of Waterfalls
When we face difficult times and feel like we are being swept away, remind us to look to your steadfast love. For it was you who made the waterfalls and you who will bear us safely through them.
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
The summer house and estate of Moses Cone close to Blowing Rock, North Carolina was beautiful on that late summer day when we visited. We enjoyed the carriage road and paths around lake. Before it was a part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mr. and Mrs. Cone entertained many guests there in the summers. It must have been very special to have been invited to visit here.
On the night Jesus faced his arrest he sought to comfort his disciples with the promise of something much more than a beautiful summer house to visit. He promised them a home. He told them that he was going to prepare a home for them, a place where he would always be with them. He also promises anyone who loves him and keeps his word to make a home with them, for in the Greek the same word, monē, is used for the word “rooms” in verse 2 and “home” in verse 23. He has prepared for us a home filled with his perfect love, a place where we will never feel alone and where we will always be with Jesus and the Father.
We bow in gratitude for your wonderful promise that you will make your home with us, a home that you have prepared for us. May we remember the cost that you paid this week and open our hearts to you now.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, NIV
The day before I took this picture of the daffodil it was standing upright, beautiful, without any blemish, but during the night the spring snow came. It is pressed down under the weight of the snow. Sometimes we can be like this daffodil after the snow - hard pressed, perplexed, and in despair. When we face difficult times we can learn from Paul who was able to face the many hardships in his life and ministry because he always carried Jesus with him.
Jesus, Lord and Savior,
Out of our despair we call to you. Walk with us through our difficult days so that others may see it is you who keeps us from being crushed.
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