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.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
It was a cloudy day on the Lincoln Highway in Nebraska when I saw this windmill. I wanted to have a good picture of a windmill as a reminder of our trip but I just couldn’t seem to find one in good shape. You could tell this one was no longer in use and the surrounding fence and gate were old and rusty. I almost didn’t stop. The sky wasn’t the clear blue that I had wanted for my windmill picture, but I stopped anyway. I didn’t even think it was worth getting out the tripod. I was wrong. This image turned out to be one of the best images of our trip to the west.
Sometimes we feel like this broken windmill on a cloudy day. We are crushed and lonely. It is in these times that we can feel the presence God more clearly because we are more aware of our need. Even though we are afflicted the Lord will deliver us. And when we look back we may see that it is in the hardest times that we experience the most growth.
Lord of the Brokenhearted
When we are crushed in spirit you have promised to be close to us. Help us to call on you when we face dark days and trust you to make our darkest days times of growth.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33, ESV
Hidden within this daffodil bud is a beautiful flower. Where I live daffodils remind us that after the long, dark winter spring is on the way. When the Lord spoke these words through the prophet Jeremiah, the people of Israel were in exile and experiencing times of darkness. God made a promise to his people that he would make a new covenant and put his law within their hearts. Through Jesus’s sacrifice we can experience the new covenant. God will write on our hearts. He will make us his people. The long, dark winter has passed. God will bring us to full bloom and make us new creatures through Jesus Christ.
Thank you for your promise of new life through Jesus Christ. Come into our lives and write your word on our hearts.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
Recently we were in Knoxville and decided to visit Lakeshore Park, a new park made on the grounds of a former state mental hospital (I worked there 40 years ago). The non-profit organization that oversees the land has done a beautiful job converting this to a city park overlooking the Tennessee River and the Smoky Mountains. One of the buildings on the grounds is named Marble Hall. From a distance it looks like a church, which is unexpected in the middle of a city park. As we got closer we saw that while it looked like a church on the front and back, there were not side walls and no furniture except for a stage area with a bench. There were no religions symbols. There is just this stained glass window.
Sometimes I wonder if we are not like this building that looks like a church but isn’t. Do we really make the effort to tell people that we meet about the hope we have in Jesus Christ? Are we always ready to give anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in us? Are we afraid that what we say will be not spoken with gentleness and respect? During this time of Lent, let us ask these questions of ourselves and find ways to share our hope in Jesus every day.
Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior,
Teach us how to honor you as Lord of our hearts. Help us examine our lives. Give us courage to share the hope we have in you with the people we meet each day.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
I Peter 5:6-7
About This Image:
The aperture of a lens is the opening through which the light passes to record the image on the sensor or film. The width of the aperture can be controlled, either automatically by the camera or manually by the photographer. When a photographer closes down the aperture and gets the sun in the right spot of the frame the result is a sunburst. When I photograph the sun with a small aperture and get a sunburst, like I did in this image taken from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it reminds me of a king's crown.
In the democratic society that we live in today we don't easily accept the authority of a king. Instead we seek to be our own king. Following God means that he becomes our king; we humble ourselves before him; we accept his authority; we become obedient to him; and we submit to his ordering of our lives. We like to quote the words from 1 Peter 5:7 and tell ourselves to cast our anxieties on God. But before we can cast our anxieties on God we must first follow the command of verse 6 and humble ourselves before him. God won't take away anxieties that we won't give him and to give him our anxieties means we accept his ordering and timing. As the rest of the verse tells us, God can be trusted with our anxieties because he loves us and cares for us.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
About This Image:
Water Lilies, like this one in a pond at the UT Gardens, grow in still water. Their roots are deep in the soil and their leaves and flowers float on the still, shallow water. In order to grow we also need stillness; we need rest. God made rest a part of the order of creation and a commandment for the people of Israel. The word sabbath means to cease, but ceasing to work is only the first step to rest. True rest only comes from Jesus Christ, for Jesus finished our work for us. We no longer have to work to keep the law, to be good enough to earn anything. Jesus has done that for us when he took away our load of sin on the cross. Come to Jesus this sabbath and find rest for your souls.
For you, LORD, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
About This Image:
Unlike this image taken on the path to the Oliver cabin in Cades Cove, the images that I have posted on the past two days have been black and white. I don't usually take black and white images because I am drawn to color. We all love bright, colorful, happy days. But black and white images express strong emotion and have something to teach us. In this Psalm the writer has experienced black and white days but can now walk towards the land of the living, towards light, because God had delivered him. We will only be able to walk out of our night of sorrow and into the golden light of early morning when we call on the Lord. He will dry our tears, keep us from stumbling, and provide his light for the path ahead.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 43: 5
About This Image:
There was a storm brewing in the sky on the day I took this image in Cades Cove. It was coming - darkness, sadness, sin. Today we mourn for 17 people who were killed in a Florida high school. We ask why this evil? How could someone hate so much as to kill innocent children and their teachers? The Psalms are full of why questions asked of God. And like this Psalm, the only answer after the questioning was to hope and trust in a God who is sovereign and to seek the comfort only He can give to a fallen world that hurts and mourns. We look to Jesus who wept for his friend Lazarus and for us and then took the cross to defeat death. We sing a broken hallelujah and offer a a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).
The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalm 50:1-2, 23
About This Image:
This image is not one of a spectacular view from a mountain top but the level valley in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the cove, the mountains surround you as you walk or drive through on mostly level ground. The beginning of Psalm 50 speaks of the might and beauty of God and in later verses the judgement of God. We have those mountain top religious experiences where we stand in awe of God and never want to leave the place of worship. But the mountain top is never the end of the journey. We must come down the mountain; for every time God calls us to the mountain it is because he has something to say to us. We walk in the valleys like this image of the level ground and we see the surrounding mountains. It is in the valleys that we learn to be accountable to God, to order our way rightly, and to offer the true worship that God requires: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8)
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.
He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. 'Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?' he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 2 Kings 2: 12-14
About This Image:
It was almost fall when I took this picture on the Little River Tail in Elkmont. You can see some fall color in the leaves but there is still green there. 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 scripture today is a story of transition in the lives of two prophets, Elijah the mentor and Elisha his successor, the ending of one ministry and the beginning of another. It is a beautiful story full of imagery that will make you think. I encourage you to read it slowly several times thinking about what each of people in the story must have been feeling.
In the story Elisha followed his mentor across the river Jordan to an unnamed place. 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 endings and beginnings in our lives; some are joyful and some are sorrowful. Like Elisha sometimes we will grieve. Call out to God in your grief and then walk slowly forward to your new beginning in the power of God.
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