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.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
I loved this short hike to a waterfall in the White Mountains not because of the waterfall but because of the trail itself. It was a wide trail that cut through the forest, a forest of trees that towered overhead. As I walked through that forest I was overwhelmed by the size of those trees. Like those trees God’s greatness is overwhelming. We can’t begin to fathom how great he is. Yet in our smallness his great love surrounds us as I was surrounded by those trees on the trail.
We praise you for your greatness and your love for us that no one can fathom.
And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
When I first started using a camera to do more than make a snapshot of a memory, I had no idea what aperture was or how it impacted a photograph. I was content to just put the controls on automatic and let the camera make the decisions. While this can make a good image, it takes away your freedom to create something that communicates what you feel. As I have spent lots of time taking pictures I have learned, along with other things, what an aperture is and have developed a confidence in my knowledge of the camera and photography editing software. This knowledge has allowed me to become freer when I take an image. Before I learned to use a camera I would have never even thought about taking an image on a rainy, dreary day like this one. But on this day, I saw this bright colored boat and I had the confidence to try to capture the feeling of seeing the boat; the juxtaposition of the dreary day and the single boat named “Morning Sun.” I hope my image makes you think about that for a while like it did me.
Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy while in prison, reflecting on his life as a way of encouraging Timothy to keep going. His words of encouragement explain why, even though he was in prison and probably facing his death very soon, he was able to offer those words. Over his life journey with Christ he had come to know him and was confident that Jesus would always guard him until he was safely with him, whenever that day was. His confidence gave him a freedom that transcended the bars of his prison cell - a freedom from fear and anxiety, a freedom to write these beautiful, encouraging words to Timothy. The more we know whom we have believed in, the more we develop a confidence that leads to freedom. Just like with Paul, it doesn’t happen instantly but instead over much time. The more we know him, like the more I know my camera, the more we can create lives that communicate the love of Christ.
Walk with us today. Increase our confidence in You and make us free to share your love.
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
New England is famous for its covered bridges; most built in the early 1800’s out of wooden trusses. Bridges were built to overcome the obstacle of crossing a river, connecting one side to the other. They were covered to protect the wooden trusses from the decay that comes from harsh weather. The covered bridges of New England were hard to build but once built they provided an easy way to face the obstacle of river crossing.
While river crossing is no longer an obstacle for most of us, we all face obstacles of different kinds. God’s word is the best way to face our obstacles. Like bridge building, understanding God’s word takes time and effort. The more we study it the more connections we will make not only between different passages but between God’s word and our lives. It becomes a part of us, of who we are. God’s word becomes a covering for us; protecting us from making poor decisions and giving us wisdom to face obstacles.
Give us insight from Your word. Help us make it a part of everything we do, of every connection that we make. Bring to mind the part of your word that we need to face the obstacles before us today.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
Since we retired my husband and I have taken two long road trips. Before we left we made sure that we had the maps that we needed, both print and digital, to keep from getting lost. There were a few times when we were a little unsure about which way to go and those maps came in handy. It is a scary thing to be lost on a scenic highway far away from any town and few cars. We will all travel down dark, difficult, scary roads at some time during our lives where it can be easy to get lost. God’s word is a map and resource to keep us on the road, but we have way more than that. We have a Savior who looks for us.
Bring us back when we wander away from you and get lost. Thank you for seeking and finding us.
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Yellow lady slippers are a rare find in the Smokies. I remember how excited I was the first time I found them a couple of years ago. So this year when it came time for them to bloom again I was so hoping that no one would have poached them and that they would still be where I found them. There was great relief and joy when I saw them again last spring. They are such beautiful and unusual flowers. I was filled with great joy. I was so happy that I think I must have taken a hundred pictures. I just wanted to sit there and look at them in all their beauty. I was so excited at finding them that I stopped every hiker walking by and showed them where to look. I wanted others to have that joy of seeing them.
This passage reminds me to remember the joy I had the first time and the last time I found the lady slippers. I think about a God who looks hard for us every time we are lost and then rejoices over finding us. Not only does he rejoice but his angels rejoice with him. And like the women who calls her friends and asks them to rejoice with her over the lost coin, God calls us also to rejoice when someone who is lost is found and to welcome them into our community.
Lord God Who Searches
Thank you for finding us when we are lost. Teach us to rejoice like you do when someone is found. Help us to welcome them with great joy for we were once lost too.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The sun burst through the clouds and the camera makes its rays look like a crown, the crown of our mighty God who created the mountains. Instead of bowing down to the mighty God, King eternal, too many times we make things kings that aren’t worthy of honor and glory. We need to ask ourselves each day are we bowing down to the one true King or to one we have made ourselves. We will only find peace and security when we bow down to the one true King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.
We bow today to you and seek to bring you honor and glory with our lives.
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
When I come to take a picture of a flower I must decide where and how much of the flower to put in focus. I can choose to keep the whole image sharp and clear or I can choose to keep only a small part of the flower in focus with a smooth out of focus background. Where I put the focus changes the image and message I convey with my photograph. We also make decisions about where to put our focus in our everyday lives. Will we focus on what is ours or will we focus on serving others?
In his letter to Philemon, Paul was asking Philemon to make a choice about where he would put his focus. Paul is writing not only to seek to reconcile two dear friends who are at odds with one another but also teach a Christian community how to live a life of reconciliation; to learn where to put their focus. You see, Philemon was a wealthy man, wealthy enough to provide a place for the church of Colosse to meet in his home. He was known for his love and faithfulness to Christ. Now Paul was asking him where to focus. Was he going to focus on what was due him by Onesimus, his slave who had not only run away from him but had probably stolen from him as well? Or was he going to focus on Onesimus and forgive him; not only to forgive him but to accept him back as more than his slave but his brother? We don’t know what choice Philemon made. We only know that the choice wasn’t easy. I think that Christ also asks us to make this choice each day. Where will you focus? The place you choose will change the whole picture you make with your life.
Show us where to put our focus this day so that we can reflect your love to all around us. And if there is someone we need to forgive and accept back as our brother or sister in Christ, give us the courage to do so.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
As you travel to Cades Cove on Little River Road you drive uphill through the mountains. Then, just before you get to the cove, you begin a downhill descent. At the entrance to the cove this beautiful valley opens out before you. You are surrounded by mountains, hemmed in by beauty. I imagine what it must have been like to live in the John Oliver cabin, nestled up next to the mountain with the valley before you and the mountains in the distance. I never tire of going to the cove. I can’t really explain the feeling of peace that comes over me, especially when I am there in the early morning.
I believe that when we come to worship our God and open our hearts to him we can have that same unexplainable feeling of being hemmed in. In God’s presence we can safely lay bare our hearts for he knows everything about us, yet still loves us. Like the psalmist it is too much for us to understand or explain the freedom and peace that comes from being hemmed in.
We open our hearts to you. Show us the path that you would have us walk and hem us in with your love.
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Last night was new moon so we decided to make our way to Clingmans Dome so I could try my hand again at photographing the milky way. We got there a little before sunset and there were a lot of people there. While I was waiting with my camera set up a young man from Louisiana named Nick started a conversation by asking questions about the area. He was a very friendly and outgoing young man. He asked if I could send him my pictures so I gave him a card with my website and email. I told him about the chance of seeing the milky way in about an hour and he decided to stay. I watched him walk through the crowd stopping to talk to people. He told several people about the chance of seeing the milky way. He and a couple from Australia decided to stay with us to see the night sky. So we all sat together at the place I staked out for a couple of hours talking and laughing and just being amazed at the beauty of the stars. I learned a lot from that young man. When he spoke to people he asked their name and told them his and then he remembered their names. This was such a simple gesture but one that made a difference. This is the way to show the love of Christ, just simply taking the time to start a conversation and remembering someone’s name. Notice I didn’t say it was easy, just simple. It means we will have to let go of our fear, be a little vulnerable, and listen as much as we talk. And just maybe we may entertain an angel or more importantly share the love of Christ with someone who needs to know his love.
And for Nick with gratitude: I pray you have a safe trip and if you go to my portfolio page (Here) you will find my pictures from last evening. Let me know the ones you want and I will send you copies.
Open our eyes to the people around us today who may just need a smile, a kind word and someone to remember their name.
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.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Recently I have been walking on the trails at the dam close to where I live every morning. Each day I walk I see the ‘regulars’; some of them I know by name and some only by seeing them everyday. We all walk different routes and at different speeds; some run; some walk slow; some walk alone; some walk with a partner; some walk in specialty running clothes; and some walk in an old T shirt and jeans. Sometimes I get discouraged when I am passed by the same person and wonder how they can walk that fast. Even in the early morning I get hot and tired and wonder if I am going to make it back to the car. There are times when I just think I am going to sleep late today; but then I get up and see the beautiful morning light and decide to make the effort to walk. There is a joy in my morning walk that I truly miss, even the 265 stairs to the top of the dam in the middle of my walk.
The writer of Hebrews wrote to encourage followers of Christ who were becoming discouraged. They were being ostracized by their community and maybe their family and some were facing persecution. To encourage them he tells them of the great cloud of witnesses that have come before. None of the heroes he described in the previous chapter were without fault. They all followed God at different speeds, some quickly, some slowly, some were important and some were unimportant, and some required signs of assurance from God. Their lives weren’t perfect like this picture I just snapped with my phone; but like my picture they saw a way marked out before them and they kept walking. They walked toward a God who loved them.
Dear friends let me encourage you to keep walking when you are hot and tired and discouraged. Your walk doesn’t have to be perfect; you won’t always have get a good picture. Some will pass you and sometimes you will walk alone. Even in the hard times, the 265 steps straight up times, you will find joy when you fix your eyes on 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 keep me walking toward the light and joy of Jesus who endured all for us.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
I didn’t label this image with the location like I usually do. Without that label can you know where this road is, where it is going? All you know for sure is that it is a paved road in the fall. I am not sure I would just follow a road without having some idea of where the road would go. I spent many hours pouring over tour books and Internet sites when I planned our last two road trips. Now think about Abraham, a man that God called to leave his home and follow where God would lead. He didn’t know the road or plan the trip. He just obeyed God. God asks us to do the same thing. This is faith - to be willing to take the road that God lays before you without knowing where it is going. Thankfully we do have a guide in God’s word. Study it and then get on the road.
Give us courage to take the road you lay before us. Guide us home to you through your word.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I had a hunch that there would be fog at the overlook that evening since it had stormed a lot during the day; and I was right. We got to the overlook soon enough to watch the fog slip in. It was gradual at first only over the river but then overtaking almost the whole ridge. Greed is like the fog. It just quietly slips in and gradually overtakes you. You see some material thing that looks pleasant, some new item of clothing or camera accessory. The material thing isn’t a bad thing, but you just think about it a little more each day. It doesn’t take long for the desire to become a demand and there it is - greed. No one says, "I think I will be a greedy person." We don’t want to admit that we are greedy, after all, it is just this one little thing. We say to ourselves, “I have worked hard and I deserve this.” Like the rich fool in the parable that Jesus told in response to the man’s request for help with his inheritance, you begin to think about building bigger barns, acquiring more stuff. Instead of being grateful for what we have, our greed overtakes us and our things become our idols. We think more about the gift than the giver. We must learn to be on guard against greed to keep it from slipping into our lives, turning our desires away from God and toward things.
Teach us to be on our guard against greed; to notice the subtle signs of desire for things becoming an insatiable demand. Reveal our greed that leads to idolatry. Forgive us when we make our things our greatest desire instead of you.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
You can find a short nature trail to Dugger’s Creek at the Linville Falls Trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most people never even see this little trail since it is at the opposite end of the parking lot for the bigger, more impressive Linville Falls Trails. When we took this short trail we came upon this little waterfall, hidden away. I couldn’t see its source but its peacefulness and hidden-ness drew me to crawl under the bridge to get a closer look. This was as close as I could get without wading through the creek so much of it still remained hidden.
Paul tells the Colossians that they are now “hidden with Christ in God.” What an image, just like this little waterfall we are hidden with Christ, part of it seen, part of it unseen. We have a relationship with Christ now since we have accepted Christ, but we have to trust God and wait for him to be fully known. Christ is the source of our life now and God promises that we will always be hidden with him. One day all that is hidden will be revealed. What a glorious thought to be hidden with Christ, something wonderful to set our hearts on, something more wonderful than any earthly thing.
Draw us closer each day to Christ. Move us to set our hearts on Christ in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
I didn’t go to a special place known for its flowers or hike long distances to get this picture. It is just the bloom of a garlic plant in my flower bed. Yet the small flowers are so intricate and beautiful when examined with a macro lens. It is just an ordinary plant, something I see everyday, but today I saw its beauty.
Many times I have skipped over these verses that come before the familiar “Lord’s Prayer.” As one of my favorite writers, Debie Thomas, in her Journey with Jesus blog post, "When You Pray", noted these verses have some important insights into how Jesus prayed. The disciples watched Jesus pray and that prompted the request, "teach us to pray." He began his teaching by saying, “When you pray.” For Jesus, praying was an ordinary thing, something that he did all the time. For us to walk closer to God, prayer needs to become an ordinary thing - and in the ordinary things of life we will see God’s beauty and feel his presence.
Make prayer an ordinary thing in our lives. Fill us with your presence.
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.
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.
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