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.
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.
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.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.
The trail was littered with tulip popular petals on the nature trail known for its popular trees and wildflowers. I kept hoping that it wasn’t too late to see a full bloom on a tree, but as much as I looked I just didn’t see one. The hike was harder than expected because the trail was more like walking up a creek with the recent rains. So at the highest point of the trail there was bench and when I sat down to rest, there it was the most beautiful full tulip popular bloom floating in the water at the edge of the creek. Had I not sat down I would have never seen it. This was the picture that I had asked for that day. You see, each time I go hiking I pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare my eyes to see and open my heart to learn something new about his word. The bench, the water on the trail, and that tulip popular bloom were brought together for me to see this beautiful image.
The story of Lydia in Acts is a story of how the Holy Spirit brought things together to accomplish God's mission. Paul only went to Macedonia because of vision that he had. It wasn’t in his original plan. Lydia had been searching for God and went to a place known as a place to seek and pray. We know she was a very unusual woman for her time because she was a wealthy merchant on her own at a time when women were mostly seen as property. She had found material success but it wasn’t enough for her. She was still searching for God. Because she had been searching her heart was opened to hear Paul's message. She then became a missionary herself as her home became home base for Paul while in Philippi. I believe that God still brings things together for us to accomplish his plan for his kingdom, whether it be something small like the tulip popular bloom or some much bigger life decision.
Prepare our hearts and our eyes to see you. Bring together everything you need to accomplish your purpose through us today.
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Even though I have traveled this nature trail many times I had never seen this waterfall. We have had so much rain this spring that some waterfalls that are usually only a trickle are now full of water. It is like that in these mountains - times when the streams almost disappear and times when they run full force.
We have times like that in our lives. Times when we are so thirsty but there is no water to be found and times when water overflows. But unlike the unpredictable water flow in the mountains, Jesus promises us that we will never thirst. We only need to seek him when we are thirsty. The water he gives flows from his life. He is our everything, beginning and end.
Give us a thirst that only you can quench. Show us the spring of living water that comes from you.
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
We were on our way back down the hill to the end of the trail when I happened to stop and turn around to see this little scene. I almost missed it. There weren’t any bright blooms, just so many colors of green around the base of the tree in these small plants, each of a different type, yet existing together. They were so small in comparison to the tree but they made me smile. They just seemed to be happy together. These little plants remind us that praise happens best when we each sing our individual song but sing it together gathered around our great and loving God, rich and poor, old and young, strong and weak.
We bow in praise to you. Give us the courage to sing the song you have given us to sing and to invite others to join in the song with their unique and individual voices.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
Our last stop that winter day at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was the pinnacle overlook. From this easily accessible lookout you can see for many miles and on this day we could see the storm clouds rolling into the mountains and valleys.
Just as we did that day, sometimes we can see the dark valleys ahead. Other times we arrive at them unexpectedly. Whichever way we enter dark valleys, we know that we don’t walk alone. It is true that people may not be there to walk with us, but the great Shepherd will always be there to guide us. He will use his rod and staff to protect and guide us and we can walk without fear. While we may not be able to avoid the storm, I know that it is in the darkest valleys of my life where I have walked closest to my Lord. He gave me the courage to walk on. This day look for friends who may be walking an unexpected dark valley and just gently join them in their walk, no words are usually needed. Jesus is already there.
When we walk into and through the darkest valleys lead us with your rod and staff. Give us courage and strength and comfort us until we walk through the dark valley and into the light of your love.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
Anything that is white is hard to photograph because the range of light that a camera sees is much less than the dynamic range of the human eye. The light reflected from something pure white is beyond the dynamic range of the camera and as photographers say, too hot. There is even a warning on most cameras called the “blinkies.” Areas in the photo where there is so much light that the camera’s sensor cannot record anything will blink on the LCD on the back of the camera. In other words anything that is blinking in the image on the LCD won’t have any detail and can’t be edited. It will just be pure white.
This dogwood was so beautiful against the green of the grass and the blue of the skies, but I just couldn’t capture it without blinkies. I tried many different angles and positions, but the only one that could capture the beauty and purity of the dogwood was looking up through the petals to the light. John, in the book of Revelation, gives us a glimpse of a pure, white in the robes of those who worship God on his throne. Right now our ability to capture what it is like to wear a white robe is limited for we can only read of their purity. We do know that the robes are white because they have been made pure by the sacrifice of Jesus. We take these words of Revelation as a promise of what it will be like to one day after our time one earth to put on these white robes and serve God sheltered in his temple.
Right now I can only catch a glimpse of the heaven you have promised in your word. I can’t image or even fully understand what it will be like one day to stand before you in pure, white robes. I can only accept your gift of love that has always been and will last forever. I bow before you and worship you now.
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