Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of how the Israelites who had been in exile rebuilt the walls and temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. It has become one of my favorite books because of the lessons there are to learn in its pages. When I have read this book I will have to admit that I usually just skip chapter 3 because it is just a list of people with names I can’t pronounce who helped rebuild the wall. Until I read it again, really read it closely, and noticed something new about those people. It seems that Uzziel and Harhaiah were goldsmiths and Hananiah was a perfume maker. These artisans were known for their talent and trade, not exactly the skills needed for wall building. Still they worked on the wall and I think they probably got a lot of on-the-job training in wall building. By using these new skills they helped to restore Jerusalem so that the people once again could worship and renew their covenant with God. Rebuilding the temple was an important part of God’s plan. It took lots of people who worked outside of their talent and skill.
So why the picture of the Queen Ann’s Lace and the waterfall? Even though I have stood in front of this waterfall for many years and taken many pictures I have never noticed the flowers before. I have never gotten down and taken a picture through the rails. This day I saw the whole scene differently. My camera has taught me to see things differently, to use an artistic talent that I didn’t think I had. The images that I have taken and this new way of seeing has led me to write. I am not a trained photographer, nor ever imaged that I would ever give myself that title. I have learned on the job, so to speak, from books and YouTube videos. I also am not a writer. Sure, I had to write in my job as a teacher but not this kind of writing. I am not sure exactly why this writing and photographing came about but it is my prayer that it helps rebuild a wall for you. I don’t write to teach theology, as one can tell from my writings, but I do write to encourage and to share my journey with Jesus with you. Read this list of people in Nehemiah 3 and think about all the people it took to rebuild the wall. Be open to God's call to rebuild the people of God in ways that you never expected to be your talent (and use your talents, too).
Lord God, Giver of Talents
Open our hearts and eyes to see things that need to be rebuilt in the lives of people around us. Develop in us the talents we need to do the rebuilding.
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
It is just a barn on the Tipton place. It wasn’t built to be beautiful. It was never intended to be an example of great craftsmanship but to serve its function of keeping the farm productive. Someone had to build it.
Someone had to do it. The sun was getting low in the sky of Good Friday and the Sabbath would soon be here. And there was the body of Jesus on the cross, his life gone; it was finished. So now what do you do. There were a few people who did what others couldn’t. It wasn’t the disciples who did it. Instead it was the silent followers who, with great courage and sacrifice, went to Pilate and requested Jesus’s body. We don’t know why Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women who followed them took this risk. Maybe they were the ones who always did the right thing, the ones who worked behind the scenes to get things done. They did the hard work of carrying Jesus lifeless and beaten body to the tomb. They purchased the burial materials. They wrapped and prepared the body. They did the everyday work, the behind the scenes work, that had to be done when someone died.
They were faithful in the everyday things, the utilitarian things that must be done. When they finished the job they had no idea of how big their act would become to the story of the empty tomb. Sometimes we feel that what we do is unimportant, it is only a barn after all and not beautiful art. We may never know how God will use the little, everyday, unimportant things we do to change someone's life. So be faithful in the little things, the everyday things and leave the rest to God.
Help us to see and do the things that no one else wants to do, the hard things, the everyday things. Use those things to accomplish your work and bring you glory.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Today is a kind of mountain-top experience, or maybe a remembrance of 365 little moutain-top experiences. This is my 365th post, a year’s worth of scripture, words, and images. When I began this website on November 11, 2017, I had no plan or really even idea about how often I would post or how long the website would last. I still don’t have any idea about those things. This whole experience has truly been God’s work, from the initial idea about what to do with my images, to the verse from Proverbs 119:130 that became the focus of the website, “the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple,” to the words that I write today. I look back at the images and the words and I can’t believe that I took those pictures or wrote those words - and then I realize that I didn’t. God gave me the images from his world and the words from his word.
Two years ago I would never have even imagined that creating this website would be the job that God would give me. I would never have planned this myself or even thought it possible that I could create this many images or write these words. God’s ways are truly higher than our ways and this new job of writing has led me closer to him. I see God now in ways that I never did before I picked up the camera. I see the beauty and connection and completeness in his word in greater depth through the commentaries and resources based on the Revised Common Lectionary that I have come to love. I long to walk in God’s world along the trails of the mountains, even if I never take my camera out of my pack. I know there is much more to learn about chasing the light in God’s world and his Word. Wherever God leads me with this website and blog, I want it only to bring glory to him. I am grateful to friends and family who take time to read my posts and send encouraging words. I am grateful for each image and each word he has spoken to me and I pray that you see him in every post for as long as God gives me images and words.
Soli Deo Gloria, to God only be glory, for your ways and thoughts are higher than ours.
And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
As I got up to get ready for my morning walk during the break in the rain, I looked out the window and saw some unusual coating on the my Leland Cyprus trees. My curiosity got the best of be so I headed down to the trees to see what this strange coating was. As I got closer I saw that it wasn’t ice or frost but rain drops. There has been so much rain and moisture in the air that the rain drops just held on. I ran back for my camera and tripod and I was amazed at what the camera saw. Each small rain drop was like a crystal ball reflecting everything around the tree. The camera allowed me to see what I couldn’t see any other way.
The blind man set alongside the road, cast off, forgotten, unable to see. When he heard Jesus was coming he called out to him for mercy. Jesus the King of Heaven (let that sink in) stopped and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man’s reply, "I want to see. " Jesus also asks us what we want. Do you want to see? Jesus will give you sight. He will show you things that you can see no other way. And, like the blind man who received his sight that day, our only response can be to follow him, to serve him as he served the cast off, forgotten, and blind.
God of Light,
Help us to see you in your world filled with intricacies and beauty. And help us to see the cast off blind, and forgotten who Christ has called us to serve.
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. . . . . . . . And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
It was an ordinary day, the first time I noticed this tree. It is on the side of a main highway that I have driven countless times. But on this ordinary day I noticed the tree and it became an important part of my story. This was one of the first times that I actually stopped take a picture just because I thought the tree was beautiful. This was the day that I saw that the bare branches of a tree are like graceful, intricate sculptures that you can see so much better without leaves. I saw beauty in something ordinary. God was using my new camera to teach me to see things that I would have never seen before.
It was the end of an ordinary day for the disciples, the day they followed Jesus. They had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were tired and probably just wanted to go home and go to bed, but Jesus asked to borrow their boat. We don’t even know what Jesus taught that day from the boat. We know that this ordinary day was the beginning of a totally new way of life for Simon Peter, James, and John. Nothing would ever be the same.
What ordinary thing is God using in your life to call you? Maybe the call is just to keep on doing what you are doing now even though you have labored all night on a task that is seeming to fail. Maybe he is going to use something ordinary to gradually transform the way you serve him. Listen for his call on ordinary days and when you follow him, nothing will ever be the same.
Open our hearts to hear your call us out of the ordinary. Give us the courage to follow you in an extraordinary way we never would have seen before.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
You don’t need a caption under this image to know that it is a rose, even though there is no other rose like it in the world. Each variety of rose shares some of the same characteristics - petals, thorns, leaves - but each one is unique in how these characteristics show up. Christians are like this. We are each unique in who we are and how we come to Christ but we all have experienced the risen Christ in our lives. Still, we all search for our identity and an understanding of who we are in Christ - what is it that makes us a rose. Paul found that identity in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the words of Lewis Galloway from Feasting on the Word, Year C:
Just as Paul did not hide his past, stifle his personality, or suppress his anxieties, so Christians today can recognize that they are who they are by the grace of God. Each person’s struggles, pains, joys, accomplishments, and dreams are stories of the gospel that can light the way for others.
We are each saved by the grace of God and it is by this grace that we understand who we are, who God made us to be. Only when you look at your life, your failures, your sin, your personality, from the perspective of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection will you be able to say with Paul, “but by the grace of God I am what I am.” Because you have received much grace and have much to tell, work hard to share that grace and tell your story to others knowing that you can do this through the power of the grace of God.
Lord Jesus Christ
Help us to find our identity, our purpose, in you. Give us courage to tell our stories of grace to light the way for others.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Yesterday, after church, we headed to the mountains. It is the only day in the coming 10 days that had a forecast of sunny, so even though we were getting a late start we headed out. We knew couldn’t hike a long trail so we chose an old favorite, the Little River Trail. It was so wonderful just to walk in the mountains; to follow the river as it flows over rocks. As usual when we walk in the mountains we are quiet and it becomes a time for me to be with God in his world and see the beauty of all he has created.
While I was walking I thought of this quote by the famous naturalist, John Muir, that can be found everywhere, from T-shirts to large wall murals, “the mountains are calling and I must go.” The interesting thing though is that this is only the first of the sentence, here is the rest, “and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” For John Muir the calling to the mountains was not to relax, but to work, to understand them, so he could contribute to science. As I thought about that quote I thought about how God also calls us to work. It is a good thing to be called, to have a purpose, to find meaning in life. And the wonderful thing is that we are called by more than mountains, we are called by a living God. Not only are we called but we are promised that God will give us everything that we need to do the work.
Open our ears to hear your call. Make our calling to walk and work with you stronger than any earthly calling. Give us a sense of purpose and vision to see the work that you have set for us. Remind us of your faithfulness when we grow weary.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
And so begins the the first verses of the first book of the New Testament. I will admit that all too often I just skip over this and the many other genealogies in the scriptures. Two of my favorite authors, Timothy Keller and Calvin Miller, point out in several places in their writings and speaking why these verses are so important. These verses tell us that Jesus lived in a real time and place, he isn’t a fairy tale or a good story or a place for good advice, for each person mentioned in the list demonstrates that God works in our world. Each person was like a stepping stone across a stream. Some names are well-known and some names most people don't know, but each person mattered and played a role in God's plan. That gives us both a hope and a challenge. The hope is that we are loved and matter to a God who stepped into our world, giving up his place above and coming down to show us the exact imprint of God. The challenge is to be a stepping stone for those around us and for those who come after us.
God Our Father,
Thank you for all the stepping stones in my life, the people who have led me to you. Remind us that we are to be stepping stones to those around us so that we can live our lives leading others to you.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Sometimes all we can do is to make a noise - the joyful part just won’t come. I find that I can make my way out of those times when I think about serving the Lord by serving others. At this season of thanksgiving there are many opportunities to serve others. Take one of those even if at first it is without gladness. Slowly the door to joy will open again and you can walk into his presence with singing.
Open our eyes to those around us who are having a hard time making a joyful noise. Show us the best way to serve them so we can shine your light of love in their lives.
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
In addition to their beauty the fall leaves signal that it is time for seasons to change. Winter is coming when all the leaves will be gone and there will be more dark hours than daylight. But I have come to see the beauty in winter when the branches of the trees become intricate sculptures against a foggy sky. I am grateful for a God who gives us seasons - not only seasons in the physical world but seasons in the times of our lives.
This is the 284th post that I have made on this blog that I began a year ago. At that time I had no idea how long it would last and what form it would take, and I still don’t know those things. I have been so surprised with the words that God has given me in this new season of my life. He has truly revealed deep and hidden things. As I have chased the light with my camera I hope that I have captured glimpses of the radiant and perfect light of God’s love in my images. I pray that these images and words of scripture have given you wisdom and light in whatever season of life you find yourself. I walk forward not knowing what will come next with my photography and writing but I know that I will always find light in him.
God of All Seasons,
We praise the God who controls all times and seasons, who gives wisdom and understanding and whose light illuminates the way through dark times.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
The Henry Whitehead Cabin in Cades Cove is one of the most unusual cabins remaining in the park. It is considered a transitional cabin because it has elements of both traditional log homes of the past and sawn wood homes that predated the modern frame homes like the Caldwell house in Catalooche. It seems Mr. Whitehead was a very creative man using new technologies and even making bricks for a chimney instead of using stone. Like Mr. Whitehead, building homes is apart of the creative work that we each do when we build our homes, places where we live and grow. Our home building work is a part of God’s creative work.
Photography has become a new way of home building that I would have never thought that I would create. I am new to this art and have a lot to learn. I want my photography to build a home where I can grow and help others to grow. I am not the best landscape photographer which is evident to me when I see some of the beautiful landscapes of some of my favorite photographers like Thomas Heaton and a former student of mine, Jason Eldridge. But God never asked that we be the best he only asks that we give our best (Colossians 3:23). Today as you go about your work think of it as continuing the creative home building work of the Lord. Build a house that he will use and I know that even when you see you work as not very creative or unimportant know that if you are using the gifts God gave you, you are letting God build a house that he will use for his purposes.
Great Builder of Our Homes
Give us strength and courage to build our homes. Shine your creative light into our lives and help us to remember the value that you see in each of the gifts and talents you gave us. Keep us focused on you as we build our homes so our labor won’t be in vain.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
For many people fishing is their hobby, something they find relaxing, something that brings them joy. They are driven to get up early or stay out late to get the best catch. It is their passion. For the disciples, fishing was more than a hobby, it defined who they were. They were known as fishermen, part of the family business. So when Jesus asked Peter and Andrew and later James and John to give up fishing, he was asking them to do more than just give up a hobby. He was asking them to redefine themselves, to find in him a new mission. They had no idea what that new mission would entail, they just knew that they wanted to follow him. Jesus also calls us to follow him and he will redefine us, gives us a passion to share him with the world. And I believe he will use the creative gifts he has given us to to accomplish his mission.
Open our hearts to your call. Show us the mission and purpose you have for us. Use the gifts you have given us to share you with our world.
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