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.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
I couldn’t believe it when I looked out our motel window on that rainy day in Two Rivers, Wisconsin and saw a sailing ship come into the harbor. I grabbed my camera and we drove to the docks to see this unexpected sight on our trip to the Great Lakes.
When Simon Peter was mending his nets that day the last thing on his mind was going back out to deep water. He never expected to have the catch of his career that day. And he would have missed it if he hadn’t sad, “because you say so.” I have seen again in these days of my life the unexpected ways God is working, leading me to photography and this blog. These words of Debie Thomas from her essay, “Same old, same old,” on the Journey with Jesus online magazine, struck me in a powerful and unexpected way so I share them with you now. (I encourage you to read this whole wonderful essay.)
"Second, the story honors the “same old same olds” of our individual lives. Jesus’s call in this story is specific and particular, rooted in the language, culture, and vocation his hearers knows best. Simon and his partners understand the nuances of the “catching people” metaphor in ways I never will. That is, they know from years of experience what depths of patience, resilience, intuition, and artistry professional fishing require. Simon knows the tools of the trade, the limitations of his body, and the life-and-death importance of timing, humility, and discretion. Most of all, he knows the water. He knows how to respect it, how to listen to it, and how to bring forth its best. When Jesus shows up and commissions the seasoned fisherman, Simon understands the call not as a directive to leave his experience and intelligence behind, but to bring the best of his knowledge and expertise forward — to become even more fully and freely himself.
The hardest thing to do at these moments is to make the leap of trust that Simon makes. “Yet if you say so, I will.” Yet if you say so, I will try again. Yet if you say so, I will be faithful to my vocation. Yet if you say so, I will go deep rather than remain in the shallows. Yet if you say so, I will trust that your presence in the boat is more precious than any guarantee of success. Yet if you say so, I will cast my empty net into the water, and look with hope for your kingdom to come.
May it be so."
Lord of the Unexpected
Help us to look at ourselves and then look at you and say, “because you say so I will.” And then put out to deep water.
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.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
This sunset at the Snake River Overlook in the Grand Tetons was especially glorious and thrilling. With the sun rays radiating from behind the cloud it reminded me of a crown being placed on the head of a king. I thought of the majesty of God, creator of these mountains, that outshines any earthly king. In our world today we don’t have a lot of experience in relating to a king. The scriptures that we read during Advent teach us how to relate to the King of Kings in the story of Mary.
Mary was visited by the angel, Gabriel - the messenger of our God, the King of Kings. After the angel appeared to Mary, the scripture says she was "greatly troubled." She had been told an amazing story. She asked questions - "How can this be?" And after listening to all the angel told her, she submitted to the will of God. She understood and accepted the authority of God. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is only when we do submit to God, the great King, that we find true peace. May this image of the crown cloud remind us of the only way to peace - to bow before the King of Kings.
Great King of Kings
We find it difficult sometimes to submit to your will. Humble us and show us the way to peace. We bow before you now.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
I love early morning walks. In the quietness of the early morning I find it easier to be silent and just listen. It is in listening and trusting that I find strength. God often speaks to us in quietness, in a “still, small voice.” Maybe one of the quietest times he spoke was on the night Jesus was born. Sure there was a glorious angel chorus but it was heard by only a few shepherds outside a small village. There was no fanfare as their would have been for earthly kings or wealthy people of power. Only these shepherds and Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus has slipped silently into this world. The words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Philip Brooks remind us that Jesus still comes silently into the hears of those who quietly and humbly accept him.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear my hear his coming but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Willingly and quietly open your heart to Jesus today and you will find the blessings of heaven.
Make us willing to return to you, to open our hearts, and find strength in quietly trusting you.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
It is hard to explain how different the rivers and waterfalls of Minnesota and Wisconsin are from the waterfalls that I see in the mountains where I live. There seemed to be no way to get to a position where I could capture the flow of water over the massive rocks in one image. While my images may help you to get an idea of their power and beauty, you can never fully know what they are like unless you experience them yourself.
Like these waterfalls, we can hear of God from others but we will only see God in a transforming way when we experience God for ourselves. The book of Job tells how Job learned of God through experiencing him. Job was a man who suffered greatly. He questioned God about the cause of his suffering. He refutes the answers to his dilemma offered by his friends. In the end, God doesn’t give Job the reasons for his suffering, but after experiencing God in the whirlwind he no longer seeks an answer. He experiences God in a new way and bows in humility to a sovereign God. Like Job, it is when we honestly seek God, question God, cry out in anger to God, that we experience God.
Honestly seeking you isn’t easy. It means we must lay open our hearts with all our questions, fears, and anger. Speak to our hearts and transform us so we see you in new ways.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
I do really love mornings. The sky is more beautiful, even on cloudy days. The light is so much softer and it is so quiet before the noise of the day begins. In the summer it is cooler and in the other seasons the air is crisp and clean. A beautiful sunrise makes morning even more special. When I get to somewhere special to photograph a sunrise there is time to wait and think and pray. There is a joy I can't explain when after waiting in the dark, you see the sun come over the horizon and fill the sky with color.
Lord of the Morning
Thank you for the blessing of waiting on the sun to rise. Thank you for hearing me when I pray in the morning. Make each morning a time for me to open my heart to you and give you my day. Give me patience to watch your working and your timing and to wait on you during my busy day.
But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
We were very lucky to be in the Chicago Botanical Garden on that rainy day. I was disappointed because it was raining thinking that our day in the garden would be ruined. Since we couldn’t be outside in the gardens we went inside to the greenhouse. And on that day in the desert greenhouse, the cactus that only blooms once a year for a very short time, bloomed. It was intricate and beautiful, like nothing I had ever seen before; and it wasn't what we went to the gardens to see.
God’s time is like that, perfect in every way. It usually isn’t the timing that we would chose and we can get discouraged when things don’t happen the way and the time that we want. It is hard sometimes to wait on God, we want things right now. We rush ahead to get things done. But when we wait on God and accept his timing we see beautiful things that on our own we would have missed.
Teach us to trust you and to know that our times are best in you hands.
For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
One thing that I have learned about composing a photograph is that a beautiful photograph has a single focus. The photographer must use her knowledge of the camera and the environment to make sure that the subject of the photograph stands out. A good photograph will simplify the scene and draw the viewer's eye to the subject of the photograph. If really well done the beauty of the photograph will make an emotional impact on the viewer.
This same idea about composing a photograph applies to our everyday life. The more we seek to behave simply and sincerely in the world leaning on the grace of God the more of God’s beauty we will show to the world.
O Great King
Thank you for the wisdom that comes from making you the single focus of my life. Help me to simplify my daily life so that I reveal your beauty to the world.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Today I was on top of a mountain. As far as I could see there were mountains alive with greens and clear, blue skies filled with white fluffy clouds. As we must look up from the trail to see the a sky filled with clouds we must look up to see God; look up like a servant who looks to a loving master with joy, awe, dependence, and trust.
God Enthroned In Heaven,
We look up to the skies and see beautiful clouds and we look up to you to see your beauty in the mountain skies that you create. We bow down is submission to you, knowing that you are a loving master who will always care for us.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
There are so many things to learn from this story of Jesus. He was led by the Spirit to the wilderness, intentionally. He was there to face temptation. The temptations were specific, each one aimed at who he was and how he would accomplish his purpose. I read these words about the temptation to turn stones into bread from Ken Gire’s book, Moments with the Savior, this morning and they struck right to my heart.
The temptation is not to make Jesus doubt himself but to depend on himself. Since the Father hasn’t lifted a finger to alleviate his suffering, why not take things into his own hands? After all, it’s been forty days. Who would blame him? But Jesus doesn’t take the baited hook. Instead he answers, “It is written: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Regardless of how consuming his hunger, Jesus would rather be fed with the smallest crust of his Father’s word than with an entire landscape of fresh bread from anywhere else.
These words challenge me. I am so prone to take things into my own hands instead of trusting a loving God, especially when I am in the wilderness. I need to learn to take the crust of God’s word and see it as more valuable than any feast I can make for myself.
Thank you for your Word and embed it in my heart and mind so I can face the wilderness. Teach me to trust in your provision, first and to act only with your guidance.
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”--
What is on the other side of the door?Dare we open it to find out?
Our senses and even our imaginations and intellect can only reveal attributes of God’s character, but to really know God we must open the door into our hearts. We must ask him to dwell in us and we must dwell in him. It takes discipline and it isn’t easy. We don't know what is on the other side of the door. We only know that God has prepared something wonderful for us if we open the door to him.
Take us into a deeper relationship with God. Give us courage to open the door to the way that God has prepared for us.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
I left the camper with only my camera and started up the path to the lake. The sun was up but just barely and since it rained during the night a light mist lay over the lake. It was so quiet and still.
It is hard to find quiet in our noisy world. We must make a conscious effort to shut out the noise of the world and listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd. He knows our name, knows us better than we do ourselves, and he is calling us. We will only hear his call when we are quiet and listen. He will go ahead of us for he knows the best way to go.
Quiet my soul and open my ears to hear you calling. Thank you for calling me by name. I want to always follow where you lead. Forgive me when I go my own way and pull me back to your fold.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
There are several overlooks built on the rock walls of the canyon from where you can see the power and beauty of Yellowstone’s Lower Falls. Without these there would not be a safe and secure way to see these powerful waterfalls. It would just take one step on shaky ground to plummet into the the canyon, from which rescue would be impossible.
When you face difficult and dangerous times, wait patiently for the Lord and he will set your feet upon a rock overlooking canyons of despair and destruction. It isn’t easy to wait, but it is only when we wait that we have time to see the beauty. As you walk with him, as we walked on the trails in the Canyon of Yellowstone, he will make your steps secure and you will see his power and beauty.
Jesus My Rock,
Sometimes I run ahead of you almost to the point of destruction. Teach me to wait on you and trust you to show me the way and make my journey safe and secure.
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
When I visit the churches in the cove I like to sit and think about all the people who have made life changing commitments sitting on the simple benches. Just like these hard benches, we need to do the hard work of looking at our lives. How would our lives be different if we committed each area of our life - our work, our family, our church, and our leisure time - to the Lord? When we carefully commit each area of our lives to the Lord then the plans we make will be true and sure. We won’t be easily shaken.
O Great Master Planer,
Help us do the hard work of examining our commitment to you. Show us ways that we can serve you in each area of our lives and establish our plans.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
My grandmother grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before it was a park. She loved wildflowers and knew all their names. She used to tell me about her favorite flower, the pink lady slipper, and how they used to be easy to find in the park. I had always wanted to see one but they are more rare and harder to find now then in my grandmother’s day. So when I read on a post from a hiking group where one might be, I decided to go and search for them. They were on a trail that I had never been on before and no one could go with me. I knew this would be my only chance to go so I headed out alone. I had never hiked alone before and was pretty scared, but my desire to see the lady slipper motivated me to go. I was willing to take a risk to search for this flower. And I found one, not only one but several and many other beautiful wildflowers that I had never seen before. I cried many tears of joy that day. I got so much more than I ever expected and will never forget that day for I had found the pink lady slipper.
In this parable Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like this - when we search for the kingdom of heaven we will find Jesus, of greater value than anything we could posses. When we see how much Jesus loves us we will want nothing else than to walk with him, whatever the cost. And like all the wildflowers that I photographed that day, Jesus will give us so much more than anything we give up to follow him.
Jesus, Pearl of Great Value,
Open our eyes to your love, a love that is more than we could ever deserve. Give us the desire and courage to follow you with all our heart. Help us make you the pearl of great value in our lives.
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.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Psalm 25: 4-5
About This Image:
It was the second day of our recent road trip to the west and the interstate in Iowa was like driving the Daytona 500 with transfer trucks. So we got out the map and headed for Highway 30, this 2-lane road also called the Lincoln Highway. It was one of the best decisions that we made on the trip because we got to see so much more with much less stressful driving. These two lane roads are not the way most people want to travel today. We are in a hurry to get to our destination. We sometimes want our relationship with God to be like this, quick answers to hard questions. When we truly ask God to lead us and teach us, it will take time. We will have to learn to wait, to be silent. Faith develops over time. I like these words from Brian Erickson from Feasting on the Word Year B Commentary: "Our identity will not be defined by what we claim to believe, but by the road we take. Faith is more than mountaintop moments; it also encompasses times of solitude and struggle. The right road will not always look like the right road." During this season of Lent may we take time to let God teach and lead us down the right road that he has for us.
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