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.
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
I got up before my husband and slipped out of the camper with my camera. We were camping on the river at Douglas Dam. It was a cool morning and there was just a light fog. I stopped at the last campsite and just sat on the picnic table. There was a peace and quietness there as I felt God calm my soul. I didn’t go out that morning expecting to experience God in a special way. He just showed up without an appointment.
It must have been like that for Peter, John, James, Nathaniel, and the other unnamed disciples that morning by the Sea of Galilee. They had been on an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster for the past month. They just decided to go fishing, we don’t know why. On that early morning it was John, the Beloved Disciple, the one closes to Jesus, that recognized him first. At John's words, Peter jumped out of the boat, swimming this time instead of walking on the water. Nathaniel and the others brought the boat into shore. Jesus just showed up without an appointment.
Jesus does that. He knows us so well. He knows just when and how to speak to us like he did with all of his resurrection appearances to the disciples. Sometimes like that day on the Sea of Galilee we need someone to see him first and sometimes we need to be the ones to bring the boat to shore for our friends. Whichever we are Jesus will always meet us at the shore, showing up without an appointment.
Show up in our lives this day. Help us to be the ones that point the way to you or the ones to bring the boat to shore for anyone who needs to see you.
Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Yellow lady slippers are such a rare flower in the Great Smoky Mountains that during wildflower season there are park rangers and volunteers who walk the trails where they are found to protect them from poachers. It is kind of an unwritten rule that if you post a picture of a lady slipper online you should not post where you took the picture. I found my first yellow lady slipper 2 years ago with the help of another hiker who showed me where to look. Now that I know where they are I go back each year to see them again.
We have been entrusted with the treasure of God’s word that is as rare and beautiful as the yellow lady slippers are in the mountains. We must seek to find their beauty with the help of sound teaching and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we find God in his word we must guard this treasure he has entrusted to us. We need to keep returning to God’s word over and over again until his words and his beauty fill our lives in such a way that others can see him.
Help us to guard the treasure that you have given us. May we reflect your beauty and love as we grow closer to you.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
It is only about a five minute walk from the visitor’s center parking lot on a wide, level trail to Cataract Falls. It is so very easy to get to that it is the only waterfall that many of the 1.5 million people who visit the park every year ever see. To see much grander and more beautiful waterfalls you must hike at least a mile. Your desire to see a beautiful waterfall must be greater than your desire to take it easy. When our desire to see God is stronger than our desire to seek the wide, level path then we will see much more of his power and glory. We will see his beauty and experience his steadfast love when we earnestly seek him.
O God, My God
Make me thirsty for your presence. Teach me to earnestly seek you. Give me a desire to be with you that is stronger than any other desire for material things.
As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
The first hike I went on with my husband was to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove on a beautiful summer day. On our way back we stopped to rest at the big rock at the top of the hill about three-fourths of the way back to the parking lot when there was this loud crack of thunder behind us. It was close and terrifying. We almost ran back to the car with lightning cracking all around us. We made it back just before the downpour. If you have ever been in the mountains when a sudden afternoon storm blows up you know how terrifying and dangerous it can be.
I wonder what it was like for Peter, James, and John when the mountain was suddenly enveloped by a cloud like we were when we heard the thunder crack above our heads that day. What was it like to be that close to the glory and power of God? Sometimes I think we read the Bible as a simple re-telling of ancient facts without thinking about the impact of the events on the lives of the real people in the Bible passage. Reading the passage and thinking about the emotions and the way the words might have been said and felt by the people present has helped me develop a deeper understanding of God’s word and a deeper relationship with Jesus.
You are awesome and powerful, more powerful than any storm. Help us to remember that when we read your word. Help us to read the Bible as more than just a retelling of ancient stories but as a living and breathing word from you.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
Without the sunlight reflecting on the surface of the moon we would have no moonlight. The sun changes the appearance of the moon to our eyes. After spending time with God, Moses appearance changed. He wasn't anything he did because he wasn't aware of the change in his appearance. His face, like moonlight is a reflection to sunlight, was a reflection of God’s glory. This wasn’t just a one time occurrence - every time he came out from God’s presence, he had to wear a veil. Being with God changed Moses. It will also change us. Our closeness to God shapes our identity. The closer we are to God the more we reflect his light. It may not be that our physical appearance changes as did Moses’s, but our lives will become a more perfect reflection of God’s light and glory the more time we spend with him.
Great and Glorious God,
Draw us closer to you so that we may become reflections of your love.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
After you walk down the hill, cross the swinging bridge, and climb down a rather steep embankment you get to this quiet place along Piney Creek. The water is shallow and cool and I try to get here every single time I camp in the state park. In this place surrounded by rock walls on one side and a steep hill on there other there is this tall pine tree that stands overlooking Piney Creek like a protective sentinel. I have seen the tree from the above looking down from the swinging bridge and looking up from the water’s edge. This image of he tree along Piney Creek is the one that comes to mind when I read these familiar words from Psalm 1. It is tall and strong and has been there for many years. I want to be like this tree, strong and sure, standing for many years and bearing fruit. I know that I can only be this kind of tree when I put my roots deep in God’s word and let him sustain me.
Teach me to delight in your word. Make me into a fruit bearing tree that provides for all those around me.
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
I live close to the mountains so I don’t often get the chance to see a sunrise or sunset over a large body of water. I don’t think that I have ever actually seen the sun seem to be kissing the edge of the water and then watch it move out of sight as I did that evening on Lake Superior. It was just an amazing thing for me to watch something that I had never seen before. It filled me with excitement and joy. I find joy in many places, like photographing that sunset, but the best joy, the joy that lasts, the joy that changes me, is the joy of the Lord that I find when I really study his word.
In Nehemiah we find a description of this kind of joy experienced by a people who hadn’t heard God’s word in a long time. The people had returned to their homeland from exile and under Nehemiah’s leadership had been rebuilding the city wall. After the wall is finished they have a special worship celebration and Ezra, the teacher of the law, is called on to bring out the book of law of Moses. He stands on a platform to read the Law at the city gate; a place where all can be present women, men, clean and unclean; a place where decisions and judgements were rendered. They listened to teachers who were there to help them understand what was being read. They were overcome and wept with emotion. The people that day found a joy that can only be found in the Lord. In that joy they will find the strength to re-establish their home. I pray that you find joy in studying God’s word; a joy that will sustain you even when there are clouds that cover the sunset; a joy that stays in your heart as you go about your daily life.
Dearest Lord, Source of Joy
Thank you for the strength that results from the joy that can be found in your word. Open our hearts to hear your voice and see your beauty in your word and world.
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Fog is like a blanket that covers the earth in quietness. Fog requires that you slow down. Following God also requires that you slow down and wait. Waiting is hard because we are giving up control, moving at someone else’s pace. Waiting on God means that we surrender control to him. We let him cover us and quiet us as the fog quiets the early morning. Take time each day to just sit quietly with your heart open to God and he will lead you.
Lord and Savior,
Teach us to wait quietly for you, to slow down our frantic pace and listen for you.
I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.
If you look closely you will see the path that cuts through the field. If one were to follow that path it would eventually lead to a road that would take you on toward the mountains surrounding the cove. The more I know about the path and the roads it connects to, the more I will be able to find my way to the mountains. God’s word is like this path. The more I know about God’s word the more I am able to use it to find my way.
Broaden my understanding of your Word so that I can run free on the path set before me.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
I am so grateful for the amazing roads that allow us to drive to the top of mountains. When you arrive at the top and look out, the mountains seem to unfold before you. As far as you can see there are fold after fold of mountains. Folding and unfolding is an important metaphor of understanding God’s word for you can only unfold something that has been folded. God’s word is so neatly folded - every word fits together to show us God. Now you have to work at unfolding it. We need to to study it, to memorize it, and to be excited about all the light it brings to us. It takes time in God’s word to see all the folds that are there but the more you unfold, the more understanding you have, the more light you see. This verse about unfolding has become so important to me. You will find it in the header on the home page of my website. It perfectly describes what I want this website to be - an unfolding of God's word through the light captured in his world.
Great Creator God,
Thank you for your beautiful word. Guide us to unfold it in our lives and give us light on our journey toward you.
I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.
To get a picture that is sharp and clear there needs to be no camera movement while the shutter is open. The slower the shutter speed the harder this is to accomplish while hand holding the camera. If I want to take a picture in low light or make the waterfall look silky smooth then I have to use a tripod. Now a tripod is a lot to carry and if you are carrying it on your pack then you have to stop and take off your backpack to set it up. So when I come to a scene that I want to photograph I have to ask myself, “is this tripod worthy.” If I see the light isn’t right or I can’t get a clear composition of what I want to photograph then I won’t take the trouble to set up the tripod. The longer that I have photographed the better I am at judging if a scene is tripod worthy. Over time and experience I have learned to discern much better not only when I need a tripod but if the scene will make a compelling image.
If we want God to help us discern the best course of action, if we want to truly serve God then we must know God’s word. We need to ask God to develop in us an understanding of his word. When God’s word becomes ingrained in our every daily lives then we can use it to determine if an action is “tripod worthy.”
Increase our desire to know your word and give us the discernment we need to use your word to serve you in a worthy manner.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
I got to see my special tree across from the Lawson place again and this time in full fall color against the mountains filled with color on a clear, blue sky day. I remember the first time I noticed the tree. It was after I got my camera and started taking pictures. Since then I have always paid attention to it and I don’t think I will ever go to the cove again without stopping to take its picture.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews warns his listeners to pay attention to what they have heard about Jesus. The letter begins with with a beautiful and lofty description of who Jesus is, written to a people who live in a culture that will soon ostracize them and later persecute them. If they are going to stay true to Jesus then they must pay close attention to what they have heard. The words translated as “pay closer attention” are much stronger in the original Greek. They carry the idea of being completely obsessed with something. If we are going to make Christ the center of our lives than we must be completely obsessed with him.
I want to be as completely obsessed with Christ as I am with the tree in the cove. It is easy to get busy and skip a day spending time in God’s word and the more we skip the easier it is, we just start drifting away. I know that when I do spend time with him, think of him throughout the day, be amazed at his love and grace, then I always see wonderful things.
Teach us to pay closer attention to you this day. Break into our lives and keep us true to you, amazed at the love you have for us.
Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.
I love the golds and reds of the autumn, especially in the early morning and late afternoon when the sun intensifies the gold of the autumn leaves. The mountain streams reflect the beautiful leaves and the whole world seems to be awash in gold. More beautiful than the golds of fall are the words of God. When we study them our lives are illuminated and we have a gift more lasting and beautiful than the fleeting golds of fall.
Make your word light up our lives like the beautiful golden leaves of fall amaze us with their beauty.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Roses have thorns - something beautiful on top of something painful. God’s word is like this. It is both painful and beautiful. When we really study God’s word, it pierces our soul. It is difficult to truly look at your life laid bare. The beauty comes because we have opened our hearts to God’s word. We see our sin but we also see the great sacrifice of Jesus. Only when we see our sin do we see the need for Christ. Open your heart to the piercing of God’s word and then look to Jesus and see yourself through his eyes of forgiveness, grace, and love.
Great High Priest
Use your word that is living and active and that pierces our souls and lays bare our hearts before you. Thank you for your gift of grace.
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.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
This is the time of year when students of all ages are going back to school after summer vacation. New teachers, new schools, new learnings are ahead. In our culture we want quick answers, tips and tricks, but wisdom doesn’t come this way. True wisdom grows only from time spent being with God and studying his word. As we take time and develop the discipline of study, we find your wisdom. And in this wisdom do we find hope to walk in this world.
Be with all students as they return to their classrooms. Encourage us as we study your word and develop in us a discipline of study. Show us the encouragement and hope needed to live in our world that is only found when we study your word and learn to walk close to you.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Most of us each morning awaken to work of some kind, whether it be in a hay field, our home, an office, or a classroom. We seek to find satisfaction in our work. Some of us work so hard that we become work obsessed, thinking that if we just work a little harder we will be valuable. But satisfaction and self-worth only come from knowing that we are valuable in the eyes of our loving Lord. He never asks us to be perfect and there is no work we can do that will earn his love. It is a gift, mercy unmerited and inexplicable. When we begin each morning rejoicing over the steadfast love of our father, over time we find a joy and satisfaction in our lives that could never be accomplished by the quality of our work and won’t be quenched.
Steadfast and Sure Lord God
Open our eyes to your love this morning. Bring joy to our work today and may all that we do bring glory to you.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
I love living where I live, close to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. The longer the demands of life keep me away from them, the greater my longing for a day in the mountains grows. Sometimes I think about the mountains being God’s dwelling place because often I hear him speak to my heart in their beauty. But God’s presence is not bound to any physical place. Dwelling in the courts of the Lord means more than a day in the mountains. It means living each day in his presence no matter where I am; it means spending my day seeking him. And the result of dwelling each day in the presence of the Lord is joy. I won’t make it to the mountains today, but I can still walk in his courts knowing that I am truly loved by him.
Lord of Hosts
Show us the way to your courts and dwell with us today. Make our hearts sing for joy to the living God.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
When we hear the words “house of the Lord,” we often think of a physical place on earth. But even the oldest of these physical places are temporary and not “forever.” For King David the physical house of the Lord was the tabernacle, but I think that he was thinking about more than just a physical place. He was describing his great desire to abide in the presence of God.
Physical houses of the Lord come in many styles from simple wood frame buildings to stone cathedrals. It is a joy to be in such places to worship, but I think that God promises us more than just a physical place. I believe that we can abide in his presence and experience his love and mercy in our lives on earth and then we will dwell with him forever.
I bow in gratitude for your great goodness and love that will follow me all my days and for the promise dwelling in your house forever.
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