They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
The tree on this hill has stood for many sunsets. Its very presence is a testament to its ability to withstand the forces of wind and water. These words of Isaiah written to a people in difficult times brought a promise from God that one day their days would be like the days of a tree maybe like this one that stands so beautiful and strong on this hill. God promised that their needs would be met and their work would have purpose and something that they would enjoy.
These promises also bring us hope in difficult times for we are God’s chosen people. We will stand like this tree tall and strong because Jesus stood on a tree for us. When we follow him our work becomes full of purpose, his purpose, and brings joy to our lives.
Strong and Loving God
Make our lives like a strong tree. Show us the purpose for our work today and through it bring joy to our world.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
If you listen to landscape photographers long enough you will eventually hear them say something like this, “I was looking for a composition.” What I have learned about making a beautiful photo is that is how the image is located or composed inside the viewfinder of the camera that makes an image that communicates. You go to a beautiful place and there is so much to see. You have to decide what you want to communicate and what needs to go into the frame. It takes time and effort. It is easy to get discouraged. On a recent trip to New England I had visited lots of waterfalls and taken lots of images and had just about given up on ever finding a good composition. Finally I got this image, the light was right, the vantage point was right, I remembered what I needed to do to the camera to get the settings to capture the photo.
Following Christ is like this. You have to work out your salvation. It takes time and effort. There are days when you feel so far away from following him, but he is always there. He will show you how you need to compose your life to communicate what he means to you and to share his love with those you meet.
Great Composer God
Give us your vision for today. Give us insight as we continue to work out our salvation. Work in us to compose your purpose.
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.
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.
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.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I try to walk every day, usually in my neighborhood. I enjoy being outside, even in cold weather, but sometimes it is just hard to leave my warm house. I would rather just rest by the fire. When I do walk I see scenes like this just down the subdivision road from my house. So there was work, and cold, but there was also rest that came from the simple joy of seeing this quiet scene only a hundred yards from a busy highway. Sometimes I think about what it takes to follow Jesus, the call to serve him wherever he leads. It seems like just hard work ahead and no rest; but he promises rest. So how do we have rest and work? We yoke ourselves to Christ. We depend on his strength to do the work and guide us to the work that he has for us, not the work that we do for ourselves or the work that others set before us. There is a peace and rest that comes from trusting Jesus and working in his strength. Yoke yourself to him today and you will find rest and peace.
Teach us to move forward yoked to you, in your strength. Quieten our souls and give us rest.
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.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Work is an important part of life. From the very beginning of the Bible we see that God worked and he was pleased with his work. Since we are made in his image I believe we are made to work, to create. There is a special joy when we work hard to create something, even if the thing we created never wins fame or is even noticed by people. While walking on the trails that surround St. John University we came upon this beautiful little covered bridge. There was really no need for a covered bridge at this place, a couple of raised boards would have been sufficient to keep the water off the trail. Indeed this day there wasn’t even any water under the bridge. Still here it was, the result of hard work on someone’s part. You can see the craftsmanship in all the woodwork. It brought joy to me to see the beautiful little bridge as it brought joy to the two friends sitting on the bridge we passed on the way back that were engrossed in conversation. We may never know if our work brings joy to others, but if we work for God and not ourselves, for his eye and his honor, then we know God will use our work to draw people to him. And if we work only for his eye we are more likely to keep work in balance with other parts of our daily life.
Teach us to keep the right perspective on work - to not overwork or underwork. Teach us to work for you and bless the work of our hands.
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.
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
I love those days when my hard work is productive. And it is even better when the reward at the end of a day of hard work is a beautiful sunset. I have found that productive days are more likely to happen when I begin the day by committing my way to the Lord. It is then that I have a strength beyond myself. I need to remember to begin each day seeking the work God has me to do with this prayer of Moses, “establish the work of our hands.”
Show us your handiwork and the work that you would have us to do this day. Establish the work of our hands and give us the strength to accomplish the task you set before us.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
I don’t know how long the rower had been rowing when he came into my view, but it must have been a good feeling to see that shore and know that he was going to make it before the sun set behind the trees. The reward was in sight.
We work every day. Sometimes work seems like something that we are forced to do, with no reward in sight. Sunset is coming and it is hard to keep going. Paul wrote these words of encouragement to the church at Colossae which would have been filled with many slaves forced to do work for masters that may not have appreciated their work. He challenged them to do their work as if they were doing it for the Lord. Looking at work this way gave them a way to see a purpose and reward for their work. The shore was in sight for they were serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we face hardships in our work help us to remember to do our work for you. Give us strength to work hard and the joy that comes from knowing that the reward is in sight for we are working for our great and loving master, Jesus Chris.
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