Tossed By the Wind

James 1:2-8 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

2014-01-08 - Tossed By the Wind (IMG_1503)Sunset over the wind tossed waters of Stonelick Lake on a blustery late December evening.  Stonelick State Park, Pleasant Plain, Ohio.

I have mentioned in the past that I enjoy photographing sunrises and sunsets, though, on this particular evening’s trip to Stonelick State Park the ground was very muddy due to recent heavy rains, the spectacularly colored sky never quite materialized, and the wind was so blustery that the reflections off the lake, I desire, were just not there.  Despite things not turning out as I wanted, it was still a good opportunity to get out, do some photography with a friend, and learn a little about capturing a decent shot in less than ideal conditions.

In today’s passage James begins by telling us we should take joy when we encounter trials and have our faith tested.  This, he says, produces steadfastness, which, when allowed to take full effect, makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Much as the process of forging steel shapes and perfects the metal into a finished product, so too do the difficulties we face in life and in our walk with Christ help to shape and perfect us into the person God wants us to be.

Often times we gain far more wisdom from our failures than from our successes, and by asking God for wisdom we need to realize that his method for teaching us may not be as straightforward as just picking up our Bibles, opening to some particular page and finding the answer we seek.  I am by no means proposing that we set our Bibles aside, however God does frequently teach us through life’s experiences, as James is suggesting here.  If our faith is based on pure academic knowledge I would offer that it is incomplete.

James tells us to “ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”  This does not mean we should expect God to answer all our prayers with the specific outcome we desire, but rather, that we need to hold firm in our faith especially when things do not turn out as planned.  We need to understand that the problems and struggles we face serve God’s purpose, and that they will likely give us exactly the wisdom we asked him for, in the first place.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

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He Went Up On the Mountain to Pray

Mark 6:45-47 – Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.

2013-12-30 - He Went Up On the Mountain to Pray (IMG_7683)The setting sun highlights the mountains over St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island.  Glacier National Park, Montana.

This short passage forms a transition between the accounts of two of Jesus’ miracles, feeding the five thousand from only five loaves of bread and two fish, and his walking on water.  As such, it is easily overlooked.  While these two miracles are often mentioned for their clear demonstration of Christ’s divinity, this transitional passage, highlights the fullness of his humanity.

Despite being the one who created the mountains and the sea, Christ was also a man and he still needed time away from the crowds to rest and go to his Father in prayer. “And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”  This simple verse gives such a vivid picture of our Savior’s own need for retreat, and is an example we would all do well to heed.

For me there is no better time than being in the great outdoors (mountains preferred, but optional) away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, to reflect on the greatness of our Lord, to seek him in prayer, and to listen for his voice in the peace and quiet of his amazing creation.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.

The Sky Is Red

Matthew 16:1-3 – And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

2013-12-27 - The Sky Is Red (IMG_1668)Sunset over Caesar Creek Lake from the Fifty Springs Picnic Area, Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.”  Perhaps you have heard this saying, or some variation thereof?  Obviously this little weather forecasting adage was well known even in Jesus’ day.  By the way, there actually is a scientific explanation behind this saying; and, it is a reasonably useful indicator of the weather coming your way.

What was not quite so obvious to the Pharisees and Sadducees, though, was that the long expected Messiah had already come and that he was, in fact, the very one they were presently challenging.  Certainly a part of their problem was that they expected a Messiah who was an earthly king, not the humble son of a carpenter, the babe born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.  Even though, by this time in his earthly ministry, Jesus had already performed numerous signs and miracles, the Pharisees and Sadducees were seeking something more spectacular, or at least something that was more suited to their own expectations.

When we take things to God in prayer we need to make sure our hearts are in the right place.  God does answer prayers, just not always in the way we desire, nor with the timing that we expect.  Rather than approaching him with selfish motives, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we would do well to recall these words from Isaiah 55:8-9, “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.”

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.

Rising Very Early

Mark 1:35 – And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

2013-12-17 - Rising Very Early (IMG_0350)Early morning, “blue hour” photograph, waiting for the sun to rise over the lake.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

If you are into outdoor photography or have read any books or articles on the subject, you have probably encountered the term “golden hour,” and possibly “blue hour.” Simply stated, the golden hour refers to the warm, glowing quality of light in the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset which make for much better photography than the harsher light of mid-day.  The “blue hour,” while perhaps not quite as well known a term, refers to the periods just before sunrise and just after sunset, where the cooler blue tones tend to be more dominant, which are also better times for photography than mid-day.

I enjoy photographing sunrises and sunsets for a couple of reasons.  First, there is simply the sheer beauty of it all.  From pale pastels of pink, violet, and blue, to bold reds, yellows, and oranges and just about everything in between, the colors change continuously over the course of a single sunrise or sunset, transforming even an ordinary landscape into a spectacular sight; God’s majesty and artistry are so clearly on display.  The second reason is the peace and quiet I find at these times of day, but particularly at sunrise.  Except for the avid fishermen or hunters, depending on the time of year, there are not too many people up and out before the sun.  Even the most dedicated hikers usually don’t hit the trail until at least a little while after sunrise.  And, of course, the picnickers rarely show up until near lunchtime.

I do not often have the opportunity to get out early in the morning to do sunrise photography, it is only a hobby after all, but I still enjoy this time of day and find it to be the best time for me to go to the Lord in prayer and spend some quality time in his word.  It is a time of solitude, before all the busyness and business of life come blasting in, a time when the house is quiet and my thoughts are still uncluttered by the cares and concerns of the day.

As this single verse from the Gospel of Mark tells us, Jesus also took time away early in the morning to go to his Father in prayer.  I don’t think there is much speculation involved in saying that he probably chose this time of day intentionally, and for many of the same reasons, the peace and quiet, the lack of interruptions, and a clear mind after a good night’s sleep.  Christ in his humanity, and despite his divinity and perfection, still needed to get away, he still needed time alone to converse with his Father.  So we, in our fallen and sinful state, surely need these times far more than Christ did!

Early mornings may not be best for everyone, whether due to inclination or situation; however, I would urge you to follow the example of our Lord and Savior, himself, and find a time and place that you can get away and go to our Heavenly Father in prayer, to study your Bible and reflect on what he is telling you through his word.  Whether it is a few minutes or an hour alone with the Lord each day, taking time away from the noise and clutter of everyday life will benefit your walk with Christ more than you can imagine.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.