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Showing posts from July, 2019

It Was Just A Mud Puddle... Or Was It?

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This muddy patch of water could be easily overlooked from what it truly was... a reflecting pool. You cannot see its reflective properties until you get the right perspective though.

Sometimes we look at people and might not see much until we look at them from the right perspective. We are ALL created in God's image or likeness. We were ALL made to have a relationship with Him. We are ALL designed to reflect His character and His image through our words and actions. Don't let the mud we see from the topside keep you from seeing people for the masterpiece they were created to be.

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)

For we are God’s handiwork (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Scars of Leadership

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This big elk is now "the man" at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains. After years of dominance, the former bull elk was defeated in battle in 2018 and this new king resides over his harem. One look at him and you can see that it was not an easy win... but the loser was in even worse shape.

We look up to powerful leaders of industry and business with respect, but these people often climbed that ladder by stepping on people along the way and ruthlessly battling others in order to be on top. We applaud the winner and often forget about the victims. At the time I took this photo, the previous dominant elk had not been seen for a couple weeks. Some park volunteers feared he might even be dead (I do not know if that is the case or not).

There is a huge difference between this type of societal leader and the kind of spiritual leader Jesus instructs His followers to be. He said a leader must be an example for others by being willing to humbly serve them.

And Jesus called them to h…

Patience

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The leaves changed rather quickly on the Maples at Oconaluftee Visitors Center last year and began to cover the ground in a carpet of multi colors with varying degrees of crunchiness.

This was a popular spot for people just arriving in the Park. The cellphones were out and pictures were being taken of family groups and individuals.

As you might imagine, I had to be patient in order to get a people-free and car-free image. Photography has helped me with patience. It's still not one of my greatest strengths though.

In Colossians 3:12 we read that patience is a quality that we should "clothe" ourselves in daily as children of God.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Imagine a world where believers practiced these qualities every day, everywhere... even on social media. It just might change someone's world.

The Trail Begins with a Bridge

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The Chimney Tops Trail is very popular in the Great Smoky Mountains. Vehicles line the road and fill the parking area near its trail head almost every day of the year. If it were not for this bridge at the beginning then most would never even begin the ascend to the top of the mountain.

There is a bridge I crossed 50+ years ago that began what I consider an extraordinary ascent as well. I crossed over the bridge from death to life (spiritually speaking) when I gave my heart to Jesus. The mountaintop journey I am taking to heaven began with that one crucial crossing. It did not cost me anything because the One who built it did so with His own life -- Jesus paid it all on Calvary making eternal life available to me... and you!

There are many hazards along life's journey but I know that God, who by grace has brought me this far, will continue with me to the end. Some of Jesus' very last words to His disciples are the same that encourage me to keep hiking onward and upward -- "…

Cloudy Days

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For those of you who think that Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains has nothing but sunny days and black bears... then gaze upon this picture. Yep, storm clouds and not a critter in sight.

Honestly, I love a good storm scene that fills the frame with dark, menacing-looking clouds. It is a reminder to me that all people experience good days and bad -- sunshine and rain.

Jesus told his followers, "He [God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45)

What sets Christians apart is how they respond as they go through the difficult times. They are not without One who loves and cares for them regardless of the trial. God's promise to His children is that He will never abandon them. Never!

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)

Your day may not be sunny but you can always have the Son shining in your heart!

Convergence

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CONVERGENCE: the point at which lines, objects, etc., converge.

These two rivers (Bradley Fork and Oconaluftee) meet or converge along Newfound Gap Road in the Smokies beside the Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains. Convergence is something that happens all day, every day in one form or fashion. Personally, I don't believe these intersections in life happen by accident but that God has ordained them -- particularly as it has to do with the people you meet along your day's journey.

So, if convergence is God-planned and orchestrated, what impression are you making on other people's lives? How are you making a difference? Are you making their day brighter and better? A kind word or gesture goes a long with with friends and strangers alike.

Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

What's In A Name?

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The Wormy Chestnut... a name like that makes you want to instantly turn off the road and go shopping, doesn't it? NOT!

I must admit that it caught this photographer's eye on the Blue Ridge Parkway but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to venture inside (although I'm not sure it's even still open).

Names mean something. Proverbs 22:1 says "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."

When someone hears the name Bryan Nowak I certainly don't want negative thoughts to appear in their head. I want them to think about the grace of God on my life and the joy of my salvation that I share through photography.

Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, was saying that it's better to be poor with a good reputation than rich with a bad reputation. To be thought of highly for one's godly and righteous character is more valuable than gold.

Too often I hear the name of the Lord used in vain or flippantly (with little or n…

Where is Your Worship?

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You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

I can't help but think about all the idols and gods we serve each day. What are you talking about, Bryan? I'm referring to all those things that take priority in our daily lives over our relationship with God.

Consider all the time you spend watching TV, surfing the internet, playing with cellphone apps, exercising, trying to get ahead in life, and working overtime to make even more money. Think of the "investments" you've made in the stock market, houses, cars, cameras, big boy toys, etc.

Next, consider the amount of time and energy spent in prayer, worship, Bible study, serving others, and quiet time with God. We learn in God's word that He is jealous for our time and attention. He desires an intimate relationship with you and me.

You can call Him Lord, but it doesn't mean a thing if your walk doesn't match your talk. Yes, I'm convicted too. As we …

When There Seems to Be No Way

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I like shooting bridges. I guess there's just something about crossing over from one side to another that reminds me of the challenges we encounter daily and the many ways God graciously provides to get over them.

So we have a choice when we experience difficulties. We can dwell on the PROBLEM or we can dwell on the PROVIDER.

In the book written the the Christians living in Philippi, Paul wrote "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Look at those encouraging words more closely:
* Do not be anxious about ANYTHING.
* Pray and give thanks in EVERYTHING.

That's the key. Pray more. Worry less. Don Moen wrote a song years ago that has ministered to countless lives, written during a very difficult time in his family:

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me
He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side

Deceptive Beauty

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My eyes and attention were drawn to the colorful display before me, but as appealing as it looked I knew better than to touch it... for this pretty plant is poison!

The world offers a great deal of temptation that is very appealing on the outside, but will poison your life with disappointment, pain and brokenness. It might not impact you immediately, but eventually you will suffer the results.

Satan is the father of lies and wants you to believe left is right, down is up, and wrong is right. Jesus' way is truth and life.

People say, "Three leaves, let it be." Those are good words to follow. God has a whole book of wisdom waiting for you to learn from so that you are not poisoned...it's called the Bible. Read it and take heed.

Charred Chimneys

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Unfortunately, the Chimney Tops resemble their namesake. The devastating fires that engulfed that area have left a very noticeable scar. However, the surrounding forests now abound with life and color. I would not have believed this sight today after witnessing the effects following this tragic event just a couple of years ago.

When you think about it, there are instances in our lives where we've come through the fire (metaphorically) and we still have the scars to prove it, but God is restoring and renewing you in ways you could not have imaged. Whether the pain is physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual, of one thing I am completely certain, God will NEVER leave you nor forsake you. He is with you and He loves you. The pain is real and the scars may remain, but afterwards I pray they will be a reminder of His faithfulness as He walked through the fire by your side.

Deuteronomy 31:8
"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or fors…

Paths

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As you begin to ponder the depth of this scene, you soon realize how easily one could get lost in the vastness of the trees and rolling mountains if you got off a designated path or trail.

My advice and caution to you is to stay on the designated path as you venture into unfamiliar territory. Follow the Lord as He walks before you and do not get sidetracked by distractions that lead you into the deep woods where you can easily lose your way.

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. (Proverbs 4:26)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love. (Ephesians 5:1-2a)

Covering Scars

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A highlight of our fall trip to the Smokies each year is photographing from the Campbell Overlook as the color abounds from the parking area all the way up Mt. LeConte. However, since last year's fire the mountain is not the same -- huge scars appear on the ridge lines where no vegetation has yet appeared due to the extreme nature of the burn.

That is not what we saw on this day though. God made a covering for those scars and only allowed us the privilege of seeing the beauty that He prepared for our eyes. The areas which have caused sorrow and sadness were enveloped in a cloud.

Healing is that way too. When after a time of processing whatever trauma or pain has come into your life, the beauty and wonder of God's presence becomes more apparent as the "burn" ceases to be the center of your life and you begin to see His grace all around.

God's words to Paul also ring true for us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corin…

The Spring House

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A source of fresh, clean water was vital to the life of early settlers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were a part of the rural landscape. They were a good way to keep the water pure and provided natural refrigeration. On the hottest day in the summer spring water remained at a temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ledges were built into the spring house along with places to hang meat, vegetables, and fruit for cold storage.

As Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, He told her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)

When you receive Jesus into your life, you drink in living water that completely satisfies your thirst for spiritual fulfillment. As a result, YOU become a spring house of that living water for sharing with others who are desp…

A Safe, Sturdy and Secure Crossing

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This is the new bridge constructed after raging waters shredded the previous one. We trust bridges to keep us safe for hazardous crossings. Some are more secure than others. Many people mistakenly put their faith in bridges that are shaky and untrustworthy and they do not make it to the other side. Am I talking about a bridge like the one pictured? Well, maybe... but you know I have a spiritual perspective I'd like to weave into this narrative.

There are thousands of religions in the world and the people following them for the most part hope their faith will get them safely from this side of eternity to the other. But they can't ALL be right. Sadly, people will stake their eternal destiny in a man who is dead and buried, a myth or fable, a force, in ancestors, in stars and planets, in idols and statues, etc. There is only one true and living bridge that will provide safe passage from earth to heaven and that is the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He said, "I am the way…

Take Me Home

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"Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a song co-written and sung by John Denver with those unforgettable lyrics:

Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees,
younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain mamma,
take me home, country roads.

I love the Smoky Mountains and I love Cades Cove. I have wondered what it would have been like living there 100 years ago. I still dream of this area being the place of my retirement.

Nevertheless, whether I remain in GA, or move to NC or TN, I realize that this is really not my home. I am but a sojourner in a foreign land. You see, my home is in heaven and there is no country road that that take me there -- only the blood-bathed path that led to Calvary.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come." ~Hebrews 13:14

Paul wrote, &quo…

A Solitary Leaf

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I have a tendency to look at the "big picture" when shooting nature because that's what a landscape photographer does. However, there is something very special about the uniqueness of the smaller individual subject as well -- in this case, the Maple leaf.

When you think about it, the "big picture" landscape really is composed of a large number of uniquely designed smaller parts fitted together perfectly for their environment. There is tremendous beauty in this location with the tumbling cascades, big rocks and colorful trees, but just as extraordinary is this one exquisitely vibrant leaf.

We should never forget that concept when we look at the crowds that make up the human race. We have a tendency to label and profile certain groups based on where they live, the jobs they work, the language they speak, the color of their skin or hair, the cars they drive, the tattoos they wear, and so on and so on. Yet, these large groups are made up of uniquely created beings wi…

The Difference One Week Will Make

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Did you miss the fall color in the Smokies last year? Well, I wouldn't be surprised. Check out these two photos. Both were taken from the same spot (2nd overlook on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail) just ONE WEEK APART. Yes, you heard that right. And I imagine that 2 or 3 days after my last shot that this scene was nearly all brown.

Fall color was spectacular despite initial predictions but short-lived this year. As is usually the case, timing is very important. In fact, the old saying is that "timing is everything."

In the Bible, we read the words of King Solomon regarding a time and season for everything that takes place.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1 There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter …

Like the Morning Fog

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As the morning light filled the fog-blanketed valley of Cades Cove, one could not help but observe and soak in its marvelous beauty. As we drove around photographing this spectacle of nature, we realized that it would last but a short time because that warm sunlight was burning off that layer of spirited moisture in the air so we needed to get all the photos in that we could.

James was inspired to write, "How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone." ~James 4:14

Just as we sensed an urgency to make the most of every moment that we had with the fog, we also ought to make the most out of every moment and opportunity we are given to demonstrate love for our Lord and our neighbor. Worry less about tomorrow and concentrate on the here-and-now and those whom God places in our path -- for tomorrow never comes and opportunities to be a blessing slip away as quickly as the morning fog.

Bare Before the Light

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As the sun rose into the sky on this Cades Cove morning and the fog presented this photographer with a filtered glow of light through the valley, it became very apparent that some of the trees had already parted ways with their covering. This tree in particular stood in the field, alone, naked, and exposed for all the world to see.

This scene brings to mind that all things are exposed before our God. There is nothing that is hidden. He knows all, sees all, and hears all. He even knows our thoughts. We may be good at hiding a dark side of our character from other people, but our indiscretions are well known by our Creator, Lord and Sovereign God...the One to whom we are ultimately accountable.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable." ~Hebrews 4:13

So, live your life like an open book. Be authentic. Let goodness and godliness guide your thoughts, wor…

Words to Guide

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How does one put a smile on their face as they get ready for a new work week? How does one prepare to go meet a physician after a frightening diagnosis? How does one cope with living in a world where evil can expose itself at any time? How does one intentionally choose to make a positive difference in another person's life? How does one know for certain that they can spend eternity in heaven?

The answers to these questions and so many more are found in the power of the words found in this book. It's not just any ordinary book. These are God's instructions and love letter to humanity. These words were not just intended for people living thousands of years ago or the small community living within the western North Carolina Cataloochee Valley, but for you and me as well. These words are living and life-changing.

What is God saying to you? If you're not hearing from Him then you are not reading His Word.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. ~Psalm 119…

Don't Miss a Blessing

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Okay, here it is... I got the cliché shot. Dawn, fog, bare tree limbs, gravel road leading off into the fading distance, fence line, mountain just visible in the background. Yep, Sparks Lane in Cades Cove. You've seen it a thousand times... or have you?

Photographers are often guilty of quickly shooting the familiar image then moving on to the next spot without even considering the unique and special qualities presented on that day; a gift of subtleties never to occur in nature exactly like this again.

Admit it, this is true about how you read God's Holy Word at times as well. You quickly read over verses so familiar that you can quote them with one hand tied behind your back. Yet, in doing so you fail to absorb the truth that God wants to reveal to you today.

Oh, that we would be like the prophet Jeremiah who wrote, "When I discovered Your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight." ~Jeremiah 15:16

Don't miss a blessing in your hurry to finish a…

The Overcoming Light

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I can't tell you how my heart began to beat wildly as I came upon this scene. As the sun rose in Cades Cove it streamed powerfully and beautifully through the trees, encompassing the Missionary Baptist Church.

The church, God's children, may be light/influence/God's ambassadors in the world, but He is most certainly THE LIGHT that scatters darkness and transforms the hearts of men. Darkness has no power over light. John, the beloved disciple, wrote...

In the beginning, the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. Through Him all things were made, and apart from Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life brought light to humanity. And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. ~John 1:1-5

May the One (Jesus) who has existed from the beginning, who made all things, who is the giver of life, illuminate you with His truth and grace today. Amen!

Cades Cove
Missionary…