Nov 22 2017

Thank You, God

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendRecently the choir at my church sang an anthem called “Thank You, God.” I’m sure the author of the piece, J. Paul Williams, could have gone in a number of different directions giving thanks to God but he chose to focus on God’s gift of Creation. Here are the lyrics: “God created everything we see, He made the misty night. He spoke and there was light. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. God is the giver of every good thing. He gave us seed to sow. He gave us minds to know; He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. Forest and mountain, swift running river, love overflowing, God is the giver. Thank you, God, thank you,  for every good and perfect gift. God is the one who makes the crops to grow. He makes each bud to flower with sunshine and with shower. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing.”

_CES1773Another hymn writer, Henry van Dyke, also included Creation in his popular hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Dyke, however, took a slightly different approach and spoke of Creation’s call for us to offer God praise. He wrote: “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)These two writers remind us that God’s gift of Creation calls us to give thanks and to offer praise to the Maker of heaven and earth. This call, of course, is nothing new. You will find numerous similar calls throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Psalms. There you will even find Creation itself being called upon to offer God praise. In Psalm 98 we read “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” (vs. 4, 7-8)

 

All of Creation is called upon to offer thanksgiving and praise to God. So are we. With this in mind, let me urge you this Thanksgiving to give thanks for God’s gift of Creation. The truth be known, just about everything we normally give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day would have been impossible were it not for the provisions God gives us through Creation. And may I suggest that you continue to give thanks for this good earth on a regular basis. Our life would not be possible apart from God’s gifts through Creation. So take time each day to offer your thanks for God’s provision and your praise to the Giver of all good gifts. It truly is the right thing to do.

–Chuck


Nov 8 2017

Discovering the Presence of God in Nature

_DSC6845I’ve recently come across two quotations from a couple of my favorite spiritual writers—C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton. The subject matter is amazingly similar.  Lewis writes, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.  He walks everywhere incognito.  And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate.  The real labor is to remember, to attend.  In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.”  I’m not sure where all Lewis had in mind as places where we can find God incognito but I have no doubt he would have included nature.  The Scriptures are clear that God’s presence can be found in Creation.  This, in fact, seems to be one of God’s best hiding places.  But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear it is not hard to discover God there.  But Lewis is right, the difficult part is remembering to “attend” or pay attention.  It takes great discipline to become and “remain awake.”

_DSC6725How, then, can we pay better attention and learn to remain awake? One answer is prayer.  Thomas Merton, who I am convinced did a good job of paying attention and remaining awake to God in nature, prayed a prayer that no doubt helped.  It reads, “Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.”  If we turn to the world in silence and solitude, with a poverty of spirit, it will be impossible not to experience the presence of God.  Like C. S. Lewis, Merton believed God could be found everywhere and when one comes to see God in all places and spaces then all the world becomes a prayer.

Merton mentioned the sky, the birds, and the wind in the trees as personal forms of prayers. What parts of nature have become prayers for you?

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on a trip last month to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)


Sep 6 2017

Bearing Witness

DNP Nugget PondI have been an avid nature photographer for twenty-five years. I got into nature photography to help me deal with stress in ministry. I was desperately needing a hobby and after flirting briefly with the idea of getting into pottery I decided I would pursue nature photography. I am so thankful I chose that path. It has opened a lot of doors for me, enabled me to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country, introduced me to some awesome people, and brought me a great deal of joy and fulfillment. Along the way I have been able to publish three books and see my photographs appear in numerous magazines, calendars, advertisements, post cards, and other books. I’ve also been able to teach a number of workshops and mentor other photographers. Best of all, my nature photography has enabled me to bear witness to the glory of God.

19990417_878534568968429_1700340611320172729_n[1]Recently my wife purchased me a t-shirt that I love. On the front it says “God creates the Beauty. My camera and I are a witness.” That pretty much sums up my approach to photography. I seek to capture the beauty of God’s Creation and share it with others. When other people comment on how beautiful my pictures are I often remind them that God is the one responsible for the beauty. My job is simply recording it with my camera. So it is true that when I take a photograph my camera and I are simply witnesses to the beauty God creates. That is not to deny that some skill is required to take good photographs but in the end I cannot take credit for the beauty that is captured in my images–that is God’s handiwork.

My goal in doing nature photography is not just to be a witness of God’s beauty when I photograph but also to be a witness for God’s beauty afterwards. That’s why I enjoy doing digital “slide shows” for groups and posting pictures on Facebook.   It is my desire to share with others the same beauty I witnessed in the field so that they too can see the work of God’s hands and give God glory for it. For twenty-five years I have seen this as part of my “calling.” I truly do view photography as an extension of my ministry. The apostle Paul once said “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) I believe this should and does include my photography.

BSF East Rim Overlook fallIn addition to bearing witness to the beauty of God’s Creation I seek to bear witness to the goodness of that Creation with the hope that people will want to preserve and protect it. That type witness is sorely needed right now. Since its inception, photography has been used to bring awareness to others. I want my work to be used to promote Creation Care and environmental stewardship. I hope other photographers will join me in this endeavor.

I encourage each of you, whether you are a photographer or not, to find ways to bear witness to the beauty of God’s Creation and to urge others to do all they can to honor and protect that beauty. Through art, song, poems, or just a personal testimony be a witness for the God of Creation and a witness for Creation.

–Chuck


Aug 24 2017

My Partial Eclipse

Clingmans Dome sunsetThe much heralded total eclipse of the sun has now come and gone. Did you see it? I’ve heard some people share what an amazing experience it was. I’ve heard others speak about how disappointing it was. Some confessed to me they never looked out that day, they just watched it all on television. I watched the eclipse from our church’s playground. Thankfully I had a pair of safe glasses to use to watch the moon cover the sun to varying degrees. When the moon almost covered the sun the streetlights around the church came on and the crickets began to chirp. The quality of the light definitely changed making it a surreal moment. Here in Henderson the moon covered 99.4% of the sun. I thought that would surely be close enough to a total eclipse that I could take some photographs. But I was wrong. Even at the peak moment there was too much light for me to risk taking a picture. If I had purchased a solar filter I could have done so but, once again, I was convinced we would be close enough to a total eclipse that I wouldn’t need one. Oh well, live and learn.

Slot Canyon light shaftI did learn an important truth on Monday, one that concerns the spiritual life.  I learned that it doesn’t take a whole lot of light to make a big difference. Even when only .6% of the sun was visible it was still bright, so bright I had to have my solar glasses to look at it. Here we should all be reminded that Jesus, who was himself the “Light of the world,” has called each of us to be “the light of the world” also. The Bible says we are to let the light of God shine through us before others. Why is this important? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Because there is so much darkness in the world. There is so much hatred, ugliness and division. Racism and injustice are prevalent. Greed, lust, and anger continue to dominate the scene. Wars and rumors of war are in the news daily. The amount of darkness in the world is staggering, so much so that we may wonder if there is any hope for the world. But there is hope. Darkness can be defeated. It doesn’t take a lot of light to dispel the darkness. That’s why it’s so important that we let our light shine. I may not be but a single light but I can make a difference. My church may not be a large church but if we shine together it can make a huge difference in our community and beyond. John 1:5 says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I hope we will all do our part to make sure that God’s light continues to shine in and through us. I hope we will do our part to dispel all the darkness we can. For God’s sake, and that of others, let your light shine!

Chuck

 


Aug 9 2017

Majestic!

_CES1146Majestic. That’s the word my wife, Bonita, kept using on our recent cruise to Alaska to describe what we were seeing.  This adjective means “having or exhibiting majesty.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines majesty as “greatness or splendor of quality or character.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers as synonyms for “majestic” the words “grand” or “exalted.” That being the case, I will concur with Bonita that majestic was indeed the appropriate word to describe what we were seeing.  And just what did we see?  We saw awesome glaciers cutting their way through mountains.  We saw humpback whales feeding in the icy waters around us.  We saw gorgeous sunsets.  We saw sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles.  We saw lovely fjords carved by glaciers.  And, yes, it was all majestic–exalted and grand. This was my eighth trip to Alaska so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. In fact, I had seen all the things mentioned above before in various places throughout the state.  Still, the sights remained overwhelming. There is just something special, almost holy, about our 49th state. It truly is majestic!

_CES0783Even more worthy of the adjective “majestic” is the One who created all the sights we saw. The Creator of Alaska and the rest of the world deserves the title majestic more than anyone or anything else.  Twice in Psalm 8 David declares, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9)  In Psalm 111 the Psalmist says “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.  Glorious and majestic are his deeds…” (vs. 2-3)  In the Song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 the question is raised, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (v. 11)  In 2 Peter 1:17 God’s divine glory is described as being “Majestic.” God’s name, deeds, holiness and glory are all described as majestic.

That God would be associated with the word “majestic” should not surprise anyone. God is, after all, God. If we can use the word majestic to describe what God has made then surely the One who fashioned the natural world deserves to receive the same exaltation.  When we consider all that God has done through Christ, this becomes even more true.

_CES1505I hope as a result of your experiences with God you can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  God’s Creation and mighty acts are all meant to lead us to exalt God’s holy name.  They call us to worship the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  May we all heed that call and lift up the majestic name of the Lord.

–Chuck