Dec 16 2016

A Seasonal Reminder

_dsc3637With the cold weather that has come our way the birds are flocking to my feeder. For that reason I’m checking the feeder regularly so that I can keep it filled with sunflower seeds for them.  Yesterday I pulled out a heated bird bath I purchased last year since the water was freezing in the one I had set out.  I know it’s important that birds have a good source of water this time of year.   I’ve seen a variety of woodpeckers around the feeder which has served as a reminder it’s time to put some suet out for them.  I really do try to take care of the birds that visit my yard.

_dsc3660As I watched my birds feed and drink earlier today I found some satisfaction in knowing that I am able to provide for them. This led my thoughts to reflect on how I, too, have someone who takes care of and provides for me.  This particular time of the year we cannot help but remember that in Christ God has graciously provided for our many needs. Although Genesis 1:1 teaches us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” the New Testament attributes the work of Creation to Christ or “the Word.” John 1:1-3 tells us that Christ has always existed with God as the Word and that “through him all things were made that has been made.”  In Colossians 1 Paul echoes this thought and says concerning Christ, “for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (v. 16)  Yes, the one whose birth we celebrate each Christmas is the one who created the world and in so doing provided for our many physical needs.

At Christmas, however, we tend to remember that Jesus came to provide for still other needs. The angels who spoke to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that first Christmas brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” and that good news was that “a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Having already provided for our physical needs through Creation Christ came to earth to meet our spiritual needs, especially our need for salvation.

_dsc4993Yesterday I read an article on Facebook that a friend had shared which stated that Jesus is not “the reason for the season.”  The writer explained that Christ had always existed with God so we cannot look at his earthly birth as his beginning.  He went on to say that the real reason for the season was you and me.  It was our need for salvation and eternal life that caused God in His infinite love to send Jesus into the world.  God saw our need and responded.  That’s why there is a Christmas to celebrate.

_dsc4950As I watched my birds earlier today and thought about all I was doing for them I wondered if they were aware that someone was taking care of them. I also wondered if they appreciated my efforts.  The same questions can be asked on a different level.  Do most people realize that there is a God who is taking care of them?  Do they appreciate what God is doing for them?  Hopefully during this busy and exciting season each of us will pause long enough to remember Someone is, in fact, providing for our needs.  Hopefully we will also pause and offer thanks for the way those needs have been met.  That would certainly be the appropriate thing to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I’ve included some pictures I’ve taken of the birds that come to my feeder.)


Oct 13 2016

What’s So Bad About the Badlands?

_ces3871What’s so bad about the badlands? That’s the question I kept asking myself last week while visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  Why call such a beautiful land “bad”?  My guess is that early settlers found the terrain difficult to traverse or perhaps not conducive to grazing cattle.  But do these things warrant calling the land bad?  I don’t think the bison I saw there would call it bad.  Neither would the thousands of prairie dogs found in the region.  Nor would the pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep say this was a bad place to live.  Even the countless meadowlarks I saw there sang as if they had no complaint about the land about them.

_dsc0673Humans seem to have a tendency to give value to things primarily as they relate to themselves. A fancy word for this is anthropocentrism.  If something benefits us it is considered good; if it does not we deem it bad.  We may have a tendency to look at things this way but I don’t think God does.  For some reason we often forget that God declared in Genesis 1 that all that He made is “good.”  Perhaps we have trouble finding the good at times from a human perspective but that does not mean such things do not have an inherent goodness about them.  All of the earth is valuable and good because it was created by and belongs to God. In one of her poems Mary Oliver says “You cannot cross one hummock or furrow but it is His holy ground.”  The badlands are no exception.

_dsc0467As I enjoyed the beauty and diversity of Badlands National Park and pondered why they got the designation “bad-lands” I thought of the story in the Book of Acts where Peter has a vision where “he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.” (10:11) In that sheet were all kinds of animals and Peter heard a voice that instructed him to kill and eat what he saw.  Since many of the species were ceremonially unclean animals and forbidden by Jews for eating Peter protested and said he had never eaten anything impure or unclean.  At this point Peter heard a heavenly voice tell him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (10:15)   Perhaps we stand in need today of a new vision where we are reminded that there are no bad lands.  If we are going to be good stewards of the earth it would certainly help if we recognized the goodness of the land.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck


Sep 29 2016

Mind Your Own Business

sd-mind-2I can remember growing up hearing, “Mind your own business”, from my sister. I think it is a common part of baby boomers’ times of growing up. Siblings used to love to say this, and sometimes parents would use this as a way of trying to quiet squabbling brothers and sisters. It is directed outward, as in, “Mind your own business, person who is bothering me.”

Now what does that have to do with Seeing Creation. A lot, I think, and it may say a bit about how we respect ourselves and God’s creation as formed in us. But I am not thinking an outward direction, but an inward direction.

sd-mind-3As Chuck and I know, nature photography is a great way of sharing God’s Creation. Yet, photography is a bit crazy in today’s world. In social media, we can see photographs from everyone everywhere, and we see a lot of what other people are doing in their photography. And of course, on Facebook, it appears to be all good. Photos are the best, trips are amazing, business is wonderful, and on and on. And it’s not just Facebook. Other places where the “world of photography” is put on display include Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr (still around), Google + and more. And all of it looks like everything is just great.

Sometimes it is. But that is rarely the full picture of anything, especially nature and photography. If we are only looking for the “best”, then we miss a lot of what God may want to show us. Nature is not defined by what we think is “best.”

Consider this, in Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Or Matthew 6:28-29, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Note that Jesus does not talk about eagles or lions, but the common sparrow. Nor does He talk about some exotic flowers, but common lilies of the field. If God considers these things important, then as nature lovers (and photographers), we need to pay attention to more than simply the dramatic nature that gets attention on social media. And of course, we have to remember Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Not some things, a few things, but all that He had made.

The problem is that we have a tendency to want to compare our photos and what we see of nature to those bright and shiny posts on the Internet. “I should be photographing big landscapes and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but all I have nearby are flat fields and average skies. I should be doing more than just photographing some common flowers or some stupid bugs. Why can’t I photograph like these other photographers? Why can’t I get better subjects?”

Comparisons are killers of creativity and our souls, who we are, who God created us to be. God did not create us to be someone other than who we are. God did not create nature in order to create bold subjects for Facebook.

So I think maybe we need to tell ourselves, “Mind your own business.” Or maybe even God’s business! But if we are true to who we are in how we see nature and in any creative endeavor, minding our business is God’s business as He has offered it to you. Your work can be God’s work. We need to pay attention to what energizes and excites us about photography, nature, and the world, how God is presenting it to us, not how someone else is dealing with that.

So whenever you are feeling conflicted because of what you see and learn about what other people are “doing” that you are not, remember to tell yourself, “Mind your own business!” That is probably God’s business as well.

sd-mind-1– Rob


Sep 2 2016

Sharing

_DSC9709People love hummingbirds. I’m not so sure, however, that the two hummingbirds I have visiting my feeders love each other.  I’ve been watching them the past few weeks and one of the two absolutely will not let the other one feed.  If it sees the other hummingbird anywhere close to the feeders it will dive bomb it and harass it until it leaves.  What I find interesting about this is the fact that I have two feeders.  There is more than enough sugar water available for them.  Each bird could have its very own feeder but the dominant bird doesn’t want to share.  Aren’t you glad that we humans aren’t like that?

As I’m sure you already know, that last line was written “tongue in cheek.” I am afraid the hummingbird behavior I’ve been observing recently is not all that different from the human behavior we observe from time to time between nations, in the halls of Congress, in places of business, and even in churches.  Selfishness and greed have a way of raising their ugly heads just about anywhere you look.  Fussing and fighting, well-known side effects of selfishness and greed, have a way of breaking out wherever humans interact.  In fact, it seems like this has become the norm rather than the exception.

_DSC9702God certainly had a different plan for us. In Psalm 133:1 David said “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity.”  That is God’s goal for us and should be our goal as well.  If that is going to take place we must learn to share.  The Scriptures certainly have a lot to say about sharing.  Hebrews 13:16 says “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” One of the messages John the Baptizer delivered was: “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” (Luke 3:11)  The writer of First John raised this poignant question, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” (3:17)  Luke described the early church this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)

_DSC9667My hummingbird’s refusal to share could prove quite detrimental to the other bird. Our failure to share, likewise, can come with dire consequences.  In some instances it is truly a life or death matter.  As children we often received instructions on the importance of sharing.  Here lately, I’m thinking we may all need a refresher course.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here in my yard the last couple of days.)


May 18 2016

Careless in the Care of God

_DSC5775In Eugene Peterson’s amazing translation/paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, Matthew 6:26 reads “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count for more to him than birds.”  Ken Gire once wrote a wonderful response to this.  He said: “’Careless in the care of God.’  And why shouldn’t they be?  For their food, He provides insects in the air, seeds on the ground.  For their search for food, He provides eyes that are keen, wings that are swift.  For their drinking, He provides poolings of rainwater.  For their bathing, He provides puddles.  For their survival, He provides migratory instincts to take them to warmer climates.  For their flight, He provides bones that are porous and lightweight.  For their warmth, He provides feathers.  For their dryness, He provides a water-resistant coating.  For their rest, He provides warm updrafts so they can glide through the air.  For their journey, He provides the company of other travelers.  For their return, He provides the companionship of a mate.  For their safety, He provides a perch in branches far from the reach of predators.  For their nest, He provides twigs.  And for every newborn beak, He provides enough worms so that they can grow up to leave the nest and continue the cycle of life.  It’s no wonder they’re so free from the cares of this world.  The wonder is, if we count more to Him than birds, why aren’t we?”

_DSC5759When I read these words earlier this morning I have to admit I was convicted. Lately I’ve been worried about a lot of things and the word “careless” would definitely not describe me at this point in my life.  Jesus’ instructions to “look at the birds” was one of his ways of trying to get his followers not to worry so much.  He encouraged them to look around and pay close attention to the birds and the wildflowers that grew nearby.  Both, he said,  serve as reminders that God takes care of them and provides what they need.  Jesus then informed these followers that God cares even more for them and they shouldn’t worry, for if God meets the needs of the birds and flowers God will assuredly meet their needs as well.

_DSC3499I love the way Ken Gire lays out for us the many ways God provides for the birds. He lists so many ways and I’m sure others could be added to his list.  Surely the recognition that God goes out of His way to care for the birds ought to be enough to make us pause when anxious thoughts come our way.  Hopefully it will help me worry a whole lot less and move me to the point where I am “careless in the care of God.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)


Apr 26 2016

Seeking Nature’s Forgiveness

_DSC9845“Forgive us our sins…” Luke 11:4

One of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read is The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.  In one portion of this classic the character Father Zossima tells his fellow monks the story of his brother’s, Markel, last days.  Markel, who previously cared little for God or religion had a change of heart.  He began asking for both God’s forgiveness and that of others.  Next he did something no one could have expected, he asked the birds to forgive him.  Here are his words: “Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.”  Zossima says “None of us could understand it then, but he was weeping with joy.   ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky and I alone lived in shame.  I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all.’ “ When Markel’s mother told him he was “taking too many sins upon yourself” he responded, “Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them.”

_DSC3016I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately concerning forgiveness but most of them related to people who had hurt one another. In forty years of ministry I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone speak of asking the birds or nature to forgive them but as I read Dostoevsky’s words again this morning it seemed like what Markel did was something we all need to do.  In so many different ways we sin against Creation on a regular basis.  The birds Markel spoke of have certainly suffered.  At nearby John James Audubon State Park there is a museum that features a lot of items related to Audubon’s life.  One item tour guides invariably point to is a well preserved stuffed passenger pigeon.  At one time there were millions of these birds but today they are now extinct.  I almost feel like the next time I’m there I need to ask its forgiveness.

To some asking a bird or some tree for forgiveness would sound ridiculous but I do not believe that it is at all. When you look at the stress that we have placed on animals as we’ve wiped out their habitat how can you not apologize?  When you see where huge majestic trees have been clear-cut how can you not weep and feel sorry?  When you see fish that have died from pollution dead on the shore how can you not ask for their forgiveness?

B2175In Dostoevsky’s novel Merkel admits that he does not “even know how to love” all of God’s creatures.  Elsewhere in The Brothers Karamazov one of his characters says, “Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”  It is certainly clear that Dostoevsky believed that we should, in fact, love all of Creation and for good reason—so that we might in turn know and love the Creator.

In any relationship where love is involved there will come a time when we must ask the one we love for forgiveness. If we truly love God’s Creation there will likewise be times when we must say “I’m sorry.”  As I look around me it would seem that time is now.

–Chuck

(I photographed the northern cardinal and indigo bunting in western Kentucky and the raven at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.)