There’s a small flower garden on the property of the church where I serve. As I passed it in my car this morning I felt like it was Easter in June. There for all to see were several beautiful Easter lilies in bloom. When I noticed them I couldn’t help but recall Jesus’ charge to “consider the lilies.” He spoke those words in Matthew 6:28 as he encouraged his listeners not to worry. Jesus indicated that the lilies were provided for by God. He intimated that if God takes care of them we can rest assured that He will take care of us as well. That is a truth I need reminded of on a regular basis.
The fact that it was Easter lilies I was looking at led my thoughts elsewhere. Easter lilies are trumpet shaped and might be said to herald the good news that Christ is risen from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus, of course, stands at the heart of the Christian faith. It was this event that cause the church to begin to worship on Sundays rather than on the Sabbath. Everything hinged on the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Paul went so far as to say “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) Even though it is now the end of June the flowers I saw this morning served as a reminder that the celebration of Easter is always approrpriate.
Before the morning was over I found my mind somehow connecting Jesus’ call to consider the lilies with the message of Easter. Certainly one of the greatest truths we find in the Easter story is that God is so mighty that not even death can stand in His way. We may see death as the ultimate enemy but death itself has been defeated in Christ. When you remember that God is that powerful it makes even more sense why we should not give in to the temptation to worry or become anxious. The One who raised Christ from the grave is more than able to meet our every need. Why should we worry when the God of Easter is there beside us each step of the way? There is no need at all. Some lilies told me so just this morning…
I posted the picture you see here of my Dad and I on Facebook earlier today. I saw countless others were posting pictures of their fathers in honor of Father’s Day and thought I’d do the same. The actual picture from which this one was taken showed more than this but it was in very poor shape so I used my macro lens and created this cropped version. The tighter crop has caused me to look at the picture differently. The thing that jumped out at me most in the new image is how big my Dad’s hands look. They almost seem to wrap around me. I certainly know I’m not “the whole world” but for some reason when I looked at this picture I thought of the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” This song, a traditional American spiritual, was first published in 1927. I remember singing it as a kid.
The song apparently has a couple of versions, one short, the other long. Both share the same basic message–God has everything in His hands. The verse I liked best growing up is “He’s got the little bitty baby in His hands. He’s got the little bitty baby in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands.” I couldn’t remember exactly how the other verses went so I looked them up. When I did I found it interesting that both the short and long versions included aspects of nature in them. The short version repeats the words “He’s got the wind and the rain in His hands.” It goes on to include “the little bitty baby,” “you and me, brother” and “everybody here” as also being in God’s hands.
The song’s longer version focuses almost exclusively on nature. In one verse it says “He’s got the earth and the sky in His hands. He’s got the night and the day in His hands. He’s got the sun and the moon in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The next verse says “He’s got the land and the sea in His hands. He’s got the wind and the rain in His hands. He’s got the spring and the fall in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
The song doesn’t teach us anything that the Scriptures don’t already. The Bible declares in numerous places that God created the world and that it is also God who holds the world together still (see Colossians 1:16-17). Being Father’s Day I should hasten to add that the One who holds the world in His hands is like a loving parent, the most loving of all. The thought of God holding this world of ours in His hands is a very comforting one to me. It is the same comfort I see and feel looking at a black and white picture of a father holding his young son in his hands some fifty-seven years ago. I’m very glad to know that God truly does have this planet, you and me in His hands. There are, after all, no better hands to be in.
(I took the middle image at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and the bottom image on the California coast not far from where Rob lives.)
Today is a special day for me. It is my 32nd anniversary. I truly have been incredibly blessed to be married to Bonita all these years. She is both a wonderful wife and person. I honestly do not know what I would do without her. She enriches my life in so many ways.
One of the things that I appreciate about Bonita is how excited she gets when confronted by the beauty of God’s Creation. She will see something and say “Isn’t that just beautiful?” The interesting thing is I often will not respond in the same way. I think this has something to do with my being a nature photographer for so long. I have been out and seen some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights there are on the face of the earth. For that reason I tend to be hard to impress. It takes a very spectacular sunset to blow me away. That is not true for Bonita. When I don’t respond to her enthusiasm in the same way she does she sometimes chides me. She even kids me at times by saying something along the lines of “God is going to be so upset with me for not appreciating His beauty more.” It wouldn’t surprise me if she was right about that.
Why is it that some of us are so hard to impress? Why can’t we appreciate what we see for what it is? I have no doubt that Bonita’s approach is far more appropriate than mine. Things should not have to blow us away to have us express our gratitude, wonder and praise. It is crazy that people like me have to compare what we’re seeing with what we’ve seen before or experienced elsewhere. There is so much wisdom in living in the moment. I’ve read that in a lot of books but it’s nice to have a living reminder with me each and every day. Thanks, Bonita! In appreciation for what she’s taught me I chose a picture she took recently to lead this blog entry. The same night she took this picture I didn’t even get my camera out. Maybe someday I’ll learn…
(As noted above, Bonita took the top picture showing a sunset on the Ohio River. I took the picture of her and the field of corn earlier today.)
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19
A number of years ago there was a popular television commercial that featured as its main line the words “Try it, you’ll like it.” I don’t remember exactly what the commercial was for but I’m pretty sure it was a food product. Whether from external sources or internal ones we are constantly being challenged to try something new. Some respond to such challenges readily. They find doing or trying new things exciting. Others are a bit more hesitant. They may not be as brave as the others or perhaps are just more content with the status quo. I will confess that I do tend to be in the latter group. I am not as quick to try or embrace new things as I wish I were.
Yesterday I had a chance to get out and do some nature photography in the Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area. There was nothing new about me taking pictures of nature, I’ve been doing that for over twenty years. Even the location was not new to me. What was new was photographing from a canoe. A number of people had told me that if I really wanted to get good pictures of the area I’d need to go out in a canoe. I was not exactly thrilled with the idea. I don’t have the best balance in the world, not even close. Still, I wanted good pictures from the area where I now live so I decided I’d give it a try. I can’t say I necessarily liked it–I was a nervous wreck the whole time–but after I looked at the images I got I am very glad I tried it. There is no way I could have gotten the pictures I did had I not gone out in the canoe.
Later in the morning I tried something else new–photographing honey bees. A few days before I had shared an article on Facebook about the decline of honey bees and how this is a big deal. When I came upon a field of clover yesterday and saw several honey bees taking advantage of it I immediately decided I’d try to photograph these endangered bees. I knew it would be a challenge and that there was also a chance I might get stung but felt it was worth a try. By making this attempt to do something new I got a few images I really liked. Once again, I found myself feeling glad that I had not been afraid to try a new thing.
I realize that every time we try something new we may not necessarily like it but something I was reminded of yesterday is that unless we do try such things we will never know for sure whether we like them or not. I also was reminded that certain things will never happen unless we do try. I wouldn’t have gotten the slough or bee images shown here had I not made an attempt to do something new.
These truths certainly transcend nature photography. They also apply to our spiritual journey. My reading of the Scriptures tells me that God often calls on us to try new things. Pick almost any major character in the Bible and you’ll find God challenging them at some point to do something new. Some of our biblical heroes readily took up the challenge while others struggled mightily with it. Still, each of them discovered that the key to their spiritual growth and usefulness in God’s kingdom was dependent on their trying something new. Why should we expect it to be any different today?
God may very well be calling some of us to go somewhere new, just like he did Abraham and Jonah long ago. He might also be calling us to some new service we don’t feel qualified for. It happened to Moses. He may even be calling us to orient our life in a whole new direction. That’s what he asked Saul (later Paul) to do. There’s really no telling what new thing God might be calling each of us to; the possibilities are endless. The question is will we try it whatever it is. I encourage you to do so. I can’t promise you’ll always like it when God calls you to do a new thing but I have been on the journey long enough to know that you’ll miss out on a lot and fail to be all you might be if you don’t try.
(A special thanks goes to Gene Stinson for taking me out in his canoe yesterday.)
I was reading William Barclay’s commentary on the Book of Colossians last night when I came across a couple of passages which really spoke to me. First there was this: “The distinguishing mark of the true Church is an abounding and overflowing gratitude. Thanksgiving is the constant and characteristic note of the Christian life.” I found myself agreeing with Barclay. A Christian should be the most thankful person alive. When you stop to think about all that Christ has done for us you simply cannot help but be thankful. As children of God we should be expressing our gratitude every single day. And when we gather with other Christians for worship thanksgiving ought to be a vital part of the service. If gratitude is not a dominant trait of a church then something is wrong with that church.
The other passage that spoke to me was this: “The one concern of the Christian is to tell in words and to show in life his gratitude for all that God has done for him in nature and in grace.” For some reason I did not expect to see the reference to nature here. I grew up in an evangelical environment and heard early on the importance of bearing witness to God’s salvation. I was taught to be grateful and to share with other people all the good things God had done for me. The hope was that someone who did not know Christ might then express the desire to be saved. In my words and in my life I was supposed to be a witness of God’s goodness and love.
With that background it seemed strange to read in Barclay’s commentary equal attention being given to sharing a witness with both one’s words and life to all that God has done for me “in nature.” A part of me wondered if he was using the word “nature” in a different way than I typically do. Perhaps he was. Still, as I have given it further thought, it seems quite appropriate to me that showing gratitude for God’s Creation and its provisions, along with telling others about their goodness, ought to be one of primary concerns or goals of those who worship and acknowledge Christ as the Creator.
I’ve written numerous times here about how Creation is God’s “other Book.” Through Creation we learn much about God and His ways. Each day we ought to give thanks for the way God makes Himself known through that which He has made. I’ve also written often in this blog about the goodness of the Creation, how God has designed the world, in part, to meet our needs. There is so much in Creation to be thankful for. Each day we ought to give thanks for things like the sun, the wind, trees, rain, clouds, rivers, mountains and lakes. Each day we should express our gratitude for water to drink, food to eat, and air to breathe. All of these are gifts from God, gifts that call for thanksgiving and gratitude. All of these are, likewise, gifts worth telling others about. The fact that they are so common and present all the time might lead us to believe that they are not so special or important. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God has richly blessed us all in both the spiritual and natural realm. We need to gratefully acknowledge this and at the same time bear witness to these blessings with others.
John Muir thought of himself as “an evangelist” for the wilderness. I suspect God could use more evangelists like him. People who would declare the wonders of Creation, give thanks for them, and point others to the Creator. Next time you are outdoors try to be as still and attentive as you possibly can. Listen closely. Perhaps you might just hear God’s own voice saying, “Can I get a witness?”
Do you need an attitude adjustment? Sometimes I hear people tell others that they do. This implies that the attitude the other person is displaying is not appropriate and perhaps even harmful. I suspect we all find ourselves in this position at one time or another. Our attitudes are certainly not always what they should be and therefore need adjusting periodically. One area where a lot of people need an attitude adjustment these days concerns the care of the earth. For reasons I cannot fully comprehend they believe the earth and its resources are theirs to do with as they please. The practice of Creation Care or environmental stewardship is foreign to such folks. I believe the attitude of people like this is both inappropriate and harmful. It is also foreign to the teachings of the Bible.
In the first chapter of the Book of Colossians the apostle Paul notes that Christ is “the firstborn over all creation.” (v. 15) This does not mean that Christ was the first thing created. Rather the term “firstborn” was understood as a title of honor and here indicates Christ is supreme over Creation. Paul goes on to say “by him all things were created.” (v. 16) For some people this is surprising. They do not associate the creation of the world with Christ but both Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel (see John 1:3) declare that Christ was the agent of Creation. Paul, however, does not stop there. He goes on to say “all things were created by him and for him.” It is this latter word that calls for a major attitude adjustment in many. The world was created for and exists for Christ himself–not us.
If what Paul says is true then we cannot continue treating the earth any way we choose. It does not belong to us nor are we the primary reason it exists. It exists for Christ. That means we must look at things differently. It means we must strive to treat the world and the environment in a way that will bring glory to Christ. For a number of years you saw everywhere the letters WWJD, which stood for “What would Jesus do?” In light of Paul’s words it would not be a bad question for all of us to ask as we think about our relationship to the earth and the environmental issues we face today. Once again, if the earth was created for Christ then what we want to do with it isn’t the primary issue; it is what Christ wants. Discerning what exactly that would be might not always be easy but it should definitely be our major concern. If it is not, then it is definitely time for an attitude adjustment!
(I took the three images shown here during a visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last month.)