Aug 22 2015

Like a Waterfall

e_DSC7882 (2)Last week a friend and I went to eastern Kentucky to photograph a number of waterfalls. Unfortunately there are very few waterfalls near where I live now so we had to drive a ways to photograph these. I’m convinced the drive was worth it and not just for the nice images we got. There is just something about waterfalls that appeal to me and also speak to my soul.

e_DSC7998 (2)A couple of times while we were photographing the falls I thought about Chris Tomlin’s song “Waterfall.” I remember hearing Tomlin talk about this song on the radio. He indicated that the inspiration for the song was Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Here are the words to the song: “O God, my God I seek You; I wanna move when You move. You’re more than I could long for; I thirst for You. You’re an ocean to my soul to my soul. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–running wild and free. You hear my heart when I call, when I call. Deep calls to deep. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–raining down on me, waterfall, waterfall. O God my God, I seek You in this dry and desert land. You lead me to streams of mercy once again. You’re an ocean to my soul, to my soul. It’s coming like a flood; I’m dancing in the rain. Everything I’ve done is covered in rivers of grace. Amazing!”

e_DSC8044God’s love certainly is like a refreshing waterfall. It brings both joy and cleansing. The only problem I have comparing God’s love to a waterfall is that I have experienced a number of seasonal falls. The first time I saw Yosemite Falls it was spring and I was overwhelmed by the power and height of this amazing waterfall. The second time I visited Yosemite National Park it was summer and Yosemite Falls was for all practical purposes nonexistent. You could not see any water coming over the top. I do not picture God’s love as a seasonal waterfall but one that is always flowing.e_DSC7970 (1)

I like Chris Tomlin’s description of God’s love “running wild and free” like a waterfall. Even though there is something quite predictable about God’s love (the Bible describes it as “steadfast and sure“) it is at the same time unpredictable. God’s love is constant but we often experience it in unexpected ways.  You never know where, how or through whom you might experience the love of God.

In order to photograph waterfalls these days I have to drive a long distance. In order to experience God’s love I don’t have to go anywhere. What I do have to do, however, is put myself in a position to receive this love. That does not always come as easy as some might imagine. If we are not careful we can let our problems and the stress of day to day living keep us from letting God’s love wash over us. I have certainly been guilty of doing this. Hopefully we can learn to be more receptive to God’s love and also open to the many different ways we might experience it on any given day. The more we do so the better we will be able to handle our problems and the stresses of life.

As you read this today it is my hope and prayer that you will somehow feel God’s love anew and be “covered in rivers of grace.”

Chuck Summers

(I took the pictures shown above last week.  The first and third images show Cumberland Falls; the second image is Dog Slaughter Falls; the fourth image is Eagle Falls.)


Aug 1 2015

“The Maker”

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI like lots of different types of music but more often than not I listen to contemporary Christian music when I’m driving in my car. Recently I’ve been hearing a song by Chris August called The Maker playing on the station I listen to. This song focuses on God as Creator. Unfortunately, you don’t hear a lot of songs that emphasize this aspect of God these days. I recently wrote on this blog site how important I believe it is to hold on to the concept of God as “Maker of heaven and earth.” The notion of God as Creator is vital to our faith for many reasons so needless to say I was pleased to hear a song playing that emphasizes this.

_DSC7402The song begins with the words, “I see You in the sunrise, I see You in the rain. I see You in the laughter, I feel You through the pain.” Then there is this affirmation, “Everything that You have made is beautiful. Oh, my God, I can’t believe my eyes, but in all of this to think that You would think of me makes my heart come alive.” The second verse says, “I see You, You are creation, I see the grandness of Your majesty. The universe is singing all Your glory; I can’t believe You live inside of me.” This is followed by the same affirmation above noting that everything God has made is beautiful. In this song we are reminded that we can, in fact, see God in the Creation. For those with eyes to see God can be found anywhere—in sunrises, rain, laughter and pain. The song also reminds us that there is a close connection between God and Creation. “You are creation,” August sings, and he points out that the grandness of God’s majesty can be seen and heard in Creation. Finally, the song reminds us of the need to practice humility as we encounter God’s majesty in the world around us. We know from the Scriptures that this God who created all that is knows and loves each and every one of us very much. Realizing this truly should make our heart come alive.

_DSC6122There is a chorus to this song that says: “Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones; I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once. And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me; I love the Maker and the Maker loves me.” At this point in my life I am too old and fat to likely ever feel that I could climb one mountain, much less a thousand all at once. Still, I love the way the chorus ends. As we consider what the Scriptures tell us and what Creation reveals to us we never do have to wonder if somebody cares for us. Both of God’s Books make it clear that the Maker loves us and this love both beckons and enables us to love the Maker in return.

ME Acadia NP fall poolIn the final verse to Chris August’s song he sings, “More than just some words upon a page, You’ve shown me in a million ways, but there is one that stands above them all–hands of creation on a cross.” It seems rare to find people making the connection between Creation and the Cross so I applaud August for doing so here. Long ago someone else made that connection, the apostle Paul. In the first chapter of the Book of Colossians he speaks of Christ as being the “firstborn over all creation.” (v. 15)  He then adds, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all thing were created by him and for him.” (v. 16)  A few verses later Paul draws the connection by adding “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (vs. 19-20)

Here is one of the most incomprehensible and wonderful truths there is, the Maker of heaven and earth long ago entered Creation and went to a cross where he spread his arms open wide to show us just how much God loves us. Yes, the Maker loves us indeed! I know of only one appropriate response—to love the Maker back with everything that we’ve got.

–Chuck


Jan 26 2014

Are Natural Disasters “Acts of God?”

lightningI enjoy music.  I have a rather eclectic leaning, enjoying quite a variety of musical genres.  Still, because of my roots and faith I enjoy church music most.  I listen to both contemporary Christian music and hymns.  Each has a way of moving and inspiring me.  At times, however, I do get distracted by the words.  Part of this is due to my educational background; I spent ten years in graduate school studying theology.  For that reason I listen carefully to the words and sometimes find myself refuting them.  This happened recently when I was singing with a group at church Chris Tomlin’s song Indescribable.  I like Chris Tomlin and also this particular song.  I’ve even used it for one of my multi-media presentations.  But there is one line in the song that really bothers me.  It says God is the one “who has told every lightning bolt where it should go.”  When I sang those words the other night I couldn’t help but cringe for not all that long ago a beautiful and historic church in a nearby town was destroyed by lightning.  I asked the lady sitting next to me if she could imagine how the folks at that church might feel singing those words.  Does God actually aim lightning bolts at certain objects intentionally.  I prefer to think not.

Even in the wonderful hymn I wrote about in my last blog, Isaac Watts’ We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God, we read the words “clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from your throne.”  Are we to read into these words that when a huge arctic blast covers half of America that this storm was ordered from God’s throne?  Once again, I prefer to think not.

Paducah-storm-cloudsI remember even when I was young having problems with the idea that earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes could be considered “acts of God” by insurance agents.  If something bad happened from one of these natural disasters to a person’s home or to a community God got the blame.  It was almost like we all needed insurance just in case God got mad at us and ordered a natural catastrophe.  Is God that fickle and ill-tempered that we must buy insurance to protect ourselves from His fury?  One more time, I prefer to think not.

Actually, in the end it isn’t that I prefer not to think any of these things, I refuse to.  It is in the Scriptures that we come to understand who God is and nowhere is this revelation clearer than when we focus on Jesus.  Jesus once said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9) implying that we are to understand who God is by looking at him.  Now according to the New Testament it was Christ who created the world (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-16) and he is also the one who sustains it (Colossians 1:17).  If that is indeed true then we can also see that it is highly unlikely that God intentionally sends earthquakes, hurricanes or other natural disasters on innocent, or even not so innocent, people.  That is not something we see Jesus doing during his time on earth.

Bisti 444When we do look at Jesus’ actions we see that his intentions were always to help people, not hurt them.  Everything that Jesus did was based on love.  At one point he was asked by a pair of his disciples if he wanted them to send fire down on a village that had not welcomed him.   Luke tells us that Jesus rebuked them for even asking. (9:56)  That was not his style then.  It is not his style today.

Some have claimed that the various natural disasters I’ve mentioned are the result of evil and not God.  Personally, I have no problem affirming that even things like tornadoes and earthquakes were part of God’s original plan.  All of the “natural disasters” I wrote of earlier have helped form and shape Creation one way or another.  They are “natural wonders” that have served useful and good purposes throughout the ages.  It is just when they affect human life that we tend to see them as disasters.

Hopefully in our conversations and in our songs we can come to affirm both the goodness of God and His Creation while at the same time refraining from the implication that God is behind every lightning bolt that strikes and every storm that rages.  God does in fact rule the universe but it is a rule based first and foremost on love.  If it isn’t an act of love it is not an “act of God.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image near Page, AZ, the middle one in Paducah, KY, and the bottom on in the Bisti Wilderness of N.M.)


Jan 5 2014

Give Beauty a Chance

_CES2968eSomeone recently paid me a compliment that meant a lot to me.  After posting some pictures from an area I had not been to before this person said, “You find beauty wherever you go.”  I’m not sure this is totally true but I do confess that it is something I strive for.  I choose to look for beauty.  Now I realize that what one views as beautiful is highly subjective.  Rob Sheppard and I were photographing in the eastern Sierras a few years ago and we both had a chance to take close up images of a rattlesnake.  Using a telephoto lens I focused tightly on the snakes scales and was amazed at just how beautiful they were.  When I showed the image to others later on some were repulsed; they saw no beauty at all because all they could see was a poisonous reptile that they happened to detest and be afraid of.   Interestingly, I’ve had similar responses when I have shown or posted images taken in winter.  If there is ice or snow in the picture some automatically dismiss the beauty that might be found there simply because they strongly dislike the cold that is associated with snow and ice.

_DSC5241Once again I understand that not everyone will agree on what is beautiful but I do feel that most people can and should strive to expand their perimeters of beauty.  Years ago John Lennon famously sang “Give Peace a Chance.”  Today I feel like uttering the cry “Give Beauty a Chance.”  We all need beauty; it is one of the things that makes life worth living.  Beauty makes us feel better.  It  is also good for the soul since in most cases beauty promotes a sense of gratitude or thanksgiving.

Another reason I think beauty is important is we tend to not only admire but be willing to work for the protection or preservation of that which we find beautiful.  This is true in numerous areas but I am most familiar with the realm of nature.  If people had not found certain species of birds, animals, trees or flowers beautiful many of these would have become extinct by now. Whole areas have been set aside as state or national parks primarily because large groups of people considered them beautiful.  Perhaps other species or places will be preserved and protected in the future if more people will only expand their vision and give beauty a chance.

_CES2599In the end I find beauty to be something spiritual and closely connected to God.  God is the Creator of beauty and is beautiful in and of Himself.  A number of contemporary praise songs have recognized this and include words like “You are beautiful beyond description.”  Long ago the Psalmist prayed, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4)  The Psalmist found God to be beautiful, especially when he visited the temple.  I, too, find God to be beautiful, especially when I visit the larger temple of Creation.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  I believe this to be true and that is one of the main reasons why I look for beauty wherever I go.  I believe that I can experience God in beauty.  I believe you can as well.  For that reason I ask everyone, “give beauty a chance.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image on Friday at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at the Buttermilk Mountains in California, and the bottom image yesterday evening during my first visit to Bluegrass FWA in southern Indiana.)


Dec 4 2013

The Sound of Music

MR 745You may have been hearing a lot about The Sound of Music lately.  Apparently a t.v. version of the famous film has been made, starring Carrie Underwood.  That’s not, however, the reason I’ve chosen this title for today’s blog. Instead I chose it because this is the time of year when I tend to pause and remember that nature itself has a song to be sung.  It is the Advent season and Christmas is quickly approaching.  One of the most popular hymns of Advent is “Joy to the World.”  In it you will find the refrain, “Let heaven and nature sing.”  The hymn writer felt the coming of Christ was cause for singing not just among humans but heaven and nature as well.

MR 778In a few minutes I’ll be going to choir practice.  I don’t usually sing with the choir but each year I like to join them for their Christmas cantata. This year’s cantata is called “Let Heaven and Nature Sing Gloria!”  One of the songs is about the Wise Men, or Magi’s, journey to Bethlehem.  A number of times throughout the song the Magi say “Mountain and tree, come join in our song, a glad alleluia as we go along!” 

MR 740When’s the last time you asked a mountain or tree to sing along with you?  I doubt that it happens very often.  How come?  Perhaps it’s because we cannot imagine the possibility that mountains or trees could sing in the first place.  Be that as it may, does the fact that we cannot imagine the possibility mean that it is not actually possible?  There are a number of places in the Bible where various aspects of nature are said to sing praises to God.  There is, in fact, a strong biblical basis in the song mentioned above for the Wise Men calling on the mountains and trees to offer God their praise.

MR 912In First Chronicles 16 King David offers a psalm of thanksgiving and exhorts all the earth to “sing to the Lord” and “proclaim his salvation.” (v. 23).  He gets a bit more specific a few verses later: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’  Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then the trees will sing for joy before the Lord…” (vs. 31-33)  The prophet Isaiah speaks similar words.  He writes, “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath.  Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.” (Isaiah 44:23)  In another place Isaiah says “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

We may not think mountains and trees can sing praises to God but it’s pretty obvious that both David and Isaiah did.  In the book of Job God Himself indicated that nature sings when He said that as the foundations of the earth were being set “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”  (Job 38:7)   Centuries later Jesus told those who sought to hush the crowds for singing praise to him that “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

MR 788In the light of this biblical witness, who are you or I to say the mountains and trees do not sing God’s praises?  Just because we cannot hear them with our own ears doesn’t mean they are silent.

I choose to believe that “the hills are alive with the sound of music” and that they offer praise to their Creator.  I would also affirm with Wendell Berry that there is, indeed, “a timbered choir” and that they too worship God in song.  So perhaps we, along with the Wise Men, should encourage “mountain and tree, come join in our song, a glad alleluia as we go along.”  If we fail to do so, don’t be surprised if it’s the mountains and trees that encourage us to sing with them.  It is, after all, that time of the year.

–Chuck

(I took all of the images above at Mount Rainier National Park.)


Apr 21 2013

Glory

Akaka Falls  208The word “glory” shows up many times in the Bible–somewhere around four hundred times. You will also find it  in countless hymns and praise songs used in worship.  It is a word which is closely tied to God but many people would probably have a difficult time defining what glory means.  Even if they went to a standard dictionary they probably would not find much help. There they would see “glory” defined as “honor,” “distinction,” or “reputation.”  These synonymns offer a clue to what glory is but not much more.  When wanting to get a better handle on words associated with the Bible or faith I often turn to a series of books written by Frederick Buechner. (Today you can find these books compiled in a single volume called Beyond Words.) Buechner has a unique, and often humorous, way of bringing life and meaning to words we all know but may not fully understand. For me, he certainly proves helpful when it comes to comprehending what “glory” means. Here is what Buechner says:

_CES0720“Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria–each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them. In the words of Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.’ It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare. Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.”

HNP summit sunset 615Buechner’s insight into the word glory not only helps us better understand its meaning; it shows us how we might experience the glory of God here and now.  For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of God may be found in God’s handiwork, through Creation. As I observed the beauty of Spring in the Appalachian mountains yesterday it was clear to me that I was beholding the glory of God.  Sometimes, in fact, when I encounter the beauty of God’s Creation I actually find myself uttering the word quietly to myself, “glory, glory.”

PC623Most of us will never experience God’s glory as Isaiah did in the Temple (Isaiah 6) or Saul (later Paul) did on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), but if we will discipline ourselves to look at nature or Creation as the Supreme Artist’s work, we will see more than enough of God to “sing glory to His name.”  We may even join in with the heavenly chorus described in Revelation 4:11 saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” As you look out your window today, take a drive in your car, or saunter along a trail, keep your eyes open for the glory of God.  It is there; He is there!

–Chuck

(I photographed the first and third image in Hawaii.  The little girl is our great niece who lives in Florida.  I took the bottom image yesterday near my current home in Pikeville, Ky.)