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

 


Jun 21 2017

Taming the Tongue

SM509Deadly wildfires are in the news again. In central Portugal a large forest fire has claimed over sixty lives and has yet to be contained.  At first the fire was thought to originate with a lightning strike but a BBC report today indicates that a “criminal hand” might have actually caused the massive fire.  We know from history that it doesn’t take much to start a giant forest fire.  A single match or a carelessly discarded cigarette can start a blaze that takes lives, destroys homes, kills wildlife and devastates a forest.  That is why we must be very careful when handling such objects.

I thought of the Portugal fire as I was studying the third chapter of the book of James this week. In this section James talks about the deadly potential of the tongue.  He notes that though the tongue is small it has a way of directing or controlling our lives.  James compares the tongue to a bit that controls a large horse and to a relatively small rudder that directs a giant ship.  Then James says “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (vs. 5-6)

e_DSC7161The graphic images that are being shown of the forest fire in Portugal are not only a reminder of the dangers of fire, they are also powerful reminders of the dangers of the tongue. The words we use can, like fire, be deadly.  They can hurt people and destroy lives.  As a child I remember learning the rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  Whoever came up with this saying was an idiot!  Careless and harmful words can cause wounds that hurt worse and last longer than those caused by sticks or stone.  Most of us can bear witness to that.

James declares that “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (vs. 7-8)  This is a sad commentary on our state but who could deny it is accurate?  Perhaps we’ll never be able to fully tame the tongue but surely we can do better than we have. I certainly hope so.  In so many arenas our language has become caustic and vitriolic.  People get hurt every day.

_CES0880Obviously I cannot control what others say but I do have some control over what I say. So do you.  Let us, therefore, choose to speak words that encourage, help, comfort and heal, not words that hurt, discourage and tear down others.  Long ago the Psalmist offered this prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.” (141:3-4)  If we would be willing to offer this prayer at the beginning of each day, I can’t help but believe it would go a long way in eliminating a lot of needless and harmful words.  Smokey the Bear used to say “Only you can prevent forest fires.”  James would have us understand that same thing holds true for the verbal ones.

–Chuck


May 29 2017

Planet Earth II

_CES5265Recently I purchased the BBC series Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.  I’ve spent the last few days watching the DVDs.  As one reviewer of the series stated, “’Five stars’ isn’t really enough for this program.”  I highly recommend the series to anyone who is interested in nature.  The videography is absolutely amazing and the narration riveting.  You will no doubt learn much as you watch the segments dedicated to Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, and Cities.  You will also likely find yourself longing to know more.

I am thankful for nature series like Planet Earth. They enable a person to experience vicariously the wonders of God’s Creation.  Watching Planet Earth II I saw creatures and landscapes I will never be able to see firsthand.  I also learned much about this planet that I did not know.  I found myself marveling over how various animal species have been able to adapt to their environments and how everything in nature in interconnected.

_CES5221Watching Planet Earth II proved to be something of a religious experience for me.  Over and over I found myself echoing the words of the Psalmist, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (104:24)  Time and again I found myself offering thanks and praise to God for being the Creator of such a marvelous planet.

_DSC8099There were portions of the series, however, that were sobering. The producers did not hide the fact that many of the earth’s species and landscapes are now threatened by climate change, various forms of pollution and loss of habitat.  The very earth which supports human life is being devastated by those same humans.  I’m glad this tragic element was included in the series because we need to be informed.  Rachel Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I can’t imagine a person watching the Planet Earth series and not wanting to do more to save our threatened world.  If for no other reason than this I would recommend this program to you.

Needless to say, there are lots of other great nature programs to be seen on television. I encourage you to watch them from time to time so that you, too, may marvel at the wonders of God’s Creation and be inspired to do something to preserve and protect that Creation.

–Chuck


Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck