“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6
Yesterday afternoon a friend from my church called to tell me that she had a possible “photo op” for me. She went on to say that in a tree behind her house there were several great egrets. I really didn’t feel like getting out but I decided I’d grab my camera and go check things out. Sure enough I found around twenty great egrets perched in a tree above the lake in town. What I also discovered was that this was not the tree she was talking about. There was another one on the opposite side of the lake that had just as many egrets sitting in it. No one seems to remember ever seeing that many great egrets in one place in Pikeville but for some reason they found their way here yesterday. I ended up getting some nice images of these beautiful birds.
After spending about an hour watching and photographing the egrets I drove back home. I stopped on the bridge that crosses the creek that runs across my front yard so I could check our mail. When I did I looked down and saw a lovely green heron looking for something to eat along the creek bank. Since I had my photo gear in the car I quickly grabbed my camera and tripod and was able to capture some good images of this bird which is also rarely seen in our community. I felt quite blessed to have had an opportunity to photograph both the great egrets and the green heron right here where I live.
When I drove past the lake on the way home from church today I noticed that the great egrets were no longer here. When I got home and crossed the bridge to our house I also looked down and saw no green heron in sight. It dawned on me then that it was a good thing that I got up and went out yesterday. Had I not, I would have missed both opportunities.
There is a lesson here we would all be wise to learn. Each day we should take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Just because something or someone is here today does not mean that will be the case tomorrow. Life is that uncertain and unpredictable. A few years back I often saw bumper stickers that said “carpe diem,” which means seize the day. That is good advice. We should make the most of our opportunities each day to tell people we love them, to do kind deeds to those around us, to learn something new, and to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” And, of course, if you are a photographer you would be wise not to put off until tomorrow what you can photograph today. There are numerous areas of our life where this same principle is true. That’s why it is so important to “seize the day” and make the most of each one God gives us. I’d suggest you start today.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9
Last Sunday afternoon we got the biggest snow we have received thus far this winter—about five inches. It was a lovely wet snow and gave me an opportunity to photograph some birds. I have a bird feeder about ten feet from my bedroom door. When it snows the birds flock to the feeder and I am able to open the door and actually photograph them while I sit on the bed. For over two hours I snapped picture after picture of cardinals, chickadees, titmice and other species. With the snow on the tree branches for a background I was able to capture some beautiful images. The following day the snow was still on the trees so I thought I’d take some more pictures. As I had the day before, I opened the bedroom door, set up my camera, and prepared to photograph. An hour later I had yet to take the first image. I had seen plenty of birds prior to opening the door but none came back to the feeder once I set up. What happened? Why such a big change from the day before?
The best I can figure out, the birds did not cooperate with me on the second day because it had quit snowing. My guess is that during the snow storm the birds threw caution to the wind and didn’t let the funny looking guy sitting on his bed with his camera frighten them. They were in survival mode and were willing to take risks they would not normally take. Apparently, storms can cause birds to do things they might not otherwise do.
I’ve discovered that the same thing is true for humans. When storms come–and I am referring here to more than just the atmospheric kind—we, too, sometimes take risks we wouldn’t otherwise. When our survival is at stake we often find a courage that is not necessarily there day by day. In tough times we sometimes surprise ourselves and others with what we are able to do.
I’m convinced that the courage to take risks and rise above the storm is something God gives both man and beast (or in this case, birds). He gives His beloved creatures both the will and the courage to survive. This is His gift—a wonderful gift indeed! Storms are a part of life and is good to know that God has equipped us with what we need to address them. And if, for some reason, our courage still fails us, He is always there to see us through. That’s just the kind of God He is!
(I took both of these cardinal pictures last Sunday afternoon here at my house.)
At the bottom of the e-mails Rob Sheppard sends you will find this saying by Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” After reading this weekend an essay in the New York Times based on a commencement address given by Jonathan Franzen I understand this saying a lot better than I did before.
In his commencement address (given at Kenyon College) Franzen draws a clear distinction between liking and loving something or someone. Drawing on his personal experience he said, “When I was in college, and for many years after, I liked the natural world. Didn’t love it, but definitely liked it.” He goes on to say “It can be very pretty, nature. And since I was looking for things to find wrong with the world, I naturally gravitated to environmentalism, because there were certainly plenty of things wrong with the environment. And the more I looked at what was wrong—an exploding world population, exploding levels of resource consumption, rising global temperatures, the trashing of oceans, the logging of our last old-growth forests—the angrier I became.”
Franzen admits his concern for the environment eventually waned when he realized that “there was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to things I loved.” Things changed however when he fell in love with birds and became a devoted birdwatcher. His love for birds forced him once more to become involved in environmental issues. He felt he had to. “Because now, not merely liking nature but loving a specific and vital part of it, I had no choice but to start worrying about the environment again. The news on that front was no better than when I decided to quit worrying about it—was considerably worse, in fact—but now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren’t just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.”
When I read these words I couldn’t help but think of the quote at the bottom of Rob’s e-mails. It’s true; “in the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” If you are concerned about what’s happening to God’s Creation you would be wise to remember this truth. In all likelihood you already love what God has made and are trying to make a difference in caring for the earth. Others aren’t there yet, however, and one of our jobs as good stewards is recruiting others to join us. One way we can do this is by helping others develop a love for nature. We can encourage people to get to know the flora and fauna of their area. We can help them better understand the goodness of God’s Creation and how all parts of it are important and work together. Many people simply haven’t been taught these things. Speaking of the gospel the apostle Paul once asked, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14) The same thing might be asked about sharing God’s love and concern for the earth. How can they hear without someone teaching them? Someone like you perhaps…
(I took both of the images above in Florida. The herons and egret were photographed at Venice and the burrowing owl in Marcos.)
*Editor’s Note: This week marks the second anniversary of Seeing Creation. Rob and I want to thank all of you who take the time to read our reflections and for the encouragement you have given us these past two years.
Yesterday I received a nice reminder. When I came home from work I was getting ready to enter the house when something caught my attention. On the edge of our driveway (which is on a hill) I saw a small object rise momentarily and then fall. I wasn’t quite sure what I had just seen so I went to look and see. Come to find out it was a young mockingbird that was not yet able to fly. I’m not exactly sure how it got on the edge of the driveway to begin with but apparently when it saw me come home it was spooked and tried to fly. It instead tumbled a short distance where I found it resting unharmed.
I immediately went into the house to get my camera so that I could photograph the young bird. As I started to take some pictures I heard a ruckus above me. The bird’s mother was sitting in a nearby tree and didn’t seem to be happy about my being so close to her chick. I hurriedly took my pictures and left.
While all of this was going on I couldn’t help but think of a passage of scripture found in Luke 12:6. Here Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God?” In this same setting Jesus went on to say, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (v. 7) As I thought of this passage I realized that I was not the only one who saw the little mockingbird fall. So did our heavenly Father. Jesus made it abundantly clear that God is concerned for all of his Creation, even tiny birds that tumble off of driveways in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Thinking of Jesus’ words I was also given the wonderful reminder that the God who cares for sparrows and mockingbirds also cares for me. Jesus made sure that we understood that we humans are very special to God and that if we can remember that He loves even the little creatures we can rest assured He loves and cares for us.
The whole point in Jesus sharing these words was to offer an encouraging word. Because of our Father’s love we do not have to live our lives in fear. We can have confidence that we live under our Creator’s watchful eye. We can find great peace and joy knowing that we are loved. A nice reminder indeed!
(The bird in the two images above is the one described in today’s entry.)
Earlier this year, while looking at some articles on the Flourishonline.org website, I saw one where it was reported that when Calvin DeWitt was asked what one thing he’d recommend pastors do to get more involved in Creation Care he suggested that they put out a bird feeder. Since at that time I was photographing a lot of birds near my feeder here at the house I thought that was interesting. Shortly thereafter I showed a couple of groups a multi-media program I had just put together on birds and asked them, “What can we learn from watching birds?” After doing this for a group at Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge last month one woman came up to me and said that one thing she noticed about birds is that they’re not really care free at all. She said they’re always on the alert.
As I thought about the birds I watch I had to agree with her. They seem to stay focused on what’s going on around them. They are aware of what other birds are coming in and whether the neighbor’s cat is on the prowl. Their very life is dependent on their staying alert. This is something we too must do in order to care for Creation. It is also something we must do to care for our souls.
In my sermon this morning I talked about Christ’s letter to the church of Sardis found in Revelation 3. Jesus tells the Christians there to “be alert.” There is an interesting story about Sardis that likely lies behind this admonition. Sardis was surrounded by three large cliffs and the one pass leading into the city was difficult to approach. The people of Sardis felt that they possessed an impregnable bulwark. Twice, however, the city was conquered and neither time was a battle fought. The people simply felt secure, got cocky and failed to leave a guard at the city’s one entrance. During the night while everyone was asleep their enemies quietly entered and were able to take the city.
In Christ’s words to the church at Sardis he warns them of being too comfortable or getting too cocky. He charged them to stay alert lest they also fall. This is a warning that we should all pay heed to. In the spiritual life we can become comfortable with where we are and fail to keep up our guard. If we get lazy or complacent it could well spell danger. Just as the birds must stay focused and alert to survive, so must we in our spiritual walk. When it comes to caring for our souls—and the earth—we must beware of the dangers around us. One of the greatest dangers of all is failing to stay alert.
(The chickadee and titmouse seen here were photographed at my house this winter.)
During Vespers tonight I’ll be leading a study on the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Here we’ll confront perhaps the most familiar passage in the Bible—John 3:16. It seems quite appropriate to be looking at this particular verse at Christmas time. Here John affirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” At Christmas we celebrate God’s love and the incredible gift of His Son.
While doing some research for tonight’s study I learned that the Greek word used for “world” in this verse has an interesting background. Apparently the word originally denoted an ornament. In his commentary on the Gospel of John Leon Morris writes, “The universe with all its harmonious relationships is the outstanding ornament, and thus the term came to be used of the universe at large.”
Some biblical scholars question whether the use of the word “world” in John 3:16 includes the planet earth; they claim that it refers only to human beings. I see no reason why God’s redeeming love would not include the entire cosmos as well. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul speaks of “the hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v. 21) God’s gift of His Son was intended for all the world, not just humans; His saving love is extended to all of Creation.
Recognizing God’s love for Creation is important. If God loved the world so much He was willing to give His only Son for it, then we too should love the world. This love will include caring for this planet we call home. Like precious ornaments we place on our Christmas trees must be handled carefully the ornament called “the world” must be tenderly cared for and protected. God’s love for the world resulted in its salvation spiritually; our love for the world will help save it in other important ways.
(The junco and cardinal I photographed at my house this week also seem like ornaments on trees.)