Jun 5 2013

Can I Get a Witness?

burrowing owlI 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.

Julia Pffeifer SP waterfallThe 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.

Vermillion Cliffs viewWith 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.

BG 409I’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?”


Nov 14 2010

Elmer’s Glue and Jesus

AZ-Glen-Canyon-NM-Horseshoe-Bend-(v)I have a good friend who lives in Page, Arizona, named Stan Burman.  Before retiring Stan worked at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  He loves the West and its rich history.  Through our friendship he has created in me an interest in the ancient Cliff Dwellers.  I’ve read a number of books he has given me on the subject and recently went so far as to purchase an Anasazi bowl from a dealer.  I was quite excited about my purchase.  You can only imagine the horror and disappointment I experienced this past week when I opened the package containing my bowl only to discover it had broken into five pieces during shipment.  I immediately contacted Stan to let him know what had happened.  His response surprised me.  He said, “It’s amazing what a little Elmer’s glue will do.”   I purchased some Elmer’s glue and by following Stan’s directions was able to put the bowl back together.  It really doesn’t look bad at all.

AZ-Glen-Canyon-NM-Romana-Mesa-(v)-About the same time all this was taking place I read the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  In the first chapter of this book Paul speaks of Jesus being “the firstborn over all creation” and then adds, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.” (v. 16)  It was what Paul said next that caught my attention.  Verse 17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”   Paul makes an astonishing claim here.  He believed that it was Jesus who held this world together, that he is the glue that makes things stick.  Now obviously this is not a claim that can be backed by science but that does not mean it is not true.  By faith Paul held that it is the Creator’s hand that holds the world together.  By faith, I accept this to be true as well.

As the season of Thanksgiving approaches we should give thanks not just for the existence of this beautiful world God has created but also for its divine preservation.  When I look at my restored Anasazi bowl I think I’ll always think of Colossians 1:17.  I’ll also give thanks for Elmer’s glue and for the glue that holds Creation together—the hand of my Savior and Lord.


(I took these two images while visiting Stan at Glen Canyon N.R.A.  The top image was captured at Horseshoe Bend and the bottom at Romana Mesa.)

Jun 27 2010

Spiritual Photography?

Acadia-scenic-054“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

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a photography workshop for a wonderful group of people in Morehead, Kentucky.  About midway through the program a gentleman asked me an interesting question?  He asked, “Why do you photograph?”  The question made me pause so he went on to ask the question a different way, “What makes you pick up a camera?”  In the eighteen years I’ve been photographing seriously I don’t think anyone has ever asked me these things.

I don’t remember my exact reply but I indicated to him that one reason is I am drawn to beauty and enjoy being able to capture what I see with a camera.  I also added that because of my faith I believe that there is a spiritual dimension to my photographing God’s Creation and that this, too, causes me to photograph.  The gentleman responded to my answer by saying, “Well, there certainly is a spiritual element to your photography.”

This is something I have been told many times over the years.  Even people who are not overtly religious have told me that they see a spiritual quality in my work.  Hearing this comment again yesterday has made me wonder why people tell me this.  Is there something in my work that sets it apart as “spiritual”?  If so, I really don’t know what it is.  I do know that just about every time I go out to photograph that I pray that God will help me to see things and that He will use my photography to honor Him. (J. S. Bach wrote his music for the glory of God so I figure I can attempt to photograph for the same purpose.)  So could it be that the comments I hear are an answer to prayer?  Once again, I honestly don’t know.

W. Eugene Smith once wrote, “Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes—just sometimes—one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness.”   Maybe, just maybe, sometimes one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into the realm of the divine as well.  It is certainly my hope and prayer that I can see and photograph God’s Creation in such a way that people who see my work feel a connection to the Creator. 

As Bach often said, Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory!


(The image above was taken on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.)

Dec 24 2009

O Holy Night

Breaks Winter vIt’s Christmas Eve!  Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Christ the Lord.  This is truly a special time.  Late this evening folks will meet at the church I serve for a candlelight Christmas Eve service.  We will gather in a beautiful, warm and safe sanctuary to remember the events of the first Christmas but the fact that we will be in a “beautiful, warm and safe sanctuary” will stand in quite a contrast to what Mary and Joseph experienced long ago.  I doubt if the place where Jesus was born was any of these things.

The stable in Bethlehem may have been little more than a small cave.  There would likely have been more animals (domestic and wild) present for Jesus’ birth than persons.  The one who created the world would take his first breath surrounded by all that he made—the animals, the hay, the stars above.   Trees would have made possible the manger he was placed in and it would have been nature, too, that provided the material for his “swaddling clothes.”  Mary and Joseph were not the only ones to welcome the world’s Savoir, Creation embraced him as well.  That would be only fitting for as the apostle Paul later wrote, “all things were created by him and for him.”   (Colossians 1:16)

As humans, we are included in Paul’s “all things.”  We, too, were created by Christ and for Christ.  His coming into the world opened a way by which we might enter into a personal relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth.  It is for this very reason we celebrate Christmas.  This night truly is different; it is a “holy night.”

I’d like to close this Christmas blog with the words of Christina Rossetti’s carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter“What can I give Him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what can I give Him; give my heart.”

Merry Christmas!


(I used the image above on this year’s Christmas card.  It was taken at Breaks Interstate Park, about 35 miles from my home.)