Oct 26 2016

Nature’s Call to Worship

_dsc0868Currently I’m teaching a study on the Book of Revelation at the church I serve. This week the focus is on chapter four where John is given a glimpse of the worship going on in heaven.  John records what he saw and among the things he glimpsed were “four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes.”  (v. 6) He goes on to say “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.”  (v. 7)  These four creatures, we are told, offered God worship day and night, continually saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (v. 8)

dnp-grizzly-2eSeveral scholars believe the four creatures John saw stand for the four parts of the animal kingdom. The lion represented wild beasts, the ox represented domesticated animals, the human face represented humans and the eagle represented birds.  The lion’s nobility, the ox’s strength, the human’s wisdom and the eagle’s swiftness likely played a role in their selection.  Each creature has preeminence in its own particular sphere and yet each give preeminence and worship to God, their Maker.  Here we find a reminder that all of Creation was made to worship God.  It is not humans alone that worship God; all that God has made joins together in offering the Creator praise.

In the verses that follow we learn that when the four creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God that others gathered around God’s throne fall down before God and join them in offering their own worship. Specifically, twenty-four elders are mentioned and they too sing a hymn of praise to God: “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.” (v. 11)

_ces4447I would not be so bold as to say I understand all the particulars of worship in heaven but I do find a parallel here with my own experience. It is noteworthy that the twenty-four elders offer their praise after watching the four living creatures offer theirs.  The actions of the creatures somehow move the elders to join in the worship.  I have experienced that pattern myself.  As I have watched various creatures do what God created them to do, and thus offer God praise, I have found myself moved to offer praise to the Creator as well.  It was as though the creatures I was observing led or called me into worship.  Watching an eagle soar has done this for me.  So has observing a grizzly bear forage and a mountain goat climb rocks.  Hearing a bull elk bugle in the fall has served as a call to worship for me on more than one occasion.  Even spending time with comical prairie dogs has lifted my spirits and moved me to offer God worship.  So maybe all of Creation was not just made to worship God but also to lead the rest of us to do the same.  The question is, are we following in their steps as the twenty-four elders do in heaven.  I hope the answer is Yes.


(I took the elk and mountain goat pictures on my recent trip to South Dakota.  I took the grizzly image several years ago in Alaska.)

Feb 6 2011

Stay Alert!

_CES2494Earlier 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.

_CES2603As 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.)

Oct 6 2010

Making All Things New

Dolly Sods Bear Rocks 144I have been in West Virginia the past couple of days. I decided to take a short retreat to enjoy some solitude, spend some time in prayer and, of course, photograph the beauty of God’s Creation. Coming here has enabled me to visit a place I had heard about for a number of years, the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Dolly Sods 431Dolly Sods is located on a high plateau on the Allegeny Front and is part of the Monongahela National Forest. In the higher altitudes one experiences a terrain more like Alaska or northern Canada than West Virginia. It is a windswept rocky plain featuring a number of upland bogs and few trees. It doesn’t seem to belong in West Virginia and there’s a reason for that.  The Dolly Sods area looks nothing like it did two hundred years ago. At one time it was a dense forest with trees almost as large as giant sequoias but that was before logging began here in the 1880s. After the area was logged there were numerous fires that literally burned the soil layer down to bare rock. The hand of man basically destroyed what was once a vast red spruce and hemlock forest.

Dolly Sods 564Dolly Sods is a beautiful place today. It doesn’t look like what it was meant to be but it is still wondrous to behold.  As I have traveled through this wilderness and walked some of its trails the past couple of days a verse of scripture from Revelation 21:5 keeps coming to mind–“Behold, I am making all things new!”   God has taken something that man destroyed and made it into something new and beautiful.

That, of course, is God’s specialty–taking that which is bad or ugly and turning it into something good and beautiful. He does that in nature and He does that in the lives of people like you and me.  And in both instances it takes time. It took decades for Dolly Sods to regain its present day beauty (which is all the more reason to protect our existing forests).  It takes God a while to change us too but the good news is He is still making all things new. That gives the planet Earth hope and it gives us hope personally as well.


(The three images above were taken this week at Dolly Sods Wilderness.)


Jun 2 2010

Creation’s Groaning

FL-Panama-City--Beach-sunset-848The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has certainly gotten the nation’s attention.  It’s gotten mine too.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people down along the coast.  Nor can I imagine what it must be like for the wildlife affected by this catastrophe.  I try to keep up with the news on the spill but have discovered I can’t watch or read much without getting depressed.  The situation is horrible!

I’ve tried to think about how God sees this disaster.  Because people are hurting I know God hurts too.  The same thing goes for the wildlife.  An entire ecosystem God created is threatened.  This has to bring Him grief.  God has asked us to be stewards of His Creation, not destroyers.

One of the things that sustain Christians in difficult times is the hope of heaven.  The Bible, however, also speaks of a “new earth” to come (Rev. 21:1).   I’m not sure what this new earth will look like or exactly how it fits into God’s scheme of things but it is encouraging to know that there’s hope for the earth too.  The apostle Paul spoke of this hope in Romans 8.  Here he wrote: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”   Paul goes on to speak of how Creation “groans” in its present condition. 

For some this will be a new way of “seeing Creation.”  It is, however, reality.  Due to our sin Creation suffers.  Due to the way that we have treated the earth, it needs liberation.  One day God will see to it that His Creation is “liberated from its bondage to decay.”  In the meantime, it’s up to us to do everything we can to care for the earth and try to prevent further catastrophes like the one we’re seeing now in the Gulf of Mexico.  For God’s sake, for Creation’s sake, and for our own sake, we must do this!


(The image of the Gulf of Mexico shown above was taken in Florida.  Will it soon be covered with oil?)

Oct 18 2009

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

elk 015As a nature photographer I am obviously visually oriented.  When I am out photographing I enjoy looking at the beautiful scenery around me.  I then try to create compositions with my camera to showcase the beauty before me.  My enjoyment of nature, however, is not limited to the visual realm.  My other senses do not take a vacation when I’m out photographing.  In fact, if they did I would miss out on so much that brings me pleasure in nature. 

 There are many sounds in nature that I absolutely love.  Some of my favorites include elk bugling in the fall, the sound of sandhill cranes migrating, the crack, rumble and roar of glaciers calving, a geyser in Yellowstone erupting, and a canyon wren’s call echoing off canyon walls in the desert southwest.  Other favorite sounds include frogs croaking, owls hooting, eagles screaming, crickets chirping, waves splashing against the shore and waterfalls crashing.  All of these are sounds that make me love and feel close to Creation and God. 

There are Scripture verses which lead me to believe that these sounds may be there more than just for our enjoyment or, in the case of the animals, for communication’s sake.  The sounds of nature may also be understood as Creation offering praise to its Maker.  

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  In Psalm 96:11-12 we read “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy…”  Isaiah 49:13 says, “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!”  In Revelation 5:13 John writes, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” 

In some way all of Creation joins in offering praise to the Creator.  That being the case, we should be very careful to do our part as well. 


(I photograhed the elk above at Rocky Mountain National Park.)

Sep 22 2009

Sunset, Sunrise

Clingmans Dome sunsetIn Rob’s last entry he praised the virtues of sunrises.  As soon as I read the blog I sent him an e-mail telling him his message was not convincing, that I’d still rather sleep in and settle for sunsets (I’m not a morning person!).  He responded by calling me “one of those lazy folks who can’t appreciate the welcoming embrace of early light.”  The truth hurts!

In my e-mail to him I tried to make a biblical case for the priority of sunsets.  Interestingly enough, in the biblical account of Creation the day does not begin in the morning but in the evening.  Throughout Genesis 1 we read, “There was evening, and there was morning….”   In a strange sort of way, sunsets come first.

Various answers have been offered for why evening is placed first in the Creation story.  I like the pastoral answer best.  By placing evening first and morning last we are reminded that light always follows darkness.  This is most encouraging for those who are going through periods of “darkness” in their life, for those who cannot presently see what path to follow.  It means there is hope.  In the words of the Psalmist, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (30:5)   This truth is reiterated in the Book of Revelation where we are told that in heaven “there will be no more night.” (22:5) 

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof, two of the main characters sing a song called “Sunrise, Sunset.”  The chorus to the song goes, “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days; seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”  It is a beautiful song but I think the writers got it backwards.  It should be “Sunset, Sunrise.”  This is the hope we have as Christians, a hope confirmed the first Easter morning when Jesus rose from the grave.

Rob is right; sunrises are special.  But so are sunsets…


(I took the sunset picture above at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—no early wakeup call, alarm clock, or coffee needed.)