Nov 22 2017

Thank You, God

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendRecently the choir at my church sang an anthem called “Thank You, God.” I’m sure the author of the piece, J. Paul Williams, could have gone in a number of different directions giving thanks to God but he chose to focus on God’s gift of Creation. Here are the lyrics: “God created everything we see, He made the misty night. He spoke and there was light. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. God is the giver of every good thing. He gave us seed to sow. He gave us minds to know; He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. Forest and mountain, swift running river, love overflowing, God is the giver. Thank you, God, thank you,  for every good and perfect gift. God is the one who makes the crops to grow. He makes each bud to flower with sunshine and with shower. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing.”

_CES1773Another hymn writer, Henry van Dyke, also included Creation in his popular hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Dyke, however, took a slightly different approach and spoke of Creation’s call for us to offer God praise. He wrote: “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)These two writers remind us that God’s gift of Creation calls us to give thanks and to offer praise to the Maker of heaven and earth. This call, of course, is nothing new. You will find numerous similar calls throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Psalms. There you will even find Creation itself being called upon to offer God praise. In Psalm 98 we read “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” (vs. 4, 7-8)


All of Creation is called upon to offer thanksgiving and praise to God. So are we. With this in mind, let me urge you this Thanksgiving to give thanks for God’s gift of Creation. The truth be known, just about everything we normally give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day would have been impossible were it not for the provisions God gives us through Creation. And may I suggest that you continue to give thanks for this good earth on a regular basis. Our life would not be possible apart from God’s gifts through Creation. So take time each day to offer your thanks for God’s provision and your praise to the Giver of all good gifts. It truly is the right thing to do.


Aug 8 2012

The Smile of God

Over the years I’ve heard people say to others about a deceased loved one, “Don’t you know he (or she) is smiling down upon you now?”  These words are usually spoken after someone has accomplished something and are meant to be comforting to the person who receives them.  Theologically, I’m not even sure such a thing is possible.  Can those in heaven really see what we’re up to?  I find that unlikely.  Still, I understand the sentiment.  There are times I’d like to think that my father or grandmothers were looking at me and had a smile on their face.  I’d like to think they were pleased with who I am and what I have done with my life.

Although I have serious doubts about my deceased loved ones being able to “smile down upon me” I do believe God does that all the time.  When we see loved ones we cannot help but smile and since we have it on good biblical authority that God loves each and every one of us immensely, then how can we not picture God smiling when He looks at us?  O, I know some think God is more likely to have a frown on His face when He looks at them but they simply don’t understand God’s love and grace.  By sending Jesus Christ God made it clear once and for all that we are loved. (John 3:16)  For me that is proof enough that God smiles when He looks at me.

But there is more proof waiting.  Robert Underwood Johnson, a close friend of John Muir, once wrote “To some, beauty seems but an accident of creation: to Muir it was the very smile of God.”  I’ve read enough of Muir’s writings to know that this is true.  Muir saw God’s love in all of His Creation and marveled that others did not see it there as well.

If we accept the concept of beauty being “the very smile of God” then we must conclude that God is not only “smiling down upon us” but smiling all around us too.  In beautiful trees and flowers, rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, birds and butterflies, in all beauty, we experience the smile of God.  In these same things we experience the love of God.

I mentioned earlier that it would be nice to think my father or grandmothers were smiling down upon me, but even better is the thought that my heavenly Father smiles upon me.  And if Muir is right, and I believe that he is, then we have countless reminders all around us every day that we are loved.  Those reminders should bring us much comfort and joy.  I would even dare say that those reminders should bring a smile to our own face for in the presence of so much love and beauty how could it not?


(I took the magnolia blossom image at my home in Kentucky; the redwood trees in California, and the chukar in Hawaii.)

Mar 13 2011

The Power of God

RL 660The power of nature has certainly been on display in recent days.  The scale of the earthquake in Japan this weekend was of historic proportions and actually moved the country eight feet to the east.  The tsunami that followed caused waves so big and powerful that they traveled six miles inland.  Less than a week ago a volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted shooting lava eighty feet into the air.  In the past week tornadoes have also ripped through a number of communities in the United States and late winter storms have caused some cities to come to a standstill.  Other areas of the country have experienced devastating floods following intense rainfall.  Yes, in a short period of time the incredible power of nature has been made manifest to all.

The power of nature is very humbling to humanity.  In the face of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, volcanoes and floods we cannot help but feel small.  If we are wise we will stand in awe of the power and forces of nature.  We will be even wiser if we remember that there is a greater power yet.

RL 674Throughout the Scriptures the powers of nature are acknowledged as being great but there is the consistent affirmation that the power of God, the Maker of heaven and earth, transcends nature’s power.  In Job 38 God reminds Job that it was He who “laid the earth’s foundation” and “marked off its dimensions.”  God goes on to inform Job that it was He who “shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb” and that it is He who “cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm.”

The Psalmist was wise enough to acknowledge God’s power and how nature is subservient.  In Psalm 148 he calls on the sun, moon and stars “to praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.”  He goes on to call on the “hail, snow, clouds and stormy winds” to also give praise to God for “his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”  In the New Testament the apostle Paul summed things up for us: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20)

RL 692I certainly lament all the loss of life and devastation caused by nature’s power in recent days but as I have watched the images on television of the incredible power found in natural forces I have, likewise, been reminded that God—the Source who brought these powers into existence—is a force even greater.  Remembering this has been a source of comfort to me.  It is good to know that the greatest power that exists is the God of Creation and the same God who has assured us through His Son that He is for us and not against us.  And to quote the apostle Paul once again, “if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

In Psalm 46 the Psalmist says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore I will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”   Today I give thanks and offer praise to the Almighty God, “our refuge and strength” and encourage you to do the same.


(I took the images above at Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee.  This lake was formed in 1811-1812 as the result of a tremendous earthquake.  The force of the quake was so great that the Mississippi River actually flowed backwards temporarily.)

Jan 9 2011

Fire, Thorns & Grace

BRSP 002At the end of December I spent a few days visiting my in-laws in the panhandle of Florida.  While there I drove over to Blackwater River State Park to do some photography.  The picture above is one I took almost as soon as I entered the park.   This scene caught my eye because of the contrast it presented with my last visit to this park a few years ago.  On that trip this same area had just experienced a prescribed burn.  The longleaf pines that live in this area depend on such fires for survival.   On this most recent visit the forest certainly seemed healthy.   Many people have trouble comprehending how fires can be good for a forest but in situations like this they truly are.

About the same time I visited Blackwater River State Park I was preparing to preach a sermon on the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” mentioned in Second Corinthians 12:7.  We do not know for certain the precise nature of Paul’s “thorn.”  Whatever it was, it was excruciatingly painful.  The Greek word translated “thorn” was used to describe a stake upon which one might be impaled.   Paul prayed three times that God might remove whatever was causing him pain but God chose not to.  He told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Rather than be disheartened by this Paul said that he would boast all the more gladly about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on him.

BRSP 045Pain and suffering, like fire in a forest, may seem to be a strange blessing but it can be one nonetheless.  I know of few spiritual giants, past or present, who have not had to suffer much.  Pain and suffering has a way of causing one to turn to and rely on God.  When we do so we discover, like Paul, that God’s grace truly is sufficient.   In our weakness we experience God’s power in ways we might not otherwise. 

I confess that God’s ways are often mysterious.  He can use fires to make forests healthier.  He can use pain and suffering to make us stronger and draw us closer to Him.  He truly is an amazing God!


(The bottom picture shows Blackwater River.  Its dark color is caused by tanins.  It is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the country.)

Jan 5 2011

The God of Surprises

elk 3178This morning my wife e-mailed me to tell me there were some elk hanging out behind where she works.  I immediately packed my camera gear and headed in that direction.  What a pleasant surprise it was to find a bull elk and five does hanging out.  Since this is the first time I have been able to photograph elk here where I live it was a very exciting time.  One never knows what surprises each day may bring.

Anyone who is a student of the Bible knows that God is a God of surprises.  When the prophet declared that God’s thoughts and ways are beyond ours that was an understatement.  In so many ways God is unpredictable.  You never know what He might do.  The Christmas story itself is a classic example.  To begin with, who could have imagined that God would enter the world as a human being?  Likewise, who could have imagined that when He came that His birth would take place in a stable?  When Jesus grew up and started teaching he was constantly surprising people.  Who would have ever thought that “the first will be last and the last will be first”?  Who would have dreamed of ever declaring “Blessed are the poor” or “Blessed or those who mourn”?  Who could have imagined that salvation would be made possible by a person’s death on a cross?  How could anyone have anticipated Jesus emerging from the tomb on that first Easter morning?

elk 3430Yes, God is a God of surprises!  What I experienced this morning with the elk is similar to my experiences with God.  I never know when I wake up in the morning what God might have to say to me or how He might reveal Himself.  I learned a long time ago that I can’t put God in a box.  I learned early on that church sanctuaries are not the only place we might encounter Him.  My study of the Bible and daily experience has taught me that I might just as well encounter Him in the hug of a child, the extended hand of a beggar, or even a field with a small herd of elk.  We must ever be on the lookout for the God who is full of surprises.


Jan 3 2010

Smiling at the Trees

CUGA-Pinnacle-winter-hI recently came across a moving story in Rick Bass’ book, The Wild Marsh.  In the following passage Rick tells of the day his young daughter, Lowry, asked the question, “Where is God?”

 “The question catches me for half a step, maybe longer.  Everywhere, I answer.  Lowry considers this, looks around, then points to a huge cedar.  Is that tree him?  Yes.  Where’s his ear?  Well—he really doesn’t have ears.  I can see her considering an earless visage, and so I change tack and fall back on the familiar: Everywhere.  She peruses the woods more closely.  A tree has fallen across the trail and been sawed into pieces by the trail crew and shoved to one side.  Is that cut-down tree him?  Yes.  On the drive home, once we get to the gravel drive, I let Low sit in my lap and steer.  As she does so this time, I notice that she keeps looking out her window and flashing her pretty smile, and holding it for several seconds.  When I ask her what she’s doing, she says, Smiling at the trees.

I think Rick’s daughter is on to something here.  If God is everywhere—if He is made manifest in all that He has made—shouldn’t there be more smiles on our faces?  Isn’t that one way we might recognize and honor God’s presence? 

Because of my environmental views I have been called a “tree hugger.”  I don’t mind the label at all.  I do love nature and want us to do whatever we can to preserve and protect God’s Creation.  Still, I think I’d prefer to be known as a “tree smiler,” as someone who recognizes God’s presence in Creation and gratefully responds to His gift.  Furthermore, I want to be someone who helps others see God in His Creation so that they can smile at trees too.  In the year to come, I hope you find much to smile about.


(The image above was taken from the Pinnacle at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.)