Aug 14 2013

A Visit to Living Waters

_CES1078This past weekend I had a chance to spend some time alone at a wilderness cabin in the foothills of the North Cascades. The cabin, built along the lines of the one Thoreau constructed at Walden Pond, is placed in a beautiful setting on an eighty acre piece of property.  Although not totally devoid of outside noise it is a quiet place, a place where elk, bear and cougars roam.  Near the cabin is a lake where beavers maintain a dam and various ducks find a home.  I am a person who enjoys both wilderness settings and being alone but I will admit that even with the animals around the isolation of the cabin was a bit unnerving at first.  Still, I was glad to be there and to have a chance to study, pray, and photograph. It did not take me long at all to begin to sense the presence of God in this place.

_CES1167There are a variety of reasons why I sensed God’s presence at this location.  The primary reason is obvious to regular readers of this blog; the Bible clearly notes that God reveals Himself in nature and beauty.  There is another reason however.  The cabin and land is owned by Michael and Elizabeth Boone.  They call the place Living Waters and have dedicated it to God and His service.  They have prayed extensively over the land and share it periodically with others in the hope that their guests might experience God’s nearness in this special place.  For them, and those who visit it, Living Waters is holy ground.  I find it exciting and inspirational that people like the Boones will set aside a piece of property for a purpose like this.  Church camps have existed for years but it would be great if more individuals could or would do the same.

_CES7389One of the lessons I was reminded of while at Living Waters is how the Scriptures can come alive in a unique way when read in a natural setting.  Sunday morning I read through the Book of John and there were a number of passages that seemed to stand out simply due to where I sat.  One such passage, appropriately enough, was Jesus’ promise of “streams of living water” to those who believe in him. (7:37)  I also happened to read Psalm 50 while there.  This psalm begins with the words, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”  The idea of God summoning the earth seemed something very special in that particular setting.  Later in the psalm God says “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle of a thousand hills.  I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine…  For the world is Mine, and all it contains.” It was a powerful reminder that the various animals I had seen (including the rabbit shown here) and heard there all belonged to God.  I didn’t know the names of the birds I was seeing on the lake but God did.  I have no doubt that the words I read that day would not have meant quite the same to me had I been sitting at home.  Reading the Bible outdoors is something we should all attempt to do more often.

CES_1062Toward the end of Psalm 50 you’ll find the words, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the most high.”  In that wilderness setting I could not help but offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  I was literally surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation and felt His presence near; my heart swelled with gratitude.  It seemed that I could hardly walk around outside without offering a word of thanks to God for the beauty and wonders of His Creation. Something tells me that this is what God intended from the beginning of time.  The Creation is there constantly beckoning us to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who brought it all into existence.  I hope we’ll learn to pay attention to Creation’s call and give God the gratitude He is due.


(All of the images shown here were taken this past weekend at Living Waters. A huge thanks goes to the Boones and R120 for making my visit possible!)

Jun 12 2013

Learning From Bonita

Bo's picToday is a special day for me. It is my 32nd anniversary. I truly have been incredibly blessed to be married to Bonita all these years. She is both a wonderful wife and person. I honestly do not know what I would do without her. She enriches my life in so many ways.

BonitaOne of the things that I appreciate about Bonita is how excited she gets when confronted by the beauty of God’s Creation.   She will see something and say “Isn’t that just beautiful?”  The interesting thing is I often will not respond in the same way.  I think this has something to do with my being a nature photographer for so long.  I have been out and seen some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights there are on the face of the earth. For that reason I tend to be hard to impress. It takes a very spectacular sunset to blow me away. That is not true for Bonita. When I don’t respond to her enthusiasm in the same way she does she sometimes chides me. She even kids me at times by saying something along the lines of “God is going to be so upset with me for not appreciating His beauty more.” It wouldn’t surprise me if she was right about that.

red barn 267Why is it that some of us are so hard to impress? Why can’t we appreciate what we see for what it is? I have no doubt that Bonita’s approach is far more appropriate than mine. Things should not have to blow us away to have us express our gratitude, wonder and praise. It is crazy that people like me have to compare what we’re seeing with what we’ve seen before or experienced elsewhere. There is so much wisdom in living in the moment. I’ve read that in a lot of books but it’s nice to have a living reminder with me each and every day. Thanks, Bonita! In appreciation for what she’s taught me I chose a picture she took recently to lead this blog entry. The same night she took this picture I didn’t even get my camera out.  Maybe someday I’ll learn…


(As noted above, Bonita took the top picture showing a sunset on the Ohio River.  I took the picture of her and the field of corn earlier today.)

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?”


Apr 7 2013

The Discipline of Thanksgiving

flowerThere is a daily devotional book called “Jesus Calling” that appears to be quite popular.  Two different people have given me copies of this book.  The author is Sarah Young and she claims that the messages were given to her by Christ to be shared with others.  I have to confess that I tend to be skeptical when people make claims such as this but I also have to admit as I’ve read these daily entries the last couple of months there have been numerous times I felt the words were indeed divine.  Yesterday’s reading is a good example.  It concerned  thankfulness.  The reading begins: “Bring me the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Take nothing for granted, not even the rising of the sun.”  It then goes on to talk about how Eve lost her thankful heart when she began to desire the forbidden fruit found in the Garden of Eden.  The point is made that when we focus on and desire what we don’t or can’t have we usually lose our sense of gratitude.

Pacific Coast sunset 609The writer then says, “When you focus on what you don’t have or on situations that displease you, your mind becomes darkened.  You take for granted life, salvation, sunshine, flowers, and countless other gifts from Me.  You look for what is wrong and refuse to enjoy life until that is ‘fixed.’  When you approach Me with thanksgiving, the Light of My Presence pours into you, transforming you through and through.  Walk in the Light with Me by practicing the discipline of thanksgiving.”

These are words I needed to hear.  I’d be surprised if you didn’t need to hear them, too, for it truly is difficult for us to remain grateful for God’s many blessings when we fix our gaze or that which we don’t or can’t have.  We will experience much more peace and joy in life if we can learn to focus on what we do have, not what we don’t.  The apostle Paul said he had “learned to be content whatever the circumstance.” (Philippians 4:12) It would be nice if we could learn to do the same.

_CES1915The words from this daily devotional also remind us that living with an attitude of gratitude will open our eyes to all the blessings that surround us.  We won’t take for granted the sun, the flowers, the budding trees, the birds singing around us or the grass growing at our feet.  God’s blessings literally surround us every day but if  our minds are darkened by ingratitude we’ll miss these blessings.  What a shame that would be!

I suggest we take the words from this devotional reading to heart.  Let’s all strive to walk in the light of God’s presence and practice daily the discipline of thanksgiving.  We have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.


(I took the top image at Cypress Gardens in South Carolina, the middle image somewhere along the coast of California, and the bottom image at Redwood National Park.)

Nov 14 2012

“The Root of Religious Experience”

A couple of nights ago I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Dr. Matthew Fox at the University of Pikeville.  Since the subject of Fox’s presentation was  “Creation Spirituality” I was asked to do a multimedia program featuring images of nature I have taken over the years.  Considering all that Matthew Fox has done to help people connect Christianity and Creation I felt it was quite an honor to be part of the program.

More than once during the course of his lecture Matthew mentioned how awe, wonder, mystery and gratitude are the root of religious experience.  When he said this it helped me realize why I feel so close to God when I am outdoors enjoying nature.  All four things he mentioned are common occurrences when I go out to hike or photograph.

I could not begin to count the times I have experienced awe in God’s Creation.  I felt it as I viewed the northern lights for the first time in Alaska.  I felt it when I first gazed down into Bryce Canyon.   Every time I have watched a glacier calve or a humpback whale breach I have known awe.  I could say the same thing about my first glimpses of the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.  Time after time my jaw hasdropped as I stood in awe before the handiwork of God.

I have likewise experienced the kindred feeling of wonder.   Seeing things like the majestic formations in Carlsbad Caverns, the great sand dunes of Death Valley and the lava flows from volcanoes in Hawaii have left me feeling wonderful or, more accurately, full of wonder.    I have likewise felt full of wonder as I’ve watched a newborn fawn take its first steps, seen thousands of snow geese rise simultaneously at Bosque del Apache or caught a glimpse of the moonbow at Cumberland Falls.

There is much in God’s Creation that I find mysterious.   Simply looking at the Milky Way on a clear winter’s night I sense the mystery of both life and Creation.  Even the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is full of mystery to me.   The same can be said about the way many plants and animals adapt to and thrive in conditions that would not seem conducive to life.  I often find myself scratching my head in amazement at the mystery that surrounds us every day.

Finally, all the experiences of awe, wonder and mystery that I’ve enjoyed have led me to a profound sense of gratitude.  I feel so incredibly blessed just to be alive and to be able to see and hear and smell and taste and touch all the wonders of God’s Creation.  Such experiences cause people everywhere to feel grateful and to express thanksgiving.  Those who are wise know Who to thank.

In God’s “Other Book,” Creation, we are introduced to the Creator.  In His written Word we come to understand even more fully just how awesome, wonderful, and mysterious God is and why it is so imperative that we move on to the practice of gratitude and worship.  The Psalmist said, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,  for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”  (Ps. 95:6-7) Once you’ve encountered awe, wonder and mystery how can you not do just that?   Fox is right.  These things truly are the root of religious experience.


(I took the top image at Bosque del Apache NWR, the middle image in Carlsbad Caverns, and the bottom image at Bryce Canyon National Park.)


Jul 10 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

This past Wednesday I shared some words with you from the end of a chapter in Thomas Merton’s book, No Man Is An Island. Actually those words weren’t at the very end of the chapter–just real close. At the very end Merton discusses the importance of gratitude and it’s role in seeing God in His Creation. He writes, “If we are not grateful to God, we cannot taste the joy of finding Him in His creation. To be ungrateful is to admit that we do not know Him, and that we love His creatures not for His sake but for our own.”

I think Merton is on to something here. We miss so much when we fail to live our lives with an attitude of gratitude. If we do not live our lives each day in the awareness that everything is a gift of God and an expression of His goodness we will miss the full blessing of His gifts. We may see a tree, flower or animal and be thankful for it but if we don’t also see in that same tree, flower or animal an expression of God’s love then our thanksgiving is not complete and we miss the full joy God intended.  

We are also reminded that ultimately we should love Creation for God’s sake instead of our own. The Bible indicates that the world was created for God’s glory.  We tend to think it is all about us but Paul says in First Corinthians 8:6 “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” The world was made by God and for God. Yes, it brings us great delight and meets our needs in many ways, but if we fail to see that it exists first and foremost for His glory then we fail to see things as they are and also fail to appreciate things as we should. Our gratitude is intensified when we recognize this vital truth and we come to love Creation for God’s sake, not just our own.

In the final sentence of the chapter Merton says “Gratitude shows reverence to God in the way it makes use of His gifts.” I encourage you to give some thought to these words. What he says is true of our own personal gifts but it is also certainly true of the gift of Creation. If we are genuinely grateful for the world God has made it will be revealed not necessarily in how often we say “thank you” but in how we make use of this wonderful gift. Gratitude and Creation Care are intimately connected. I fear too many people have forgotten this or have not been made aware of the connection. Those who are most grateful for the natural world are the ones who are striving to be good stewards of it. According to Merton, they are also the ones showing the most reverence to God.


(I photographed the western chipmunk above in Oregon. The grizzly cubs were photographed at Katmai National Park in Alaska.)