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?”

–Chuck


Jun 17 2012

Nature and Grace

Writing several centuries ago, the Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote “Nature and Grace are in harmony with each other.  For Grace is God and Nature is God.  Neither Nature nor Grace works without the other.  They may never be separated…  That Goodness that is Nature is God.  God is the Ground, the substance, the same that is Naturehood.  God is the true Father and Mother of Nature.”  I read these words a few days ago and have been giving them some thought.  They are certainly deep words.

I cannot help but wonder if someone during her time was making the claim that nature and grace are not in harmony with each other.  I assume that is possible.  If so, I like how Julian addressed this claim.  I think she is correct in seeing the source of both grace and nature in God.  The Bible is clear in noting that we would have neither apart from Him.   Since they have the same source it makes sense that nature and grace would be “in harmony with each other” and that neither “works without the other.”

What all this seems to be saying to me is that we can expect to experience God’s grace in Creation.  Certainly we experience that grace first and foremost in Jesus Christ but it is also to be found in the world Christ has made.  And just as we must open ourselves up to Christ in order to know and feel his grace, we must likewise open ourselves up to nature if we are to know and feel the grace that is to be found there.  Matthew Fox once said, “When we can no longer feel the grace of nature we need to pause and allow grace to bless us again.”  That is good advice.

Have you paused lately to allow the grace of God that is found in Creation to bless you?  Last week my wife and I went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate our anniversary.  We spent a good bit of time in those wonderful mountains and beside the streams that flow from them.  I must say that in those misty mountains I felt God’s grace.  And like Julian, I realized “that goodness that is nature is God.”  That is not to say that I see God and nature as one and the same, just that the One who is “the true Father and Mother of nature” has a wonderful way of bestowing grace upon us through Creation when we realize that the two truly are in harmony with each other.  I encourage you to live in this realization so that you might experience even more of God’s amazing grace in the days to come.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above last week on our anniversary trip to the Smokies.)


Feb 22 2012

God’s Amazing Artwork

Over six hundred years ago the Italian author and poet, Dante Alighieri, said “nature is the art of God.”  I would be the first to affirm Dante’s sentiment but recently I have been reminded of just how outstanding God’s art revealed in nature is.   The last few days I have been working on scanning slides I took during my first fifteen years of photography.  Last night I worked on some images I captured at Arizona’s famous Coyote Buttes.  Looking at these pictures I found myself once again in awe of the Master Artist’s work.  The sandstone formations and patterns found at Coyote Buttes are mindboggling! 

Looking at the images made me stop and think about all the wonderful “art work” I’ve seen in nature.  I thought about the beauty and symmetry found on a dewy spider web.  I remembered being overwhelmed by the colors and patterns in petrified logs I saw at Petrified Forest National Park.  I thought about the intricate detail and beauty I’ve seen when I’ve looked closely at seashells, flowers and insects.   I remembered with great delight the first time I saw the dancing patterns of the northern lights in Alaska.  All of this led me to think about God’s artwork that few people ever get to see.  Through the lens of a microscope one can find incredible beauty.  At the same time, the Hubble Telescope is constantly sending back images of galaxies and nebula that look like great works of art.  The universe is filled with beauty that few, if any, will ever see!

When I was quite a bit younger Ray Stevens had a hit song that declared “Everything is beautiful in its own way.”  That the world is filled with much beauty simply cannot be denied.  I know some say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but for each beholder there is plenty of beauty to see and acknowledge.   As we recognize and enjoy the beauty we see we should offer thanks to the Artist who created it.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes wrote concerning God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (3:11)  There is certainly nothing wrong with pointing to the beauty we see around us but let us not fail to give credit where credit is due.  God deserves to be worshiped and praised for sharing His art with us. 

When I was in New Mexico a couple of months ago I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe  Museum.  I enjoyed looking at her wonderful work but was amazed at how many security personnel were on hand.  It was obvious that the museum recognizes the value of O’Keeffe’s work and is determined to protect it.  I concur that her work is valuable but nowhere nearly as valuable as that produced by our heavenly Father.  For that reason we need to do everything we can to preserve and protect the works of the greatest Artist there is.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures at Coyote Buttes in Arizona.  The spider web was photographed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The petrified log was photgraphed at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.)


May 23 2010

Death and the Blue Jay

bluejay 578“I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”            John 11:25

Several years ago I was reading a copy of Nature magazine when I was shocked to discover an article praising the virtues of Blue Jays.  As a child I had been taught that Blue Jays were bad because they robbed other birds’ nests.  All the neighborhood kids knew that they were not supposed to shoot birds with their BB guns but that Blue Jays were fair game.  So when I read in the article how valuable Blue Jays are in distributing seeds and regenerating forests I had to rethink my childhood notions.

Later today I will drive over to Middlesboro, Kentucky, to speak at the funeral of a dear friend.  Even though she was 92 years old it still hurts knowing that she is no longer here.  Over the years death has robbed me of a lot of my loved ones.  When I was younger I had a horrible attitude toward death.  As far as I was concerned, there was nothing good about it.  In time, however, I came to see things differently.  Just as I came to see the good in the Blue Jay I came to understand that death is not all bad.

My Christian faith teaches me that contrary to the way it might seem, death is not the end.  For children of God death is in many ways just the beginning.  It is an entranceway to a far better place. 

There is much in nature that reminds us of the inevitability of death.  You see it everywhere.  I also happen to believe that God has placed signs in nature to remind us and give us hope that this life is not all that there is.  The new life that returns each spring following the cold dark winter is one such sign. 

These days whenever I see a Blue Jay I remember how something I once saw as bad is actually good.  When I visit the cemetery this afternoon, I’ll remember the same thing.

–Chuck

(I took the image of this Blue Jay in my yard this past winter.)