Apr 24 2013

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

_CES3825Today is my birthday. In case you’re wondering, I’m 57 years young. Even though I’m definitely getting older and feeling the effects of it, I still enjoy birthdays. Birthdays give me a chance to reflect on my life and how richly blessed I have been. On this day I give thanks for the wonderful parents and family God gave me. I give thanks for the teachers who helped educate me and for the churches that have played such an important role in my life. I also offer thanks for my wife and for the many wonderful friends I have been blessed with. Needless to say, I likewise give thanks for all the wonders of God’s Creation I have been blessed to witness, visit and photograph.

_CES3656On this particular day I also give thanks for my body. Considering the shape I’m in perhaps I should rephrase that and say I am thankful for the human body. In Psalm 139 David says to God “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (vs. 13-14) In this blog I write often about the wonders of God’s Creation and focus primarily on what we normally refer to as “nature.”  It would serve us well to remember from time to time that we, too, are part of that Creation and that our bodies–just like the rest of nature–is a marvelous gift of God and speaks volumes about who God is.

_CES3828Several years ago Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand wrote a book called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. In this book they talk about the marvels of the human body–cells, bones, skin, motion–and also draw spiritual lessons from the makeup of our bodies.  I recommend this book, along with its companion volume, In His Image, to you. Although we may not think about it in such terms very often, the human body is part of God’s “Other Book.” We would all benefit from paying more attention to it.  I suspect that doing so would lead us, like the Psalmist, to offer God praise.


(The three pictures shown here were taken yesterday.  That’s me on the right at top with my dear friend, Bill Fortney.  The middle image was taken in the Daniel Boone National Forest of Kentucky and the bottom image at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in  Tennessee.)

Mar 27 2013

Measureless Sands

CI764Amy Carmichael was a Christian missionary to India for over fifty years.  A couple of days ago Philip Yancey posted a passage from one of Carmichael’s writings that I had not seen before.  The words spoke to me in a powerful way.  She said, “As my thoughts were occupied, I found myself on the shore of the sea. And I took a grain of sand from the miles of sand about me and I held it in my hand. Then I knew that my desire for the presence of my Lord was like a little grain for smallness in comparison with my Lord’s desire to come under my roof; for that was like the measure of measureless sands.  And as my thoughts followed this great thought, Jesus, my Lord, answered and said to me, ‘With desire I have desired to come to you.’”

CI750The fact that I was so touched by these words may have had something to do with the fact that I recently did a good bit of photography on beautiful sand beaches in South Carolina and Georgia.  It was not hard for me to visualize “the miles of sand” she spoke of.  Nor was it hard for me to relate to her feeling that her desire for the presence of Christ in her life was inconsequential compared to his desire to come under her roof.   I doubt that Carmichael’s desire was actually small.  I’d like to think mine isn’t either.  But when any of us compare our desire for communion with God to God’s desire for communion with us we always come up short.  Very short!

CI758I think I am pretty much always aware of this vast difference in God’s desire and my own but during Holy Week it is magnified exponentially.  During this week I am forced to consider how the God who created the heavens and the earth humbled himself and took on human flesh.  Not only that, once he did so he willingly took up a cross and died so that your sins and mine might be forgiven.  John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”   The thing that amazes me so much about this is that Jesus not only willingly laid down his life for his friends, he also laid down his life for his enemies.  He literally poured out his life so that he might come under our roof.  If we were to ask him why he did such a thing, we too might hear him say, “With desire I have desired to come to you.”

When I consider what God has done for me and all the rest of us to show his desire for us, I truly feel that my desire for him is only a grain of sand compared to “the measure of measureless sands.”  I am humbled by this recognition and so very grateful for a God who still desires to come under my roof despite my reluctance to allow him in more.  At the same time I am convicted to find ways to open the door of my heart wider to him.  I hope you will be as well.


(I took the three pictures above on my recent visit to Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia.)

Sep 28 2011

Sacramental Eyes

I mentioned last week that I’m leading a study group through Philip Yancey’s book, Rumors of Another World.  The chapter we looked at this past Monday had a lot to say on the subject of “seeing Creation” so I thought I’d share some of its insights with you here today.  One of the things Yancey does in this chapter is encourage people to “make daily life sacramental.”  The word “sacrament” literally means to keep the sacred (sacra) in mind (mental).  Yancey says we are called “to seek a mindfulness—a mind full—of God’s presence in the world.”

Another insight I found intriguing comes in Yancey’s discussion of the importance of Creation in God’s revelation of Himself.  He quotes Meister Eckhart who said, “If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created.”  I had never thought of the necessity of Creation in this way.  Eckhart’s words, however, have other implications.  Yancey says “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.”  Then he adds, “Clearly, modern society is not treating creation as God’s work of art.”

This morning I took five of my photographic prints downtown for an exhibit that will be held tomorrow night.  They are five of my favorite prints.  I’m excited that people will be able to view them at the Artisan Alliance of Pikeville/Pike County. I am hopeful that people will like what they see.  I hope they will also see in the images manifestations of God’s glory.   A part of me would be hurt if people did not like the pictures.  What would be even more disturbing would be if someone spit on them, marked on them, or in a fit of rage smashed them.  I can’t even imagine how upset I would be if something like this happened.

If I feel that way about my own art work, I can certainly see how God could be upset with us for the way we have treated His art work—Creation.  It has to hurt Him when we do not show admiration for His handiwork.  It must anger Him when we harm or destroy what He has made.  Surely we would all take better care of Creation if we stopped and considered how our actions affect God.  Surely we would take better care of Creation, and appreciate it more, if we learned to view it with sacramental eyes. 

I encourage you in the days to come “to make daily life sacramental.”  As you view the beauty of autumn remember that what you see is God’s handiwork.  Be open to ways that God may make Himself known to you through His art work.  Find ways to express your admiration for what you see.  Remember your calling to be good stewards of what He has shared with us.


(Above you will find three of the images that will be on display at the exhibit tomorrow night.  The top one is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The middle one is from Kingdom Come State Park here in Kentucky. The bottom one was taken at Dallas Divide in Colorado.)

Sep 21 2011

A Wonderful Accomodation

Last week I started teaching a book study at church.  The book we are reading this fall is Philip Yancey’s Rumors of Another World.  This past Monday the group met to discuss chapter two of this book.  In this chapter, called “Rumors,” Yancey says something I’d like for you to think about.  He writes: “The ordinary, natural world contains the supernatural, a necessary step since we do not have the capacity to apprehend God directly.  We see God best in the same way we see a solar eclipse: not by staring at the sun, which would cause blindness, but through something on which the sun is projected.”

The Scriptures do, in fact, teach us that no one can look at God and live (Exodus 33:20).  As things are now we would be overwhelmed if we saw God directly.  You may recall that Moses was permitted to see God’s backside for a fleeting moment and this just about did him in.  God is too great and too wonderful for us humans to look at face to face but because God is also love, and desires to make Himself known to us, He has established other ways to reveal Himself to us.  One of those ways is through His Creation.

In volume one of Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin says God has chosen to “accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity.”  This accommodation by God is a sign of His mercy and grace.  It is also another indication of His desire to make Himself known to us.  Calvin claims that God “revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe.  As a consequence men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.”  Later he adds, “upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered  and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.”  Calvin compares God’s revelation in His Creation to “a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible.”

Reflecting on both Yancey’s and Calvin’s words I find myself incredibly grateful for God’s revelation of Himself in Creation.  I certainly realize this is not the only, or even the best, revelation we have of God but it is one that has enriched my spiritual journey immensely.  I fear, however, that many people (including lots of Christians) still do not understand what an incredible gift Creation is.  Too many people see it only as something that benefits one physically or materially.  If they stop there they will miss Creation’s greatest benefit—it’s revelation of the almighty God whom we do not have the capacity to apprehend directly.  As we enter this fall season I encourage you to keep your eyes wide open.  All around us is the evidence of both God’s love and presence.


(I took the images above a few years ago on a September trip to the Canadian Rockies.)

Jul 28 2010

Two Conversions

Craggy-GardensIn his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey speaks of having undergone two conversions: “first from the natural world to discover the supernatural, and later to rediscover the natural world from a new viewpoint.”  The second conversion led him to try to make daily life sacramental.  This means attempting to see God in the world around us each day.

Yancey says, “Every day, every hour, every moment, I must exercise my calling to hallow God’s creation, whether it be leatherback turtles in Costa Rica or the irritating kid next door who peppers my yard with golf balls.  Holy sparks are potentially trapped in every moment of my day, and as God’s agent I am called to release them.”

I think a lot of us are in need of the second conversion Yancey speaks of.  We need to understand that the world God has created is indeed sacred.  Likewise, we need to grasp that God uses what He has made to reveal Himself to us.  There are lots and lots of “holy sparks” waiting to be released.  But before they can be released we must recognize that they are there and look for them.  In The Imitation of Christ Thomas a Kempis wrote, “If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life, and a book of sacred doctrine.  There is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God.”

Yancey also speaks of another effect of his second conversion.  He says, “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.”  Normally we treat works of art with great care.  Apparently many  today fail to see Creation as a work of art.  This is evidenced by the destruction of the planet’s rain forests, the pollution of streams and rivers, the careless elimination of animal species, and a host of other environmental degradations.  God’s incredible work of art deserves far better care than it has received!

Throughout Christian history there have been a number of “great revivals” or spiritual awakenings where thousands of people experienced the first conversion Yancey spoke of.  Perhaps what we need now is a great revival where people will experience the second conversion.  I pray that revival comes.


(The image above was taken at Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.)

May 30 2010

Charlotte’s Praise

baby-eastern-cottontail“How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”  Psalm 104:24

 According to Philip Yancey, Flannery O’Connor once wrote an article about her peacocks and the reactions they would get as they unfurled their feathers.  One truck driver yelled, “Get a load of that!” and braked to a halt.  Most people would simply fall silent.  O’Connor’s favorite response came from an old black woman who simply cried, “Amen! Amen!”

I can certainly relate to this story.  This past Friday I took a DVD containing some of my “slide shows” over to one of my home bound members.  Charlotte is in her late eighties and under hospice care.  She is an elder at our church and considered a “saint” by just about everyone.  As we sat together in her bedroom and watched the programs on her television Charlotte kept raising her hands into the air and saying, “Hallelujah” and “Thank you, Lord.”  She had the sweetest expression on her face.

Chipmunk-2I had a feeling Charlotte would enjoy the programs.  She loves God’s Creation and especially all the creatures He has made.  Every day she feeds over seventy ducks.  She calls them her “babies” and has given many of them names.  With great pride she told me Friday she now has eighteen baby ducks coming up to her back porch.  She is also delighted that a groundhog (named “Homer”) is also coming up to finish up all the leftovers.  When she talks about animals her sentences are almost always prefaced by the words, “Ain’t it miraculous…”

Charlotte Mann has no trouble seeing God in His Creation.  For her all that God has made bears witness to His love and power.  My heart was sincerely touched as I watched Charlotte offer God praise as she watched my slide shows.  I’m not sure which one of us got the greater blessing.  I just wish more people were like Charlotte—not afraid to offer God worship and praise for the work of His hands.  He truly is worthy of all the praise we can give Him!  Just ask Charlotte…


(Pictured above are two of God’s wonderful creatures I’ve been privileged to photograph–a baby eastern cottontail and a western chipmunk.)