Jan 16 2011

Reflections on Snow and Grace

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott

Elkmont 177This past weekend I had the privilege of going to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to speak once again at the annual Wilderness Wildlife Week.  This is an outstanding event held each January and if you are not familiar with it I’d encourage you to check it out sometime.  While I was in Pigeon Forge I was able to drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a couple of times to photograph.  The fact that the park had received several inches of snow prior to my arrival made this an extra special adventure.

I love being able to get out in the woods after it has snowed, especially before a lot of other people get there and create a bunch of tracks.  A snowy landscape is so beautiful and pristine.  It is absolutely amazing how a heavy snow can transform a scene.  Things that might have looked ugly or unattractive before become stunning in appearance.  I thought about this yesterday as I was photographing in the Elkmont region of the park.  I remembered, as I usually do when it snows, the Bible’s wonderful promise, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)  This led me to think further on God’s grace.  There are so many things about snow that remind me of His grace.

Elkmont 180On U2’s album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” there is a song called “Grace.”  In the final line of this song Bono sings, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”  God’s grace, like snow, makes beauty out of ugly things.  I know that for a fact.  I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in the lives of countless others.  Like gently falling snow God’s grace covers all those who are open to receiving it.  As it blankets us we find ourselves changed.  We look different.  We feel different.  We are different.  Through God’s grace our sins are “covered.”  What was dirty is made clean.  What was ugly is made beautiful. 


Today I find myself very grateful for snow and for God’s amazing grace.  I hope you do too.


(I took both of these pictures yesterday in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains N.P.)

Mar 3 2010

The Wonder of It All

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”                                                          G.K. Chesterton

leaf on ice 605This past weekend we took our youth from church to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  On Saturday we spent a number of hours at a tourist attraction called Wonder Works.  Since it is housed in a gigantic upside down building I figured the whole thing would be hokey.  I was wrong.  Wonder Works is committed to exposing people to the wonders of nature and science in a fun, hands on, sort of way.  I’m glad such places exist.

 Studies have revealed that a child’s creativity, which includes wonder and imagination, diminishes by 90% between the ages of five and seven.  When adults gets to be forty, they have only about 2% of the creativity they had when they were five years old. This is tragic for a number of reasons.  For one, wonder lies at the heart of worship.  For another, wonder adds much joy to life.

 In his book Real Worship Warren Wiersbe writes, “True wonder reaches right into your heart and mind and shakes you up.  It not only has depth, it has value; it enriches your life.  It is an encounter with reality—with God—that brings awe to your heart.  You are overwhelmed with an emotion that is a mixture of gratitude, adoration, reverence, fear—and love.  You are not looking for explanations; you are lost in the wonder of God.”

Wiersbe goes on to note that wonder is born of knowledge, not ignorance.  He says, “The more a truly reverent person knows about a flower or an insect or God, the more overwhelmed he is.  …truths give to the reverent saint a burning heart, a thrilling encounter with God.”

 I believe Dr. Wiersbe is on to something here.  All of us need more wonder in our lives.  It is, in fact, critical for our spiritual lives.  And I know of few things that will move us toward wonder better than spending time in God’s Creation. 

 If you are experiencing a shortage of wonder and awe, now might be a good time to head to the mountains, the dessert, a river or lake, or some quiet spot outdoors closer to home. Or as Rob has reminded us from time to time, enjoy the wonders of your own back yard.  Wherever you go, take in the wonder of it all and let your hearts be lifted in praise to the Maker of heaven and earth.


 (I spotted the beech leaf pictured above hanging on to the ice on a rock across the street from my church office. It caused me to wonder…)

Jan 17 2010


Morton-Overlook-winter-1-(v)-“Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.” –Clara H. Scott

This weekend I had a chance to do a couple of programs at the 20th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Thursday night Ken Jenkins and I did a program called “The Spiritual Side of Nature.”  The presentation was well-attended and warmly received.

During Ken’s portion of the program he used an interesting analogy to describe certain people.  He noted how those who sleepwalk move about while asleep but do not really see what’s going on around them. Ken then indicated that many people move about day to day but remain blind to the wonders of God’s Creation all around them.  Such people are guilty of a different kind of sleepwalking.

I have known Ken eighteen years and can honestly say that I do not know anyone who is more “awake” when it comes to seeing and experiencing God in Creation.  Although his photography business is based in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ken has a ministry that takes him all across the country.  In his programs he shows wildlife and landscape images he has taken and draws incredible spiritual truths from them.

Knowing that not all of you will be able to hear Ken speak I want to commend to you his recent publication Nature is the Art of God: A Journey Into the Beauty and Wonder of Creation.  It is one of the most beautiful photographic devotional essays I’ve ever seen.  You can order copies from Ken’s website: www.kenjenkins.com.

Listening to Ken’s presentation Thursday night, and then looking at his new book, has made me want to do a better job of seeing God in Creation.  I think I do a decent job of seeing the obvious but know that there are folks like Ken who see so much more.  How can I improve my vision?  I suspect I should begin by asking God to “open my eyes” so that I might see more and then, with His help, try to discipline myself to slow down and really pay attention.  I plan to do this because I really do not want to be guilty of being a “sleepwalker.”  How about you?


(The image above was taken at Morton Overlook a number of years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)