Mar 20 2013

Always Near

_CES1629For all of us there are special places, locations that have unique meaning to us.  After posting images from my recent vacation on Facebook people wrote me saying Savannah, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island or Isle of Palms was their “favorite place.”  We all have them.  Many of us also have special places that are spiritual in nature.  It might be a church sanctuary, an outdoor “sanctuary” like a lake, desert or mountain, but wherever that spot is we feel close to God.  It’s great to have places where we sense God’s presence but we must be careful that we do not come to believe that we can only meet God or be near to God in those places.

A couple of nights ago I read Psalm 137.  This is at one and the same time a terrifically beautiful and tragic psalm.  Its setting is Israel’s Babylonian captivity.  While in exile Israel’s captors taunted them to sing “the songs of Zion.”  Their response is captured in these words: “How can we sing the song of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (v. 4)  The Jewish people believed God resided in Jerusalem.  They could not imagine singing joyful songs while separated from Him by so many miles.  They were far away from their special place and felt God was distant too.

_CES2137Perhaps there are times in our lives when we are separated from our holy spots and God seems distant.  On such occasions maybe we ought to turn to another psalm, Psalm 139.  Here David says “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (vs. 7-10)   David wisely realized that God is always near.  There is no way we can escape His presence, even if we try.  Centuries later the apostle Paul would echo David’s sentiment.  He boldly affirmed that nothing, “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

OS716Today I, too, want to affirm that God is everywhere and thus may be found and experienced anywhere.  Sure, I have my own special places where I feel close to God but I have also experienced God’s goodness and love everywhere I’ve gone.  Over the past week I felt God near in places as diverse as the Cumberland Island and the Okefenokee Swamp.  I knew God was nearby on the streets of Charleston, South Carolina and on the shores of Jekyll Island.  There is no place I went that God was not present, nor will there ever be.  That is something I can count on.  It’s something that you can count on too.  Believe it or not, God is always near.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Jekyll Island, the middle image at the John & Charles Wesley Memorial Garden on St. Simons Island, and the bottom image at Okefenokee Swamp.)


May 2 2012

Rock of Ages

In Psalm 139 you find these words: “Thou has enclosed me behind and before, and laid Thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee.” (vs. 5-12)

I thought of these words yesterday as I walked through Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. It was my first visit to this famous cave and I have to admit I was very impressed. Both the size and beauty of Carlsbad Caverns is awe-inspiring. I constantly found myself amazed by the work of the Creator’s hand. I also found myself sensing His presence. Far below the earth’s surface I realized that what the Psalmist wrote about long ago is true; there is nowhere you can go to escape God’s presence.  His love and grace follow us wherever we go.  I concur with the Psalmist, “such knowledge is too wonderful to me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

One of the things that crossed my mind while touring the cave was that all of this beauty existed long before any human being entered it. I cannot believe that it was made beautiful eons ago just so humans could one day enjoy looking at it. I am more inclined to believe that God Himself delights in beauty and, as I have written about recently, He created it for Himself.

Each day when the tourists leave the caverns the lights are all turned off. It is so dark you could not see your hand if you placed it in front of your face. That is the cave’s natural state. Without the artificial light’s illumination no one can enjoy the cave’s beauty, no one but God that is. The Psalmist declared that “darkness and light are alike” to God.  He can, and I am confident does, enjoy His handiwork without any light whatsoever. When I ponder these things I cannot help but offer praise and adoration to my God and Savior.

Towards the end of the tour we came upon a formation with the name “Rock of Ages.” I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was that someone named such a glorious formation this. I hope those who see it will make the connection to the hymn of the same title. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ truly is the Rock of Ages and for that I am eternally grateful.

-Chuck

(I took these images yesterday at Carlsbad Caverns.  The bottom image shows the formation, “Rock of Ages.”)


Mar 25 2012

Extremes

Yesterday I had a chance to photograph the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.  Later today I will be photographing at the lowest point in the United States, Death Valley.  I find it fascinating that these two extreme points are not very far apart. Sometimes life’s extremes are not that far apart either.  In a single day we may find ourselves moving from deep despair to jubliation or the other way around. We may also find ourselves several places in between.

I noted in my last entry how we have the assurance that God is with us even in the deepest valleys of our lives.  We also have the confidence that He is present with us when we are standing on the proverbial “mountain top” as well.  Thankfully we can likewise affirm that God is with us at all points in between.  In Psalm 139 David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (vs. 7-10)

It is interesting that David ties God’s continuous presence to the fact that He is also his Creator.  In verse 13, after he has made it clear that there is nowhere he can go to escape from God’s presence, he says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  Recognizing God as his Maker, and also as his constant Companion, David could not help but worship God.  He said, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (v. 14)

If we can come to comprehend that God is our Creator, too, and that He is there for us in the extremes of life as well as all points in between, then we will likewise find ourselves offering God our worship and praise.  How could we not? Today you can rest assured that God is with you wherever you are and whatever your circumstances.  If you’re high as Mt. Whitney, rejoice knowing that God is with you and that He shares your joy.  If you’re as low as Death Valley, I hope you’ll find both peace and comfort knowing that you are not alone and that the Maker of heaven and earth both cares for you and is there to help you.

–Chuck

(I took the picture of Mount Whitney yesterday morning.  I took the image of Death Valley several years ago.)