Mar 4 2015

Reading Scripture Visually

Psalm 1A few months ago my pictures began to be used to illustrate prayers by John Philip Newell on his Facebook page.  The person who puts the images and prayers together does a fantastic job.  There is always something about the image that corresponds to the prayer.  I always look forward to seeing which image is chosen.

Psalm 21Getting to see my photographic work appear with Newell’s prayers inspired me to begin working on a new project.  In January I was invited to participate in a peer group of ministers from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.  We began by spending three days together at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.  We will continue to meet together once a month for the next year to year and a half.  Prior to leaving St. Meinrad we committed ourselves to reading through the Book of Psalms together.  We then established a Facebook page for our group and everyone was invited to share reflections on the various psalms we read each day.

Psalm 31On the first day we read Psalm 1.  Verse 3  of this psalm says the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on that law “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”  When I read this I immediately thought of an image I took several years ago of a tree situated right next to a stream of water.  I located the file of the image and posted it on our Facebook page, along with the verse.  When we moved to Psalm 2 the next day I had another image come to mind so I did the same thing.  A number of weeks later I’m still doing the same thing each day.  I decided it would be a good discipline to examine each day’s psalm and try to connect it to one of the images of Creation I have captured over the years.  Some of the psalms are easy to find images for, others not so much.

I have found that reading the Psalms while searching for pictures to illustrate a verse or two is both challenging and helpful.  It forces me to look at the scriptures in a new way—visually.  I am convinced that reading the scriptures this way can help one find new meaning in the Bible.  It is something anyone can do; you certainly don’t have to be a photographer to approach the Bible this way.  Just use your imagination when you read the scriptures and see where it takes you.  Try to visualize what you are reading.  Perhaps ask yourself what type of image you would use to illustrate what you are reading.

Psalm 11The Book of Psalms is probably the easiest book in the Bible to take this approach but it will work with any book or passage from scripture.  I encourage you to give reading the Bible visually a try.  See if it doesn’t help you and open new doors of understanding for you.  “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)


(I used the first image to illustrate Psalm 1:3, the second image for Psalm 21:13, the third image for Psalm 31:3, and the fourth image for Psalm 11:1.)

Mar 4 2012

Nature and a Tender, Caring Heart

Today our pastor preached about Love as part of his series on the fruits of the Spirit (Holy Spirit). Pastor Charlie did a wonderful job, as usual. As an application of all of the things he talked about and Bible references he gave, from the classic I Corinthians 13:4-7 to I John 3:16-19, he offered the following idea, that we might work to be able to say, “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards people that is free from a critical spirit.”

That got me thinking about nature. In Psalm 77:12 it says, “I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds.” We are God’s part of that reference to “your work … and mighty deeds”, and so is all of the rest of nature, so why not make the connection? Pastor Charlie’s idea about a caring heart free from a critical spirit could definitely apply to God’s creation, too.

For me, nature photography is part of how I try to connect with nature and show my care. I don’t want to simply take pictures of pretty things. For me, that is not enough, and does not give me much of a tender, caring heart towards nature. Even looking at nature photography, I want more than just another pretty scene. There are tons of pretty photos of nature that do not go any deeper than a superficial beauty that doesn’t connect with people.

I have nothing against pretty nature pictures. They have their place. But Pastor Charlie’s admonition made me realize that I need something deeper, truly a tender, caring heart toward nature in the way I see it. And I want to connect with others in that way as well.

I also like the section, “free from a critical spirit.” It is sometimes a bit odd to me that people want to judge nature, God’s creation, as being good and bad. Wolves are bad, deer are good. Spiders are bad, butterflies are good. That goes totally against how God saw creation: “And God saw it was good.” (That comes up many times in Genesis 1.) Nature is only “bad” if we look at it from human-centric critical eyes, not from God’s perspective.

In Psalm 96:11-12 it says,

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar and all that fills it;

let the field exult and everything in it.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

That really expresses a joy about God from nature that is not man-centric. If nature rejoices and sings for joy about its Creator, how can we see it in any way as bad? That does not mean that the natural world won’t cause problems for us at times. That can be bad for us, but it does not mean that God’s creation is bad.

I am going to work to remember Pastor Charlie’s advice for seeing people: “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards people that is free from a critical spirit.”

And I am going to translate it also for me to make it reflect an attitude toward God’s creation: “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards God’s creation that is free from a critical spirit.”

The photos seen here are of a beautiful pygmy rattlesnake in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida — perfectly adapted to the location and a wonderful part of this ecosystem.

— Rob

Nov 24 2010

An Invitation to Thanksgiving

wild-turkey-064In Psalm 95:1-7 we find a wonderful invitation to thanksgiving that has nothing to do with turkeys.  The Psalmist begins this psalm by saying “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”  One of the primary reasons the Psalmist gives for offering God our thanksgiving and praise is that He is “our Maker.”  We’re told in verses 3-5, “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”

I preached on this passage this past Sunday and told my congregation that when I read these words that I cannot help but think of a song I loved to sing as a child.  That song is “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  An important element of my faith is the belief that God created the world and that the “whole wide world” is, indeed, in His hands.  For that reason I give thanks this Thanksgiving for the gift of Creation.  What an incredible and beautiful world God made!  I also give thanks that God’s hand still holds and sustains that which He has made-including us.

GSM-warm-light-and-rocks-720Although I’m confident the Psalmist was thinking of literal valleys, mountains, seas and deserts when he wrote what he did in Psalm 95, I also think we can see these figuratively.  When we go through life’s valleys—times of trouble or sickness–we are still in God’s hands.  When we are “on the mountaintop” and everything is going well for us, God is there.  For the ancient Israelites the sea was feared.  In the scary times and places of our life God is always present.  And when we go through the dry, arid, periods in life that inevitably come our way God is there too.  He has the whole world in His hands and He’s got us in those hands as well.  That truth gives me a great deal of comfort and hope day to day and makes me want to “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”  This Thanksgiving I will have no shortage of things for which to give thanks!


 p.s.  I want to wish each of you a very happy Thanksgiving and say thanks for taking the time to read the words Rob and I share with you through

Oct 15 2010

Is Man Connected to Nature?

MN flowers + gas station

As Chuck so eloquently talks about Hosea in the last post, you can see immediately how connected God is with nature. But what about us? Are we part of nature or separate from nature?

In nature photography, we often keep out obvious references to man. That is a part of photography — selectively deciding what to include or exclude from an image. And we might keep out other parts of nature, such as a woodland that lost its leaves from tent caterpillars, so simply keeping nature photographs focused on a particular part of nature, including nature without man, is always a valid part of nature photography.

Yet, I think it is a mistake if we never see man or man’s influence in nature. In Psalms 36:6, the Bible says, “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” That certainly implies we are part of something larger. In Psalm 148, we read about praising God, and the Psalm specifically talks about everything from sea monsters to mountains to trees to wild animals all the way to “kings of the earth and all peoples” all praising God. That pretty much puts everything together!

When man is separated from nature, we are implying a gulf between nature and man that does not exist in the real world. Nature is highly influenced by man, from the severe effects such as the Gulf oil spill to small effects such as a trail through the woods. As a saying goes, “You cannot do just one thing.” And man is, though some people try to deny it, strongly influenced by nature, which is always very obvious as the weather changes in the fall.

I admit that I am not too fond of photographing some of the nasty effects on nature that man can do, though that can be an important type of photography. I love spotting and photographing bits of wild nature coming into “man’s world”, rather than simply man going into “nature’s world.” The image with this blog post is of butter-and-eggs flowers, also called yellow toadflax (I much prefer the fun first name), in a scruffy bit of land next to a gas station in Northern Minnesota. This is not a flower bed, or at least not one deliberately planted by man. It is a small bit of unattended land near the entry to the gas station where the butter-and-eggs plants found a home and started to grow on their own.

The yellow toadflax is a lot like us — it is an immigrant from Europe, where it is native. This relative of the snapdragon tends to colonize open, disturbed soil and doesn’t seem to be able to compete in truly natural conditions. It needs us, yet it is not particularly invasive, so it often provides a pleasant and brightly colored accent to lands near human habitation. And finding these pretty flowers near a gas station does not, in any way, diminish for me their God-given beauty. In some ways, they provide a nice accent to man’s works.

— Rob

Aug 11 2010

A Magnificent Diversity

BG 540
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!”  (Psalm 104:24)

If nature teaches us one thing about God it is that He values variety. In His Creation we see a magnificent diversity manifested in numerous ways. I was reminded of this on Monday when Pat O’Hara took me to the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. This is one of the most famous gardens in North America, and for good reason.

BG 562I told Pat when we entered the gardens that I felt like I was experiencing sensory overload. The sheer number of flowers and the amazing variety of colors was almost too much to take in. Seeing all of this beauty, however, moved me to offer thanks to God for creating so many different flowers. Just in this one garden we saw countless species with varying colors, shapes and sizes. It was a vivid reminder that God values diversity.

This reminder was reinforced by taking notice of the people who came to visit the gardens that day. There seemed to be almost all nationalities represented. There was a variety of skin colors, sizes, shapes and ages that mimicked the flowers everyone was viewing. In these people the marvelous diversity of the Creator was revealed.

BG 626The diversity revealed in Creation speaks volumes about the Creator. It tells of His unlimited creativity and power. It speaks of His love for us and reveals His delight in and preference for variety. As creatures created in the image of God I suspect our Maker intends for us to take delight in diversity too.

I cannot imagine a world where every flower, animal, tree, mountain, and person looked the same. It would be awful! Our lives are so much richer and more meaningful because the One who formed and fashioned all that we see did so with diversity in mind. For that we can all be grateful!

(All images were taken at Butchart Gardens this past Monday.)



Jul 25 2010

Nature’s Sermons

BIP 669I continue to be amazed at how the various figures of the Bible use nature to illustrate spiritual truths.  I’m reading the Book of Jeremiah now and a few days ago I came across a passage where the prophet encouraged his listeners to trust in God.  He indicates that there are benefits of trusting God but he doesn’t say exactly what these benefits are.  Instead he compares them to a tree planted by water.

The passage I’m referring to is Jeremiah 17:7-8.  It reads, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A similar comparison is made in Psalm 1.  There the Psalmist declares as “happy” those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (v. 3)

Since I live in an area which has lots of creeks and rivers I see every day “trees planted by water.”  And sure enough, even in the tremendous heat we are experiencing this summer, they continue to thrive.  They have what they need most—water.

In God we find what we need most.  And Jeremiah is certainly right.  There are many benefits of putting our trust in God.  Like the tree planted by water we can endure difficult times when we remain close to God.  We can live without fear and anxiety knowing that the One who created us and everything else has promised to provide for our needs.  We can live productive lives as long as we stay close to our Maker.  This is something Jesus himself stressed in his analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As a pastor I have the privilege of delivering sermons each Sunday.  Here lately the Bible has been reminding me that nature delivers sermons each and every day.  Are we listening?  We should be!


(The “tree planted by water” shown above was photographed at Breaks Interstate Park in southeast Kentucky.)