Oct 22 2014

This Morning’s Lessons

_DSC1754I’ve not been able to get out and photograph for about two weeks so I went out early this morning to try to capture some new local autumn images.  We are still a good bit away from being at peak colors but it was still nice to be outside and to do some photographic work.  I was only able to photograph for a little over an hour but during that time I got some nice images and also was reminded of a couple of important spiritual lessons.

_DSC1797I started the day at one of my favorite places in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area—the Jenny Hole.  Last year I was able to capture a number of images I really liked there.  I discovered once I got there that the cedar cypress trees have already turned to their autumn rust color.  There was some nice side lighting shortly after sunrise but I had trouble getting excited about what I was seeing.  The scene looked practically identical to what I had photographed last year.  It didn’t make much sense to take pictures if they were going to look just like the ones I’d already taken.  As I started to walk back to my car I looked back and noticed something I had not earlier.  There were reflections of the cypress tree.  Last year the water still had duckweed and other vegetation in front of the trees and the reflection I saw was not present.  I found delight in being able to photograph this beautiful tree reflected in the water.

_DSC1839The lesson I was reminded of here is to pay more attention.  If we are not careful we will fail to notice things that are slightly different than they were before.  In doing so we will miss that which is new.  That can happen both when photographing and also in one’s spiritual life.  There are periods in my life when each day seems basically the same.  In those times I may be lulled into thinking nothing new is going on when, in reality, if I were truly paying attention, I would see that God was up to something new or different.  I know the Bible talks about Christ being the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8) but I also believe that the Scriptures reveal a God who is always up to something new.  In Revelation 21:5 John hears God say, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  If we are wise we will strive each and every day to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  It may seem to be just one more day like every other when, in fact, God is trying to show us or do something new.

A few minutes later I drove to a small pond and noticed a yellow tree reflecting nicely in the water.  When I got out of my car I scared a duck that had been in the pond.  The duck flew off and its departure created lots of ripples in the water that disturbed the lovely reflection I saw when I first arrived.  I went ahead and took a few pictures but waited long enough for things to calm down.  Eventually, the reflection I first saw reappeared.  Every good photographer knows that to get mirror-like reflections the water has to be calm or still.

_DSC1807As I waited for the water to calm I was reminded that as a Christian I am called to be a reflection of my Lord.  The goal is to reflect Jesus as perfectly as I can in my life and conduct.  I have discovered that this is very difficult for me to do when my soul is troubled or I am physically stressed or tired.  I feel I offer a better reflection of Christ when I make sure to take time out to be still, to meditate, to cease from striving.  The problem is I often go long periods without taking the time to do this.  I’m afraid God often has to say to me the words He spoke through the prophet Isaiah long ago, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (30:15)  I really should know better by now.

I’m glad I was able to photograph this morning.  Not only did I get some nice images, God gently reminded me of a couple of lessons I needed to hear once again.

–Chuck

 


Mar 5 2014

Beauty From Ashes

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

dutchmen's-britchesToday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent.  It is a season that traditionally has carried a somber mood.  People use the days of Lent for penitence and as a preparation for the celebration of Easter.  The black ashes that are placed on the foreheads of believers is representative of Lent’s dark mood.  This year, however, I have noticed that a lot of people are challenging the idea that Lent must be so somber and dark.  Yes, it is meant to be a time to look inward but it should also include the idea of darkness being overcome by light.  Appropriately enough, the word Lent means “lengthening.”  This special time in the liturgical year always comes when the days are lengthening with the arrival of Spring.

On a couple of blogs I have even seen suggestions that Lent is a great time for people to get outdoors and to contemplate what is happening in the natural world.  During the Lenten season not only will the hours of daylight become longer and longer, we will also witness the renewal of the earth as flowers blossom, trees bud, and the wildlife absent during the winter months make a reappearance.  Spring is a glorious time in the world of nature.  The greening of the earth in locations like where I live remind us that the gloom of winter does not have the final word.  Darkness gives way to light; what appears dead is revealed to be full of life.

wild-geraniumsNeedless to say, I concur with those who say Lent is a wonderful time to get outdoors.  That does not mean I believe that the somber spirit of Lent should be totally eliminated or that acts of penitence are not appropriate.  I just happen to believe we need the balance that nature can provide to the season.  By all means I need to take notice of the darkness that still yet resides in my soul.  It would be foolish of me to deny or ignore those areas where I am not what my Creator desires for me.  But if I focus on only the darkness and sin in my life I could easily succumb to despair.  I hardly think that is what God desires.

What I do believe God desires is that each of us experience a renewal not unlike that which we observe in the realm of nature.  Our goal is hardly to linger in the darkness but to move more and more into the light.  Lent calls for Spring in our souls.  And just as the lengthening of the hours of daylight takes time, so does the lengthening of the light within us.  Lent reminds us that the spiritual journey is not a short one.  It also serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of the spiritual life.  Spring will follow Winter, but Summer and Autumn will also come.  Behind these Winter will reappear and then, of course, once again Spring and so forth.

Kingdom-Come-SP-Raven-Rock-springRight now people around here are eager for winter to transition to spring.  It has been a long cold winter.  Hopefully we are just as eager to experience the renewal of our souls.  Lent gives us a chance to help make this happen if we will let God’s two books, the Scriptures and the Creation, guide our steps.  It is indeed my hope and prayer that beauty will rise forth from the ashes of this day in your life and mine.

–Chuck


May 5 2013

New Beginnings–Again!

AD2471Right before leaving Pikeville a dear friend gave me a stone that had engraved upon it the words “New Beginnings.”  This time in my life truly is a period of new beginnings.  I made the move to Henderson, Kentucky, this past Tuesday. I started my new job at the First Christian Church of Henderson on Wednesday. This morning it was my privilege to share my first message with this congregation as their new pastor. Although new beginnings can be very stressful and scary, I am excited about where God has brought me and I look forward to what is ahead.

AD2408I’m glad that my new beginning has coincided with the season of spring. Spring in many ways represents a new beginning for the earth. I was reminded of that a few days ago as I took a walk in nearby John James Audubon State Park. The wildflowers bursting forth from the ground and the countless shades of green in the trees reminded me of the scripture where God declares that He makes “all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This afternoon I saw a robin feeding its chicks. Once again there was the reminder, “I make all things new.”   Wherever I seem to glance this time of the year this is the message that presents itself to me.AD2480I see behind both my own new beginning and the signs of new beginnings in nature a God of grace and mercy. I see a God who finds delight in offering us a new beginning every single day. In the third chapter of the Book of Lamentations we find these beautiful words: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (vs. 22-23) How awesome it is that we get a chance to start over or begin again every day of our lives! It is even more awesome to know that the God of all Creation is with us on this journey and provides us with both His presence and love constantly.

When you wake up tomorrow, make sure to offer thanks to God for the gift of new beginnings. And then do it again the day after that.  And the day after that…

–Chuck

(I took the three images shown here this past week at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY.)


Jan 11 2012

Finding God in a Barren Winter Tree

On this date in 1611 Nicholas Herman was born in Lorraine, France.  Nicholas would eventually become known simply as “Brother Lawrence,” the monk who wrote the timeless classic The Practice of the Presence of God.  In this little book Brother Lawrence shares what he sees as the secret of the spiritual life, it is turning every moment into an opportunity for prayer or “the practice of the presence of God.”  Brother Lawrence said by doing so he was able to feel God’s presence just as near while he was washing dishes in the monastery kitchen as he did when he observed the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

I have been familiar with Brother Lawrence’s writings for many years.  What I did not know until today was the story of his conversion.  I learned in the book, Common Prayer, that gazing at a barren tree one winter Nicholas Herman “saw for the first time the majesty of God’s grace and the constancy of God’s providence.  He imagined himself like the tree, waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring in season.”  Not long after this experience Nicholas became a lay brother in the Carmelite monastery in Paris and received the name, Brother Lawrence.

I find this story of Brother Lawrence’s conversion fascinating.  Who would have thought that God might speak to someone through a barren winter tree?  Moses’ burning bush makes sense to me, a barren winter tree doesn’t.  But that’s my problem, not God’s.  It should be apparent to all of us by this time that God has no limitations on how He can speak or what He might use to get our attention.  Yes, it should be apparent, but that is not always so.  It is so easy to forget this vital truth and for that reason only look for God in the spectacular or highly unusual.  Doing so, we may very well miss Him altogether. 

I appreciate Brother Lawrence’s initial awareness at the barren winter tree that it symbolized himself “waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring.”  If we are going through “barren” times right now, the barren trees we see around us this time of year serve as reminders that the seasons will change.  We will not always be where we are right now.  As Brother Lawrence understood, they also remind us that God is the one who “makes all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) This is a reminder we need not just in winter but throughout the year.

If you are not familiar with Brother Lawrence and his classic of Christian devotion, The Practice of the Presence of God, I highly encourage you to find a copy of this book and read it.  You’ll be glad you did.

–Chuck

(I took the two images above in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.)