“See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Hebrews 12:15
Last night I started reading Max Lucado’s newest book, Grace. On the very first page Lucado writes: “Grace is God’s best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly—what rivals it? Of all his wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus. Friendship is next. Friends become couriers of grace, conduits of heaven’s grace.” I concur with what Max says; grace truly is “God’s best idea.” God’s grace is amazing! I would also have to agree that friendship is another one of God’s best ideas. I cannot imagine living my life without the friends God has blessed me with.
As I read the first few chapters of the book last evening I found myself thinking about how God’s grace is revealed in Creation. In fact, I pondered how the creation of the world was an act of grace. Grace is often defined as “God’s unmerited favor” and surely we can see God’s favor written all over Creation. The fact that we did not merit or deserve what God has provided goes without saying.
I believe that beauty itself is an act of divine grace. Everything that God created has a purpose; it is there for a reason. But why did God throw in so much beauty into the mix? Grace. As a God of grace and love God chose to make many things not just useful but beautiful. While the various aspects of nature fulfill their purpose we get to find pleasure and enjoyment from them. Trees and flowers are good examples. So are clouds and rivers and birds. You could go on and on. Everywhere we look we find God’s grace made manifest.
The air we breathe is a gift of God. The sun that gives us light and warmth is a gift of God. The rain that falls to the earth is a gift of God. The moon and stars that brighten the night are a gift from God. Every plant (even those some call “weeds”) and every animal (large or small) is a gift from God. God did not have to create any of these. So why did He? Grace.
Yes, I know that the clearest revelation of God’s love and grace is found in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, but we will miss so many examples of God’s amazing grace if we fail to see and recognize that same grace revealed in the world His Son created. Feeling the need for a little more grace today? Just look around you.
(Having been inspired by my friend Stan Burman’s pictures from Colorado this past week I decided to illustrate today’s blog with some images I took with him in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado a few years ago. I took the top image at Kebler Pass and the bottom two at Owl Creek Pass.)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
It was about twenty years ago this time I made a life-changing decision. That decision was to seriously pursue nature photography as a hobby. I was at a point in my life where I was stressed out and very close to being burned out as a minister. I desperately needed an outlet and after briefly considering pottery as an option I settled on learning how to photograph nature. I realize that choosing a hobby probably doesn’t sound like a life-changing decision to a lot of people but it certainly was for me.
Making nature photography an avocation helped me to manage better the stress that is inherent in pastoral ministry. I really don’t know if I would have been able to continue had I not done so. Eventually photography would become an extension of my ministry, but that is another story. When I get a chance to talk to young ministers today I always make it a point to encourage them to make sure to find a good hobby.
The decision to pursue photography also opened the door to a whole new realm of friends. Many of my dearest friends today are photographers. My life has been tremendously enriched through getting to know Rob Sheppard, Bill Fortney, Ken Jenkins, Pat O’Hara, Stan Burman and many others. I actually have more photography friends than I do friends that are pastors.
Even though I loved nature prior to taking up photography I know that I would not have had the many incredible experiences in God’s Creation that I have had were it not for that choice I made twenty years ago. To pursue nature photography meant I needed to expose myself to more of nature. This led to lots of travel and exploration. A couple of nights ago I had trouble going to sleep so I began reflecting on some of the highlights from my past twenty years of photography. Before I fell asleep I came to the conclusion that I have to be one of the most blessed persons on earth. The variety and awesomeness of the places and things I have seen while photographing is almost unbelievable!
Finally, the decision to pursue nature photography has helped me to see the world in a whole new light. It’s hard to explain but when photography is an important part of your life you just see things differently. You see more and this is perhaps what has been the most life-changing thing of all. It’s also the best thing because in the process I have come to see God more clearly in the world around me and this has drawn me much closer to Him.
Twenty years after the fact I cannot imagine what my life would be like today had I not made the decision I did. At the time I thought I was just choosing a way to help me deal with stress. Upon reflection it is obvious that there was a lot more going on than that. I’m convinced that God was at work in that decision and that He had a plan for my life I knew nothing about. Today I simply want to share with you my gratitude for that plan and for the God who made it possible.
(I’ve included today some samples of my early photography. The top two images were made in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. The bottom image was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
I have a good friend who lives in Page, Arizona, named Stan Burman. Before retiring Stan worked at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. He loves the West and its rich history. Through our friendship he has created in me an interest in the ancient Cliff Dwellers. I’ve read a number of books he has given me on the subject and recently went so far as to purchase an Anasazi bowl from a dealer. I was quite excited about my purchase. You can only imagine the horror and disappointment I experienced this past week when I opened the package containing my bowl only to discover it had broken into five pieces during shipment. I immediately contacted Stan to let him know what had happened. His response surprised me. He said, “It’s amazing what a little Elmer’s glue will do.” I purchased some Elmer’s glue and by following Stan’s directions was able to put the bowl back together. It really doesn’t look bad at all.
About the same time all this was taking place I read the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In the first chapter of this book Paul speaks of Jesus being “the firstborn over all creation” and then adds, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.” (v. 16) It was what Paul said next that caught my attention. Verse 17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Paul makes an astonishing claim here. He believed that it was Jesus who held this world together, that he is the glue that makes things stick. Now obviously this is not a claim that can be backed by science but that does not mean it is not true. By faith Paul held that it is the Creator’s hand that holds the world together. By faith, I accept this to be true as well.
As the season of Thanksgiving approaches we should give thanks not just for the existence of this beautiful world God has created but also for its divine preservation. When I look at my restored Anasazi bowl I think I’ll always think of Colossians 1:17. I’ll also give thanks for Elmer’s glue and for the glue that holds Creation together—the hand of my Savior and Lord.
(I took these two images while visiting Stan at Glen Canyon N.R.A. The top image was captured at Horseshoe Bend and the bottom at Romana Mesa.)