May 5 2014

Joyful Gratitude

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

_DSC4257Recently, while reading Joan Chittister’s book The Breath of the Soul, I came across some very insightful words.  In a chapter called “Blessing” Joan claims bounty and beauty and abundance give us a foretaste of wholeness.  She says “These are the palpable manifestations of the goodness of God in our lives” and “they are simply signs that the God of life is a living, loving God.”  She goes on to say, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.  It confirms our trust in God.  It affirms the greatness of creation.  It seals our dependence on God.  It attests to the beauty of the present and asserts our confidence in the beauty of the future.  It recognizes the mercy and love of God.” Finally, she says “When we celebrate the good things in life, we trace them to the Creator who gives without merit, openhandedly, out of the very goodness of community, love, and support that are by nature at the base of the human condition.”

_DSC3818I find in Chittister’s words a needed call to live my life in joyful gratitude.  I know for a fact that I am richly blessed.  When I do take time to count my blessings I am always amazed at just how blessed I am.  It is helpful to remember that the good I see in my life is a sign that “the God of life is a living, loving God.” I must ever keep in mind that God is the Giver of all good gifts. (James 1:17)  I must also bear in mind that such “bounty and beauty and abundance” deserves to be celebrated.  I will confess that many times when I give thanks it is out of a sense of duty or obligation.  Joy does not always characterize my thanksgiving.  I suspect that there is a big difference in simply listing the things I am thankful for and being keenly aware of the things I am thankful for.  The biggest difference may well be the presence of joy.

When I am outdoors in a natural setting I tend to be more aware of my immediate blessings.  I seem to be more joyful.  Part of the reason for this may be that bounty, beauty and abundance are more evident in nature for me than other areas of my life.  In God’s Creation I am often overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.  In my mind I know that there are just as many blessings in the other areas of my life but those blessings might not be as easy to see as the ones I find in the natural world.  At least not presently.

_DSC3747Over the years I have trained myself to see and experience the goodness of God in Creation.  I sense I need to begin to train myself to see better the blessings of God that are found elsewhere.   I need to be more open to experiencing the goodness of God in my family and friends, in literature and the arts, and in the very exercise of living itself.  There are so many other things that bring joy to my life.  These things are also cause for celebration for they, too, are things that can be traced back to God and are, indeed, “palpable manifestations” of God’s goodness and grace.

I encourage you to join me on this journey of not only counting one’s blessings but joyfully celebrating them as well.  Chittister is right, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.” 


(I took the images above this past Friday at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. (KY) and Garden of the Gods (IL).

Aug 14 2013

A Visit to Living Waters

_CES1078This past weekend I had a chance to spend some time alone at a wilderness cabin in the foothills of the North Cascades. The cabin, built along the lines of the one Thoreau constructed at Walden Pond, is placed in a beautiful setting on an eighty acre piece of property.  Although not totally devoid of outside noise it is a quiet place, a place where elk, bear and cougars roam.  Near the cabin is a lake where beavers maintain a dam and various ducks find a home.  I am a person who enjoys both wilderness settings and being alone but I will admit that even with the animals around the isolation of the cabin was a bit unnerving at first.  Still, I was glad to be there and to have a chance to study, pray, and photograph. It did not take me long at all to begin to sense the presence of God in this place.

_CES1167There are a variety of reasons why I sensed God’s presence at this location.  The primary reason is obvious to regular readers of this blog; the Bible clearly notes that God reveals Himself in nature and beauty.  There is another reason however.  The cabin and land is owned by Michael and Elizabeth Boone.  They call the place Living Waters and have dedicated it to God and His service.  They have prayed extensively over the land and share it periodically with others in the hope that their guests might experience God’s nearness in this special place.  For them, and those who visit it, Living Waters is holy ground.  I find it exciting and inspirational that people like the Boones will set aside a piece of property for a purpose like this.  Church camps have existed for years but it would be great if more individuals could or would do the same.

_CES7389One of the lessons I was reminded of while at Living Waters is how the Scriptures can come alive in a unique way when read in a natural setting.  Sunday morning I read through the Book of John and there were a number of passages that seemed to stand out simply due to where I sat.  One such passage, appropriately enough, was Jesus’ promise of “streams of living water” to those who believe in him. (7:37)  I also happened to read Psalm 50 while there.  This psalm begins with the words, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”  The idea of God summoning the earth seemed something very special in that particular setting.  Later in the psalm God says “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle of a thousand hills.  I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine…  For the world is Mine, and all it contains.” It was a powerful reminder that the various animals I had seen (including the rabbit shown here) and heard there all belonged to God.  I didn’t know the names of the birds I was seeing on the lake but God did.  I have no doubt that the words I read that day would not have meant quite the same to me had I been sitting at home.  Reading the Bible outdoors is something we should all attempt to do more often.

CES_1062Toward the end of Psalm 50 you’ll find the words, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the most high.”  In that wilderness setting I could not help but offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  I was literally surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation and felt His presence near; my heart swelled with gratitude.  It seemed that I could hardly walk around outside without offering a word of thanks to God for the beauty and wonders of His Creation. Something tells me that this is what God intended from the beginning of time.  The Creation is there constantly beckoning us to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who brought it all into existence.  I hope we’ll learn to pay attention to Creation’s call and give God the gratitude He is due.


(All of the images shown here were taken this past weekend at Living Waters. A huge thanks goes to the Boones and R120 for making my visit possible!)

Jun 5 2013

Can I Get a Witness?

burrowing owlI was reading William Barclay’s commentary on the Book of Colossians last night when I came across a couple of passages which really spoke to me.  First there was this: “The distinguishing mark of the true Church is an abounding and overflowing gratitude.  Thanksgiving is the constant and characteristic note of the Christian life.”  I found myself agreeing with Barclay.  A Christian should be the most thankful person alive.  When you stop to think about all that Christ has done for us you simply cannot help but be thankful.  As children of God we should be expressing our gratitude every single day.  And when we gather with other Christians for worship thanksgiving ought to be a vital part of the service.  If gratitude is not a dominant trait of a church then something is wrong with that church.

Julia Pffeifer SP waterfallThe other passage that spoke to me was this: “The one concern of the Christian is to tell in words and to show in life his gratitude for all that God has done for him in nature and in grace.”  For some reason I did not expect to see the reference to nature here.   I grew up in an evangelical environment and heard early on the importance of bearing witness to God’s salvation.  I was taught to be grateful and to share with other people all the good things God had done for me.  The hope was that someone who did not know Christ might then express the desire to be saved.  In my words and in my life I was supposed to be a witness of God’s goodness and love.

Vermillion Cliffs viewWith that background it seemed strange to read in Barclay’s commentary equal attention being given to sharing a witness with both one’s words and life to all that God has done for me “in nature.”   A part of me wondered if he was using the word “nature” in a different way than I typically do.  Perhaps he was.  Still, as I have given it further thought, it seems quite appropriate to me that showing gratitude for God’s Creation and its provisions, along with telling others about their goodness, ought to be one of primary concerns or goals of those who worship and acknowledge Christ as the Creator.

BG 409I’ve written numerous times here about how Creation is God’s “other Book.” Through Creation we learn much about God and His ways.  Each day we ought to give thanks for the way God makes Himself known through that which He has made. I’ve also written often in this blog about the goodness of the Creation, how God has designed the world, in part, to meet our needs.  There is so much in Creation to be thankful for.  Each day we ought to give thanks for things like the sun, the wind, trees, rain, clouds, rivers, mountains and lakes.  Each day we should express our gratitude for water to drink, food to eat, and air to breathe.  All of these are gifts from God, gifts that call for thanksgiving and gratitude.  All of these are, likewise, gifts worth telling others about.  The fact that they are so common and present all the time might lead us to believe that they are not so special or important.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  God has richly blessed us all in both the spiritual and natural realm.  We need to gratefully acknowledge this and at the same time bear witness to these blessings with others.

John Muir thought of himself as “an evangelist” for the wilderness.  I suspect God could use more evangelists like him.  People who would declare the wonders of Creation, give thanks for them, and point others to the Creator.  Next time you are outdoors try to be as still and attentive as you possibly can.  Listen closely.  Perhaps you might just hear God’s own voice saying, “Can I get a witness?”


Apr 7 2013

The Discipline of Thanksgiving

flowerThere is a daily devotional book called “Jesus Calling” that appears to be quite popular.  Two different people have given me copies of this book.  The author is Sarah Young and she claims that the messages were given to her by Christ to be shared with others.  I have to confess that I tend to be skeptical when people make claims such as this but I also have to admit as I’ve read these daily entries the last couple of months there have been numerous times I felt the words were indeed divine.  Yesterday’s reading is a good example.  It concerned  thankfulness.  The reading begins: “Bring me the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Take nothing for granted, not even the rising of the sun.”  It then goes on to talk about how Eve lost her thankful heart when she began to desire the forbidden fruit found in the Garden of Eden.  The point is made that when we focus on and desire what we don’t or can’t have we usually lose our sense of gratitude.

Pacific Coast sunset 609The writer then says, “When you focus on what you don’t have or on situations that displease you, your mind becomes darkened.  You take for granted life, salvation, sunshine, flowers, and countless other gifts from Me.  You look for what is wrong and refuse to enjoy life until that is ‘fixed.’  When you approach Me with thanksgiving, the Light of My Presence pours into you, transforming you through and through.  Walk in the Light with Me by practicing the discipline of thanksgiving.”

These are words I needed to hear.  I’d be surprised if you didn’t need to hear them, too, for it truly is difficult for us to remain grateful for God’s many blessings when we fix our gaze or that which we don’t or can’t have.  We will experience much more peace and joy in life if we can learn to focus on what we do have, not what we don’t.  The apostle Paul said he had “learned to be content whatever the circumstance.” (Philippians 4:12) It would be nice if we could learn to do the same.

_CES1915The words from this daily devotional also remind us that living with an attitude of gratitude will open our eyes to all the blessings that surround us.  We won’t take for granted the sun, the flowers, the budding trees, the birds singing around us or the grass growing at our feet.  God’s blessings literally surround us every day but if  our minds are darkened by ingratitude we’ll miss these blessings.  What a shame that would be!

I suggest we take the words from this devotional reading to heart.  Let’s all strive to walk in the light of God’s presence and practice daily the discipline of thanksgiving.  We have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.


(I took the top image at Cypress Gardens in South Carolina, the middle image somewhere along the coast of California, and the bottom image at Redwood National Park.)

Nov 28 2012

“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”

The season of Advent begins this coming Sunday.  I’ve noticed a number of bloggers are already addressing themes associated with Advent and Christmas.  For some reason, I’m still stuck on thanksgiving.  This past Sunday I preached a sermon in which I called on people to make thanksgiving a way of life, not just a holiday celebrated once a year.  There are certainly many biblical calls to thanksgiving.  The Psalmist encouraged us to enter God’s “gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” (100:4)  The apostle Paul commanded the church at Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18)  I believe that God deserves all the thanks and praise we can give Him and that living with an attitude of gratitude also makes life much more enjoyable and meaningful.

At the end of our service on Sunday we sang the wonderful hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The words to this hymn were written by Henry van Dyke and the music was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.  I’ve sung this song my entire life but had not really noticed all the references to nature in it until this past Sunday.  The second verse, in particular, is filled with allusions to Creation: “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise.  Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.”

In one verse van Dyke speaks of our hearts unfolding to God like flowers before the sun above.  In this same verse one finds the plea, “fill us with the light of day.”  Another verse describes God as “well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!”  In still yet another verse the writer calls on humans to join Creation in joyful praise but also bids “stars of morning, take your part.”

Beethoven’s music, taken from his Ninth Symphony, adds much to this delightful summons to praise.  It is truly a wonderful hymn and does a wonderful job of reminding us how we, along with the rest of Creation, are called to offer God joyful worship.  The Creator deserves not just the praise of His people but the adoration of all He has made!

Even though the Psalmist, and people like St. Francis and Henry van Dyke, called on Creation to give God praise I’m not sure how much we can do to spur the rest of Creation to worship God.  I have a feeling such spurring is actually unnecessary.  Unfortunately, it is we who often must be spurred.  So I want to encourage you to stop and count your blessings, to contemplate the goodness of both the Creator and the Creation, and then do your part in offering God your joyful adoration.  If you need some help doing so, try singing or listening to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  I bet it will help.


(I took the top two images at Redwood National Park in California.  I photographed the chickadee at my home in Pikeville, Kentucky.)

Nov 23 2011

The Gift of Rain

As I write these words it’s raining outside.  That is quite appropriate in light of the words of the particular Psalm I’ve been thinking about here lately.  In Psalm 65 David says “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.  The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain,  for so you have ordained it.  You drench the furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.” (vs. 9-10)  Clearly the Psalmist wanted to offer God praise and thanksgiving for the gift of rain.  Most of us take rain for granted and at times even complain when we have too many rainy days in a row.  Perhaps we should remember here that David lived in an arid region.  People who live in deserts cannot take rain for granted.  Neither should we.

The rain that interferes with our outdoor activities and causes things to be “messy” remains one of God’s wonderful and priceless gifts.  Without the gift of rain there wouldn’t be food on our tables.  Without the gift of rain our rivers and lakes would dry up.  Without the gift of rain there would be no life.  The Psalmist recognized this.  In the remainder of Psalm 65 he adds, “You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.  The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.” (vs. 11-13)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  I suspect that you, like me, have much to give thanks for.  Like most everyone else I will give thanks for my family and friends, for my health and home, for food to eat and clothes to wear.  I will give thanks for my country and the freedoms we enjoy.  I will offer thanks for my salvation made possible through Jesus Christ and for my church.  Taking my cue from the Psalmist, this year I also intend to give thanks for the natural elements God has given to sustain us.  I will give thanks for the rain and water, for the air that we breathe, for the rich earth or soil, and for the sun and its light.  These basic elements are the foundation of our lives.  They are also all gifts of God.  So let us “shout for joy and sing.” And, yes, by all means, let us also give thanks!


P.S.  Rob and I would like to wish all of our readers a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.  We are very grateful that you take the time to read!

(Both of the images above were taken in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)