Jan 9 2013

Understanding Creation

ANP 571Names are important.  One indication of this is how most parents spend a great deal of time trying to decide what to name each of their children.  Names are also necessary.  We need them to identify ourselves and others.  They become vital in our relationships with one another.  Everyone realizes this.  What many don’t realize is that in the Bible one’s name implied much more than it does today.  In biblical thought one’s name spoke of one’s character or personality.  One’s name truly meant something.  In fact, if a person’s character changed his or her name might be changed as well.  A classic example from the Hebrew Scriptures is Jacob.  After his wrestling match with the messenger of God he received the new name, Israel.  (Genesis 32:28)

There are many names for God throughout the Scriptures.  Often this goes left unnoticed because our English translations simply render the various names, “God.”  The different names for God, however, are very important for, as already noted, in biblical thought they conveyed God’s character.  Much is revealed about who God is simply by paying attention to the various names attributed to Him  throughout the Scriptures.

ANP 165In the very first verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  A more literal reading would be “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  This is the name for God that is used here.  This particular name goes a long way back and was used by pagans prior to being adopted by the Hebrews.  It referred to one who was chief among the gods.  Elohim was understood to be a deity of great power, as well as king and judge.  He was also viewed as one who was merciful and gracious.

ANP 119Understanding a bit of this background adds meaning to the Creation story.  It gives us a better grasp of the Who behind Creation.  The One who made the heavens and the earth was/is the supreme God.  God’s great power and sovereignty are underscored by the biblical insistence that Elohim spoke the world into being.  Just as important to me, if not more so, is the affirmation that the One who created the world is merciful and gracious.  Throughout the Creation story in Genesis one (where the name Elohim appears 26 times) we are told that what God made was deemed “good.”  Creation is, in fact, “good” because behind it stands One who is also good, merciful and gracious.  It is our anthropocentric tendency that makes us think we determine what is good or not.  When it comes to Creation, however, we do not get to make the call.  It has already been made.  Creation is good because Elohim has declared it to be.

ANP 835I truly believe that a proper understanding of Creation is necessary for a healthy world view.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin affects how we look at ourselves.  Because God created the world we know that life has purpose and meaning.  We are not here by accident.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin should also help remind us of our proper relationship to the earth.  First, it will reveal that we do not own the earth, God does. Psalm 24:1 insists that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  In the very next verse the Psalmist explains why the earth is the Lord’s: “for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”  Second, we are told in Genesis 2:15 that the first humans were placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.”  This clearly reveals that one of God’s intentions for us is to be responsible stewards of the good earth He created.  Knowing this should definitely affect how we live our lives.

I’m not sure I could emphasize enough the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  What it says about God and about us is vital to our existence.  I encourage you in the days ahead to spend some time reflecting on your own understanding of Creation and on the One who was gracious and merciful enough to share it with us.


(All of the images used today were taken at Acadia National Park in Maine.)

Feb 12 2012

The Gift of Today

In Psalm 118:24 we read the words, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I’ve heard these words quoted my entire life.  Usually they were spoken by ministers at the beginning of a worship service.  The Psalmist words are certainly appropriate at such a time, but they are actually words to be affirmed each and every day.  Every single day is a gift from God.  Every day God continues His work of Creation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The day was God’s first creation, something miraculous and mighty in the hand of God.  For us the day has completely lost its creaturely and wondrous nature.  We use it—and abuse it—but we don’t accept it as a gift.  We don’t live it.”  He also said, “The daily works of God are the rhythms in which creation occurs.”  Bonhoeffer’s words have caused me to recognize anew how every day is a gift from God and also evidence of the Creator’s ongoing work of Creation. 

During Communion at church this morning our two wonderful accompanists played the song “Morning Has Broken.”  The words of this song echo both Psalm 118:24 and Bonhoeffer’s belief that each new day reveals evidence of the Creator’s hand.  The first verse says, “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird.  Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!”  The last verse adds, “Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!  Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day!”

I have a feeling that if we could begin each morning reciting Psalm 118:24 and reflecting on the words to “Morning Has Broken” it would go a long way in getting our day off to a good start.  Such a practice would surely lead us to begin the day offering praise to the Giver of all good gifts and would help prepare our eyes to see more of God in the gift of His Creation.  Why not give it a try?


(I’ve included two daybreak  images I captured on my trip to Maine this past fall–the top one from Acadia National Park and the bottom one from Baxter State Park.)

Oct 16 2011

A Spiritual Polarizer

There’s a wonderful filter nature photographers use called a polarizer.  Like polarizing sunglasses they cut glare.  This filter can be useful in a number of different situations.  They can make clouds stand out in a sky, make the colors of fall foliage look more saturated, and removed unwanted glare on subjects.  I used my polarizer to do each of these things on my recent trip to New England.  In the picture you see to the left I used a polarizer to cut the glare on the surface of a tide pool so that the items below would be visible.  Without a polarizer you would not be able to see the subject as clearly, as seen in the image below where the subject is only slighltly polarized. 

In this blog Rob and I talk often about the possibility of seeing God more clearly in Creation.  As I was photographing the tide pools in Acadia National Park I found myself thinking it would be nice if we had some kind of spiritual filter comparable to a polarizer, something that would help us see God below the surface of things.  Perhaps there is such a filter.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)   When our hearts are pure we are able to see through the glare created by sin or impurity and see God much more clearly.

I know it’s not a popular thing to talk about sin but the Bible reveals that sin affects each of our lives.  The apostle Paul said, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)  He also indicated that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)  It would appear that another one of sin’s “wages” is glare.  Sin keeps us from seeing God in both Creation and others.  It clouds our vision and prohibits a clear view God.

If we want to see more of God we can help ourselves by dealing with the sin we find in our lives.  We will also benefit by striving for a pure heart, one that is truly focused on Christ.  The result will be a truly “blessed” life, one where we are able to see God where we could not before. 


(I took the three images above last week at a tide pool near Otter Cove in Acadia National Park.)

Oct 12 2011

Three Missing Words

This past Sunday Pat O’Hara and I stopped by the visitor center at Acadia National Park. Along the path to the center there are a number of interpretive signs. One in particular caught my eye because it included my favorite saying by John Muir. (You can see a portion of the sign above.) As I read the quote I told Pat “There’s something missing.” For some reason the National Park Service chose to leave out the words “and pray in”. Those words belong where you see the “…”. Pat suggested we type the missing words and tape them on the sign. Perhaps we should have.


It does bother me that the the three words are missing. It bothers me because I feel just as strongly as John Muir did that the beauty of Creation is meant to lead us into communion with God. I feel that places of beauty are conducive to prayer. They certainly are for me.

This week as I have enjoyed the beauty of Acadia National Park I have found myself time and time again offering praise to my Creator for the wonders of nature. I have felt close to my Savior as I’ve walked the trails and stood upon the rocks overlooking the ocean. I have uttered the words “Thank you, Lord” countless times. Yesterday I spent some time at Otter Cove upon the recommendation of Rob. As I sat on the rocks I felt as though God were telling me that He was my Rock of refuge, my strong foundation, and the source of my strength. I was reminded that Christ is the “solid rock upon which I stand” and that “all other ground is sinking sand.” The beauty of Otter Cove ushered me into a sweet time of prayer.

There’s just something about natural places of beauty that move me spiritually, and I know I am not the only one. Muir was exactly right; we all need such places “to play in and pray in.” We need “places where nature
may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”
That is one reason why I am such a supporter of our national parks and wilderness areas. We need them not just to protect ecosystems, wildlife and unique geographical locations but so that we might have a place to retreat to–beautiful places where we can feel God’s nearness and pray.

I really don’t know why the National Park Service felt it necessary to remove the three words from Muir’s quote. Perhaps it was an effort to be “politically correct,” though I hardly think many, if any, would find the words offensive. Regardless, their omission did not lessen my inclination to pray in Acadia National Park and I would like to think that will be true for others as well.


 (I took the bottom two pictures yesterday at Otter Cove in Acadia National Park.)

Oct 2 2011

Autumn’s Lessons

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

 George Eliot once said “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”  I don’t know much about George Eliot but I have to agree with him on this one.  I love autumn and would, indeed, like to be a bird that could fly about the earth just so I could experience one autumn after another.  In a sense I guess I’ll be doing just that this coming week.  In a couple of days I’m flying (by plane) to Maine so that I can photograph the beauty of autumn in New England.  Each year I try to go somewhere that fall colors arrive earlier than they do here in the southern Appalachians.  I do this so that I can experience the splendor of fall more than once.

There is much about autumn that I enjoy.  I love the cooler temperatures that come with this season.  I enjoy the evenly balanced hours of daylight and darkness.  Autumn brings back wonderful memories of fall festivals when I was a kid, hayrides, and playing in leaves.  But most of all, I enjoy the colors of autumn.  Primarily I’m referring to the reds, yellows, and oranges of fall foliage but, as Rob would be quick to note, there are also delightful colors to be found in fall wildflowers.  Here my favorite is the unique blues of asters.

One of the things I don’t like about autumn is the beautiful colors do not last long.  By the time November rolls around most of the leaves will be off the trees and the flowers will have died.  Even if I were a bird I could only fly so long and then there would be no more autumns to enjoy.  Winter inevitably arrives.  It helps if we can admit this upfront.  If we know that something will not last forever hopefully we will be wise enough to enjoy it while we can.

As I continue thinking along these lines I realize that the brevity of autumn is a good reminder for all of us to live in the present moment and to make the most of the occasions we have to enjoy Creation and life itself.  It’s a call to “seize the day” and not wait until it is too late to do certain things we should.  This could be viewing nature’s glory but it might also be telling someone we love them or perhaps “I’m sorry.”  Autumn’s brevity also includes the reminder that the things and people we love and enjoy most will not be here forever and, for that matter, neither will we.  For that reason we should never take anyone for granted or even a single day of our lives.  Yes, autumn has much to teach us if we are ready to listen, ready to learn.  May God help us all to be good students.


(I took the top image at Baxter State Park in Maine.  The bottom two images were captured at Acadia National Park, also in Maine.  I plan to visit both parks this coming week.)

Jun 15 2009

New Perspectives

christmas-notes-8-smHow often do we go through life seeing things the same as we always do? Of course, that is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot happens during our day so if we looked at everything anew, we’d be exhausted before the day is through! Our perception needs to be restricted at times. When we are driving down the street, we don’t want to be oohing and aahing every little thing or we’d never get to our destination.

Yet, sometimes we continue this pattern when we don’t need to, or even when we could be seeing things in fresh ways. I think that is one reason why I like photographing from totally different angles at times. My Olympus E-3 has a tilting LCD that allows me to put the camera in all sorts of locations that would otherwise be hard to do. That gives me photographs that help me see the natural world from fresh eyes, and hopefully, other folks as well. In this photo taken in Acadia National Park, I also used what is called a full-frame fisheye lens to give an extremely wide-angle point of view and the curved “fisheye” perspective to further accentuate a new look at the woods of the park. This lens is so wide that you sometimes will pick up your feet or fingers in the shot, but it can be worth the effort to get such a different view.

In I Samuel 16:7, it says,”The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” While this is a passage about how Samuel should look at David, I think it applies to many things. Often we do see the wrong things and need God to give us direction, if we will listen, to see things differently. Sometimes we see nature purely from external appearances, especially as it affects us, and don’t look as deeply as perhaps we should as to what the natural world as God sees it, is really about.

— Rob Sheppard