Dec 25 2014

A Baby Changes Everything

2014 Christmas cardLet me begin by wishing you a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you happen to be reading this.  Last night the church I serve had a late night Christmas Eve Service.  For the message I shared with them I found inspiration in the beautiful Christmas song penned by K. K. Wiseman a few years ago that was recorded by Faith Hill.  It is called A Baby Changes Everything.  Obviously the coming of a baby into any home “changes everything” but never was that so true as the child that Mary brought into the world that first Christmas long ago.

In my Christmas homily I talked about how the baby who was born in Bethlehem long ago went on to change how we look at God, how we look at ourselves and also how we are to look at others.  I very easily could have gone on to talk about how the coming of Jesus also changes the way that we are to look at the earth.  There are a number of different ways this is true.

_DSC4328The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear that the earth is “good.”  After each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was (is) good.  Later the Psalmist would declare that “the earth is the Lord’s.” (24:1)  The fact that God made and owns the earth would indicate that it is quite special.  But realizing that God actually came to earth and for a time made His dwelling here (John 1:14) makes it clear that the earth should also be viewed as holy or sacred.  This planet of our was blessed to be visited by its Maker.  That fact alone sets the earth apart.  We should learn to view this place we live as holy ground and treat it as such.

Jesus would also change the way we look at the earth when he repeatedly used the world of nature as teaching tools for spiritual principles.  The earth, for him, contained a repository of divine lessons.  He told us to pay attention to the birds above us and to the flowers at our feet.  In his parables he often pointed to plants and other natural objects as divine indicators.  The way Jesus looked at the world should change the way we look at it too.  Like him, we are to see the earth as a school of higher learning—much higher learning!

_DSC8035The one born at Bethlehem not only used the natural world as object lessons in his teaching ministry, he also sought the presence of his Father there.  We know that Jesus did attend the synagogues of Palestine and visited the Temple in Jerusalem on a number of occasion but we also learn in the Gospels that it was his custom to find solitude with God on lonely hillsides and in the stillness of garden enclosures.  Later some of Jesus’ followers would come to view the world as evil.  He, however, found it to be a place where God can be found and encountered in a multitude of different ways.  We should look at the earth in the same way.

Today I am very thankful for the many changes the baby born in Bethlehem has made in my life.  I, and hopefully others too, now see God, myself, others and the earth itself differently because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”


(I took the three pictures used above not far from my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)

Oct 6 2014

Though the Earth Should Change

_DSC0854I have just spent a wonderful week photographing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a great time away from the stress of moving into a new home and the usual pressures that come with being a minister.  Even more so, it was a great time to be out in the beauty of God’s Creation and to enjoy the splendor of autumn in the North Woods.  I have witnessed autumn in a number of locations all across North America and would concur with those who say autumn in the UP is hard to beat.

_DSC8504This was only my second trip to this region.  A friend I traveled with has been over thirty times.  One of the things that came up in many of our discussions was how various things had changed.  We hiked to one of the most popular waterfalls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and when we got to the platform designed for viewing the falls my friend was disappointed to discover that the trees in front of the falls had grown so tall that they basically blocked the view of the falls he remembers so fondly.  We stopped at another waterfall that both of us had visited on previous trips and were surprised to see that the falls had completely dried up.  Many times throughout the trip we were reminded that in nature things change.

Due to technological advancements the past couple of generations have experienced change at a far more rapid rate than those that went before them.  I remember as a kid marveling at Dick Tracy’s wrist radio transmitter.  Today the iPhone I carry in my pocket does far more than could have been imagined back in that day.  I have been photographing seriously about twenty-two years.  I marvel at how much has changed with cameras in that time.

_DSC8928The changes we have experienced in just the past few years is enough to make one’s head spin.  It is also enough to cause one to be unsettled.  How can one have any sense of peace or security in an ever changing world?  Some might answer that one cannot find either but I would suggest they are wrong.  More than ever I’m convinced that there is one place, or more accurately one person, where we can find a still point and a source of security and that is in God.

_DSC0942A passage that gives me both comfort and hope can be found in Psalm 46.  Here we are told “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Many times during this past week as I have contemplated changes in both nature and society I have given thanks for the refuge we find in God.  I have also reflected more than once on these words from my favorite hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”  In a world that is forever changing it is good to be able to point to and hold on to One who never changes.  Wouldn’t you agree?


(The images used above were taken this past week on my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Jan 1 2014

Consistency and Change

_CES8101Happy New Year!  2014 arrived just after midnight last night.  From what I have seen and heard many are excited about the arrival of a new year.  Others, it would seem, face the coming twelve months with a bit of fear and trepidation.  Some expect great things to come in 2014 while others expect the worse.  A million people gathered on the streets of New York City last night to party and bring in the new year, while untold millions did the same elsewhere.  Not an insignificant number, myself included, were already nestled in bed and sound asleep before the ball dropped, the horns sounded and everyone kissed.

_CES2906I will confess that the coming of a new year is not a big deal for me.  I think one reason a lot of people do get excited about the dawn of another year is that it represents a new beginning or a second chance.  For me, these are gifts of grace that God offers us each and every day.  This makes a new year less significant for me.  I guess I also lean heavily on the realist side, I know that a new year will no doubt bring some new changes but for the most part it will be more of the same.  Am I wrong about that?

e_CES0395Not just every year but every day we find a mixture of consistency and change.  Nature itself teaches us that.  Every morning the sun rises and each evening the sun sets.  Here we find a perfect example of consistency.  Not all sunrises and sunsets, however, are the same.  Some you do not actually witness due to clouds; others are pretty but not dramatic; while still others are incredibly dramatic.   Another good example from nature is the seasons.  Every year we have winter, spring, summer and autumn.  The sun will mark these by the solstices and equinoxes.  Here we find consistency.  How we experience those seasons each year, however, is not the same.  There will be some degree of variability in rain, snow, wind and/or temperature. This is the change that comes with the seasons.

Just by observing nature I can go out on a limb and make this bold prediction—2014 will be a year filled with consistency and change.  (Just kidding, there’s definitely nothing bold about that prediction but I am still sticking with it.)  What is far more difficult for me to predict is how we will respond to the sameness of life and the changes that will also come along.  It’s hard to predict because these are things each of us have a certain degree of control over.  We will not all respond the same way.

Change of any kind is frightening to a lot of people.  They are quite content with the way things are and change might threaten that contentment.  Such people do everything they can do avoid change.  Others love and are quick to embrace change.  Change brings excitement to their life and some will for this reason deliberately seek out change.  I tend to be more like the former group.  I like living in my comfort zone and am not prone to go seeking change.  Even though this is my tendency, I realize that it may not be the best way to live my life.  I also realize that I do not have to continue to fear or avoid change.  I can choose to live differently.  So can you.

_CES0722We also all have a choice when it comes to dealing with the consistent things in our lives.  Dealing with the consistent elements of life is not something that is often addressed but I feel it should be.  Too many people find that which is consistent boring and monotonous, not worthy of their attention.   We need to be careful that we do not lose our sense of awe and appreciation for those things that are basically the same every day.  If we do, we may find ourselves taking for granted the beautiful earth God has given us and also the people God has placed in our lives.  Thankfully, here too, we get to choose.

I’m not big on making New Year resolutions but if I were to make one today it might be to strive hard in the coming year to celebrate the wonder of it all—both the changing and the unchanging.


(I took all of the pictures in today’s post near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Nov 3 2013

Change, Fear and Creation

HS0139When I moved to western Kentucky six months ago I already had in the back of my mind the question, what will I do for fall photography?  Living in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky the past twenty-four years had spoiled me.  For autumn beauty few places can match the splendor of the southern Appalachian mountains.  After that many years in the area there were numerous locations I could count on for spectacular fall images and I returned to many of them year after year.  But now I live between five and seven hours from those spots.  I knew I would not be able to return to this familiar territory this year and could only hope that I would be able to find something to photograph.  Part of me feared that I would not be able to find anything in my present region that would move me like my beloved mountains further east.

GG7146Thankfully I can report that I have found a number of wonderful locations to do nature photography in western Kentucky and southern Illinois and Indiana as well.  The scenery nearby may not have tall mountains but the beauty of God’s Creation is surely manifest here as well.  I’ve enjoyed photographing in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area since moving to Henderson, Kentucky, but really did not think it would be a good location for fall photography.  On Friday I learned I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I also made another trip to Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois on Friday and was impressed with the colors there.  There is a ruggedness to this location that already has found a niche in my heart.  Today I spent a couple of hours photographing at James John Audubon State Park.  Here in Audubon’s old stomping grounds I found a brilliant display of autumn’s palette.  As I drove home I found myself offering thanks for being able to live in such a beautiful part of the country.

ASP0294I share all of this to remind myself and you that the change we often fear can, at times, turn out to be a wonderful blessing.  I have never found change to be easy.  I understand that change is inevitable but at the same time when I know changes are coming fear is usually my first response.  I start to worry about whether I will be able to adapt to what is to come.  I stress out about the unknown before me.  Still, over the years I have come to learn that despite my fears I can always move forward because God is with me.  Countless times I have turned to Joshua 1:9 for comfort.  There God says “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”   In God I find my constant in the midst of change.  He is, after all, the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

ASP0397I am also discovering that the constancy of God’s presence is evident in nature.  I do not have to be in the mountains to feel or sense God’s nearness.  The geography, flora and fauna may change in the places that I live and travel to but the One who made all things continues to reveal Himself to me through that which He has made wherever I happen to be.  In nature we find a perpetual reminder that in the midst of an ever-changing world there stands the unchanging Creator who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  That makes facing change far less scary for me.  I hope it does for you too.


(I took the top image at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, and the bottom two images at John James Audubon State Park.)

Oct 24 2012

The Importance of Today

For those willing to learn, nature has much to teach them.  One such lesson is that change is inevitable and is always taking place.  It can be hard to see at times but if you look closely, changes are taking place every single day, every single moment, in the natural world.  At other times, it’s not hard to see at all.

Last week while photographing at Custer State Park in South Dakota I saw the beautiful aspen grove shown above.  I remember thinking how blessed I was to be here to see this particular grove at this particular time.  I knew that had I come a week earlier it would not have been filled with so much yellow.  I also knew that if I had come a week later the leaves would likely have been gone.

A couple of days after taking the picture above I passed by this particular grove once again.  The scene had changed drastically.  A wind storm swept through during the night and had blown almost all of the leaves off the trees.  It was hard to believe how so quickly all the leaves were shed.  It made me grateful that I had taken the time earlier to stop and photograph the grove.  Had I not, I would have missed something special.

All of my life I have heard the saying, “never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”  This wise saying, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is one we should all pay heed too.  Why?  Because we have no guarantee of tomorrow.  This is something the Bible makes clear in numerous places.  Proverbs 27:1 says “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  In the Book of James we read: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (4:13-14)

We can all learn from both nature and the Scriptures that change is inevitable and that life is uncertain.  Recognizing this we ought to live our lives more deliberately and with a greater sense of urgency.  We should make the most of every day.  We should also realize that we may not have a chance to do tomorrow what we can do today.

Is there someone you need to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” to?  If so, it would be wise not to wait until tomorrow to do so.  Is there someone you’ve been meaning to say “thank you” to?  Once again, it would be wise not to wait until tomorrow to do so.  The barren aspen trees I saw in South Dakota, along with the wisdom the Bible offers, helps me understand the importance of today.