Sep 11 2013

The Glory of the Lord

_CES8039Seeing Creation as a manifestation of God’s glory is by no means a new concept.  Both the Jewish and Christian scriptures affirm that God makes His presence known through the visible world.  Why this seems to be a novel idea to a lot of contemporary Christians baffles me.  As noted numerous times at this site, God has two books through which He has chosen to make Himself known–the Scriptures and Creation.  Here it might be of benefit to pay attention to how the “glory of God” is used in the Bible.  God’s “glory” is usually understood as a visible manifestation of His power or presence.  In the Old Testament it is often connected with the word, “Shekinah.”  Shekinah literally means “that which dwells.”  God’s glory or Shekinah is that which dwells amongst us and it takes a wide variety of forms throughout biblical history.

In Exodus 16:10 it says, “While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”  Somehow, someway, God’s glory was revealed in a cloud.  In Exodus 24:15-16 a cloud is mentioned again. “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.”  The next verse goes on to say “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (v. 17)  Here both a cloud and fire, and perhaps even Mount Sinai itself, are associated with God’s glory being revealed.

eCES8212At the end of the Book of Exodus there is a lengthy section about the construction of the tabernacle or Tent of Meeting.  Once the tabernacle was completed we’re told “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (40:34)  The Tent of Meeting in essence became God’s temporary abiding place.  Many years later King Solomon felt compelled to construct a more permanent place for God to dwell so he built a majestic temple.  Once the temple was completed “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)  The temple in Jerusalem came to represent God’s presence for His glory resided there.  Even so, King Solomon was wise enough to note in his prayer of dedication for the temple that no building could contain God.  He said, “But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!” (vs. 27)

eCES8155Sadly, many people later came to believe that God’s glory was restricted or limited to the temple.  That had never been the case nor could it ever be.  In an incredible vision the prophet Isaiah was confronted by a group of angels at the temple and heard them calling to one another saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Is. 6:3) The angels taught Isaiah, and us, that day that God’s glory is not restricted to any temple or building, the whole earth is full of His glory.   If you want to see God’s glory–to experience His presence and power–there is no shortage of places to look.  It can be found throughout His Creation.

The glory of the Lord which can be seen in Creation is quite real.  It is not, however, the final or fullest expression of God’s glory.  That would be found in Christ.  The author of the Fourth Gospel wrote: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).  John helps us understand why the glory of God is revealed more in the person of Christ than in Creation.  He says in 1:3 “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”   Christ is preeminent over Creation because he is the author of Creation.  In the end it is his glory that we see reflected in Creation; it is his glory that fills Creation.  Therefore, for those with eyes to see, seeing Creation is a vital component of seeing Christ.  It also means that we see Creation best when we do so through the lens of Christ but that is a discussion that will have to wait for another day.


(I took the pictures shown above this past week at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area near where I live.)

Jan 16 2011

Reflections on Snow and Grace

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott

Elkmont 177This past weekend I had the privilege of going to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to speak once again at the annual Wilderness Wildlife Week.  This is an outstanding event held each January and if you are not familiar with it I’d encourage you to check it out sometime.  While I was in Pigeon Forge I was able to drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a couple of times to photograph.  The fact that the park had received several inches of snow prior to my arrival made this an extra special adventure.

I love being able to get out in the woods after it has snowed, especially before a lot of other people get there and create a bunch of tracks.  A snowy landscape is so beautiful and pristine.  It is absolutely amazing how a heavy snow can transform a scene.  Things that might have looked ugly or unattractive before become stunning in appearance.  I thought about this yesterday as I was photographing in the Elkmont region of the park.  I remembered, as I usually do when it snows, the Bible’s wonderful promise, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)  This led me to think further on God’s grace.  There are so many things about snow that remind me of His grace.

Elkmont 180On U2’s album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” there is a song called “Grace.”  In the final line of this song Bono sings, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”  God’s grace, like snow, makes beauty out of ugly things.  I know that for a fact.  I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in the lives of countless others.  Like gently falling snow God’s grace covers all those who are open to receiving it.  As it blankets us we find ourselves changed.  We look different.  We feel different.  We are different.  Through God’s grace our sins are “covered.”  What was dirty is made clean.  What was ugly is made beautiful. 


Today I find myself very grateful for snow and for God’s amazing grace.  I hope you do too.


(I took both of these pictures yesterday in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains N.P.)

Mar 21 2010

Spring’s Hope


“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Isaiah 40:31

Spring has sprung!  Yesterday was the first day of spring and where I live it shows.  Flowers have begun to bloom and the trees are starting to bud.  This morning I saw a robin perched on a fence.  When I was growing up I was taught that the redbreast robin was a harbinger of spring.  We have also been having warmer temperatures lately and actually gotten to see a lot of the sun. 

Spring is truly a wonderful time of the year.  Some praise spring because it means the dark, cold, gloomy days of winter are over.  Others delight in spring because of all the new growth and beauty that comes with it.  In both reasons I find spiritual parallels.

Winter truly can be a hard and depressing time.  If it were not for the promise of spring I’m not sure some folks would make it.  In each of our lives come “wintry” periods—times when life gets to be too much for us.  It can be precipitated by a prolonged illness, the death of a loved one, economic woes, a spiritually dry period in our lives, or a host of other things.  It happens to all of us.  Those who are followers of Jesus, however, know that wintry periods do not last forever.  They are always followed by spring.  That is our hope.  Either in this life or in the one to come, we always know that just as spring follows winter better days are coming.  It is this hope which sustains us.

As noted above, spring is the time when the earth seems to go through a period of renewal.  There is an explosion of color and life and light.  This transition occurs every year but we’re still awed when it happens again.  In much the same way there are periods of growth and renewal in the Christian life.  Interestingly enough, these often follow the wintry periods mentioned earlier and when they do come everything looks different to us.  In our world there is more color, life and light—even if this comes in winter.  The Creator who renews the earth on a regular basis apparently also intends for us to have times of spiritual renewal.  This, too, is cause for hope.  It means we don’t have to be, or won’t always be, where we are now.  It means God still has many blessings to bestow upon us.

I hope and pray that these days of spring will be a time of renewal for you. 


(The spring image above was taken at Laurel Lake, near Corbin, Kentucky.)

Dec 2 2009

On Wings of Eagles

Eagle-with-fish-crA few years ago about this time I had the privilege of going to Alaska to photograph bald eagles.  It was an incredible experience.  Where I live you rarely see eagles; there I was surrounded by them!

Eagles are truly fascinating birds with many interesting traits.  They are known for their keen eyesight and ability to soar high in the sky.  The Bible refers to eagles on numerous occasions. Probably my favorite “eagle verse” is Isaiah 40:31 which says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Here the majestic eagle’s ability to soar is compared to the benefit that comes from hoping in, or waiting on, the Lord.

If you’ve ever watched an eagle soar you know that this analogy makes good sense.  Eagles are able to soar because they have learned to wait for a draft and use it to lift them higher and higher.  They do not have to beat their wings to rise to greater heights; they simply use the air currents and updrafts available to them.

In our spiritual lives we often try to do too much in our own power or strength.  When we do this we become tired and weary.  The key to spiritual growth and accomplishing things for God is to wait on the Holy Spirit to lift us up or give us strength.

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages the words for wind and spirit are the same.  Like an eagle, we must wait on the wind—God’s Spirit—if we hope to fly high.   When we do, as the prophet Isaiah indicated, we are able to “soar on wings like eagles…run and not grow weary…walk and not be faint.”   This is a lesson we can all learn from one of God’s most magnificent creatures.


 (I took the image above near Haines, Alaska.)

Oct 18 2009

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

elk 015As a nature photographer I am obviously visually oriented.  When I am out photographing I enjoy looking at the beautiful scenery around me.  I then try to create compositions with my camera to showcase the beauty before me.  My enjoyment of nature, however, is not limited to the visual realm.  My other senses do not take a vacation when I’m out photographing.  In fact, if they did I would miss out on so much that brings me pleasure in nature. 

 There are many sounds in nature that I absolutely love.  Some of my favorites include elk bugling in the fall, the sound of sandhill cranes migrating, the crack, rumble and roar of glaciers calving, a geyser in Yellowstone erupting, and a canyon wren’s call echoing off canyon walls in the desert southwest.  Other favorite sounds include frogs croaking, owls hooting, eagles screaming, crickets chirping, waves splashing against the shore and waterfalls crashing.  All of these are sounds that make me love and feel close to Creation and God. 

There are Scripture verses which lead me to believe that these sounds may be there more than just for our enjoyment or, in the case of the animals, for communication’s sake.  The sounds of nature may also be understood as Creation offering praise to its Maker.  

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  In Psalm 96:11-12 we read “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy…”  Isaiah 49:13 says, “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!”  In Revelation 5:13 John writes, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” 

In some way all of Creation joins in offering praise to the Creator.  That being the case, we should be very careful to do our part as well. 


(I photograhed the elk above at Rocky Mountain National Park.)

Jun 6 2009

As White as Snow

magnolia-4481A large magnolia tree grows in my backyard.  It is a southern magnolia, a widely recognized symbol of the South.  Despite the fact that the trees’ leaves have to be constantly raked and have a knack for finding their way into our swimming pool, I’m glad the tree is there.  The tree is a beauty to behold and each spring and summer its flowers remind me of an important spiritual lesson.

Even though I have been a Christian for 43 years and a minister for 33, I am still a sinner.   Maybe it’s because I am a minister who feels like he should know better, but when I do sin I feel really guilty.   If I’m not careful I can get quite discouraged and let my guilt drag me down.  Thankfully I find some reminders in nature that help me to recall a greater reality—my forgiveness. 

In Isaiah 1:18 God says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”   It is indeed my conviction that because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).  The beautiful white magnolia blossom (like the one pictured here and photographed yesterday) is for me a symbol not just of the South but of God’s amazing grace.  It, like snow, is there to remind me of my true status before God—I am a sinner saved by grace!  To quote the late Jerry Clower, “Ain’t God good?!”

–Chuck Summers