Jul 7 2013

Sun and Clouds


“He covers the sky with clouds…” Psalm 147:8

On the Fourth of July I went down to the Henderson riverfront with my sister and her husband to watch the fireworks.   They had a live band playing ahead of time so we got there early and enjoyed the music as the sun went down behind the Ohio River.  I know some people think all sunsets are spectacular but photographically this one was not anything special.  There was a big red ball in the sky and a few clouds nearby.  Shortly after the sun actually set more clouds came in and it was then that things started getting interesting.  The sky became redder and redder.  Soon it was almost purple.  The colors in the sky and those reflected in the river below ended up putting on a show that rivaled, if not exceeded, the fireworks display that followed.  It was truly awesome!

I have been observing and photographing sunsets long enough to know that to have spectacular ones you usually need clouds to be present.   They are what provide the drama and the variety of colors in the sky.  In the short time I’ve been in Henderson I’ve driven to the riverfront numerous times to watch the sun set.  It’s always a pretty sight but if there are no clouds in the sky I don’t bother getting my camera out.  You’ve got to have the clouds!

Bosque 110149In the eastern part of Kentucky a lot of people are presently sick of seeing clouds.  It’s been raining a lot.  In fact, my sister-in-law in Frankfort posted a cartoon on Facebook this morning that said “To think, it only rained twice this summer.  Once for 45 days and again for 35 days.”  I can understand their disgruntlement.  When you have nothing but clouds day after day it tends to get you down.  If you’re a photographer it can drive you crazy!

It would seem that for good dispositions and great sunset photography you need the right combination of sun and clouds.   This is true for life in general if you substitute good times and bad for sunshine and clouds.  It appears to me that if our lives are always “sunshine” then we tend not to appreciate how blessed we are; we take the sunny days for granted.  If we only have “clouds” then life becomes dull at best and overwhelming at worst.

Bryce sunset crI believe God sees to it that we get what we need.  I’m not implying He causes everything to happen in our lives but I do believe that God is actively involved in them.  He knows that we need a combination of sunshine and clouds.  And sometimes He brings them together in such a manner that we find beauty, purpose or meaning in ways we could never have imagined or experienced in any other way.    It is for that reason I’ve learned to appreciate the clouds in my life.

In the Bible God is at times associated with light.  At other times God is associated with clouds.  If we are wise we will learn to discern His presence in both (literally and figuratively) and to pay extra close attention when He uses both at the same time.


(I took the top image this past Thursday in Henderson.   I captured the second sunset image at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico and the third one near Bryce Canyon in Utah.)

Apr 15 2013

From East to West

blog 362Yesterday was the final day at my church in Pikeville. After the service was over Bonita and I drove across state so that I could visit my mother and family. The drive from Pikeville to Paducah is certainly not a short one. It entails going from the extreme eastern portion of the state to the western boundary. I know there are plenty of states that require far more miles to cross but the drive yesterday offered me an important reminder–it’s a long way from east to west.

Why would I consider this an important reminder? Because it points to the wonder of God’s forgiveness. In Psalm 103 David says “as far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (v. 12) Needless to say, the distance referred to here cannot be measured in miles. It is simply the biblical writer’s way of saying God completely removes our sins from us. This is incredibly good news! Unfortunately, a lot of people struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness. They find it hard to believe that God can actually forgive them for the things they have done.

blog 2The Bible goes to great length to emphasize the certainty of God’s forgiveness. At times images from nature are used to drive home the point. One example is found in Isaiah 1:18 which says, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'”

I think that a lot of people find it hard to believe that God can be so forgiving because they find it so difficult to forgive others themselves. When others hurt us we tend to hold on to that hurt. We struggle with both forgiving and forgetting. God, however, does not. Through Isaiah God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (43:25) At the heart of the Christian faith is the affirmation “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) Yes, we are all sinners but by turning to Christ we discover that the price or penalty for our sins has been paid in full. As a result, we stand forgiven before God and He remembers our sins no more.

blog 3As we drove across the state of Kentucky yesterday and followed the sun west I found myself giving thanks for God’s amazing grace and how He has removed my sins from me as far as the east is from the west. It also occurred to me that every day, as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, we witness a visible reminder of this grace. Every day there is this wonderful witness to God’s love and forgiveness. No wonder, then, the Psalmist declared, “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (113:3) No wonder at all!


(I took the top picture in Pikeville two days ago. The middle image was taken at Cumberland Falls State Park in central Kentucky and the last image on the banks of the Mississippi River in extreme western Kentucky.)

Jan 22 2012

Size Doesn’t Always Matter

This past Christmas I gave my lifelong friend and avid fisherman, Mark Dycus, a t-shirt with a fish and ruler on it.  Beneath these were the words “Size Matters.”  When it comes to fishermen and their catches I guess size probably does matter.  I get the impression, however, that we have developed into a society where size means far too much.  People spend a lot of money so they can have the biggest house, the biggest car, the biggest boat, the biggest whatever.  Others look to the size of their paycheck, the size of their wardrobe, or the size of their jewelry to validate their value.  In so many areas the world screams “size matters!”

I think in Creation God has lots of reminders that big is not always better.  Some of God’s most beautiful creations are quite small.  There are gorgeous flowers and insects so small you almost need a magnifying glass to see them.  Are they of less value because they are tiny?  I hardly think so.  I happen to enjoy photographing large landscapes but there is also great beauty in smaller, more intimate landscapes.  Size does not always matter.

When I was working on my Kentucky book a few years ago I visited Short Creek a couple of times.  Short Creek, located near Somerset, Kentucky, is thought by some to be the shortest creek in the world.  The creek’s water emerges from one cave and travels only a short distance before it disappears into another cave.  You can easily throw a rock from one cave to the other, the creek is that short.  Still, both the water of the creek and the cave into which it flows are quite beautiful.  You can see that in the pictures I’ve included here.

A person reading a travel guide noticing the size of Short Creek might choose to bypass it for one of Kentucky’s bigger creeks, rivers or lakes.  If they did, they would miss something special.  The same thing can happen to us when it comes to viewing God’s Creation.  We may choose to bypass that which is small for something larger and more “significant” and, in the process, miss something truly beautiful and special.  I’d suggest we all be more careful about overlooking the little things and places God has made.

This lesson from nature certainly applies to people as well.  Many of God’s special saints have been small, either in physical stature or influence.  Just because a person doesn’t have size in ways the world considers valuable doesn’t mean he or she is not beautiful and incredibly valuable.  When Samuel went looking for a king to replace Saul God told him to go to the house of Jesse to find him.  When Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest son he was confident that this must be the one God had in mind but God said to him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  When Jesus’ disciples tried to get a group of children gathered around him to leave he scolded them saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Since both of God’s books, Creation and the Bible, teach us that size doesn’t always matter, perhaps it is time we started acting like it.  What do you think?


Oct 24 2010

Wind and Leaves

Cane Run 877This past Thursday I drove up to the Cane Ridge Meeting House near Paris, Kentucky, for a special prayer service.  In the first few years of the 1800s a major revival broke out there.  This Second Great Awakening was given considerable attention in the recent PBS special, God In America.  The denomination in which I serve, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), arose from what took place at Cane Ridge over two hundred years ago.

I got to Cane Ridge early and walked around the grounds while I waited for the others to get there.  In the back of the building I found a bench facing three or four very colorful trees.  I sat on that bench and began to pray.   Soon a strong wind started to blow and scores of beautiful autumn leaves began to scatter about me.  Instead of letting this be a disturbance to my time of prayer I allowed the wind and leaves to help guide me in my prayer.

Cane Run 898In both the Old and New Testament the words that are used for wind also mean spirit.  In his famous encounter with Nicodemus Jesus drew upon this twin meaning.  He said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:6-8)

With the wind blowing and the leaves scattering all about me I asked the Holy Spirit to blow in my life and in the life of my church and denomination.  I prayed that just as the leaves allowed the wind to carry them wherever it wished that we would allow Him to move us or take us wherever we needed to be. 

I truly believe that this was the prayer that God desired to hear from me at Cane Ridge and I am thankful for the guidance I received from elements of God’s Creation to move me in that direction.  Does it surprise me that God used nature to guide my prayer?  Not at all.  No, not at all.


(I took the images above in the Cane Run Lake area after leaving Cane Ridge on Thursday.)

Jul 18 2010

Through the Floods

flood 037If you’ve read or watched the national news today you may have seen stories about the flash floods that hit Pike County, Kentucky, last night.  I got to witness these floods firsthand—in my front yard!  The bridge that leads to my house was washed away and water came very close to getting into our house.  It was a frightening experience!

From time to time nature does, in fact, remind us of its incredible power.  When it does it can be a humbling experience.  Tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods have a way of showing us humans that we are not in control.  Far from it!

Although I do not believe that God directly sends natural disasters, I do believe that we see in nature’s power a reflection of God’s  even greater might and strength.  I also believe that He can use natural disasters to remind us of how small we are and just how much we need Him. 

Last night I could only stand helpless and watch the destruction unfold in front of me.  I knew, however, that I was not alone.  In fact, I was reminded of a scripture passage I had read just a few days ago.  In Isaiah 43:2 God says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”  I also recall Jesus’ promise, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)  It is my strong conviction that God is always with us, come what may.

Does that mean we will never suffer loss from natural disasters?  Not hardly.  Several in my county lost much last night.  Does it mean that death is not possible when storms or earthquakes come our way?  Once again, not at all.  At least two people died here last night.  But what I do believe is that though we might suffer loss, or perhaps even death, God is still there to see us through.  His power is greater than any flood or earthquake.  His power is greater than death. 

Whenever I see the awesome power of nature I am not only humbled but led to praise the God who created nature and who has promised to always be with us.  He truly is an awesome God!


flood 046

(The top picture was taken from my neighbor’s yard.  The bottom picture was taken from my front porch.)

Jun 30 2010

Nature’s Healing Touch

lotus 445This week I am in Louisville, Kentucky, on a mission trip with a group of people  from my church. We have been doing some work at one of the Christian Care Communities’ facilities. There are approximately 500 residents at the retirement home/assisted living buildings and nursing home. One of the things that has struck me is how happy the residents there seem to be. I’m sure this is due, in part, to the quality care the people receive in this Christian environment.

Another thing that I have noticed is how nature is used at the facility. The two images shown here (lotus above, black-eyed susans below) were taken along a path that is inside the complex. This path is even accessible for those in wheelchairs.  Careful attention has been given to landscaping so that even in downtown Louisville the residents are exposed to the beauty of Creation. Throughout the week I have also noticed that on a large screen television in the nursing home a video is constantly being shown that is made up completely of beautiful nature images. As a result, even those who cannot go outside find a perpetual reminder of God’s beautiful earth.

I have a feeling that these are not just “nice little touches” provided by the folks at Christian Care Communities. I suspect they realize the healing qualities of God’s Creation. They, too, must understand that the natural beauty of Creation is good for the soul, as well as the body.

black-eyed susans 465I have no idea what my future holds but if I get to live to an old age I hope and pray that I, too, will find myself in a place where seeing Creation is still possible. I don’t think I would feel whole or well without it.