Jan 2 2013

Water and Life

UP-Miners-Beach-396I’ve been thinking about water the past few days.  During my holiday travels I saw a lot of rain and a fair amount of snow.   While driving to Florida and back we also saw many rivers and lakes.  I suppose anyone living outside of a desert sees water in some form or fashion on a regular basis.  It is certainly a very important part of our lives and a vital part of nature.  Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Water is the driving force of nature.”   In addition to being crucial to our existence there is something special about water.  The famous anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, once wrote “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  Water brings us both life and enjoyment.  It truly is one of God’s greatest gifts.

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John there is a story recorded of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar.  In his conversation with this woman Jesus asked her for a drink of water.  When she raised questions about the appropriateness of this request Jesus responded, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  The woman was confused by Jesus’ words.  She didn’t understand what he meant by “living water” so he added, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jenny-Wiley-SP-last-light-It is not hard to see how water is a metaphor for life in both nature and the spiritual realm.  It would seem to me that just as water is essential for our physical well-being Christ is essential to our spiritual well-being.  In fact, I cannot experience life in its fullness apart from him.  When Jesus speaks of “eternal life” he is not just talking about life after death; he is referring to something we experience here and now.  It is the “abundant life” he spoke of elsewhere. (John 10:10)  That “life” is only possible when we receive the “living water, the life, Christ offers us.

TN-Great-Smoky-Mountains-Spruce-Flat-FallsHopefully when we see it rain or notice the various bodies of water we encounter day by day we can remember our need for “living water.”  Apparently this is something the Scottish author, poet and minister, George MacDonald recognized.  He once wrote: “There is no water in oxygen, no water in hydrogen: it comes bubbling fresh from the imagination of the living God, rushing from under the great white throne of the glacier. The very thought of it makes one gasp with an elemental joy no metaphysician can analyze. The water itself, that dances, and sings, and slakes the wonderful thirst–symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus–this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace–this live thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, yea, babbling along my table–this water is its own self, its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.”   Hopefully, we, too, can learn to let the water we see, drink, swim and bathe in be a perpetual reminder of the “truth of God” and of our constant need for Christ.


(I took the top picture at Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the middle image at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky, and the bottom one in Tennessee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

Dec 30 2012

Senseless Killing

turtle 1 crOver the past few months our nation has witnessed several tragedies as one deranged person after another engaged in senseless killing. The murder of innocent people in Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, New York and other states has left many shocked and grieved, wondering what has become of the human race. Why would anyone think another person’s life was dispensable? Why would anyone kill just to be killing?

coyote 153I was reminded a couple of days ago that senseless killing goes beyond humans murdering one another. While in Tennessee visiting friends I noticed an article in the Nashville paper that told the story of a Clemson University student who was doing research on the shrinking number of box turtles. This student purchased a realistic looking plastic replica of a turtle and placed it in the middle of a two-lane highway. He then hid and watched for a number of hours. What he saw was driver after driver intentionally swerve so that they might run over the turtle. This same university student went to a school and asked a class how many of them had ever purposely run over a turtle or been with someone who had. A large percentage of the class raised their hands.

The senseless killing of turtles is not an isolated incident. Our country has a long history of reckless behavior toward animals. At one time the West had millions of bison roaming the land. This majestic species was almost elminated because people shot them just for the fun of it. Wolves, coyotes, grizzly bears, and numerous other creatures have, likewise, been victims of senseless killing. Once again I have to ask, why would anyone kill just to be killing?

bear 6I believe that the Bible teaches that all life is precious. I would even say all life is sacred since it comes from God. It is obvious that we live in a time when life is not held sacred by all. For far too many people life is cheap–human and otherwise. This is not the way it is supposed to be. This is not what God intended. I realize that the Scriptures say “There is a time to kill and a time to heal.” (Ecclesiastes. 3:3) Perhaps in battles against evil lives must be sacrificed and I realize that animals must also be killed for food, but even in such circumstances the sacredness of all life should be maintained. Life is not cheap; it is a priceless gift of God.

Because of sin and evil there will likely continue to be far too much senseless killing. There is a lot of discussion right now about how we can stop the madness. One step in the right direction is the affirmation of the sacredness of life, something taught by all the major religions of the world. When it comes to seeing Creation–all of it–we must learn to acknowledge both its inherent goodness and its divine right to exist. This is not the message that is being conveyed by most forms of media today. In light of what we see happening all around us, let us pray that soon changes. In the meantime, it will be up to people like you and me to spread the word. Life is sacred and senseless killing must stop!


(I photographed the box turtle in Kentucky, the coyote in Wyoming, and the grizzly bear in  Alaska.)

Mar 21 2012


In a few minutes I’ll be heading to California.  Once there I’m hooking up with Rob and we plan to solve all the world’s problems in the next week and also do some photography.  One of the locations where we will be photographing is Death Valley National Park.  I have been there a couple of times before so I’m really looking forward to it.  However, when I’ve told people recently where I’m going they all seem to indicate they have no desire to go there.  Apparently it doesn’t sound like a very inviting place.  But it is!  Perhaps the name itself bothers people but I can assure you that Death Valley is full of life and beauty.

There are lots of references to valleys in the Bible.  No doubt the one that comes to people’s minds first is “the valley of the shadow of death.”  This valley, of course, is mentioned in Psalm 23.  Many people over the years have found comfort in this particular psalm.  At times of death a lot of people turn to it.  They like hearing that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (v. 4)  I must admit it is, indeed, comforting to know that God is with us in our times of grief and when we die.  Many biblical scholars have noted, however, that the way this verse has been translated may be misleading.  A better translation may be “the darkest valley” instead of “the valley of the shadow of death.”

If we take this alternative translation it expands the meaning.  The Psalmist’s assurance now goes beyond just times of death and dying to any period in our life when we are struggling, any period which we might characterize by “darkness.”  This is, certainly, the truth.  The Bible offers us numerous assurances that God is with us wherever we go and whatever our circumstances.  Jesus promised his disciples before leaving this world that he would be with them always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

I look forward to being in Death Valley in a few days.  While there, I plan to offer thanks for God’s constant presence in my life.  Wherever you happen to be, I hope you will do the same.


(I took the pictures above on previous trips to Death Valley National Park.)

Apr 27 2011

Death and Life

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  1 Corinthians 15:22

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that a few weeks ago I introduced you to a delightful website where you could view a live cam on an active eagle’s nest.  Yesterday I was saddened to learn that the mother eagle at this nest had been hit by an airplane and killed.  This eagle had been taking wonderful care of her three eaglets and had touched the hearts of thousands of people across the globe.  This horrible accident was just another reminder how fragile life is and how death is an inevitable part of life.

The picture you see above was taken on the hill in my back yard.  This skull was here when we moved into our house three years ago.  I elected not to remove it.  Why?  I felt it would serve as a useful reminder to me of my own mortality.  A lot of us live our lives as though we will never die.  The fact is we all will one day die unless Christ returns first.  This cow’s skull makes me mindful that I should live my life with the end in mind.  It makes me want to do all I can to make life meaningful while I have the chance. 

There are certainly a lot of reminders in nature that death is a part of life.  When we look around us we see dead animals on the side of the road, trees that have died, and plants that have perished.  In God’s wonderful economy death actually plays a key role in the giving of life.  Plants and animals return to the soil and make it more fertile.  Through death life goes on.

Some feel that this same cycle is what we face as humans.  We live, we die and then we return to dust.  That’s it.  The Scriptures, however, point to something else.  Here too we learn that death leads to life but the difference is that in God’s hands we are restored to life ourselves.  This, of course, is the message we celebrated a few days ago on Easter.  The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that life goes on for those who follow Christ.  For these death becomes the entranceway to life on a far higher level than that we experience here on earth.  (What happens to other living creatures is not clearly noted in the Scriptures; I can only hope that they too are a part of the “new creation” the Bible talks about.)  

When the words are paired we usually see them in this order—life and death.  God would have us reverse this order and see that life follows death.  Obviously we live now and are meant to make the most of life here on earth.  We do this by loving God, our neighbors, ourselves and God’s Creation but it is comforting to know that this life is not all that we have.  There is more—so much more—to come once we pass through death to life and the home God prepares for us even now.


(The bottom picture was taken at Joshua Tree National Park.  The shadows on the rocks remind me of the words found in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil,  for you are with me.”)

Nov 17 2010

Death and Life

sweetgum leaf 399While reading the book of First Peter yesterday I came across the passage where the biblical author says “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’”  (1:23-25a)  This time of the year seems appropriate for reading these words.  Now that we’ve had some hard frosts the grass in my yard has withered and the flowers fallen back to the earth.  Every time this happens we are reminded that our lives, like the grasses and flowers, are only here for a certain length of time. 

Death is not a subject most people like to talk about.  It is, however, something that comes to each of us eventually.  The mortality rate for humans remains 100%.  In nature we have all kinds of reminders that we’re not meant to live here on earth forever.  These reminders also serve the useful purpose of pointing us to our kinship with all living things.  Like them, we too will one day die.

I know that there are many people who believe that this life here on earth is all that we have but the Bible tells us that this is not so.  The eternal God offers to us the gift of eternal life.  That life is found in Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul was so convinced that there was life beyond death that he said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor. 15:19)  And just as Peter pointed to the natural world for reminders of our mortality, Paul did the same to talk about what kind of bodies we’ll have in eternity.  He writes, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals another and fish another.”  (1 Corinthians 15:36-39)   Paul goes on to say, “So it will be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42, 44)

I certainly don’t claim to understand what all this means but I do know that in the verses by both Peter and Paul there is to be found good news.  Death may be inevitable on this earth but the life God gives to us through Jesus Christ is everlasting.  For that I am extremely grateful!


(I took the image of the fallen leaves and pine cone in my back yard earlier today.)

Oct 27 2010

The Source of Life

CVSP deer 704The Prologue to John’s Gospel (vs. 1-18) is an incredible passage of Scripture.  Last week I noted how John makes his claim here that Jesus (the “Word”) is one with God and is the Creator of all things: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  (v. 3) In the next verse John follows this up by saying that Jesus is the source of all  life: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”  As Leon Morris points out, “It is only because there is life in the Logos that there is life in anything on earth at all.  Life does not exist in its own right.  It is not even spoken of as made ‘by’ or ‘through’ the Word, but existing ‘in’ Him.”

For Christians it is important to understand that Jesus is the source of both Creation and life.  It is because of him that everything exists; it is because of him that everything has meaning.  I agree with what William Hull says in his commentary on the Fourth Gospel: “…every person ought to see that God is the powerful and thoughtful creator of the universe in the light of the miracle of life which abounds in human experience.” 

If we understood Christ to be the source of all life perhaps we would have a greater respect for life—all of it.   Furthermore, understanding that life is not a given but a gift, perhaps we would also have a greater appreciation for life—all of it. 

Dolly Sods 648It is because I believe that Jesus is the source of all life I affirm that all creatures and plant species are important.  Christ’s desire was for them to have life, just as it was his desire for us to have life.  It is also because I believe that Jesus is the source of all life that I feel a kinship with the rest of Creation—I share a common Maker with them and, like them, owe my very existence to him.  It is this kinship with the rest of Creation that led Francis of Assisi to refer to various animals as his “brothers and sisters.”

Today I join with the author of the Fourth Gospel in offering praise to Christ for being my Maker and the Source of all life.  I encourage you to join in with us.


(Both the whitetail deer and aster images were taken earlier this month in West Virginia.)