Jul 13 2014

Looking Beyond the Obvious

BeyondObvious1Earlier this summer, I was up in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada with Chuck. This is a wonderful park that is one of the quieter national parks because of its location.  While I did photograph some of the beautiful mountains of the park, I also spent time getting down and dirty with the small critters, the insects and spiders, that live there, as well as the great flowers that were in bloom, too.  Chuck has commented on my predilection to look at the small stuff. I believe these small things can be as unique to a location as the obvious mountains, and as much a testimony of God’s wonder as those mountains, if we are only willing to stop and look.

BeyondObvious7There is no question that this can require a conscious effort because our tendency is often to focus in on the obvious beauty, especially in bold locations like a national park. By looking beyond the obvious, I guarantee you will be rewarded with unique and special moments of wonder and joy that others truly will miss.

BeyondObvious6A cool thing about getting down and dirty with the little things is that you can do it in all sorts of weather and light. The light might just be awful for the distant mountain because of the wrong time of day or the clouds don’t cooperate. Maybe even there is fog blocking your view. Up close, none of this matters! You can always find wonderful opportunities for wonder up close. Light in the wrong direction? Move to the right or left and it changes instantly. Terrible skies? No need to look at them. Gray conditions? That can give an enveloping light for close-up views that allows you to better see details and colors that might be obscured by brighter, harsher light.

BeyondObvious5I think it is significant that Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28) when talking about people being worried about things like impressing people with clothing and also, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26)   He did not say to look at the beautiful mountains and what God does with them, nor did he say to look at the biggest and most dramatic animals. In addition, Christ fed the crowd with a few small fish and loaves of bread (Matthew 14:17-20). He started with small things. Could not Christ have created a feast with much more? Of course, but it was the small things that mattered.

Big things in God’s creation are made up of small things. The big obvious mountains are made up of so many small things, everything from rocks to trees to tiny flowers to spiders to deer to bees and so much more.

BeyondObvious4Big things don’t exist without the small things that they are made of. If our eyes are always looking up at the mountain tops, we will miss discovering much of the wonder of God’s creation right beside us.

– Rob

Feb 19 2014

The Two Books’ Purpose

HS5339Not long ago, while reading James B. Hunt’s book on John Muir’s 1000 mile walk to the Gulf called Restless Fires, I was reminded of a delightful story concerning Muir’s encounter with a blacksmith in Tennessee.  When the two met the blacksmith asked Muir what he was doing in that area.  In the journal Muir kept on his journey he recorded the words that followed: “I replied that I was looking at plants.” “Plants?  What kind of plants?”  “Oh, all kinds; grass, weeds, flowers, trees, mosses, ferns,–almost everything that grows is interesting to me.” “Well, young man…you mean to say that you are not employed by the Government on some private business?”  “No, I am not employed by anyone except just myself.  I love all kinds of plants, and I came down here to these Southern States to get acquainted with as many of them as possible.”

The blacksmith found it hard to believe that someone would walk all that way just to study plants.  He told Muir, “You look like a strong-minded man, and surely you are able to do something better than wander over the country and look at weeds and blossoms.  These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able.  Picking up blossoms doesn’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.” 

fog-in-Cumberland-Gap-hMuir knew the blacksmith was a religious man and eventually asked him, “You are a believer in the Bible are you not?”  The blacksmith readily admitted he was.  At that point Muir reminded him how King Solomon had studied and collected plants and how Jesus told his disciples to “consider the lilies.”  Muir then asked, “Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s?  Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’  You say, ‘Don’t consider them.  It isn’t worthwhile for any strong-minded man.’”  Looking at things that way the blacksmith had to admit that Muir had a point and perhaps his study of plants was worthwhile.

Muir did indeed have a point.  The study of Creation is not idle work.  Instead, it is important work for those who long to know God through both of His books—the Scriptures and the Creation.  I have written often about Creation being God’s “other book.”  I remain convinced it is just that.  I also believe that like the Bible itself, one must diligently study “God’s other book” in order to trove its treasures and discern its deepest lessons.

fern-gardenI have literally thousands of books in my study.  A large portion of these pertain to the Bible, theology, preaching, ethics, pastoral care, church history, and spirituality.  There are, however, also hundreds of books in my library on natural history.  I have field guides that cover all areas of North America.  I have books on specific animals and plants.  In my library you will find all kinds of resources for better understanding God’s other book.  For me personally, my theological library would be incomplete without them.  In their own way they, too, help me better understand God and His works. Having said that I will hasten to add that having such a collection of books as those you will find in my library does not do me much good if I do not go on to personally experience the God they point to.  Knowing about God and actually knowing God are two different things.  Learning about God through the Bible and Creation is great but it is of limited value unless it also enables one to experience the God both the Bible and Creation point to.

John Muir knew both the Scriptures and the book of Creation well.  You cannot read his writings without coming to the conclusion that he also knew God well.   I intend to follow in his steps and hope you will as well.


(I took the top picture at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., the middle image at Cumberland Gap N.H.P., and the bottom one at Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky.)


Jun 19 2013

Easter in June

_CES4649There’s a small flower garden on the property of the church where I serve.  As I passed it in my car this morning I felt like it was Easter in June.  There for all to see were several beautiful Easter lilies in bloom.  When I noticed them I couldn’t help but recall Jesus’ charge to “consider the lilies.”  He spoke those words in Matthew 6:28 as he encouraged his listeners not to worry.  Jesus indicated that the lilies were provided for by God.  He intimated that if God takes care of them we can rest assured that He will take care of us as well.  That is a truth I need reminded of on a regular basis.

_CES4664The fact that it was Easter lilies I was looking at led my thoughts elsewhere.   Easter lilies are trumpet shaped and might be said to herald the good news that Christ is risen from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus, of course, stands at the heart of the Christian faith.  It was this event that caused the church to begin to worship on Sundays rather than on the Sabbath.  Everything hinged on the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul went so far as to say “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)  Even though it is now the end of June the flowers I saw this morning served as a reminder that the celebration of Easter is always appropriate.

Before the morning was over I found my mind somehow connecting Jesus’ call to consider the lilies with the message of Easter.  Certainly one of the greatest truths we find in the Easter story is that God is so mighty that not even death can stand in His way.  We may see death as the ultimate enemy but death itself has been defeated in Christ.  When you remember that God is that powerful it makes even more sense why we should not give in to the temptation to worry or become anxious.  The One who raised Christ from the grave is more than able to meet our every need.  Why should we worry when the God of Easter is there beside us each step of the way?  There is no need at all.  Some lilies told me so just this morning…