Mar 9 2014

Putting on the Lens of Faith

_CES0147Today it felt like spring so late in the day I took a drive out to Henderson Sloughs looking for some signs of spring.  I guess I was kind of rushing things because I didn’t find many signs.  I saw no flowers and only a few trees budding.  The vast farmlands lay barren.  I enjoyed my drive nonetheless and was able to take some nice images along the way.  A number of times I found myself thinking, “It won’t be long until spring kicks into gear and everything will look different.”  If someone were to have asked me how I knew this, considering there were few signs of spring present, I would have just indicated that looks can be deceiving.  It might not appear like much is happening now but as the days lengthen and the temperatures rise spring will make its grand arrival.  It does not matter what things look like today, spring is coming soon.

Nature’s lesson that looks can be deceiving is an important one.  It is a lesson that often translates into our spiritual lives.  Here, too, things can sometimes appear dismal.  We all go through barren times when we may wonder if things will ever change.  As we look around us we might conclude that there is no hope.

_CES0175In such times we need to put on our lens of faith and remember that with God there are no hopeless situations.  We need to recall God’s faithfulness in the past and His promise to see us through the various trials and difficulties of life.  Even when things appear hopeless we should remember that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  In His own time and in His own way God always comes through for us.

_CES2688I certainly realize that there are indeed situations where we might find it hard to affirm this truth.  There have been numerous occasions in my own life where God did not appear to be anywhere near.  What I eventually learned in each situation is the lesson nature teaches us, that looks can be deceiving.  He was in fact there with me despite my failure to see Him.  In extremely trying times I still may feel that God is nowhere near but my past experiences have taught me that in such times I need to put on the lens of faith and place my trust in God.  It is in such times I must remember the apostle Paul’s words, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Despite the lack of signs I saw today I do believe that spring will soon arrive.  In the same way, I am convinced that whenever we are in need, God will soon arrive as well.  You simply cannot always judge things (or God) by appearances.


(I took each of the pictures shown here late this afternoon at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)

Apr 28 2013

Writing Straight With Crooked Lines

CV4316I love America’s national parks! They truly are one of our country’s “best ideas.” This weekend I had the chance to visit one that I had not been to before, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is located between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and has only been a national park for thirteen years. It has the reputation of being a wonderful autumn location for photographers but I found early spring to also be a great time to visit.

CV4352The word “cuyahoga” means “crooked river.” A river that bears this name does, indeed, run through the park and lives up to its name. This unique name got me thinking about a sermon John Claypool preached many years ago about the biblical character, Jacob. Claypool makes the point that despite Jacob’s devious ways God still used him to further His plans for Israel. The primary point I remember from reading this sermon was Claypool’s insistence that God can “write straight with crooked lines.”

CV4228I believe that this is an important point and that any number of biblical characters could be pointed to as examples–Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Certainly a lot of non-biblical examples could also be cited. It’s just true; God has this amazing way of using imperfect people to accomplish His will for the world. I find that incredibly comforting because I am quite imperfect myself. I often wonder how God can use someone like me, someone with more faults than I could begin to count. At the same time, I know He does use me and that is both humbling and exciting.  It is also indicative of just how awesome God is.

None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Bad decisions or sinful actions can lead to apparent disaster. But the Bible declares, “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve seen this happen in my own life and join John Claypool in assuring you that God can, indeed, write straight with crooked lines. Your life may seem to you as crooked as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio but God has the ability to bless and use you nonetheless. This seems to be His speciality and I, for one, am thankful it is.


(I took the three pictures shown here this weekend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)

Apr 15 2012

God’s Special Knack

Every year at Easter the church I am currently serving includes “the flowering of the cross” as part of their morning service.  For those of you who have never seen this done, here’s how it works.  A rough wooden cross covered with chicken wire is brought into the sanctuary.  At a certain point in the service, while our accompanists play, everyone comes forward and places fresh flowers on the cross.  In a short period of time something quite ugly is transformed into an object of great beauty.  This mirrors in a wonderful way what God did with the horrible cross on that first Easter Sunday; he made something beautiful out of it.

This year I used the flowering of the cross to teach the children in the church about God’s amazing ability to take bad situations and turn them around into something good.  I happen to believe that is God’s special knack.  I have seen it happen time and time again in my own life, as well as in the lives of others.  I guess that’s why Romans 8:28 is one of my favorites Bible verses: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  It is God’s knack for bringing good out of bad situations that fills my life with hope and enables me to move forward when things are not going well.

The same transforming power that we see at the empty tomb and in our own lives may also be witnessed in Creation.  It appears obvious to me that even in nature God is at work bringing about good in bad situations.  Sometimes horrible things happen to God’s Creation.  At times nature, not unlike humans, inflicts harm upon itself.  Tornadoes, floods, avalanches, earthquakes, lightning and hurricanes can cause vast damage to the natural world (not to mention the human world).  At other times humans are the ones inflicting the harm.  We have devised all kinds of ways of destroying mountains, forests, rivers and streams, and the air itself.  Still, somehow, someway, the earth has survived and continues to sustain us.

I believe this is true because God, in His role as Creator, continues to bring good out of bad situations.  When it comes to the natural world He has a way of bringing good out of forest fires.  He has a way of bringing good out of floods.  He has a way of bringing good out of everything.   This good may not be obvious to all, nor may it be seen right away, but God’s special knack for bringing about good in bad situations is just as obvious in nature as it is in other parts of our life.

Having said that I hasten to add that God’s ability to do this does not give us a free pass to treat the earth any way we please.  It doesn’t work that way.  One of our primary callings as His children is to be caretakers of the earth.   In fact, we are all called to assist Him in bringing about good from bad situations.  Next Sunday is Earth Day.  Now would be the perfect time to look for opportunities where you can assist God in bringing about good in a bad situation.  There are lots of possibilities; just look around you.   Plan this week to join God in bringing about good in a bad situation.  He’ll be glad you did and so will the rest of us!


(The top two pictures show before and after “the flowering of the cross” last Sunday.  The spring foliage image displays how nature has revived an area in Kentucky once mined.  The bottom image shows how coastal storms have shaped and formed Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park.)



Feb 15 2012

A Life-Changing Decision

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

It was about twenty years ago this time I made a life-changing decision.  That decision was to seriously pursue nature photography as a hobby.  I was at a point in my life where I was stressed out and very close to being burned out as a minister.  I desperately needed an outlet and after briefly considering pottery as an option I settled on learning how to photograph nature.  I realize that choosing a hobby probably doesn’t sound like a life-changing decision to a lot of people but it certainly was for me.

Making nature photography an avocation helped me to manage better the stress that is inherent in pastoral ministry.  I really don’t know if I would have been able to continue had I not done so.  Eventually photography would become an extension of my ministry, but that is another story.  When I get a chance to talk to young ministers today I always make it a point to encourage them to make sure to find a good hobby.

The decision to pursue photography also opened the door to a whole new realm of friends.  Many of my dearest friends today are photographers.  My life has been tremendously enriched through getting to know Rob Sheppard, Bill Fortney, Ken Jenkins, Pat O’Hara, Stan Burman and many others.  I actually have more photography friends than I do friends that are pastors.

Even though I loved nature prior to taking up photography I know that I would not have had the many incredible experiences in God’s Creation that I have had were it not  for that choice I made twenty years ago.  To pursue nature photography meant I needed to expose myself to more of nature.  This led to lots of travel and exploration.  A couple of nights ago I had trouble going to sleep so I began reflecting on some of the highlights from my past twenty years of photography.  Before I fell asleep I came to the conclusion that I have to be one of the most blessed persons on earth.  The variety and awesomeness of the places and things I have seen while photographing is almost unbelievable!

Finally, the decision to pursue nature photography has helped me to see the world in a whole new light.  It’s hard to explain but when photography is an important part of your life you just see things differently.  You see more and this is perhaps what has been the most life-changing thing of all.  It’s also the best thing because in the process I have come to see God more clearly in the world around me and this has drawn me much closer to Him. 

Twenty years after the fact I cannot imagine what my life would be like today had I not made the decision I did.  At the time I thought I was just choosing a way to help me deal with stress.  Upon reflection it is obvious that there was a lot more going on than that.  I’m convinced that God was at work in that decision and that He had a plan for my life I knew nothing about.  Today I simply want to share with you my gratitude for that plan and for the God who made it possible.


(I’ve included today some samples of my early photography.  The top two images were made in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.  The bottom image was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)