Jul 29 2016

Experiencing God in Our National Parks

Yellowstone Lower FallsAmerican’s National Park Service will be turning one hundred years old in just a few weeks. Because I love our national parks so much I cannot let this occasion pass without offering the NPS my congratulations and best wishes.  Since taking up nature photography twenty-four years ago I’ve been blessed to visit most of our national parks.  I’ve also visited scores of other national park units such as national recreation areas, national monuments, national rivers and seashores, etc.  Each of them has had an impact on my life one way or another.  I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for our national parks.

I was introduced to our national parks as a small child when my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today I visit them as often as I can.  Just two days ago I was able to pay a return visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I keep going back because I benefit so much from them.  Our national parks are incredible repositories of natural beauty that move my soul.  They are places where I often connect to God.  In fact, when I think of some of the parks I’ve visited I think not just of the scenery or wildlife but of the spiritual connections I made there.  Let me give you some examples.

TN Great Smoky Mountains Spruce Flat FallsWhen I think of Denali National Park I remember “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” I have felt a peace there I’ve not quite experienced elsewhere.  When I think of Grand Teton National Park I recall how important humility is in the spiritual life.  Standing before that giant mountain wall I always feel small and humbled.  When I think of Yosemite National Park I think of worship.  John Muir referred to those majestic Sierra mountains as his “temples” and “cathedrals” and they became that for me as well.  I can hardly imagine walking through Yosemite Valley and not singing the “Doxology” or “How Great Thou Art.”  When I think of Yellowstone National Park I find myself reflecting on the mystery of God.  Yellowstone is such a mysterious and magical place.  As with God, there is no comprehending all its wonders.  And when I think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I associate it with love. There is a wonderful and abundant diversity of life in this park that is so dear to my heart.  That diversity symbolizes for me the generosity and goodness of God and it serves as yet one more reminder of the divine love that is the source of all that is good.

Yosemite ValleyI could go on making spiritual connections with the many different parks I have visited and photographed. They are all special and they are all important.  We are incredibly blessed to have these national parks and we should, by no means, take them for granted.  I would encourage you in this centennial year of the National Park Service to give them all the support you can.  Visit them as often.  Work to preserve and protect them.  Our national parks are far more than just beautiful and ecologically diverse places, they are special places where God resides and where God can be experienced in some marvelous ways.


(I took the top image at Yellowstone NP, the middle one at Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the bottom one at Yosemite National Park.)

Feb 16 2011

Still At Work

lonesome-pine-888In the study on the Gospel of John I’m leading at church we recently spent some time examining a miracle where Jesus healed a man who had been lame thirty-eight years.   After Jesus did this he got into trouble with the local religious leaders because he healed the man on the Sabbath.  By this time in Jewish history there were all kinds of restrictions on what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath.  Because of its place in the Ten Commandments the Sabbath was considered very special by the Jews and they sought to protect it by coming up with various restrictions about Sabbath observance.

Jesus’ response to the religious leaders who were denouncing him is interesting.  He told them “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  (John 5:17)  Jesus’ words about his Father always being at work are important.  One reason the Sabbath was considered so important to the Jews is that God “rested” on the seventh day of Creation.  Although some thought God was still resting, many of the Jewish rabbis believed that God was still at work and that He even did some of His work on the Sabbath.  Acts of healing and compassion were examples of God’s Sabbath Day activity.  Jesus affirmed this understanding and said that the miracle he had just performed was simply an extension of His Father’s work. 

Norris-Geyser-Basin-444I think one of the important lessons we can take from this passage is that the God of Creation is still very much at work in the world today and that Christ, His Son, is as well.  We are reminded here that Creation is not a finished product;  it is a work in progress.  John Muir recognized this.  He once wrote: “I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in ‘creation’s dawn.’  The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”  

Perhaps our sense of wonder and amazement might be renewed if we realized each day that we are witnesses to God’s ongoing work of Creation.  Perhaps it would awaken our sense of gratitude for the gift of each new day.  Perhaps it would make us better aware of our calling to be partners with the Father and Son in caring for the earth.  It’s certainly something to think about…


(I took the two images above in Yellowstone National Park last February.)

Jan 19 2011

Created For Work

trumpeter swans 504The Sunday School class I teach has been studying John Ortberg’s latest book, The Me I Want to Be.  The last couple of chapters we’ve looked at have to do with our work or vocation.  At one point Ortberg writes, “God says in Genesis that human beings are to ‘rule’ over the earth, or to exercise ‘dominion.’  We often think of these words in terms of ‘dominating’ or ‘bossing around.’  But the true idea behind them is that we are to invest our abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and build and write and organize and heal and invent in ways that bless people and make the earth flourish.”

Although some people view work as drudgery we were created to work.  This may even be a part of what it means to be created “in the image of God.“ (Genesis 1:26-27)  The God who works made us to work as well.  Now obviously work can be understood in a variety of different ways but the truth remains that we are all supposed to use the gifts and abilities God has given us in fruitful service one way or another.

frosted cow parsnip 360Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “When you arise reluctantly in the morning, think like this: ‘I arise to accomplish a human task.  Should I then complain, when I am about to do that for which I was born, and for which I was placed on earth?  Or was I created to pamper myself under the blankets, even if that is more pleasant?’  Were you born, then, to enjoy and, generally to feel, but not to act?  Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees who all perform their own tasks and in their own way helping to let the cosmos function?  Don’t you then want to do your work as a human?  Don’t you hasten to do what is befitting your nature?”

Aurelius’ words remind us that even plants and animals have work to do.  God has fashioned them and given to them what they need to do this work.  Pay close attention to nature and you will see this is true.  In the same manner, God has made each of us to work and given to us what we need to do the work He created us for.   Our lives will be fuller and the planet healthier if we will “invest our abilities…in ways that bless people and make the earth flourish.”


(I took the two pictures above last winter while visiting Yellowstone National Park.)

Dec 19 2010

Rich In Love

elk 416Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  In this morning’s service we lit the “love candle” for love is the focus of this particular Sunday.   It seems only fitting to focus on love the Sunday closest to Christmas.  As the Scriptures make clear, it was out of love that God sent His Son Jesus into the world at Bethlehem.

In the first epistle of John we are told that “God is love.”  Everything that God does is based on love.  That includes both His creation of the world and His preservation of it.

One of my favorite passages from the Book of Psalms says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Ps. 145:8-9)  This is not just the testimony of Scripture; it is my testimony too.  Throughout my life I have been the beneficiary of God’s amazing love and compassion.  Whether you realize it or not you have too–you along with the rest of Creation.

It is good news to know that God’s love and goodness extends “to all.”  It is likewise wonderful to realize that “He has compassion on all he has made.”  This means He loves every single individual on earth.  It also means He loves every creature, every plant, every river and sea,  every hill and mountain, every desert and plain.  Yes, the God who is love and who created in love loves and cares for everything that He has made.  As the Psalmist said, He  is “rich in love.”

ghost tree 967Three times in Psalm 145 we read that God loves “all he has made.”  It’s almost like the Psalmist didn’t want us to miss this important point.  He goes out of his way to make sure we understand that God loves everything included in His Creation. 

Fittingly, Psalm 145 begins with words of praise to God.  The Psalmist declares, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” Just as appropriately, Psalm 145 concludes with an invitation to “Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”   The God who has revealed His love to us in the creation and preservation of the world, and in the gift of His Son, certainly deserves our praise at Christmastime and “for ever and ever.”  He also deserves our love and devotion.  Perhaps one of the best ways we can show Him our love is by loving what He loves—everyone and everything.


(I took the two pictures shown here on my trip to Yellowstone National Park earlier this year.)

Jul 4 2010

God Bless America

WY-Yellowstone-NP-Lower-Falls-wideBeing the Fourth of July I suspect that in many churches today and at various Independence Day celebrations the song “God Bless America” has been sung.  This hymn by Irving Berlin is certainly a popular one.  Before its familiar chorus the song says, “Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”  Today we should, indeed, be grateful for the beauty of this country.  I have had the privilege of traveling to many foreign nations but I have seen none that excel this one for its natural beauty.  When God created the land we call America He truly did bless it.

The hymn “God Bless America” is considered a patriotic anthem but it might just as well be an environmental one.  Here we sing “From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”  In this “solemn prayer” we seek God’s blessings for that which He has made—the mountains, the prairies, the oceans.

I suppose it is fine to continue to ask God’s blessings on His Creation but just as much Creation needs our blessing.  It needs our care.  Many of the mountains in this country have been ravaged.  Our prairies have vastly shrunk due to urban development.  The oceans surrounding our country were terribly polluted even before the BP oil spill.  God blessed this “land that I love.”  We seem to have cursed it.

The way that we have treated our land makes me wonder if we even have the right to sing “God Bless America.”  How can we ask God to bless this land when we have misused it in so many ways?  I have written before that one of my fundamental beliefs is that with blessing comes responsibility.  How many of us have truly been responsible as stewards of God’s good earth?  Of America, “my home, sweet home”?

We seem to have forgotten—or never understood—that God blessed this land with natural resources not just so that we could prosper, but so that we might see and know Him in that which He has made.  My prayer today is that God will bless America with a love for its land and for its Creator.  Both deserve a greater love than we have given thus far.


(I took the image above of Lower Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park was taken a few years ago in early July.)

Mar 7 2010

Rich Beyond Measure

Firehole-River-572A number of years ago I was introduced to the poems of Robert W. Service.  Service was sent by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1904 to work at their Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, branch.  While there he became famous as the poet who chronicled the Klondike gold rush and the beauty of the frozen north.  I enjoy Service’s Yukon poems and none more than one called “Comfort.”

Say!  You’ve struck a heap of trouble—

Bust in business, lost your wife;

No one cares a cent about you,

You don’t care a cent for life;

Hard luck has of hope bereft you,

Health is failing, wish you’d die—

Why, you’ve still the sunshine left you

And the big, blue sky.

Sky so blue it makes you wonder

If it’s heaven shining through;

Earth so smiling ‘way out yonder,

Sun so bright it dazzles you;

Birds a-singing, flowers a-flinging

All their fragrance on the breeze;

Dancing shadows, green, still meadows—

Don’t you mope, you’ve still got these.

These, and none can take them from you;

These, and none can weigh their worth.

What! You’re rich—you’ve got the earth!

Yes, if you’re a tramp in tatters,

While the blue sky bends above

You’ve got nearly all that matters—

You’ve got God, and God is love.

 In Service’s words we find a reminder that as beneficiaries of God’s Creation we are all rich indeed—rich beyond measure.  When times get tough for us, or we just find ourselves feeling down, it truly does help to look around us and notice the wonders and beauty of nature. 

This morning as I walked to the church building from my car I became aware that it was a glorious morning indeed.  The sun was shining (that hasn’t happened a lot around here lately), the sky was a beautiful shade of blue, and the birds were singing their hearts out.  In that moment I recognized that I was truly blessed and offered thanks to God.  Surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation I smiled for I knew that I had God, “and God is love.”


(The image above was taken in Yellowstone National Park along the Firehole River.)