Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Wonder

Polyphemous Moth ... from our Sun Room!
In a delightful, well-written essay entitled "Wonder Beyond Measure" (unfortunately available only to subscribers of the Chronicle of Higher Education),  environmental science professor Christopher Norment describes an experience during a class field survey with a song sparrow nest containing an egg and two new hatchlings.  He goes on to argue that although it cannot be captured in learning objectives or measured by tests, the capacity for wonder is an essential ingredient of life. It's a beautiful piece and I couldn't agree more.

But let us not stop there. Wonder is fulfilled in worship. Worship connects us with our Creator. This is what we were made for. Recognizing the hand of God in the beauty and mystery of life closes the loop. Yes, we can identify, classify, quantify,* but at the end of the day our ultimate need is to celebrate, to sing His praise; to come face to face with the living God. Wonder is a good step down that path.

*I also enjoy identifying, classifying and quantifying. I was explaining to my son yesterday that the difference between plains garter snakes and eastern garter snakes was which scale rows their stripes were on, and he asked, "Dad, who does that? Who counts scales on snakes?!"

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Of Kites and Sparrows

Swallow-Tailed Kite over Champaign

Above is a picture which I took today of a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring over Champaign, IL. This is only the seventh documented sighting of a swallow-tailed kite in the State of Illinois for the past 50 years. If you look at a range map you'll see that they inhabit the wetlands of the extreme southeastern United States, so it's a special treat to have one hanging around here for the past week or so. If you know anything about birders, you won't be surprised to know that they've been coming in large numbers, some from great distances here in the midwest, to get this bird on their life lists. When I stopped by to get this picture this afternoon, there were about a dozen birdwatchers with binoculars and cameras with huge lenses watching the kite and hoping it would perch nearby. There have also been news crews hanging around the area in the past week as well.

In contrast, earlier today I was on a weekly Audubon birdwalk in a local park. There were twenty-some birders there for the comradery of birding together and to learn from more experienced birders (personally it's an area I'm growing in when I have the time). On the final tally for the morning there were listed a total of 26 bird species, but there was one species I know was there and suspect everyone in the group saw as well (birders don't miss much) but paid no attention to and did not include on their lists. That was the house sparrow. The house sparrow is one of the most common animal species on the face of the earth, and certainly among the most widespread. It is found on all continents except for Antarctica and is often considered a pest -- you know, the little bird that hops up to you if you're eating at a restaurant patio or outside at the zoo to beg or steal a bit of your bread or french fries or whatever?

Scientists believe that the house sparrow originated in the Middle East*, where it was also not very highly valued if I'm right in assuming it is the sparrow Jesus was talking about when he commented, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?" Think about that -- that's not even a dime a dozen! At that price you could get 25 for a dime. But that wasn't the end of what Jesus had to say. He followed up by saying, "Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7).

While we value the rare and unusual, such as the swallow-tailed kite in Champaign, IL, it is an amazing thing to know that God has time, attention and care for the common as well. He cares about sparrows. He cares about individual sparrows. How much more, Jesus asks, does He care about you as the unique individual you are? In fact, Jesus says, God knows how many hairs you have on your head. If He pays attention to that level of detail in your life, how much more does He pay attention to and care about your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your gifts, your abilities, the other details of your life? God knows us each, loves us, and wants what's best for us. How can we not trust Him with full authority over our lives?


* See Smithsonian's "The Story of the Most Common Bird in the World" for more on this ubiquitous bird.

Friday, February 06, 2015

All Things New!

Brand New!

It's been a while. So long, in fact, that I couldn't remember what I'd last posted when I started cultivating the idea for this post. Interestingly, not only is the image I was thinking of shot the same morning as the one from the last post a year and a half ago, but the thoughts follow on as well. In the last post I was reflecting on our broken world. I came today thinking about God's promise:
“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new."
Revelation 21:5
Similar to one of my early posts marveling at the complete metamorphosis of butterflies and moths and the picture that presents of God's promise of transformed lives in Christ, I'm enthralled and amazed when I consider the new lives of dragonflies as they emerge from life underwater to ruling the skies.  My words cannot capture the elegance, beauty and grace of an adult dragonfly. On a far grander scale, the Apostle Paul assures us,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I Corinthians 2:9
Just as a dragonfly naiad could have no concept of the life that awaits it in the air one day, from where we are now we cannot begin to fathom the life God ultimately has in store for us when He makes all things new.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Broken World

Stuck

I recently had the opportunity for a second year to give a series of presentations about the glory of God revealed in His world at a Christian camp in Kentucky. For one of my talks I spoke about the fact that, as Romans 8 puts it, "all creation groans" as a result of sin in the world. One of the campers remarked that she believed the bad things in the world today are God's punishment for our sin. While there are arguably some instances of this type of event recorded in scripture, I think that for the most part the brokenness of our world is simply the natural consequences of humankind's failure to "use only as directed."

What do I mean? I won't pretend to know for sure whether or not spiderwebs trapped freshly emerged dragonflies in the Garden of Eden, but I doubt it.  I am confident however that there were no category 4 hurricanes, destructive earthquakes, brain cancer etc. in the perfect world; that the world described by God in Genesis 1 six times as being "good" and once as being "very good" fully reflected the goodness of God to His satisfaction, and that a world so beautiful, so intricate, so amazingly wonderful in its reflection of the goodness of God would of a necessity be shattered by the act of disobedience we read of in Genesis 3. I like the analogy of a broken mirror: there is still a reflection of the goodness and glory of God in the broken pieces of creation, but it is now fragmentary, and there is much there that does not belong.

I find great joy, however, in the promises of God that what has been broken will be made whole. The creation will once again perfectly reflect the glory and goodness of God. The Bible promises a "new heaven and a new earth" and Isaiah 11 speaks of a healing of creation such that "the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all." And while we who are followers of Christ rightfully rejoice in our personal restoration through His death and resurrection, it is also clear in Colossians 1 that "everything was created through him and for him" and that "through him God reconciled everything to himself" (vv. 16 and 20). God's work of redemption through Christ is intended for all of creation. Yes, as in the Garden, we who were given free will must make the choice to receive His provision-- as He did not violate the free will He gave us there He does not violate it now. We humans will not be saved against our will; thus the clear invitations to repentance and belief throughout scripture. For those who believe though, we too are made new:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come."
II Corinthians 5:17

Saturday, December 31, 2011

God's Interest

Eastern Box Turtle

I happened upon this box turtle on a stroll with God through Busey Woods and it struck me for the first time-- God's interest in what Adam would call the animals He had created (Gen. 2:19)-- His interest in Adam, His interest in Adam's reaction to what He had made. Amazing! Why does God even care about such things? He is God. He doesn't need Adam's (or our!) thumbs up or thumbs down, yet He invites him into the pleasure of His creative work, and cares about our response. Get out there and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! God takes pleasure in your enjoyment of His creation!

(from Facebook, originally posted September 25, 2011 at 11:46am)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Fleeting Beauty

Fleeting Beauty

The butterfly in this image struck me with the thought that so much of the beauty and things we pursue in this life are fleeting, momentary, "dust in the wind." In fact, in my youth it was my dream to add a tiger swallowtail to my very small butterfly collection. I finally managed to capture one on a cub scout campout. I was elated. Then on the car ride home it blew off the back shelf of the car where I had so carefully placed it and it got destroyed. An early lesson in the temporary nature of the prizes this world has to offer.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."
Matthew 6:19-21

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Do I Want to be out in the Woods?

About to Bloom


When do I want to be out in the woods?
When they're dripping and wet from the dew or a rain
and the sun slants low through the trees.
When the wildflowers have begun to appear and some have started to bloom.

When do I want to be out in the woods?
When it's vibrant and peaceful, full of color and joy,
When the trees clap their hands and the songbirds rejoice,
When life is aflutter all mindless of me as I pass through and watch all amazed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Here is the ocean, vast and wide..."

... still more thoughts on Psalm 104

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.

Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
teeming with life of every kind,
both large and small.
Psalm 104:24-25


I spent a day this week with my two youngest sons at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and of course could not help thinking about (and talking about) Psalm 104!  32,600 animals there they tell us (I didn't count) and each one unique and amazing, many of them downright unbelievable. You could obviously spend years in a place like that and never soak it all in -- you'd just barely be scratching under the surface (puns intended -- sorry). Moving through the place with my sons (10 and 12) I didn't learn as much as I'd have liked (or move as fast as they would have liked) but I was able to marvel at the creativity and wisdom of our God. I only had my iPhone with me as a camera, but even with my "good" camera, it would have been very hard to begin to do justice to these fantastic and amazing creatures, and their Creator. All I can say is, if you have a good Aquarium near where you live, get out there and prepare to be amazed.  God really covered all the bases.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Awestruck

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

[I was on a mission and in a hurry, on my way to a dry fall pool to look for marbled salamanders. And then  on the non-descript grassy path through the woods-- by no means in my mind a destination in and of itself, God arrested my attention and interrupted my agenda. Following is my on-the-spot journal entry.]

There are places in life that demand a slower pace and a deeper appreciation. And these places are far more common than we imagine.

You have brought me to a sacred place to behold your beauty, Lord. And to behold it not on my terms, but Yours. The sudden orange inside the wings of a sunlit comma butterfly can take the breath away.

What is my hurry here? If I must hurry, why even come? It is a time to be alone with One I love. A time to be at peace.

I do love You Lord and I want to love You more. I confess before You the hardness of my heart and the busyness of my life. Let me be still and know that You are God. Be exalted in my life, O Lord. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"The LORD takes pleasure in all He has made!"

... more thoughts on Psalm 104
Cooper's Hawk (Adult)


Psalm 104 gives great insight into God's delight in His creation, the whole psalm being a celebration of the things He has made. Genesis 1, of course, tells us seven times that "God saw that it was good."  This psalm and other passages, however, make it clear that God's delight with His work didn't end abruptly at the end of Genesis 1-- He continues to take pleasure in the things He has made.

I have to go a step further though and say that I am also firmly convinced that God takes pleasure in sharing the things He has made with others who find delight in them and recognize that they are His work. After all, He created us for fellowship with Him and placed us into this world created so magnificently by His hand.  Think about His walks in the Garden with Adam and Eve before sin entered the scene. What must those strolls have been like?! The cooper's hawk above represents one of many encounters I have had with God's creation that I have felt especially blessed to share in, and that I am fully persuaded He has specifically orchestrated for the purpose of allowing me to share in His delight and bringing me to a point of praising Him in my life.

May the glory of the LORD continue forever!
The LORD takes pleasure in all he has made.
Psalm 104:31