Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘natural beauty’

I wanted to finish posting pics from our anniversary get-away.  It was a fun way to celebrate 33 years of being married to a wonderful woman who is simply a beautiful person through and through.  Heading to a tropical paradise just as the grip of winter seems to finally be slipping seemed like a good idea and the following pics show off the beautiful island of Kauai where we visited for 2 days at the end of our vacation.

I experienced a downside to this though.  My work travels the next week took me to western New York where the temperature never got above 40 F and it snowed almost every day.  My blood had gotten used to the tropics so I think my suffering (and whining and complaining) were justified and I guess maybe a little amplified.  And my wonderful wife that enjoyed our get-away so much… yeah, all she could do was laugh when I would talk to her on the phone from NY.

Did I ever mention that 34 years ago I prayed for humility right before I met my wife….

Enjoy the pics.

Read Full Post »

A recurring prayer for me goes something like this.  “Thank you Lord for all the blessings you’ve poured out on my family and on me.  I don’t deserve it, but I thank you for it.”  And then I wonder why I am so favored.  Now I need to put this in context before I go too far.  We have had our share of difficulties.  Perhaps not the tragedies some have experienced, but difficulties just the same – my wife’s shattered leg in 2012, my near heart attack in 2014, my job loss at the beginning of 2015, my broken shoulder in 2017 to name a few.  Yet, whatever direction I look, I see God’s goodness poured out… not just on me, but on so many people that I know.  He is indeed good… all the time.  And I wonder anew, “Lord why are you so good to me?”  Today as I have thought of this I think I have at least a little different perspective to share.

Being a father for 33 years, I know a daddy’s love for his children.  We just finished souvenir shopping for our four children and four grandchildren.  This is my wife’s time to lead and I dutifully follow.  As I watch and respond to her questions I realize she is seeking the perfect balance.  She wants to get them something they will enjoy, but that is also beneficial.  No to excess sugar and candy, yes to clothing that says laid-back Hawaii.  No to things with sharp edges or that can choke a little one, yes to cuddly and cute.  Since God is the perfect Father, He wants to give us gifts that achieve that perfect balance in our lives.  He knows our talents, our personality, our likes and dislikes.  He knows what is best for us.  His gifts are meant to draw us to himself since a deep and growing relationship with Him is what we are created for.  And just like giving gifts to our children warms my wife’s heart, I sense that God is also pleased when He is able to give us good gifts that bring us joy.  Oh, and when we recognize and give Him thanks, the mutual joy is amplified.

I believe the Father loves to hear us laugh and this is frequently one of the purposes of God’s blessings.  In some cases it may be the only reason.  But at other times God has multiple motives behind the gift given.

Being open to and responsive to the Lord’s leading in gift-receiving and gift-giving is an acquired wisdom.  God will bless us so that we can in turn bless others.  Giving of tithes and offerings is a tangible demonstration of finding our place in God’s economy of blessing.  Less formal but just as important is being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to provide help for someone when the Lord prompts us to.  Our home group purchased a moped for a young woman in difficult circumstances recently and we know it was a God assignment.  Today we are excited to see what God is going to do through this simple act of passing His blessing on.

There is one other aspect that I believe the Lord wants us to understand about His blessing, but I hesitate for fear I will not be able to adequately explain.  It is that obedience brings blessing.  As we live life the way God desires us to live, we will experience His protection, His provision, and His favor.  The Holy Scriptures contain God’s blueprint for life.  Everything necessary to know how to enter a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe is there.  However, it is spiritually discerned.  That means God Himself must be living within us by His Holy Spirit for us to read, understand, and apply the truth contained in the scriptures.  Sadly just knowing the scriptures isn’t enough.  The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were thoroughly knowledgeable of the scriptures, yet they crucified the one the scriptures foretold.

There is a progression in this flow.  The first is to recognize that there is a Creator of all that is.  He has been called many things… El Sahddai, Elohim, The LORD God, Almighty God, but it is safe to call Him God.

Second is to search for Truth.  When we honestly and openly search for Truth, asking God to guide us to Truth we will run into Jesus.  There are numerous reasons this is true, but suffice today I’ll point out the one I know to be true and unassailable.  Jesus’ resurrection proves He was Who He said He was – God’s one and only Son, sent to redeem mankind through His sacrificial death on the cross.

Third, once we recognize Jesus for Who He says He is, it is only right to surrender our life to Him and take up the life He is calling us to.  It is a life of dying to poor life choices, bad decisions, and irresponsibility.  It is letting go of living according to your own agenda and morality and learning how to live a life that aligns with God’s game plan for life.  It is saying yes to Jesus in how we live.

Fourth is to ask Jesus to help us to know Him better and to live the life God desires us to live.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help us live life the way God intends.  He never takes away our ability to choose whether to follow or not.  In fact He partners with us in the work of transformation, but He will do the heavy lifting if we simply turn to Him and ask for His help.

As we live a life of consistent obedience, God’s blessings will flow.  It is not that we are immune to difficulties, but knowing God and trusting Him provides a solid place to stand even when all around is shaking and unsettled.  And when we thank Him in the midst of the hard and difficult, when our suffering is wrapped in thanking God for being with us in the storm, we will know His peace and comfort, which is one of the greatest of His blessings to His children.

As I shared in an earlier post, my wife and I are celebrating our 33rd anniversary in Hawaii.  I am going to post a few more pics of our trip for those who are interested.  The week has contained a snapshot of life.  We’ve experienced a good bit of clouds, rain, and wind.  The conditions were not always ideal.  But through it all God has been with us, showing us His love and care.  We have thrilled with new adventures and quiet times together.  Today the sun broke through and it is gloriously beautiful.  It happened just in time for a morning helicopter ride… with the doors off and a sunset on Waikiki Beach.

Wherever you are in life, know that God loves you and He is for you.  If you are at one of those points of progression that I mention above and you would like to know more, please drop me a comment.  I would be happy to chat and pray.  It’s what I’m supposed to do.  In the meantime, enjoy the pics. and be blessed today.  And don’t forget to pass the blessing on!

Read Full Post »

One day in Oahu was dedicated to hiking and exploring.  Hitting Diamond Head at 6:20 am was wise, but we didn’t realize a Triathlon was taking place that made it hard to catch our shuttle.  We had to join the sea of joggers to meet our van.  This also added almost a mile to our hike, but we persevered and we can say we ran in a triathlon, hiked Diamond Head, and swam in Hanauma Bay all in one day.  It was a fun day of exercise, super views, and a good way to beat the heat.

Following our Diamond Head hike, we shuttled over to Hanauma Bay for a little snorkeling and relaxation on the beach.  Hanauma Bay is the collapsed crater of a Tuff cone as is Diamond Head and KoKo Crater which is beside Koko Head.  A Tuff Cone is subtly different from a volcano.  A volcano is an opening in the earth’s crust where lava pours forth over a period of several years to perhaps hundreds of years.  A Tuff Cone is a very short burst event where a crack in the earth’s crust results in the escape of hot gases to just under the earth’s surface.  The result is an explosion, not unlike the bubble that erupts in spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove.  Our guide said scientists believe the event that resulted in the creation of Diamond Head lasted between 1 to 7 days.  In the soil around these you can see the particles of reef, old volcanic material, and sand all mixed together where they were expelled in the creation of the Tuff Cone.

After a couple snorkel swims I felt the tug of another hike out Koko Head, so I gathered my camera and lenses and I was off.  The elevation above the bay created some excellent views.  My only disappointment was that I didn’t have the beautiful blue sky that proved fickle a few days while we were in Hawaii.

I’m not complaining though, I mean it was Hawaii, right?!

Read Full Post »

Throughout our stay in Hawaii we heard “Aloha!” both in greeting and as a goodbye.  Every tour guide we met referred to the importance of the word in conveying the Hawaiian sense of love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy.  It was always said with a smile and, in many cases, with a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

We attended a Luau one night and the Chief spoke of the ancient roots of the word in the Polynesian language.  It seems the word is the combination of “Alo” which means to meet or stand face to face and the word “Ha” which carries the sense of breath or life or spirit.  So it has a sense of being in close connection with another and sharing the same breath or sharing life together.

As I heard this description my mind went to Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples after His resurrection.  It’s recorded in the 20th chapter of the book of John.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” ‘  John 20:19-22

Jesus is unique among all religious leaders.  In fact, Jesus would scoff at being called a religious leader.  Jesus spoke very plainly and clearly about Who He was.  He said He was God’s Son.  He said there was only one way to enter into a face to face relationship with God and that was through Him.  His disciples didn’t understand what He meant when He first told them, but with His resurrection, the truth began to become clear.  Jesus was God’s solution to man’s problem.  God is Holy and Perfect.  Sin cannot stand in God’s presence, yet His love desires to be joined with His children.  Therefore imperfect people cannot stand in God’s presence, but Jesus intervened on our behalf and in our place.  That’s what the cross was.  Jesus accepting the punishment for sin, for our sin, in our place so that we could be able to enter into a relationship with God.

I mentioned that Jesus was unique.  Others have made mighty proclamations.  But no others have been able to demonstrate their deity because they were mere men or women.  Only Jesus conquered death.  Only Jesus rose from the grave to be witnessed by hundreds after a very public and very real death.  Jesus proved Who He was by His resurrection. That proof is also supported by the transformed lives of thousands into millions who have experienced a personal relationship with the living Lord.  I am one of them.

Jesus may not be Hawaiian, but I believe He is probably okay with the definition of Aloha that the chief gave at our Luau.  I know He is calling people to come meet with Him face to face, to put their trust in Him, to turn from a life of trusting anything and everything else and to turn to Him.  Jesus is waiting.  He wants to breath His Spirit into His children.  Let today be the day you lean into Jesus and say “Yes”… you put your trust in Him and say “I’m Yours”… you step off the throne of your life and say, “My Lord and my God.”  If you speak Hawaiian, you just might hear Him say, “Aloha, my child.  I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I first thought of you.  Receive My Spirit and enter my rest.”

Be blessed my friends and pass it on!

Note: These pictures are from our first full day in Oahu when we took the Ultimate Circle Tour of Oahu with our guide, Levent, and a van full of new friends like Sandra, Johnny, Fred, and Gail.  (Sorry we got separated at the end of the day like we did.  Hope you had a great wrap-up to your trip.)

Please feel free to view an download any pics that you like.  More to follow in the coming days.

Read Full Post »

I have a problem that I must confess. I have wanderlust. Wikipedia defines wanderlust as the strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. It has become a passion of ours to see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures, and learn new things. This week my wife and I are on a getaway celebrating our 33rd anniversary. We are in Oahu, Hawaii at a hotel on Waikiki Beach. While most of our trips are planned out a year or more in advance, this one dropped into our schedule 2 months ago when a “deal” fell in our lap. Now wanderlust itself is neutral, not necessarily good or bad. Like any strong impulse though it has the potential of becoming an idol. And this morning a disquiet has settled upon me as I realize I must deal with this reality in my life.

The standard definition of idol is an image representing a deity or god. A little broader definition of idol that better captures the message conveyed in scripture is anything that takes the ultimate place of priority in our life other than the Lord God. When I look around I see many people giving the place of priority in their life to people, things, and experiences other than God. It is incredibly sad to see a child so doted upon by their parents that they begin to actually believe the world revolves around them. In this case the parents often make the child an idol reinforcing the natural self-centered tendency that most of us struggle with. Or the person who is obviously wealthy to the point they lack no material comfort, yet they continue the quest to acquire, have, and hold onto because stuff, or position, or power has become their god. Not only can I see this in others, but when I turn and look inside, I realize this tendency to elevate people, things, or experiences to an unhealthy level still resides in me.

I recognized the uneasiness stirring in me later in the day yesterday as we filled a second day with adventure. Meeting our photography tour guide at 5:20 am to begin a Sunrise Photography tour, we had the briefest of times for our devotional. From then on the day was busy. I laid my head down at 10:00 pm Hawaii time with thoughts of things done, things still to do, plans still to be made. Body exhausted, my mind was still busy, but sadly, God was not in my first thoughts. Honestly, I didn’t pause to really spend time talking and listening to Him much at all.

For me, clarity often comes in the morning and so it was today. It is a real issue and I am ready to deal with it. I slipped out on the balcony about 4:30 am, confessing my waywardness and ready to make changes. The Lord put in mind capturing my thoughts (hence you are reading them now) and to open the Word. As He often does a snippet of scripture was persistent in my mind… “Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?”

I looked it up and had to laugh. Psalm 42 is what I was looking for. I made bold the verses that made me laugh because we are in Hawaii, visiting waterfalls and swimming in the pounding surf. God can be very specific (or in this case Pacific) when He needs to be. At the end I will close with the Psalm since God fully deserves the final word.

You see, God wants us to enjoy good things. He loves people and wants us to love them fully… with His love. He has no problem with our use and enjoyment of things. He lovingly provides them for our benefit and use. And life is made rich by new and varied experiences. God works in these experiences to stretch and grow us. The issue is simply do we have God in the proper place in our lives or is He an after-thought?.. Or is He even considered at all? Are we living a life that makes knowing God and growing in that relationship with Him the pivot point of our life? Are we living in such a manner that others recognize that He is real by the way we live?

I see my disquiet for what it is, a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to check my priorities and be sure God was not lost in our enjoyment of this beautiful place. And so, Lord I do. You are my priority. I put my hope in You.

‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’ Psalm 42:1-11

Read Full Post »

I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

Read Full Post »

My plan to catch the sunrise from Pretty Place (Symmes Chapel, Camp Greenville, SC) went awry when I found the gate locked. With the colors already rising in the eastern sky and a suitable viewing point many miles away, I knew pics at the break of dawn were not going happen… at least not for me. I got a wild hair and decided to head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see if I could capture some scenic shots higher up. Looking Glass Falls warranted the first stop and then pics at the first overlook on the Parkway came up next. A group from the Galloway School asked for me to take their pictures with their cell phones. I obliged, but I also took a few with my camera. (Hopefully they are checking these out!)

The next stop was the Graveyard Fields. Still recovering from my shoulder surgery, I didn’t exactly intend to hike very far, but… The weather and scenery drew me in and I couldn’t help but hike and shoot. I met a family visiting from Florida at the Upper Falls on the Yellowstone Prong. After about 5 miles of hiking, I made the turnoff into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area my final stop. It was a great day in the outdoors and the pics are pretty good too.

I forgot until I was editing the pics, but Looking Glass Mountain is where our son-in-law Michael proposed to our daughter, Christin. Somehow hiking to the top of a mountain to propose is an awesome metaphor for marriage. There is a lot of work on the hike up. You can’t see very far ahead most of the time. But you keep working because you believe in the goal. And the reward is very good… very good indeed!

Enjoy!