Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?

–Chuck


Aug 24 2020

God’s Other Sanctuary

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us.  For many people of faith it has affected their ability to gather for worship.  Early on our government authorities were urging us not to congregate.  Those requests have largely passed and many churches are now meeting again.  But it’s not the same.  We’re encouraged to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks while in the sanctuary.  We have been asked not to sing.  We worship but it doesn’t feel quite right.  Even with places of worship resuming services a lot of people have elected to stay home and experience church on television or Facebook Live services.  I think all of us long for the day things will return to some sense of normalcy.  In the meantime, Covid-19 will continue to hinder our corporate gatherings of worship.

The pandemic need not, however, hinder our private expressions of worship.  We may worship God anytime and anyplace we choose.  We may or may not be able to go to church but there is another “church” that is always accessible—nature.  I was reminded of this recently when I read a selection from one of William Barclay’s books.  In it he writes: “To Jesus the whole world was full of signs, the corn in the field, the leaven in the loaf, the scarlet anemones on the hillside all spoke to him of God.  He did not think that God had to break in from outside the world; he knew that God was already in the world for anyone who had eyes to see.  The sign of truly religion persons is not that they come to Church to find God but that they find God everywhere; not that they make a great deal of sacred places but that they sanctify common places.”

John Muir once told his readers that “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.”  These words remind us that by stepping outside, or perhaps just looking out the window, we can find ourselves at church.

The Bible makes it clear that God is revealed through Creation.  In nature we find a vast sanctuary where we can commune with God and offer our Creator our heartfelt worship.  I walk outdoors every day and use this time to pray and worship God.  I don’t have to worry about social distancing or wearing a mask.  I can even sing out loud if I want.  Each day when I return from my walk I feel like I’ve been to church and there is a sense in which I have.

I hope you’ll take advantage of God’s other sanctuary and use it to bring you closer to the Holy One.  The restrictions that have come with the current pandemic cannot prevent us from sanctifying common places.  Not now.  Not ever.

–Chuck


Jul 28 2020

Using Art to Glorify God

Since I am now retired and no longer serving a church, I’ve been looking for new ways I might be able to offer a positive witness of my faith to others.  One new way I’ve discovered is creating and sharing memes on social media.  Doing so affords me the opportunity to combine my love for God, Creation and photography.  I have enjoyed putting Scripture passages or inspirational words onto pictures I have taken over the years.  These memes are shared on three different Facebook pages.  I share them on my own Facebook page.  I also share them on R120’s Facebook page.  R120 is a non-profit organization I support.  Its name comes from Romans 1:20 which reminds us of the universal witness of Creation to God’s “eternal power and divine nature.”  I have also recently started a SeeingCreation Facebook page that features these memes.  If you are on Facebook and have not liked one of these three pages I hope you will do so.

I have found so much joy in creating memes that I would encourage you to find your own unique way of sharing your faith.  Many of you have hobbies that can certainly be used for God’s glory.  It may be poetry, music, photography, painting, quilting, pottery, cross-stitching, crocheting, calligraphy, baking, or any number of other artistic expressions.  The arts have been used as expressions of worship and faith from the very beginning.  The Creator God apparently delights in our own creativeness.  I would even dare say that the Creator God is reflected in our own creativeness.  So give it a try.  Find some way to offer a positive witness through the gifts God has given you.

Below you will find a few of the memes I’ve already posted.  I hope you like them.  If you have suggestions for verses or inspirational sayings you’d like to see used in one of my memes, let me know.

–Chuck

 



Jun 29 2020

In Praise of Insects

One of the books I read this month is Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  It is a very interesting book and gave me a much greater appreciation for insects and the role they play in God’s Creation.  There certainly are a lot of insects on earth.  Scientists estimate that there are close to a million different kinds!  These six-legged creatures make up a huge percentage of the world’s living organisms.  It’s a good thing they are there as they provide many valuable services for both humans and other creatures.  The author of the book states “…we humans rely on insects getting their job done.  We need them for pollination, decomposition, and soil formation; to serve as food for other animals, keep harmful organisms in check, disperse seeds, help us in our research, and inspire us with their smart solutions.  Insects are nature’s little cogs that make the world go round.” 

There are around thirty different orders of insects in the world.  These include butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, dragonflies, termites, and orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).  Other than butterflies and a few beetles like the lightning bug, most people do not look favorably on insects.  They appear to be little more than pests to a lot of folks.  But as already noted, insects play a vital role in our lives.  Sverdrup-Thygeson notes that it is not easy to put a price tag on the services insects provide.  She says “the annual contribution of the many pollinating insects is estimated to be worth around $577 billion.  Decomposition and soil formation are estimated to be worth four times as much as pollination in total.”

Unfortunately the insect population is declining worldwide.  This is due to a number of factors.  Those most frequently cited are “increasing land use, intensive farming and forestry practices, pesticides, and the decline in natural remnant habitats, as well as climate change.”  It has been estimated that one-quarter of all insects may be under the threat of extinction.

I learned a lot about insects by reading Buzz, Sting, Bite and if you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures and all they do to enhance life on earth, I highly recommend you read it.  The book left me marveling at the amazing web of life God created.  Marvelous, indeed, are the works of the Lord!  We should all give thanks for insects and learn to appreciate them more.  They are worthy of our admiration, as King Solomon recognized, and protection.

A Canadian insect researcher once said, “The world is rich in small wonders—but so poor in eyes that see them.”  I pray God will give us all the eyes to see the wonders of the insect world and all the other small creatures around us.

–Chuck


May 26 2020

Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors

One of the benefits of being retired is having more time to read the books I want to read.  One I recently completed is called Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner.  The subtitle of the book is “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude Through Intimacy With Nature.”  In this delightful book Paintner speaks of Earth as the original cathedral, the original Scriptures, the original saints, the original spiritual directors, the original icon, the original sacrament, and the original liturgy.  I learned something from her chapters on each of these, but was particularly intrigued by her discussion of Earth as the original spiritual directors.

I have never had what most would technically consider a “spiritual director.”  Needless to say I have had many influence my spiritual journey but I never pursued a personal spiritual director to help me out.  I suspect I would have benefited had I done so.  But Paintner argues that not all spiritual directors are human.  The Earth—plants, animals, rocks, the seasons, etc.—has always been there to offer us spiritual guidance.  She quotes the Irish monk St. Columbanus, “If you want to know the Creator, understand created things.”  The more contemporary monk, Thomas Merton said “How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters.”  Paintner says “Merton knew that the true mentor of the soul was nature itself.  The fields, sun, mud, clay, wind, forests, sky, earth, and water are all companions for our own inner journeys.  The elements of water, wind, earth, and fire offer us wisdom and guidance.  They are the original soul friends.  Air is the gift of breath we receive each moment, the rhythm of life that sustains us.  Fire is the gift of life force and energy, and we might call to mind St. John of the Cross’s image of God as the living flame of love that burns in each of our hearts.  Water is the gift of renewal and replenishment, and we might call to mind the ritual of baptism as a call to claim our full gifts, or the blood that flows through our veins.  Earth is the gift of groundedness and nourishment.”

Reflecting on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin Paintner says, “Through every rock, every bird, every flower, and every creature, God enters into intimacy and communion with us.  This is how God’s wisdom is revealed, and we would do well to listen for their spiritual direction.”  I am convinced that Paintner is on to something here.  All of us have been graciously given a variety of spiritual directors in nature.  The question is, are we paying attention to these directors?  If this whole concept sounds strange to you, perhaps it will help to remember that Solomon encouraged us to pay attention to the ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Jesus said we should consider the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28).  The Bible itself points us to nature as a spiritual director.

If we can accept the truth that God is speaking to us through nature, hopefully it will cause us to begin paying more attention to the world around us.  I have no doubt that I have missed many lessons over the years because I was not paying attention.  At this point in my life I am trying to be more attentive.  What does this entail?  Paintner says “Cultivating contemplative presence to the natural world means growing in intimacy with creation so that the intimacy becomes a way of mutuality, in which we recognize that nature is not just there for our benefit but has intrinsic value apart from us and our needs.  Mutuality means that we listen to what nature has to say to us.  We allow our hearts to be opened by encounters there.”

I encourage you, and myself, to listen more carefully to what the Creator has to say to us through the Creation.  In doing so, may our hearts be more fully opened to the wonder and mystery of God.  Let us all take advantage of the spiritual directors God has given us.  What fools we will be if we don’t.

–Chuck


Apr 30 2020

A New Season

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

It has been a beautiful spring here in western Kentucky.  The redbuds were beautiful this year and the dogwoods magnificent. The daffodils came early and added a splash of color to the bleak landscape.  Now the trees are showing off their many shades of green.  I love spring!  Spring, however, does not last.  All too soon summer will arrive, then fall and then winter.  After that the cycle will repeat itself.  Seasons come, seasons go.

Just as God created the world with more or less definable seasons, there seems to be seasons in our human journey.  We have seasons characterized by new beginnings.  We have seasons characterized by growth.  We have seasons of decline.  We have seasons of ending.  And as with the natural seasons, the seasons of our lives often repeat themselves.  A time of ending will often usher in a time for new beginnings.  It’s all a part of this wonderful journey we call life.

I currently find myself at a seasonal transition.  In just four days I will be retiring.  After forty-four years as a minister I am stepping down from full-time church work.   This is an ending that comes with a lot of mixed emotions.  I am sadder than I thought I would be.  There is much I am going to miss about being a pastor. At the same time I find myself elated by this ending.  There is much I am not going to miss about being a pastor.  I am ready for a new beginning.  Or at least I think I am.  Who knows what the future holds?  I can only trust that the One who has guided me thus far will guide me until the end.

What I hope to do in this next season is spend more time studying and photographing God’s Creation.  I will certainly have more time to do so.  I hope to draw closer to God in this new season of my life.  Sad to say, pastors often spend so much time serving God that they do not have adequate time to commune with God.  I want to spend more time simply being in the presence of God.  That does not mean I do not want to continue to serve.  I do.  I cannot imagine a life that does not include serving others.  I hope to read more, write more, travel more, live more.  I hope to be a better husband.  I hope to be a better friend.  I hope to be a better me.

I am thankful for the four seasons of the year and I find myself now being grateful for the changing seasons of life.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me.  To quote Dag Hammarskjold words found in his journal Markings, “For all that has been–Thanks.  For all that shall be–Yes.”

–Chuck