Dec 16 2014

Too Much Darkness

e_CES8771It sure does get dark early this time of year in western Kentucky.  That has been one of my major adjustments since moving here and finding myself in the Central Standard Time zone once again.  A lot of people in this area go to work in the dark and when they get off of work it’s already dark again.  Darkness arrives early and it makes the nights seem so very long.  I don’t like it.  It’s depressing.  It messes with my mind.  And for a few more days it’s only going to get worse.  But there’s the good news, it’s only for a few more days.  The winter solstice arrives next week and slowly, but surely, the hours of daylight will lengthen.

It is knowing that the long nights will not last forever that makes them endurable.  When you have hope of longer and brighter days to come you can bear the shorter and darker days.  That hope sustains you.  That hope sees you through.

DV-moonSuch thoughts seem appropriate during the Advent season.   This time of year we remember how long ago God’s people longed for the coming of a Savior and how the prophet Isaiah declared that one day things would be different.  He wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (9:2)  Ironically, it was a great light that led a group of Magi to the one born to be King of the Jews.  Later, when Jesus began his teaching ministry he announced “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)  In so many ways Jesus did, in fact, bring light to the world.  During Advent we pause to remember how that light made its entrance.

TB-880Advent, however, is more than just a time for looking back and remembering.  It is also a time for looking ahead.  Before Jesus left this world he promised that he would one day return.  That has not happened yet but we live with the confidence and assurance that someday it will.  That is good news, especially in dark days like these.  And here, by dark days, I am not referring to the shortage of daylight.  All you have to do is watch or read the news and it becomes obvious that a deep darkness pervades much of the world.  Scores of innocent children are murdered while they are at school in Pakistan.  Various groups of people suffer regularly from racial injustice.  Thousands die each day from hunger and poverty related illnesses.  Violence raises its ugly head unrelentingly.  Climate change and pollution threaten the lives of millions.  Yes, there’s a lot of darkness out there.

The darkness around us will not last forever however.  A better day is coming.  In fact, there is a time approaching when there will be no more darkness.  That is something that we are promised in Revelation 21:25.  The one who is the Light of the world will prevail and his kingdom will one day be fully established.   In the meantime, followers of Jesus must never forget that he said we, too, are “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)  As long as darkness remains in this world we have work to do, we must let our light shine.  Until the Second Advent takes place we are charged to do all we can to dispel the darkness around us.  I need to be a light for you.  You need to be a light for me.  We need to be a light to all those around us.  It’s what the one born in Bethlehem is counting on us to do.  I pray we will not let him down.

–Chuck

(I took the images used above in New Mexico and California.)


Dec 3 2014

Things As They Should Be

RGG3519It is no secret that I love the outdoors.  I think I’m happiest and most at peace when I am in a nice natural setting.  There are lots of reasons for this.  First and foremost, I feel close to God when I’m surrounded by the work of the Creator’s hands.  Second, I delight in the beauty, mystery and variety to be found in Creation.  Third, I feel nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, many of them spiritual in nature.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that these are the three themes I tend to focus on most.

SFNF5134Today I thought of another reason why I enjoy being outdoors in nature so much.  There, for the most part, things are as they are supposed to be, things are as God intended.  I don’t find that scenario many other places in my life.  Not in my personal life, not in my church, not in my community, not in my state or country.  In so many areas things are not as they should be but in nature–at least where humans don’t adversely interfere–we see God’s plans being fulfilled day after day.  The mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys, coast or desert do what they are supposed to day after day.  The flora and fauna that live there do the same.  So do the rocks and minerals.  And because nature affords us this rare opportunity to be where things are as they should be I find peace and comfort there.

The reason we don’t see things as they should be in many other arenas is, of course, the fact that we humans have been granted an incredible gift called free will.  We get to choose whether we will live in the way God intended for us or choose a different path.  Apparently God chose to give this gift to us so that our relationship to Him would not be a forced one. (If we have no choice but to love God then it is no longer a relationship based on love.)  Considering all the discord, strife and injury that has resulted from our misuse of free will I can’t help but wonder if God wishes at times He had set things up a different way.  Today the order, harmony, and justice God must have desired is very hard to find.

SFNF4352That’s why it helps me to get out in nature on a regular basis.  I find solace being someplace God’s will is actually done.   Being in nature and observing all of this also serves as a reminder to me (and hopefully others) that things work so much better when we choose to follow God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  It is when we are selfish and greedy that we make bad choices that hurt us, those around us, and Creation itself.

GR4138The good news in all of this is that we can learn from nature and our past mistakes.  We can, in fact, be wiser in the future and strive more diligently to do God’s will.  Jesus taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  He also modeled this when he prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will but yours be done” to his heavenly Father.  I am convinced that the peace I find in nature can be found elsewhere, but not without our learning to seek first the kingdom of God.   I know I have no control over whether others do this but I do have a good bit of control over whether I do.  And so do you.  As we journey through this Advent season please join with me in praying that God’s will shall be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above earlier this year on a trip to New Mexico.)


Nov 27 2014

For the Fruit of All Creation

_DSC3980“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”   Psalm 107:1

This past Sunday we sang a song at church I was not familiar with.  It is called For the Fruit of All Creation.  The song was written by Fred Pratt Green almost forty-five years ago but it is new to me.  It is, appropriately enough, a hymn of thanksgiving.  The first verse speaks particularly of the blessings of nature: “For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God; for good gifts to every nation, thanks be to God; for the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping, future needs in earth’s safe-keeping, thanks be to God.”

_DSC3862Thanksgiving is obviously a time for us to pause and give thanks.  Hopefully when we offer our thanks today we will remember to express our gratitude for “the fruit of all creation.”  This will, by necessity, also include acknowledgement that God has graciously provided for us a planet that produces fruit, a good earth that has for eons sustained us and all other life forms.

Most of us will sit down today to a table of plenty.  We will have abundant evidence of God’s provisions and nature’s bounty right in front of us.  On this day and every other day we should indeed give thanks for the “fruit” of the earth that sustains us.  Through Creation God has provided everything necessary to meet our physical needs.

e_DSC3707In recent days I have once again been reminded that “the fruit of all creation” meets more than just my physical needs.  I would have a difficult time surviving both spiritually and emotionally without its abundant fruits.  I found myself a couple of days ago in desperate need of the healing balm of nature.  I told a friend I was visiting with at the hospital that I was going to see my therapist.  I went on to say that by that I meant I was going to drive out to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area to look at the birds.  Being out in the open surrounded by the beauty and wildlife of this area truly is therapeutic for me.  I’m not sure I would be able to maintain my sanity for long without “the fruit of all creation.”

e_DSC3564With that in mind I hope that as you give thanks for God’s blessings today that you will include the many different ways the fruit of all Creation blesses and enriches our lives. Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck

(The pictures used in this post are some I’ve taken in recent days at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area in western Kentucky.)


Nov 19 2014

The Roofless Church

_DSC2921This past weekend my wife and I went over to New Harmony, Indiana, to spend the night.  I had visited this historic community once before but was glad for the chance to go back.  New Harmony was the site for two utopian experiments in the nineteenth century.  Although those experiments failed today New Harmony is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited.  I would use the Celtic phrase “thin place” to describe it as the veil separating earth and heaven seems especially thin there.

_CES2121One of the reasons I was looking forward to going back was the fact that I had learned a good bit more about New Harmony, and especially the Roofless Church, in John Philip Newell’s latest book, The Rebirthing of God.  In an early chapter of that book Newell deals at length with the spiritual significance of the Roofless Church and also a particular sculpture found there by the sculptor Jacob Lipchitz called “The Virgin” or “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.”  The Roofless Church, as the name implies, is a church without a roof. It was built by the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust and was dedicated in 1960.  A brochure on the site says the building was created “for an interdenominational church with the concept of one roof, the sky, to embrace all worshipping humanity.” As far as I know no regular services are held in the Roofless Church but it certainly provides a worshipful experience for those who choose to visit it.  It also offers a needed reminder that not all churches or places of worship can be found under a roof.

_CES2074In many ways Creation itself serves as a “roofless church,” or at least it does for me.  I often sense God’s presence when out in the open watching the clouds float by or gazing up into the starry heavens.  Viewing Creation as The Roofless Church reminds us that God cannot be put in a box.  It, better than any building, points to the transcendence of God.

_CES2050Over the years I have been blessed to visit many of the most beautiful churches ever constructed.  I’ve been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s in Vienna and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  All are majestic and awe-inspiring structures but none compare to the majesty and beauty of Creation.  No ecclesiastical building I have visited or worshiped in draws me into God’s presence the way nature does.  I am certainly grateful for nice roofed churches to worship in but it is the “roofless church” of Creation that I find most conducive for worship.

I wish more people would begin to look at Creation as The Roofless Church.  It might just lead them to worship more often.  It might also motivate them to take better care of this “church.”  In most churches I’ve served the members take great pride in their buildings and go to great length to keep them clean and operable.  If we viewed the earth as The Roofless Church I’d like to think we would offer it more respect and do all we can to keep it clean and healthy.

If you’ve never visited the Roofless Church in New Harmony I hope you get the chance to do so someday.  Even more so, I hope you will begin to view the world around you as The Roofless Church and take advantage of the opportunities it affords you to offer the Creator your worship and praise.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at New Harmony last weekend.)


Nov 12 2014

The Peace of the Forest

_DSC0586In recent days I’ve been reading Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Jane Goodall.  Her work amongst chimpanzees is legendary.  I was surprised when I learned the subject of her new book was plants.  Still, I knew it would be something I would want to read.

_DSC7876In Seeds of Hope Dr. Goodall writes about her lifelong love for plants.  Botany might not be her primary area of expertise but it is obvious she knows a lot about plants and is enthralled by their diversity and usefulness.  At one point, however, she offers a testimony of how the trees of a particular forest brought emotional and spiritual healing to her following a personal crisis.  She writes, “It was to the forest I went after my second husband, Derek, lost his painful fight with cancer in 1981.  I knew that I would be calmed and find a way to cope with grief, for it is in the forest that I sense most strongly a spiritual power greater than myself.  A power in which I and the forest and the creatures who make their home there ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).  The sorrows and problems of life take their proper place in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, with reality suspended by the timelessness of the forest world, I gradually came to terms with my loss and discovered that ‘peace that passes all understanding” (Isaiah 26:3).”

_DSC1272Later Goodall shares how the peace of the forest continues to sustain her.  She says, “As I travel around the world, people are always telling me that I have an aura of peace—even when I am surrounded by chaos, by people jostling for signatures, or wanting to ask questions, or worrying about logistics. ‘How can you seem so peaceful?’ they ask.  The answer, I think, is that the peace of the forest has become part of my being.  Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or the waves crashing onto the shore.” 

I can relate to what Jane Goodall writes here.  For many years I, too, have found my greatest peace in the forest.  There’s just something about being amongst trees.  A few days ago a friend and I took a short walk through a forest to photograph a natural arch.  As we walked the trail we talked about the therapeutic benefits of being in the woods.  It seems to have a calming affect for a lot of people.  I have no doubt that this is something God intended.  And like Goodall, I find peace not only in being amongst the trees but also when I pause to reflect on memories of times spent in forests.

_DSC0854It’s interesting how often the Bible talks about trees and how they often fulfill a vital role in the biblical stories.  Trees play an important part in the Creation accounts and the story of the Fall.  In a number of instances God reveals Himself near trees.  Both Abraham and Moses had close encounters with God near trees.  Jesus apparently often sought solace in a grove of olive trees.  And in the end, when John offers a graphic description of heaven, he says “And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

I realize that the peace Goodall and I experience in the forests others feel in desert settings, mountains or near rivers, lakes or oceans.  I feel peace in these places too.  Once again, I am convinced that God has designed Creation to give us peace so this is to be expected.  If we want the peace that passes all understanding we will be wise to spend time in the Creation with the Author of Creation and the giver of peace.  We will also be wise to make sure that such places are protected and preserved.  In at least one sense, the peace of the world is dependent on it.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Nov 5 2014

Could Never Say Enough!

_CES3560In recent weeks I’ve been using John Philip Newell’s book, Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayer, as part of my morning devotion time.  I have found it to be quite helpful.  It offers wonderful aids for focusing on God and a part of each day’s reading includes Scripture passages that Newell has paraphrased and a prayer he has written.  In this morning’s reading I came across a passage I was not familiar with.  The reason I was not familiar with it is it was based on a couple of passages from the Book of Ecclesiasticus.  Ecclesiasticus, not to be confused with the Book of Ecclesiastes, is also known as the Wisdom of Sirach and is one of the writings found in the Apocrypha.  These are writings accepted as canonical by a large portion of Christianity but typically not by Protestants.  I actually have only one Bible that contains the Apocrypha and will confess that I’ve never read Ecclesiasticus in its entirety.  After reading some of the readings Newell has included in Celtic Treasure I want to.

_DSC7802This is the passage I read this morning and found so moving: “Bless the God of all who everywhere works great wonders and by whose will all things are made.  The shining stars are the beauty of the universe, a glittering array in the heights of God.  Look at the rainbow and praise the One who made it.  It stretches across the sky with its glorious arc.  By God’s command lightning flashes from heaven and thunder shakes the earth.  Cold snow blows from the north and the south brings summer breezes.  The sun’s heat scorches the wilderness and withers the grass like fire.  Wet mist hovers between the mountains and falling dews refresh the land.  The swelling sea is full of danger and strange creatures crawl forth from its depths.  By heaven’s word all things are created.  We could say more but could never say enough. Let the final word be, ‘God is in all things.’  So bless the God of all who everywhere works great wonders, who watches over our life from birth to death and deals with us mercifully.  May there be peace in our days and may there be gladness in our hearts.”

I love this passage because it is a beautiful reminder that God is the Creator of all that is and as such is to be blessed or praised.  It also challenges us not to forget that “God is in all things.”  I find especially interesting the words “We could say more but could never say enough.”  When it comes to declaring the majesty of the Creation and the even greater majesty of the Creator we truly could “never say enough!”

_DSC0890Every time I go out into nature I find something to marvel at.  There is always something new to discover, enjoy or learn.  I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how long I live this will always be the case.  The wonders, beauty and mysteries of nature are beyond my comprehension.  Even more so is the wonder, beauty and mystery of God.  I have committed my life to being a witness for this God and there is much I want to say to honor my Lord and the Maker of heaven and earth but in the end I have to agree with the wise writer of Ecclesiasticus, I could never say enough.  That, however, will not keep me from trying.  I hope it won’t stop you either.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at Yellowstone National Park, and the bottom image at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.)