Apr 22 2015

Honoring your Father and Mother on Earth Day

_DSC7241Generally, if someone asked me what I was doing forty-five years ago today I wouldn’t have a clue.  If you were to ask me that today  however I could answer your question.  Forty-five years ago today I was participating in the first Earth Day activities.  I distinctly remember getting to go outside with my fellow students at Lone Oak Middle School and pick up trash.  Today I observed Earth Day a bit differently, I spent some time volunteering at a community garden.

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringIf you are a regular reader of this blog you will not be surprised to learn that I am a big fan of Earth Day.  I got excited about it on the very first one forty-five years ago and my excitement has only increased over the years.  I think it’s awesome that every April 22 people pause to remember what a wonderful planet it is we live on and how we all have a responsibility to take care of it.  Of course, I’m one of those who thinks every day should be Earth Day but I realize that’s not realistic.  Hopefully by observing Earth Day one day each year people will, in fact, begin to think more regularly about how they can better care for the earth.

_DSC3064I love Earth Day because it gives us all a chance to honor our Father and our Mother.  By mother here I mean “Mother Earth.”  I realize that there are some who believe it is pagan to refer to the earth in this way but I hardly believe that to be true.  In so many ways the earth is our mother.  According to the Scriptures we came from the earth.  Genesis 2:7 says “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  The earth not only gave birth to us it has continued to nurse, nurture and sustain us.  Here, too, the Bible speaks of the earth’s bounty and how our needs are met by its resources.  Genesis 2 speaks about God placing trees on the earth that were both “pleasing to the eye and good for food.”  (v. 9)  It also mentions a “river watering the garden.” (v. 10)  In more ways than most of us could begin to imagine the earth serves as our mother.  Next month people will pause to honor their mothers on Mother’s Day.  It seems only appropriate that on Earth Day we stop and give honor to Mother Earth.

ME Baxter SP streamEven more important to me, Earth Day gives us a chance to honor our Father, the Maker of heaven and earth.  The Bible is clear in making the claim that the earth exists because God chose for it to exist.  As Creator of the earth this world and all that it contains belongs to God.  (Psalm 24:1)  I like to think of Creation as God’s handiwork.  When we pause on Earth Day to recognize the beauty and value of this planet we honor God.  We affirm with God that the Creation is “good” and that God’s handiwork is something to be admired, treasured and protected.  If we fail to do these things, whether it be Earth Day or not, we fail to honor God.

A major emphasis for Earth Day is caring for and protecting the earth.  For God, this emphasis goes much further back than forty-five years; it goes back to the very beginning.  God’s instructions for the first humans was to “work” the Garden “and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)  When we stop and remember our call to be good stewards of the earth we, once again, honor our heavenly Father.  We fulfill the purpose God gave us right from the start.

I hope you have had a good Earth Day.  I also hope that if you haven’t already done so, before the day is over, you’ll find some way to honor your Father and Mother.  Doing so will bring joy to the One who gave us this wonderful planet we call Earth.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used here in Utah, Wyoming, Missouri and Maine.)


Apr 17 2015

The Circle of Love

Clingman Dome sunset (h) crThis past week Rob Sheppard was here doing a photography workshop for John James Audubon State Park.  Once the workshop was over we had some time to run around and visit some of my favorite places in the area.  One of those places is New Harmony, Indiana.  Once the site of an utopian experiment it is now something of a living museum.  The Roofless Church is located there and a number of historic buildings.  In New Harmony you will find a memorial garden honoring Paul Tillich and a number of other impressive gardens.  New Harmony also features a couple of labyrinths.

AGPix_summers402_0387_Lg[1]Labyrinths have been used for centuries as a tool for prayer.  I took Rob to one labyrinth that is modeled after the famous one located at the cathedral at Chartres.  While we were there I noticed a sign I don’t remember seeing before.  On that sign was the following quotation attributed to Black Elk: “Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

I remember from some previous studies that circles were very important to Native Americans.  Some believed that natural arches continued underground and formed circles.  Medicine wheels also played an important role in some tribes.  Black Elk’s words remind us that there are many examples in nature where the Creator has utilized circles—the earth, stars, wind, nests, the sun and moon, and the seasons.

_CES7969I like to think that a circle also portrays the love of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  The Bible declares that “God is love” and I believe that God’s love encircles or encompasses everybody.  I also happen to believe that you and I are supposed to love as God has loved us.  At our recent Maundy Thursday service, where we paused to remember Jesus’ “new commandment” which tells us that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us, I used a passage from a poem by Edwin Markham as part of my message: “He drew a circle that shut me out–heretic , rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!  I do, in fact, think God likes circles and that when it comes to love He expects us to draw a circle that will take everyone in, even our enemies.

When I pause to remember that the circle of God’s love included me I feel both obligated and inspired to love others too. I hope you’ll think about that when you happen to come across one of the many circles that can be found in nature. Perhaps one reason God used so many circles was He knew we would need the reminders.

–Chuck

(I took the top image in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle one in Middlesboro, KY, and the bottom one in Henderson, KY.)


Apr 8 2015

Where Might We Find Holy Ground?

_DSC8003In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts you will find Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin or ruling court of Israel.  He was put on trial for “speaking against this holy place (the temple) and against the law.”  (Acts 6:13)  How Stephen responds to these charges is absolutely amazing.  He had several points he wanted to make in his defense and one of these is that God cannot be tied down to one place or land.  The Jewish leaders of that day had come to believe that God’s presence was pretty much limited to the Temple itself.  In a sense they had put God in a box.  Stephen believed that was not possible and that the very thought was idolatrous.

In Stephen’s defense before the Jewish council he pointed out how God had from the beginning worked and made himself known outside of what they considered the “holy land.”  Contrary to what they might believe, no single place could be identified as God’s house, no area or region could be called the “holy land.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)I think this is something we need to consider still today.   Each religion has places it considers as holy land.  Many years ago I spent a month studying in Israel and Jordan.  For a lot of people the “holy land” is Palestine—the land of the Jewish patriarchs and eventually Jesus.  I’m thankful I got to spend a number of weeks there and certainly learned a lot by doing so, but in the end I had to come to the same conclusion as Stephen did, that no land is holier than any other.  What makes any land “holy” is God’s presence and God’s presence is not limited by any geographical border.

 

Going back to Stephen’s defense, at one point he reminded those who stood as his judges that when God confronted Moses through the burning bush God told him to take off his sandals for the ground he was standing on was holy ground.  (Exodus 3:5)  Where God encountered Moses was not in Israel.  Stephen wanted the Sanhedrin to remember that God has revealed himself in numerous places. Later Stephen brought up how Solomon would eventually build a temple for Israel but that even he realized that no earthly building could contain God.  Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1-2 to drive home his point:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Where is the house you will build for me?  Where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’”

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendGod is Maker of heaven and earth.  God cannot and will not be limited to any one building, land or group of people.  God can be encountered anywhere we happen to be.  It may well be in a beautiful sanctuary or shrine, or even in a place of significant religious importance, but God can just as easily be found in a local park, your backyard garden or your own home or workplace.  Stephen did not quote Isaiah 6:3 in his defense but very well could have.  Here the prophet Isaiah hears the angels calling to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

If Stephen is right and the angels knew what they were talking about then we must conclude that the whole world is sacred and should be thought of as such.  We must not put limits on where God can speak or act.  You just never know when it comes to God; the place where you are at this very moment may well be holy ground.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in Michigan, California and Wyoming.)


Apr 1 2015

Seeing With Wonder

_DSC9010Earlier today I took a longtime family friend out to see some of the bald eagles that we have nesting nearby.  It was the first time she had ever seen eagles close up in the wild and it was fun watching her excitement.  She told me that as the eagles would fly in and out of the nest her heart would start pounding.  When it came time to go I had trouble getting her to leave.  The bald eagles filled her with such wonder and awe she found it difficult to walk away from them.  I was touched by her enthusiasm but it also served as a reminder that because of my frequent sightings of bald eagles in the area I don’t get as excited about seeing them as I once did.  I certainly still enjoy seeing bald eagles but I will confess that because it has become routine I have lost a good bit of the awe and wonder my friend displayed this afternoon.

In her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”  I think that is wonderful advice.  It may be hard for some of us to regain the excitement of our first sighting of some bird, animal or flower but we should be able to discipline ourselves to look at things with the recognition that it might be our last time to do so.  I suspect we would pay far more attention than we normally do if we looked at things this way.

_DSC8958I am convinced that we need more wonder in our lives.  G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”   There are certainly no lack of things found in God’s Creation that should cause us to experience wonder and awe.  Unfortunately, the problem is we fail to pay attention to these things and thus miss out on the wonder of it all.

_DSC8984One reason why I believe wonder is needed is that I see it as a prelude to worship.  When we experience wonder and awe we are on the verge of worship; we find ourselves very close to the God of wonders.  I have indicated numerous times on this site that I believe God has made the world not just to meet our physical needs but to point us to Him.  If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we will find much that will lead us to worship the Maker of heaven and earth and as Betty Smith indicates, it will also cause our time on earth to be “filled with glory.”

The next time you find yourself outdoors I encourage you to pray that God will help you look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.  I have a feeling that it will truly make a difference.

–Chuck


Mar 25 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

_DSC8730I am blessed to live just a mile from John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky.  After work today I decided to head that way and take a walk.  It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that spring has definitely arrived in western Kentucky.  Not only were there the proverbial robins hopping around, there were wildflowers everywhere.  I saw Dutchmen’s breeches, toothwort, squirrel corn and bloodroot in bloom.  I also observed Virginia bluebells, trillium and anemones beginning to emerge.  In only a matter of days there will be a wonderful floral display for anyone willing to take even a short walk in the woods.  If I had taken the same walk just a couple of weeks ago I would not have seen the many flowers I did this afternoon.  Winter still held its grip on the landscape.  I may not have been able to see them then but I would have known that they were coming.  Spring wildflowers are as predictable as spring itself.  Even on the most frigid snowy day of winter you know it’s just a matter of weeks before you will begin to see new life emerging from the earth.

_DSC8705Alexander Pope long ago penned the famous line “hope springs eternal.”  Nature has a way of reminding us that things do not remain as they are.  Spring always follows winter.  In fact, it is the hope of spring’s arrival that enables a lot of us to get through the dreary and cold days of winter.  In winter’s darkest hour we know a brighter day is coming.

There is a corresponding truth in the spiritual realm.  Many people experience times in their life that may well be compared to the cold and dark days of winter.  These times can come in any season of the year or in our lives.  We get discouraged or depressed.  We feel lonely and isolated.  Some may begin to lose hope when winter seems to characterize their lives.  But I believe that hope truly does spring eternal, that there is always hope of better days to come. This hope is based purely on my faith in God.

_DSC8718Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  When it’s winter in our lives, just like when it’s winter in nature, we have the assurance that spring will come.  My faith leads me to believe that with God in the picture there is always a better day to come.  I am certainly not naïve; I realize that here on earth that the “better day” we desire does not always arrive.  Still I am “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  I believe that this life is not all that there is and that there is a far better day waiting for us on the other side of death’s door.  One way or another a better day is coming!

I think I now understand why God arranged for Easter to take place in spring…

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at John James Audubon State Park this afternoon.)


Mar 18 2015

The Show Must Go On!

_DSC8615I have spent the past few days photographing the wonders of God’s Creation found in southern Florida.   Most of my time was spent in Everglades National Park. It has been a truly marvelous experience.   Each day we were treated to some incredible sights and sounds. We saw a baby barred owl feeding on a snake its mother had brought it. Twice we watched a male osprey bring a fish into the nest for its three chicks. Each day we observed numerous species of birds gather together in a small pool of water to feed. Everyday there were also alligators gliding smoothly through the water and three times we got to observe the once threatened American crocodile. Throughout the Everglades we saw beautiful wildflowers. We passed along the road dwarf cypress trees that despite their diminutive size were over a hundred years old. And then there were all the sounds of nature to delight the ears—bird song, alligators bellowing, the wind blowing through the river of grass.

_DSC8586The Florida Everglades is a unique and wonderful place. It may not receive the visitation that many of the more popular national parks do but it truly is one of America’s great natural treasures. The sad thing is that it is also America’s most endangered national park. Only a small fraction of the original Everglades still exists. Southern Florida is a heavily developed and populated area. This has not just reduced the size of the Everglades but disrupted the flow of water that its life depends on. Thankfully, there have been and continue to be many conservationists who are committed to protecting and preserving what is left of the Everglades.

After spending almost a week in the Everglades I just cannot imagine our planet without such a place. The Everglades is a showcase for many of God’s wonderful creatures. It is a place where the story of Creation continues and the beauty of God is made manifest.

_CES2407I told the friend I’m traveling with yesterday that it seemed like nature was putting on a show for us each day. If you can call God’s Creation a show then I insist the show must go on. We truly do need to do everything we can to preserve places like the Everglades. I honestly believe we have a divine calling to do so. Christians have for centuries emphasized the importance of the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. I agree that reaching others with the good news of God’s love is critical but I also believe that we have not paid nearly enough attention to what I like to call “the other Great Commission.” In Genesis 2:15 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” This, too, is our commission. This, too, is our task.

_CES2205In the story of Creation, just as in the stories found in the Scriptures, God’s love and beauty are revealed. They are made known in the many “shows” nature puts on for us daily. If we do not take more seriously the “other Great Commission” then many of these marvelous and exquisite shows will cease to be played. We can’t let that happen. The show MUST go on!

–Chuck