Jun 22 2021

Declaring Our Maker’s Praise

This past Sunday we sang “This Is My Father’s World” at church.  For some reason the words to the second verse really caught my attention. Here the writer says: “This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise; the morning light, the lily white declare their Maker’s praise.  This is my Father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me ev’ry-where.”  I needed the reminder that God speaks to us everywhere and quite often through things we might not be aware of or things we take for granted.  The birds I hear singing when I take my daily walks may very well be calling me to lift my own voice in praise to the Creator.  The light that the sun casts upon the earth reminds me of the One who said in the beginning “Let there be light.”  Even the flowers I see in my yard and the “rustling grass” point me to the God who made the heavens and the earth. 

Maltbie Babcock, the writer of “This Is My Father’s World,” points out that everything God has made “declares their Maker’s praise.”  I happen to believe that this is true.  All of Creation, including us, is placed here to honor and adore God.  Each aspect of Creation certainly has other roles to play but first and foremost they, and we, exist for the glory of God. In Romans 11:36 the apostle Paul says “For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!” 

If the birds, the sun, the flowers and grass all declare God’s praise, how much more should you and I do the same!  Those of us created in the image of God should strive to offer our Maker praise and to bear witness to God’s amazing love and grace.  We, too, are part of God’s Creation and as such have a job to fulfill. 

Maltbie Babcock spoke of hearing God speak everywhere.  If Babcock were still alive today and knew you, could he say that God spoke to him through you?  If not, how come?  That, after all, is our very purpose in life. I hope when you hear the birds in your neighborhood, notice the light of the sun shining around you, see the flowers and even the grass in your yards, that you will remember to join in with the rest of Creation in offering God praise and strive to point others to the One to whom this world belongs.

–Chuck


May 28 2021

“Remember your Creator”

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  These words found in Ecclesiastes 12:1 intrigue me.  I understand the need to remember God but why just “in the days of your youth?”  The biblical writer goes on to answer this question.  His reasoning is that we should remember our Creator before it is too late.  There will come a time when we may no longer be able to do so.  Still, I believe we would be justified today to remove the latter part of this verse.  All of us, young and old alike, should make every effort to remember our Creator.  This is true for a number of important reasons.

We should remember our Creator regularly to help us keep things in perspective.  So many of the problems we face these days, both as individuals and as a society, stem from the fact that we tend to put ourselves first.  It’s almost as though we are convinced the world exists for us.  The Psalmist, however, reminds us that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Ps. 24:1-2)  Elsewhere the Psalmist says “Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his.” (Ps. 100:3)  When we pause to remember our Creator we are forced to recall that we, along with everything else, exist because of God.  Furthermore, we, along with everything else, exist for God.  If we could somehow keep in mind these two fundamental truths it would change our lives drastically.  It would basically eliminate pride—the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins—and cause us to look at ourselves and others in a whole new light.  It would likewise cause us to look at the earth and all our surroundings differently.

If we sought to remember our Creator on a regular basis we would be forced to remember our calling to be good stewards of God’s Creation.  We would recall the Bible’s repeated affirmation that the world is good and our responsibility is to make sure it stays that way.  The earth is not ours to do with as we please.  We are merely tenants who are expected to cherish, protect and preserve that which our Creator permits us to dwell on.  The earth is valuable to God.  John 3:16 says “God so loved the world He gave His only Son…”  The world’s value must also be recognized by us.  Who could deny that many of our environmental crises would not exist if only we humans had been humble enough to remember our Creator?

The One who created this world deserves our utmost respect, our complete devotion, and our faithful service.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was on to something when he challenged young people to “remember your Creator.”  I just happen to believe that this is something we all need to do, regardless of our age.  It will make a big difference in our life and in the world—a difference we all need.

–Chuck


Apr 22 2021

An Earth Day Prayer

This past Sunday I was asked to share an Earth Day prayer during the zoom worship service of the Nicholasville Christian Church. Today I want to share that same prayer with you:

Almighty God, as we observe Earth Day once again this year we pause to acknowledge you as the Maker of heaven and earth.  We celebrate both the beauty and the goodness of all that you have made.  Everywhere we go, everywhere we look, we see the beauty of your creation.  We see it right now in the budding trees, the blooming flowers, the clouds in the sky, the colorful birds you send to brighten our days.  We see so much beauty in the mountains, the ocean, the forests, the plains, and even the deserts you have made. All this beauty is but a dim reflection of your own beauty.  Thank you, God, for giving us a chance to see such beauty and may we be careful not to miss what is there to see.

Today we likewise affirm the goodness of your creation.  You made the world in such a way to meet our needs.  You gave us air to breathe, water to drink, food to sustain us, and companions to share our journey.  When you finished your work you declared that it was very good.  Today we make that same affirmation and offer you our praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of the earth.

With the Psalmist we also affirm that the heavens continue to declare your glory.  That you have given us your creation as a second book by which we might come to know and understand you better.  Please give us eyes to see and ears to hear what you desire to show us in the world around us.

Lord, on this special day we are reminded that we are a part of your creation and that you have given us the responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.  Unfortunately, we have not been very good stewards.  Today your creation suffers.  We have polluted the water and air you provided to sustain us.  We have destroyed many of the resources you gave us to nurture us.  Our wanton ways have led to a reduction of needed forests and mountains.  We have even eliminated many species you created in your love and wisdom.  More and more we see that we are paying the price for our sins.  Disease, climate change, droughts, fires, devastating storms can all be traced back to our recklessness.  God, have mercy on us.

Please forgive us for not being more faithful stewards and help us to start doing a better job.  May we never forget that the earth belongs to you and that we have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve and protect your good earth.  May we realize that in caring for the earth we show our love both for you and others, even for those yet to be born. 

In the end we pray with Jesus that your will might be done on earth just as it is done in heaven.  It is in his name we offer this prayer.  Amen.

Chuck


Mar 24 2021

God’s Spirit in Creation

During the season of Lent I have been taking a class on Celtic Christian Spirituality on Wednesday nights.  In the class we have covered several of the key figures of Celtic Spirituality.  One such figure was Pelagius, a late fourth century theologian. Many in his day considered him a heretic because he refuted the doctrine of original sin and gave strong credence to free will.  Pelagius may have been condemned for some of his teachings but I find much in his writings that I can affirm.  I have long held the belief that gold is gold wherever you find it.  I find gold in Pelagius’ affirmation of the goodness of Creation.

In one of his letters Pelagius wrote the following words: “Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the fish in the river and sea: God’s spirit dwells within them.  There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent… When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only that his hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops.  God’s spirit is present within all plants as well.  The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.” 

I so appreciate Pelagius’ words.  Not only did he see the goodness of Creation that is affirmed repeatedly in Genesis 1, he believed God’s spirit dwelt within all that God had made.  I believe this is a wonderful way to view the world around us.  In all we see we can experience the love and goodness of God.  Through nature you and I can actually commune with God.  In doing so the beauty of nature becomes something spiritual, not merely aesthetic. 

There is perhaps no better time to experience the beauty of God in nature than spring.  This time of year it is easy to become overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s Creation.  I hope you will take time to enjoy the trees that are budding, the flowers that are blooming, and the return of birds from their winter migration.  In the sights and sounds of spring the beauty of the Lord is on display.  Don’t miss it!

–Chuck


Feb 23 2021

Reading the Second Book of God

Numerous times I’ve written about how nature is God’s “Second Book.”  In addition to the Bible, Creation points us to and instructs us about God.  Recently I’ve been reading a book that elaborates on how we can read this Second Book of God.  It is called Forest Church: A Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Nature and was written by Bruce Stanley.

Stanley points to three ways of reading or understanding God in and through nature.  One way is Awe.  He says “Moments of Awe are perhaps the least formal encounters with the Divine in nature but also the most powerful and absorbing.”  If you have spent any significant time in nature you have likely experienced a moment of awe.  Perhaps it happened while looking up at the stars on a clear night, observing a sunrise or sunset, staring at the vast ocean, or while taking in the view of a lofty mountain.  Whatever it was, the experience caused you to feel awe and to sense the overwhelming power and presence of God.  Stanley says we would likely have more experiences of Awe in nature if we would “go mindfully, open and present to the reality around” us.  We would be wise, therefore, to slow down, physically and mentally, when outdoors.  Living in the moment may very well lead us to far more experiences of awe than we are accustomed to.

The next way into reading the Second Book of God is identified as Study.  Here one observes the world of nature and asks What?, How?, and Why?  Stanley says “Study provides a more practical and cerebral way into nature connection.”  As one puts forth an effort to learn more about Creation the door is opened for a closer connection with the Creator.  Study will lead you to a greater appreciation of nature but also even more experiences of Awe.  There are limitless areas of nature that might be studied.  Pursue those that most interest you. There are many resources available today to help us study nature.  Make sure to take advantage of them.

The third way into reading the Second Book of God is Meaning.  Stanley says “Meaning is about searching for insight and relevance.”  Here one looks at various aspects of nature and asks, “What does this mean?”  This is “the most challenging of the three areas, as it requires both discernment and creativity.”  Here we strive to discover what God might be telling us about the world around us, or what nature might be telling us about God.  This kind of communication can happen in one of two ways: it may be initiated by God or it might be initiated by us.

Stanley says “when you put these three together practically and imagine moving from one to another, you will see between them other elements familiar in spiritual practice.”  He goes on to say “When captured by a transcendent, awe-inspiring moment, you might ask yourself what it means and explore its depths, which can lead to a heart full of worship.  Study can deepen and speed up our reading of the world so that we’re more often delighted and more often captured by Awe.  Between Study and Meaning, moving between an analytical and a more philosophical mind, great leaps of creativity and insight can occur.”

Two later chapters in Forest Church go on to offer practical activities that might be utilized in groups or by individuals to help incorporate the three ways of reading God’s Second Book into one’s life.  If you are interested in learning more about how to do this, you might want to purchase a copy of the book.

I hope you will continue to give thought to how you might read God’s Second Book.  I am convinced that God truly can be experienced in nature and that the Creator has much to teach us through Creation.  If you would be willing to share with me your own experiences in this area I’d love to hear from you.

–Chuck


Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck