Jan 27 2022

“Wholehearted Faith”

For a number of years I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evan’s books. I just completed reading Wholehearted Faith.  This is the book Evans was working on prior to her untimely death in 2019.  I am so glad this book still got published as it beautifully highlights God’s unconditional love for us and shows how this unconditional love challenges a number of questionable doctrines.  In a chapter called “Beginning Again With Love” Evans talks about God’s love for creation and says “Embracing God’s love for creation isn’t some trite form of positive self-talk; it’s not a wave of the hand that says, ‘Everything’s good,’ or ‘We’re all fine.’  It’s the complicated, challenging, and unwavering conviction that every single person is created in the image of God and loved by God, even your enemies, and even you.”  She goes on to say, “Operating from that conviction is no walk in the Edenic park, let me tell you.  In my experience, centering my worldview and ethics around the inherent worth and belovedness of all creation makes me even more attuned to the seriousness of doing harm to God’s beloved.  It makes me even more aware of my own capacity for destruction and desecration.  Centering our conversations about sin around God’s love rather than our depravity raises the stakes, for it means that salvation isn’t just about managing your own personal sins; it’s also about restoring health and wholeness to all of creation.”

I believe Rachel Held Evans is on to something here.  When we focus on God’s love for us and Creation rather than God’s condemnation, it changes how we look at ourselves, at others, and even at the world around us.  God truly does love us. That has been made clear in more ways than we could count.  In faith we must accept God’s love for us. This is, however, easier said than done.  Many people find it hard to believe that God loves them but it is true.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We may not feel worthy of God’s love but our feelings do not get the final word.  God does.  You are worthy.  God says so.

God loves you and every other person on earth.  This truth challenges the way most of us live our lives, especially how we see others.  We often judge certain people to be unworthy of God’s love and treat them accordingly.  This has created great strife throughout the course of history. It is the source of so many of our problems. God’s love of others challenges us to love and respect all people.  We are to view people through God’s eyes, not our own tainted vision. What a difference it would make if we seriously attempted to do this.  A “wholehearted faith” will lead us to do so.

Evans also points to the biblical affirmation of the goodness of Creation and God’s love for it.  Here, too, we must learn to view the world through God’s eyes.  Unfortunately, we are far more likely to view Creation through anthropocentric eyes.  The many environmental crises we face today offers proof of this.  Air and water pollution, climate change, deforestation, elimination of species, and many other issues have arisen from failure to see and love the Creation as the Creator does.  In our arrogance and pride we have failed to remember that this is God’s Creation (not ours) and if God loves and cares for it, so must we.  The true value and worth of Creation comes from its Maker, not what we think.

Jesus taught us that one aspect of “the greatest commandment” is that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  May God enable us all to love ourselves, love everyone else, and love this wonderful world we live in.  Doing this while loving God first and foremost surely is what it means to have a “wholehearted faith.”  I long for just such a faith.  Do you?

–Chuck


Nov 29 2021

The Light Prevails

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

The season of Advent began yesterday.  Over the next few weeks Christians will be preparing for the celebration of Christmas.  Advent is a time of waiting and eager anticipation.  It seems to me that the natural year offers us a helping hand for Advent.  This is the time of year when the nights are long.  Many people find the long nights disconcerting.  It doesn’t seem right for it to be getting dark when it’s barely 4:00 p.m.  Some folks even experience depression as a result of the longer nights.   That’s understandable.  As a general rule, we long for light.

Right now a lot of us are longing for longer days.  Those days of extended light will soon be here.  After December 21 the time of daylight will begin to lengthen.  At the winter solstice we celebrate that the darkness does not prevail.  That is a theme of Advent as well.  The darkness that prevails in the world right now will not last forever.  A better day is coming, a day characterized by light.

The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of spiritual darkness and prophesied that “a great light” would dawn upon the people.  Christians believe that he spoke of the coming Messiah and that his words were fulfilled with the birth of Jesus.  It was a bright light in the sky that led the Wise Men or Magi to the Christ child.  Later Jesus would identify himself as the “light of the world.”  The author of the Fourth Gospel declared “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) 

I am thankful that God’s Light was revealed to us in such a marvelous way that first Christmas.  Over the years that Light has brought me much comfort and joy.  It has also brought me a great deal of hope.  I look forward to the day when that Light will be made manifest in all his glory.  In the meantime we will have to endure periods of darkness and do all we can to share the light of Christ with others.  How encouraging it is to know that sooner or later brighter days will come.  The Light will, in fact, prevail over the darkness.  Our Advent hope will be fulfilled.

–Chuck


Oct 27 2021

Songs of Joy

Have you heard any joyful songs lately?  Perhaps you have heard some on the radio or your personal playlist.  It might even have been at church or a concert.  There are lots of places you can hear songs of joy if you will truly listen.  Did you realize the earth itself sings songs of joy?  This is something I’ve been reminded of the past couple of days as I’ve been reading the Book of Psalms. 

Psalm 66 begins with the words “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.”  God’s call to creation to break forth in songs of joy can be found numerous places.  In Psalm 65:8 David says “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  In the verses that follow reasons are given for this request for joyful songs: “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.  The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you ordained it.  You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.  You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.  The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.  The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”  (vs. 9-13) 

I find it fascinating that it’s not just humans who are meant to experience joy and gladness.  God’s desire is for all of creation to experience these.  I cannot help but believe that all of creation does, in fact, feel joy and even sings its songs of joy to its Creator.  It has been doing so since the beginning.  The question is, are we hearing its song?   I’d dare say most people are not because they have not been taught to do so. 

Through the birds we can hear songs of joy.  Through the wind we can hear songs of joy.  In babbling streams we can hear songs of joy.  These are fairly obvious examples.  But there are other ways we can “hear” or sense creation’s songs of joy.  It might come through viewing the sun and moon, observing the beautiful foliage of autumn, or paying close attention to the various landscapes around us. Simply by being and fulfilling their purpose, all of creation offers up songs of joy to God.

When the Psalmist declared “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!” surely he had humans in mind as well.  We who have been created in God’s image should certainly be singing songs of joy.  How can we who have experienced God’s love, mercy and grace not sing for joy?  I hope you and I will do everything we can to add our voices to creation’s songs of joy.

–Chuck


Sep 22 2021

Letting Things Go

Today is the first day of fall.  Here in western Kentucky it certainly feels like it.  All of a sudden the temperature has dropped significantly, the wind is blowing, and the leaves are falling.  I am so thankful to live in an area that has four distinct seasons and I always look forward to the arrival of autumn.  

In recent days I have seen a familiar meme reappear on social media.  It says “The trees are about to remind us how lovely it is to let things go.”  I think there is something powerful to this quote.  In each of our lives there are things we need to let go of.  Things that hold us back and keep us from experiencing the joy and abundant life God intends for us.  As I look at my own life I see a number of things I need to let go of.  Let me mention just a few…

First, I need to let go of anger.  We live in very divisive time.  It seems like just about everyone is angry at someone or some group.  Unfortunately, I find myself feeling this anger periodically as well.  Anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and for good reason.  It can kill the soul and relationships quicker than anything. The Bible speaks to us of the dangers of anger.  At one point the apostle Paul warned, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)  What did Paul mean by this?  He meant we should not hold on to our anger, that we should let it go.  There will be little joy and peace in our lives as long as we remain angry.  If there is anger in your life, it is time to let it go.

Second, I need to let go of my pride.  The pride which is a sin causes people to think that the world revolves around them.  They tend to think too much of themselves and not enough about others.  Here, too, I am guilty.  I do not always give others the love and attention I should.  My foolish pride gets in the way.  The fact that pride is also one of the Seven Deadly Sins leads me to believe that this is a common struggle.  I know my life would be richer and more meaningful if I could learn to let go of my selfish pride.

Third, I need to let go of regret.  In life all of us make mistakes.  We all do things we shouldn’t and many people go on to live their life with the heavy burden of regret or remorse.  Even years after we’ve messed up we still beat ourselves up over our failures.  I admit that I struggle with this.  Although we should always learn from our past mistakes, we should not hold on to them.  God doesn’t want us to.  The Scriptures make it clear that God forgives us and that we are to forgive ourselves as well.  The simple truth is that the past can’t be changed.  It does us no good to hold on to it.  When it comes to our regrets, now would be a good time to let them go. 

I could go on listing things I need to let go of.  My tree has many leaves that need to fall.  I share my truncated list just to get me (and hopefully you) thinking about the things that need to be let go.  As you see the trees shedding their leaves this fall let them remind you of the things you need to let go of.  Autumn teaches us that we’re not intended to carry all that weight.  It truly is a lovely thing to let things go that are dragging us down.  I hope you have a wonderful fall.  Blessings!

Chuck


Jul 29 2021

Reading Both Books

In recent days I have been reading John Philip Newell’s newest book, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul.  In this excellent work Newell seeks to share “Celtic wisdom for reawakening to what our souls know and healing the world.”  As in a number of his previous books, he focuses on several key figures in Celtic Spirituality.  One of the recurring themes found among many of these figures is the idea that God has given us “two books” of revelation.  I have written numerous times about these two books but would like to share some of Newell’s insights with you from Sacred Earth Sacred Soul

In his chapter of John Scotus Eriugena Newell points out that “Eriugena said that the whole of the natural world is like a sacred text—and that includes the creatures and our creatureliness.  ‘All creatures,’ he says, ‘are in humanity as if melted down in a crucible.’  Eriugena teaches that there are two books through which God is speaking.  The first is the small book; physically little, this is the book of Holy Scripture.  The second is the big book, the living text of the universe, which includes the great luminaries of the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; the earth, sea, and sky; the creatures of all these realms; and the multiplicity of life-forms that grow from the ground.  We need to read both books, he says, the sacred text of scripture and the sacred text of the universe.  If we read only the little book, we will miss the vastness and wildness of the utterance, everything vibrating with the sound of the divine.  If we read only the big book, we are in danger of missing the intimacy of the voice, for the book of scripture calls us to faithfulness in relationship, including faithfulness to strangers, refugees, widows, and the poorest among us.”

Newell also has a chapter on Alexander John Scott’s contribution to Celtic Spirituality.  Like Eriugena, Scott points us to God’s two books. “A person with the Bible in one hand, he said, is not released from the study of God in that other book, the sacred text of the earth and of everything that has being.  We need both.  The awareness of the sacred that we access in nature is not a doctrinal or propositional knowing, said Scott.  It belongs ‘to some deeper part of the human being.’  It is the way lovers know each other, with their whole beings, heart and mind, body and soul, knowing the spiritual in the physical. ‘Forms, colors, motions, sounds’—it is through these that we encounter the presence of the divine, says Scott.  ‘This is the value of the sun, moon and stars, of earth and sea, of trees and flowers, of the bodies of men and women, the looks of human countenances, the tones of human voices.’  It is through these that the divine is made known to us.”

The testimony of Eriugena and Scott, as well as other figures Newell covers in his new book, makes it clear that not only has God given us two books of revelation but that we must be careful to utilize both books.  A similar case can be made from Scripture.  Psalm 19 refers to the two books of revelation and shows that both are important and necessary.  Unfortunately, this teaching is not widely known.  You seldom hear this message preached from pulpits today.  Nonetheless, we must recognize that there are these two book and do our very best to read and study both of them.  Sad to say, some read only the Bible and ignore the other book God has given us.  Just as sad, some read only the book of nature and ignore the Holy Scriptures.  If we are wise we will give careful attention to both of God’s books.  If we truly want to know and experience God, we will do just that.  Are you reading both books?

–Chuck


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