Aug 9 2017

Majestic!

_CES1146Majestic. That’s the word my wife, Bonita, kept using on our recent cruise to Alaska to describe what we were seeing.  This adjective means “having or exhibiting majesty.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines majesty as “greatness or splendor of quality or character.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers as synonyms for “majestic” the words “grand” or “exalted.” That being the case, I will concur with Bonita that majestic was indeed the appropriate word to describe what we were seeing.  And just what did we see?  We saw awesome glaciers cutting their way through mountains.  We saw humpback whales feeding in the icy waters around us.  We saw gorgeous sunsets.  We saw sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles.  We saw lovely fjords carved by glaciers.  And, yes, it was all majestic–exalted and grand. This was my eighth trip to Alaska so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. In fact, I had seen all the things mentioned above before in various places throughout the state.  Still, the sights remained overwhelming. There is just something special, almost holy, about our 49th state. It truly is majestic!

_CES0783Even more worthy of the adjective “majestic” is the One who created all the sights we saw. The Creator of Alaska and the rest of the world deserves the title majestic more than anyone or anything else.  Twice in Psalm 8 David declares, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9)  In Psalm 111 the Psalmist says “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.  Glorious and majestic are his deeds…” (vs. 2-3)  In the Song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 the question is raised, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (v. 11)  In 2 Peter 1:17 God’s divine glory is described as being “Majestic.” God’s name, deeds, holiness and glory are all described as majestic.

That God would be associated with the word “majestic” should not surprise anyone. God is, after all, God. If we can use the word majestic to describe what God has made then surely the One who fashioned the natural world deserves to receive the same exaltation.  When we consider all that God has done through Christ, this becomes even more true.

_CES1505I hope as a result of your experiences with God you can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  God’s Creation and mighty acts are all meant to lead us to exalt God’s holy name.  They call us to worship the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  May we all heed that call and lift up the majestic name of the Lord.

–Chuck

 


Jun 21 2017

Taming the Tongue

SM509Deadly wildfires are in the news again. In central Portugal a large forest fire has claimed over sixty lives and has yet to be contained.  At first the fire was thought to originate with a lightning strike but a BBC report today indicates that a “criminal hand” might have actually caused the massive fire.  We know from history that it doesn’t take much to start a giant forest fire.  A single match or a carelessly discarded cigarette can start a blaze that takes lives, destroys homes, kills wildlife and devastates a forest.  That is why we must be very careful when handling such objects.

I thought of the Portugal fire as I was studying the third chapter of the book of James this week. In this section James talks about the deadly potential of the tongue.  He notes that though the tongue is small it has a way of directing or controlling our lives.  James compares the tongue to a bit that controls a large horse and to a relatively small rudder that directs a giant ship.  Then James says “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (vs. 5-6)

e_DSC7161The graphic images that are being shown of the forest fire in Portugal are not only a reminder of the dangers of fire, they are also powerful reminders of the dangers of the tongue. The words we use can, like fire, be deadly.  They can hurt people and destroy lives.  As a child I remember learning the rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  Whoever came up with this saying was an idiot!  Careless and harmful words can cause wounds that hurt worse and last longer than those caused by sticks or stone.  Most of us can bear witness to that.

James declares that “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (vs. 7-8)  This is a sad commentary on our state but who could deny it is accurate?  Perhaps we’ll never be able to fully tame the tongue but surely we can do better than we have. I certainly hope so.  In so many arenas our language has become caustic and vitriolic.  People get hurt every day.

_CES0880Obviously I cannot control what others say but I do have some control over what I say. So do you.  Let us, therefore, choose to speak words that encourage, help, comfort and heal, not words that hurt, discourage and tear down others.  Long ago the Psalmist offered this prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.” (141:3-4)  If we would be willing to offer this prayer at the beginning of each day, I can’t help but believe it would go a long way in eliminating a lot of needless and harmful words.  Smokey the Bear used to say “Only you can prevent forest fires.”  James would have us understand that same thing holds true for the verbal ones.

–Chuck


May 29 2017

Planet Earth II

_CES5265Recently I purchased the BBC series Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.  I’ve spent the last few days watching the DVDs.  As one reviewer of the series stated, “’Five stars’ isn’t really enough for this program.”  I highly recommend the series to anyone who is interested in nature.  The videography is absolutely amazing and the narration riveting.  You will no doubt learn much as you watch the segments dedicated to Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, and Cities.  You will also likely find yourself longing to know more.

I am thankful for nature series like Planet Earth. They enable a person to experience vicariously the wonders of God’s Creation.  Watching Planet Earth II I saw creatures and landscapes I will never be able to see firsthand.  I also learned much about this planet that I did not know.  I found myself marveling over how various animal species have been able to adapt to their environments and how everything in nature in interconnected.

_CES5221Watching Planet Earth II proved to be something of a religious experience for me.  Over and over I found myself echoing the words of the Psalmist, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (104:24)  Time and again I found myself offering thanks and praise to God for being the Creator of such a marvelous planet.

_DSC8099There were portions of the series, however, that were sobering. The producers did not hide the fact that many of the earth’s species and landscapes are now threatened by climate change, various forms of pollution and loss of habitat.  The very earth which supports human life is being devastated by those same humans.  I’m glad this tragic element was included in the series because we need to be informed.  Rachel Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I can’t imagine a person watching the Planet Earth series and not wanting to do more to save our threatened world.  If for no other reason than this I would recommend this program to you.

Needless to say, there are lots of other great nature programs to be seen on television. I encourage you to watch them from time to time so that you, too, may marvel at the wonders of God’s Creation and be inspired to do something to preserve and protect that Creation.

–Chuck


Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


Jan 24 2017

My Awe-full Life

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve had an awe-full life. Not awful, mind you, but awe-full or full or awe.  I was teaching a class a few days ago and I asked those in it if they could point to instances where they had experienced awe or wonder in nature.  Every single member could point to a time.  As we listed these out loud together I found myself coming up with example after example.  From my first glimpses of the Appalachian mountains and Atlantic ocean as a child until the present moment nature has continued to fill me with wonder and awe.  I can’t help but believe that is true for everyone.

God’s Creation is simply awesome! I’ve seen that awesomeness in giant trees and tiny flowers.  I’ve seen it in the Milky Way above and in marvelous creatures here below.  I’ve seen it in the heated desert and in the frozen tundra.  I’ve seen the awesomeness of nature in calving glaciers, steaming geysers and raging rivers.  I’ve seen it in mountains high and valleys low.  Near and far I’ve been blown away by the wonders and mysteries of Creation and led to moments of pure awe and worship.

WA Olympic NP Hoh RainforestThis awe-full life I’ve had comes as no surprise because the Bible teaches us that there is an awesome God behind all of this. Nature is awesome because it is a reflection of the awesomeness of God.  That awesomeness is found everywhere.  Isaiah 6:3 says “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Because this is true there are awe-full moments waiting for us all of the time.  If we will but use the eyes and ears that we have been given we cannot escape experiencing God’s glory.

VA Atlantic Ocean sunriseThe apostle Paul believed that God’s awesomeness in Creation was so great and evident he declared “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  Having seen what I’ve seen, it would be difficult for me to argue with Paul concerning this matter.

I believe that the Creator made the world awesome on purpose so that it would lead individuals like you and me to God. The marvels of nature are signposts directing us to God.  Today I am thankful for those signposts and for this awe-full life I’ve been given.  It has brought me much joy and brought me closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

( I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone NP, Olympic NP, and the Atlantic ocean.)


Jan 5 2017

Christmas and Creation

_dsc3553“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Today is the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season. When you add the four weeks of Advent to the twelve days of Christmas, and then tack on all the pre-Advent weeks of Christmas decorations, music and commercials, Christmas seems to last forever these days.  I hope it has been a joyful and blessed season for you and before we officially leave it I’d like to pause one more time to consider the significance of the Incarnation.

a_dsc8008In today’s “Daily Meditation” by Richard Rohr he makes the claim that Christmas for many is an even bigger celebration than Easter. It would be hard to deny that claim.  In fact, I’ve often wondered why we go all out in our celebration of Christmas but seem rather subdued when it comes to Easter.  Rohr offers one reason.  He says “because for God to be born as one of us in this world among the animals and in a poor family shows that humanity is good, flesh is good, and this world is good!”  I’m not sure Rohr’s reason fully justifies the disproportionate celebration Christmas receives over Easter but he does point to an often forgotten truth that was made manifest when God took on human flesh that first Christmas. By entering this world and actually becoming a part of this world God revealed the goodness of Creation and humanity itself.  This goodness was already affirmed in the Genesis 1 account of Creation but by taking on human flesh and living in the midst of this Creation God affirmed their goodness on a whole new level.

Contrary to various philosophies that have dominated human thinking at times, this world is good and life in this world is as well. The birth of Jesus Christ offers proof of this.  If the world and life were not sacred prior to Jesus’ birth—and I believe that they were—they certainly were afterwards.  In a definitive way God added God’s stamp of approval on both when Jesus was born.

a_dsc1403At the end of today’s “daily meditation” Rohr says “Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega of history (Revelation 1:8), naming it correctly at the very start and forever alluring it forward. Love is both the cause and the goal of all creation. This is a meaningful universe, and meaning is what the soul needs to thrive.”   God’s love revealed at Christmas, and certainly Easter too, does in fact give meaning to the universe and life itself.  It also serves as a useful reminder that God is as much a part of this earth and this life as God is of heaven and the life to come.  I’m afraid far too many of us fail to recognize this.  If we fully understood this truth we’d be singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not just at Christmas but year round.

–Chuck

(I took the first and third image in Henderson County, KY., and the middle image at Yellowstone National Park.)