Dec 3 2015

Peace on Earth?

flipped cardinalI’ve been thinking about peace quite a bit lately.  Unfortunately, my thoughts have centered on its absence rather than its presence.  I sense a lack of peace in our world, in our country, in churches and, yes, even in my own life.  This morning as I was driving to work the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was playing on the radio.  In one of the verses there is found the words, And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to men.”  After the madness in San Bernardino yesterday and the attack in Colorado Springs a few days before that I felt there were no truer words.  Hate is incredibly strong these days and does, in fact, mock the songs of “peace on earth” we hear at Christmastime.

e_CES0395When I heard the words of the Christmas hymn this morning it reminded me of another song by my favorite rock band, U2, called “Peace on Earth.”  The first verse says Heaven on Earth, we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this hanging around.  Sick of sorrow.  Sick of pain. Sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be Peace on Earth.”  In the last verse Bono sings, “Jesus, this song you wrote–the words are sticking in my throat–Peace on Earth.  Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme.  So what’s it worth?  This peace on Earth?”  After each verse of U2’s song there is a chorus that includes the line “Jesus could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line? Peace on Earth.” 

Both songs express my frustration right now.  Where’s the peace?  Is peace even possible?  I’m beginning to have my doubts.  The Christmas songs I’m hearing right now that talk about peace have a hollowness to them.  Even the well-known passage in Luke 2 where the angels upon Jesus’ birth declare “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…” seems somehow out of place this Advent season, especially considering how much killing is being done in the name of God these days.

e_CES0424To be honest, about the only place I can find peace right now is in nature.  I’m finding it more and more imperative for my mental and spiritual health to get into the woods.  Surrounded by God’s Creation I experience a tranquility that I don’t find elsewhere.  I believe that is not coincidental.  As I experience God’s peace in the woods I’m being led to pray more for peace.  I intend for this to become a greater focus in my prayer life and I hope that is going to happen in a lot of other people’s lives too.  We all need to be desperately praying for and working toward peace right now.

_DSC6059I have no doubt that God wills for us to know and experience peace but it’s just not happening.  Like Bono I’m sick of the sorrow and sick of the pain.  I’m also sick of all the hatred and violence.  I’m sick of the polarization that has infected almost every area of our lives.  I’m sick of hearing about people being killed.  I’m sick of the vitriolic and divisive language I see on Facebook everyday.  If we Christians are going to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” then we are either going to have to conclude that God isn’t hearing our prayers or we are not doing our part.  I have no doubt it is the latter.  When we pray (or sing) “let there be peace on earth” I wonder if God doesn’t repeat the words back to us—“Let there be peace on earth.”  A major newspaper used the headline today “God Isn’t Fixing This.”  It was a reference to the rash of mass killings lately.  I have a feeling the paper is right.  God isn’t fixing this, God is counting on us to fix it.  We’ll need God’s help to do it but if it’s going to happen it will be up to us–to people like you and me.  I’m hoping the Prince of Peace will inspire, encourage, and equip us to be the peacemakers he called us to be long ago.  If we don’t fulfill this calling I shudder to think what the future holds.

–Chuck

(I took each of these pictures near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Mar 11 2015

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

_DSC6432Two songs stand out in my memory from my childhood years growing up in church.  The earliest song I remember hearing is “Jesus Loves Me.”  The second song I remember is “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Both songs spoke to me of Christ’s love for me but the second song indicated that Jesus loves all the children of the word, not just me.  It said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  These songs became foundational for my understanding of Jesus.  He was someone who loved me and someone who loved everyone else too.  It didn’t even matter what color skin they had; Jesus loved everybody.

_DSC6428I learned these songs and sang them in the late 1950s and early 60s.  What I saw and heard growing up during this time did not, however, always match the message of these songs.  I heard a lot of grownups refer to Black people in words that were not kind at all.  I also remember hearing Asian Americans referred to in a derogatory manner.  Even as a child it disturbed me to hear such talk.  It didn’t match the theology that had been instilled within me by the songs I had learned.  God loved everyone.  It seemed cruel to call those different than us ugly names.  A lot of years have passed since that time and in some ways there has been a lot of change but two things have not changed.  One is my strong conviction that Jesus does, in fact, love me and everyone else.  The other is the unease that arises within me when I hear people call individuals of other ethnic groups cruel names.  I believe it is wrong to do so and that there is no excuse for degrading others solely because they are different from us.

Because of these two strong convictions I have been greatly disturbed by many of the events being reported on in the news the past few days.  What the young men in the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were recorded chanting is heartbreaking.    Things said by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were likewise hard to stomach.  Unfortunately, I know all too well that these were not isolated incidents.  Such cruel language is directed daily by small minded people at any number of groups.  I just don’t understand why.

_DSC6433This morning when I was leaving my office I happened to notice a sycamore tree directly in front of my car.  Since I park in the same spot everyday I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this tree before but the truth is I had paid it no attention.  Today, however, I noticed the beautiful colors and patterns on the bark of this tree.  It was fascinating to see the great variety of colors that was produced on a single tree.  I made a mental note to come back later in the day and photograph the bark.

As I drove off it occurred to me that sycamore tree is a reminder that God delights in color.  That thought led me to consider how wonderful it was that one single tree could have so many different colors.  It was, in fact, the many colors that made the tree so beautiful.  This thought then made me ponder that God could have made the human race all look the same but chose not to and that we are actually much more beautiful because God decided instead to make us different colors and different in other ways too.  I truly am thankful that God did not make us all look or be the same.

_DSC6425The author of Genesis 2:27 says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Here is another foundational truth for me.  I believe every single person has infinite value simply because he or she is created in the image of God.  I do not believe there are any exceptions.  No matter the color of one’s skin, one’s nationality, one’s religion or one’s sexual orientation, everyone carries within them the image of God and because they do they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.  Both the songs I learned as a child and the Scriptures I have spent my entire life studying lead me to believe that Jesus truly does love each and every one of us.  They also lead me to believe that there is no place for referring to those Jesus loves in a derogatory manner.

There is much I see and hear that convinces me that we have not come nearly as far in the past fifty years as we’d like to believe.  Still, I hold on to the hope that things can get better.  I certainly pray that they will.

–Chuck

 


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.)


Oct 6 2014

Though the Earth Should Change

_DSC0854I have just spent a wonderful week photographing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a great time away from the stress of moving into a new home and the usual pressures that come with being a minister.  Even more so, it was a great time to be out in the beauty of God’s Creation and to enjoy the splendor of autumn in the North Woods.  I have witnessed autumn in a number of locations all across North America and would concur with those who say autumn in the UP is hard to beat.

_DSC8504This was only my second trip to this region.  A friend I traveled with has been over thirty times.  One of the things that came up in many of our discussions was how various things had changed.  We hiked to one of the most popular waterfalls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and when we got to the platform designed for viewing the falls my friend was disappointed to discover that the trees in front of the falls had grown so tall that they basically blocked the view of the falls he remembers so fondly.  We stopped at another waterfall that both of us had visited on previous trips and were surprised to see that the falls had completely dried up.  Many times throughout the trip we were reminded that in nature things change.

Due to technological advancements the past couple of generations have experienced change at a far more rapid rate than those that went before them.  I remember as a kid marveling at Dick Tracy’s wrist radio transmitter.  Today the iPhone I carry in my pocket does far more than could have been imagined back in that day.  I have been photographing seriously about twenty-two years.  I marvel at how much has changed with cameras in that time.

_DSC8928The changes we have experienced in just the past few years is enough to make one’s head spin.  It is also enough to cause one to be unsettled.  How can one have any sense of peace or security in an ever changing world?  Some might answer that one cannot find either but I would suggest they are wrong.  More than ever I’m convinced that there is one place, or more accurately one person, where we can find a still point and a source of security and that is in God.

_DSC0942A passage that gives me both comfort and hope can be found in Psalm 46.  Here we are told “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Many times during this past week as I have contemplated changes in both nature and society I have given thanks for the refuge we find in God.  I have also reflected more than once on these words from my favorite hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”  In a world that is forever changing it is good to be able to point to and hold on to One who never changes.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(The images used above were taken this past week on my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “Heaven on earth,  we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.   Sick of sorrow,  sick of pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on earth.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

 


Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)