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.)


Apr 27 2014

Hope for Creation

_CES3069In the liturgical calendar this is the Second Sunday of Easter.  In the denomination I serve it is also Earth Stewardship Sunday.  This morning I had the privilege of preaching and presenting multi-media programs at South Elkhorn Christian Church in Lexington.  Mickey Anders, one of my personal heroes, is pastor there and he asked me some time ago to be their guest speaker.  It was great getting to share about our calling to be good stewards of God’s Creation with his congregation.  I hope a lot of other Disciples churches took advantage of Earth Stewardship Sunday to emphasize this calling as well.

_CES3063I wrote about my love for Easter and its message last week on this blog.  I mentioned there that one of the most meaningful messages is God’s ability to bring good from bad situations.  As we reflect on how the earth has been treated the past hundred years or so it is clear that this has not been a good situation.  We have polluted once pristine waters, fouled the air, destroyed incredible amounts of rains forests, literally removed mountains, hastened the extinction of numerous flora and fauna, and apparently altered the climate at the same time.  I’m not sure how any of this could be considered good.  I do believe, however, that the God of resurrection is at work and that it is, indeed, God’s desire to bring good from this bad situation.

When I first became interested in Creation Care twenty-five years ago there were not a lot of books to be found on Christianity and the environment.  That has certainly changed.  Hundreds of such books are now available.  Back then you rarely heard about churches being intentional about Creation Care and ecological responsibility.  That, too, has changed.  In my denomination there is a growing number of churches that have made commitments to be Green Chalice congregations.  We are encouraged regularly to remember our divine responsibility to be good stewards of God’s earth.   I don’t know what’s happening in other denominations but I hope that there, too, a growing commitment to Creation Care can be found.

_DSC3549About forty-five years ago there was much discussion about whether Christianity had contributed to the ecological crisis by espousing an anthropocentric understanding of the human role in Creation.  It was said by some that along with Christianity came the idea that nature is not sacred but disposable, that humans are not really a part of nature, they are above it.  There may have been some truth to these arguments but it truly does seem that more and more Christians are beginning to recognize that we are, indeed, a part of nature and that God has given us the role not of dominating nature but tending to and caring for it.

_CES2984Hopefully with this better understanding of our role we can start doing what we were supposed to all along.  Obviously we cannot undo all the damage that has been done but there are areas where restoration is possible.  Working together we can help others, including our government officials, to see the moral and divine imperative to treat the earth and its resources in a wiser and more sustainable manner.  We can provide those who follow us with a healthier planet.  That will result in healthier lives for us too, as well as more opportunities for God to reveal Himself through Creation.  This may seem overly optimistic to some or perhaps even impossible but, once again, I truly believe that God’s specialty is bringing good out of bad situations.  Having Earth Stewardship Sunday fall closely to Easter is a good thing.  It reminds us all that there is, in fact, hope for all of us and for Creation itself.

–Chuck

(I took these images the past couple of days in the Lexington area.  I want to say a special thank you to Mickey Anders and Holly Fuqua for allowing me to help lead in worship today at South Elkhorn Christian Church.)

 


Apr 20 2014

The Promise of Resurrection

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” –Martin Luther

_DSC3338I love Easter.  To me there is no more glorious day of the year.  Even more, I love the message of Easter.   It is good news—incredibly good news—every single day of the year.  I am thankful for Easter’s message that death does not have the final word.  That is important to me.  I am also thankful for Easter’s message that as the risen Lord Christ is able to be with me at all times and in all places.  That, too, is important to me.  There is yet another message of Easter that I love and treasure.  That is God’s ability to bring good out of the worst of situations.  I am convinced that this is God’s specialty.   What an amazing God it is who can take what happened on Good Friday and turn it into the most wonderful thing that has ever occurred!  God took what certainly looked like a great defeat to the world and made it become a victory like no other.  And the good news is God continues to do the same kind of thing in the lives of people like you and mine.

_DSC3334 flippwsTime and time again I have seen God take bad situations in my life or that of others and use those bad situations to bring good from them.  I’ve seen God do that when people have lost loved ones, when their marriages failed, when they lost jobs, when they sought to end their lives, when injuries were sustained, and when all hope was lost.  Easter reminds us that there is nothing that God cannot use to bring about good, if only we let Him and give Him time to do so. Countless times it has been my faith in God’s ability to do this which has enabled me to hang on.  It has been the hope I have encouraged others to hold on to on many an occasion.

_DSC1403What this hope is, of course, is nothing less than “the promise of resurrection.”  God’s resurrection power was not available to only Jesus.  The Bible makes it clear that this power is the possession of all of God’s children. (Philippians 3:10)  We just need to be reminded of this from time to time.  So perhaps that’s what spring is all about.  As Martin Luther indicated, “in every leaf in springtime” we find a reminder of the promise of resurrection.  I thought about that this morning when I drove into the church parking lot.  Earlier this winter I had photographed a dogwood bud encased in ice right next to our parking lot.  This morning that bud was a beautiful flower.  It had not only survived the cold dark winter, it was thriving.  It was alive.

On this Easter Sunday I encourage you to rejoice in and give thanks for the glorious resurrection of Christ our Lord.  I also ask you to keep in mind that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is not ancient history.  It is as fresh as the blossoms you see around you today.

–Chuck

(I took the top two images this morning and the bottom one from the same tree in February.)