Apr 18 2016

It’s God’s World!

_DSC5249Yesterday was Earth Stewardship Sunday at my church. We had a chance to sing hymns and offer prayers that honored God as Creator. We were even reminded during Communion that the bread and wine are gifts of the earth provided by the One who made it.  For my sermon I chose to focus on the words of the hymn “This Is My Father’s World.”  I did this so I could emphasize a very important biblical truth, this world doesn’t belong to you or me.  As the Psalmist boldly declared, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” (24:1-2)  I like the way George McKinney, Jr. put it, “The creation of our Lord does not belong to the rich who possess it nor to the poor who need and want its resources. Neither the greedy nor the needy can claim ownership!”

So many of the environmental problems we face today have resulted from our failure to understand or remember that the earth is not ours to do with as we please. The earth belongs to God.  We do learn in Genesis 2:15 that we have a role to play in God’s Creation and that involves taking care of it.  Unfortunately we have been far more prone to abuse Creation than take care of it.  Many people see the earth and its resources as simply a means for getting rich.  Far too many people abuse the earth’s resources without any concern for others or for those who will come after them.  No wonder we find our planet in the shape it now is.

_DSC5227When I was a teenager I remember a television commercial that featured a lone Native American standing on a high precipice observing the decimation of this country’s natural beauty and as the camera zoomed in you saw a tear falling from his eye. It was a very powerful presentation and got a lot of people’s attention.  I have a feeling that if we could somehow get a close-up look at God’s face these days we might find a similar tear and for the same reason.  In essence, we have trashed the beautiful world God so graciously gave us.  We have failed to be the stewards of Creation God commissioned us to be.

In the final verse of “This Is My Father’s World” the writer says “God trusts us with this world, to keep it clean and fair.  All earth and trees, the skies and seas, God’s creatures everywhere.”  These may just be the words of a hymnist but they echo the teachings of the Bible.  God did, in fact, entrust us with this world, “to keep it clean and fair.”  Our heavenly Father expects us to honor the earth as His creation and to take the steps needed to reverse damage that has already been done and to work to preserve what we can for future generations.

_DSC7790Last week I spoke at the funeral of a friend whose favorite song was “Rocky Mountain High.” He wanted it played at his service so we did.  As I listened to the words one line in particular caught my attention.  It’s the one where John Denver sings “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.” I could relate to that.  I can honestly say my life is richer because I have seen, and here where I live now continue to see on a regular basis, eagles soaring above me.  But not that many years ago there were concerns about whether bald eagles would even exist in this country now.  The effects of the pesticide DDT seriously threatened their existence and had there not been tremendous pressure put on public officials to remove DDT I would likely not have the privilege I do here of seeing eagles on a regular basis.

Those who fought the battle to eliminate DDT made a difference. If we are going to take earth stewardship seriously, we need to be looking for places where we can make a difference too.  Got any ideas?

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures on a recent trip to southeast KY.  The eagle was photographed near where I live in western KY.)


Feb 10 2016

Using Creation to Help Us on Our Lenten Journey

VA SNP dawn and crescent moonToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. This is a special time of the year when Christians begin a 40 day journey, excluding Sundays, that leads them to Easter. One of my dear friends, Lon Oliver, put together a Lenten devotional guide for his congregation where he urged them to reflect on God’s two books of revelation–Creation and the Scriptures. Concerning Lent Lon writes: “This special time in the church year always comes when the days are lengthening with the arrival of spring. During Lent not only will the hours of daylight become longer, we will also witness the renewal of the earth as flowers blossom, trees bud, and the wildlife absent during the winter months make a reappearance.” He goes on to say, “During the season of Lent we believe God desires that each of us experience a renewal not unlike that we observe in nature. Lent calls for a spring or rebirth to awaken our souls.”

KY Bernheim Forest spring hYesterday I saw a posting on Facebook from Green Chalice, a group that gives attention to environmental issues in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), that offered a list of things a person might do each day during the season of Lent that will help them connect with the Creation and the Creator. I want to share a similar list of items with you and hope you will consider using it in the days to come. If you do, it may well help you to experience the “renewal” Lon wrote about in his devotional guide.

Feb. 10 — Listen for a bird’s song

Feb. 11 — Read Psalm 104

Feb. 12 — Recycle something

Feb. 13 — Notice where you see life resting or hibernating

Feb. 14 — Read Genesis 1:1-2:3

Feb. 15 — Take a shorter shower

Feb. 16 — Watch a sunset

Feb. 17 — Look at the sky

Feb. 18 — Sweeten something with honey

Feb. 19 — Make a donation to an environmental organization

Feb. 20 — Hug a tree

Feb. 21 — Read Job 38-41

Feb. 22 — Watch a sunrise

Feb. 23 — Ask someone what their favorite part of nature is

Feb. 24 — Notice five birds/animals/plants

Feb. 25 — Light a candle and give thanks for the elements

Feb. 26 — Take a picture of a tree with your camera or smart phone

Feb. 27 — Draw in the dirt

Feb. 28 — Read Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7

Feb. 29 — Take a walk

Mar. 1 — Feel the breeze

Mar. 2 — Read a poem about nature

Mar. 3 — Visit hubblesite.org and marvel at the universe

Mar. 4 — Purchase an organic food product

Mar. 5 — Go stargazing

Mar. 6 — Read Proverbs 8:22-31

Mar. 7 — Visit a local park

Mar. 8 — Sit still outside for five minutes

Mar. 9 — Visit BlessedEarth.org

Mar. 10 — Pay special attention to the “smells” of nature

Mar. 11 — Plant something

Mar. 12 — Meditate on the words to “Morning Has Broken”

Mar. 13 — Read Genesis 2:4-3:24 while sitting outside

Mar. 14 — Google “endangered species”

Mar. 15 — Notice how the days are “getting longer”

Mar. 16 — Take a picture of a flower with your camera or smart phone

Mar. 17 — Read Psalm 23 outdoors

Mar. 18 — Contemplate the many uses of water

Mar. 19 — Do something to learn more about renewable energy

Mar. 20 — Read Colossians 1:15-20

Mar. 21 — Eat lunch outside

Mar. 22 — Water a flower

Mar. 23 — Savor the taste of something fresh

Mar. 24 — Visit nps.gov and learn more about our national parks

Mar. 25 — Meditate on the words to “How Great Thou Art”

_CES1624I pray God will bless your journey through the season of Lent and that you will be drawn ever closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

 

 


Dec 19 2015

Can We Help Bring Joy to the World?

_DSC2996“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns.  They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.”   It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation.  This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”  There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator.  I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation.  The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.

_DSC5464Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days.  When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder.  Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy?  Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy?  Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation?  Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?

e_DSC3071Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus.  More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas.  If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.

e_DSC3341But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others.  If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation.  Think about it…

If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it.  If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands?  How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please?  Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources?  Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others.  The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.

e_DSC3161I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet.  And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


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.)


Nov 18 2015

Learning From Nature Not to Rush

e_DSC3033“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

For the most part nature is rather predictable.  It has its rhythms and patterns and they remain more or less consistent.  The tides ebb and flow, the moon goes through its cycle of phases, the sun rises and sets at its appointed times, and the seasons change pretty much on schedule.  There are of course some exceptions along the way.  This time last year we had our biggest snow since I moved to Henderson and winter was still over a month away.  All in all, however, nature follows its steady course year after year.  Uninterrupted, nature has its own pace and doesn’t tend to rush things.

e_DSC3171I believe we would be wise to note this attribute in nature and learn as human beings to not always be in such a hurry.  Nature generally takes things slowly while we seem to want to rush everything.  Years ago the country band Alabama had a song with the refrain “I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”   That could be the theme song for a lot of us.  Whereas nature takes its time, we want to beat time.  The tendency to rush through life keeps us from living in the moment and from experiencing what God has in mind for us here and now.

ASP0328Right now a lot of people are in a rush to get to Christmas.  As early as Halloween I was seeing Christmas decorations around town.  What’s the hurry?  Especially considering that Thanksgiving is still a week away.  Might we not want to slow down in the coming days to do what the old hymn says and count our blessings?  According to the liturgical calendar Advent does not even begin this year until November 29.  Why the rush to Christmas?  It seems like in so many areas of life it is when we get ahead of ourselves that we get in trouble.  There may well be blessings we will miss if we start focusing on Christmas too soon.

_DSC2191By paying more attention to nature we may hear God telling us to slow down and take it easy.  We might also find the Creator urging us to develop a more “natural” rhythm for our lives, one where we are content to be fully present where we are and not be always rushing to get ahead to somewhere we would rather be.  When I listen to the waves on a beach, look above at the stars in the sky at night, or simply walk through a forest I get the sense that God is calling us to find our place in this world just like the waves, stars, and trees.  I truly believe our peace is in our place and that we will never fully experience the peace God intends for us if we mindlessly rush through life and are always getting ahead of ourselves.  Perhaps I’m wrong about this but I don’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at John James Audubon State Park here in Henderson, KY.)

 


Sep 11 2015

Nature and Prayer Revisited

_CES2962I have a personal library of about 18,000 books. If I had to eliminate all but two I know which ones I would choose—a Bible and a hymnal. Hymns have played a vital role in my spiritual development and I’d be lost without them. Yesterday I was flipping through the hymnal my church uses (the Chalice Hymnal) and discovered a hymn I don’t remember seeing before. It is called God, Who Touches Earth with Beauty. This hymn, written by Mary S. Edgar, does a beautiful job of joining the themes of God, Creation and prayer together.  Here are the words: “God who touches earth with beauty, make my heart anew. With your Spirit recreate me pure and strong and true. Like your springs and running waters, make me crystal pure. Like your rocks of towering grandeur, make me strong and sure. Like your dancing waves in sunlight, make me glad and free. Like the straightness of the pine trees let me upright be. Like the arching of the heavens, lift my thoughts above. Turn my dreams to noble action, ministries of love.”

I think Edgar’s hymn can serve as a useful guide for “seeing Creation.” Throughout nature she finds things that direct her thoughts to God and she uses these images to inform and structure her prayers. Springs, running water, rocks, waves, and trees are all seen as visual aids for prayer.  In this hymn Edgar views God as someone who not only creates beauty but has the power to make our hearts anew.   She petitions the Creator to recreate her “pure and strong and true.” This is certainly a noble prayer. She also seeks greater purity and strength, an upright life and more lofty thoughts. I especially like her plea that God would turn her dreams to “noble action, ministries of love.”

_DSC9559Even though I’ve written about using nature as an aid to prayer before, I want to encourage you to consider once again how doing so can be beneficial. Recently I’ve been walking a couple of miles each day in the woods at our local state park. The trail I walk runs through a beautiful dense forest; there are trees everywhere.  A couple of days ago I found myself contemplating the trees.  I thought about how trees filter the air for us and provide shade.  Some produce food for us, others offer lumber or firewood. I can’t think of too many things that are more useful than a tree. Thinking about that, I asked God to make me useful too.

I also thought about the root systems of trees as I walked through the forest. Some trees send their roots deep into the ground while others spread them wide in more shallow soil. The trees that survive wind storms best are those with roots that run deep. Thinking about this I asked God to help me develop deep roots, or a strong foundation, that will enable me to endure the storms of life.

_DSC1366No matter where you live there are natural objects that can assist you in your prayer life if you will just pay close attention and listen for the Spirit’s promptings. This can happen as you drive your vehicle, take a walk, look out your window at home, or sit in a park. I’ve never encountered anyone who said they were satisfied with where they are in their prayer life. Perhaps this is what prompted Thomas Merton to once say when it comes to prayer we are all beginners. If you would like to strengthen or enhance your prayer life, let me suggest you consider intentionally using God’s Creation as a visual or audio aid. I have a sneaky suspicion this has been God’s intention for us all along.  And while you’re at it, make sure to offer thanks to the God who “touches earth with beauty.”

–Chuck

(I took the first image in the Ozarks and the bottom two in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)