Dec 18 2013

What Are You Watching This Christmas?

e_CES0370This past Sunday my younger sister was nice enough to e-mail me a page from her daily devotion guide.  Betty is a regular reader of this blog and thought I would enjoy the devotion written by Gina Bridgeman.  I did.  Bridgeman pointed out a connection between the Christmas story and nature that I had not given much thought to in the past.  That connection is the fact that key players in the Christmas story were actually focused on elements of nature when they were presented with the good news of Jesus’ birth.

In Luke’s Gospel we are told that there were shepherds out in the field that night keeping watch over their sheep.  That is, after all, what shepherds do; they watch and care for sheep.  That is their focus.  Well, it was as they did just that this particular group of shepherds got first a visit from an angelic messenger and then were serenaded by an entire choir of angels.  The message was clear—“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (v. 2:11)  The choir went on to sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (v. 2:14)

e_CES2439It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we learn about the Wise Men.  These individuals (we actually have no idea for sure how many there were) may well have been astrologers.  They weren’t watching sheep.  No, their eyes stayed focused much higher.  Long before there were telescopes these individuals paid careful attention to the movement of the stars and planets.  They believed that there was much to be learned by doing so.  After watching the night sky for some time they came to the conclusion that God was sending them a message.  Though they were from the East they felt led to follow the path of the heavenly light westward.  Matthew says when they arrived in Jerusalem quite some time later they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v. 2:2)  Once again, we see that God spoke to a group of people as they focused on an element of nature, the stars.

The author of the daily devotion mentioned above raised the question, what are we watching these days?  That is a good question.  Perhaps we are watching our favorite Christmas program on television.  Maybe it’s a band marching in our town’s annual Christmas parade.  This time of year a lot of people like to get out and look at the Christmas lights and decorations others have put up. Others will watch their children or professional actors perform A Christmas Carol or The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever.  A few days ago my wife and I went to watch (and hear) a Jim Brickman Christmas concert and even more recently a Holiday Pops performance by the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.  When it comes to watching there’s no shortage of options this time of year.

baby-sheep-2Bridgeman went on to say that paying attention to all these things does not necessarily help her keep her focus on Jesus.  In fact, she said much of it turns out to be a distraction.  Because of this, she said she decided to do something different.  She says, “Each evening I walk out my back door, and taking a cue from the Wise Men, scan the December sky for the brightest object—Sirius, the Dog Star.  I watch it for a few moments, and not only do I feel connected to that first Christmas, but it’s time each night to focus my heart on the One at the center of it all.”

I think that’s good advice.  In the midst of all the madness and noise that is associated with this season, perhaps now would be a great time to spend some precious moments out in nature watching the stars, sheep or whatever else might be handy.  God has a long history of speaking to those who watch and pay attention to His Creation.  Why should today be different?

–Chuck

(I took the top picture at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY; the middle picture last night at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the bottom one at a friend’s farm in Virginia.)


Jul 28 2013

Oprah Winfrey on Seeing Creation

eCES5580When Oprah Winfrey speaks the world listens.  Well, maybe not everyone but she is definitely very popular and someone that carries a lot of influence.  Through her television shows and magazine she has touched millions of lives.  I’ve never read her magazine but my younger sister does and Betty sent me a couple of quotes earlier this week from the August 2013 issue of “O”.  In a section called “What I Know for Sure” Oprah writes: “Every night at sunset, friends and neighbors gather on my front porch to watch what we call the greatest show on Earth. We take pictures and compare the color variations of each magnificent light show as the sun dips below the horizon.”   She goes on to say, “For me, nature is one great big wow after another, and sometimes its smallest offerings are the ones that open my soul to its splendor.”

clouds 7156There are a number of things I like about this excerpt.  For starters, I think it’s wonderful that someone who has as much money and resources as Oprah that for her evening entertainment she still turns to the free gift of sunsets, the “greatest show on Earth.”  Here we are reminded that much of God’s Creation is there for everyone to enjoy, no matter how rich or poor they are, the color of their skin, or what country they may reside in.  Everybody can enjoy sunrises and sunsets, beautiful cloud formations, the birds of the air, trees, etc.   God’s “other Book,” like God’s grace, is there for all to enjoy and benefit from.

B7194I also appreciate the fact that Oprah still sees nature as “one great big wow after another.”  I do not know Oprah personally but it would seem from what she says here that she has been able to maintain a certain degree of childlikeness after all these years.  Unlike a lot of adults, she is still able to see the Creation through the eyes of a child.  This is a positive characteristic.  You may recall that Jesus once said, “Unless you become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of  heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)  A childlike spirit (not to be confused with childishness) is an invaluable trait.  If we fail to look at the world through childlike eyes we will miss much of its wonder and we may well miss God as well.

dragonfly 48Finally, I applaud Oprah for recognizing that sometimes it’s the “smallest offerings” in nature that open our soul to its splendor.  Sunsets, mountains, and the ocean tend to wow everyone but not so the little things.  We are prone to forget that the cliche “big things can come in small packages” is true.  If we approach God’s gifts in Creation with an open mind and the childlikeness noted above we may just find our souls also moved by the tiny flower you can barely see with the naked eye, the honey bee that is carrying pollen from the flower to the hive, the dragonfly perched upon a stem, the orb weaver spinning its web, or a million other things.  All of God’s gifts and revelations do not come in big packages.  It would certainly pay us to keep that in mind.

Having written all of this I find myself being thankful that people do listen when Oprah speaks.  I hope lots of people read her words in the latest issue of “O” and that it will help them see the Creation in a new way.  Better still, I hope that it will help them see the Creator in a new way.

–Chuck

(I took all of the images shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.  I’d like to say a special thank you to my sister, Betty Summers Stewart, for sharing the words from Oprah with me and also for catching all my typos on this blog site.)