Dec 2 2012

Eager Expectation

Today is the first day of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming.”  In the four weeks leading up to Christmas Christians will be asked to reflect on the coming of Jesus long ago and also on the fact that Scripture declares that he will one day come again.  We tend to place the most emphasis on the former but Advent calls us to remember both “comings.”  When I was a child I recall hearing preachers say that Jesus was coming back anytime now.  It was a message I heard often enough that I remember eventually coming to the conclusion that he sure was taking his time.  It’s not easy for children to wait.  I’m not sure it’s much easier for adults.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.”  Yes, waiting can be difficult, especially this time of the year.  Children will certainly be restless between now and Christmas.  For them it will be a long wait before the big day arrives and they get to open presents.  Advent is likewise difficult for us adults as we wait and wait and wait for Christ’s return.  This waiting can be as painful for us as it is for our kids waiting for Santa Claus to come.  But wait we must.

Interestingly enough, we do not wait alone.  The Bible indicates that all of Creation also awaits the coming of Christ.  In Romans 8 Paul talks about how “the creation waits in eager expectation” for the glory that will be revealed.  And there is good reason for Creation to wait in eager expectation.    In vs. 20-21 Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In v. 22 Paul goes to add, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  This verse contains both bad news and good news.  The bad news is Creation suffers today.  It is in pain from the “bondage of decay” brought upon it by the sin of man.  In his commentary on the Book of Romans, Paul Achtemeier says, “If one wonders at the ‘mythology’ involved in earth’s suffering for human perversity, one can have its truth demonstrated in a quite literal way by seeing what humankind has done by way of the pollution of air and water and the thoughtless exploitation of the natural resources of the world in which we live.”  Considering how we have treated the earth and its resources, how could it not suffer?  How could it not eagerly long for restoration?

That leads to the good news.  Paul says creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth.”  Although pain is associated with childbirth the pain points to something better to come—the birth of a child.  Nature’s pain and eager expectation are important because they point to a better day and a better world to come.  Paul’s words in Romans 8 are all about hope, which happens to be the theme of the First Sunday of Advent.  For both humans and Creation the Bible points to a brighter and more glorious future.  Many churches today heard passages read from the Book of Isaiah.  This prophet, likewise, looked forward to a better day to come, a day when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” (11:6)  One day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” where all shall be as God intended.  That truly is something worth waiting for.

Yes, a better day is coming for both believers and Creation.  In the meantime, we are called by God to make the most of our time on this earth and one way we can do this is by being good stewards of God’s Creation.  There are lots of ways we can help nature suffer less in the here and now.  Considering how long nature has already waited, wouldn’t you agree that it’s past time we did something to help?


p.s. I came across a wonderful video a few days ago where “Blessed Earth’s” Matthew and Nancy Sleeth are interview by Tony Campolo and Shane Claibore.  I encourage you to take time to watch it.  Here’s the link:

Oct 28 2012

Keeping a Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” Exodus 20:8

Although I am far from perfect, I generally do try to live my life in a way that honors God and that is true to the teachings of Scripture.  There is one area, however, in which I fail miserably over and over again.  And much to my shame, it is a big area.  It is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments.  Even though I know better, I rarely honor the Sabbath as it is meant to be honored.  I have increasingly become convicted about this.  In an effort to help me move in the right direction I read two books this past week on the Sabbath, one by a Christian writer, the other by a Jewish scholar.  Both books proved to be very helpful.

The Christian book was Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s newest work, 24/6.  I have great admiration for Dr. Sleeth and for the work he and his wife, Nancy, do through their organization Blessed Earth.  I already knew that the Sleeths were serious about observing the Sabbath and this book tells the story of why they are and how they go about it.  Matthew does not believe that the “Sabbath” one observes has to be a particular day of the week, Saturday or Sunday.  What he does believe is that it is imperative that a person practice a “Stop Day” or Sabbath one day each week.  He emphasizes how observing a Sabbath is vital to one’s health—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  He notes, “Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.”   Relying on his medical background, Dr. Sleeth clearly shows that we all need the rest that observing a Sabbath offers.  You might be surprised to discover all that he feels we need rest from.  I encourage you to take time to read 24/6.  You’ll find it to be informative, inspirational and fun.

The Jewish book I read was The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  For Heschel the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  This has long been the Jewish practice or understanding.  Heschel does a great job showing why the Sabbath is so important in Jewish life.  At one point he summarizes things by saying, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”   I learned a lot from Heschel’s small, but deep, book on the Sabbath.

About midway through his book Heschel says “The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it.”  Both 24/6 and The Sabbath heightened my awareness of the need to do better in my own life.   Both books helped me better understand what a gift and blessing the Sabbath is and that we owe it to ourselves, to our world and most importantly to God to “keep” it.  Thus far I haven’t even come close to doing so.  I have sinned.  I rarely take a full day off and do not seem to know how to relax.  I have yet to master the spiritual discipline of stopping.  I know I need to do better and I want to do better.  Now if I can only muster the courage and discipline to actually do better.


(I took the three pictures above on my recent trip to the Great Plains.  The top two were taken at Custer State Park and the bottom one at Badlands National Park.)

Aug 2 2009

The Greening of the Church

IndianapolisThe picture to the right probably doesn’t look much like a nature photo, even though there is green grass, trees, blue skies and beautiful clouds.  Actually, it is a picture I took a couple of days ago from my hotel room in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I have spent the past five days in Indianapolis attending the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). 

You may be wondering why I am writing about this on a site called “Seeing Creation.”  There is a reason.  In Indianapolis I discovered just how committed the Disciples of Christ are to promoting environmental stewardship.  Every Assembly service drew our attention to the beauty and wonder of God’s Creation and to our need to care for it.  Songs were sung celebrating Creation, children’s sermons were presented helping kids better understand our calling to care for the earth, and a resolution was passed calling our churches to respond proactively to climate change.  The Assembly also made several efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of this gathering of some 6,000 people.

One of the workshops offered at the Assembly was called “It Isn’t Easy Being Green.”  The featured speaker was Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of Serve God Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action.  (I encourage you to check out his website at   Dr. Sleeth says “It is right to change our behavior and to start caring for God’s creation.  It is wrong to continue destroying that which belongs to God and to future generations.”  He emphasized the need for the church to do more to care for the earth.

Unfortunately, there have been many over the years who have pointed an accusing finger at Christianity, claiming that we are much to blame for the environmental crisis.  There is no denying that the church has been slow to get involved in “creation care” but there has always been a recognition among some that we have a divine obligation to be good stewards of the earth and that “having dominion over the earth” involves caring for Creation, not destroying it. 

Thankfully, more and more Christians are beginning to realize that the environmental crisis is a moral and spiritual crisis too.  I am grateful to be a part of a denomination that is striving to make a difference and am praying that the “greening of the church” will come sooner rather than later.