Mar 2 2011

“Hope Springs Eternal”

Bernheim-Forest-spring-hIt’s a beautiful day here in eastern Kentucky.  When I took my dog out a few minutes ago the sun was shining brightly, the birds were singing and I could see some trees starting to bud.  I realize that Spring has not technically arrived yet but it’s clear it will soon be here.  As I was walking outside the phrase “hope springs eternal” crossed my mind for some reason.   I couldn’t recall where these words came from so I looked it up.  They were spoken by Alexander Pope in his Essays on Man: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast, man never is, but always to be blest.”

When I found the source I also came across several other wonderful quotations that speak of hope.  Emily Dickenson wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without the words and never stops at all.”  A more contemporary writer, Anne Lamott, writes “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  Finally, Charles L. Allen wrote “When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.”

Hope is a very important part of our lives.  It has been said that humans can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope.  It is literally true; people do not survive long without hope.

nuthatch-In recent days some things have happened that have gotten me down.  I have been both discouraged and frustrated.  I don’t like being in this state but things happen and this is part of life.  Thankfully, I have learned from God’s “two books,” the book of Creation and the book we call the Bible, that bad times don’t last forever.  Most of the trees in my area are bare right now but soon all will be green.  Nature has many reminders that life goes on; things do not remain the same.  The Bible, likewise, is filled with passages that remind us that with God in our life there are no hopeless situations and that one way or another a better day truly does lie ahead.  The apostle Paul went so far as to say “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Later in Romans 15 Paul shared a blessing with the church at Rome.  He said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 13)  That is my prayer for you today as well.  In Creation and the Scriptures I have come to see that Alexander Pope is right, hope really does “spring eternal.”


(I took the top picture one spring at Bernheim Forest in central Kentucky.  I took the image of the nuthatch in my yard when I lived in Middlesboro, Kentucky.)

Dec 15 2010

The Outstanding Ornament

_CES2195During Vespers tonight I’ll be leading a study on the third chapter of John’s Gospel.   Here we’ll confront perhaps the most familiar passage in the Bible—John 3:16.  It seems quite appropriate to be looking at this particular verse at Christmas time.  Here John affirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  At Christmas we celebrate God’s love and the incredible gift of His Son.

While doing some research for tonight’s study I learned that the Greek word used for “world” in this verse has an interesting background.  Apparently the word originally denoted an ornament.  In his commentary on the Gospel of John Leon Morris writes, “The universe with all its harmonious relationships is the outstanding ornament, and thus the term came to be used of the universe at large.” 

_CES2310Some biblical scholars question whether the use of the word “world” in John 3:16 includes the planet earth; they claim that it refers only to human beings.  I see no reason why God’s redeeming love would not include the entire cosmos as well.  In Romans 8 the apostle Paul speaks of “the hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v. 21)  God’s gift of His Son was intended for all the world, not just humans; His saving love is extended to all of Creation.

Recognizing God’s love for Creation is important.  If God loved the world so much He was willing to give His only Son for it, then we too should love the world.  This love will include caring for this planet we call home.  Like precious ornaments we place on our Christmas trees must be handled carefully the ornament called “the world” must be tenderly cared for and protected.  God’s love for the world resulted in its salvation spiritually; our love for the world will help save it in other important ways.


(The junco and cardinal I photographed at my house this week also seem like ornaments on trees.)

Nov 28 2010

Nature’s Chrismons

GSM-trees-and-fog-004Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  We had a Chrismon service at our church this morning.  For those who may not know, Chrismons are symbols that speak of our Lord and God.  The word Chrismon is a combination of the words “Christ” and “monogram.”  Chrismons are used to decorate Christmas trees.  Their purpose is to help congregations and individuals keep their focus on Christ.  The beautiful Chrismons we use were made by members of our church.  We had approximately fifty different Chrismons.  The majority of these were crosses and symbols of the Trinity.  Other symbols included angels, crowns, Chi Rhos, and Iota Chis.  The last two use Greek letters to speak of Christ and Jesus Christ.  There were also symbols from the world of nature—stars, fish, and butterflies.  I really like our Chrismon tree and the way it keeps us focused on the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Christmas is extremely commercialized these days so anything that helps keep our focus on Christ is good.

Yosemite-streamI think that there are plenty of things in the natural world that can serve as Chrismons for us now and throughout the year.  Rocks can serve as a reminder that Jesus is the “rock of our salvation.”  Rivers, ponds and streams can call to mind Jesus’ baptism and the “living water” he came to give.  The sun and stars can remind us of the truth that Jesus is the “light of the world.”  Trees can remind us of the cross on which Jesus died for the sins of the world.   Butterflies can remind us of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life he makes available to all who turn to him.  I could go on and on. 

There truly is much in nature that can lead us to remember our Creator.  The earth proclaims his glory and bears witness to his love and might.  The apostle Paul would even go so far as to say, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) 

The Chrismons we placed on the tree at church today will only be there through the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Nature’s Chrismons, however, are there year round beckoning us to remember and to worship the King of kings and Lord of Lords.  To him be the glory now and forevermore!


(I took the top image at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The bottom picture was taken near Tuoloumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.)

Jul 7 2010

Nature’s Trail

SNP-AT-089I have long been drawn to the life and teachings of Francis of Assisi.  Yesterday I took some time to listen to a lecture on Francis.  It was noted in this lecture that Francis believed that nature was a trail that led to God.  His thinking was that like following footprints in the snow can lead you to the one who left the prints, if you follow the footsteps of Creation they will lead you to the Creator.  This line of thinking is consistent with what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:20:  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Francis’ belief that Creation led one to God no doubt contributed to his well-known love of nature.  It is what enabled him to write the Canticle of Brother Sun.  In this hymn Francis offers supreme praise to the “Most High, all powerful, good Lord.”  He then goes on to say, “Praised be You, My Lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun…”  This is followed by praise for Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Brother Fire, Sister Water,  and Sister Mother Earth “who sustains and governs us, and produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

In the lecture I listened to it was noted that in this hymn Francis mentions the four classical elements of nature: earth, wind, fire and water.  This could have been his way of claiming that all of Creation sings forth the glory of God.  In all that God has made we can find steps that lead us to Him.

If we could somehow adopt Francis’ view of nature’s trail leading to God it would greatly enhance our spiritual journey.  We might learn to pay more attention to God’s “other book” and be drawn closer to Him.  Adopting Francis’ view would also lead us to appreciate Creation more and instill within us a desire to be better stewards of the Earth.  This twelfth century saint has much to teach those willing to learn.


(The image above was taken a few summers ago on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.)

Jun 2 2010

Creation’s Groaning

FL-Panama-City--Beach-sunset-848The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has certainly gotten the nation’s attention.  It’s gotten mine too.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people down along the coast.  Nor can I imagine what it must be like for the wildlife affected by this catastrophe.  I try to keep up with the news on the spill but have discovered I can’t watch or read much without getting depressed.  The situation is horrible!

I’ve tried to think about how God sees this disaster.  Because people are hurting I know God hurts too.  The same thing goes for the wildlife.  An entire ecosystem God created is threatened.  This has to bring Him grief.  God has asked us to be stewards of His Creation, not destroyers.

One of the things that sustain Christians in difficult times is the hope of heaven.  The Bible, however, also speaks of a “new earth” to come (Rev. 21:1).   I’m not sure what this new earth will look like or exactly how it fits into God’s scheme of things but it is encouraging to know that there’s hope for the earth too.  The apostle Paul spoke of this hope in Romans 8.  Here he wrote: “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.”   Paul goes on to speak of how Creation “groans” in its present condition. 

For some this will be a new way of “seeing Creation.”  It is, however, reality.  Due to our sin Creation suffers.  Due to the way that we have treated the earth, it needs liberation.  One day God will see to it that His Creation is “liberated from its bondage to decay.”  In the meantime, it’s up to us to do everything we can to care for the earth and try to prevent further catastrophes like the one we’re seeing now in the Gulf of Mexico.  For God’s sake, for Creation’s sake, and for our own sake, we must do this!


(The image of the Gulf of Mexico shown above was taken in Florida.  Will it soon be covered with oil?)

Apr 14 2010

The Judas Tree

Pike County Spring 560Earlier this spring Rob wrote a blog about dogwoods and noted the legend that associates the dogwood bloom with Jesus’ crucifixion.  Did you realize that there is another beautiful spring tree that also has a legend associated with Jesus’ Passion?  It is the redbud tree.

The redbud tree, which is putting on a magnificent display in the mountains of Kentucky right now, is also known as the Judas tree.  According to the legend, Judas Iscariot used an Old World relative of the redbud to hang himself after betraying Jesus.  The story goes that this is why the tree is now so weak-wooded; it refuses to grow branches strong enough to hang another person.  Another part of the legend says Judas’ act of betrayal caused the tree to blush with embarrassment, turning the normally white flowers to pink.

I love redbud trees and look forward to their blossoms every spring.  For that reason, I don’t like its other name—the Judas tree.  Why should something so beautiful be associated with such a dastardly character?  Of course, I’ve often wondered the same thing when I’ve visited gorgeous examples of God’s Creation and seen names like “Devil’s Tower,” “Dirty Devil River,” and “Devil’s Canyon” attributed to natural features that are actually quite divine. 

redbud 661I guess the only thing I like about the Judas tree legend is that it reminds us that God can make something beautiful out of an ugly situation.  That, in fact, seems to be God’s specialty.  This glorious truth is nowhere presented more clearly than in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  God took the worst thing that could ever have happened and turned it into the best thing that could ever happen.

God’s ability to bring good from bad situations offers hope to us all.  The apostle Paul once said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8:28)  Even in the bad situations of our life we have the assurance  that God will do all He can to bring good from them.  That might be something to think about the next time you see a redbud tree.


(The redbud images included here were taken this week here in Pikeville.)