Sep 12 2012

Keep Looking

Every Sunday I have the privilege of doing a “children’s sermon” before the kids go to “children’s church.”  I love this part of the service because I absolutely love the children in our church.  Right now the children are learning about the life of Moses.  This past Sunday it was my responsibility to tell them about God speaking to Moses at the burning bush and how God called him to go rescue the Hebrews from Egypt. (See Exodus 3)  I used my brief time with the kids to tell them that Moses had failed miserably earlier in his life—actually killing an Egyptian—but God did not hold his past against him and still wanted to use him in His service.  This is certainly an important lesson; it is crucial that we all understand that our pasts do not have to limit our service of God now or in the future.

Another lesson I could have just as well emphasized is how the story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush is a reminder that God is not limited in the least in how or where He can speak to us.  A few days ago I came across the following tale in Ken Gire’s book, Windows of the Soul“The story is told of a pagan who asked a rabbi, ‘Why did God speak to Moses from the thornbush?’ For the pagan thought God should have spoken instead in a peal of thunder or on the peak of some majestic mountain.  The rabbi answered, ‘To teach you that there is no place on earth where God’s glory is not, not even in a humble thornbush.’”   Actually it is quite interesting to remember how many different ways God spoke in the Scriptures.  One of my favorites is through Balaam’s donkey.  (See Numbers 22:30) When we recall these, why would we conclude that God does not still have an endless supply of ways He can speak or reach out to us?

Gire encourages us not only to remember that God has a variety of ways to speak to us but also to be on the lookout for these.  He says, “If we are to see the divine artist’s soul mediated through the lesser things of flesh and blood, field and stream, flute and drum, we must look for windows in places we are unaccustomed to looking.”  He indicates that we must pay more attention to our surroundings and “go on looking until we see something sacred…”

You already know that I believe that one of the places that God consistently makes Himself known to us is through His Creation.  The “divine artist’s soul” is undoubtedly manifested there.  Seeing God in Creation, however, does not always come easy.  It takes time, patience, and diligence.  I would add that a humble and prayerful spirit is also necessary.  Not all of God’s revelations are as noticeable or dramatic as a burning bush, so be on the lookout and keep looking until you “see something sacred.”


(I photographed the trees in the top image on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain.  I took the bottom image at Breaks Interstate Park not far from my home in Pikeville, KY.)

Jun 13 2012

This Is The World The Lord Has Made, Rejoice And Be Glad In It

You have probably never heard of the chaparral if you are outside of California. Even if you live in California, you might not have heard of the chaparral. Yet everyone has heard of the redwoods and a whole host of folks know the giant sequoias and ancient bristlecones.

The chaparral is a unique ecosystem that is almost exclusively in California and is as unique as the redwoods, the sequoias and bristlecones. Like those other dramatic plant communities, the chaparral is tightly bound to its environment, an environment that is dry most of the year with a wet winter, an environment that results in a shrub-based ecosystem. With only dense shrubs for its landscape, the chaparral tends to be ignored. It has no dramatic 300-foot tall trees, no trees with bases as large as a small house, no 4,000 year-old trees (though some of the shrubs can be hundreds of years old).

The chaparral shows amazing evidence of God’s always inspired creation and management of His world: the plants are mostly shrubs because it is difficult to send water to the tops of tall trees when there is a shortage of water, leaves are small to minimize water loss during dry conditions, leaves have oils in them to prevent too much evaporation of water, many plants have two root systems — a shallow root system for grabbing water quickly and a deep taproot for going after water that is deep down in the soil, and myriads of plant and animal associations that make this community lively and interesting.

Yet, this ecosystem is rarely appreciated and often badly treated. It is often put down as just “weedy brush” as if only trees were important. I admit that as one who grew up in the East and Midwest with trees, that the chaparral is sometimes uncomfortable, yet when I spend some time there, I gain much from just appreciating what is there.

There is something about us as human beings that always want the spectacular. We want God to appear to us in Yosemite, the redwoods, the Grand Canyon, truly dramatic miracles of our world, places that truly are awe-some and cannot help but make us think of good. Yet, God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, not a forest fire, not a burning mountain, not anything particularly dramatic except that the bush was a vehicle for God (Exodus 3).

And Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  While Jesus was referring to people in this case, he definitely was making the point that it was not just the dramatic, “important”, “beautiful” people that were the only ones that God paid attention to. I think this is definitely true in nature, too. Otherwise, why would places like the chaparral, swamps, marshes, common grasslands be so intricately and marvelously constructed? Obviously God cares about these places and so should we.

Sometimes I think we pay too much attention to the big, dramatic, beautiful parts of nature. There is nothing wrong with those places, but our attention is skewed from the totality of nature and how important all parts of it truly are. In Genesis, you never see this passage: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, some of it was better than others.” No, in Genesis 1:31, it says, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Sometimes I would like to modify the always familiar Psalm 118:24 passage, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” to “This is the world the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it, wherever that is.”

– Rob