Jan 9 2013

Understanding Creation

ANP 571Names are important.  One indication of this is how most parents spend a great deal of time trying to decide what to name each of their children.  Names are also necessary.  We need them to identify ourselves and others.  They become vital in our relationships with one another.  Everyone realizes this.  What many don’t realize is that in the Bible one’s name implied much more than it does today.  In biblical thought one’s name spoke of one’s character or personality.  One’s name truly meant something.  In fact, if a person’s character changed his or her name might be changed as well.  A classic example from the Hebrew Scriptures is Jacob.  After his wrestling match with the messenger of God he received the new name, Israel.  (Genesis 32:28)

There are many names for God throughout the Scriptures.  Often this goes left unnoticed because our English translations simply render the various names, “God.”  The different names for God, however, are very important for, as already noted, in biblical thought they conveyed God’s character.  Much is revealed about who God is simply by paying attention to the various names attributed to Him  throughout the Scriptures.

ANP 165In the very first verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  A more literal reading would be “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  This is the name for God that is used here.  This particular name goes a long way back and was used by pagans prior to being adopted by the Hebrews.  It referred to one who was chief among the gods.  Elohim was understood to be a deity of great power, as well as king and judge.  He was also viewed as one who was merciful and gracious.

ANP 119Understanding a bit of this background adds meaning to the Creation story.  It gives us a better grasp of the Who behind Creation.  The One who made the heavens and the earth was/is the supreme God.  God’s great power and sovereignty are underscored by the biblical insistence that Elohim spoke the world into being.  Just as important to me, if not more so, is the affirmation that the One who created the world is merciful and gracious.  Throughout the Creation story in Genesis one (where the name Elohim appears 26 times) we are told that what God made was deemed “good.”  Creation is, in fact, “good” because behind it stands One who is also good, merciful and gracious.  It is our anthropocentric tendency that makes us think we determine what is good or not.  When it comes to Creation, however, we do not get to make the call.  It has already been made.  Creation is good because Elohim has declared it to be.

ANP 835I truly believe that a proper understanding of Creation is necessary for a healthy world view.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin affects how we look at ourselves.  Because God created the world we know that life has purpose and meaning.  We are not here by accident.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin should also help remind us of our proper relationship to the earth.  First, it will reveal that we do not own the earth, God does. Psalm 24:1 insists that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  In the very next verse the Psalmist explains why the earth is the Lord’s: “for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”  Second, we are told in Genesis 2:15 that the first humans were placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.”  This clearly reveals that one of God’s intentions for us is to be responsible stewards of the good earth He created.  Knowing this should definitely affect how we live our lives.

I’m not sure I could emphasize enough the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  What it says about God and about us is vital to our existence.  I encourage you in the days ahead to spend some time reflecting on your own understanding of Creation and on the One who was gracious and merciful enough to share it with us.


(All of the images used today were taken at Acadia National Park in Maine.)

Aug 26 2012

Ecology and Creation

The story of Creation begins in the opening chapters of the Bible.  Most people are quite familiar with the biblical accounts found in the first two chapters of Genesis.  Once the story is told, however, it is certainly not forgotten.  Israel’s affirmation of God as Creator played a central role in the other writings of the Old Testament.  The doctrine of Creation continued to be a key element of the New Testament and the faith of Christians.  It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  In so many ways it determines our understanding of God, ourselves, and the world we live in.  It also affects how we live our lives on this planet.

This past week I read a book entitled Creation by Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.  In this beautiful little book McGrath talks about the many ways the doctrine of Creation affects our lives.  He wisely notes that understanding the earth to be God’s Creation not only affects how we think about the world but also changes the way we behave toward it.  He says, “It forces us to abandon any idea of the earth as our servant which we can exploit as we please.  Instead, we are forced to think of the world as something wonderful and beautiful, created and loved by God, which we are called to tend, as Adam tended the garden of Eden.”

McGrath goes on to offer four major implications for ecology that evolve from the Christian doctrine of creation:  1. “The natural order, including humanity, is the result of God’s act of creation, and is affirmed to be God’s possession.” 2. “Humanity is distinguished from the remainder of creation by being created in the ‘image of God.’  This distinction is about the delegation of responsibility rather than the conferral of privilege.  It does not encourage or legitimize environmental exploitation or degradation.”    3. “Humanity is charged with the tending of creation, in the knowledge that this creation is the cherished possession of God.”  4. “There is no basis for asserting that humanity has the ‘right’ to do what it pleases with the natural order.  The creation is God’s, and has been entrusted to us.  We are to act as its guardian, not its exploiter.”

Over the years some have tried to blame our modern ecological crisis on Christians.  They point out that many in the church have taught that humans are called to have “dominion” over the earth and that this means it is ours to do with as we please.  Unfortunately, many have, in fact, taught this. What we desperately need to do is make sure people realize that this is a distortion of the biblical narrative and that a proper understanding of the doctrine of Creation demands practices and a lifestyle that brings good to the earth, not harm.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, if anyone should be leading the way in caring for the earth it ought to be Christians.  This has been our calling from the very beginning and will remain our calling until the very end.  Whether we live up to this calling remains to be seen.


(I took the floral images shown above this past Friday at a private garden in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.)

Aug 31 2011

Living In Creation’s Dawn

Today I’d like to use three “favorites” to remind you of an important truth, that truth being that every day we have a chance to experience anew God’s Creation.  When we think of God creating we typically think of the distant past but in reality the process of Creation is ongoing.  We are all witnesses to God’s ever developing Creation.

One of my favorite writers, John Muir, recognized this.  He once wrote: I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in ‘creation’s dawn.’ The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.” 

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, likewise lives with the recognition that we live in ‘creation’s dawn.”  She writes in “Morning Poem” this observation: “Every morning the world is created.  Under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches—and the ponds appear like black cloth on which are painted islands of summer lilies.  If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.  And if your spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead—if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging—there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what is wanted—each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, whether or not you have ever dared to pray.”

One of my favorite hymns has been reminding people of this truth for many years.  It is called “Morning Has Broken.”  Here are the words of this wonderful hymn penned by Eleanor Farjeon:  “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird.  Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!  Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!  Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the first grass.  Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.  Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!  Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s recreation of the new day!”

Hopefully we can all remember each day the privilege we have to live in Creation’s dawn and will make sure that we offer the Creator all the love and praise He deserves.


(I took the top image early one morning at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The middle image of water lilies was taken at Land Between the Lakes NRA in western Kentucky.  I took the bottom image at dawn at Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.)

Mar 13 2011

The Power of God

RL 660The power of nature has certainly been on display in recent days.  The scale of the earthquake in Japan this weekend was of historic proportions and actually moved the country eight feet to the east.  The tsunami that followed caused waves so big and powerful that they traveled six miles inland.  Less than a week ago a volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted shooting lava eighty feet into the air.  In the past week tornadoes have also ripped through a number of communities in the United States and late winter storms have caused some cities to come to a standstill.  Other areas of the country have experienced devastating floods following intense rainfall.  Yes, in a short period of time the incredible power of nature has been made manifest to all.

The power of nature is very humbling to humanity.  In the face of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, volcanoes and floods we cannot help but feel small.  If we are wise we will stand in awe of the power and forces of nature.  We will be even wiser if we remember that there is a greater power yet.

RL 674Throughout the Scriptures the powers of nature are acknowledged as being great but there is the consistent affirmation that the power of God, the Maker of heaven and earth, transcends nature’s power.  In Job 38 God reminds Job that it was He who “laid the earth’s foundation” and “marked off its dimensions.”  God goes on to inform Job that it was He who “shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb” and that it is He who “cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm.”

The Psalmist was wise enough to acknowledge God’s power and how nature is subservient.  In Psalm 148 he calls on the sun, moon and stars “to praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.”  He goes on to call on the “hail, snow, clouds and stormy winds” to also give praise to God for “his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”  In the New Testament the apostle Paul summed things up for us: “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…” (Romans 1:20)

RL 692I certainly lament all the loss of life and devastation caused by nature’s power in recent days but as I have watched the images on television of the incredible power found in natural forces I have, likewise, been reminded that God—the Source who brought these powers into existence—is a force even greater.  Remembering this has been a source of comfort to me.  It is good to know that the greatest power that exists is the God of Creation and the same God who has assured us through His Son that He is for us and not against us.  And to quote the apostle Paul once again, “if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

In Psalm 46 the Psalmist says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore I will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”   Today I give thanks and offer praise to the Almighty God, “our refuge and strength” and encourage you to do the same.


(I took the images above at Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee.  This lake was formed in 1811-1812 as the result of a tremendous earthquake.  The force of the quake was so great that the Mississippi River actually flowed backwards temporarily.)

Feb 20 2011

“This Is The Day…”

Clingmans-Dome-sunrise-379Throughout the years I have heard many ministers begin a worship service by quoting Psalm 118:24, which reads “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  As a result I had pretty much associated this verse with Sundays.  Upon further thought,  however, I see that it is instead a reminder that every day is a gift from God.  In my last post I talked about God’s continuing work of Creation; this passage acknowledges that each day is evidence of this ongoing work.

Last night I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner.  At one point he made a very insightful observation about Creation.  He wrote: “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new from them.  If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy.  Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again.  And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again either.”

TN-&-NC-GSM-Clingman-Dome-sunset-(h)In light of what Beuchner says, I’m afraid there are a lot of crazy people out there.  Far too many of us do, in fact, assume we’re “seeing the same show all over again” every day.  But we’re not.  No two sunrises are the same; nor are any two sunsets identical.  If we will awaken each day with the awareness that “this is the day the Lord has made”, and that God is always up to something new, we may begin to notice more of the wonders of His ongoing Creation.  I truly think that we miss a lot because we simply fail to look.

Every day is another gift from the Creator’s hand and, as the Psalmist reminds us, a cause for rejoicing.  If we will make the effort and take the time to notice the newness of each day I suspect we will be far more likely to “rejoice and be glad in it.”  I hope there will be much joy and gladness for you in these days to come.


(The top image is a sunrise from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The bottom image is a sunset taken just a few feet away from the same location.)

Feb 16 2011

Still At Work

lonesome-pine-888In the study on the Gospel of John I’m leading at church we recently spent some time examining a miracle where Jesus healed a man who had been lame thirty-eight years.   After Jesus did this he got into trouble with the local religious leaders because he healed the man on the Sabbath.  By this time in Jewish history there were all kinds of restrictions on what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath.  Because of its place in the Ten Commandments the Sabbath was considered very special by the Jews and they sought to protect it by coming up with various restrictions about Sabbath observance.

Jesus’ response to the religious leaders who were denouncing him is interesting.  He told them “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  (John 5:17)  Jesus’ words about his Father always being at work are important.  One reason the Sabbath was considered so important to the Jews is that God “rested” on the seventh day of Creation.  Although some thought God was still resting, many of the Jewish rabbis believed that God was still at work and that He even did some of His work on the Sabbath.  Acts of healing and compassion were examples of God’s Sabbath Day activity.  Jesus affirmed this understanding and said that the miracle he had just performed was simply an extension of His Father’s work. 

Norris-Geyser-Basin-444I think one of the important lessons we can take from this passage is that the God of Creation is still very much at work in the world today and that Christ, His Son, is as well.  We are reminded here that Creation is not a finished product;  it is a work in progress.  John Muir recognized this.  He once wrote: “I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in ‘creation’s dawn.’  The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”  

Perhaps our sense of wonder and amazement might be renewed if we realized each day that we are witnesses to God’s ongoing work of Creation.  Perhaps it would awaken our sense of gratitude for the gift of each new day.  Perhaps it would make us better aware of our calling to be partners with the Father and Son in caring for the earth.  It’s certainly something to think about…


(I took the two images above in Yellowstone National Park last February.)