Oct 27 2010

The Source of Life

CVSP deer 704The Prologue to John’s Gospel (vs. 1-18) is an incredible passage of Scripture.  Last week I noted how John makes his claim here that Jesus (the “Word”) is one with God and is the Creator of all things: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  (v. 3) In the next verse John follows this up by saying that Jesus is the source of all  life: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”  As Leon Morris points out, “It is only because there is life in the Logos that there is life in anything on earth at all.  Life does not exist in its own right.  It is not even spoken of as made ‘by’ or ‘through’ the Word, but existing ‘in’ Him.”

For Christians it is important to understand that Jesus is the source of both Creation and life.  It is because of him that everything exists; it is because of him that everything has meaning.  I agree with what William Hull says in his commentary on the Fourth Gospel: “…every person ought to see that God is the powerful and thoughtful creator of the universe in the light of the miracle of life which abounds in human experience.” 

If we understood Christ to be the source of all life perhaps we would have a greater respect for life—all of it.   Furthermore, understanding that life is not a given but a gift, perhaps we would also have a greater appreciation for life—all of it. 

Dolly Sods 648It is because I believe that Jesus is the source of all life I affirm that all creatures and plant species are important.  Christ’s desire was for them to have life, just as it was his desire for us to have life.  It is also because I believe that Jesus is the source of all life that I feel a kinship with the rest of Creation—I share a common Maker with them and, like them, owe my very existence to him.  It is this kinship with the rest of Creation that led Francis of Assisi to refer to various animals as his “brothers and sisters.”

Today I join with the author of the Fourth Gospel in offering praise to Christ for being my Maker and the Source of all life.  I encourage you to join in with us.

–Chuck

(Both the whitetail deer and aster images were taken earlier this month in West Virginia.)


Oct 24 2010

Wind and Leaves

Cane Run 877This past Thursday I drove up to the Cane Ridge Meeting House near Paris, Kentucky, for a special prayer service.  In the first few years of the 1800s a major revival broke out there.  This Second Great Awakening was given considerable attention in the recent PBS special, God In America.  The denomination in which I serve, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), arose from what took place at Cane Ridge over two hundred years ago.

I got to Cane Ridge early and walked around the grounds while I waited for the others to get there.  In the back of the building I found a bench facing three or four very colorful trees.  I sat on that bench and began to pray.   Soon a strong wind started to blow and scores of beautiful autumn leaves began to scatter about me.  Instead of letting this be a disturbance to my time of prayer I allowed the wind and leaves to help guide me in my prayer.

Cane Run 898In both the Old and New Testament the words that are used for wind also mean spirit.  In his famous encounter with Nicodemus Jesus drew upon this twin meaning.  He said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:6-8)

With the wind blowing and the leaves scattering all about me I asked the Holy Spirit to blow in my life and in the life of my church and denomination.  I prayed that just as the leaves allowed the wind to carry them wherever it wished that we would allow Him to move us or take us wherever we needed to be. 

I truly believe that this was the prayer that God desired to hear from me at Cane Ridge and I am thankful for the guidance I received from elements of God’s Creation to move me in that direction.  Does it surprise me that God used nature to guide my prayer?  Not at all.  No, not at all.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in the Cane Run Lake area after leaving Cane Ridge on Thursday.)


Oct 20 2010

Christ and Creation

RRG Auxier Ridge 277Tonight I will begin teaching a study on the Gospel of John.   It has been said of this Gospel that in it a child can wade and an elephant swim.  This means it is a book that is at one and the same time simple and complex.  Anyone who has ever studied John’s Gospel will know what I mean.

John begins his Gospel not with stories of Jesus’ birth, like Matthew and Luke, but with beautiful words that point to the preexistence of Christ.  In words reminiscent of Genesis 1:1-2 he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.” Then in verse 3 he boldly proclaims, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In this incredible text we are told not only that Jesus has always existed but that he was instrumental in the creation of the world.

John emphasized that the Word is responsible for everything that exists.  He states this in a positive (“Through him all things were made”) and negative (“without him nothing was made that has been made”) manner.  John’s teaching is consistent with what the apostle Paul wrote: “…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor. 8:6)  God the Father and God the Son both play a vital role in Creation.

RRG Haystace Rock 192In John 1:3 there is an interesting change in verb tenses.  Biblical scholar Leon Morris notes that “were made” regards Creation in its totality, as one act, but “has been made” conveys the thought of the continuing existence of created things.  There are implications that come with the change in verb tenses.  Morris says this means “What we see around us did not come into existence apart from the Word, any more than what appeared in the first day of creation.”

To me this is most significant when it comes to “seeing Creation.”  It means that all around us Christ is at work in what he has made and is making, and that includes us as well.  The story of Creation is not just an ancient one, it is an ongoing story—one that we participate in every day.   We can actually witness the Creator’s work in progress!  How awesome is that?!

–Chuck

(Both images above were taken this past Saturday at the Red River Gorge Geological Area in Kentucky.)


Jul 25 2010

Nature’s Sermons

BIP 669I continue to be amazed at how the various figures of the Bible use nature to illustrate spiritual truths.  I’m reading the Book of Jeremiah now and a few days ago I came across a passage where the prophet encouraged his listeners to trust in God.  He indicates that there are benefits of trusting God but he doesn’t say exactly what these benefits are.  Instead he compares them to a tree planted by water.

The passage I’m referring to is Jeremiah 17:7-8.  It reads, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A similar comparison is made in Psalm 1.  There the Psalmist declares as “happy” those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (v. 3)

Since I live in an area which has lots of creeks and rivers I see every day “trees planted by water.”  And sure enough, even in the tremendous heat we are experiencing this summer, they continue to thrive.  They have what they need most—water.

In God we find what we need most.  And Jeremiah is certainly right.  There are many benefits of putting our trust in God.  Like the tree planted by water we can endure difficult times when we remain close to God.  We can live without fear and anxiety knowing that the One who created us and everything else has promised to provide for our needs.  We can live productive lives as long as we stay close to our Maker.  This is something Jesus himself stressed in his analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As a pastor I have the privilege of delivering sermons each Sunday.  Here lately the Bible has been reminding me that nature delivers sermons each and every day.  Are we listening?  We should be!

–Chuck

(The “tree planted by water” shown above was photographed at Breaks Interstate Park in southeast Kentucky.)


May 23 2010

Death and the Blue Jay

bluejay 578“I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”            John 11:25

Several years ago I was reading a copy of Nature magazine when I was shocked to discover an article praising the virtues of Blue Jays.  As a child I had been taught that Blue Jays were bad because they robbed other birds’ nests.  All the neighborhood kids knew that they were not supposed to shoot birds with their BB guns but that Blue Jays were fair game.  So when I read in the article how valuable Blue Jays are in distributing seeds and regenerating forests I had to rethink my childhood notions.

Later today I will drive over to Middlesboro, Kentucky, to speak at the funeral of a dear friend.  Even though she was 92 years old it still hurts knowing that she is no longer here.  Over the years death has robbed me of a lot of my loved ones.  When I was younger I had a horrible attitude toward death.  As far as I was concerned, there was nothing good about it.  In time, however, I came to see things differently.  Just as I came to see the good in the Blue Jay I came to understand that death is not all bad.

My Christian faith teaches me that contrary to the way it might seem, death is not the end.  For children of God death is in many ways just the beginning.  It is an entranceway to a far better place. 

There is much in nature that reminds us of the inevitability of death.  You see it everywhere.  I also happen to believe that God has placed signs in nature to remind us and give us hope that this life is not all that there is.  The new life that returns each spring following the cold dark winter is one such sign. 

These days whenever I see a Blue Jay I remember how something I once saw as bad is actually good.  When I visit the cemetery this afternoon, I’ll remember the same thing.

–Chuck

(I took the image of this Blue Jay in my yard this past winter.)


Mar 24 2010

Unless A Seed Dies…

seed podNext week I’ll be preaching at one of our community Holy Week services here in Pikeville.  The text I was assigned is John 12:20-36.  In this passage Jesus speaks of his impending death and draws an analogy from nature to do so.  He says in verse 24, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

For many reasons, this is an interesting verse to me.  On the one hand the seed imagery reminds me that all the new growth I’ll see around me this spring came at a cost.  In a sense seeds had to “die” in order for there to be new life.  The cold and darkness of winter were necessary to bring about the bounty of spring. 

On the other hand, the seed comparison reveals to me something of the mystery of Jesus’ death.  Over the centuries there have been many attempts to explain the meaning of the crucifixion–theologians refer to these as theories of the atonement.  Obviously this is not the place to discuss these but I do find it fascinating that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus uses the analogy of the life/death/life cycle of the seed to explain his mission.

In a little over a week Christians will observe Good Friday and pause to remember the death of our Savior.  Perhaps on that day we ought to look around and take note of the new growth spring has brought us and remember Jesus’ words—“unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  John boldly declares that Jesus willingly gave up his life (died on the cross) so that there might be an abundant harvest.  That harvest includes all those who follow Jesus. 

I’m glad that Good Friday and Easter always come in the spring.  There’s a powerful connection there.  There truly is!

–Chuck

(The seed pod above was photographed at Grayson Lake State Park in northern Kentucky.)