Jan 5 2017

Christmas and Creation

_dsc3553“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Today is the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season. When you add the four weeks of Advent to the twelve days of Christmas, and then tack on all the pre-Advent weeks of Christmas decorations, music and commercials, Christmas seems to last forever these days.  I hope it has been a joyful and blessed season for you and before we officially leave it I’d like to pause one more time to consider the significance of the Incarnation.

a_dsc8008In today’s “Daily Meditation” by Richard Rohr he makes the claim that Christmas for many is an even bigger celebration than Easter. It would be hard to deny that claim.  In fact, I’ve often wondered why we go all out in our celebration of Christmas but seem rather subdued when it comes to Easter.  Rohr offers one reason.  He says “because for God to be born as one of us in this world among the animals and in a poor family shows that humanity is good, flesh is good, and this world is good!”  I’m not sure Rohr’s reason fully justifies the disproportionate celebration Christmas receives over Easter but he does point to an often forgotten truth that was made manifest when God took on human flesh that first Christmas. By entering this world and actually becoming a part of this world God revealed the goodness of Creation and humanity itself.  This goodness was already affirmed in the Genesis 1 account of Creation but by taking on human flesh and living in the midst of this Creation God affirmed their goodness on a whole new level.

Contrary to various philosophies that have dominated human thinking at times, this world is good and life in this world is as well. The birth of Jesus Christ offers proof of this.  If the world and life were not sacred prior to Jesus’ birth—and I believe that they were—they certainly were afterwards.  In a definitive way God added God’s stamp of approval on both when Jesus was born.

a_dsc1403At the end of today’s “daily meditation” Rohr says “Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega of history (Revelation 1:8), naming it correctly at the very start and forever alluring it forward. Love is both the cause and the goal of all creation. This is a meaningful universe, and meaning is what the soul needs to thrive.”   God’s love revealed at Christmas, and certainly Easter too, does in fact give meaning to the universe and life itself.  It also serves as a useful reminder that God is as much a part of this earth and this life as God is of heaven and the life to come.  I’m afraid far too many of us fail to recognize this.  If we fully understood this truth we’d be singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not just at Christmas but year round.

–Chuck

(I took the first and third image in Henderson County, KY., and the middle image at Yellowstone National Park.)


Jul 3 2015

On Still Seeing God as Maker of Heaven and Earth

_DSC5831The Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Old or Older Testament, begin with an account of the creation of “the heavens and the earth.”  The strong affirmation here is that God spoke the world into existence.  Right at the start one learns that God is both mighty and extremely creative.  The world is viewed as God’s handiwork and remains evidence of God’s might and creativity.  Later in the Hebrew Scriptures God reveals Himself as a mighty deliverer, enabling the Hebrews to escape their bondage in Egypt.  Much later in time poets like David arose who sang God’s praises.  These poets frequently look back to these two revelations and refer to God as being the One who made the heavens and the earth or brought about Israel’s deliverance.

When one turns to the New Testament God reveals Himself in a most unexpected way.  The Gospel of John says “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  (1:14)  Through “the word,” or Jesus, the clearest picture of God we have was made manifest.  Christians now understand God first and foremost through Jesus.  Christ becomes the new deliverer and much is made of his role as such in the pages of the New Testament.  God’s role in Creation, however, also continues to be emphasized.

_DSC5964This year I have been teaching a study on the Book of Acts.  As we have gone through this book I’ve noticed how God’s role as Creator keeps popping up.  For example, in Acts 4:24 you find the disciples praying.  They begin their prayer with the words, “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”  Even after the marvelous manifestation of God in Christ God continues to be addressed as the Creator.  In chapter 14 of Acts Luke tells the story of Paul and Barnabas being worshiped by the people of Lystra after they heal a crippled man.  The two urged the group to stop and directed their attention to “the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” (v. 15)  In Acts 17 we find Paul’s speech to the “men of Athens.”  Here he introduces them to “the God who made the world and everything in it.” (v. 24)

_CES2166Clearly, even after Christ came the early Christian leaders felt it was necessary to hold on diligently to the idea of God as Creator.  I suspect there are a variety of reasons for this.  As already noted, in Creation they saw the evidence of God’s power or might.  This evidence was something they encountered each and every day in nature.  Creation bore testimony to God’s power and was a reminder that this same power was available to believers.   I also think they continued to focus on God’s role as Creator because this gave them a point of entry as they sought to spread the gospel.  Practically everyone believed that the world was brought into being by divine forces of one kind or another; the early Christians hoped to help people understand that the God they believed in, and who was made fully known in Jesus Christ, was, in fact, “the Maker of heaven and earth.”

_DSC6889I believe that it is important that we continue to hold on to and emphasize God’s role as Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Some Christian groups do so each week as they recite the Apostles Creed.  Others don’t.  Continuing to focus on God’s role as Creator will help us connect better with the world around us and we will daily be reminded of God’s power and creativity.  Focusing on God as Creator also is still a good starting point when it comes to sharing our faith with others.  Although not everyone today believes the world was actually created, most still feel that the world didn’t just come into existence on its own.  As Christians we can help people make the connection between nature and the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  This connection is vital for understanding the goodness of Creation, its sacredness, and our responsibility to take good care of it.

I hope we’ll never cease affirming God’s role as Maker of heaven and earth.  There is no reason not to and plenty of good reasons for doing so.

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures in western Kentucky and the bottom two in southern Florida.)


Dec 25 2014

A Baby Changes Everything

2014 Christmas cardLet me begin by wishing you a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you happen to be reading this.  Last night the church I serve had a late night Christmas Eve Service.  For the message I shared with them I found inspiration in the beautiful Christmas song penned by K. K. Wiseman a few years ago that was recorded by Faith Hill.  It is called A Baby Changes Everything.  Obviously the coming of a baby into any home “changes everything” but never was that so true as the child that Mary brought into the world that first Christmas long ago.

In my Christmas homily I talked about how the baby who was born in Bethlehem long ago went on to change how we look at God, how we look at ourselves and also how we are to look at others.  I very easily could have gone on to talk about how the coming of Jesus also changes the way that we are to look at the earth.  There are a number of different ways this is true.

_DSC4328The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear that the earth is “good.”  After each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was (is) good.  Later the Psalmist would declare that “the earth is the Lord’s.” (24:1)  The fact that God made and owns the earth would indicate that it is quite special.  But realizing that God actually came to earth and for a time made His dwelling here (John 1:14) makes it clear that the earth should also be viewed as holy or sacred.  This planet of our was blessed to be visited by its Maker.  That fact alone sets the earth apart.  We should learn to view this place we live as holy ground and treat it as such.

Jesus would also change the way we look at the earth when he repeatedly used the world of nature as teaching tools for spiritual principles.  The earth, for him, contained a repository of divine lessons.  He told us to pay attention to the birds above us and to the flowers at our feet.  In his parables he often pointed to plants and other natural objects as divine indicators.  The way Jesus looked at the world should change the way we look at it too.  Like him, we are to see the earth as a school of higher learning—much higher learning!

_DSC8035The one born at Bethlehem not only used the natural world as object lessons in his teaching ministry, he also sought the presence of his Father there.  We know that Jesus did attend the synagogues of Palestine and visited the Temple in Jerusalem on a number of occasion but we also learn in the Gospels that it was his custom to find solitude with God on lonely hillsides and in the stillness of garden enclosures.  Later some of Jesus’ followers would come to view the world as evil.  He, however, found it to be a place where God can be found and encountered in a multitude of different ways.  We should look at the earth in the same way.

Today I am very thankful for the many changes the baby born in Bethlehem has made in my life.  I, and hopefully others too, now see God, myself, others and the earth itself differently because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures used above not far from my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Feb 23 2014

Through the Eyes of Love

_DSC0672In the book, Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, you will find a prayer penned by Brian McLaren.  I’ve been reading Brian’s books for a number of years and have had a chance to hear him speak a couple of times.  I know he shares with me a common love for God and nature so I was excited to discover this prayer recorded in Holy Ground.  The prayer is too long to include in its entirety here but I do want to share the final portion of it with you:

_DSC1522“We thank you, God,  for speaking to our world through Jesus.  He told us that,  just as you care for every sparrow, you care for us.  He reminded us that you give the wildflowers their natural beauty and you wish to clothe us with beauty in a similar way.  He taught us that wisdom is hidden in the growth of the smallest seed, in the turning of seasons, in every corner of your amazing creation.  He taught us to see every creature as beloved by you, God our Creator, and he called us to live with your love pulsing in our hearts.  So let us learn to see and love this good Earth as Jesus did, and to care for it and enjoy it and rejoice in it, so that the Earth may indeed be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”

I like the way Brian summarizes Jesus’ teachings in this prayer but there is something else here that caught my attention.  It is found in his last petition where he prays that we might “see and love this good Earth as Jesus did.”  Needless to say we talk a lot on this site about seeing Creation and also about loving it but I’m not sure I’ve ever given much thought to how Jesus actually saw and loved it.  Obviously, as Brian makes clear, Jesus saw Creation as a source of God’s revelation, but how did the world look to Jesus through his own eyes?

_DSC0408I suspect that Jesus saw far more than we tend to.  I imagine, for example, that he noticed the small and “ordinary” things of nature that we often pass right by without a second glance.  I can picture Jesus taking the time to soak in the beauty that surrounded him and meditating on what he saw.  No doubt Jesus looked at the flora and fauna, the geography and geology, about him with an understanding like no one else who has ever lived.  Ultimately, however, it’s hard for me to imagine just how Jesus looked at the world.  Here’s why…

_DSC0752In the Prologue to John’s Gospel we are told both that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” and that “through him all things were made.” (1:14, 1:3)  It is impossible for me to comprehend the Word (God) becoming flesh; to try to grasp what it was like for the Creator to live in and look at the Creation is equally impossible.  I would imagine, however, that Jesus looked upon His own handiwork with great delight.  What he had created “in the beginning” as “good” was still good.  Perhaps the joy he felt in making all things was renewed and experienced again as he looked upon it all through human eyes.  The one thing I believe I can say with certainty is that Jesus saw the world he had created through the eyes of love.

I doubt that it is fully possible for us to see the earth as Jesus did but I know that if I could I would be even more grateful for it than I am now and would not be able to look at anything without wonder and awe.  It would be love at first sight, and second sight, and third sight…  As Brian McClaren prayed, I think I would also “care for it and enjoy it and rejoice in it” in ways I’ve not yet done.  For that reason I intend to make Brian’s prayer my own and encourage you to do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the four images above recently at a county park near my home.)


Dec 22 2013

“Man and Beast Before Him Bow”

DSC_0130It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  That means Christmas Day and the Twelve Days of Christmas will soon be here.  For a number of reasons this holiday season has been very different for me.  One of the main reasons is my wife and I are still living in temporary housing.  It is a much smaller place than we have been used to and because of that we have done far less decorating than usual.  I won’t lie; I miss not seeing the decorations and trees I’ve been used to seeing for several years.  Still, it has been an enjoyable journey through the weeks of Advent.  More important to me than the decorations of Christmas is the music of this holy season.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of my Christmas CDs are still packed up at my home in Pikeville but I have nonetheless had plenty of opportunities to listen to the carols I love so much.  I don’t mind secular Christmas music but I tend to listen mostly to the songs that actually relate to our Savior’s birth.  So many wonderful songs have been written over the years that help us better grasp the meaning of Jesus’ coming into the world.

DSC_0117For some reason this year I’ve picked up on the number of songs that speak of animals being present at the Bethlehem stable.  It’s interesting how many do this, despite the fact that the Scriptures never directly indicate any were present.  Over the years we have simply assumed if there was a feeding trough, or manger, present for Mary to lay her child in that there must have been animals too.

My wife started collecting pieces of the Willow Tree nativity set a few years ago.  The pieces are not cheap so she’s been trying to add to it each year.  Yesterday I gave her an early Christmas present that included a shepherd from the series, along with a camel and two sheep.  With these additions we now have seven animals in our crèche.  I have to admit I like it better now that it has the additional animals.  It seems to me they belong there.

_CES2529One of the reasons I like the inclusion of animals in nativity scenes is that I believe they are an important part of Creation and that it only seems appropriate that when the Creator entered the world that they would be there to greet him.  The first chapter of John’s Gospel declares that on the first Christmas “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (v. 14)  It also says that “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (v. 3)  How very natural it would be to have both “man and beast” present to welcome the one who made us all.  When you add the apostle Paul’s thoughts found in Romans 8 that through Christ “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”  (v. 21) the presence of animals makes even more sense.  At the stable they could welcome not only their Creator but the one who would bring redemption to all Creation.

The theme for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is love.  Certainly we focus primarily on God’s love revealed to us through the birth of His Son but hopefully that theme can be broadened to remind us that all of Creation—humans and animals alike—owe Christ their love and adoration.  It may appear as utter nonsense or sentimentality to you but when I envision the animals gathered near the Christ Child I see them offering him just that, their love and adoration.  Their presence also calls me to question whether the rest of us will do the same.  I pray we will.

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures at Land Between the Lakes and the bottom one here where we are staying.)

 


Sep 11 2013

The Glory of the Lord

_CES8039Seeing Creation as a manifestation of God’s glory is by no means a new concept.  Both the Jewish and Christian scriptures affirm that God makes His presence known through the visible world.  Why this seems to be a novel idea to a lot of contemporary Christians baffles me.  As noted numerous times at this site, God has two books through which He has chosen to make Himself known–the Scriptures and Creation.  Here it might be of benefit to pay attention to how the “glory of God” is used in the Bible.  God’s “glory” is usually understood as a visible manifestation of His power or presence.  In the Old Testament it is often connected with the word, “Shekinah.”  Shekinah literally means “that which dwells.”  God’s glory or Shekinah is that which dwells amongst us and it takes a wide variety of forms throughout biblical history.

In Exodus 16:10 it says, “While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”  Somehow, someway, God’s glory was revealed in a cloud.  In Exodus 24:15-16 a cloud is mentioned again. “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.”  The next verse goes on to say “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (v. 17)  Here both a cloud and fire, and perhaps even Mount Sinai itself, are associated with God’s glory being revealed.

eCES8212At the end of the Book of Exodus there is a lengthy section about the construction of the tabernacle or Tent of Meeting.  Once the tabernacle was completed we’re told “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (40:34)  The Tent of Meeting in essence became God’s temporary abiding place.  Many years later King Solomon felt compelled to construct a more permanent place for God to dwell so he built a majestic temple.  Once the temple was completed “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)  The temple in Jerusalem came to represent God’s presence for His glory resided there.  Even so, King Solomon was wise enough to note in his prayer of dedication for the temple that no building could contain God.  He said, “But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!” (vs. 27)

eCES8155Sadly, many people later came to believe that God’s glory was restricted or limited to the temple.  That had never been the case nor could it ever be.  In an incredible vision the prophet Isaiah was confronted by a group of angels at the temple and heard them calling to one another saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Is. 6:3) The angels taught Isaiah, and us, that day that God’s glory is not restricted to any temple or building, the whole earth is full of His glory.   If you want to see God’s glory–to experience His presence and power–there is no shortage of places to look.  It can be found throughout His Creation.

The glory of the Lord which can be seen in Creation is quite real.  It is not, however, the final or fullest expression of God’s glory.  That would be found in Christ.  The author of the Fourth Gospel wrote: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).  John helps us understand why the glory of God is revealed more in the person of Christ than in Creation.  He says in 1:3 “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”   Christ is preeminent over Creation because he is the author of Creation.  In the end it is his glory that we see reflected in Creation; it is his glory that fills Creation.  Therefore, for those with eyes to see, seeing Creation is a vital component of seeing Christ.  It also means that we see Creation best when we do so through the lens of Christ but that is a discussion that will have to wait for another day.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above this past week at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area near where I live.)