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.)


Aug 28 2013

“The Word” of Creation

Lake  Tipsoo 1284I have just started teaching a class on the Gospel of John at the church where I serve.  I love the Fourth Gospel; it is such an amazing book!  As we looked at the first eighteen verses of this Gospel, its Prologue, I found myself thinking that there is likely no more beautiful, poetic or inspired passage to be found than this.

Interestingly, John’s Gospel begins with the same three words found at the beginning of Genesis 1–“In the beginning.”  If you look closely at John’s Prologue and Genesis 1 you will find many similarities beyond the opening words.  Both speak of the creation of the world.  Both develop the theme of light overcoming darkness.  Both emphasize the giving of life.  Both stress the power of God’s Word.

MR 1545Genesis 1 tells how “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  In the verses that follow we have the first of two creation accounts found in the Bible.  John 1 speaks about the creation of the world in v. 3 but the Prologue is really about the re-creation of the world through God’s Son.  John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

There can be no denying that the author of the Fourth Gospel understood “the Word” to be Jesus Christ.  Many people associate the creation of the world with God the Father but John claims it was “the Word,” or God the Son, that brought forth the world and everything in it.  This makes the story of Christmas  even more fascinating.  It means that the baby born in that Bethlehem stable was the one who made the world.  It means the Creator or “Maker of heaven and earth” actually became a part of Creation.

MR 1589Many at the time of of John’s writing believed the world was inherently evil.  There was a group that believed that anything material was bad; only the spiritual realm was good.  This is certainly not the teaching found in the Bible.  In Genesis 1 God declares that everything that He made is “good.”  The fact that Jesus was the instrument of creation and was willing to take on human flesh only intensifies this message.  Unfortunately there are still people around who seem to think the world in and of itself is evil.  Nature and the rest of Creation is considered to be something of lesser value than things “spiritual.”  Such thinking has contributed to the degradation and destruction of the natural world.  Such thinking has also contributed greatly to people’s failure to see God in Creation and the sacredness of the earth.    It seems very important to me that we begin to affirm once again the goodness of God’s Creation.  It will help us all to move in this direction if we can remember that the one who gave his life for us, the Word, is the agent of Creation.  The purpose of his gifts of Creation and sacrificial death are that we might have life and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

–Chuck

(I took the images above at Mount Rainier National Park a couple of weeks ago.)


May 29 2013

Time for an Attitude Adjustment?

CV4385Do you need an attitude adjustment? Sometimes I hear people tell others that they do. This implies that the attitude the other person is displaying is not appropriate and perhaps even harmful. I suspect we all find ourselves in this position at one time or another.  Our attitudes are certainly not always what they should be and therefore need adjusting periodically.  One area where a lot of people need an attitude adjustment these days concerns the care of the earth. For reasons I cannot fully comprehend they believe the earth and its resources are theirs to do with as they please. The practice of Creation Care or environmental stewardship is foreign to such folks. I believe the attitude of people like this is both inappropriate and harmful.  It is also foreign to the teachings of the Bible.

CV2367In the first chapter of the Book of Colossians the apostle Paul notes that Christ is “the firstborn over all creation.” (v. 15)  This does not mean that Christ was the first thing created. Rather the term “firstborn” was understood as a title of honor and here indicates Christ is supreme over Creation. Paul goes on to say “by him all things were created.” (v. 16) For some people this is surprising. They do not associate the creation of the world with Christ but both Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel (see John 1:3) declare that Christ was the agent of Creation. Paul, however, does not stop there. He goes on to say “all things were created by him and for him.”  It is this latter word that calls for a major attitude adjustment in many.  The world was created for and exists for Christ himself–not us.

CV4301If what Paul says is true then we cannot continue treating the earth any way we choose.  It does not belong to us nor are we the primary reason it exists.  It exists for Christ.  That means we must look at things differently. It means we must strive to treat the world and the environment in a way that will bring glory to Christ. For a number of years you saw everywhere the letters WWJD, which stood for “What would Jesus do?”  In light of Paul’s words it would not be a bad question for all of us to ask as we think about our relationship to the earth and the environmental issues we face today. Once again, if the earth was created for Christ then what we want to do with it isn’t the primary issue; it is what Christ wants. Discerning what exactly that would be might not always be easy but it should definitely be our major concern.  If it is not, then it is definitely time for an attitude adjustment!

–Chuck

(I took the three images shown here during a visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last month.)