Dec 19 2015

Can We Help Bring Joy to the World?

_DSC2996“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns.  They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.”   It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation.  This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”  There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator.  I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation.  The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.

_DSC5464Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days.  When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder.  Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy?  Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy?  Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation?  Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?

e_DSC3071Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus.  More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas.  If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.

e_DSC3341But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others.  If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation.  Think about it…

If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it.  If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands?  How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please?  Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources?  Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others.  The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.

e_DSC3161I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet.  And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Nov 18 2012

Giving Truly Is Divine!

Today I want to give thanks for those who recognize the importance of giving and who actually make a practice of it.  I have just come home from a meeting where members of my church made a decision to give away a significant amount of money for church and mission causes.   I am thrilled by what they did and am also very proud of them.  I believe with all my heart that we are all supposed to be givers.  As individuals who were created in the image of God, and who receive countless blessings from Him every single day, we are meant to give.

There can be no denying that God is a giving God.  As Christians we affirm that God is “the Giver of all good gifts.”  (James 1:17) We also acknowledge that God is responsible for all that exists and that everything we have should be viewed as a gift from His generous hands.  The Bible not only speaks of God’s generosity, it also explains why He is so giving.  God is love.  It is as simple and as profound as that.  In one of the New Testament’s most familiar verses we are told “For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son…” (John 3:16)  God is such a wonderful giver because God’s very nature is love.

We see evidence of God’s love and propensity to give throughout His Creation.  In fact, the world itself should be viewed as a gift.  And what a priceless gift it is!  In a universe that contains countless galaxies God prepared a planet in our own that had just the right conditions so that life might exist in a magnificent manner.  He gave us a planet that has just the right temperatures and atmospheric conditions for life to thrive.  God created a world with the water, soil and air needed so that humans and a vast host of other creatures and species might be able to live together.  But not only did God create an inhabitable planet, He also made one that is absolutely beautiful.  I doubt that many people regularly stop to give thanks for this awesome planet we live on but we all should.   This planet, like the Son of God who would show up on it later, was presented to us as a gift of God’s love.

The testimony of Scripture and God’s “Other Book” make it clear that God is a giving God.  We can also learn from these that we, too, are meant to be givers.  Humans have the distinction of being the only living things on earth that were created in God’s image.  This is certainly an exalted status but God has made it clear that with such blessing comes responsibility.  Adam and Eve learned this right away.  God had work for them to do.  They were to tend to and care for the world God had made.  In other words, they were to be caregivers. (Genesis 2:15)  God would later reveal that we are also called to share His love, as well as our own love, with one another.  He likewise made it clear that those who were blessed with material wealth are supposed to give to those who are less fortunate.  Interestingly enough, when the Son of God did come to earth he talked more about giving and the proper use of our possessions than anything else.  He wanted to make sure we all understood just how important giving is, wanted us to recognize that giving is divine.

My life has been so richly blessed by people who understood the importance of giving.  I suspect yours has as well.  We should all remember to give thanks for and to those who give, but also bear in mind that we, too, must give.  It is through giving we show ourselves to be the sons and daughters of God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Cheyenne River in South Dakota.  I photographed the whitetail deer and ferns were photographed in Tennessee.)

 


Aug 8 2012

The Smile of God

Over the years I’ve heard people say to others about a deceased loved one, “Don’t you know he (or she) is smiling down upon you now?”  These words are usually spoken after someone has accomplished something and are meant to be comforting to the person who receives them.  Theologically, I’m not even sure such a thing is possible.  Can those in heaven really see what we’re up to?  I find that unlikely.  Still, I understand the sentiment.  There are times I’d like to think that my father or grandmothers were looking at me and had a smile on their face.  I’d like to think they were pleased with who I am and what I have done with my life.

Although I have serious doubts about my deceased loved ones being able to “smile down upon me” I do believe God does that all the time.  When we see loved ones we cannot help but smile and since we have it on good biblical authority that God loves each and every one of us immensely, then how can we not picture God smiling when He looks at us?  O, I know some think God is more likely to have a frown on His face when He looks at them but they simply don’t understand God’s love and grace.  By sending Jesus Christ God made it clear once and for all that we are loved. (John 3:16)  For me that is proof enough that God smiles when He looks at me.

But there is more proof waiting.  Robert Underwood Johnson, a close friend of John Muir, once wrote “To some, beauty seems but an accident of creation: to Muir it was the very smile of God.”  I’ve read enough of Muir’s writings to know that this is true.  Muir saw God’s love in all of His Creation and marveled that others did not see it there as well.

If we accept the concept of beauty being “the very smile of God” then we must conclude that God is not only “smiling down upon us” but smiling all around us too.  In beautiful trees and flowers, rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, birds and butterflies, in all beauty, we experience the smile of God.  In these same things we experience the love of God.

I mentioned earlier that it would be nice to think my father or grandmothers were smiling down upon me, but even better is the thought that my heavenly Father smiles upon me.  And if Muir is right, and I believe that he is, then we have countless reminders all around us every day that we are loved.  Those reminders should bring us much comfort and joy.  I would even dare say that those reminders should bring a smile to our own face for in the presence of so much love and beauty how could it not?

–Chuck

(I took the magnolia blossom image at my home in Kentucky; the redwood trees in California, and the chukar in Hawaii.)


May 23 2012

It’s All About Love

Twice recently I’ve come across an interesting story about Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic born around 1342.  Julian tells the story herself in the following words. “God showed me in my palm a little thing round as a ball about the size of a hazelnut.  I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and asked myself: ‘What is this thing?’  And I was answered: ‘It is everything that is created.’  I wondered how it could survive since it seemed so little it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.  The answer came: ‘It endures and ever will endure, because God loves it.’  And so everything has being because of God’s love.”

Part of me would love to know what the little round thing was that Julian found in her hand that day but in the end that’s not important.  What is important is what God revealed to Julian of Norwich.   I cannot speak with authority on the meaning of what God said to her but it appears to me that He was making it clear that every single thing He has made is important and that the basis of everything He has made is love.

You and I exist because of God’s love.  The trees of the forests and the birds in the air exist because of God’s love.  Likewise, rocks, flowers, streams, hills, and all creatures great and small owe their existence to the love of God.  There is no part of Creation that cannot trace its origins to the same source.

None of this should surprise us when we recall the Bible says “God is love.” (First John 4:16)  Since love is God’s essence or nature it only makes sense that love is the force behind everything He does.  John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Just as love was the basis for God sending Christ into the world, love was the basis for the creation of that same world.  It truly is all about love!

Knowing that I was created and exist because of God’s love brings me comfort, purpose and meaning.  It should you as well.  We must, however, take it a step further.  Knowing that everyone else and everything else also have as their basis for existence God’s love, this forces us to look at them differently.  It challenges us to look for and find God’s love in them.   Are you up to that challenge?  Am I?  I hope so because there seems to be a whole lot riding on the outcome.  The world itself will continue to exist as long as God desires for it to, but what kind of world it will be shall be determined largely by how we look at people and things, and by what we do.  By loving all that God loves it truly can be a better place!  It doesn’t take a mystic to see that.

–Chuck

(I took the top picture at Redwood National Park; the middle one at Acadia National Park; and the bottom one at Olympic National Park.)


Dec 25 2011

God So Loved the World…

It’s Christmas Day.  I doubt that “all is calm, all is bright” or that everyone is enjoying the “white Christmas” they dreamed of.  Still, it is a wonderful day, one of the most wonderful days of the year.  It is wonderful, if for no other reason, because today we are all reminded of just how much God loves us.  John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  More than anything else, the message of Christmas confirms God’s love for the world.  His love was so great that He gave the best He had to offer.  He gave us His Son; He gave us Himself.

My hope this day is that all who read these words will know beyond the shadow of any doubt that they are loved.  You and I are loved unconditionally by the One who matters most and unlike the love of so many other people, God’s love is not fickle or undependable.  It is always there and always will be.  The gift of Jesus that first Christmas makes this clear.

It probably won’t surprise you that I feel that we should also pause to remember today not just God’s love for us but for all of the world—for all of Creation.  It would be egotistical of us to assume that the love of God that caused Him to send Jesus only included humans.  The Bible affirms from beginning to end God’s love for the entire world.  And I, along with many others, would also argue that the salvation made possible through Jesus Christ also affects more than just mankind.  God’s redemptive plan is cosmic in nature.  In Romans 8 Paul talks about how God’s plan includes “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v. 21)

Just as God’s love for us causes us to look differently at ourselves, God’s love for the rest of Creation should cause us to look differently at it.  We should see its goodness and worth.  It has both whether we recognize it or not for God has already established this.  If, however, we can recognize the goodness  andvalue of Creation to God we might do more to love it ourselves.  This would include not just spending more time enjoying Creation’s beauty and wonders but also attempting to preserve and protect what God has made and deemed good.

Today we should all celebrate God’s love for us but let us not forget to remember His love for the rest of the world too.  Perhaps one way we can show our appreciation to God for His gift of love expressed in Jesus is to show our love for the rest of the world by treating it better.  Merry Christmas and God bless!

–Chuck

(I took the top and bottom pictures at Yellowstone National Park.  I captured the middle image at Pine Mountain State Park in eastern Kentucky.)


Dec 11 2011

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

It’s the third Sunday in Advent and since the theme for this Sunday is joy we sang “Joy to the World!” at church this morning.  This has to be one of the most familiar and popular of all Christmas hymns.  I have enjoyed singing this song since my childhood.  Even as a kid I particularly liked the part that says, “let heaven and nature sing.”  What I didn’t realize back then is that the idea of heaven and nature singing comes straight out of the Bible.

Few people seem to know that the background for Isaac Watts’ famous carol is Psalm 98.  In verse 4 of this Psalm we read, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.”  This, of course, is where the title for “Joy to the World!” comes from.  But what about “heaven and nature” singing?  That comes later.  In the last three verses the Psalmist declares: “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”  Here we see that the sea, along with all the creatures that inhabit it; the world, along with all of its inhabitants; and also the rivers and mountains are called to sing a joyful song unto the coming Lord.

The Bible teaches us that God created the world and us for His glory.  It only makes sense then that all of Creation should join together in singing God’s praise.  And there is certainly no better time to lift our voices with the rest of Creation than during this season when we pause to remember that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16)  We may not understand how, or even accept that it is true, but nature does, in fact, offer praise to its Maker.  If we are wise, we will do the same.  And if we truly realize what’s going on it will be a joyful song we sing.  So let’s not rest content with just heaven and nature singing, let’s all do our part as well!

–Chuck

(The top image was taken at Cape Elizabeth in Maine.  The middle image was taken in Big South Fork N.R.R.A. in Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken in Kings Canyon N.P. in California.)