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.)


May 5 2014

Joyful Gratitude

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

_DSC4257Recently, while reading Joan Chittister’s book The Breath of the Soul, I came across some very insightful words.  In a chapter called “Blessing” Joan claims bounty and beauty and abundance give us a foretaste of wholeness.  She says “These are the palpable manifestations of the goodness of God in our lives” and “they are simply signs that the God of life is a living, loving God.”  She goes on to say, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.  It confirms our trust in God.  It affirms the greatness of creation.  It seals our dependence on God.  It attests to the beauty of the present and asserts our confidence in the beauty of the future.  It recognizes the mercy and love of God.” Finally, she says “When we celebrate the good things in life, we trace them to the Creator who gives without merit, openhandedly, out of the very goodness of community, love, and support that are by nature at the base of the human condition.”

_DSC3818I find in Chittister’s words a needed call to live my life in joyful gratitude.  I know for a fact that I am richly blessed.  When I do take time to count my blessings I am always amazed at just how blessed I am.  It is helpful to remember that the good I see in my life is a sign that “the God of life is a living, loving God.” I must ever keep in mind that God is the Giver of all good gifts. (James 1:17)  I must also bear in mind that such “bounty and beauty and abundance” deserves to be celebrated.  I will confess that many times when I give thanks it is out of a sense of duty or obligation.  Joy does not always characterize my thanksgiving.  I suspect that there is a big difference in simply listing the things I am thankful for and being keenly aware of the things I am thankful for.  The biggest difference may well be the presence of joy.

When I am outdoors in a natural setting I tend to be more aware of my immediate blessings.  I seem to be more joyful.  Part of the reason for this may be that bounty, beauty and abundance are more evident in nature for me than other areas of my life.  In God’s Creation I am often overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.  In my mind I know that there are just as many blessings in the other areas of my life but those blessings might not be as easy to see as the ones I find in the natural world.  At least not presently.

_DSC3747Over the years I have trained myself to see and experience the goodness of God in Creation.  I sense I need to begin to train myself to see better the blessings of God that are found elsewhere.   I need to be more open to experiencing the goodness of God in my family and friends, in literature and the arts, and in the very exercise of living itself.  There are so many other things that bring joy to my life.  These things are also cause for celebration for they, too, are things that can be traced back to God and are, indeed, “palpable manifestations” of God’s goodness and grace.

I encourage you to join me on this journey of not only counting one’s blessings but joyfully celebrating them as well.  Chittister is right, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.” 

–Chuck

(I took the images above this past Friday at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. (KY) and Garden of the Gods (IL).


Dec 15 2013

Where’s the Joy?

Elkmont 184It’s the third Sunday of Advent and today’s theme is joy.   The theme of joy is so special in the Advent calendar that the candle that is lit on this day is not purple like the others but pink.  Joy is certainly a central part of the Christmas story. It was, after all, a song of joy that permeated the skies above Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth.  The angels announced that evening “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)  Two thousand years later I can’t imagine going through the season without singing “Joy to the World!”

prairie-dogs-172Still, as I mentioned last week regarding peace, there are times when I cannot help but wonder where that joy is that the angels spoke of and we sing about each year.  Exactly how much joy do you see around you?  How much joy do you find within you?  I believe people want to live joyful lives but this doesn’t seem to be all that common these days.  Why?

BSF-Yahoo-Falls-Years ago I heard someone say that the letters of the word “joy” can help us discover the secret of experiencing joy.  He said the key to joy is putting Jesus first, Others second and Yourself third.  I think there is some truth to this.  When we live our lives selfishly, putting ourselves before Christ and others, it does not lead to happiness or joy.  True joy comes when we live humbly and with proper perspective.  That perspective includes the recognition of the supremacy of Christ and the importance of others.  Unfortunately, you rarely hear this taught.  All forms of media seem to emphasize the importance of putting yourself first.  The fact that so many people have bought into this lie helps explain the absence of joy in a lot of people’s lives.

It is my own experience that I am, indeed, most joyful when I am living the life God has called me to live and serving others.  My joy diminishes in relationship to how much I exert my own will over that of God’s and my own interests over that of others.  Even though I know this to be true, it does not mean that I always live as I should or put others before me.  I fail often and when I do I invariably feel the absence of joy.

Buttermilk-Mountains-flowersI do, in fact, find my greatest joy in my relationship with God and in serving others but I will also acknowledge, as I did last week pertaining to peace, that I find a great deal of joy in God’s Creation.  Time in nature is one of the almost fail-proof sources of joy in my life.   Whether it’s looking at wildflowers, watching wildlife, observing beautiful vistas or contemplating waterfalls I always experience delight and joy in the natural world.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has this same experience.  I say that because I sincerely believe that God’s Creation is meant to be a source of joy for each of us.  The sad thing is a lot of people don’t realize this and for that reason miss out on one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

When I raised the question last week, “Where’s the peace?” I answered that for me it’s found primarily in my relationship with God and His Creation.  Today, as I raise the question, Where’s the joy?” I must give the same answer.  So once again I offer thanks for Christ and the world he created,  and also for the joy I find in each.  If you feel the same, I encourage you to give thanks too.

–Chuck

(I took the first image in the Great Smoky Mountains, the second in Wyoming, the third in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, and the fourth one near Bishop, California.)


Dec 16 2012

Joy Comes in the Morning

The theme for the third Sunday of Advent is joy but I’m struggling to find something joyful to write about.  I’ll be honest; I don’t feel a lot of joy right now.  It’s just one of those times.  The senseless murder of innocent children and adults in Connecticut this past Friday hasn’t helped matters.  Neither have some problems at work.  I know it’s supposedly “the most wonderful time of the year” but there’s a lot about Christmas that also brings me sadness.  I miss loved ones who are no longer here especially at Christmas.  Many of the songs I hear played dampen my spirits rather than lift them.  We may have lit a pink candle at church today to represent joy but I find myself wondering right now, “Where is the joy?”

I raise that question periodically but deep down I always know the answer.  My primary joy always has been, and always will be, found in my relationship with God.  When I am sad and blue I rarely doubt God’s existence or His love for me.  I just don’t sense His presence or feel His love at such times.  And it is in such times that I have to hold on to my faith and realize that “this, too, will pass.”  It is also helpful to remember that what I’m going through is a very common experience for believers.  You cannot be joyful (or full of joy) all of the time.  Sad times are a part of life.  An honest reading of the Scriptures will reveal that most of our biblical heroes also struggled with sadness and a lack of joy at times.  If anyone tells you that you must be joyful at all times I’d suggest you tell them to “get real.”  My own experience, as well as my observation of others, reveals that feelings of sadness are inevitable.

My experience and observations also reveal that these feelings of sadness do not last forever.  They do, in fact, pass.  In Psalm 30 the writer declares “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (v.5)    The wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” (3:1)  A few verses later he added that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  Joy and sadness are cycles that come to each of our lives.  Such cycles are reflected throughout nature.  As the Psalmist indicated, sunrise eventually follows sunset.  The tide rolls out but it always rolls back in.  Winter comes each year but invariably spring follows.  The moon in the sky goes through its phases and so do we.

When I am sad both of God’s Books—Scripture and Creation—offer me encouragement to hang in there.  Both Books give me hope of better days to come.  Both Books remind me that the Creator is still in control and that joy will, in fact, return in time.  On this Third Sunday of Advent I am grateful for their faithful testimony.  In them I find reason to believe that “comfort and joy” will sooner or later be mine once again.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Coyote Buttes in Arizona and the bottom two images at Big Bend National Park in Texas.)


Dec 12 2010

Snow, Silence & Joy

snow in backyardOn this third Sunday of Advent it is snowing once again in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  The theme for this particular Sunday in Advent is joy.  Although the joy is supposed to be for the coming of Christ at Bethlehem long ago, I have a feeling there are lots of kids feeling joy right now realizing it is unlikely they’ll have to go to school the next few days.

I know snow can be messy and dangerous but I love it.  It is so beautiful!  Things are rather dreary around here unless it snows so I look forward to times like these.  We are supposed to get several inches of snow over the next couple of days.  Like the kids I’m hoping we get lots, just for different reasons–I love photographing in the snow!

Several years ago I remember reading a sermon where the writer talked about how snow does its work silently.  You can go to bed at night and wake up the next morning with several inches of snow on the ground but it is unlikely you would have heard a thing.  You would have had no warning.  Snow works quietly.

In the spiritual life there is much need for quietness.  In fact, the prophet Isaiah said “in quietness and trust is your strength.” (30:15)  Noise and lots of action tends to characterize most of our lives.  Certainly there is a time and place for both, but there is also a great need for us to spend time in silence and being still.  God himself says to us, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)  I think the reason He told us this is that it is next to impossible to get to know God unless we do take the time to practice stillness in our lives.  In times of solitude and stillness we find the strength we need to live the spiritual life.

The snow that is falling outside my window now offers me a needed reminder—even in this busy and hectic time of the year I need to find time to “be still” and quiet so that I might experience God more fully and find my strength renewed.  By doing so I suspect I will also discover joy.

–Chuck

(I took the picture above at my home last week.)


Jan 13 2010

Finding Joy in Creation

Fishpond-Lake-039I recently finished reading Wendell Berry’s latest collection of poems, called Leavings.  Typical of most of Berry’s poem collections, the majority of the entries are tied to the land or Creation.  I enjoy reading this author’s poems and commend them to you.

One of the poems I’d like to share with you.  It has caused me to do a lot of thinking.  It reads:

“Learn by little the desire for all things

which perhaps is not desire at all but undying love

which perhaps is not love at all but gratitude for the being of all things

 which perhaps is not gratitude at all but the maker’s joy in what is made,

the joy in which we come to rest.”

I have to admit I had to read this poem a number of times before it began to make sense to me.  What Berry seems to be saying is that behind all desire, all love, and all gratitude is God’s joy in His Creation and that our joy is made complete when we, too, find our joy there.

In each refrain of “and God saw that it was good” in Genesis 1 we see God’s joy in Creation.  When God speaks to Job he talks about how at Creation “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.” (38:7) The Psalmist prayed “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (104:31)   It would appear that “in the beginning” God found much joy in His Creation and does to this very day.  The question is, do we?

If God’s Creation is a great source of joy to Him, should it not be for us as well?  I have a feeling that if we did focus more on nature that we would experience what Berry called “the joy in which we come to rest.”  In the process we would experience more gratitude and love.  In the process we would experience the “desires of our heart.”  What do we miss when we separate ourselves from God’s Creation?  A lot!

–Chuck

(The image above was taken at Fishpond Lake in Letcher County, Kentucky.)