Sep 29 2013

Loving All of Creation

April-inset-screech-owl-h-0014Everyone knows that repetition is a key tool for teaching or learning.  The more we read or hear things the more likely we are to remember them.  Repetition is often used by speakers and writers to give added emphasis to something they are trying to convey.  If a sentence or word is repeated twice within a short period of time most people are likely to notice.  If it is repeated three times then you are pretty much assured that everyone will notice.  I thought about that this morning as I read Psalm 145:8-19 to the congregation I serve.  Within these twelve verses the Psalmist declares three times that God has compassion or love on all that He has made.

Breaks-Interstate-Park-fall-191The fact that this thought is repeated three separate times leads me to believe that the biblical writer felt this was a truth that desperately needed to be heard. For whatever reason, David believed people needed to understand that God’s love extends to not just humans but to everything in Creation, to all that He has made.  This would mean that God loves the fish in the sea, the birds of the air and all the other animals in the world.  It would mean that God cares for all living plants and even inanimate objects.  There is not a thing God made that He does not have compassion on.

bisonThis message may be three thousand years old but it is still very much a message that people need reminding of.  I can only speculate but my suspicion is that humans are far more anthropocentric today than they were in David’s time.  Humans, by necessity, were more connected to nature then.  Today that connection is not as strong so we tend to think it’s all about us.  Certainly God does love us, the Bible makes that abundantly clear, but as seen in Psalm 145 God also loves and cares for the rest of His Creation as well.  Verses 15-16 of this Psalm say “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”   God’s compassion is seen here to be not just a warm fuzzy feeling but an action.  He has provided food for all living creatures; it is His longing to satisfy the desires of every living thing.

_CES8682If God loves and cares for all of Creation, shouldn’t we?  The answer to me seems obvious.  Yes, we should share God’s concern for the rest of Creation and our compassion for what God has made must be much more than a feeling.  It should show itself by our actions toward the rest of the world.  If there is no action then the true love is absent.

There are a variety of ways we can share God’s love and compassion for Creation.  Most likely you already have a few ways in mind yourself.  The important thing is that we not just talk a good talk but actively show compassion for the rest of Creation.  God shows His love for that which He has made every day in countless ways.  Reading Psalm 145 I get the feeling He could use some help from the rest of us doing the same thing.  Will you give it a try?  I hope you will and that you will encourage others to do so too.


(I took the screech owl in Middlesboro, KY; the river scene at Breaks Interstate Park, the bison at Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky, and the dragonfly at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area near Henderson, KY.)

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.


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

Mar 4 2012

Nature and a Tender, Caring Heart

Today our pastor preached about Love as part of his series on the fruits of the Spirit (Holy Spirit). Pastor Charlie did a wonderful job, as usual. As an application of all of the things he talked about and Bible references he gave, from the classic I Corinthians 13:4-7 to I John 3:16-19, he offered the following idea, that we might work to be able to say, “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards people that is free from a critical spirit.”

That got me thinking about nature. In Psalm 77:12 it says, “I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds.” We are God’s part of that reference to “your work … and mighty deeds”, and so is all of the rest of nature, so why not make the connection? Pastor Charlie’s idea about a caring heart free from a critical spirit could definitely apply to God’s creation, too.

For me, nature photography is part of how I try to connect with nature and show my care. I don’t want to simply take pictures of pretty things. For me, that is not enough, and does not give me much of a tender, caring heart towards nature. Even looking at nature photography, I want more than just another pretty scene. There are tons of pretty photos of nature that do not go any deeper than a superficial beauty that doesn’t connect with people.

I have nothing against pretty nature pictures. They have their place. But Pastor Charlie’s admonition made me realize that I need something deeper, truly a tender, caring heart toward nature in the way I see it. And I want to connect with others in that way as well.

I also like the section, “free from a critical spirit.” It is sometimes a bit odd to me that people want to judge nature, God’s creation, as being good and bad. Wolves are bad, deer are good. Spiders are bad, butterflies are good. That goes totally against how God saw creation: “And God saw it was good.” (That comes up many times in Genesis 1.) Nature is only “bad” if we look at it from human-centric critical eyes, not from God’s perspective.

In Psalm 96:11-12 it says,

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar and all that fills it;

let the field exult and everything in it.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

That really expresses a joy about God from nature that is not man-centric. If nature rejoices and sings for joy about its Creator, how can we see it in any way as bad? That does not mean that the natural world won’t cause problems for us at times. That can be bad for us, but it does not mean that God’s creation is bad.

I am going to work to remember Pastor Charlie’s advice for seeing people: “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards people that is free from a critical spirit.”

And I am going to translate it also for me to make it reflect an attitude toward God’s creation: “I maintain an unselfish, tender, caring heart towards God’s creation that is free from a critical spirit.”

The photos seen here are of a beautiful pygmy rattlesnake in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida — perfectly adapted to the location and a wonderful part of this ecosystem.

— Rob

Feb 27 2011

Creation and Relationships

OR-Barr-Falls-039This weekend I have been reading a book my wife gave me for Valentine’s Day.  It’s called Care For Creation [a franciscan spirituality of the earth].  Here I was reminded that the Greek word upon which the word “ecology” is based is oikos, which means house.  Thus, ecology literally means “study of the house.”  The book’s authors believe that it is important for us to view the world we live in as  our home, but not ours only;  it is first and foremost God’s home. 

One of the implications of viewing the earth as our home is made clear in the following passage: “To speak of creation as our home is to speak of creation as relationship.  The word creation implies relationship, unlike the word nature, which holds no inherent religious meaning.  ‘Creation’ points to a ‘Creator,’ a God who creates.”  They go on to say, “’Creation,’ therefore, means relationships between the human and nonhuman created order, the place of the human person within that order, and the response of the person to the created order in its relationship to God.”

Chipmunk-2I think this emphasis on Creation and relationships is important and worthy of our consideration.  As Christians we know that all of our relationships are supposed to be characterized by love.  We may not normally think of being “in relationship” with the earth or its creatures but we are.  It’s how God has designed His Creation.  Of course the greatest relationship Creation calls for is a relationship with the Creator Himself but all of these are interconnected.

Loving the “house” God has given us is an important part of our spiritual journey.  Failure to do so is dangerous in many ways.  At one point the authors of Care For Creation ask “If ‘home is where the heart is’ then why is our home—the Earth—in peril?”  The answer seems obvious.  Many people today are failing to love God’s precious gift.  They are failing to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with Creation.  In the e-mails Rob Sheppard sends me he has a quote that always appears at the bottom of the page.  It begins with these words: “In the end we will conserve only what we love.”  It would seem to me that it is well past time that as Christians we made sure that “home is where the heart is.”  For God’s sake, for the earth’s sake, and for our own spiritual and physical well-being we must nurture and maintain a healthy relationship with our home.


(I took these two images on a trip to Oregon. The top picture was taken at Barr Falls and the bottom is a western chipmunk.)

Dec 19 2010

Rich In Love

elk 416Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  In this morning’s service we lit the “love candle” for love is the focus of this particular Sunday.   It seems only fitting to focus on love the Sunday closest to Christmas.  As the Scriptures make clear, it was out of love that God sent His Son Jesus into the world at Bethlehem.

In the first epistle of John we are told that “God is love.”  Everything that God does is based on love.  That includes both His creation of the world and His preservation of it.

One of my favorite passages from the Book of Psalms says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Ps. 145:8-9)  This is not just the testimony of Scripture; it is my testimony too.  Throughout my life I have been the beneficiary of God’s amazing love and compassion.  Whether you realize it or not you have too–you along with the rest of Creation.

It is good news to know that God’s love and goodness extends “to all.”  It is likewise wonderful to realize that “He has compassion on all he has made.”  This means He loves every single individual on earth.  It also means He loves every creature, every plant, every river and sea,  every hill and mountain, every desert and plain.  Yes, the God who is love and who created in love loves and cares for everything that He has made.  As the Psalmist said, He  is “rich in love.”

ghost tree 967Three times in Psalm 145 we read that God loves “all he has made.”  It’s almost like the Psalmist didn’t want us to miss this important point.  He goes out of his way to make sure we understand that God loves everything included in His Creation. 

Fittingly, Psalm 145 begins with words of praise to God.  The Psalmist declares, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” Just as appropriately, Psalm 145 concludes with an invitation to “Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”   The God who has revealed His love to us in the creation and preservation of the world, and in the gift of His Son, certainly deserves our praise at Christmastime and “for ever and ever.”  He also deserves our love and devotion.  Perhaps one of the best ways we can show Him our love is by loving what He loves—everyone and everything.


(I took the two pictures shown here on my trip to Yellowstone National Park earlier this year.)

Sep 29 2010

Loving Neighbors Across Time

UP HNF Irwin Pond 539When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 30-31)  Today I want to focus on the second commandment which is, in essence, the flip side of the first.

As Christians we are called to love our neighbor.  Most people know this.  But just who should we consider our neighbor?   I’ve heard lots of different answers to this over the years and almost all of them have had to do with people living in the present.  Almost twenty years ago I came across a book that helped me understand Jesus’ commandment in a whole new light.  That book was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Guide to Protecting the Earth.  In this book Parham claims “the looming environmental crisis demands that we revisit the governing principle of love for neighbor, expanding it from a purely spatial perspective.  We must think about love for neighbor in terms of time.”  He insists that “we must see those who live in the year 2050 as our neighbors, as real neighbors.  Our unseen great-grandchildren and those of others are as much our neighbors as our present family members and the family living next door.”  When you think of it this way it soon becomes clear that “the only way we can love our neighbor across time is to leave them a decent place to live.” 

In the conclusion to one chapter he says, “Global warming, ozone-layer depletion, and multiple forms of pollution are three massive earth threats.  They assault human life everywhere and jeopardize our entire ecosystem.  However, their impact on today’s world is probably far less adverse than it will be on future generations.”  Parham believes the time to act is now and that “we must view present-day reforms and initiatives as an insurance policy for the future.”

I realize that the concept of loving neighbors across time will be new to many but it makes perfect sense.  If we are going to fulfill what Jesus called “the greatest commandment” then we must take better care of the earth now so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy, benefit and be blessed by it.  Love demands we do no less.


(The image above was taken at Irwin Pond in the Hiwatha National Forest.  The beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan must definitely be preserved for future generations!)