Dec 3 2015

Peace on Earth?

flipped cardinalI’ve been thinking about peace quite a bit lately.  Unfortunately, my thoughts have centered on its absence rather than its presence.  I sense a lack of peace in our world, in our country, in churches and, yes, even in my own life.  This morning as I was driving to work the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was playing on the radio.  In one of the verses there is found the words, And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to men.”  After the madness in San Bernardino yesterday and the attack in Colorado Springs a few days before that I felt there were no truer words.  Hate is incredibly strong these days and does, in fact, mock the songs of “peace on earth” we hear at Christmastime.

e_CES0395When I heard the words of the Christmas hymn this morning it reminded me of another song by my favorite rock band, U2, called “Peace on Earth.”  The first verse says Heaven on Earth, we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this hanging around.  Sick of sorrow.  Sick of pain. Sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be Peace on Earth.”  In the last verse Bono sings, “Jesus, this song you wrote–the words are sticking in my throat–Peace on Earth.  Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme.  So what’s it worth?  This peace on Earth?”  After each verse of U2’s song there is a chorus that includes the line “Jesus could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line? Peace on Earth.” 

Both songs express my frustration right now.  Where’s the peace?  Is peace even possible?  I’m beginning to have my doubts.  The Christmas songs I’m hearing right now that talk about peace have a hollowness to them.  Even the well-known passage in Luke 2 where the angels upon Jesus’ birth declare “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…” seems somehow out of place this Advent season, especially considering how much killing is being done in the name of God these days.

e_CES0424To be honest, about the only place I can find peace right now is in nature.  I’m finding it more and more imperative for my mental and spiritual health to get into the woods.  Surrounded by God’s Creation I experience a tranquility that I don’t find elsewhere.  I believe that is not coincidental.  As I experience God’s peace in the woods I’m being led to pray more for peace.  I intend for this to become a greater focus in my prayer life and I hope that is going to happen in a lot of other people’s lives too.  We all need to be desperately praying for and working toward peace right now.

_DSC6059I have no doubt that God wills for us to know and experience peace but it’s just not happening.  Like Bono I’m sick of the sorrow and sick of the pain.  I’m also sick of all the hatred and violence.  I’m sick of the polarization that has infected almost every area of our lives.  I’m sick of hearing about people being killed.  I’m sick of the vitriolic and divisive language I see on Facebook everyday.  If we Christians are going to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” then we are either going to have to conclude that God isn’t hearing our prayers or we are not doing our part.  I have no doubt it is the latter.  When we pray (or sing) “let there be peace on earth” I wonder if God doesn’t repeat the words back to us—“Let there be peace on earth.”  A major newspaper used the headline today “God Isn’t Fixing This.”  It was a reference to the rash of mass killings lately.  I have a feeling the paper is right.  God isn’t fixing this, God is counting on us to fix it.  We’ll need God’s help to do it but if it’s going to happen it will be up to us–to people like you and me.  I’m hoping the Prince of Peace will inspire, encourage, and equip us to be the peacemakers he called us to be long ago.  If we don’t fulfill this calling I shudder to think what the future holds.

–Chuck

(I took each of these pictures near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Dec 18 2013

What Are You Watching This Christmas?

e_CES0370This past Sunday my younger sister was nice enough to e-mail me a page from her daily devotion guide.  Betty is a regular reader of this blog and thought I would enjoy the devotion written by Gina Bridgeman.  I did.  Bridgeman pointed out a connection between the Christmas story and nature that I had not given much thought to in the past.  That connection is the fact that key players in the Christmas story were actually focused on elements of nature when they were presented with the good news of Jesus’ birth.

In Luke’s Gospel we are told that there were shepherds out in the field that night keeping watch over their sheep.  That is, after all, what shepherds do; they watch and care for sheep.  That is their focus.  Well, it was as they did just that this particular group of shepherds got first a visit from an angelic messenger and then were serenaded by an entire choir of angels.  The message was clear—“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (v. 2:11)  The choir went on to sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (v. 2:14)

e_CES2439It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we learn about the Wise Men.  These individuals (we actually have no idea for sure how many there were) may well have been astrologers.  They weren’t watching sheep.  No, their eyes stayed focused much higher.  Long before there were telescopes these individuals paid careful attention to the movement of the stars and planets.  They believed that there was much to be learned by doing so.  After watching the night sky for some time they came to the conclusion that God was sending them a message.  Though they were from the East they felt led to follow the path of the heavenly light westward.  Matthew says when they arrived in Jerusalem quite some time later they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v. 2:2)  Once again, we see that God spoke to a group of people as they focused on an element of nature, the stars.

The author of the daily devotion mentioned above raised the question, what are we watching these days?  That is a good question.  Perhaps we are watching our favorite Christmas program on television.  Maybe it’s a band marching in our town’s annual Christmas parade.  This time of year a lot of people like to get out and look at the Christmas lights and decorations others have put up. Others will watch their children or professional actors perform A Christmas Carol or The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever.  A few days ago my wife and I went to watch (and hear) a Jim Brickman Christmas concert and even more recently a Holiday Pops performance by the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.  When it comes to watching there’s no shortage of options this time of year.

baby-sheep-2Bridgeman went on to say that paying attention to all these things does not necessarily help her keep her focus on Jesus.  In fact, she said much of it turns out to be a distraction.  Because of this, she said she decided to do something different.  She says, “Each evening I walk out my back door, and taking a cue from the Wise Men, scan the December sky for the brightest object—Sirius, the Dog Star.  I watch it for a few moments, and not only do I feel connected to that first Christmas, but it’s time each night to focus my heart on the One at the center of it all.”

I think that’s good advice.  In the midst of all the madness and noise that is associated with this season, perhaps now would be a great time to spend some precious moments out in nature watching the stars, sheep or whatever else might be handy.  God has a long history of speaking to those who watch and pay attention to His Creation.  Why should today be different?

–Chuck

(I took the top picture at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY; the middle picture last night at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the bottom one at a friend’s farm in Virginia.)


Dec 8 2013

Where’s the Peace?

e_CES0897Today is the second Sunday of Advent and the theme is peace.  I had planned to preach a sermon this morning called “Where’s the Peace?” but a winter storm got in the way.  Since I knew we would have a small crowd with all the snow and ice I decided to save that sermon for another time and do something different this morning.  Still, tonight I find myself still thinking about the question, “Where’s the Peace?”  Peace is something we’re called to think about every Advent season.  There are lots of songs using the words “peace on earth” and a lot of the Scripture passages we hear read, from both the Old and New Testaments, mention peace.  It’s obvious that there’s supposed to be peace in the world due to Christ’s coming but in many places it’s missing.  The absence is not just felt between warring nations but in places of business and a lot of homes as well.  It’s absence is likely felt even more often within individuals.  I’m not sure there are a lot of people today who can honestly claim they are at peace in their heart.  I know it is often missing in my own.   Present circumstances beg the question, where’s the peace?

e_CES0424I know I’m supposed to have the answer.  I realize I’m expected as a Christian minister to say peace is found in Jesus Christ but I’m learning it’s not as simple as that.  I’ve already confessed my own lack of peace and I see its absence in family, friends and churches.  Lots of people who profess and follow Christ are still missing the “peace that passes all understanding” and find it hard to relate to the angelic message of “peace on earth and good will to men.”

e_CES0534Where’s the peace?  I cannot answer that question for everyone but these days I tend to find it most in the world of nature.  When the winter storm hit Henderson this weekend I headed to the woods with my camera.  In the woods things were quiet and still.  There was no hustle and bustle, no arguing or fighting, no tension or stress.  I typically find a sense of calm and peace in the outdoors that I do not experience in the busier parts of my life.  When I posted pictures I had taken over the weekend on Facebook a number of people said they looked “peaceful.”  When people use that word I think they often do so with a sense of longing.

Now please don’t read into anything I’ve written today that I’ve lost my faith.  The truth is I feel more peaceful in the outdoors because that is where I tend to feel Christ most present.   I think the constant noise, distractions and busyness of my everyday world makes it hard for me to experience the peace Christ offers.  Perhaps that’s a sign of weakness for me.  Maybe I should be able to experience the nearness of Christ at all times and in all places.  I know there are great Christians who claim that’s been true for them.  It’s just not true for me, not at this point in my life anyway.

e_CES0748After the worship service this morning a woman came up and asked me where I had been photographing the snow.  I told her that I had spent most of my time at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.  She then said, “We’re lucky to have that sanctuary nearby.”  The force of her words spoken to me in our own church sanctuary struck home.  The places I had been spending my time the past couple of days truly are sanctuaries for me.  They are places I felt God’s nearness and experienced peace.

In the end I cannot answer the question “where’s the peace?” for everyone but I can affirm for me it is out in nature communing with the Maker of heaven and earth.  I thank God for this other sanctuary and hope that somehow, someway, somewhere, you will be able to experience the peace of God in the coming days.

–Chuck

(I took the top picture at John James Audubon State Park and the bottom three at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. this weekend.)