Apr 8 2015

Where Might We Find Holy Ground?

_DSC8003In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts you will find Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin or ruling court of Israel.  He was put on trial for “speaking against this holy place (the temple) and against the law.”  (Acts 6:13)  How Stephen responds to these charges is absolutely amazing.  He had several points he wanted to make in his defense and one of these is that God cannot be tied down to one place or land.  The Jewish leaders of that day had come to believe that God’s presence was pretty much limited to the Temple itself.  In a sense they had put God in a box.  Stephen believed that was not possible and that the very thought was idolatrous.

In Stephen’s defense before the Jewish council he pointed out how God had from the beginning worked and made himself known outside of what they considered the “holy land.”  Contrary to what they might believe, no single place could be identified as God’s house, no area or region could be called the “holy land.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)I think this is something we need to consider still today.   Each religion has places it considers as holy land.  Many years ago I spent a month studying in Israel and Jordan.  For a lot of people the “holy land” is Palestine—the land of the Jewish patriarchs and eventually Jesus.  I’m thankful I got to spend a number of weeks there and certainly learned a lot by doing so, but in the end I had to come to the same conclusion as Stephen did, that no land is holier than any other.  What makes any land “holy” is God’s presence and God’s presence is not limited by any geographical border.

 

Going back to Stephen’s defense, at one point he reminded those who stood as his judges that when God confronted Moses through the burning bush God told him to take off his sandals for the ground he was standing on was holy ground.  (Exodus 3:5)  Where God encountered Moses was not in Israel.  Stephen wanted the Sanhedrin to remember that God has revealed himself in numerous places. Later Stephen brought up how Solomon would eventually build a temple for Israel but that even he realized that no earthly building could contain God.  Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1-2 to drive home his point:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Where is the house you will build for me?  Where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’”

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendGod is Maker of heaven and earth.  God cannot and will not be limited to any one building, land or group of people.  God can be encountered anywhere we happen to be.  It may well be in a beautiful sanctuary or shrine, or even in a place of significant religious importance, but God can just as easily be found in a local park, your backyard garden or your own home or workplace.  Stephen did not quote Isaiah 6:3 in his defense but very well could have.  Here the prophet Isaiah hears the angels calling to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

If Stephen is right and the angels knew what they were talking about then we must conclude that the whole world is sacred and should be thought of as such.  We must not put limits on where God can speak or act.  You just never know when it comes to God; the place where you are at this very moment may well be holy ground.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in Michigan, California and Wyoming.)


Feb 26 2015

“Show Me Your Glory”

e_CES0556In the Book of Exodus there is an interesting exchange between Moses and God recorded in chapter 33.  Moses seems to be pretty frustrated and asks God a series of questions.  It’s obvious that Moses needed some reassurance from God and eventually asked God to show him His glory (v. 18).  God agrees to do so but tells Moses that he will only be allowed to see His back side, not His face.  God placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand until He had passed by.  God then removed His hand and showed him His back.

_DSC6935There is a very fascinating passage in John Muir’s journals where he takes Moses to task for requesting to see God’s glory.  Muir writes: “Perhaps I do not understand the request of Moses, ‘Show me your glory,’ but if he were here I would like to take him to one of my Twenty-Hill Hollow observatories, and after allowing him time to drink the glories of flower, mountain, and sky I would ask him how they compared with those of the Valley of the Nile and of Mount Pisgah, and then I would inquire how he had the conscience to ask for more glory when such oceans and atmospheres were about him.  King David was a better observer: ‘The whole earth is full of thy glory.’”

I’m not about to fault Moses for asking to see God’s glory but I see Muir’s point and feel it is valid one.  There are times when we feel the need for God to reveal Himself and our hope is that this revelation will take the form of something spectacular.  Like Moses we may even ask for more than we can handle.  I understand the desire to see God’s glory but what Muir has admirably pointed out to us is the fact that God’s glory is always on display all around us.

_DSC1246God’s glory is revealed numerous ways and one of the most accessible places we may experience this glory is in nature.  In nature the Creator’s glory is on full display.  In another passage from John Muir’s journals he says “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.”  For those with eyes to see God’s glory can be seen each and every day.  In nature itself one can experience God’s love wherever he or she happens to be.  King David was right; “the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

Many of us miss seeing God’s glory because we’re waiting for that spectacular display such as Moses experienced in the cleft of the rock.  God rarely makes Himself known this way.  If this type revelation is the only kind that will satisfy us we will likely be disappointed.  I encourage you to open your eyes wide enough to see God’s glory in His Creation.  If you will, I think you will discover that it is quite satisfactory.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Cedar Breaks National Monument, the middle image at Great Basin National Park, and the bottom image at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.)


Nov 12 2014

The Peace of the Forest

_DSC0586In recent days I’ve been reading Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Jane Goodall.  Her work amongst chimpanzees is legendary.  I was surprised when I learned the subject of her new book was plants.  Still, I knew it would be something I would want to read.

_DSC7876In Seeds of Hope Dr. Goodall writes about her lifelong love for plants.  Botany might not be her primary area of expertise but it is obvious she knows a lot about plants and is enthralled by their diversity and usefulness.  At one point, however, she offers a testimony of how the trees of a particular forest brought emotional and spiritual healing to her following a personal crisis.  She writes, “It was to the forest I went after my second husband, Derek, lost his painful fight with cancer in 1981.  I knew that I would be calmed and find a way to cope with grief, for it is in the forest that I sense most strongly a spiritual power greater than myself.  A power in which I and the forest and the creatures who make their home there ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).  The sorrows and problems of life take their proper place in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, with reality suspended by the timelessness of the forest world, I gradually came to terms with my loss and discovered that ‘peace that passes all understanding” (Isaiah 26:3).”

_DSC1272Later Goodall shares how the peace of the forest continues to sustain her.  She says, “As I travel around the world, people are always telling me that I have an aura of peace—even when I am surrounded by chaos, by people jostling for signatures, or wanting to ask questions, or worrying about logistics. ‘How can you seem so peaceful?’ they ask.  The answer, I think, is that the peace of the forest has become part of my being.  Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or the waves crashing onto the shore.” 

I can relate to what Jane Goodall writes here.  For many years I, too, have found my greatest peace in the forest.  There’s just something about being amongst trees.  A few days ago a friend and I took a short walk through a forest to photograph a natural arch.  As we walked the trail we talked about the therapeutic benefits of being in the woods.  It seems to have a calming affect for a lot of people.  I have no doubt that this is something God intended.  And like Goodall, I find peace not only in being amongst the trees but also when I pause to reflect on memories of times spent in forests.

_DSC0854It’s interesting how often the Bible talks about trees and how they often fulfill a vital role in the biblical stories.  Trees play an important part in the Creation accounts and the story of the Fall.  In a number of instances God reveals Himself near trees.  Both Abraham and Moses had close encounters with God near trees.  Jesus apparently often sought solace in a grove of olive trees.  And in the end, when John offers a graphic description of heaven, he says “And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

I realize that the peace Goodall and I experience in the forests others feel in desert settings, mountains or near rivers, lakes or oceans.  I feel peace in these places too.  Once again, I am convinced that God has designed Creation to give us peace so this is to be expected.  If we want the peace that passes all understanding we will be wise to spend time in the Creation with the Author of Creation and the giver of peace.  We will also be wise to make sure that such places are protected and preserved.  In at least one sense, the peace of the world is dependent on it.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Mar 2 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

_DSC1397As I write these words western Kentucky is getting showered by ice.  My car is covered with ice, as are the trees in my yard.  None of this is a surprise since this winter storm has been predicted for a number of days.  Up to three-quarters of an inch of ice is expected and then several inches of snow.  I do not mind driving on snow but ice is a different matter.  It can be extremely dangerous to navigate in a car.  It is also something quite treacherous to walk on.  This morning I had to be very careful with my footing.  A few weeks ago I fell on the ice and I did not want to repeat that adventure.  I’m hoping that tomorrow I will be able to photograph the ice.  Ice covered plants and trees can be extremely beautiful.  If I do get out with my camera I will be extra careful.  The key to dealing with ice is to respect it.  If you do not you are likely to pay dire consequences.

_DSC1429That reminds me of something else.  I happen to be reading through the Bible again this year and am covering now the opening chapters of  Deuteronomy. In this section Moses is speaking to the children of Israel who are about to cross into the Promised Land.  He tells them, “Know therefore today, and take it to heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” (4:39-40)

But Moses did not just urge the Israelites to respect God and His commandments that day, he also warned them of the consequences that would come if they did not remain faithful.  Their lack of respect and obedience would cause God to withhold His blessings.  They would stand in danger of losing the land they had just come to possess.  Moses told them “you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it.  You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed.” (4:26)  The Israelites were specifically warned not to take on any of the gods they encountered in the land before them.  Moses reminded them that God is a jealous God and would not tolerate any rivals.  After all He had done to deliver them from slavery and bring them to the very verge of the Promised Land God deserved their utmost respect and loyalty.  If they did not give Him this they would certainly pay.

_DSC1250I know this kind of talk makes some people uncomfortable but there is definitely a lesson here we need to be reminded of.  God, as Maker of heaven and earth, and the One who sent His Son to save the world, truly does deserve our utmost respect and loyalty.  When we consider all God has done for us we can come to no other conclusion.  He gives us the freedom, however, to do as we please.  We don’t have to be faithful; we don’t have to show Him our respect.  But when we don’t we too suffer the consequences.  I don’t believe it’s so much that God directly punishes us as it is we reap what we sow.  We pay the price that comes from following false gods (and there are plenty of them out there) and ignoring the paths God has graciously laid out for us for our own good and that of others (not to mention Creation itself).

Just as it would be foolish for me to go out in the ice and pay it no regard or respect, we are incredibly foolish not to give God the respect He is due come sunshine or rain, hail, sleet, or snow.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I took nearby after another ice storm hit the area last month.)


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.)


Sep 23 2012

A Natural Partnership

I bought a book recently written by Benjamin M. Stewart called A Watered Garden. It was the book’s subtitle, Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology, that drew me to it.  I was curious how the author would connect worship and ecology.  In the book’s first chapter Stewart writes, “…ecology and Christian worship both extend outward toward ‘everything,’ to attend to the worth of things, their interconnections with things seen and unseen, and their place in the whole living creation.  Their consideration together in a single theme is no novelty, but rather a natural partnership.  Both are, in fact, ways of seeing everything as part on the one great whole.”

I cannot help but agree that worship and ecology form a natural partnership.  When I spend time in nature, or even just study about it, I am often moved to offer worship to the God of Creation.  My love and appreciation for nature has long been a vital part of my life and spirituality.  For me, nature and the study of ecology are conducive to worship.

Any observant student of the Scriptures realizes that nature has played a pivotal role in worship from the very beginning.  God first makes Himself known to humans in a garden setting and there they learn that He is worthy of worship.  From Genesis to Revelation there are countless instances where nature comes into play, one way or another, in God’s revelation of Himself and in humankind’s response of worship.

In our worship service at church this morning there was no special emphasis but I noticed that the connection between worship and nature made a number of appearances.  The first hymn we sang was “How Great Thou Art.”  The words of the second verse are: “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze; then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art!”  Shortly after this hymn we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together asking that God’s name be hallowed and that His kingdom come and His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the children’s sermon the kids learned about how God used Moses to part the sea so the Hebrews could escape the pursuing Egyptians.  Among other things, this story teaches that God is Lord and Master of Creation.  Following the offering we sang together the “Doxology”: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  Here we are reminded that God is the Giver of all good gifts and that we, along with “all creatures here below” are called upon to praise Him.

 

The sermon I preached focused on Hebrews 11.  Although I did not talk about this particular verse we all read together the words: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” (v. 3)  In a chapter that highlights the importance of faith and faithfulness we were reminded that a central belief for Christians is the affirmation of God as Creator.

We ended our service today by singing a chorus based on Psalm 118:24.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Here again was one last reminder that every day is a gift from God and that He is to be honored and worshipped as the Creator.

Perhaps there are some Sundays when we don’t have quite so many overt references to God and nature but it’s almost impossible to imagine a worship service without the connection being made in some form or fashion.  They are, after all, natural partners.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Broke Leg Falls in Kentucky and the bottom two images in northern California.)