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.)


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.)


Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “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.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

 


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.)


Sep 1 2013

Letting Go & Getting Low

_CES1751It happened again.  On the last day of my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I experienced something I’ve written about before.  I once again went out photographing with high hopes of capturing a certain image that did not materialize but in the end got something better.  Mount Shuksan reflecting in Picture Lake is one of the most iconic images in Washington State.  I so hoped to capture my own stunning image of this well-known scene, even if it did involve a three hour drive to get it.  My friend, Mike, and I made the trip up to Picture Lake.  When we got there  I just knew that I was going to get the iconic image I had seen so often.  The lake was there.  The mountain was there.  Even the light was good.  Nothing stood in the way of getting my picture.  Or so I thought.  When we got down to the lakeshore it became apparent that the wind was blowing just enough to prohibit a good reflection.  I kept thinking that the breeze would calm down but after an hour and a half it had not.  Needless to say I was disappointed that we had come all that way and I was not going to get the image I coveted.

_CES1861We decided to drive on up to Artist Point.  From this area you have great views of both Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker.  I spent an hour or so taking pictures of both mountains but just could not release my disappointment of failing to get “the shot” I had wanted down below.  Later I started walking around the trails in the  area and found one that led slightly uphill and followed it.  It wasn’t long before I came upon a sheltered pool that had formed from the thawing of snow in the area.  From the trail it did not look like much but I had a hunch that if I walked down to the pool and got low there might be some nice reflections of Mount Shuksan.  I was right.  The scene was utterly spectacular.  I spent the next hour and a half photographing beautiful reflections.  I did not get the image I had originally come for but now believe that what I got was something better.  Thousands of other photographers had captured the image at Picture Lake.  I suspect very few had photographed the small pool I found on the top of the hill.

_CES1952So once again I was reminded of a very important life lesson.  Sometimes we do not get what we want but God often has a way of giving us something even better . Our disappointments in life may well become a prelude to something wonderful and good.  I offer two further reflections on my experience that evening.  First, wanting what everybody else has can be a dangerous game.  There is a good reason “Thou shalt not covet” is one of the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 20:17)  Wanting what someone else has–be it an iconic image, a certain vehicle, watch or television–can lead to a great deal of frustration, disappointment and unhappiness.  Furthermore, by focusing on getting what everybody else has we may not leave ourselves open to receving something better.  I tend to believe that God has more to offer us than just the status quo.

_CES1948Second,  I was reminded  that evening that to receive some of God’s blessings we have to be willing to get low.  Just as I could not have gotten the images I did without getting very low to the ground I truly believe that unless we are willing to humble ourselves and “get low” that it is very unlikely that we will experience the best God has to offer.  When we are full of ourselves we are not in a position to be receptive and therefore may well miss out on the blessings God wants to give us.  So I suggest that we learn to let go and stay low.  By letting go of the necessity to have what everyone else does and staying humble we are far more likely to find peace and contentment.  God will likely bless us with much more than this but even if He does not these are two valuable treasures we can give thanks for and two treasures most people are still searching for.

–Chuck


Jan 23 2013

Jimmy Carter & Wilderness

TR6204Because I had a funeral to officiate at on Monday I did not get a chance to watch much of the President’s inauguration.  From what I’ve read and some of the images I’ve seen it must have been a grand event.  Many years ago I had the privilege of attending a presidential inauguration, that of Jimmy Carter.  I was in college at the time and my history professor, who was a member of the Electoral College, invited some students to go to Washington, D.C. with him.  I am very thankful I had a chance to be a part of that trip.  It was wonderful!

AK-Kenai-Fjords-NP-Exit-Glacier-(v)I realize that that there are many who do not feel like Jimmy Carter was a very good president but I have to admit I’ve always admired him.  Part of the reason for my admiration is his faith.  Carter has never been hesitant to speak of his religious convictions.  He taught Sunday School while in office and continues to do so.  I also admire greatly what Carter has done since leaving the Oval Office.  His work through the Carter Center has had a positive effect on millions of people.  I was once at a denominational meeting where Carter spoke.  He was introduced as the first President who used that office “as a stepping stone to greater service.”

Still another reason why I like Jimmy Carter is his love for the outdoors.  While President he was a proponent for environmental issues and also supported the national park system.  I actually believe that this had something to do with his faith.  Why?  Carter once said, “I have never been happier, more exhilarated, at peace, inspired, and aware of the grandeur of the universe, and the greatness of God than when I find myself in a natural setting not much changed from the way He made it.”

AGPix_summers402_0802_Lg[1]When one is cognizant of God’s hand in nature and awed by its beauty he or she cannot help but want to be good stewards of Creation.  Such a person recognizes the need to preserve wilderness areas and to support those places already protected.  These places are valuable in and of themselves but also, as Carter saw, as sources of happiness, exhilaration, peace, inspiration and experiences with God.

Wouldn’t it be great if our current elected officials recognized the spiritual value of wilderness?  I suspect some of them do.  Others, I fear, do not.  It is important that we all do our part in helping our elected officials to see the connection.  After all, they are the ones who will make the decisions about whether wilderness areas are preserved and our national parks are properly funded.  Perhaps now would be a good time to let your Senators and member of Congress know how you feel.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND), the middle image at Kenai Fjords National Park (AK), and the bottom image at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area (WV).)