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.)


Aug 7 2015

A Prayer for Creation

_DSC6890The two major concerns that are the focus of this blog, Seeing Creation, are nature and spirituality. My strong conviction, as most of you already know, is that the two go together. For most people a major component of spirituality is prayer. I wonder, however, how many people include nature or Creation as part of their prayers. Recently I came across a prayer in the book Earth Prayers that shows us how we might pray for God’s Creation. It is a beautiful prayer that many of us ought to consider praying.

_DSC7616“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate? How many species must we abuse and extinguish?  How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes before we learn to love and respect your Creation, before we learn to love and respect our home?  For our wrongs, Lord, we ask for forgiveness.  In sorrow for what we have done we offer our repentance. We pray that our actions toward You and Your Creation are worthy of our repentance, that we will so act here on earth that heaven will not be a shock to us. We promise to reverence Your Creation as a gracious gift entrusted to us by You, our God. We promise anew to be stewards and not pillagers of what You have entrusted to us. Creator God, You have given us every reason to learn and promote this wisdom of lives lived in harmony with Creation. May we, your servants, increasingly serve.  May we, your servants, increasingly come to love Your Creation as we increasingly come to love You, through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”

The questions that are offered at the beginning of this prayer deserve our attention–“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate?”  Politicians debate even now whether clean air and water or business profits should be our primary concern. From God’s perspective is this even debatable?  The recent publicity over the killing of the lion known as Cecil has many raising the same question addressed in the prayer: “How many species must we abuse and extinguish?”  In a recent blog I wrote about environmental racism which resonates with the question, “How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes…?”

_DSC7000The book, Earth Prayers was published in 1991 and in it this prayer is attributed to the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology. If it was being penned today, I suspect other questions might be added to the ones already included. Perhaps one would ask “How many scientific studies must be conducted before we recognize the impending danger of Climate Change and start to make changes to counter it?”

Appropriately, the prayer not only raises questions but includes confession and repentance. Confession is important.  We need to admit to God that we have not been good stewards of Creation. Repentance is perhaps even more important.  We must mend our ways.  Just saying we are sorry won’t cut it; we have got to be willing to change our ways and do what we can to care for the Earth.

_DSC6976My hope is that all those who read this prayer will make the same promise to reverence God’s Creation “as a gracious gift entrusted to us” and to “be stewards and not pillagers” of what God has entrusted to us. I also hope, as stated in the prayer, that we will all come to love God’s Creation as we increasingly come to love God.

If you are not currently including Creation in your prayers now would be a good time to start and the prayer I’ve just shared with you wouldn’t be a bad one to begin with.

–Chuck

(The first, third and fourth images were taken at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The deer was photographed in my yard in Henderson, KY.)


Feb 18 2015

Do What You Can

_DSC5707We got our first significant snow of winter a couple of days ago. I know a lot of people don’t like snow and the cold weather that comes with it but I do. I love the look nature takes on after being blanketed with snow. I love the quiet it brings and the way it causes everything to slow down a bit. I also love the way it draws birds to my bird feeder. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the variety of birds that have made their way to my yard. I’ve seen lots of cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, titmice, juncos, finches, sparrows and other species vie for a spot at the feeders. The birds seem to go into survival mode when a deep snow falls and this makes it much easier to photograph them. They are far more concerned with getting something to eat than they are with me taking their picture. As a result I’ve gotten what I think are some wonderful images of the birds.

_DSC5431I will confess that one of the reasons I feed the birds is so I can photograph them. I’ve actually sold a number of images taken at home to magazines.  Still, I would feed them, especially in winter, even if I was not a photographer. I would do so because they are both beautiful and fun to watch, and also because I feel that by doing so I can be a good steward of Creation. Many birds would have trouble surviving in winter if people did not feed and provide water for them. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” From the beginning it has been the responsibility of those created in the image of God to care for the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. I realize that feeding the birds is only a small part of Creation Care but it is a part nonetheless.

_DSC5598Many of the environmental problems we are facing today seem huge and almost insurmountable. Climate change, destruction of the earth’s remaining rainforests, the extinction of both plant and animal species, pollution of the air and our streams, rivers and lakes–all these are problems so big it seems like there is very little that we, as individuals, can do about them. Our role here is more secondary, encouraging those in power to make wiser choices, but there are some things we can all do on a local level that makes a difference. Some of them are as simple as feeding the birds, planting native species, and creating brush piles in your yard. Other simple ways we can help make a difference include recycling, reusing items, lowering the thermostat in winter and raising it in summer, keeping our vehicles’ tires properly inflated, and driving less.

There is no shortage of ways we can be good stewards of God’s Creation. The important thing is not to worry about what we cannot do but to focus on what we can. Working alone and with others in our community we can make a difference.   For God’s sake, our own, that of our neighbors (both human and wildlife) and the planet itself, let’s do all we can to fulfill our divine calling to take care of the earth.

–Chuck

(I took the bird images used today over the last couple of days at my home in Henderson, KY.)


Feb 10 2013

A Broken Hallelujah

Highland-Hammock-SP-079During our worship service this morning one of our youth sang a song recorded by Mandisa called “Broken Hallelujah.”  I had not heard the song before but was deeply touched by it.  This beautiful song acknowledges that when our hearts have been broken “in a thousand pieces, maybe even more” that it can be difficult to offer God the praise He deserves.  Here are the words to the chorus: When all that I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins.  I will worship You and give You thanks even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah.”  There can be no denying that there are times in each of our lives when it may be hard to praise God but that it is a noble thing when a person offers Him praise nonetheless, even if it is only a broken hallelujah.

On the way home from church I thought about the song and how the words had fit my life on a number of occasions.  It also hit me that there is a sense in which God’s Creation also at times has to offer a broken hallelujah.  The Bible teaches us that all of Creation offers God praise but considering what we have done to the earth perhaps in some places only a truncated or limited offering of praise is possible.  I think of clear-cut areas I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest, mountaintop removal sites in the southern Appalachians, and areas drained for development in the Everglades.  I think of the polluted rivers and lakes I’ve seen, as well as urban settings covered with smog.  In so many places and in so many ways we have hindered Creation’s ability to offer God praise.

Hazard-926eI would like to think that even in those places where humans have altered the landscape and brought pollution that broken hallelujahs continue to be offered.  I would also like to think that through conservation efforts and by being better stewards of Creation we can help restore some of these areas and enable nature itself to offer a greater offering of praise to its Creator.  In fact, since I have been inspired numerous times by Creation to offer my own praise, I feel obligated to do what I can to help Creation fulfill its own task of worshiping God.  How about you?

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Highland Hammocks State Park in Florida.  The bottom image is a picture I took from an airplane of a mountaintop removal site near Hazard, KY.)


Mar 27 2011

Not a Silent Spring

During a number of periods of quiet this past week I became keenly aware of the songs of birds being sung outside my home.  I have enjoyed the tunes provided by mockingbirds, cardinals and chickadees.  More than once the bird’s songs have made me think of Rachel Carson.

I have always enjoyed the outdoors.  A lot of my childhood years were spent playing in the woods.  It was not, however, until about twenty years ago that I  became interested in environmental issues.  When I did become interested one of the first books I read was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  As many of you know, this classic work revealed the detrimental effects of certain pesticides on birds and other wildlife species.  Carson feared we would be facing “silent springs” if the use of these pesticides were not banned.  Thankfully, Silent Spring led to many important changes and caused our country to become more sensitive to environmental issues.

Rachel Carson was keenly aware of our need to practice good stewardship when it comes to the earth.  She once wrote, “The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery—not over nature but of ourselves.”  Her words are perhaps more true today than ever before.  In many different venues humans and the environment continue to be threatened by harmful chemicals and pollution.  We still need voices like Rachel Carson’s to rise up and take a stand against these dangers.  Christians should join in the chorus and remember our divine calling to care for the earth.  We cannot afford to forget that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Because of the courage and passion of one like Rachel Carson I have yet to experience a silent spring.  Will the generations that follow us be able to say the same thing?  Perhaps, but they will not if we do not do our part now and make every effort possible to keep harmful substances out of our air and waters.  We will have to be wiser than those who have gone before us.  I hope and pray that we will.  I just cannot imagine a spring without the songs of birds.  Can you?

–Chuck

(I took these bird images at my home this past week.)


Aug 23 2009

Rejoicing In His Works?

CR Banff NP Peyto LakeToward the end of Psalm 104, having spent thirty verses praising God for His greatness made manifest in Creation, the Psalmist says in verse 31: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works…”   What God has created is worth an eternity of praise!   It is the Psalmist’s hope that God can “rejoice in His works.”

We know that when God created the earth that following each creating day He paused and “saw that it was good.”  Like an artist (or photographer) standing before his or her work, God looked upon what He had made and took delight in it.  In the Psalmist’s words here he seems to be hoping that this delight will be ongoing, that God would always be able to take delight in what He had made. Did he have reason for concern?

I don’t know if he did then or not but as we observe God’s Creation now there does, in fact, seem to be reason for concern.  We have polluted the skies and water that once was clean.  We have destroyed mountains and made new ones piled high with waste.  We have hunted some of God’s creatures into extinction or destroyed their habitat to the point that they can no longer survive. We have poisoned the land and cut down the majority of the earth’s forests.  If present day scientists are correct we have even altered the environment to the point where the climate is being changed in a detrimental fashion. 

Is God still able to rejoice in His works?  My guess is that He still does find much to delight in (just as we do) but I also cannot help but feel that He must experience some degree of sadness at the current state of the world.  That which He created “good” has been marred.  Out of love for God we should all seek to do everything we can to preserve and restore God’s Creation.  It should be our concern, as it was the Psalmist’s, that “the glory of the Lord endure forever” and that He “rejoice in His works” always.

–Chuck

(The image above was taken at Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.)