May 18 2016

Careless in the Care of God

_DSC5775In Eugene Peterson’s amazing translation/paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, Matthew 6:26 reads “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count for more to him than birds.”  Ken Gire once wrote a wonderful response to this.  He said: “’Careless in the care of God.’  And why shouldn’t they be?  For their food, He provides insects in the air, seeds on the ground.  For their search for food, He provides eyes that are keen, wings that are swift.  For their drinking, He provides poolings of rainwater.  For their bathing, He provides puddles.  For their survival, He provides migratory instincts to take them to warmer climates.  For their flight, He provides bones that are porous and lightweight.  For their warmth, He provides feathers.  For their dryness, He provides a water-resistant coating.  For their rest, He provides warm updrafts so they can glide through the air.  For their journey, He provides the company of other travelers.  For their return, He provides the companionship of a mate.  For their safety, He provides a perch in branches far from the reach of predators.  For their nest, He provides twigs.  And for every newborn beak, He provides enough worms so that they can grow up to leave the nest and continue the cycle of life.  It’s no wonder they’re so free from the cares of this world.  The wonder is, if we count more to Him than birds, why aren’t we?”

_DSC5759When I read these words earlier this morning I have to admit I was convicted. Lately I’ve been worried about a lot of things and the word “careless” would definitely not describe me at this point in my life.  Jesus’ instructions to “look at the birds” was one of his ways of trying to get his followers not to worry so much.  He encouraged them to look around and pay close attention to the birds and the wildflowers that grew nearby.  Both, he said,  serve as reminders that God takes care of them and provides what they need.  Jesus then informed these followers that God cares even more for them and they shouldn’t worry, for if God meets the needs of the birds and flowers God will assuredly meet their needs as well.

_DSC3499I love the way Ken Gire lays out for us the many ways God provides for the birds. He lists so many ways and I’m sure others could be added to his list.  Surely the recognition that God goes out of His way to care for the birds ought to be enough to make us pause when anxious thoughts come our way.  Hopefully it will help me worry a whole lot less and move me to the point where I am “careless in the care of God.”


(I took the pictures shown above at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)

Jun 19 2013

Easter in June

_CES4649There’s a small flower garden on the property of the church where I serve.  As I passed it in my car this morning I felt like it was Easter in June.  There for all to see were several beautiful Easter lilies in bloom.  When I noticed them I couldn’t help but recall Jesus’ charge to “consider the lilies.”  He spoke those words in Matthew 6:28 as he encouraged his listeners not to worry.  Jesus indicated that the lilies were provided for by God.  He intimated that if God takes care of them we can rest assured that He will take care of us as well.  That is a truth I need reminded of on a regular basis.

_CES4664The fact that it was Easter lilies I was looking at led my thoughts elsewhere.   Easter lilies are trumpet shaped and might be said to herald the good news that Christ is risen from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus, of course, stands at the heart of the Christian faith.  It was this event that caused the church to begin to worship on Sundays rather than on the Sabbath.  Everything hinged on the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul went so far as to say “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)  Even though it is now the end of June the flowers I saw this morning served as a reminder that the celebration of Easter is always appropriate.

Before the morning was over I found my mind somehow connecting Jesus’ call to consider the lilies with the message of Easter.  Certainly one of the greatest truths we find in the Easter story is that God is so mighty that not even death can stand in His way.  We may see death as the ultimate enemy but death itself has been defeated in Christ.  When you remember that God is that powerful it makes even more sense why we should not give in to the temptation to worry or become anxious.  The One who raised Christ from the grave is more than able to meet our every need.  Why should we worry when the God of Easter is there beside us each step of the way?  There is no need at all.  Some lilies told me so just this morning…


Nov 7 2012

God Is In Control!

Next week Dr. Matthew Fox will be speaking here in Pikeville.  I’m really excited about that for he is one of the persons most associated with “Creation Spirituality.”  He has written extensively on the subject and has also done much to show how what many consider to be a new movement in Christianity is actually quite ancient.  I’ve been reading a couple of Dr. Fox’s books in recent days.  In one of them, Creation Spirituality, I came across a passage that seemed most timely.  On the day after our national election a lot of people are feeling very discouraged, others are experiencing elation.  Perhaps something both groups should do is go for a walk.

In a chapter called “Gifts of Awe” Fox writes: “All who embark on a spiritual path need to be willing to learn to let go; to know that none of us has all the answers, and yet that none of us is apart from divinity; to be able to let go of bitterness or prolonged anger.  We can drive down a freeway and be full of anger, but we cannot walk down a pathway when filled with anger or bitterness.  We must be emptied to be able to walk the pathway of spirituality, and of course the walking itself will accomplish its own surprising emptying.”

Christians often use the language of walking to speak of the Christian life.  We talk about “walking the straight and narrow path.”   We use words like “journey” and “pilgrimage” to describe the calling to follow Jesus. This past Sunday in my sermon I even used one of my favorites sayings from my teenage years—“Don’t talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk.”  Perhaps this language might lead us to incorporate walking as a spiritual discipline.  I know that when I am stressed out or feeling down going for a walk in the woods always seems to help.  Walking has a way of helping me gain perspective, a way of enabling me to see the bigger picture.

Walking on a treadmill is an excellent way to exercise but I would suggest that when possible walking outdoors is far more beneficial for in addition to the physical exercise one gets on a treadmill there is also the calming and restoring powers of Creation.  There’s just something about being in nature that causes us to “let go” and to help us to realize that the world is bigger than us or any of our problems.  Even more important, time in Creation helps us remember that God is even bigger than that and “has the whole world in His hands.” 

Whether your candidate/party won or lost yesterday Creation reminds us today that God is still in control.  God brought this world into being, maintains it even now, and will one day bring it to an end—God and God alone.  In Matthew 6 Jesus went to great length to tell us that there is no need to worry.  He challenged us to “look at the birds” and to “consider the lilies.”  Jesus said God takes care of these and went on to add that we can rest assured that He will also take care of us.  We should all be putting our trust in our Creator, not any politician.  So go take a walk.  There may not be many lilies to consider this time of year but there is still plenty in nature shouting the good news, “Don’t worry, God is in control!”


(I took the trail image in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, the coneflower in Tennessee, and the sandhill cranes in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache.)

Apr 11 2010

Living in the Moment

toadshade trilliumRobert Frost has a poem called A Prayer in Spring.  Here’s the first stanza:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the springing of the year.

As Rob and I have both noted recently, this is a wonderful time of the year to take pleasure in the flowers.  In the mountains of my area one can now find trillium, bloodroot, trout lilies, hepatica, and scores of other wildflower species.  Of course, many domestic species are also currently blooming. 

The flowers are there but are we seeing and taking pleasure in them?  The fact that Frost feels the need to pray that we will indicates that this does not come automatically.  God gives us the flowers to enjoy but there are things that can keep us from experiencing the enjoyment intended.

If I read his poem correctly, Frost seems to be pointing to worry over the future as something that can keep us from the pleasures of God’s Creation today.  For the farmer the worry might be over an “uncertain harvest.”  For the rest of us it could be any number of things.  There is no shortage of things to cause us anxiety about the future.

phaceliaFrost prays that God would “keep us here, all simply in the springing of the year.”  To me this is a reminder of how important it is to live in the present moment.  If we’re always worrying about what might happen down the road there’s a good chance we will miss the blessings of today.

In the same sermon where Jesus encouraged us to “consider the lilies” and to “look at the birds” he said, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mt. 6:33-34)  In telling us this, his point was that we can trust God to take care of us each day.  There’s no need to be fretting about the future.  If we remain anxious, we will miss the blessings of today—blessings like the beautiful flowers all around us.


(The trillium and phacelia pictured here are common southern Appalachian wildflowers.)

Jun 24 2009

Hours and Flowers

ca-smmra-prickly-phlox-1We as people tend to think too much. I know I do and most of my friends and family do, too. On the one hand, this is a good thing as we can think things through carefully so we do the right things. On the other hand, thinking too much can be limiting and get in the way of our doing anything, let alone the right thing!

Especially when we worry. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:27-28, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.”

Sometimes I find it refreshing to mediate on something in nature, especially flowers. I find that when I am photographing up close, when a flower fills my viewfinder, I am focused on more than a photograph. I am focused on beauty, on a wonder in God’s world, and I don’t think about too much else. The photo here is of a prickly phlox flower,  a plant of the chaparral of Southern California.

It is a small plant with beautiful flowers. Like all flowers, it doesn’t worry about being anything other than itself. This particular flower is jeweled with morning dew. It doesn’t have to “do” anything or worry about life or anything else. It simply is.

I find I am at my best when I simply “am”, accepting what and who I am as God has given me life. Oh, I know how easy it is to want to be or do something else, or I think I must accomplish something in order to feel good complete, but that tends to create anxiety and unease in my head. I really do have to remember things like flowers and the fact that they “accept” where they are at and can only be what they are. A prickly phlox cannot be anything else and there is nothing wrong with that. I really cannot add a single hour to my life by worrying about things that are not happening or going the way “I” think they should.

— Rob Sheppard