Apr 22 2021

An Earth Day Prayer

This past Sunday I was asked to share an Earth Day prayer during the zoom worship service of the Nicholasville Christian Church. Today I want to share that same prayer with you:

Almighty God, as we observe Earth Day once again this year we pause to acknowledge you as the Maker of heaven and earth.  We celebrate both the beauty and the goodness of all that you have made.  Everywhere we go, everywhere we look, we see the beauty of your creation.  We see it right now in the budding trees, the blooming flowers, the clouds in the sky, the colorful birds you send to brighten our days.  We see so much beauty in the mountains, the ocean, the forests, the plains, and even the deserts you have made. All this beauty is but a dim reflection of your own beauty.  Thank you, God, for giving us a chance to see such beauty and may we be careful not to miss what is there to see.

Today we likewise affirm the goodness of your creation.  You made the world in such a way to meet our needs.  You gave us air to breathe, water to drink, food to sustain us, and companions to share our journey.  When you finished your work you declared that it was very good.  Today we make that same affirmation and offer you our praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of the earth.

With the Psalmist we also affirm that the heavens continue to declare your glory.  That you have given us your creation as a second book by which we might come to know and understand you better.  Please give us eyes to see and ears to hear what you desire to show us in the world around us.

Lord, on this special day we are reminded that we are a part of your creation and that you have given us the responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.  Unfortunately, we have not been very good stewards.  Today your creation suffers.  We have polluted the water and air you provided to sustain us.  We have destroyed many of the resources you gave us to nurture us.  Our wanton ways have led to a reduction of needed forests and mountains.  We have even eliminated many species you created in your love and wisdom.  More and more we see that we are paying the price for our sins.  Disease, climate change, droughts, fires, devastating storms can all be traced back to our recklessness.  God, have mercy on us.

Please forgive us for not being more faithful stewards and help us to start doing a better job.  May we never forget that the earth belongs to you and that we have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve and protect your good earth.  May we realize that in caring for the earth we show our love both for you and others, even for those yet to be born. 

In the end we pray with Jesus that your will might be done on earth just as it is done in heaven.  It is in his name we offer this prayer.  Amen.

Chuck


Mar 24 2021

God’s Spirit in Creation

During the season of Lent I have been taking a class on Celtic Christian Spirituality on Wednesday nights.  In the class we have covered several of the key figures of Celtic Spirituality.  One such figure was Pelagius, a late fourth century theologian. Many in his day considered him a heretic because he refuted the doctrine of original sin and gave strong credence to free will.  Pelagius may have been condemned for some of his teachings but I find much in his writings that I can affirm.  I have long held the belief that gold is gold wherever you find it.  I find gold in Pelagius’ affirmation of the goodness of Creation.

In one of his letters Pelagius wrote the following words: “Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them.  Look at the fish in the river and sea: God’s spirit dwells within them.  There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent… When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only that his hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops.  God’s spirit is present within all plants as well.  The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.” 

I so appreciate Pelagius’ words.  Not only did he see the goodness of Creation that is affirmed repeatedly in Genesis 1, he believed God’s spirit dwelt within all that God had made.  I believe this is a wonderful way to view the world around us.  In all we see we can experience the love and goodness of God.  Through nature you and I can actually commune with God.  In doing so the beauty of nature becomes something spiritual, not merely aesthetic. 

There is perhaps no better time to experience the beauty of God in nature than spring.  This time of year it is easy to become overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s Creation.  I hope you will take time to enjoy the trees that are budding, the flowers that are blooming, and the return of birds from their winter migration.  In the sights and sounds of spring the beauty of the Lord is on display.  Don’t miss it!

–Chuck


Feb 23 2021

Reading the Second Book of God

Numerous times I’ve written about how nature is God’s “Second Book.”  In addition to the Bible, Creation points us to and instructs us about God.  Recently I’ve been reading a book that elaborates on how we can read this Second Book of God.  It is called Forest Church: A Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Nature and was written by Bruce Stanley.

Stanley points to three ways of reading or understanding God in and through nature.  One way is Awe.  He says “Moments of Awe are perhaps the least formal encounters with the Divine in nature but also the most powerful and absorbing.”  If you have spent any significant time in nature you have likely experienced a moment of awe.  Perhaps it happened while looking up at the stars on a clear night, observing a sunrise or sunset, staring at the vast ocean, or while taking in the view of a lofty mountain.  Whatever it was, the experience caused you to feel awe and to sense the overwhelming power and presence of God.  Stanley says we would likely have more experiences of Awe in nature if we would “go mindfully, open and present to the reality around” us.  We would be wise, therefore, to slow down, physically and mentally, when outdoors.  Living in the moment may very well lead us to far more experiences of awe than we are accustomed to.

The next way into reading the Second Book of God is identified as Study.  Here one observes the world of nature and asks What?, How?, and Why?  Stanley says “Study provides a more practical and cerebral way into nature connection.”  As one puts forth an effort to learn more about Creation the door is opened for a closer connection with the Creator.  Study will lead you to a greater appreciation of nature but also even more experiences of Awe.  There are limitless areas of nature that might be studied.  Pursue those that most interest you. There are many resources available today to help us study nature.  Make sure to take advantage of them.

The third way into reading the Second Book of God is Meaning.  Stanley says “Meaning is about searching for insight and relevance.”  Here one looks at various aspects of nature and asks, “What does this mean?”  This is “the most challenging of the three areas, as it requires both discernment and creativity.”  Here we strive to discover what God might be telling us about the world around us, or what nature might be telling us about God.  This kind of communication can happen in one of two ways: it may be initiated by God or it might be initiated by us.

Stanley says “when you put these three together practically and imagine moving from one to another, you will see between them other elements familiar in spiritual practice.”  He goes on to say “When captured by a transcendent, awe-inspiring moment, you might ask yourself what it means and explore its depths, which can lead to a heart full of worship.  Study can deepen and speed up our reading of the world so that we’re more often delighted and more often captured by Awe.  Between Study and Meaning, moving between an analytical and a more philosophical mind, great leaps of creativity and insight can occur.”

Two later chapters in Forest Church go on to offer practical activities that might be utilized in groups or by individuals to help incorporate the three ways of reading God’s Second Book into one’s life.  If you are interested in learning more about how to do this, you might want to purchase a copy of the book.

I hope you will continue to give thought to how you might read God’s Second Book.  I am convinced that God truly can be experienced in nature and that the Creator has much to teach us through Creation.  If you would be willing to share with me your own experiences in this area I’d love to hear from you.

–Chuck


Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck


Dec 28 2020

A Scrooge Experience

In the days leading up to Christmas I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and watched five film adaptations of this classic work.  I simply love this story of redemption and change.  There are so many timeless truths contained within its pages.  Through visits by the ghost of Marley and the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge was forced to examine the purpose of his life.  He came to recognize the error of his ways and before it is over becomes a changed man.  The one who previously declared Christmas a “humbug” says “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  Dickens concludes by saying “Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more…”

The tale of Scrooge’s conversion has delighted people for over 150 years. It offers the hope that even the cruelest and greediest of souls might be changed.  It permits one to believe that there are no hopeless causes.  If Scrooge can change, anyone can.  Including you and me.

I have a feeling that there are lots of people who need a Scrooge experience today.  There are lots of areas where people need to change their behavior or attitudes.  One often neglected area concerns our attitude toward caring for the earth.  Despite the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the earth, many people fail to honor, care for and protect God’s Creation.  Unfortunately, the same greed that caused Scrooge to fail to see that “mankind” was his business, keeps a lot of us from seeing that Creation Care is our business too.

Perhaps we need a ghost from Earth’s past to appear to us and remind us that when God created the earth God declared that it was all “good.”  God created a perfect home for us where all of our needs might be met.  This ghost might show us where this same earth came to be mistreated by the very creatures it was meant to sustain.  We would likely be shown factories polluting both the air and water, rainforests being set ablaze, and litter being scattered all across the globe.  We would be shown countless examples of ways we have done harm to God’s good earth.

We may also need a visit from a ghost from Earth’s present.  This ghost would no doubt show us many ways the earth continues to be ravished and abused.  It might reveal to us how our carelessness has led to increased sickness, the elimination or decline of numerous species, and an unhealthy warming of the earth due to human-induced climate change.  This particular ghost would likely show us how it is the poor who are most affected by our failure to be good stewards of the earth.   This ghost might also point us toward people who are striving to practice Creation Care but are growing weary in the process.

And then, we may also need a visit from a ghost representing Earth’s future.  Scrooge said he feared the ghost of Christmas future most.  I think this is the ghost we would fear most.  It would show us where we are heading if things don’t change, if we don’t change.  It might reveal a world where clean water is fought over, a world that sees weather patterns radically altered, a world where the very existence of civilization is threatened.  I cannot help but believe that this ghost would reveal a frightening picture of our planet, one that is a far cry from God’s original intention.

I would like to think that if we were visited by these three ghosts that we would have our own “Scrooge experience.”  I want to believe that we, too, would want to change our ways–that we would change our ways.   Actually, we don’t need to be visited by such ghosts at all.  The Scriptures and scientists have already shown us what we need to see to make the needed change.  May God help us to make those changes before it is too late. 

And as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

-Chuck


Nov 25 2020

The First Day of Creation

John Muir once wrote, “We live in ‘creation’s dawn.’ The morning stars still sing together, and the world, though made, is still being made and becomes more beautiful every day.”  I have long loved this quote.  Recently I ran across a hymn that echoes Muir’s thoughts.  It’s called “The First Day of Creation” and was written by Thomas H. Troeger.  Here are the words: “The first day of creation is dawning in the soul, upon the deep God hovers where fear and chaos roll. The inward dark is parting. The seas make room for land. Great shorelines are emerging a new world is at hand!  Yet God is recreating more than our inner world: look up beyond the planets where galaxies are swirled. Look out and see how often surprising love is shown. Christ is at work reshaping both stars and hearts of stone.  All life in Christ is compassed by that transforming grace which spins new worlds and wonders in every time and place. O Twirler of the stardust, O Light no darkness rims, your new creation pulses with worship, praise and hymns.”

I find comfort in the thought that each new day the Creator is at work both in the world and in our hearts.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God remains active in our lives.  Every day the Maker of heaven and earth is creating, preserving and sustaining the world and all who dwell therein.  God did not create the world and then back away. No, God continues the work of creation to this very day.

I suspect this is a message many need to hear today.  2020 has been a wild and rocky ride for most of us.  So much in our lives has been turned upside down.  The deadly pandemic caused by Covid-19 has resulted in a great deal of fear, anxiety, and stress.  Some may wonder if God has forsaken us.  The good news is that our Maker is still very much with us and makes this known with the gift of each new day. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

This Thanksgiving I will give thanks for God’s faithfulness—a faithfulness revealed each day in God’s ongoing work of Creation and in God’s work in the lives of people like you and me.  I will likewise give thanks that “God hovers where fear and chaos roll” and that “Christ is at work reshaping both stars and hearts of stone.”  Even in 2020 we still have so very much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck