Aug 26 2021

“God’s Coloring Book”

My younger sister, Betty, is always putting positive things on her Facebook page.  Recently she shared the words to one of Dolly Parton’s songs called “God’s Coloring Book.”  I had never heard of the song but the words certainly struck a chord in my heart.  Commenting on this song, Dolly wrote “’God’s Coloring Book’ expresses my spirituality and explains my connection with God.”  She went on to say, “When I see nature’s colors, that’s when I am closest to Him.”  If you are not familiar with this song, here are the lyrics:

Today as I was walking
In the fields just down the way
I sat down on a fallen log
To pass the time away
And as I looked around me
The more that I did look
The more I realize that I am viewing
God’s coloring book

I saw a golden ray of sunlight
A silver drop of dew
A soft, white floating cloud
Sailing cross the sky ‘a blue

A yellow dandelion
Pretty evergreen
And some red and orange flowers
Growing wild along the stream

And the more I look around me
And the more that I do look
The more I realize that I am viewing
God’s coloring book

The greyness in an old man’s hair
The pink in baby’s cheeks
The blackness in a stormy sky
The brown in fallen leaves

And the multicolored rainbow
Stretched out across the sky
And the purple haze at sunset
Just before the night

And the more I look around me
And the more that I do look
The more I realize that I am viewing
God’s coloring book

Then I turn my face toward the sky
And say a silent prayer
Though God doesn’t speak to me
I see him everywhere

He is all around me
He’s everywhere I look
And each new day is but a new page
In God’s coloring book

The song is as simple as it can be but quite profound at the same time.  Dolly obviously has a keen awareness of God’s presence in nature.  She says “I see Him everywhere” and recognizes that “He is all around me…everywhere I look.”  I couldn’t help but notice that Dolly alludes to parts of nature both large and small.  She sees God in sunbeams, clouds and evergreens, but also in the little flowers, fallen leaves and dewdrops.  Furthermore, in the colors of nature Dolly sees the artistry of God.  Today I find myself wishing that I had the eyes of Dolly Parton.

I often write on this site about nature being a “Second Book” of revelation.  Until now I had not thought of that book being a coloring book.  I like this metaphor and think that we might even benefit spiritually if we, too, could begin to see “each new day is but a new page in God’s coloring book.”  Dolly Parton, who has made so many valuable contributions to the world, should also be thanked for helping us see the world in a whole new way.

–Chuck


Jul 29 2021

Reading Both Books

In recent days I have been reading John Philip Newell’s newest book, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul.  In this excellent work Newell seeks to share “Celtic wisdom for reawakening to what our souls know and healing the world.”  As in a number of his previous books, he focuses on several key figures in Celtic Spirituality.  One of the recurring themes found among many of these figures is the idea that God has given us “two books” of revelation.  I have written numerous times about these two books but would like to share some of Newell’s insights with you from Sacred Earth Sacred Soul

In his chapter of John Scotus Eriugena Newell points out that “Eriugena said that the whole of the natural world is like a sacred text—and that includes the creatures and our creatureliness.  ‘All creatures,’ he says, ‘are in humanity as if melted down in a crucible.’  Eriugena teaches that there are two books through which God is speaking.  The first is the small book; physically little, this is the book of Holy Scripture.  The second is the big book, the living text of the universe, which includes the great luminaries of the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; the earth, sea, and sky; the creatures of all these realms; and the multiplicity of life-forms that grow from the ground.  We need to read both books, he says, the sacred text of scripture and the sacred text of the universe.  If we read only the little book, we will miss the vastness and wildness of the utterance, everything vibrating with the sound of the divine.  If we read only the big book, we are in danger of missing the intimacy of the voice, for the book of scripture calls us to faithfulness in relationship, including faithfulness to strangers, refugees, widows, and the poorest among us.”

Newell also has a chapter on Alexander John Scott’s contribution to Celtic Spirituality.  Like Eriugena, Scott points us to God’s two books. “A person with the Bible in one hand, he said, is not released from the study of God in that other book, the sacred text of the earth and of everything that has being.  We need both.  The awareness of the sacred that we access in nature is not a doctrinal or propositional knowing, said Scott.  It belongs ‘to some deeper part of the human being.’  It is the way lovers know each other, with their whole beings, heart and mind, body and soul, knowing the spiritual in the physical. ‘Forms, colors, motions, sounds’—it is through these that we encounter the presence of the divine, says Scott.  ‘This is the value of the sun, moon and stars, of earth and sea, of trees and flowers, of the bodies of men and women, the looks of human countenances, the tones of human voices.’  It is through these that the divine is made known to us.”

The testimony of Eriugena and Scott, as well as other figures Newell covers in his new book, makes it clear that not only has God given us two books of revelation but that we must be careful to utilize both books.  A similar case can be made from Scripture.  Psalm 19 refers to the two books of revelation and shows that both are important and necessary.  Unfortunately, this teaching is not widely known.  You seldom hear this message preached from pulpits today.  Nonetheless, we must recognize that there are these two book and do our very best to read and study both of them.  Sad to say, some read only the Bible and ignore the other book God has given us.  Just as sad, some read only the book of nature and ignore the Holy Scriptures.  If we are wise we will give careful attention to both of God’s books.  If we truly want to know and experience God, we will do just that.  Are you reading both books?

–Chuck


Jun 22 2021

Declaring Our Maker’s Praise

This past Sunday we sang “This Is My Father’s World” at church.  For some reason the words to the second verse really caught my attention. Here the writer says: “This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise; the morning light, the lily white declare their Maker’s praise.  This is my Father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me ev’ry-where.”  I needed the reminder that God speaks to us everywhere and quite often through things we might not be aware of or things we take for granted.  The birds I hear singing when I take my daily walks may very well be calling me to lift my own voice in praise to the Creator.  The light that the sun casts upon the earth reminds me of the One who said in the beginning “Let there be light.”  Even the flowers I see in my yard and the “rustling grass” point me to the God who made the heavens and the earth. 

Maltbie Babcock, the writer of “This Is My Father’s World,” points out that everything God has made “declares their Maker’s praise.”  I happen to believe that this is true.  All of Creation, including us, is placed here to honor and adore God.  Each aspect of Creation certainly has other roles to play but first and foremost they, and we, exist for the glory of God. In Romans 11:36 the apostle Paul says “For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!” 

If the birds, the sun, the flowers and grass all declare God’s praise, how much more should you and I do the same!  Those of us created in the image of God should strive to offer our Maker praise and to bear witness to God’s amazing love and grace.  We, too, are part of God’s Creation and as such have a job to fulfill. 

Maltbie Babcock spoke of hearing God speak everywhere.  If Babcock were still alive today and knew you, could he say that God spoke to him through you?  If not, how come?  That, after all, is our very purpose in life. I hope when you hear the birds in your neighborhood, notice the light of the sun shining around you, see the flowers and even the grass in your yards, that you will remember to join in with the rest of Creation in offering God praise and strive to point others to the One to whom this world belongs.

–Chuck


May 28 2021

“Remember your Creator”

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  These words found in Ecclesiastes 12:1 intrigue me.  I understand the need to remember God but why just “in the days of your youth?”  The biblical writer goes on to answer this question.  His reasoning is that we should remember our Creator before it is too late.  There will come a time when we may no longer be able to do so.  Still, I believe we would be justified today to remove the latter part of this verse.  All of us, young and old alike, should make every effort to remember our Creator.  This is true for a number of important reasons.

We should remember our Creator regularly to help us keep things in perspective.  So many of the problems we face these days, both as individuals and as a society, stem from the fact that we tend to put ourselves first.  It’s almost as though we are convinced the world exists for us.  The Psalmist, however, reminds us that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Ps. 24:1-2)  Elsewhere the Psalmist says “Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his.” (Ps. 100:3)  When we pause to remember our Creator we are forced to recall that we, along with everything else, exist because of God.  Furthermore, we, along with everything else, exist for God.  If we could somehow keep in mind these two fundamental truths it would change our lives drastically.  It would basically eliminate pride—the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins—and cause us to look at ourselves and others in a whole new light.  It would likewise cause us to look at the earth and all our surroundings differently.

If we sought to remember our Creator on a regular basis we would be forced to remember our calling to be good stewards of God’s Creation.  We would recall the Bible’s repeated affirmation that the world is good and our responsibility is to make sure it stays that way.  The earth is not ours to do with as we please.  We are merely tenants who are expected to cherish, protect and preserve that which our Creator permits us to dwell on.  The earth is valuable to God.  John 3:16 says “God so loved the world He gave His only Son…”  The world’s value must also be recognized by us.  Who could deny that many of our environmental crises would not exist if only we humans had been humble enough to remember our Creator?

The One who created this world deserves our utmost respect, our complete devotion, and our faithful service.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was on to something when he challenged young people to “remember your Creator.”  I just happen to believe that this is something we all need to do, regardless of our age.  It will make a big difference in our life and in the world—a difference we all need.

–Chuck


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


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