Mar 24 2022

Holy Love

During my retirement I have been rereading some of my textbooks from seminary.  Many of these are over forty years old!  Currently I’m reading The Christian Doctrine of God by Emil Brunner.  In this classic work Brunner highlights the self-revelation of God and emphasizes God’s revelation of Godself as holy and love.  Both aspects of God’s nature must be maintained in order to have a significant grasp of who God is.  Brunner says “love is the very nature of God.” “Love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is Holy Lord.” Elsewhere he adds, “Only now do we understand why love and revelation belong to one another. Love is the movement which goes-out-of-oneself, which stoops down to that which is below: it is the self-giving, the self-communication of God—and it is this which is His revelation. The idea of self-communication gathers up into one the two elements love and revelation.”

Reading Brunner’s words has caused me to give further thought to God’s self-communication through nature.  I firmly believe that God has used that which God created to reveal numerous truths to us.  These truths are given in love and continuously point us back to the Source of this love—a God who is Holy Love.  So many times nature has forced me to recognize the holiness of God.  How can we not be struck by God’s holiness or otherness when we contemplate the sun, moon, and stars?  The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)  How can we not sense God’s holiness when we visit the ocean, mountains, or desert?  I find myself standing in awe of God in natural settings more than any other place.  I suspect many of you do too.

Yes, Creation points me to the holiness of God over and over again, but it also serves as a perpetual reminder of God’s infinite love.  Creation may be viewed as an incredible gift God has lavished upon us out of love.  It is a precious gift for many reasons.  In Creation we find many of our physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs met.  In Creation we discover a beauty that both humbles and inspires us.  For those with eyes to see, all around us is the evidence of God’s love.  The fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) here on earth reveals the full measure of God’s love for both the world and us.  Recognizing the value of this gift of love should move us to pay more attention to God’s overtures of love and affection.  It should also move us to cherish, protect, and preserve this amazing gift.

Now that spring has arrived I hope we will all get outside more and with the eyes of faith contemplate the wonders and glory of God’s handiwork.  As we do so, let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who has been revealed to us as Holy Love.

–Chuck


Feb 24 2022

“Rewild Yourself”

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible.  It’s by a British writer I enjoy reading named Simon Barnes.  The book begins with these disturbing words: “We’re not just losing the wild world.  We’re forgetting it.  We’re no longer noticing it.  We’ve lost the habit of looking and seeing and listening and hearing.  We’re beginning to think it’s not really our business.  We’re beginning to act as if it’s not there anymore.” 

I find these words to be alarming, sad, and discouraging.  Furthermore, I fear these words have the ring of truth to them.  So many people these days are largely disconnected from nature.  It plays only a small role, if any, in their lives. For me this is disheartening.  I firmly believe that nature is meant to play a much larger role.  Likewise, I’m convinced that there are serious repercussions for failing to give nature our careful attention.

Spiritually, our snubbing of nature causes us to miss out on one of God’s primary sources of revelation.  Both the heavens and the earth offer witness to their Maker’s love, mercy and goodness.  They supplement the Scripture’s witness to God’s majesty and glory.  As spiritual beings our understanding of God will be truncated if we fail to give nature our careful attention. 

Emotionally, our failure to notice nature will rob us of much joy and peace.  Numerous studies have confirmed that exposure to nature has many emotional benefits.  Our very health, emotional and physical, is connected to our exposure to the natural world.  We literally hurt ourselves when we fail to connect with nature on a regular basis while we reap benefits when we do. 

I would also argue that when we neglect nature we are less likely to be good stewards of God’s Creation. When we connect with nature we tend to love it.  When we love something we are strongly inclined to care for it.  Could our disconnection from nature be one of the underlying causes of the current environmental crisis?  I suspect so.

We, and the world itself, would be better off if we gave nature the consideration it deserves day by day, season after season.  But how do we do that?  In Rewild Yourself Simon Barnes offers many suggestions.  He urges us to be more intentional about being a part of nature and observing all it has to offer.  He suggests that we get a good pair of binoculars and take a closer look at nature.  Barnes believes we are missing much because we are not deliberately attempting to see what is around us. He encourages us to look for signs of wildlife around us, for tracks, scat, trails. We are likewise encouraged to listen more carefully for the sounds of nature.  If we only “look” at nature we will miss out on so much.  We need to put our ears to good use too.  Barnes thinks we would all benefit from learning to identify birds by their songs alone. 

Learning the names of various species, fauna and flora, is also strongly encouraged.  As Barnes points out, when we know the names of others we automatically enter a more personal relationship.  This is true for people; it is true for plants and animals too.   A similar suggestion is purchasing field guides or books on nature so that we can learn more about the subjects we see and hear.  Ideally, all of us should have a nature library.

There are many ways we can “rewild” ourselves and many good reasons for doing so.  Spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally we will benefit from paying more attention to nature.  Simon Barnes would suggests now would be a good time to start. I couldn’t agree more.

–Chuck


Jan 27 2022

“Wholehearted Faith”

For a number of years I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evan’s books. I just completed reading Wholehearted Faith.  This is the book Evans was working on prior to her untimely death in 2019.  I am so glad this book still got published as it beautifully highlights God’s unconditional love for us and shows how this unconditional love challenges a number of questionable doctrines.  In a chapter called “Beginning Again With Love” Evans talks about God’s love for creation and says “Embracing God’s love for creation isn’t some trite form of positive self-talk; it’s not a wave of the hand that says, ‘Everything’s good,’ or ‘We’re all fine.’  It’s the complicated, challenging, and unwavering conviction that every single person is created in the image of God and loved by God, even your enemies, and even you.”  She goes on to say, “Operating from that conviction is no walk in the Edenic park, let me tell you.  In my experience, centering my worldview and ethics around the inherent worth and belovedness of all creation makes me even more attuned to the seriousness of doing harm to God’s beloved.  It makes me even more aware of my own capacity for destruction and desecration.  Centering our conversations about sin around God’s love rather than our depravity raises the stakes, for it means that salvation isn’t just about managing your own personal sins; it’s also about restoring health and wholeness to all of creation.”

I believe Rachel Held Evans is on to something here.  When we focus on God’s love for us and Creation rather than God’s condemnation, it changes how we look at ourselves, at others, and even at the world around us.  God truly does love us. That has been made clear in more ways than we could count.  In faith we must accept God’s love for us. This is, however, easier said than done.  Many people find it hard to believe that God loves them but it is true.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We may not feel worthy of God’s love but our feelings do not get the final word.  God does.  You are worthy.  God says so.

God loves you and every other person on earth.  This truth challenges the way most of us live our lives, especially how we see others.  We often judge certain people to be unworthy of God’s love and treat them accordingly.  This has created great strife throughout the course of history. It is the source of so many of our problems. God’s love of others challenges us to love and respect all people.  We are to view people through God’s eyes, not our own tainted vision. What a difference it would make if we seriously attempted to do this.  A “wholehearted faith” will lead us to do so.

Evans also points to the biblical affirmation of the goodness of Creation and God’s love for it.  Here, too, we must learn to view the world through God’s eyes.  Unfortunately, we are far more likely to view Creation through anthropocentric eyes.  The many environmental crises we face today offers proof of this.  Air and water pollution, climate change, deforestation, elimination of species, and many other issues have arisen from failure to see and love the Creation as the Creator does.  In our arrogance and pride we have failed to remember that this is God’s Creation (not ours) and if God loves and cares for it, so must we.  The true value and worth of Creation comes from its Maker, not what we think.

Jesus taught us that one aspect of “the greatest commandment” is that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  May God enable us all to love ourselves, love everyone else, and love this wonderful world we live in.  Doing this while loving God first and foremost surely is what it means to have a “wholehearted faith.”  I long for just such a faith.  Do you?

–Chuck


Dec 29 2021

Nature-RX

I had my annual physical exam a couple of days ago.  After telling my physician about some issues I’ve been having he prescribed a couple of new medications for me.  I am hopeful they will prove beneficial.  I am certainly thankful that we live at a time when there are wonderful medications to help us experience better health. Ironically, shortly before Christmas I received a green T-shirt in the mail that had “Nature-RX” printed on it.  I have no idea who sent me the shirt but I love it.  The shirt will serve as a reminder to me that nature has healing benefits we could all use.

Various studies have revealed a host of benefits from spending time in nature.  These benefits include an increase in happiness, an antidote to stress, anxiety reduction, improved moods, lower blood pressure, enhanced immune system function, a sense of meaning and purpose, and the promotion of cognitive development in children.  Spending time in nature also improves concentration, energy and focus. It even makes a person more giving.  If there was a pill that would do all of this for us I suspect we’d all be asking our doctors for a prescription.   We would even be willing to pay a high price for such a medicine.  Well, in nature we find all this available to us for free and anyone can take advantage of it.

Today we actually know just how much nature is required to reap many of the benefits I’ve mentioned.  A recent study revealed that people who spend two hours a week in green spaces—local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spread out over several visits—are substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.  Spending just 120 minutes a week outside can do you a world of good! 

I would be negligent if I didn’t also note that there are many spiritual benefits to spending time in nature.  As we get outdoors we have a chance to observe our Creator’s handiwork.  Our spirits get lifted as we admire the beauty of the earth.  We can actually commune with God through nature.  If we will pay close attention we can also learn many spiritual lessons from the natural world.  It is obvious from reading the Gospels that Jesus did just this.  I believe we can likewise find comfort and peace, as well as joy and strength, from time spent with God outdoors.  Viewing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, observing the wonders of the night sky, or paying attention to the flora and fauna around us can draw us closer to God.  Surely spending time in nature ought to be considered a spiritual discipline.  It is something we can all benefit from.

The “Great Physician” has written us a marvelous prescription that will have positive benefits for us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I hope we will all be wise enough to take advantage of this prescription in the coming year.  Why not make a New Year’s resolution now to do just that?  Happy New Year and God bless!

-Chuck


Nov 29 2021

The Light Prevails

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

The season of Advent began yesterday.  Over the next few weeks Christians will be preparing for the celebration of Christmas.  Advent is a time of waiting and eager anticipation.  It seems to me that the natural year offers us a helping hand for Advent.  This is the time of year when the nights are long.  Many people find the long nights disconcerting.  It doesn’t seem right for it to be getting dark when it’s barely 4:00 p.m.  Some folks even experience depression as a result of the longer nights.   That’s understandable.  As a general rule, we long for light.

Right now a lot of us are longing for longer days.  Those days of extended light will soon be here.  After December 21 the time of daylight will begin to lengthen.  At the winter solstice we celebrate that the darkness does not prevail.  That is a theme of Advent as well.  The darkness that prevails in the world right now will not last forever.  A better day is coming, a day characterized by light.

The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of spiritual darkness and prophesied that “a great light” would dawn upon the people.  Christians believe that he spoke of the coming Messiah and that his words were fulfilled with the birth of Jesus.  It was a bright light in the sky that led the Wise Men or Magi to the Christ child.  Later Jesus would identify himself as the “light of the world.”  The author of the Fourth Gospel declared “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) 

I am thankful that God’s Light was revealed to us in such a marvelous way that first Christmas.  Over the years that Light has brought me much comfort and joy.  It has also brought me a great deal of hope.  I look forward to the day when that Light will be made manifest in all his glory.  In the meantime we will have to endure periods of darkness and do all we can to share the light of Christ with others.  How encouraging it is to know that sooner or later brighter days will come.  The Light will, in fact, prevail over the darkness.  Our Advent hope will be fulfilled.

–Chuck


Oct 27 2021

Songs of Joy

Have you heard any joyful songs lately?  Perhaps you have heard some on the radio or your personal playlist.  It might even have been at church or a concert.  There are lots of places you can hear songs of joy if you will truly listen.  Did you realize the earth itself sings songs of joy?  This is something I’ve been reminded of the past couple of days as I’ve been reading the Book of Psalms. 

Psalm 66 begins with the words “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.”  God’s call to creation to break forth in songs of joy can be found numerous places.  In Psalm 65:8 David says “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  In the verses that follow reasons are given for this request for joyful songs: “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.  The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you ordained it.  You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.  You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.  The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.  The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”  (vs. 9-13) 

I find it fascinating that it’s not just humans who are meant to experience joy and gladness.  God’s desire is for all of creation to experience these.  I cannot help but believe that all of creation does, in fact, feel joy and even sings its songs of joy to its Creator.  It has been doing so since the beginning.  The question is, are we hearing its song?   I’d dare say most people are not because they have not been taught to do so. 

Through the birds we can hear songs of joy.  Through the wind we can hear songs of joy.  In babbling streams we can hear songs of joy.  These are fairly obvious examples.  But there are other ways we can “hear” or sense creation’s songs of joy.  It might come through viewing the sun and moon, observing the beautiful foliage of autumn, or paying close attention to the various landscapes around us. Simply by being and fulfilling their purpose, all of creation offers up songs of joy to God.

When the Psalmist declared “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!” surely he had humans in mind as well.  We who have been created in God’s image should certainly be singing songs of joy.  How can we who have experienced God’s love, mercy and grace not sing for joy?  I hope you and I will do everything we can to add our voices to creation’s songs of joy.

–Chuck