Apr 24 2011

Volcanoes and Easter

When I went to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago my dream was to see hot lava flowing into the ocean.  I have seen some incredible images of this and was hoping to capture a few of my own.  Unfortunately, the Kilauea volcano was not active enough for lava to be flowing into the ocean, nor was it close enough to walk to.  I decided to do the next best thing; I took a doors off helicopter flight over the volcano.  From the helicopter I was able look down into the mouth of the crater and see red hot molten lava flowing.  It was an incredibly moving sight.

Hawaii pretty much owes its existence to volcanoes.  Amazingly enough, the islands continue to be shaped by volcanic activity.  Also, south of the Big Island, deep beneath the water, a new island (Lo’ihi) is in the process of being formed.  All of this is the result of a great force at work deep beneath the earth’s surface.  It would be hard to imagine a greater force than that found there.

There is, however, a much greater power and it is the power that Christians all around the world celebrate today.  This is Easter Sunday—that holiest of days when we recall that though Jesus was crucified on Good Friday he rose from the grave that first Easter morning.    Death, which many would have seen as being the greatest force in the world, was defeated that day.  Furthermore, the power of sin was conquered as Christ rose from the tomb.  It truly was the greatest display of power the world has ever seen or experienced.

Today that same power is made available to us through the Risen Christ.  It is something you and I can know firsthand.  In Philippians 3:10-11 the apostle Paul wrote of his desire to experience this power.  He said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.”   The power of Christ’s resurrection is available to all believers today.  It is, however, a power that must be tapped. 

In Hawaii you can visit places where the steam from beneath the earth is harnessed to make power.  As Christians we must harness the resurrection power of God too.  We do so by humbly asking for it and by dying to self so that Christ can live in and through us.  We must get to the point where we can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

I doubt that any of us have begun to realize the full potential of Christ’s resurrection power in our lives but it is there for us nonetheless.  On this Easter Sunday I give thanks for that power and for the difference it has made, and is making, in my life.  Happy Easter!


Apr 22 2011

Earth Day and Good Friday

Today two days that are very important to me happen to fall on the same day—Good Friday and Earth Day.  I’m sure most people will not draw a connection between the two but there most certainly is one.  In fact, for Christians there are many things that connect Good Friday and Earth Day.  For starters, the one whose death on the Cross we remember today is also the one the Bible tells us was responsible for creating the earth.  The apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth…” (Colossians 1:15-16)

The Bible also connects Jesus and the earth when we are told “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  The basis for God’s incredible gift of Jesus was His love for the world.  This includes not just humans but all of His Creation.  It is clear from Jesus’ own teachings that he, too, love this planet we call home.

In our pride we tend to think of the salvation made possible on Good Friday as being intended only for humans.  The Bible says something very different.  What Jesus did on the Cross that first Good Friday affects all of Creation.  Paul says in the Book of Romans that Creation shares our same hope.  He writes: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (8:18-21)

People read the Book of Revelation and get all excited about the “streets of gold” in heaven.  They sometimes fail to see that we are promised in these same pages “a new heaven and a new earth.”  (Revelation 21:1)  The earth will also be glorified and renewed.  The One who died on the cross on Good Friday makes “all things new.”

Considering the fact that Jesus’ death on the Cross would benefit all of Creation is it any wonder that on that first Good Friday “darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining?” (Luke 23:44-45)  Even the earth was humbled by what Jesus did for us on the Cross. 

I’m glad that this year Earth Day and Good Friday fall on the same day.  It gives us a chance to pause and remember some very important truths—truths we might not reflect on or connect otherwise.  I give thanks for my wonderful Savior and for the truth that his redemptive act on the Cross was for all the world and that this includes me too.


(I took the top image several years ago at Hensley Settlement in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The bottom image was taken last week of the Hana Coast from the Hana Highway in Hawaii.)

Apr 17 2011

Like a Mother Hen

Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.  In the days to come Christians everywhere will be reflecting on the events of the week that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion.  In Matthew’s Gospel we find one of Jesus’ sayings from this week that contains a nature reference.   It may not be as familiar to most people as his injunction to “consider the lilies” or “look at the birds” but it is just as powerful and moving.  It is a passage that came to my mind this past Thursday while visiting the Iao Valley in Hawaii.  On the way to one of the viewpoints of the Iao Needle I saw a mother hen shielding her chicks beneath her.  The mother hen’s care for her little ones reminded me of Jesus’ words spoken about the city where he would shortly meet his death.  He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  (Mt. 23:37)

In this passage we see Christ’s frustration with the people of Jerusalem.  He wanted them to accept him and his Father’s love but they were unwilling.  Time and time again they had proven unreceptive to God’s overtures of love.  Still, Christ reaches out to them.  He longs to draw them to himself, just like a mother hen draws her chicks.  He wanted to care for them, to protect them, to love them. 

Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us.  Even though we traditionally speak of God as “Father,” it is a mother’s love that is revealed here.  It is also a love that would seem unjustified.  The people Christ was reaching out to were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.”  We would say they were unworthy of Christ’s love, that they didn’t deserve it.  And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it.  But neither do we. 

All of the events of Holy Week compel us to acknowledge that none of us are worthy recipients of God’s love but He loves us nonetheless.  This is why we refer to Jesus’ story as the “gospel” or “good news.”  Despite all of our failures and shortcomings, God loves us still.  He is like a mother hen who longs to draw us all close to her side.  How foolish, how insane, we must be to not allow Him to do just that.  A baby chick should be close to its mother.  That is where he or she is safe.  We, likewise, should be close to our Creator and Savior.  That is where we will find safety.  That is where we will find comfort.  That is where we will find love.


Apr 13 2011

Embracing Idleness

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you about my discovering the poetry of Mary Oliver. In addition to ordering a number of her volumes of poems I also purchased a book by Thomas W. Mann called God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God. This book not only does an excellent job of discussing the spiritual side of Oliver’s poetry, it also has much to say in general about the role of creation in spirituality.

In his book Mann says “The first order of a spiritual attitude toward the world is simply to pay attention to our place in it.” He goes on to add, “This requirement may seem so obvious that it is needless to say, but, in fact, most of us do not pay attention to the natural world in our everyday lives.” Mann points out that our failure to take time to pay attention to the world around us “produces the incapability of experiencing an epiphany.” He next quotes a passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems: “Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another–why don’t you get going? For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees. And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”  

Mann explains that if we are to experience God in nature we will have to learn to be idle; he writes, “Paying attention requires idleness, and far from being the Devil’s workshop, this is sacred, Sabbath time.” This is something I needed to hear. I tend to avoid idleness like the plague. It’s hard for me to be still and yet God says to us through the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10) My fast paced life and also my fast paced photography (Rob Sheppard says I remind him of a jackrabbit taking pictures) no doubt limits the opportunities God is given to speak to me through His “other book”–His Creation.

I must somehow learn to embrace idleness and make it what it should be, “sacred, Sabbath time.” It won’t be easy but because I hate the thought of missing out on God’s revelation just because I’m too busy to pay attention I’m going to give it a try.


 (I took the two images above yesterday on the Hana Highway on Maui, Hawaii.)

Apr 10 2011

St. Augustine’s Advice

The idea of nature being a “second book” of divine revelation goes back at least to the third century, A.D. When St. Anthony the Great was asked how he managed to be such a learned man without the aid of books he said, “My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have mind to read the words of God, they are at my hand.” A little over a century later St. Augustine would echo this idea. In one of his sermons he said: “Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? What, heaven and earth shout to you, ‘God made me!'”

The past couple of days I have had a chance to get out and do some powerful “reading” in a place called Hawaii. This tropical paradise is actually one of God’s more recent chapters. Scientists would even note that it is a work in progress. The volcanic activity this state is known for is constantly reshaping the landscape and even adding land. I have to admit, I really like this particular chapter in God’s second book. It is an exciting place to visit and certainly God’s glory is made abudantly manifest in this beautiful place. Whether you look up, down or all around the enlightened person is certain to feel and see the presence of the Creator.

As I’ve already indicated, I’m glad to be here visiting Hawaii but one doesn’t have to travel to such an exotic location to feel and see God’s presence in nature. Wherever you live you can do this if you will just follow Augustine’s advice–“Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it.” In fact, I’m convinced you will learn more from this second book at home than you will in your travels. It takes time to read this “second book.” It’s pages must be read and reread several times. This is not something you can do on a vacation. O, sure you can still experience God away from home. It’s just that you will have a better chance of truly grasping what has been written when you can read the pages day after day, month after month.

The important thing to do is be attentive. Live each day in the awareness that God has provided you with two wonderful books to discover divine truths–the Bible and His Creation. Take time, wherever you are, to read from both books on a daily basis. Incredible riches await those who do!


(I took the top image of new life in a lava field at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Friday.  The second image was taken the same day at Punlu’u Black Sand Beach.  The image of the wave I took yesterday at Laupahoehoe Point.)

Apr 6 2011

Love and Admiration

Over the years I have benefited tremendously from the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Back in college and graduate school I read a lot of his books.  It had been a while since I read anything by him so earlier this year I picked up a book of daily readings from his writings.  A few nights ago I came across the following passage:

“To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.”

We are reminded by Lewis that it is not a wise thing to be too self-absorbed.  So many of our problems in society today are the result of people looking out for and thinking of no one but themselves.  There is certainly a lot in the media these days that encourages such narcissist tendencies.  Great harm, however, comes to both those who give in to these tendencies and those who must be near them. The narcissist path, as Lewis notes, leads to utter spiritual ruin.

 As persons created in the image of God we are made to love and admire other individuals as well as the earth and all of God’s creatures.  When we do so our souls are made stronger and more beautiful.  When we fail to do so they are made weaker and grow uglier. 

Later today I will begin a journey with my wife to two of the Hawaiian Islands.  We celebrate our 30th anniversary in a couple of months and we decided this would be a great way to mark this milestone.  I already love and admire Bonita and have no doubt that I will also find much to love and admire in Hawaii.  Being with her and in this special place will greatly enrich my life.  I am at the same time thankful for all the other people and places I have come to love and admire over the years.  These, too, have led me many steps “from utter spiritual ruin.”

As important as it is “to love and admire anything outside yourself” it is even more important that we are careful not to “love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.”  Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment of all is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind and with all of your strength.”  As the God who created us and all that we have He deserves every bit of  love that we can give Him.  As the God who has made salvation possible for us at such a tremendous price to Himself, He deserves even more love than we can give Him. 

It is very easy for us to fall into the trap of loving the things and persons God has made more than we love God Himself.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us, when we do this we are not well.  We are only spiritually healthy when we give everyone their proper place.  We should love God with everything that we’ve got and then strive to “love our neighbor (human and non-human) as ourselves.”  This is what Jesus taught long ago and it remains to this day the one and only path to real spiritual health and beauty.


(I took the top image in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I captured the bottom image at Panama Beach, Florida.)