Dec 3 2015

Peace on Earth?

flipped cardinalI’ve been thinking about peace quite a bit lately.  Unfortunately, my thoughts have centered on its absence rather than its presence.  I sense a lack of peace in our world, in our country, in churches and, yes, even in my own life.  This morning as I was driving to work the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was playing on the radio.  In one of the verses there is found the words, And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to men.”  After the madness in San Bernardino yesterday and the attack in Colorado Springs a few days before that I felt there were no truer words.  Hate is incredibly strong these days and does, in fact, mock the songs of “peace on earth” we hear at Christmastime.

e_CES0395When I heard the words of the Christmas hymn this morning it reminded me of another song by my favorite rock band, U2, called “Peace on Earth.”  The first verse says Heaven on Earth, we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this hanging around.  Sick of sorrow.  Sick of pain. Sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be Peace on Earth.”  In the last verse Bono sings, “Jesus, this song you wrote–the words are sticking in my throat–Peace on Earth.  Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme.  So what’s it worth?  This peace on Earth?”  After each verse of U2’s song there is a chorus that includes the line “Jesus could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line? Peace on Earth.” 

Both songs express my frustration right now.  Where’s the peace?  Is peace even possible?  I’m beginning to have my doubts.  The Christmas songs I’m hearing right now that talk about peace have a hollowness to them.  Even the well-known passage in Luke 2 where the angels upon Jesus’ birth declare “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…” seems somehow out of place this Advent season, especially considering how much killing is being done in the name of God these days.

e_CES0424To be honest, about the only place I can find peace right now is in nature.  I’m finding it more and more imperative for my mental and spiritual health to get into the woods.  Surrounded by God’s Creation I experience a tranquility that I don’t find elsewhere.  I believe that is not coincidental.  As I experience God’s peace in the woods I’m being led to pray more for peace.  I intend for this to become a greater focus in my prayer life and I hope that is going to happen in a lot of other people’s lives too.  We all need to be desperately praying for and working toward peace right now.

_DSC6059I have no doubt that God wills for us to know and experience peace but it’s just not happening.  Like Bono I’m sick of the sorrow and sick of the pain.  I’m also sick of all the hatred and violence.  I’m sick of the polarization that has infected almost every area of our lives.  I’m sick of hearing about people being killed.  I’m sick of the vitriolic and divisive language I see on Facebook everyday.  If we Christians are going to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” then we are either going to have to conclude that God isn’t hearing our prayers or we are not doing our part.  I have no doubt it is the latter.  When we pray (or sing) “let there be peace on earth” I wonder if God doesn’t repeat the words back to us—“Let there be peace on earth.”  A major newspaper used the headline today “God Isn’t Fixing This.”  It was a reference to the rash of mass killings lately.  I have a feeling the paper is right.  God isn’t fixing this, God is counting on us to fix it.  We’ll need God’s help to do it but if it’s going to happen it will be up to us–to people like you and me.  I’m hoping the Prince of Peace will inspire, encourage, and equip us to be the peacemakers he called us to be long ago.  If we don’t fulfill this calling I shudder to think what the future holds.


(I took each of these pictures near my home in Henderson, KY.)

Dec 3 2014

Things As They Should Be

RGG3519It is no secret that I love the outdoors.  I think I’m happiest and most at peace when I am in a nice natural setting.  There are lots of reasons for this.  First and foremost, I feel close to God when I’m surrounded by the work of the Creator’s hands.  Second, I delight in the beauty, mystery and variety to be found in Creation.  Third, I feel nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, many of them spiritual in nature.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that these are the three themes I tend to focus on most.

SFNF5134Today I thought of another reason why I enjoy being outdoors in nature so much.  There, for the most part, things are as they are supposed to be, things are as God intended.  I don’t find that scenario many other places in my life.  Not in my personal life, not in my church, not in my community, not in my state or country.  In so many areas things are not as they should be but in nature–at least where humans don’t adversely interfere–we see God’s plans being fulfilled day after day.  The mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys, coast or desert do what they are supposed to day after day.  The flora and fauna that live there do the same.  So do the rocks and minerals.  And because nature affords us this rare opportunity to be where things are as they should be I find peace and comfort there.

The reason we don’t see things as they should be in many other arenas is, of course, the fact that we humans have been granted an incredible gift called free will.  We get to choose whether we will live in the way God intended for us or choose a different path.  Apparently God chose to give this gift to us so that our relationship to Him would not be a forced one. (If we have no choice but to love God then it is no longer a relationship based on love.)  Considering all the discord, strife and injury that has resulted from our misuse of free will I can’t help but wonder if God wishes at times He had set things up a different way.  Today the order, harmony, and justice God must have desired is very hard to find.

SFNF4352That’s why it helps me to get out in nature on a regular basis.  I find solace being someplace God’s will is actually done.   Being in nature and observing all of this also serves as a reminder to me (and hopefully others) that things work so much better when we choose to follow God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  It is when we are selfish and greedy that we make bad choices that hurt us, those around us, and Creation itself.

GR4138The good news in all of this is that we can learn from nature and our past mistakes.  We can, in fact, be wiser in the future and strive more diligently to do God’s will.  Jesus taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  He also modeled this when he prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will but yours be done” to his heavenly Father.  I am convinced that the peace I find in nature can be found elsewhere, but not without our learning to seek first the kingdom of God.   I know I have no control over whether others do this but I do have a good bit of control over whether I do.  And so do you.  As we journey through this Advent season please join with me in praying that God’s will shall be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”


(I took the pictures used above earlier this year on a trip to New Mexico.)

Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “Heaven on earth,  we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.   Sick of sorrow,  sick of pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on earth.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.


(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)






Sep 4 2013

Thy Kingdom Come

_CES0674Even though you don’t hear people talk about it much these days if you examine carefully Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels you will discover that his primary subject was “the kingdom of God.”  He begins his ministry proclaiming that the “the kingdom is near” (Mark 1:15) and towards the end of it he was still focusing on the kingdom.  Many of Jesus’ parables concerned the kingdom of God.  He would begin them by saying “The kingdom of God is like a… (mustard seed, a man going out to sow seed, etc.)”  In Luke 4:43 Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”   He understood that proclaiming the kingdom of God was central to his mission.  When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray he gave them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  An important part of this prayer is the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Yes, the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ teaching.

_CES0739In his book The Environment and the Christian Calvin B. DeWitt notes the importance of the kingdom of God for Jesus and says that we should understand Creation Care to be a part of what the kingdom means today.  He writes: “In the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament the kingdom of God is the central symbol for the new vision of life in its fullness; it involves personal, social, earthly, and cosmic dimensions of salvation; its earthly and cosmic dimensions of restoration lead directly to an ethic of care for the creation.  The kingdom of God is a vision of things as they ought to be in the entire cosmos, human and nonhuman; it is an order in which all things are in right relationship.  It is a creation-affirming alternative to those modern structures that bring the creation to ruination and brokenness.”

_CES0861The kingdom of God is wherever God rules or reigns.  As DeWitt mentions, this covers a lot of territory.  God’s intention is to rule in every area of our lives and every area of the world.  When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are simply offering a plea that in all places God’s will might be done.  Jesus added that our present concern is “on earth.”  Just as God’s will is done perfectly in heaven our goal is that it might be perfectly fulfilled on earth as well.  I think a lot of folks haven’t really contemplated what it means to say “on earth” when they pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It can be understood comprehensively to say God’s will should be done everywhere and that is true.  It can also lead us, however, to remember that God has a will, purpose or goal for the earth itself.

_CES0347DeWitt described the kingdom of God as “a vision of things as they ought to be.”  As we look at the state of our planet it would be hard to conclude that things are as they ought to be.  Did God intend for our waters to be contaminated by so many chemicals?  Did God intend for the air to be so polluted that it contributes to many diseases?  Did God intend for large portions of the earth to be destroyed primarily for personal gain?  As we look at our planet there are numerous areas where it is safe to say that things are not as they were meant to be, not what God intended.  If we are going  to pray seriously for God’s kingdom to come we will see a multitude of places where things are not as they ought to be and strive to bring about the changes that will move them to where God would have them be.  As we do so I hope we will not forget to include this planet we call earth.


(I took all of the pictures above last month in North Cascades National Park.)

Jun 26 2013

Nature and Prayer Revisited

CRG-fallsI have noted several times in the past that nature can serve as an aid for prayer.   I have even offered a number of biblical examples as well as some more modern ones.   Recently I came across a prayer in verse that I submit as yet one more example.   The following poem was penned by Mary S. Edgar:

WY-Grand-Teton-NP-Oxbow-Bend“God, who touches earth with beauty, make my heart anew; with Thy Spirit recreate me, pure and strong and true.  Like Thy springs and running waters make me crystal pure; like Thy rocks of towering grandeur, make me strong and sure.  Like the dancing waves in sunlight, make me glad and free; like the straightness of the pine trees, let me upright be.”

AZ-Canyon-de-Chelly-Spider-Rock-(v)I will admit that I’m not crazy about the poetic form of this prayer but there are a couple of things I do admire here.  First, I like the way Edgar begins her prayer.  So many of our prayers begin with a reference to heaven.  My own prayers typically begin with the words, “Heavenly Father.”  Since Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father who art in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer there is obviously nothing wrong with this.  It is both important and appropriate to remember God’s transcedence when we pray.  Still, as Christians we affirm God’s immanence, His closeness to us, at the same time.  God is not a distant God; He is near to us.  This immanence is conveyed is Edgar’s words “who touches earth with beauty.”  In God’s Creation we see and experience His handiwork; we see and experience His presence.

Another thing I like about Edgar’s prayer is how she uses natural features to illuminate her petitions.  The springs and running waters she sees move her to pray for purity.  The rocks or mountains beckon her to ask for God’s strength.    The waves upon the waters inspire her to seek God’s gladness and freedom.  The tall straight spires of the pine trees remind her of her own need for uprightness.   It is obvious that nature serves as an aid for Edgar’s prayer.  It can serve the same function for you and me.

BSF-Devil's-Jump-The reflections seen in a still lake or pond might cause a person to ask God to help her become a better reflection of Christ.  Observing the moon might move someone to pray that he will be able to let his light shine in a world filled with darkness.  The appearance of rain might cause one to thank God for the “showers of blessings” that are ours everyday.  The sight of leaves or flowers being blown by the wind could cause a person to pray that God’s Holy Spirit would move in the world at large.  The possibilities are endless.  In nature God has given us many aids for prayer.  These aids can help us as we seek to offer God our praise and thanksgiving.  They can help us make our confession of sins.  They can inspire our petitions.  If you’re looking for something to help your prayer life you may not need to look any further than the world around you.


(I took the first image at Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, the second at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the third at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, and the fourth at Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in Kentucky.)

Sep 20 2009

Praying for Creation

Praying PikaI recently ordered a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation.  I wasn’t real sure what it would be like but thought it might be interesting.  It came a few days ago and I have found it to be a wonderful little book.  It offers readings for three prayer times each day, enough to take you through an entire month.  Each day there are hymns to consider, Scripture to meditate on, and a diverse collection of readings to ponder.  All of these focus one’s attention on the Creator and His Creation.

 Earth Gospel is designed to help one pray for Creation.  I wonder how many people actually take the time to pray for the physical world we live in.  Praying for the earth might seem strange to some but didn’t Jesus himself teach us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?  For those who love God and His Creation offering prayers for the earth should come naturally.

 One prayer that deeply touched me in Earth Gospel comes from The Evangelical Reformed Churches in German-speaking Switzerland.  It reads: “Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you. Give us reverence for life and love for every creature.  Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and , as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.”   This particular prayer is followed in the book with a blessing by Ray Simpson, “God bless the earth that is beneath us, the sky that is above us, the day that lies before us, your image deep within us.”

 I recommend Earth Gospel to you.  Even more, if you are not already doing so, I encourage you to begin offering prayers for Creation.  I truly believe that prayer  makes a difference.  Praying for the earth may help lead to its healing, as well as our own.


(I photographed the pika above in Colorado.  I like to think he’s praying for Creation too.)