Oct 26 2016

Nature’s Call to Worship

_dsc0868Currently I’m teaching a study on the Book of Revelation at the church I serve. This week the focus is on chapter four where John is given a glimpse of the worship going on in heaven.  John records what he saw and among the things he glimpsed were “four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes.”  (v. 6) He goes on to say “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.”  (v. 7)  These four creatures, we are told, offered God worship day and night, continually saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (v. 8)

dnp-grizzly-2eSeveral scholars believe the four creatures John saw stand for the four parts of the animal kingdom. The lion represented wild beasts, the ox represented domesticated animals, the human face represented humans and the eagle represented birds.  The lion’s nobility, the ox’s strength, the human’s wisdom and the eagle’s swiftness likely played a role in their selection.  Each creature has preeminence in its own particular sphere and yet each give preeminence and worship to God, their Maker.  Here we find a reminder that all of Creation was made to worship God.  It is not humans alone that worship God; all that God has made joins together in offering the Creator praise.

In the verses that follow we learn that when the four creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God that others gathered around God’s throne fall down before God and join them in offering their own worship. Specifically, twenty-four elders are mentioned and they too sing a hymn of praise to God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v. 11)

_ces4447I would not be so bold as to say I understand all the particulars of worship in heaven but I do find a parallel here with my own experience. It is noteworthy that the twenty-four elders offer their praise after watching the four living creatures offer theirs.  The actions of the creatures somehow move the elders to join in the worship.  I have experienced that pattern myself.  As I have watched various creatures do what God created them to do, and thus offer God praise, I have found myself moved to offer praise to the Creator as well.  It was as though the creatures I was observing led or called me into worship.  Watching an eagle soar has done this for me.  So has observing a grizzly bear forage and a mountain goat climb rocks.  Hearing a bull elk bugle in the fall has served as a call to worship for me on more than one occasion.  Even spending time with comical prairie dogs has lifted my spirits and moved me to offer God worship.  So maybe all of Creation was not just made to worship God but also to lead the rest of us to do the same.  The question is, are we following in their steps as the twenty-four elders do in heaven.  I hope the answer is Yes.


(I took the elk and mountain goat pictures on my recent trip to South Dakota.  I took the grizzly image several years ago in Alaska.)

Feb 10 2013

A Broken Hallelujah

Highland-Hammock-SP-079During our worship service this morning one of our youth sang a song recorded by Mandisa called “Broken Hallelujah.”  I had not heard the song before but was deeply touched by it.  This beautiful song acknowledges that when our hearts have been broken “in a thousand pieces, maybe even more” that it can be difficult to offer God the praise He deserves.  Here are the words to the chorus: When all that I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins.  I will worship You and give You thanks even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah.”  There can be no denying that there are times in each of our lives when it may be hard to praise God but that it is a noble thing when a person offers Him praise nonetheless, even if it is only a broken hallelujah.

On the way home from church I thought about the song and how the words had fit my life on a number of occasions.  It also hit me that there is a sense in which God’s Creation also at times has to offer a broken hallelujah.  The Bible teaches us that all of Creation offers God praise but considering what we have done to the earth perhaps in some places only a truncated or limited offering of praise is possible.  I think of clear-cut areas I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest, mountaintop removal sites in the southern Appalachians, and areas drained for development in the Everglades.  I think of the polluted rivers and lakes I’ve seen, as well as urban settings covered with smog.  In so many places and in so many ways we have hindered Creation’s ability to offer God praise.

Hazard-926eI would like to think that even in those places where humans have altered the landscape and brought pollution that broken hallelujahs continue to be offered.  I would also like to think that through conservation efforts and by being better stewards of Creation we can help restore some of these areas and enable nature itself to offer a greater offering of praise to its Creator.  In fact, since I have been inspired numerous times by Creation to offer my own praise, I feel obligated to do what I can to help Creation fulfill its own task of worshiping God.  How about you?


(I took the top image at Highland Hammocks State Park in Florida.  The bottom image is a picture I took from an airplane of a mountaintop removal site near Hazard, KY.)

Nov 28 2012

“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”

The season of Advent begins this coming Sunday.  I’ve noticed a number of bloggers are already addressing themes associated with Advent and Christmas.  For some reason, I’m still stuck on thanksgiving.  This past Sunday I preached a sermon in which I called on people to make thanksgiving a way of life, not just a holiday celebrated once a year.  There are certainly many biblical calls to thanksgiving.  The Psalmist encouraged us to enter God’s “gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” (100:4)  The apostle Paul commanded the church at Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18)  I believe that God deserves all the thanks and praise we can give Him and that living with an attitude of gratitude also makes life much more enjoyable and meaningful.

At the end of our service on Sunday we sang the wonderful hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The words to this hymn were written by Henry van Dyke and the music was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.  I’ve sung this song my entire life but had not really noticed all the references to nature in it until this past Sunday.  The second verse, in particular, is filled with allusions to Creation: “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise.  Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.”

In one verse van Dyke speaks of our hearts unfolding to God like flowers before the sun above.  In this same verse one finds the plea, “fill us with the light of day.”  Another verse describes God as “well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!”  In still yet another verse the writer calls on humans to join Creation in joyful praise but also bids “stars of morning, take your part.”

Beethoven’s music, taken from his Ninth Symphony, adds much to this delightful summons to praise.  It is truly a wonderful hymn and does a wonderful job of reminding us how we, along with the rest of Creation, are called to offer God joyful worship.  The Creator deserves not just the praise of His people but the adoration of all He has made!

Even though the Psalmist, and people like St. Francis and Henry van Dyke, called on Creation to give God praise I’m not sure how much we can do to spur the rest of Creation to worship God.  I have a feeling such spurring is actually unnecessary.  Unfortunately, it is we who often must be spurred.  So I want to encourage you to stop and count your blessings, to contemplate the goodness of both the Creator and the Creation, and then do your part in offering God your joyful adoration.  If you need some help doing so, try singing or listening to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  I bet it will help.


(I took the top two images at Redwood National Park in California.  I photographed the chickadee at my home in Pikeville, Kentucky.)

Jul 1 2012

Help From Blazing Lilies

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the Sunday prior to his crucifixion the crowds enthusiastically welcomed him.  This welcome bothered the Pharisees.  They told Jesus to rebuke the crowd.  Jesus’ reply was, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)  In the past I always understood this to mean that if the people ceased their praise then the rocks would have to cry out for them.  I’m thinking now that Jesus may have been reminding the Pharisees of what their very Scriptures declared—that all of Creation offers its praise to God.  Stopping people from praising God would hardly cease the flow of praise that ushers forth every day.  Last night while reading Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem” I was reminded just how true this is.  Here’s how the poem goes:

“Every morning the world is created.  Under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches—and the ponds appear like black cloth on which are painted islands of summer lilies.  If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.  And if your spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead—if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging—there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted—each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, whether or not you have ever dared to pray.” 

I want to believe that what Mary writes is true.  I want to believe that we humans are not the only ones offering prayers to God each day.  I want to believe this for a variety of reasons.  One of the main reasons is I would find great comfort in knowing that when my “spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead,” and finds it hard to offer God the praise He deserves, that God still receives the praise He is due.  I confess that my spirit carries such a thorn now so hopefully there is a blazing lily out there somewhere that can help take up the slack for me.  That would be nice.


(I photographed the top lily last month in North Carolina and the bottom one in New Mexico in May.)

Jan 8 2012

How Great Thou Art

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:1

This morning we sang the wonderful hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” at church.  Last night I pulled out an instrumental version of this same hymn to use in an audio-visual presentation I’ll be making later this week.  It is a song I have heard sung my whole life but it has come to have special meaning to me in recent years because of my growing interest in the connection between nature and spirituality.  The author of the hymn, Stuart K. Hine, does a good job of pointing out how paying attention to God’s Creation can lead us into the worship of God Himself.

In the first verse the writer stands “in awesome wonder” as he considers “all the worlds thy hands have made.”  He speaks of seeing the stars, hearing the rolling thunder, and being amazed at “thy power throughout the universe displayed.”  All of this causes him to break forth in praise, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art!”

More examples of nature’s prompting God’s praise are mentioned in the second verse: “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze; then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee; how great thou art!”

This hymn reminds us that not only are the heavens declaring the glory of God; they are also calling us to do the same.  God created the world not just to provide for our needs but to lead us to worship Him.  Nature is full of prompters calling us to stand in awe of God and to offer Him our praise.  When we pay attention to these prompters we cannot help but declare with the hymn writer, “how great Thou art!”

In the third verse of this hymn the writer goes on to speak of how God giving His Son to die for our sins likewise causes him to sing God’s praises.  In the final verse he points to the triumphant return of Christ and the time we will be taken to our heavenly home.  This, too, causes him to break out in praise of God’s greatness.

In both of God’s books—Creation and the Scriptures—we find plenty of evidence of God’s greatness.  Both books call forth our praise.  And since we were created to offer God praise we would be wise to give careful attention to both books in the days to come.  If you choose to so, don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming or singing “How Great Thou Art.”  It happens to me a lot.


(The top picture was taken not far from my home at Breaks Interstate Park.  I took the middle image last April from the top of a mountain in Hawaii.  I captured the bottom image at Redwood National Park this past summer.)

Oct 19 2011

Our Foremost Duty

This past Sunday I preached a message called “Our Foremost Duty.”  The text for my message was Psalm 148.  In this beautiful psalm the psalmist plays a role similar to an orchestra director.  He motions to the sun and says it’s time to praise the Lord.  He next turns to the moon and indicates that it is the moon’s turn to praise the Lord.  Following the sun and the moon the psalmist motions to the sea creatures, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, the mountains and all hills, the trees and wild animals and tells them likewise to praise the Lord.  Finally, the psalmist turns to humans—rich and poor, young and old—and beckons them to praise the Lord.

After the psalmist called all of Creation to praise the Lord he goes on to say why.  He says we should all praise God “for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” (v. 13)  Everything that has been created is to praise God because He alone is worthy of praise.  The Creator is far greater than the Creation for “he commanded and they were created.” (v. 5)  Because of His greatness God is worthy of our praise and worship.  In fact, the Bible indicates that praising God is our foremost duty. 

There are a couple of things I’d like to emphasize about this ultimate call to worship.  First, the psalmist includes humans in his long list from Creation.  We are no different from the rest of Creation in our obligation to praise God.  Old Testament scholar James L. Mays says, “We human beings are one with all beings in our relation to One whose name alone is exalted and whose majesty is above earth and heaven.”  It truly is important that we remember our oneness with the rest of Creation.  Our failure to do so has resulted in many destructive practices.

Second, somehow, someway, the rest of Creation praises God with or without us.  Some may see the psalmist’s call to those other than humans as being fanciful or symbolic, but there appears to be more to it than that.  The psalmist is quite serious in this call to worship.  Concerning this James Mays says “The creation and the creatures praise in their very being and doing, by existing and filling their assigned place.”  The sun by shining praises God.  The winds by blowing praise God.  Mountains and hills praise God just by being there.

Mays sees in Psalm 148 a unique role for humans.  He believes humans “are given the praise with which to voice the unspoken praise of all creation.  Praise is their place and purpose.  In the praise of the people of the Lord, the name that is the truth about the entire universe is spoken on behalf of the rest of creation.”  Personally, I’m not so sure the rest of Creation doesn’t have its own voice to offer praise but if Mays is correct then our duty to praise God is even greater than most of us have realized.  We are responsible for giving voice to all the trees and plants, birds, fish and animals, the hills and mountains, the oceans and deserts.  If we don’t offer God our praise, we let Creation down. 

There are many ways today we do, in fact, let Creation down.  In some of these ways we may not have a lot of personal control.  In this area we do.  Each of us has the ability to praise and worship God and no one can stop us from doing so.  So for God’s sake, and that of Creation, let’s just praise the Lord!


(The pictures used above are some I took yesterday here in southeast Kentucky.)