Sep 14 2014

Blessings and Responsibility

_CES0629With gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.  These were truths that were repeatedly noted in a class I took under Dr. Frank Stagg many years ago in seminary.  His words have had a huge influence on my life.  They helped me learn early on that there is indeed a price that comes with blessings.  When we receive God’s blessings we must use them wisely and responsibly.

ASP0294I have thought about these words in recent days as my wife and I prepare to move into our new home.  Owning a home is an incredible blessing, something a lot of us unfortunately take for granted.  The blessing of home ownership however also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility.  There are monthly payments to make, occasional repairs to be made, regular cleaning to be done, yards to keep up, and from time to time improvements to make.  In the end you cannot enjoy the blessing of home ownership unless you are willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it.

As I spent some time thinking about these things my mind began to drift in other directions.  I thought about how the earth is also our home and how incredibly blessed we are to have a home that meets our needs and at the same time contains so much beauty.  This home is God’s gift to us; that is something the Bible reminds us of over and over again.  What many fail to realize is that with this gift comes demand and with such a blessing comes great responsibility.

Over the years I’ve heard some Christians say that we needn’t worry about the earth too much as it is only our temporary home.  I see no wisdom whatsoever in such an attitude.  I certainly realize that the Bible speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth” to come but that does not in any way minimize the responsibility that comes to us now with the blessing that is our current home.  We must tend to the needs of the earth just as we must tend to the needs of the homes we live in.

Cumberland-Gap-fogIf I do not do the things I mentioned above at my new home I will either lose it or its value will be severely diminished.  A great price is paid when we fail to take care of and be responsible with our homes.  That is true when it comes to caring for the earth as well.  We have already paid a tremendous price for our failure to care for God’s Creation and that price will only grow exponentially if we do not begin to live with the understanding that with gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.

Chuck_Summers-09036Christians who see no need to care for the earth because it is only our temporary home exhibit a selfishness they seem to be blind to.  They fail to realize, first, that this world does not belong to us, it belongs to God (Psalm 24:1).  Since we don’t own the earth we have no right to trash it or fail to care for it as our Landowner desires.  They fail to realize, second, that there will likely be a number of generations that will follow us and that how we treat the earth now will determine the kind of home they will inherit.  One of the first books I read about Creation Care was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time.  As the title implies, by caring for the earth we show love for neighbors who have not yet even been born.  We cannot think about only ourselves, not if we intend to be followers of Jesus.  Even when it comes to caring for the earth we must be thinking of those who will follow us.  That is our responsibility!

I hope you will give some thought to the invaluable lesson Dr. Stagg taught me almost thirty-five years ago–with gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.  It is a truth that applies to all areas of our life, including the God’s gift of the good earth.


(I have owned three homes in my life.  The pictures used above were taken near each.  The top two are near Henderson, KY; the third one near Middlesboro, KY; and the bottom one near Pikeville, KY.)

Feb 2 2014

How Noble Are You?

e_DSC0863In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul gives a list of things he encourages us to think about.  He writes, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praise-worthy—think about such things.”  I preached a sermon this morning based on this passage.  When I did research for it I discovered something very interesting.  The word Paul used for “noble” has a long history.  It eventually came to mean what we think it does but in ancient literature it was used to refer to the gods and the temples of the gods.  William Barclays says “when used to describe a man, it described “a person who…moves throughout the world as if it were the temple of God.”

In my estimation someone who can move throughout the world as if it were the temple of God is noble indeed.  It has been noted at this site numerous times that the earth ought to be viewed as the temple of God.  The Psalmist boldly declared that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (24:1)  For this reason we should understand that the ground beneath our feet is sacred. The whole earth is a holy temple because it belongs to God and due to the fact that God inhabits it.  A new heaven and a new earth may await us down the road but here and now we are standing on holy ground.

e_DSC0897If we recognize that the earth is the temple of God we will be more open to the presence of God in our lives.  It will likely lead us to live with a greater sense of gratitude.  I also have a feeling that if we moved throughout the world as if it were the temple of God that we would be far more prone to treat it with respect and attempt when we can to protect it.  For all of these reasons I think we should all strive to be “noble” men and women.


(I took the two images above this past Friday at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.)

Apr 1 2012

The Biggest Fool

Today is both Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day.  There is a sermon I have in mind that draws the two together.  I don’t remember exactly where I heard or read it but it concerns what has come to be known as Jesus’ “triumphant entry” on the first Palm Sunday long ago.  The question eventually gets asked, “Do you think the donkey that carried Jesus up to Jerusalem that day thought all the cheering and excitement was about him?”  The conclusion drawn in the sermon was how incredibly foolish the donkey would have been to think the praise and adoration was for him instead of the one who rode upon his back.   The point made concerned the dangers of pride and our need for humility.

When Rob and I were at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada a few days ago we saw and photographed the three wild burros you see here.  I told him that day about the sermon I had heard.  We discussed how we humans often get ourselves in trouble because of our pride and how we should practice humility.  A donkey would never think it was all about him but we humans often do.  This flaw usually proves to be our downfall, confirming the biblical admonition, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

One area where I see much human pride these days concerns Creation.  It seems like so many people think the earth belongs to us and it is ours to do with as we please.  They may think this but the Bible clearly states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  (Psalm 24:1)   How arrogant, how foolish, for us to think the world exists for us!  The apostle Paul echoed the Psalmist’s thoughts when he wrote concerning Jesus, “all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)  Creation exists for God’s glory, not ours.  To think otherwise would be just like the donkey Jesus rode believing the cheers were all for him.

Psalm 14:1 declares, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”   According to statistics there are not a very high percentage of people who actually deny the existence of God.  There are, however, a large percentage of people who live as though there is no God or who get confused and think they are Him.  In the end, the biggest fool is the person who refuses to give God the glory He deserves.  Unfortunately, I have been that person more times than I can count.  Perhaps you are guilty too.  Both the Bible and God’s “other book” (Creation) teach us that God deserves all the praise and honor and glory we can give Him.  At the beginning of this Holy Week I encourage you to join me in striving to give God the glory He is due.  If we fail to do so, what fools we will be!


Jan 29 2012

The Sacred Earth

When I was in Chaco Canyon early last month I picked up and read my first Tony Hillerman novel.  Later today I will finish reading my fifteenth Hillerman novel.  I quickly fell in love with his writings and have not been able to stop reading the Chee/Leaphorn series.  I typically don’t read these kinds of books but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and learning about Navajo culture and religion. 

In his books Hillerman goes out of his way to note that the Navajo’s consider their land sacred.  They have holy mountains and many rituals that show respect for the earth and nature.  In a way that is foreign to many of us they live close to the earth.  In his essay, “The Navajo Nation,” George Hardeen says the Navajo “made the land their religion.”  You cannot understand Navajo religion apart from the land.

Years ago when I was in seminary I learned that the Jews, likewise, considered their land sacred.  It was viewed as a gift from God.  They, too, had their holy mountain and strong convictions that the ground upon which they stood was holy ground.  Walter Brueggemann, in his classic work The Land, says “The Bible is the story of God’s people with God’s land.”  He even makes the bold statement, “Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith.”  Like the Navajos, it would be hard to understand the Jewish religion apart from the land.  After the Jews were led into exile in distant Babylon this proved to be a great test of their faith.  When the Babylonians asked them to sing “the songs of Zion” they responded, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)  They had trouble separating their faith from the land they held sacred.

Reading Hillerman’s novels and reflecting on the Bible’s strong emphasis on the land has made me wonder why more of us don’t consider the land we live on sacred.  Psalm 24:1 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s.”  Does that not, in itself, make it sacred?  Just recognizing the fact that a holy God created the world should move us to realize that it, too, is holy.

I strongly believe that many of the problems the world faces today are, at least in part, due to our failure to affirm the earth is sacred.  If we truly believed that the earth belonged to God and is holy wouldn’t that cause us to take better care of it?  Wouldn’t that cause us to do a better job of sharing its resources?  Wouldn’t it make a difference in the way we observe and relate to nature?   Will it take a burning bush to make us realize we stand on holy ground?  I hope not.  I fully concur with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.  The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  May God give us all eyes to see that the land we live on truly is holy ground.


(I chose to illustrate this entry with three images I took last month in Tony Hillerman’s beloved New Mexico.)

Aug 10 2011

To The Glory of God

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…” Psalm 24:1

After posting my blog, “Spirituality and Beauty,” this past Sunday I got an e-mail from my good friend, Kenny Faught, who in response to what I had written shared a wonderful story.  He wrote: “The post today reminded me of when I was a pastor in Cumberland, KY.  An older pastor was with us for the week holding a revival meeting.  One day we were walking a trail at Kingdom Come State Park when I realized he had ‘fallen behind’.  I did an about-face and walked back to him.  He was cradling a tiny flower in his hands, and asked, ‘Do you know why this tiny flower blooms way out here where it will likely never be seen?  To the glory of God!’”

This “older pastor” realized something that many of us tend to forget.  It’s not all about us.  We tend to judge the worth or value—and even beauty—of things by how they affect us.  If we benefit from the object or find it pleasing we give it value.  If we do not find or see a personal benefit, or do not find it pleasing, we do not consider the object to be of much value or worth. 

When Rob and I were photographing in Redwood National Park a couple of months ago we walked a trail in the Lost Creek area.  Along the trail there were lots of wildflowers.  I suspect most people would have considered the columbine we saw to be quite beautiful.  On the same trail we also saw several banana slugs.  Here my suspicion is that most people would not have considered this creature beautiful and might even call it “disgusting.”  Why?  Both are creations of God.  Both have their place in the natural world. 

Perhaps it is just part of being human that we judge everything from our own particular position.  As Christians, however, we must recognize that the world should be viewed from God’s perspective.  A lot of folks today need to experience a new “Copernican Revolution.”  Copernicus turned the world upside down when he discovered that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around.  I think it would turn our world upside down today as well if more of us could come to realize that the world does not revolve around us.  The “older pastor” was right; the world exists for “the glory of God!”

I encourage you to give some thought to how you might view things differently if you sought to look at the world through God’s eyes rather than your own.  I also encourage you to consider how this might affect how you treat the earth and its resources.  If the earth truly is the Lord’s, as the Psalmist indicated, and it exists for His glory, I cannot help but believe that it will, indeed, make a difference in how we see and treat Creation.


(I photographed the columbine and banana slug in June on the trail described above.)


Mar 6 2011

Trashing the Planet

BIP 009This past Thursday afternoon I decided to drive over to Breaks Interstate Park.  With all the rain we had received in recent days I knew the water would be up and that this might offer some nice photographic opportunities.  My hunch was right and I did manage to get some images I liked.  I also captured some I didn’t like at all.   The images I didn’t like were not good because I failed to expose correctly or did a poor job with my compositions.  It was the subject matter—trash.

Along the banks of the Russell Fork River were hundreds of plastic bottles.  These were not placed there intentionally.  They had all been discarded at various places upstream and the swollen waters had carried them to this location making one of my favorite places in the park a mess.  Just a short distance from this spot I encountered another eyesore.  Some  group had deposited their beer and food containers off the side of the road.  It was obvious that this act of littering was intentional.  Some folks had partied in this area and didn’t bother to take their trash with them when they left. 

BIP 015Seeing all the trash diminished my experience at Breaks Interstate Park.  I usually leave such beautiful places feeling happier and more peaceful but this time the presence of all the litter saddened me.  I left discouraged but also reminded how important it is that we take better care of God’s Creation.

Unfortunately, my experience at Breaks Interstate Park was not an isolated experience.  There are few places you can go anymore where you do not see litter—discarded plastic containers, glass bottles, loose paper, cardboard boxes, etc.   We are literally trashing the planet.  This litter does far more than mess up beautiful pictures.  It degrades the environment and can even cause health problems for both humans and animals alike.  The presence of trash also makes it harder for us to see God in His Creation. 

BIP 074Psalms 24:1 says the earth belongs to the Lord.  I know we tend to think of it as being our home but it is really His.  From the looks of things we are not taking very good care of it.  I know if someone came into my house and trashed it I would not be happy.  I would consider the violator guilty of great disrespect.  It makes you wonder what God thinks when He looks upon the earth.  It makes you wonder what He thinks of us.  And hopefully, it also makes you wonder what you can do to find a solution.

There are, of course, solutions to this problem.  We can refrain from littering ourselves, practice recycling, purchase items that use less packaging, and participate in litter removal programs.  We can also help educate and encourage others to respect the earth and be better stewards.  Failing to make such efforts will result in further trashing of the planet and reveal our disrespect for the Owner of the house.  Neither result is wise or desirable if we want to honor the Creator.