I love visiting old churches and cathedrals, with their vaulted ceilings and solid stone walls infused with centuries of incense and the echoed prayers. And I love being outdoors surrounded by the glorious beauty of creation. These spaces seem infused with a special sense of the sacred. It is easy to feel close to God is such spaces.
But God is omnipresent. A crowded bus is no farther from God’s presence than a majestic mesa. The hush of a hospital ward is just as close to His heart as the swelling choir in a cathedral. In fact, when Jesus lived among us on earth, He spent much of His time walking dusty roads, talking and working miracles among the noisy “rabble” of ordinary people. He did not seek out “sacred spaces;” instead, He took the “sacred” into the dark and dirty streets where it was often ignored or dismissed.
Sometimes, Jesus would go off by Himself into the wilderness or into the hills to pray, as well. It is important to make a time or space to do this. But there is nothing especially sacred about particular spaces– even ones designed to be places of worship. It may not be easy to find a physical space for prayer and worship, but we can make a mental “space”– close off distractions, move or turn away from others for a few precious minutes–focus on God’s presence. Remember, His presence is always with us; we just need to acknowledge it!
Prayer connects us to God– wherever and whenever we pray. That doesn’t mean that we should not seek out special times and places to be alone with God. But we needn’t wait for a certain moment or location or position in which to meet with God. He is eternally, immediately available to listen. Are we?
Yesterday, in our Bible Fellowship class at church, we continued our series on a Christian view of “Hot” topics: we focused on Environmental issues.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) KJV
Our environment can become a politically and emotionally charged subject. How should we as Christians, view our environment, our environmental impact, and our attitudes toward dire reports about climate change, extinction rates, emissions, pollution, habitat reduction, natural resources, and energy needs?
The Bible gives us guidelines, warnings, and even hope!
Ultimately, the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders, or yours, or our generation’s…This is MY FATHER’S world. He created it, He inhabits it, and He has a plan for it. That does not give me an excuse to ignore the problems facing our planet. It does not give me the right or the privilege of passing the problems along to someone else, where action can and should be taken. But it does remind me that God has not left us alone and helpless to stop an environmental apocalypse left to us by previous generations and accelerated by our own.
GOD created the heavens and the Earth. God, who knows the end from the beginning. God designed our planet, our atmosphere, our universe. What even the best of our scientists know about our planet is infinitely smaller than what God knows, and what even the boldest plans of man propose are nothing to the power of God to heal and restore. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be concerned about things that are happening– but we can’t let our concerns turn to despair and doubt. When the nation of Israel first entered the promised land, God gave them a list of blessings and curses. (Deuteronomy, chapter 28) If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they were disobedient, they would be cursed. Many of these blessings and curses relate directly to the land and weather. God is still in control of nature, but this leads me to…
God gave stewardship of the Earth to mankind. We are to be the daily caretakers of God’s Earth. That there are so many problems with our environment shows that mankind as a whole has failed to obey God in this matter. We are not under the direct blessings and curses that came to Israel in the promised land, but there is still a correlation–as Sin proliferates, so does death and destruction– including that of the world around us. That doesn’t give me the right to point the finger at others and justify my own disobedience because “at least I don’t…,” or “at least I do…” God expects me to act in ways that protect, preserve, or develop the environment to benefit those around me and give glory to Him. This includes the way I interact with the land, water, air, plants, animals, and other people. It includes the actions I take to destroy harmful plants and animals; to protect the soil and water; to dispose of waste; to eat; to build, or heat, or cool buildings; what I eat and drink and wear. It even includes being informed about second-hand resources that I buy and use, and whether or not those resources are being stewarded well by others. This doesn’t mean becoming an environmental Pharisee– publicly calling out all my neighbors who still use plastic bags or buy products from “that” company. And it doesn’t mean I must become a vegan, or a homesteader or give up my computer or cell phone. But what can I do to become a better steward?
Is it possible that my attitude toward the environment is coming from a lack of exposure to both the environment itself and its maker? Am I spending more time reading about climate change than I am spending in the climate itself? Have I thanked God for the world He created? Do I take the time to notice the beauty in a blade of grass, or the colors in a sunset, or the mystery of running water, and marvel at God’s handiwork? How would my view of Nature change if I developed my relationship with its maker?
Lastly, I need to engage with others to find ways we all can become better stewards– not (necessarily) by bashing people over the head with statistics and mandates, but getting the facts– not just the hype or the denials–and sharing practical ideas.
I don’t have to save the world– that is God’s job; He’s the only one who can. But I CAN do my part to protect, preserve, develop, and enjoy all the beauty He created. And in doing so, I pray that I can help others see the One who loved us all enough to create such a beautiful home!
2 Corinthians 9:15 Christian Standard Bible (CSB) 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I love this season of the year–as we approach Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent and Christmas, it is a good time to reflect and celebrate all the wonderful things God has done, and all the ways He has blessed us. But there is also a danger in this season. We are tempted to look around and compare our blessings (and our struggles) with others around us. We are tempted to be envious, depressed, and stressed about our circumstances. Or we look at our blessings and feel smug and self-satisfied, instead of grateful and humble.
What “Great” things am I thankful for? Sometimes I make a list of all “my” blessings–my health, my family, my home or car, my freedom (as though I had done anything to earn such blessings)–and I stop. Sometimes I make another list of all the “Great” things God has done in nature–beautiful sunsets and majestic forests, glistening snowflakes and spring blossoms–and I stop. Sometimes, I even thank Him for the trials and struggles and difficult relationships that He has allowed to refine me and build my character to be more like His– and I stop. Sometimes, I thank Him for the great things he has done for others–miracles of provision, safety, or healing.
But there is a deeper level of thankfulness– one that takes my breath away and causes me to fall to my knees– one that thanks God for WHO HE IS– truth, righteousness, salvation, mercy, wisdom, power, and boundless, unconditional love. Every great work of God has its origin in God’s Character. Every sunrise shows His faithfulness, every snowflake His infinite creativity. Even tragedy can reveal His tenderness and healing and precious promise that NOTHING can separate us from His love. In giving His greatest gift, God spared no expense; he held nothing back. Jesus defeated sin and death by becoming sin and experiencing death–FOR YOU and for ME! For anyone, for everyone, who will accept His gift and trust in His character. How often do I list all the great things God has done and stop before I let the amazement of the Great I AM to overwhelm me? How often to I celebrate Thanksgiving without ever reaching this level of true Thanks-giving?
Whether we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, or with beans and wienies; whether we celebrate with family, friends, strangers or alone; even if we celebrate on a different day, or in a different way, may we always find ourselves amazed by the Greatness of God. May we truly give God more than just thanksgiving this year. May we give Him all the Glory–Great things He hath done!
For the Beauty of the Earth The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092 Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77 1. For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
2. For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
3. For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
4. For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
5. For thy church, that evermore lifteth holy hands above, offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, to the world so freely given, for that great, great love of thine, peace on earth, and joy in heaven: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I love spending time in nature– walking, riding, or biking through woods and meadows, hills and valleys, along lakes or rivers. God has created such beauty and majesty in every part of our world! I grew up surrounded by woods and water– lakes, rivers, old forests and new-growth woods, with lots of farmland and meadows spread out over low rolling hills. So it is always with wonder that I look upon mountains, deserts, rain forests and jungles, and tropical settings because they are not part of the “normal” landscape for me. Even so, I never tire of the sites that greet me year-round–the steady breaking waves rolling in off Lake Michigan; the babbling of a small river or stream over field stone as it races down a small hill toward a pond; trees bowing and dancing in the wind just before a storm…
Nature is not just beautiful. It gives us yet another way to experience God’s “nature”– his character and provision. God is steady like a rock– strong, enduring, a safe refuge. God is refreshing and life-giving as a river– ready to wash away aches and soothe us. God is eternal, and his love is as vast and deep as the ocean. God is mysterious as the forest–giving shade and cover, and concealing treasures, and ancient secrets. God is as open as a meadow, as pure as an ice shelf, as glorious as a desert sunset.
God uses his glorious creation to illustrate his “nature.” I pray that we can experience the both aspects of God’s nature today, and praise Him for who He is and how He has revealed Himself all around us.
Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds. All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes. Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago! Learn more about the song here…
When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months. We are bound by time while we live here. Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.
But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon. There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace. Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.
Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief. There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone. There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.
Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.” It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well. I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused. God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me. Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!
Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters. People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration. There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits. There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests. But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder. I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.
Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin. God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.
This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous. But God is outside of time and seasons. He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature. No matter where we turn, He can be found!
Tigers and turtles; flamingos and fleas; whales and warthogs; skinks and skunks; rocks and rosebuds; Eskimos and Ecuadorians–God’s world is filled with variety. Chirping birds and thundering herds; roaring seas and buzzing bees. Colors, sounds, smells, and sensations– we are surrounded by glimpses of glory, echoes of eternity, and hints of Heaven.
Often, we take for granted the beauty of God’s creation– we don’t stop seeing it, we just stop marveling at it. Instead of drinking it in, we drown it out. We criticize, analyze, and theorize…why did God make rats? how does He exist outside of time? when will He change the seasons this year (will we have spring? how long will winter last)? what is the purpose of dust? why are some animals (or rocks or plants) colorful, or noisy, or deadly, or smelly, or slow? And we miss the forest for the trees– we get caught up in the amazing details and infinite variety in creation, and miss the majesty of the creator– His sense of the ridiculous in things like tumbleweeds and walking sticks, dust devils and platypuses, or His artistry in butterfly wings, dew on spiderwebs, and cascading waterfalls– in geodes and dimples and mewling kittens. We miss the elegant design in a bees knees, or galaxies, or a banyan tree.
God creates– it is an element of His character. And we are made in His image– we long to create. From drafting sentences to making a pie to shaping a piece of wood into something sturdy and useful– we long to produce, to concoct, to cause growth, to heal, to nurture, and to effect change. We are also created with a deep appreciation of creation– the wisdom and the work it takes to set planets spinning, and ecosystems cooperating, and to unfold a new sunrise every morning.
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes asking God to open your eyes and ears to the song and dance of creation today–from dandelions to darting dragonflies to the amazing variety of people dodging traffic or making conversation around you. Join in!