Tag Archives: Nature

The Honor of Creation

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Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:5 NRSVCE

One of the things I have come to love about living in Iowa is the fact that the landscape is always changing as the fields are cultivated, sown, fertilized, tended, harvested, and left to rest. This time of the year is one of my favorites. The dark green corn plants that pack the quilt-like patchwork of fields are fully grown to eight feet or more in height, and each stalk is topped by a golden tassel. From a distance, as I drive by, the tasseled corn creates a gorgeous visual effect of iridescence. A shimmering blanket of gold atop the deep, dark green covers the softly rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Photographs don’t do it justice to seeing it in person.

I have seen a lot of gorgeous things on this earth. I love the northern lights. I loved watching the sunrise over the pacific in Kauai, the full moon shining down on the Caribbean on a cloudless night. The Rocky Mountains are a majestic sight, as are the rugged Appalachians and the Badlands of South Dakota, especially for someone who lives on the plains of the Heartland. The Milky Way viewed from big sky country away from the ambient light of human population centers is breathtaking, as is Niagara Falls in her relentless display of aquatic force.

Today’s chapter is another song of David in which his lyrics express his own appreciation for the works of creation that surrounded him on earth and in the heavens. The song is bookended with a repeated refrain ascribing praise to God as Creator. It also repeats a theme from the Creation story, in which humanity is given “dominion” over the Earth which includes the responsibility to tend it and care for it. This is a great one to read when I find myself standing awestruck before nature.

I couldn’t help but notice that David’s lyric speak of humanity being given “honor” by God. In fact, both Hebrew words translated “glory” and “honor” in the verse I quoted at the top of the post have been translated as the English word “honor.” My favorite definition of the word honor is “to attach worth.”

God attached so much worth to we human beings that it was for us that God sent His Son to experience life as one of us, to die as one of us, and to open the way of eternity for us. Today’s psalm delves into another layer of honor God bestowed on us. In all of creation, humanity alone (that we know of) was given the “honor” of dominion and responsibility for God, the great artist’s, creative works. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God made humans curators and caretakers of His creation.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about honor. We honor soldiers, police, firefighters, health care workers who serve and sacrifice themselves to care for the rest of us. We attach worth to them as we recognize that they are responsible for us. They attend selflessly to the care, protection, and provision of others. In the same way, God’s honor of us includes the responsibility He’s given us, and I’ve observed that it’s largely forgotten or ignored by many.

I’m also thinking about creation, and my responsibility to exercise my dominion in caring for it, tending it, and serving it. Not because I worship it, but I worship the One who created it, and it’s a specific duty I’m honored to have been given.

FYI, I’m taking a little break and spending some time in creation today and tomorrow. I’ll be back on this chapter-a-day journey on Thursday.

Have a great couple of days, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

God Revealing, Then and Now

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them…”
Exodus 10:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have some connections to east Africa. We have, for years, supported a Compassion child in Kenya named Joyce. Taylor and Clayton spent time working in Uganda, and Clayton’s doctoral research has taken him repeatedly to Tanzania where we also support another Compassion child, Michael, who is slightly older than Milo and they share the same birthday.

Because of these connections, we tend to pay a little more attention to the situation there. In case you didn’t know it, they have been battling locust swarms this year. Massive locust swarms that I would tag as being of “biblical proportions.” A second wave of swarms hit the region just as they began fighting COVID.

In my recent series of podcasts, A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I talk a lot about context. An adult can’t reason with a two-year-old by getting him or her to sit and listen to you read a psychology textbook that explains his or her need to modify behavior. In the same way, understanding ancient stories require me, a 21st-century reader, to think outside the box of my 21st-century thought and sensitivities. They require me to think about how God is meeting with and interacting with humanity in the context of the way they lived, thought, believed, and interpreted their world. Today’s chapter is a great example.

Locust swarms have been part of the ecosystem forever. They happen on occasion just like floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, and viral outbreaks. Our post-enlightenment, educated minds turn to science to understand these things, deal with them appropriately, and lessen the negative effects.

In Moses’ day, no one thought in such a way. In Moses day, natural phenomena were always considered to be a manifestation of the gods. If something bad happens, the gods must be angry. If something good happens, the gods must be pleased.

In today’s chapter, God tells Moses that the plagues had a purpose. The purpose was to reveal Himself and His power to Pharaoh and his officials. What is lost on a 21st-century reader is the fact that the types of plagues being visited upon the Egyptians had connections to various deities they worshiped across the pantheon of more than 1500 gods they worshiped. Because many, if not most, of the plagues were natural occurring phenomena, the Egyptians may have historically associated them with other deities. Now, the God of Moses turns them on-and-off at will, which is a direct challenge to Egypt’s religious system. Each time a plague is turned on or off by “stretching out” their hand and staff, it is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s claim of being a god who rules by “my mighty hand.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about God revealing Himself. The story of Moses is an early chapter in the Great Story. There has been no described system of worship. There is no Bible or sacred text. There is no institution or organization. God has simply revealed Himself to Abraham and his descendants in mysterious ways. The plagues we’ve been reading about are the first recorded time in the Great Story that God attempts to reveal Himself to another people group in contrast to their own gods. This is a major shift in the narrative, and this theme will continue.

Interestingly, Jesus also made it clear that His mission was one of revelation:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.

God has always been in the process of revealing Himself, and does so in multiple ways, including the very act of creation:

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.

Along my earthly journey, I have been ever-grateful to live in our current period of human history. Despite the doom and gloom peddled in the media, we live in a period of human history that is unprecedented with regard to low levels of extreme poverty, disease, starvation, war, violence, and high levels of education and safety across the globe compared with any other period of history. Humanity is in a very different chapter of the Great Story, and I believe God is revealed very differently in our world than in Moses’ day.

The basic dance remains the same. God revealing, inviting, drawing in. Me asking, seeking, knocking, humbly accepting, and receiving.

I’m glad it no longer requires a plague of locusts. In my quiet time this morning I’m praying for those who are actively trying to help the people of Africa to minimize the damage and for those who are suffering because of it.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Implosion of Evil

The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped.
2 Chronicles 20:23-34 (NIV)

In our modern, twenty-first century enlightened world we rarely talk about the nature of evil. I find that, even among those who are followers of Jesus, there is a reticence to even think of the concept of evil. Jesus quite regularly referenced evil. The word or variation is used seven times in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Over the years Wendy and I have noticed a theme among epic stories regarding the nature of evil: evil eventually destroys itself from within. Sometimes, left to itself, evil naturally implodes. Tolkien used this device multiple times in his stories and it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. As Merry and Pippin are captives of the Orcs it is an internal fight between factions of Orcs and Grishnakh’s lust that ultimately allow for their escape. Likewise, as Frodo and Sam attempt steal their way into Mordor through the stronghold of Cirith Ungol, a massive fight between two companies of Orcs destroy one another and allow the Hobbits to escape.

In today’s chapter we find a similar story from Judah’s history. A coalition of enemy armies are gathered to march against Judah and Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat assembles all the people to seek the Lord. They pray, they fast, they humble themselves. God speaks through the prophet that the battle belongs to God and He will deliver. The people respond in praise. The coalition of enemy armies turn on each other and destroy one another so that when the army of Judah arrives, they find a field of dead bodies.

This morning in the quiet as I mull these things over I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ admonishment about the two mistakes one can make about the exploration of evil. One, he said, is to ignore it. The second is to get too deep and take it too seriously. The people of Judah didn’t ignore the threat facing them but focused their energies on seeking after God, trusting, and following. Before the threat could become a battle, the evil had imploded within. I never want to be naive, ignorant, or blind to the reality of evil that exists in our world. Neither do I want to give into fear or be overwhelmed by it:

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Becoming the Evil from Which I’ve Been Delivered

So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.
Jeremiah 34:10-11 (NIV)

I found today’s chapter in the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s messages particularly fascinating. It is a series of messages given during the very time that Jerusalem, the capital city of the ancient nation of Judah, was besieged by the armies of Babylon. Judah’s King Zedekiah had issued a proclamation that all Hebrew slaves (in other words, the people of Judah had enslaved their own people) should be emancipated. After initially abiding by King Z’s emancipation proclamation, the slave owners reversed course, rounded up their former slaves, and returned the slaves to their chains.

In his book exploring the nature of evil, M. Scott Peck describes evil people as “pathologically attached to the status quo of their personalities” while “unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity.” I thought of those descriptors this morning as I read about the Hebrew slave owners who initially choose to appear obedient and upright in following the King’s edict, but then quickly put their own slaves back in shackles and maintained the status quo of the evil of slavery. The Hebrew people, whose ancestors had been freed from slavery in Egypt, had in effect become their Egyptian masters. While maintaining the appearance of being “God’s people” they were unable to see that they had become the very evil from which their own people had been delivered.

This morning in the quiet I’ve been doing a bit of my own gut-check. Somehow I’m sensing that it’s too easy to wag my self-righteous, 21st century fingers at the ancient Hebrew slave owners. Where in my own life do I make effort to keep up appearances of goodness while simultaneously maintaining a destructive status quo in my behaviors and relationships? Ugh.

I may be able to look back and see that have made spiritual progress on this life journey, but I can still look inside, then look ahead, and see how far I have to go. And with that, my spirit whispers an ancient prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Note to my readers:  As much I’d like to think that slavery has been outlawed and eradicated by our enlightened society, reading a few stories from groups such as International Justice Mission (an organization Wendy and I support) are a reminder that the evil of slavery addressed in Jeremiah’s ancient message is very much alive in the world we live in today. One practical way to make a tangible difference for good is to make a donation to IJM’s efforts or any one of many similar organizations. Peace.

Tectonic Shift in the Spirit Realm

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake….”
Matthew 28:1-2a (NIV)

I have not experienced an actual earthquake. I should actually say that I haven’t consciously and physically felt the effects of an earthquake though a sensitive seismograph might have indicated that the earth shifted deep beneath me. In my travels to the west coast and the Pacific I’ve wondered if I’ll ever have that experience. It’s just curiosity, though you can believe me when I tell you that I’m perfectly content never to experience it.

As I finished Matthew this morning I was struck by the earthquake that accompanied the events of the resurrection. It brought to mind that Matthew also recorded that an earthquake that shook Jerusalem the previous Friday afternoon as Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross.

Throughout the Great Story we find a connection between God and creation. Unique events in the natural realm are regularly an indicator or agent of things happening in the spirit realm: flood, fire, cloud, fish, locust, river, ocean, drought, rain, wind, storm, plague, and earthquakes. Jesus is crucified. A massive shift occurs in the Spirit realm, and the earth cries out. A few days later the Spirit realm experiences another massive shift as Jesus is rises from the dead. Once again creation cries out in the form of an earthquake.

We know that earthquakes occur when massive tectonic plates shift far beneath the surface of the earth. It’s happening all the time, even though we can’t necessarily feel it. I went out to earthquaketrack.com this morning and was surprised to find that there have been 10 earthquakes in the past few days here in the southern part of the midwest region of the United States. Who knew? Yet when the shift or collision of the plates is strong enough we not only do we feel it on the surface experience its life changing effect.

God’s Message says that God’s invisible qualities and eternal nature can clearly be seen by what has been made. Creation reveals the Creator. So it is this morning that I’m meditating on the spiritual word picture God reveals in earthquakes. God is constantly moving, shifting and at work underneath the surface of our lives. We may not feel it feel it for days, months, or years, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t moving and shifting things. Once in a while, however, the tectonic plates of the Spirit make a massive shift and we both feel it and experience its life changing effects.

 

Resuscitating a Worn Out Phrase

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
John 3:5 (NRSV)

I find it fascinating how some words or phrases take on unintended meanings. As I follow the media coverage of the presidential elections, I will on occasion hear those in the media labeling people, or groups of people, as “Born Again” Christians. The phrase became popular back in the 1970s when Chuck Colson, a convicted Watergate conspirator, wrote a book entitled Born Again to tell the story of his own spiritual rebirth. Now when the label is used by members of the media, I get the feeling that the intended image is that of a narrow-minded, widely ignorant, politically conservative, socially repressed minion blindly leading some televangelist. While there are definitely people who fit that description, I find it sad that they seem to have become synonymous with the term “born again” because it empties the phrase of its intensely powerful meaning.

The phrase “born again” did not originate with Chuck Colson or evangelical Christians. It comes directly from Jesus, and it’s found in today’s chapter. Jesus was having a conversation with a religious man name Nicodemus and he simply makes the statement that if you want to enter God’s kingdom you must experience a rebirth.

The idea of rebirth is not new and it wasn’t new when Jesus said it to Nicodemus. It’s a theme woven into the tapestry of time and creation, and even Jesus seemed a bit frustrated that Nic was perplexed by something so spiritually elementary. Every year lifeless seeds buried in the ground bear life from the ground in the spring, grow to maturity in the heat of the summer, bear fruit during autumn’s harvest, then die and decompose in the harshness of winter. Spring is an annual, seasonal rebirth. Each week we start on Monday and work towards Friday night when we can take a break, end the week and start a new one. Every night we go to bed in darkness, enter the oblivion of sleep then with the break of light and the dawn we start a new day.

“Wait ’til next year.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“This is only for a season.”
“I just have to get through this week.”

God layers the Great Story with this theme of rebirth. The final chapters speak of a new heaven and new earth, and God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (btw, the reference to that verse was embedded in the the crux of my first tat). So, it should not be a surprise that Jesus tells Nicodemus that one of the basic realities and necessities of God’s Kingdom is a rebirth of Spirit, a new start, a new season, a spiritual new beginning. It has nothing to do with political affiliation, demographics, denomination, or attending church. What Jesus was saying was simple and organic: those facing a dead end need a new start, anyone whose spirit is languishing in darkness needs a new day to dawn, those whose hearts are frozen need the thaw of Spring, everyone who is dead in their sin and shame need to experience the power of a spiritual resurrection.

Today, I’m feeling the desire to breath new life into the worn out phrase “born again.”

Artist’s Date

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I will sometimes go on an artist’s date with friends. Often it’s just another couple, though we have done it with slightly larger groups. We typically go to the Des Moines Art Center because it’s close, it’s free, and it has an amazing collection of 19th and 20th century artwork. Here’s how the artist’s date works:

First, we wander together through the Art Center quickly browsing through each gallery. Each person is to be open  and mindful to pay attention to what particular piece of artwork strikes them for whatever reason.

Once we’ve made it through the Art Center, we then spread out, each person to the one piece that struck them the most as we browsed. This time, we stand or sit in front of that piece of artwork and look at it for 30 minutes.  There are no particular rules. You might look at it from different angles. You might get in close to inspect the brushwork. You might just sit in one spot and stare at it. I personally like to bring a journal (and a pencil, the Art Center doesn’t like you using a pen!) and write my thoughts.

When the 30 minutes are up, everyone meets back at the lobby. We go to a nice restaurant, order some good food and drink, and then take turns sharing what art work we looked at and what we gleaned from our 30 minutes with it. It’s always fascinating to hear others share.

When you look at an artist’s work, really look at it, you eventually begin to catch a glimpse of that artist. The painting, the photograph, the drawings, the sculpture are an expression of what’s inside the heart and mind of the artist.

We often forget that God first reveals Himself to us as Creator. “In the beginning, God created….” God is an artist, and the universe is an ongoing work of art as the heavens expand out into the seemingly endless canvas of space and time. When you look at creation, really look at it, you begin to catch a glimpse of the Artist. Detailed, ordered, and infinitely particular while at the same time infinitely playful and diverse in subject, composition, line, color, and form.

Today, I have the fortune of driving for several hours through forecasted rain and snow as I make my way home. My artist’s date today is in the Art Center of nature and I will focus my attention on God’s artwork: Prairie Winter. I can’t wait to see what new things there are for me to glean as I study the landscape.

chapter a day banner 2015

Morning Star

morning star

I was up early a few weeks ago and the morning star was burning bright just above the horizon as the glow of impending morning created a gorgeous silhouette of the tree line behind our home. I grabbed my camera and snapped this shot.

Snow on the Oak

Snow on the Oak TreeToday is what we in the midwest refer to as “the dog days of summer.” August can be a killer when it comes to heat. One of my favorite quotes is from Garrison Keillor who said that living in the midwest is like, “spending your winters in the arctic and your summers in Death Valley.” ‘Tis true.

I thought for Photo Friday I would post a photograph I snapped with my iPhone on a whim this past February after a heavy, wet snow fall created a blanket of white across the landscape. It was a sunny, cloudless day after the storm and I loved the way the monochrome black and white of the snow on the limbs contrasted with the gorgeous blue of the sky.

If you’re feeling hot today, thought this might give you a reminder of what’s coming in just a few months 😉

 

Sunrise Through the Wildflowers

Wildflowers Behind the Manor

Last Sunday morning I woke early as the sun was rising. I could not help but notice how gorgeous the wildflowers looked at the back of our lot. So I grabbed my camera and snapped a few pics. I especially liked the way this one turned out and used it to update the header on my blog. Sometimes the most beautiful scenes are right in front of us. The play of the sunlight through a window, or the sun rising through the wildflowers. We simply have to open our eyes to see it, and be willing to take a moment to appreciate it.