Psalm 104:24-35 – Listening to Creation

creation beauty

O Lord, how manifold are your works! 
    In wisdom have you made them all; 
    the earth is full of your creatures. 
Here is the sea, great and wide, 
    which teems with creatures innumerable, 
    living things both small and great. 
There go the ships, 
    and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.  

These all look to you, 
    to give them their food in due season. 
When you give it to them, they gather it up; 
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; 
    when you take away their breath, they die 
    and return to their dust. 
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, 
    and you renew the face of the ground. 

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; 
    may the Lord rejoice in his works, 
who looks on the earth and it trembles, 
    who touches the mountains and they smoke! 
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; 
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 
May my meditation be pleasing to him, 
    for I rejoice in the Lord. 
Let sinners be consumed from the earth, 
    and let the wicked be no more! 
Bless the Lord, O my soul! 
Praise the Lord! (ESV) 

The earth is a complex ecosystemalive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination. The world is wonderfully intricateits vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of his powerful Spirit. 

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God. 

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though it is a hard circumstance, recent implementations of sheltering in place and quarantines can equally be a gift to us. It affords the opportunity to slow down and listen.  

Today when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity. When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with his glory. 

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was with Adam and Eve at the fall of humanity. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth. The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not. 

When spending time in nature, ask yourself: How is God’s glory and love reflected in what he has made? In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response? How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me? Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not? 

sunrise prayer

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving. 

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.  

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in his creation in the morning. Greeting the Creator as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention. 

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and, silence to hear the voice of God. There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation. We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity. 

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through his creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves. 

He Qi St Francis
St. Francis talking to the birds. By artist He Qi

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing. 

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong. 

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. 

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned. 

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape. 

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm. 

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen. 

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi 

Mark 9:2-9 – Listen to Jesus

“This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 
 
            Today on the Christian Calendar is Transfiguration Sunday.  Each year it occurs the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.  This is significant because the season of Lent (the 40 days leading to Easter) more than any other season in the Year is meant to for us to listen well.
            Jesus took three of his disciples up a mountain, secluded from all else, and he revealed to them his glory.  Moses and Elijah showed up to join in the awe of the event, two of the most influential men of the Old Testament.  This was all designed to draw attention to Jesus.  Everything which was given in the past, what is happening in the present, and what will be in the future all focuses on the mid-point of history: Jesus, who is Lord and Savior.
            What’s more, Father God’s voice speaks into the glorious event.  His instruction was clear and succinct.  Listen to Jesus.   Listen to Jesus.  This is to be our assignment and our posture for the next six weeks.  You and I are to be intentional about breaking away from our life in the valley, ascend the mountain with Jesus in solitude, and get a glimpse of his glory.  Like a mother who puts her hands to her busy two-year old’s face to get his attention, God is speaking to us, if we will but listen.
            To be fully in the moment, having an open mind and heart to Jesus requires some solitude and silence. Having both a consistent time and place to ascend the mountain, meet with Jesus, and listen to him is most necessary for you and me.  Our minds are too distracted without the firm decision to guard a time and place to listen well to Jesus.  Where and when we meet with Jesus might have options, but, for the Christian, it is not an option whether we listen to Jesus, or not.
            Whatever it takes, yes, I’ll say it again, whatever it takes to meet with Jesus so that we can listen well to him is our spiritual occupation for the next 40 days.
            Where is the mountain? When will you ascend it? What posture will you take to listen well to Jesus? Will you be silent?
            Put some thought into those questions today and develop a plan.  Then, you’ll put yourself in a position to encounter Jesus.

 

Glorious Lord Jesus, the entire universe bends and bows to your will.  Help me, especially in these next weeks, to listen well to your words so that I may follow your ways in all I say and do; to your honor and glory.  Amen.

Judges 2:16-23

            Listening seems to be a lost art and a forgotten skill which needs careful development to be good at it.
            The Lord God Almighty is gracious, merciful, and kind.  He hears us when we call to Him, He listens when we incline our hearts to Him.  This is a characteristic of God – He always bends in a posture of listening to his creation.
            This is the reason why, as creatures in the image of God, we were meant from the very beginning of creation to listen.  But after humanity fell into disobedience, people have the tendency to talk more than they listen, to even refuse to hear what another is saying.  People even completely ignore God when He is speaking.
            The ancient Israelites were fickle in their attention to God.  When things were bad, they cried out to Him.  And because God listens, He heard and responded.  But when things were better, the people went about their business and forgot about Him.
            It was God who sent judges, rulers and leaders, to the people for their own welfare.  But we get this comment in the text of today’s Scripture:  they were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen these judges.
 
            Listening just wasn’t of value to the Israelites.  They talked and talked, and so could not hear what God or his appointed rulers were saying.
            We are to listen well, because God listens well.  We are to pay attention and hear because we are designed by our Creator to do so.  Perhaps our society would not be so perpetually upset and polarized if we would just take the time to listen well.
            Today, take a posture of listening.  Take just 10 minutes and don’t talk, don’t read, don’t check your phone, don’t do anything but just listen to the sounds around you.  What do you hear?  What do you think God is saying to you through those sounds?  How does He want you to respond?

 

            God of all creation, you have made me with two ears for listening.  Help me to so hear and distinguish you through creation and the voices of others so that I will follow you with confidence in my daily life through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 25:1-14

            An ancient rabbi once said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk.  That’s sage advice.  The ability to listen well is almost a lost art in Western society.  Slick marketing, political rants, and over-the-top speech all scream into the culture because there is such a dearth of listening.  It seems that many people are more concerned to make their opinions known than do any kind of deep listening to another in order to discover their true needs and thoughts.
 
            It is really quite tragic that we do not listen to one another.  It is downright terrible when we do not listen to God.  The Old Testament prophets existed because of a failure to listen.  Not only did the people for whom the prophets spoke not hear, but they refused to listen.  They put their fingers in their ears and just stood there saying “la-la-la-la-la.”  This was not just an inability to listen because they were overworked or too tired.  Here is the problem:  “For twenty-three years now, ever since the thirteenth year that Josiah was king, I have been telling you what the LORD has told me.  But you have not listened.  The LORD has sent prophets to you time after time, but you refused to listen.” 
 
            God wanted the people to change their evil ways, but they didn’t want to hear it.  So, after not only years but centuries of unfaithfulness, after God’s patience was drawn out to its limit, tragic consequences happened.  If there is no deep listening to God’s Word, there will be deep repercussions.  None of us can do the will of God if we don’t know what God wants.  It takes listening.  Without genuine listening with the intent to understand and alter actions accordingly, there will be no peace, no love, no grace, but only suspicion, fear, and continued rants with anger.  Instead, the beginning of wisdom and human flourishing begins with listening well.
 

 

            Holy God, your speech goes out into all the earth.  Your Word is there for us to hear, if we will only listen.  Lord Jesus, let your words and your teaching penetrate so deeply into my soul that your loving ways come out of me in all I say and do.  Amen.

Jeremiah 7:1-15

            One of the dangers of the religious life is slipping into the view that possessing a certain thing protects us from all harm.  Today’s Old Testament lesson is a classic example of succumbing to just such a danger.  The ancient Jews in Jerusalem in the days of the prophet Jeremiah sincerely believed that because they had God’s temple in their city that this would protect them from any kind of attack from the outside.  What is more, the people even thought that they could do whatever they wanted, since the temple was there to protect them.
 
            Separated by centuries, we might see the folly in the Jewish thinking.  Yet, we as Americans can so easily slip into the same mentality.  When we think that we are so great that no one will ever take us over; when we sincerely believe that because we are a missionary-sending nation that God will protect us; when we buy into the notion that we can live however we want, but God would never judge the church that I attend and the group I am a  part of; then, we have come under the same condemnation as the Jews of old, and we need to hear God’s Word.
 
            “While you have been sinning, I have been trying to talk to you, but you refuse to listen.  Don’t think this temple will protect you.”  Jeremiah’s message to the people was:  “Change your ways and start living right… Be fair and honest with each other.  Stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows.  Don’t kill innocent people.  And stop worshiping other gods.”
 
            God does not show favoritism based upon whether someone is American, or not; whether one is a particular race, ethnicity, or gender.  He will hold all people accountable.  For whom God has given much, much will be required.
 

 

            Holy God, you still speak today through your Word.  Help me to listen well and pay attention to what you are saying so that I might honor you through humility and obedience for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

Psalm 104:24-35

            All of creation depends on each part in a complex ecosystem which is alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature.  And all of this creation depends completely on the hand of God that formed it.  Without God, there would be no living holistic creation working together to flourish over the earth.  Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of his powerful Spirit.
 
            This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus.  Just as we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God; just as we are to listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; we are to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit of God filling us, guiding us, and empowering us for love and service in the name of Jesus Christ.
 
            In our fast paced society of fast food, fast cars, fast service, and fast everything, there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down in order to listen to God’s Spirit speaking.  Today when you eat your meals, take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite.  Carve out some time to walk the dog, and do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you.  Hear it all giving praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with his glory.  For, if we do not hear God speaking it is because we are not listening.
 

 

            Mighty God, I join with all creation to sing your praises and give adoration to the Name of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself for me through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

 
 
When Jesus is around, extraordinary things happen.  Yet, this did not mean that the three disciples of Jesus – Peter, James, and John – perceived the extraordinary and what it really meant, at the time.  The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was incredible.  But Luke tells us that the disciples were confused, sleepy, and walked away silent about the whole affair (Luke 9:28-36).
 
            We are not always told in the Gospel accounts why Christ’s disciples often did not understand or perceive the significance of the miraculous, supernatural, and extraordinary events that took place right in front of them.  Maybe they were distracted.  Perhaps they were doing some ancient form of multi-tasking.  Maybe Peter was texting and driving at the same time on the way to the meeting on the mountain and had his mind elsewhere.  It could be that James and John were checking their e-mails from the other disciples while all this was taking place.  Perhaps they were just up too late the night before binge watching on Netflix.  Whatever was going on with the disciples, they were distracted.
 
            So, we actually have God the Father step into the scene at the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and speak.  Now, we need to understand that God is not in the business of exhorting people to listen unless they are not paying attention.  The Father is quite clear, succinct, and to the point:  “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
 
            We are to listen to Jesus because he is God’s Son, and everything centers round him.  Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the full representation of God on earth.  Jesus is Savior, Lord and Master, Teacher and Healer.  He is all that, and more.  Jesus is the complete fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, and the one that will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus is the mid-point of history, the one whom we must listen to when he speaks and acts.
 
            Our identity, then, is to be fully bent, molded, and shaped in Jesus Christ.  This spiritual formation of our lives happens as we intentionally seek to be with Jesus, listen to him, and do what he says.  Jesus took the three disciples up on the mountain to experience his transfiguration in a prayer meeting (Luke 9:28).  Extraordinary things happen in prayer meetings.  The early church gathered often in prayer meetings, following the example of their Lord Jesus.  As they listened to God and responded to him (a rhythm of revelation and response), they saw Peter miraculously delivered from jail, ordinary people delivered from empty lives and demonic influence, and guidance into how to proceed as a church.  Prayer is as much about listening to God as it is talking to him.  It is in listening to God that we are filled with God’s Spirit and empowered to come down from the mountain and engage in God’s mission.
 
            There was something that Jesus wanted the disciples to discern on the mountain.  Jesus was changed in front of them.  Moses and Elijah showed up and talked with him about his “departure” which is literally his “exodus.”  Moses was the one who listened to God and led the people in a mass exodus from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.  Elijah was a prophet who listened to God and led the people out of centuries of idol worship and dead religion into the freedom of spiritual and national revival in Israel.  Jesus listened to the Father and came as the final and ultimate agent of freedom from sin, death, and hell.  Jesus came so that people can experience new life, a life of freedom, hope, peace, and joy.  Changed lives are God’s goal for us.  And a changed life will occur when we listen to God’s Son, learn from him, and lean into faith in him, all of which takes humility.
 

 

            Taking a posture of listening is a prerequisite to obedience, fruitful ministry, and success in the Christian life.  Creating the space and time for this to occur both individually and corporately through private devotions and public worship is a must.  In so doing, we may just clear away the distractions and encounter a transfiguration.