Experiencing God in Nature

Recently I was a part of a survey that asked a single question, “When do you feel closest to God?” I understand it is a subjective question. Whenever you ask about people’s feelings, that doesn’t mean you are going to find the truth, but you will gain insight into what is going on inside of people. This time the number one response was overwhelming, “When I am in nature.” People clearly felt they connected to God more when they were outside in his creation.

As an avid outdoorsman, I understand what people are saying, but I also wondered why this phenomenon occurs. I want to suggest a few reasons this type of thinking exists, some are positive, and some are negative.

  1. Creation is the handiwork of God. Popular teaching may suggest that the world is the result of random chance, but in our hearts, we find that hard to believe. There is too much beauty and wonder in the world. The heavens declare the work of God’s hands.
  2. It is easier to see the hand of God away from man-made things. It is hard to see God inside of buildings, even the most majestic. No artist can truly capture the colors and beauty of a sunrise, no matter how skilled. When we move away from these lesser creations, God’s presence is clearly seen.
  3. Many people feel trapped. There is a sense of freedom that comes from wide-open spaces. Many people, like myself, work in an office, inside of a building. Our lives are surrounded by brick and mortar. We need the freedom of fresh air and the absence of human activity.
  4. People are complicated and confusing. Frequently our most meaningful outdoor experiences are with only a couple of people we enjoy or totally alone. When we go to a Church setting to encounter God, there are people. People bring with them their sins, flaws, and issues. Often it feels better to be away from others to see the purity of faith.
  5. It is a passive way to see God. Seeing God in nature requires that I do nothing besides be outside. I do not have to read and think. I do not have to sing and pay attention. I do not have to work through my emotional issues with others. All I have to do is be. In a world that is rushing everywhere, and our overloaded schedules, we enjoy anything that doesn’t require effort on our part.
  6. We can use it to justify recreation. Our culture puts a high value on enjoyment. We live for the weekend, and when we can connect God to something we want to do, then all the better. Here is usually how it goes; someone tells me that they love going to the lake on the weekend because they feel close to God there. My question is, “Did you go to experience God, or did you go to spend time with the family in the boat, and God was an added bonus?”

I believe the way our society is progressing there is going to be more and more talk about God in nature. Here are a few of the reasons I think this movement is happening. I would love to hear your thoughts. Just don’t forget that God is not limited by our feelings. The instruction of scripture is that God reveals himself in his world, his worship, and his people. We must not neglect other areas of experiencing his presence and focus on nature alone.

There is No Perfect Church

One of the pleas of our group of Churches from the beginning is to restore the Church to its original form. While I like the idea, because there were many wonderful things about the Church as it is revealed in the New Testament, it also had problems. It may be hard to believe, but the group of believers who immediately formed after Jesus left and who were led by the apostles, had issues. The list of their struggles in faith is detailed in almost every book of the New Testament.

-Some of them did not believe Jesus rose from the dead.
-A couple of people lied about their offering and died in Church.
-A group of believers was neglected in the Church giving, and they complained about another group.
-It was tough to allow the Gentiles into Church, and many would not believe it.
-There were doctrinal struggles about how to handle the Old Testament.
-Church leaders had disagreements.
-Faith as the means of salvation was a difficult concept for some to accept.
-One Church had a guy who left his wife and moved in with his stepmom in a sexual relationship.
-The Church in Corinth had a division between the rich and poor at communion.
-Some leaders believed they were superior to Paul, and he was not worth listening too.
-Ladies were fighting in their meetings.
-Another Church seemed to have people who did all kinds of crazy things in worship.

The list could go on and on. The book of Acts details problem after problem with the Church on every page. Each one of the letters was written to address at least one issue and sometimes multiple difficulties. The book of Revelation has letters written to the believers in seven Churches, and most of them are not doing well.

What fascinates me about this, through all their problems, the Church continued to grow and spread. People were willing to suffer for their faith and even die. There are only a handful of accounts of people leaving the community of faith, even with all its problems. They saw the positive in what they were trying to accomplish despite all the issues. Those believers trusted God and knew they needed to work through their differences for the good of the Kingdom of God.

I tell you this because I see so many people today leaving the Church. They tell me it has too many problems. Many of them can detail one bad experience or one lousy leader. Things get a little messy, and they leave. I am here today to tell you that the Church has never been perfect. It was not without problems in 65 AD, and it still has some of the same struggles today.

And believe it or not, that is okay. The Church is a group of people who are working out their faith together. Even with all its warts, ugliness, and issues the Church at its heart is full of people who love Jesus and are trying to follow him. There is no place like it on earth. NO PLACE. So, hold tight, don’t give up, keep improving, and who knows what God will do both in us and through us in the name of Jesus.

The Bible as a Toolbox

One project for the Christian to do is understand what the Bible says. Then comes the work of figuring out how we use what we find in its pages. Recently someone said a line that made me think of a new analogy. The Bible might be best understood as a toolbox

  1. A Toolbox Does Nothing by Itself. You can own the biggest, best, most expensive toolset in the world, but that does not mean you are skilled at using any of the items inside. Similarly, owning a study Bible, Bible app, or software does not mean anything.
  2. You Must be Trained to Use the Tools Properly. I remember looking through a skilled mechanics toolbox at a job I had once, and he would explain to me how each one worked and why it was essential to own. It would have been challenging to pick them up and use them without guidance. We must learn how to handle the scripture properly.
  3. The Right Tools Must Be Applied to The Right Situation. A skilled worker knows when to use what tool. Through years of practice and experience, they have learned which tools are best used to accomplish the task. In the same way, we must learn how and when to apply the passages of scripture. It takes knowledge and skill to bring maximum effectiveness to broken situations.
  4. Not All Tools Work in All Situation. A wrench that removes your oil filter is no help when changing a tire. An Old Testament passage may have great lessons but is little help in a discussion of New Testament principles. One skill a Bible reader must learn is when to apply and when not to use specific passages.
  5. You Can Use the Wrong Tool. Have you ever used a screwdriver when you needed a chisel or a paint can opener? Just because a tool seems to fit, that may not mean it was designed to be used for that task. The Bible has many good things to say, and some will seem to apply when, in reality, it is a misuse of the truth.
  6. Misusing a Tool Can Hurt Yourself and Others. A torch might be an incredibly handy tool in a mechanics workshop, but you keep it out the reach of children. They could take something that is meant for good and use it for evil. The word of God is the same way; misapplication can hurt yourself and others.
  7. Some Tools Are More Valuable Than Others. A set of screwdrivers, a hammer, a wrench, and a handful of other tools seem to be used every day. While all tools have a use, some are used repeatedly. Also, I want people to know all their Bible, but some passages will be used daily, and others are for when special needs arise.
  8. Even Though There Can Be Issues, Everyone Needs Tools. I once knew a lady who had a pink case with all her tools. She was no mechanic or carpenter, but even simple jobs sometimes require a tool. You can say, “I don’t read,” and try to ignore the Bible, but everyone needs at least a minimal understanding of what it teaches. You cannot avoid it.

You get the idea. Here are a few of the ways the Bible fits the analogy of a toolbox. You may be able to think of others and add them to my list. Yes, there are some ways it does not fit; all analogies break down at some point. I hope this gives you an image that helps you understand the necessity and importance of knowing that the scripture says.

Grace In All Its Forms

My thoughts about the work of Jesus are grounded in the idea of grace. Grace is an unearned gift or unmerited favor. God sends his son as the embodiment of grace to his people. He shows us what grace looks like; he teaches us about grace, and ultimately, he dies as the centerpiece of grace. God’s salvation is by grace first to last through the work of Jesus Christ.

This is what I believe, and this is what I teach and preach in the Church I lead.

Then one day, I am reading the writing of Peter to the Church. This was a guy who knew grace. He had denied even knowing Jesus and yet Jesus still wanting him to be his disciple. If anyone had some deep insight into the masterwork of grace, it would be Peter, so it intrigues me when he writes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10 – NIV 2011)

Peter describes grace as having different forms. That does not seem to fit my primary understanding of grace unless I begin to define it in more expanded terms. Grace is better explained as God’s generosity to us. By that definition, Peter says that grace can come to us and others in various forms. The context of his words refers to praying, hospitality, speaking, and serving. Those are just a few examples of how God’s generosity is expressed.

It is an essential understanding to know that God’s grace not only flows to us but through us. That does not mean that we ignore sin and ungodly behavior. That means that we use our voice, our strength, our experience, our hands, and our energy to show people the goodness of God. We do things that show people grace personified.

May this week and this holiday season be a time where you not only experience grace, but you are a conduit of it to other people, in all its forms.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles and posts I have read the last month or so. I hope they bless you as they have blessed me.

Good News! God Does Not Love You Unconditionally – I found this article to be a very interesting insight.

Inside America’s Largest Religious Revival You Know Nothing About – This article is a mixture of satire and truth about youth sports. Incredible insight.

Six Ways Pastors Struggle: You Are Not Alone – Yes

ISN’T IT TIME FOR A NEW MISSION STORY? – This is about Francis Chan’s decision to be a missionary and it is very thought-provoking.

Seven Things I Lost Because of Church Growth – It will cost members several things if we are going to reach more people for Jesus.

Carried By Prayers

She said, “I pray for you regularly.” I stopped in my tracks and was humbled in my spirit. I responded by saying, “I can’t thank you enough.”

I truly meant that sentiment. I cannot thank people enough who have prayed for me. This is true as a pastor, but it is more valid as a person. My life of faith has been carried on the prayers of others.

The prayers of others have kept me from trouble, led me down the right path, and opened doors through the power of God. Their influence has been present in the mistakes of my youth, the decisions during my young adult years, and the difficulties of married life.

I cannot explain precisely how prayer works, but I know that God has done amazing things in my life that cannot fully explain. There were moments where I am sure I did not pray enough, and yet he responded. I assume it is because others were people praying for me all along the way.

My parents prayed for me. The Church I grew up in had several people praying for me. Sunday School teachers prayed for me. Youth sponsors, leaders, and ministers lifted me up to God in their prayers. Friends have prayed for me. I know a college professor who has prayed for me once a week for the last 25 years. My wife prays for me. People in my past and present congregations continually mention my name to God.

Today I want to thank everyone who has ever said a single prayer on my behalf. I am where I am today because of you.

I also want to encourage you. Someone is praying for you. I know they are. Your parents, siblings, preacher, co-worker, friends, and even people who barely know you are seeking God’s will on your behalf. They are asking God to work in your life, protect you, bless you, strengthen you, and whatever else you need.

Part of your life is the result of your decisions, and another part is the direct result of God’s sovereignty. The second part is carried along by people who have decided to pray on your behalf. For those moments they spend before God, I am truly thankful, and I hope you are too.

Who You Spend Your Time With

Almost all your biggest regrets in life were connected to other people.

Someone talked you into doing something against God’s will.
Someone convinced you to take a risk, and you should not have made it.
Someone led you down a path of personal destruction.
Someone gave you bad advice, and you should never have taken it.
Someone opened up and connected with you, who was not your spouse.
Someone became friends with your kids, and they were a negative influence.
Someone lied, cheated, took advantage of, misinformed, failed, and hurt you.

The list is long of the pains we have experienced with and through other people.

Go ahead and walk your mind through all your regrets and see how they were intimately tied to another person or group of people.

This is why Solomon says in the book of Proverbs, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Prov. 13:20)”

What you do is deeply connected to who you spend your time with each day. Your journey with them is either leading you closer to a wise Godly life or in the direction of a fool.

Who will you spend time with today?