Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas: Self-Examination Time for Stewards

Christmas affords us a wonderful opportunity for self-examination. An opportunity to take inventory of our spiritual and material resources that, in turn, influence our outlook on life, our priorities as God’s stewards, and our hope for the future.

Temporally speaking, the arrival of Christmas near the end of the calender year causes us to reflect upon how well we have utilized the previous 12 months of the year. And yet, Christmas is close enough to January 1 to begin reflecting on our goals for the coming year. As we participate in our daily spiritual warfare of keeping “self” from Christ’s rightful throne of our hearts, we can find great encouragement in the message of Christmas. The Christmas season bids us to slow down and “take time” to meditate on what God has done on our behalf. When we stop in this way, we can hear God’s Word to us. The God of eternity stepped into the time-space world of Bethlehem to deliver us from the tyranny of ourselves and our pride, from our lust for power and “stuff,” and even from our failed efforts to “keep the law” as a means of producing our own righteousness.

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. -- Galatians 4:4-7 (The Message)

Jim Elliott, one of the young men who was martyred while taking the Gospel to the Waodani (Auca) Indians of Ecuador, suggested that one of Satan’s greatest fears is when believers allow time for quietness that fosters deep mediation and prayer. Dr. Al Mohler, in his 11/12/2010 entry entitled “The Glory of God and the Life of the Mind”, emphasizes the importance of quiet study and meditation in the development of a Christian worldview:

"Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection."

This Christmas season, we should especially value the quietness that was also valued by Mary whom the Scripture states on two different instances treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19; and see Luke 2:51).

As we ponder the deep significance of God’s entrance into Earth-time at Christmas, may we also realize that His entry as the Incarnate Christ was an entry into the material-spatial dimension of our personal human existence. In the midst of our enjoyment of Christmas trees and the nighttime dazzle of multicolored lights, may we take time to look high and beyond the nearby glow of man-made sparkles and urban lights and gaze into the vast array of stars and galaxies that pierce the dark sky above us. Amazingly, when the brightness of the nearest star gives way to the tiny points of light from billions of distant stars, we can sense more clearly the penetration of their light into the very depths of our soul. Here in the dim moonlight and starlight our souls are laid bare to the greater questions of life – Who am I? Is there anyone ‘out there?’ Or, ‘in here?’ Does God really exist, and if so, did He come to Earth seeking to save my soul?

Christmas lights and the splendor of the nighttime sky do not ultimately bring us answers to the deep questions of life. Indeed, many people we pass during the busy holidays are fearful of being alone in the quietness of the starry night sky. They have no personal relationship with the One Who created the Earth, other planets, and the stars. Many even resent those who believe in God and His Son Whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

According to the American Atheists Website “Statistics show that nearly 50 million Americans are atheists. Some use names like freethinker, agnostic or humanist to describe or modify their position, but atheism (the absence of a belief in a deity) is broad, and encompasses all those terms. If you don't have an active belief in a god, you're an atheist. It's a very good thing!”

The website goes on to state, “Millions of atheists are closeted, choosing to go along to get along, and feigning religion to their friends, family, and coworkers. American Atheists understands the pressure to fit in, but we maintain that for people to love you, they must know the real you.”

But atheism fails to provide an objective answer to the questions, “Who am I? Why am I here? What’s wrong? What can be done to ‘fix it’?” Thankfully, the Scriptures answer these questions with resoundingly clarity:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1, 14).

The atheistic and materialistic philosophy of naturalism claims that the natural world and the laws that guide it are the only reality, and science can and will eventually answer all of our questions. But the Bible counters with the clear revelation that

...since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:20-21).

The only hope for “foolish, darkened hearts” is the truth that the Eternal God pierced the darkness and stepped from eternity into Earth-space-time in the form of the Incarnate Christ, conceived by the Spirit of God and born of a woman. Thus, Deity took on the material substance of a human being and signified to us His love of the groaning, sin-cursed creation. The incarnation and the cross bridge the gulf between Heaven and Earth, between the spiritual and the material world. Through the redemption and reconciliation provided by Christ’s coming and sacrifice for our sins, the original sin that came through Adam’s abuse of God’s creation and rejection of his stewardship role (Genesis 3) is atoned for by the Second Adam, Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:22). Through faith in Christ, we remove “self” from the throne of our lives and allow Christ to reign. The reigning Christ redeems and reinstates us as stewards, not only of God’s creation here on Earth, but as stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Peter 4:10).

Christmas is a season to reflect on the incarnation of Christ, the message of God breaking into time and space of Earth, not to take [us] out of the world, but to keep [us] from the evil one (John 17:15). When the splendor of the night sky and the glow of Christmas lights shine on my face, do they reveal an expression that radiates the joy of Christ from deep in my heart? I hope so, for this is the joy that comes from the faith assurance that God does indeed exist. And, He is not only the Creator of the material world and the vast starry sky, but also the One Who gives dignity to my stewardship of His creation. A dignity that allows me to handle the “stuff” of the Earth in such a way that I can enjoy it without becoming soiled by excess; but instead, use it to bring glory to Him and draw others into faith in His saving Grace.

Additional Thoughts and Resources:

1. In what way does the Christian doctrine of the incarnation present a rigorous challenge to the philosophies of naturalism (natural world is the only reality) and major oriental religions (true reality is in the transcendent world)?

2. In what way does the biblical environmental stewardship ethic oppose the extremes of being so earthly minded that one ignores the transcendent reality of heaven; or, being so heavenly minded that one has no reverence or respect for the "natural world?"

3. For an additional reading on the importance of quietness, or silence, in the human experience, see another blog entry by Dr. Al Mohler entitled “‘Where Do All the Colors Go at Night?’ — Children and the Need for Silence”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tree Rings Record History

Early December finds us between two great holidays. Thanksgiving has just allowed us to reflect on the past year and give thanks to God for His provision to us. Looking forward, Christmas offers us the opportunity to turn thankful hearts toward the greatest reason for “thanks-giving” – the gift of God’s Son Who was born of a lowly peasant girl betrothed to a carpenter. As we remember the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, may His indwelling Spirit stir us in renewed hope for the coming return and reign of Christ, our Creator Who is already at work “to reconcile all things to Himself...whether things on Earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:20).”

Because God wants his people to remember His deeds and to be thankful, He has provided tools to help us to be remembering, thankful people. Thus, God has given most of us a memory– at least for the younger years of life. Because of the finiteness of human life and our limited capacity to learn and remember large amounts of information, our God-given creativity provides another tool for remembering. Many cultures have gone beyond oral tradition to record information on rock and cave surfaces, or on animal skins (parchments) or on paper made from plant fibers. The Hebrew tradition beginning at the time of Moses involved meticulous hand-copying of the content of God’s special revelation, resulting in the Old and New Testament Scriptures today.

Of major importance to recorded history are trees which provide pulpwood used to make paper. But there is a second way that trees are involved in recording information; namely, by their annual growth rings which provide a record of history that may extend backward for centuries. The examination of tree rings in Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines by Brunstein and Yamaguchi(1) have revealed individual trees that were over 2,400 years old. More recently, combining ring chronologies of living and fossilized tree trunks has attempted to extend the span of historic and ecological knowledge backward to over 4,000 years (2).

The science of dendrochronology utilizes the number and width of annual growth rings of trees to determine the ages of trees and forest communities as well as to infer climate trends and ecological impacts such as fire, insect attacks, and disease. Thus, the number and width of rings as seen in the cross-section (or hollow-bore drill samples) of tree trunks and branches provide an indication of each year’s effect on growth, for better or worse.

This past summer, Abby and I removed a large Colorado Blue Spruce tree that had begun to overtop our house and replaced the tree with a perennial garden. When the tree finally rested on the ground, we were greeted with an interesting chronology of its life displayed on the cut stump. I have photographed the stump and marked the chronology back to its first year of life, probably somewhere in a tree nursery. The photo and chronology can be viewed at “Silvius Tree Ring Timeline.”

As you can see from the photograph and the chronology of highlights, our family has experienced some of the same joys and trials as those of many other families. Throughout this time, the tree was steadily growing new wood each year, some years having more favorable growth and wider rings than others. During certain years, our family were forced to “branch out” into new challenges that affected us for years to come. Likewise, tree branches can be seen in radial patterns across the annual rings and they, too, require adjustments in growth of the tree trunk.

We understand that as the winds cause trees to sway and twist they also cause the tree to develop stronger wood in the trunk and branches. Although it is sometimes hard, a thankful family will also thank God for the challenging storms as well as the sunny days of life.

We have recorded only a few highlights of the past 35 years, but as our family grew physically, emotionally, and spiritually through the joys and trials, we have learned more about God’s grace, mercy, and loving kindness. Perhaps you will join us in looking back across time to thank God for His blessings in your life and family; and then, look forward to Christmas with hope and joy. Indeed, one of the main focuses of Christmas is the “Christmas tree” which reminds us of our Creator Who came to Earth as the Light of the World. During His early years, Jesus labored with wood in a carpenter shop. Then, his three years of public ministry ended when He willingly gave up his life as he “hung on a tree” bearing our sin to provide for our atonement with God.

Thank you God for your Word, inspired through your Holy Spirit, and recorded on paper by many different authors. Thank You for trees from which paper and many wood products are made. Thanks for their beauty and grace while they live, providing shade, protection from wind, and an annual growth of edible leaves and fruits to give food to mankind and many different creatures. Thank You also that trees can tower above us and cause us to see our own creations of towers and buildings in proper perspective. Finally, we thank You that many trees outlive us and remind us of our finiteness and dependence upon You our Creator and Savior. As trees “record” our history, may we see that history as evidence of Your work in our lives and families because we trust You as the giver of “every good gift that comes down from above.”

1 See Brunstein, F. C. and D.K. Yamaguchi. 1994. Arctic and Alpine Research 24(3): 253-256.

2 Web Article: Lorey, F. 1994. Tree Rings and Biblical Chronology. Acts & Facts. 23: (6).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Autumn Coloration and Economy of Creation

It’s the last day of October and probably the last Sunday afternoon in which to soak in the beauty of autumn coloration at our Midwest latitude and elevation. How beautiful the sugar maples and hickory trees were today as the afternoon rays filtered through their rustling yellow and golden leaves. While hikers, tourists, and artists enjoy the beauty of the autumn colors as green gives way to yellow, golden, and red, there is much more here than meets the eye.

Every Autumn season represents a major biological or ecological event in which millions of tons of leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs enter a transition that eventually leads to the familiar fall of autumn leaves. This marvelous phenomenon which is particularly striking in the temperate latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia, is a great example of how the created order of planet Earth, noted in our previous entry of Oikonomia (see Finding Purpose in the Created Order: Stewardship of Time), includes a provision for the survival and fruitfulness of the forest trees and shrubs.

Leaf coloration is an outward display of the internal physiological processes that are at work preparing broad, thin, delicate leaves to avoid the rigors of the cold, dry, winter air. Some plant species such as the pines and other conifers retain their leaves (needles) throughout the unfavorable season. In these plants, preparation for winter or drought involves more subtle changes such as development of antifreeze compounds in the needles and twigs. These changes enable evergreens to tolerate cold and dry conditions and allow the leaves or needles to gather the rays of sun to a limited extent in winter and then revive to full activity again in Spring.

Unlike the evergreen trees and shrubs, deciduous species prepare for the harshness of winter by more drastic measures. Each leaf is subject to something like an amputation, more commonly called leaf abscission by physiologists. But, what many observers do not know is that this preparation for winter in the temperate zone begins long before the cold temperatures of October and November arrive.

There are two reasons why cold temperatures themselves are inadequate to prepare trees and shrubs for winter. First, if trees and shrubs are not preconditioned or acclimated to freezing temperatures before they arrive, the freezing conditions will kill the leaves right on their branches. Second, as we can see from the unseasonably warm temperatures of this month, daily temperatures are too variable to be a reliable predictor of closeness to winter. Therefore, our questions must become, “How are trees and shrubs “alerted” to the fact that winter is coming, and how are the leaves prepared for abscission?

Although cold temperature can influence the processes of leaf coloration and abscission, the plants have a more reliable signal–the shortening daylength. Thus, the consistent laws of creation and especially the predictable relationships of planetary motion– the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, and the Earth’s rotation on its tilted axis–afford the trees and shrubs with a predictable pattern of decreasing daylengths such that leaves can be acclimated before cold temperatures arrive.

The fact that deciduous woody plants are programmed to respond to this “warning in advance” of the cold temperatures is a wonderful illustration of how our Creator uses the light of His Word to warn us of danger in advance. Indeed, by His grace, we are often warned repeatedly. Hopefully, we eventually will experience the tender but firm pulling of His Spirit to turn from our wandering tendencies to the safety of godly paths.

Another picture or metaphor of God’s created order is evident through what physiologists have revealed about the changes leaves undergo during their acclimation in response to shortening days of late summer. When we observe the first hint of leaf coloration, it is evidence that the green chlorophyll pigments are being broken down. Along with chlorophyll, many of the leaf proteins are also digested into soluble amino acids. Did you know that leaves can digest their own proteins? The resulting amino acids, soluble nitrogen (e.g. from chlorophyll), and other nutrient constituents of the summer leaf now become transportable. Guess what their destination will be?

Soluble products of pigment and protein digestion are transported from the now coloring leaf to the nearby woody twigs and branches where they will be stored in readiness for growth of new shoots and leaves when the buds begin growing in the spring. So, instead of simply allowing each leaf to abscise from its place on the branch, many of its valuable nutrients are “rescued” from the leaf and retained for use by the parent plant before leaves are lost. Some nutrients, including lots of carbon remain in the falling leaves and become nourishment for arthropods, earthworms, and microbes of the soil below.

We can see in this a marvelous “economy of creation” in which the woody plants retain access to nutrient building blocks while also preparing their leaves for abscission and leaf fall. At the same time the “rescue” of these nutrients is not so efficient or extreme that the leaves are of no food value for consumers in the soil below.

Thus, in response to predictable daylengths which are based on predictable laws of planetary motion, deciduous woody plants are prepared for the onset of cold temperatures through changes in their branches and leaves while at the same time allowing for the conservation of nutrients for future growth.

Thanks be to our Creator for His wisdom as evidenced through His provision of a mechanism to “forewarn” creatures of damaging temperatures as well as to allow conservation of valuable nutrients otherwise lost during leaf fall. May we as God's image-bearers exercise good stewardship of the light of His truth and wisely steward the resources He has loaned to us–our time, opportunities, talents, and natural resources.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding Purpose in the Created Order: Stewardship of Time

In a world faced with economic and political uncertainty and instability both within the borders of the USA and beyond, it is not unusual to encounter those who are striving to make sense and purpose out of the world. Who among us has not experienced the dark cloud of hopelessness and despair if even for a short season? Upon what can we rely for our sense of purpose?

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes states:
Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun?

Of course “the Preacher” eventually proclaims that the real world of meaning and purpose can be found when we realize what is “beyond the sun” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). But suppose we choose to deny that such reality exists “beyond the sun?”

British ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, denies the existence of supernatural reality. Indeed, he expresses a viewpoint and outlook that may be responsible for the widespread sense of hopelessness and gloom among many in our day. Dawkins states:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

I believe that our sense of purpose and hope is linked to how we perceive the universe. Do we see the universe as being the result of order, design, and purpose; or one that is random, chaotic, and amoral. If one accepts the Bible as authoritative, then its first book, Genesis, can provide a foundation for hope and purpose in life. In my experience, one way that Genesis encourages an outlook of hope and purpose is by its clear teaching that God acted in creation to bring about a world, or kosmos, that is bursting with order and purpose.

The account of creation is an account of how God created matter from nothing. Then He created order, form, and purpose from matter that apparently lacked order, form, and purpose (Genesis 1: 1-2. The subsequent purpose-driven acts of creation introduced order and form to energy-matter, time, and space. First, God separated light from darkness. Then, He separated the heavens from the earth; and He separated the land from the waters.

Then, God created distinct kinds of creatures and enabled them to reproduce according to their kind. Finally, He created mankind as a combination of the dust of the earth and the breath of God. His purpose in creating mankind was to show forth His nature and purpose within the created order as mankind would exercise dominion in a God-honoring manner. Each creature was “programmed” genetically to grow and reproduce under the control of an internal biological “clock” which could be set and reset in response to daily and seasonal cycles. Biological rhythms were possible because God had also ordered time into years based on what we now understand as the time of Earth’s revolution around the Sun; and , months based on lunar events, and days, based on Earth’s rotation.

Finally, God divided time into what we now call weeks of seven days. Unlike years, months, and days, weeks have no known basis to mark their duration in the physical realm. Instead, they are rooted in the purpose of God to institute a seven-day cycle of work and rest. God was the first to demonstrate this ‘cycle’ of a “six-day work week” followed by a day of rest (Genesis 2:1-3.

So, we find a spiritual and emotional “prescription for hopelessness and despair when we acknowledge and submit our lives to the cyclic rhythm of time that God ordained? Submission to a pattern of work and rest requires an act of the will. Can we deliberately stop what has been our focus for six days and say, “Enough.” Have we learned how to be arrested– to submit to God’s purpose that time be given to regular pausing as God did to see what He had done? [God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. Gen. 1:31]. Do we pause and reflect upon the work of our hands and minds, to express thanks to God for giving us the strength and ability to perform the work? If we do this, we are regularly reminded that even our ability to work comes from God; a God Who desires to fellowship with us through His Word and in prayer, and to give meaning and purpose to our lives “under the Sun.”

Dear God, the Eternal One Who has given order to the world around me, help me to live by the order and purposes that you have for my life. You have searched me an known me. You know when I sit down and when I get up again; when I am depressed and when I am joyful. Even before I was formed in my mother’s womb, you knew the number of days that were allotted for me. Help me to trust Your plan for the use of my days, both the days for work and that special day each week for rest and refreshment. Help me on those special days to take time in Your Word and in prayer; and to pursue You, the only one Who ultimately can infuse eternal blessing and, meaning, and purpose into my life. Amen.

In subsequent entries in Oikonomia, we will examine other aspects of God’s created order and how they each provide a framework for our growth and maturation as human beings. Your comments, insights, and questions are ever so welcome here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stewardship of Righteousness -- Part Two

In the previous Oikonomia entry, we considered the trend in which increasing numbers of evangelicals are responding to calls to care for God’s creation, or to the poor and powerless by taking a stand for “social justice.” Recently, creation care and social justice ministries have begun to merge into a more broadly integrated “environmental- social justice” movement in efforts to address issues formerly considered quite separate– climate change, affordable housing, immigration, and accessible health care.

We emphasized that Christian environmentalism and other forms of social activism need not be at odds with biblical evangelism. Indeed, Christian environmental stewardship can foster a biblical foundation on which to build a life and a home to be salt and light in a world that has lost its moorings and is adrift on the waves of moral relativism, economic materialism, and scientific naturalism. Yet, we need wisdom to “balance” between maintaining our individual spiritual disciplines while using our gifts and abilities to exercise influence at the community and institutional levels.

If we are to nurture a growing love and obedience to God, extend charity toward our neighbor, and exercise stewardship of God’s creation, I believe we need to adopt a “stewardship of righteousness” (see Oikonomia, June 30, 2010). Individually, we must work to keep the “spiritual fire of our hearts” burning if we are to be good followers and leaders in a corporate or social sense. With great humility and recognition of my own need of grace, I will note that we are not without examples of respected evangelical, environmental leaders who have ended up in moral and/or ethical bankruptcy.

So, how can I judge the intensity of the “spiritual fire within my heart?” Church attendance and service? Prayer life? “Amount of time spent reading the Bible? What others say about me? All of these may be expressions of righteousness, but let’s hear the psalmist speak from the fire of his love, devotion, and felt need of God:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God? – Psalm 42: 1-2

His “spiritual fire” is expressed not by his desire to “do the things of God; or for God” but by his desperate need for the presence God Himself. Elsewhere, we read the psalmists expression of his desire for God’s temple and the opportunity to worship:

How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. – Psalm 84: 1-2

Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God. – Psalm 43:4

My “stewardship of righteousness,” requires that I regularly “kindle afresh” (2 Timothy 1:6) the fire of the Spirit within me through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, and meditation in Scripture. As a result, the life of the Spirit within me stirs a yearning for God, for fellowship with His people, and for worship. These words from the psalmist are indeed inspired (“Spirit-breathed”) because they speak of the very desire of God in the person of His Spirit within us to be in communion with God.

Interestingly, as the psalmist expresses his longing for and need of God, he also notices that God’s welcome of him extends to His other creatures as well. Our Creator not only welcomes fellowship and intimacy with us, but His presence is also a place of welcome and safety for the sparrow of which God is mindful.

The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God. – Psalm 84:3

Could it be that when we practice the disciplines above to keep the “spiritual fire” of our heart burning for a growing desire and felt need of God in our daily lives that we gain an additional benefit? Might we also begin to see the creation, our families, our neighbor, the environmental and social needs around us as God sees them?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect on the above thoughts myself so that this inspiration may provide for me and for readers of Oikonomia the wisdom to be stewards of our gift of righteousness in Christ our Savior. Help us then to express this stewardship in our daily walk and service so that it will resemble more and more the walk of Christ as we see the world through His eyes. Amen.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Creation Care and Stewardship of Righteousness

Forty years ago this past April, I joined one of the first Earth Day gatherings and experienced the growing wave of interest in the “environmental movement” of the 1970's. Attention was focused on “pollution”, pesticides, population growth, and the politics of Vietnam and the cold war era. Many would agree that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) born in that era has had a positive role in reducing pollution and pesticides. The decades of the 1980's brought increased prosperity and an end to “the cold war.”

As the “walls came down” between East and West in Europe, and the economy began to ride the wave of computers and the internet, there was less concern about “the environment.” That is until scientists and politicians in the late 1980's began to turn our attention to what appeared to be a series of steadily increasing global temperatures. During the same period, Lynn White’s “Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” gained traction among some evangelicals because of his charge that Christianity was responsible for a growing “arrogance toward nature.” Some evangelical leaders and biblically literate scientists joined in significant discussions and wrote influential books and papers that emphasized the Christian’s responsibility to steward the Earth.

The growing visibility of the church in discussions of “the environment” in the 1990's caught the attention of astute politicians who recognized that their acknowledgment of Christian teachings could provide a powerful link to the value systems, and hence, the political will of the electorate. The seeds, not all bad, of the most recent “green movement” were planted and have since been warmed and watered by growing concerns about “climate change” and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Unlike the environmental movement of the 1960's and 70's, today’s movement has a large following in Protestant and Catholic churches who are aware of Christian responsibility toward God’s creation and toward the poor among us.

So, as we enter the second decade of the 2000's, and read of “global energy cap and trade” legislation, oil spewing in the gulf, and global economic woes, how are you doing as a “steward of the environment and in your exercise of “creation care?” Do you recycle? Is your church into recycling? Got your reusable cloth grocery bags? Drive a hybrid? Do you see connections between growth in Christian character and the discipline of rejecting materialism? Have you become more aware of the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, and been able to turn greater compassion into appropriate action?

Today, it is not uncommon to meet sincere Christians who are learning to apply biblical teachings of “creation care” to their decision making in regard to lifestyle, community actions, economics, and political persuasion. Many of the principles that influence our attitudes and actions have been discussed here in this blog. Indeed, as this writer and other more prominent writers have emphasized (see resources below), Christian environmentalism and evangelism need not be at odds. I believe Christian environmental stewardship can provide a solid biblical foundation on which to build a life and a home that can be salt and light in a world that has lost its moorings and is adrift on the waves of moral relativism, economic materialism, and scientific naturalism.

However, our exercise of environmental stewardship can easily be hijacked by those who, for one reason or another, do not have a commitment to biblical stewardship. The quality of our corporate efforts depends upon biblically committed leadership. If I am serving in a leadership role, I must first exercise stewardship of my individual relationship with God and my accountability to Him above all. That is, I must sanctify Christ as Lord in my heart (I Peter 3:15a) each day. In the words of Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, December 23), I must “Get alone with Jesus and either tell Him that [I] do not want sin to die out in [me]; or else tell Him that at all costs [I] want to be identified with His death.” When we surrender to God’s Spirit in the quietness of the morning, He sometimes lets us see “what we would be like if it were not for Himself; it is a justification of what He said - Without Me ye can do nothing." Here, in the morning with our Creator and Redeemer, we can evaluate our motives and our lifestyles – why we recycle, conserve energy, care about those who are poor both materially and spiritually. Then, we are ready to enter the new day and into the wider circles in relationships with our family, church, community, and government. With God’s help, we are ready to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us], yet with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15b).

The Gospel of the cross that saved us individually is the same Gospel that can keep us accountable before God in a “stewardship of righteousness” that we received under the blood of Christ’s cross. If we are to exercise lifestyle and leadership in “biblical environmental stewardship” amid the highly politicized winds and waves of “climate change,” “cap and trade”, and “environmental-social justice,” we must begin each day at the feet of the One Who created us and the Earth; and then, allowed us, in our sin, to drive the rusty, refined ore from the Earth through His hands and feet.

Lord of Heaven, and Creator of Earth, remind us daily that any righteousness (right-ness) that we possess is not our own but has been bought with a great price, the blood of Christ. Help us to exercise “stewardship of Your righteousness.” May we not speak pridefully as the Pharisee, who prayed thus to himself, God I thank You that I am not like other people [like the tax collector]. Let us rather pray like the tax collector: God be merciful to me, a sinner. May our lives in private and in the public arena be seen by You and others as covered in the righteousness of Christ. May there be an obvious and evident link between Your righteousness in us and the lifestyle and leadership we exercise before others. Help us to walk with You daily; and then, discern what is right living and use of the material, time, and opportunity that you entrust to us. Then, may we relate biblically with others and their strong passions for justice and right-ness toward the Earth and the “less fortunate” in a manner that reflects our Lord’s concern when He said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Amen.

Related Resources:
Creation Care and Christian Character
Creation Care– Doing It Our Way?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Keepers of the Earth and of Our Neighbor: “Social Justice” by the Informed, Teachable, and Just

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into the impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes– something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger itch; I thought because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view(1).

In this excerpt of his essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain”, Aldo Leopold articulates so well one of the convicting challenges that earned him the reputation as one of the principal environmental ethicists of the 20th century. But what made Leopold a giant in conservation biology was not his aim with a rifle. Rather, it was his “conversion” from an arrogant young proponent of the eradication of predators for the sake of better hunting grounds to a person who recognized that ecosystems must be viewed holistically and their complex food chains studied carefully as a basis for making good management decisions.

The “converted” Leopold saw the natural order as a “world of wounds” and recognized that humans needed more than an intellectual awareness to address the wounds. In His “The Land Ethic” Leopold (1) states: To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. (p. 214). No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions (p. 209). Although it appears that Leopold did not realize the scriptural foundation needed to fully develop his prescription for conservation, he recognized three important principles– (a) that the “natural order” (cosmos or creation) is a very complex and objective reality; (b) that the cosmos is worthy of our effort to understand it and conserve it; and, (c) that humans tend toward selfish, short-sighted behaviors which must be countered by moral and ethical restraint if we are to acquire the necessary awareness, “loyalties, affections, and convictions” for conservation to occur.

Across the ocean and several decades later, in the turbulent era of Vietnam and the Irish freedom fighters, John Lennon wrote the song, “Imagine” in which he invites us to

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Like Aldo Leopold, John Lennon saw a “world of wounds” but apparently did not understand the world (cosmos), the human responsibility to humbly decipher its workings, or the need for human moral and ethical restraints. Instead, Lennon “imagines” a world without political boundaries, one without anything worth dying (or living?) for, and without religion, and yet one that somehow has peace, no individual ownership (possessions), and a “brotherhood of man.” Like young Leopold who envisioned a “hunter’s paradise” by simply eliminating predators from the food chain, Lennon’s solutions are hopelessly naive and inconsistent with reality.

Interestingly, the official John Lennon website outlines the efforts now led by his wife, artist/ musician Yoko Ono Lennon, in cooperation with nonprofit organizations to fight hunger and poverty. I “cannot imagine” how a world without national governance, private ownership, and without moral and ethical restraints could usher in a peaceful brotherhood of man. Jay Richards, in Money, Greed, and God (Harper One) (2) refers to Lennon’s philosophy and asks, “Don’t Lennon’s words express the same sentimental delusions that inspired communism in the first place (p. 21)?”

We read in Genesis 2, following a summary of God’s creation of the cosmos, an account of the fundamental responsibility of man to keep the garden (v. 15). To accomplish this stewardship of creation, Adam was encouraged to study the created order so that he could understand his relationship to each creature and give names to them (v. 19-20). As a result of his understanding, Adam would be prepared to keep the garden and would also understand his need of relationship with one of his kind–woman (v. 21-25). Adam and Eve’s eventual disobedience of God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil led to the entry of sin into the heart of mankind and into the created order. Satan’s deception in the garden was targeted at the trinity of essentials we have been highlighting in this essay. First, he misrepresented God and His created order, then he distorted the human understanding of this order, which led to the corruption of moral and ethical restraints. Therefore, as those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, whether we wish to properly manage wildlife populations within ecosystems or work to bring relief to the poor, our approach must be based on knowledge of the created order and of the nature and spiritual need of man.

A century before John Lennon, England was, in the words of Andree Seu (3), “the worst of times. Ten percent of England’s population (3 million people) lacked the basics of food, shelter, and work. William Booth described government remedies as ‘well meaning, but more or less abortive attempts to cope with this great and appalling evil.” As Seu recounts, “Booth devised a strategy that was based on seven foundational principles. The first was that any plan for helping poor people must deal with the heart of man. Another was that the help must not cause further harm.” Booth was concerned that “Mere charity...while relieving the pinch of hunger, demoralizes the recipient...”

Booth founded the Salvation Army based on a proper recognition of the nature of man. He saw human beings as creatures needing foremost the reconciliation provided through faith in the blood of Christ. Booth also recognized that humans were created to participate as responsible stewards in the created order and from this participation they gain meaning, purpose, and dignity. According to Seu, “Booth and his helpers established institutions to rescue and provide immediate necessities and temporary employment and to teach godly principles of living. All of this was done in the midst of a raging public debate over political theories of welfare, and opposition from noise-makers of the “social justice” crowd who thought that charity was the government’s business.”

I believe there are lessons for us today in this brief account of such diverse characters as Aldo Leopold, John Lennon, and William Booth. From Leopold we learn the importance of understanding and respecting the complexity of the created order. Where removal of predators as enemies of hunters or ranchers had led to overpopulation of deer and elk, human efforts to save these populations from starvation and disease due to lack of food had little success. More recently, efforts to reintroduce predators reflects a maturing understanding of the complexity of ecosystems.

The best-laid plans of man often have, in a matter of speaking, a demoralizing effect on wildlife. For example, wild creatures such as the black bear that are allowed to become dependent upon human foods or scraps loose their independence and majesty and are, in a matter of speaking, demoralized. In a slightly different sense, the same can happen to well meaning attempts to help human beings. William Booth’s philosophy of providing a “hand up” rather than a “hand out” demonstrates the importance of providing “help” that affirms the dignity and responsibility of human personhood. Where John Lennon would have us “imagine” a world of peace, equality, and brotherhood, William Booth’s approach offers a practical and informed approach with proven results.

In these times of economic hardship, poverty, and political debate about how best to address the “world of wounds” both ecologically and socially, I believe more than ever, we must heed the Scriptures that teach us to honor our Creator and give thanks (Romans 1: 21). From this foundation and the inspiration of God’s Spirit within, we can be godly keepers of the creation through the understanding gained by “good science.” We can also be faithful keepers of “our neighbor” if we are guided by a biblical understanding of the nature of human personhood and an awareness that individual reconciliation with God through Christ is fundamental and foremost to any other acts of social responsibility toward our neighbor.
1 Leopold, A. 1949. The Land Ethic. In A Sand County Almanac, pp. 201-214. London: Oxford U. Press.
2 Richards, Jay. 2009. Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. HarperOne. New York, NY.
3 Seu, Andree. 2010. A profile in social justice. WORLD Magazine. May 22, page 79.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Earth Day – Keeping the Earth with an Eternal Perspective

This month marked the 40th annual Earth Day, first scheduled in April, 1970. On that first Earth Day, my wife and I had just celebrated the birth of our son, Bradley. The Earth Day emphasis that year challenged me as a young father to consider ways to keep the beautiful “blue jewel in space” from slipping into an inhospitable future; and instead, provide a planet on which our son and his generation could thrive. On the 40th Earth Day, I was privileged to participate in planting a tree in memory of a friend.

As the annual Earth Day has come and gone each year since 1970, efforts toward “Earthkeeping” or creation care have been increasingly bolstered by a better developed science of ecology and a better developed theology of Christian environmental stewardship. Evangelical Christians, for over a decade following the first Earth Day, were suspicious of those who called for the church to take the lead in caring for the Earth. Indeed, many such as Lynn White, Jr. went so far as to blame the Judeo-Christian teachings and practice for the environmental crisis.

Today, increasing numbers of evangelical Christians are learning to integrate their worship with their daily walk with acts of love, care, and benevolence toward their neighbor and on behalf of God’s creation in accordance with the dominion stewardship responsibility. To illustrate this concept, let’s return to my earlier mention of planting tree in memory of a friend on Earth Day.

For approximately 15 years until his death in 2009, it was my privilege to know Dr. Michael Horton, a beloved veterinarian and conservationist in Fairborn, OH. His passion was to restore and enrich landscapes for the benefit of soil, water, and creature conservation. To accomplish this goal, Dr. Horton motivated many volunteers over the years, including student groups from Cedarville University, other local universities, and various citizen organizations. to plant trees suited for landscapes needing restoration – wetlands, hillsides, disturbed areas, an such like. This Spring, Fairborn and surrounding communities enjoy the budding and blooming of thousands of trees due to his efforts.

And so, on this Earth Day, we gathered on the Cedarville campus with his wife, Marcia, her brother, several dear friends, and students of the Pro Terra Forma creation care organization to plant a lovely, 20-foot red oak in honor of Dr. Horton. After a brief dedication, and the shared act of shoveling soil around the tree, we gathered in a circle around the tree to offer a prayer of dedication. At that moment, I realized that we had expressed our faith at once in multiple dimensions.

First, we had connected the tree roots to a specific “place” in the soil of Earth from which water, nutrients, and anchorage would be provided so that this tree could grow mightily with its limbs lifted like arms and hands in praise toward heaven. Second, our planting effort was an act of faith in the Providence of God Who alone can cause growth of the tree through His provision of the essential components from soil and atmosphere.

The human action of planting and nurturing the tree, combined with God’s Providential supply of sunlight and water from above, makes possible a divine-human cooperative that may enable this red oak to grow into a massive specimen over the next century or more. Meanwhile, it brings joy and gladness to those who will gather beneath its branches.

Finally, as this tree grows and shades the plaque placed in memory of Michael Horton, we will be reminded not only of a dear friend, but we will recognize our smallness and finiteness. Trees remind us to “number our days” because they may live for centuries after our lives on Earth have ended. Thus, tree planting can be an unselfish act when completed with the intention of serving future generations. Furthermore, trees serve the rest of creation through absorption of carbon dioxide, pollutants, dust, damaging winds, and unwanted sounds.

Acts of creation care take on eternal significance and become acts of worship and faith when combined with a servant spirit toward our friends, neighbors, and the Earth. And with the psalmist, we can exclaim:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the LORD, for He is coming,

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

And the peoples in His faithfulness.
– Psalm 96:11-13

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tending to Eden: This Reader's Review

Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People
by Scott C. Sabin (Judson Press, 2010)

While our attention is still drawn to the ravages caused by the January, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, it is very timely that a book has just been released by Judson Press, entitled Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People, by Scott Sabin. Although the earthquake has caused untold suffering and death, it is only the latest episode in a longer and larger story of the injustice, poverty, and the spiritual and physical hunger that is a subject of this new release.

Haiti is simply the most obvious example of what Scott Sabin describes as the result of broken relationships that need healing. These relationships are the human relationship to God, to neighbor, to ourselves, and to God’s creation. Tending to Eden is a very personal account of Scott Sabin’s growth in grace and knowledge of God’s calling to invest his life on behalf of the hungry, supported by his understanding of the theology of environmental stewardship, and capped by practical suggestions for readers and their churches who want to add a living demonstration of the gospel to their proclamation of it.

Since acquiring Tending to Eden earlier this week, it has become more than just another addition to my small library of books on Christian environmental stewardship. Although I have not met Mr. Sabin in person, it’s as if I’ve already met “Scott” through his transparent communication– demonstrating not only a passion for God, for His creation, and for God’s people, but also a challenge to awaken to God’s call to love Him and their neighbor through participation with the Spirit in bringing forth “the justice, hope, and peace of Christ to the world.”

My acquaintance with Scott began in Chapter 1 when he introduced himself as a “typical evangelical from the U.S. suburbs, [who] had grown up in the church and accepted Jesus at summer camp.” Then, during a short-term mission trip to Guatemala, Scott realized that his faith was “personal but not particularly relevant to the problems of the world.” Like many of us whose hearts have been stirred by a short-term missions trip, he came home with a passion to make a difference.

Scott recounts his first action, “volunteering for Plant With Purpose, simply because it was the Christian anti-poverty organization closest to my home. Mine was a humble beginning: stuffing response cards into envelopes and calling donors.”

Today, Mr. Sabin is executive director of Plant With Purpose, “a nonprofit Christian environmental organization with operations in seven countries.” In Scott’s words, the aim of Plant With Purpose is “to restore our world so that it looks a lot more like Eden and feels a lot less like hell.” Under his leadership, the organization’s projects focus on planting trees to address deforestation, a root cause of poverty.

By now, you may be asking, as I did, “What does tree planting on earth have to do with the Great Commission to which we are called to present the gospel to those who will otherwise miss heaven and be lost for eternity?” Scott’s faith and approach is based on Old Testament teachings such as that of Isaiah whose message was read centuries later by Jesus Christ when He came to set His people free through His incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to
preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set
the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18)

“God’s Word is clear on what we must do for our light to shine in the darkness. The good news must be shared by demonstration as well as proclamation (italics added). Isaiah 58:10 sums it up (Sabin, page 7):

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

But doesn’t this sound like “social gospel” or “social justice” repackaged into the “green movement?” Sabin explains how this concern has a long history (pp. 8-9):

“...the call to justice has always been problematic. The Israelites to whom Isaiah spoke missed it. At the time of Christ, the most religiously observant missed it. The early church missed it. We too are prone to miss it. There is a pitfall on the opposite extreme as well: forsaking the proclamation of the gospel even as we get the demonstration of it right. The “social gospel” movement of a century ago emphasized justice at the expense of evangelism. In reaction, many evangelicals shrank from mercy ministries and are only now beginning to recover from that rejection.

Demonstration and proclamation must be as one, or we rob Christ’s message of its vitality...Some have called these the two hands of the gospel, but...Gustavo Crocker, former director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, compared them more accurately to two wings that must work together in order to be effective (p. 8-9).”

In outlining his application of the “two-wings metaphor”, Sabin insightfully states (p. 67):

“We want to give the poor bread and water. But as life-giving as agricultural produce and clean water are, this is not the best we have to give. It would be a shame if we gave only the manna that
is gone after a day, when it is in our power to offer the true bread of Jesus. By the same token, making disciples is not the principle reason behind the development work we do. Once our efforts become a means to an end, even an end as good as this, they become disingenuous. I do not feed, clothe, and educate my children so I can share the gospel with them. I feed them, clothe them, educate them, and share the gospel with them because I love them.”

Other readers may question why they should support “environmental restoration” projects when there are more pressing needs such as illegal border crossing, urban squalor, and human trafficking. Sabin addresses this question by emphasizing the need for what he calls “upstream thinking” (p. 96):

“Unless we practice upstream thinking—looking at root causes rather than merely symptoms—it can be easy to miss the connections between tropical deforestation and migration, illegal immigration, and human slavery. We have to work through several steps to see how one seemingly minor problem—deforestation—can contribute to an injustice as ugly as sex trafficking. Yet we must.”

Thank you, Scott, for sharing your personal testimony and the ministry of Plant With Purpose; then, giving your readers a theological basis for environmental stewardship, practical illustrations, resources for small-group Bible study, and practical applications that demonstrate how the gospel can be and is being proclaimed through proclamation and demonstration.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Creation Care Consistent with God’s Economy

The winter of 2010 will be remem- bered for its prolonged coldness and deep snow cover which has provided extra challenges for humans and other creatures. Thus, at our home in a small “forest island” surrounded by agricultural landscape in southwestern Ohio, we observe a large variety of nonmigratory songbirds and other winter-active creatures who find food and shelter in our forest edges– e.g. cardinals, black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and fox squirrels.

Because of the availability of natural sources of food, I have traditionally restricted bird feeding to periods of extended snow cover and cold. Instead of a regular “food handout” at a feeder, I have chosen to develop a landscape with numerous and varied sources of winter food for wildlife. At our forest-edge location, we have many perennial herbs, a prairie plot of grasses and forbs, unharvested crop plants, and trees and shrubs that have seed-bearing fruits as sources of food for seed-eating birds and other wildlife. Squirrels have access to acorns as well as hickory nuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts. The live tree trunks of shagbark hickory, ash and oak, as well as fallen logs afford bark crevasses and coverings from which woodpeckers and other insectivores can extract morsels of food.

However, on this February day, two experiences persuaded me to provide extra feed for the birds. First, near sundown as I hiked across the crisp, deep snow of a nearby cornfield, I could feel the cold fingers of the winter air reaching inside my coat to pull heat from my body. This feeling of intense cold sensitized me to the challenge of the songbirds. So, as I hiked toward our warm house, I sensed (or imagined) a bit more urgency in the sounds of late-afternoon chirps and the fluttering of songbirds as if to make appeal to me for a “food handout.” The experience of penetrating coldness combined with the sight of delicate winter birds convinced me to provide some food for them on this day.

Just the thought of how feathered and furry, warm-blooded creatures survive the cold of winter is an invitation to wonderment. Indeed, how could I survive in isolation from the interlocking economic and industrial grids that provide heat, water, food, transportation, etc. But the Creator, being rich in wisdom and mercy has made provision for both man and the other creatures in His great “Economy.” (The capital “E” was aptly used by Wendell Berry in his Home Economics essay entitled “Two Economies”(North Point Press, 1987)). This Economy demonstrates true “creation care” as only our Creator can. The psalmist pours praise to God for His Economy when he writes:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The LORD sustains all who fall
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
And You give them their food in due time.
The LORD is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth. – Psalm 145: 13-15; 17-18

Here we learn that God’s provision is everlasting, governed by the Righteous One Whose dominion sustains both mankind and other creatures. This Economy is much more complex than the “economy” that generates packaged bird seed and BTU’s of heat for our homes. The Creator’s provision extends to all creatures in a seamless manner:

You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing. – Psalm 145:16

In the sciences of ecology and physiology, we are learning the intricate mechanisms of how plants and animals are equipped with molecular “clocks” that interact with the rotation of the Earth to tell the time of day and thus control daily cycles of activity and rest. These clocks also interact with changing daylength to set in motion hormonal changes that orchestrate such processes as migration and hibernation. Thus, both the inspired revelation of Scripture and the “book of creation” speak of our Creator’s provision for all creatures.

What does God teach us through His Economy of provision to every living thing in such wondrous ways? First, the Scripture teaches us that God owns creation while we are the stewards (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). As stewards, we must learn the workings of God’s Economy and humbly work within its laws and processes. In Deuteronomy 7:13 we have God’s promise to Israel that if they will reverence and obey God’s law, He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground… Throughout Scripture, God promises that He will keep those who keep His laws, including the laws governing the Sabbath for man and for the land.

In Leviticus 25: 2-7, God emphasizes that the Sabbath is not only for the benefit of mankind but also for livestock and for the wild creatures. Here, we see God’s invitation to humankind to be obedient stewards of the land. By obeying the Sabbath laws, they can serve in harmony with God’s open hands to every living thing (Psalm 145:16). God’s command which stated that your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather (v. 5) reveals a profound understanding of sustainable use of the land. This instruction was to conserve the soil, crops, and wildlife, a principle that we are just beginning to grasp.

In summary, any compassionate effort on my part to care for the creatures at our forest edge must respect the laws of God’s Economy as taught in Scripture and revealed in creation through proper study of the science of ecology. Our example of bird-feeding serves as a metaphor for our participation in the larger Economy of God. Simply filling a birdfeeder while ignoring the need to restore and protect wildlife habitats for shelter and nesting is not “creation care” either biblically or scientifically. On the other hand, planting patches of seed-bearing plants for wildlife in winter, or allowing some crop plants to stand unharvested will provide food, habitat, and shelter for many bird species as well as allow natural predation upon the songbirds without making the birds “sitting ducks” at a birdfeeder.

As Christian stewards we are called to be a caring people both toward God’s creation and toward our neighbor. In every case, “biblical care” must respect the larger Economy in which the subjects are involved. If we simply extend “handouts” to the poor and needy, or to songbirds without considering the larger context of their need, we could be doing more harm than good. Both birds and humans can become dependent and degraded when the focus of care is misplaced. Our attempts to restore both the brokenness of the creation and the brokenness of human families and communities must be guided by a humility and knowledge that recognizes the complexities of each within an Economy that runs by a larger hand than ours– the very Hand of God. May our hands offer real “care” both to our neighbor and to other creatures by approaches that are biblical and in harmony with His sustaining hands for His glory.

Websites on Care for Our Neighbors and Care of Creation:

Care of Creation – Pursuing a God-Centered Response to the Environmental Crisis
Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO)
Establishing a Wildlife Food Plot – from The Ohio State University
Floresta – Ministry of Healing of Land and People
Flourish – Reviving Lives and Landscapes
Urban Light Ministries – Serving God by Serving Children, Families, the Hurting and Hungry in Jesus' Name
Closed Door Ministries -- Assisting a Few, to Disciple Many, to Reach Millions

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Creation Care– Doing It Our Way?

Ever get caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Can you remember that moment when you new that you were caught ‘red-handed?’ I’ll never forget an incident at my great aunt’s home. I had just sampled a chocolate drop from her candy jar without asking. Swallowing the sweet candy made me choke, and the cough brought my aunt into the room. There we were – the open candy jar, my great aunt, and me with my telltale cough.

How about you? Were you caught ‘red-handed?’ Tell-tale chocolate or crumbs on your face? And what was your first reaction to being caught? I wanted to hide, but instead my mind began to serve up excuses and explanations. Oh, I had a large inventory of useful responses.
“I didn’t mean to do it!”
“She told me to do it.”
“I didn’t see anything wrong with having a taste.”
“I’ll make up for it.”

Sound familiar? Since that time, I’ve learned just how much like my father, Adam, I am. We share not only an unbroken connection through our DNA but also an unbroken record of selfishness, pride, and desire for power. In short, like Adam and Eve, we want to have it our way:

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was desirable to make one wise,
she took from its fruit and ate;
and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. Genesis 3: 6-7

Adam and Eve hid in the garden among all the flowers and trees that God had provided to be freely enjoyed. Indeed, they had walked in the garden with their Creator, and now they recognized the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). God came this time, not for another pleasant time of fellowship with His image bearers, but to begin the restoration process as a righteous Judge, beginning with the discipline and instruction that was now needed as a result of the first human disobedience.
It is instructive for me to consider how “my father, Adam” responded when his Father asked that penetrating question, “Where are you, Adam?” Adam knew everything had changed. He felt exposed, naked, shameful, fearful– all new feelings. But, he also chose to “do it his way” to solve the problem. He would cover himself and his wife with green leaves stitched together; and, they would hide.

God had a different solution. His answer to our depravity involves a costlier and messier extraction from His creation than detaching a few green leaves. Instead, animals must bleed and die, serve as a sacrifice for sin, and foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice, the human sacrifice of God's only Son, Jesus Christ.

Here we have not only the first instance of sin, but the first instance of humans wanting to solve the problem by “doing it our way.” Indeed, the biblical account of human history and recorded history since the first century church is a story of fallen mankind, caught repeatedly with a hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. But rather than owning up and seeking to restore fellowship with their Creator, humans have sought to follow Adam’s example–“doing it our way.” Green leaves instead of red blood spilt in order to provide the costly atonement for sin.

Today, there are many worthwhile projects in our neighborhoods that serve our fellow man and benefit the environment. But, I wonder if, like Adam, we have the cart before the horse. What good deeds are we doing that are like “stitching green leaves together” when all the while, we need to respond to God’s question, “Where are you?” If we are really hiding behind the flowers and trees of the Earth, even through acts of “creation care”, shouldn’t we come out of hiding, turn from our wicked ways, and accept the reconciliation of Christ, purchased with His blood on the cross.

I’ve insisted that creation care need not be a distraction for Christians who are called to live out the Great Commission, God’s pursuit of lost souls headed for eternity apart from God. See "Christians and Creation Care." But, knowing how I respond to being frequently caught “red-handed” in sin, I wonder if there is a proper order we must follow as those who are concerned about stewardship of God’s creation. Perhaps we should “stop on red, before going on green.” At least, this seems to be God’s plan in Scripture. What do you think? Can you think of other instances in the Bible in which human ingenuity and “doing it our way” was repulsive to God? Stay tuned, and feel free to respond with your insights.