Creation Care: A Modest Manifesto –

I’m in the mist of preparing to a preach a sermon this weekend about God’s lavish love as revealed in His provision through creations beautiful and abundant gifts.  I’m privileged to see these gifts often because of where I live.  Just today, on a bike ride to and from the grocery store, there was a light show in the sky, painting the already vibrant trees in ever changing of hues of light.  Nearly everywhere I looked, people were taking pictures of the sky and trees. Just a few snowflakes fell, and we could, all of us, see each others breath as we made our way through the city on foot and bike.  And, it seemed, we were all content.

Meanwhile, there’s a drought in Africa, and Dengue fever is on the rise in central America, more rapidly than ever.  It’s also true, undeniably, that there’s more carbon in the atmosphere than there’s ever been, and that we’re filling the air with carbon because of the way we burn energy.  Good scholarship, from people who aren’t getting rich on the subject, can be found here.  Rick Perry, and all his co-candidates can say “nobody knows why there’s more carbon in the air”, but that’s sort of like telling a drunk that his blood alcohol count needs further investigation because the link between the alcohol in his glass and the alcohol in his blood  hasn’t been proven.  Meanwhile, shorelines erode, floods destroy houses, crop yields decline, pests destroy forests, insurance rates rise as hurricane season begins earlier.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

It’s time to recover our ancient calling as priest of the Lord’s temple, which is the earth (see last Sunday’s sermon, or John Walton’s book).  When we do, we’ll realize that we have a calling, as the image bearers of God to reflect God’s love, care, and provision for all the creatures of the earth.  That’s what dominion means.  Sure, the church has failed to realize this during various times through history, confusing domination with God’s stewarding view of dominion.  I’ll talk a bit about our historic failures in a coming sermon,  but whatever – those failures are in the past.  I’m much more interested in the way forward.  How can we recover our calling as stewards, caring for the earth as those who are created in the image of God.  Many people have helped shaped my thinking here, so I claim nothing as my own.  But here are some values that I believe must be foundational for our daily living if we’re to care for the earth properly.

1. STEWARDSHIP – Say I buy the cheapest coffee.  That makes the most sense in a capitalist society, at least to many people.  After all, Adam Smith suggested that everyone, acting in their own self interest, will create markets that will increase the prosperity of the whole. Buying cheap encourages competition and productivity.  Adam would be proud. But when I do that, I encourage the destruction of rain forests (because by cutting them down, the grower can increase yields, and therefore profits – again a great self-interest move).   But these rain forests inhale carbon and exhale oxygen, which is a way of saying that all those trees are very, very good for our earth, and hence for all God’s creatures, and cutting them down ultimately harms us all.   A few more pennies, and I buy shade grown coffee, and that encourages people to grow a little less coffee, but spare the trees.  This is just one example of stewardship, but let’s extend it out to and ask each day: what can we do to care for our earth? There are endless little things:  Walk.  Turn the heat down.  Compost.  Buy local.  Take public transport.  Light a couple candles, and eat dinner with that light.  Skip TV sometimes and talk instead.  All this isn’t just good for the earth, it’s good for you, your relationships, good in every way.

2. JUSTICE- Say I buy the cheapest coffee.  That means that I buy beans that were purchased by a buyer who blew in and offered a ‘take it or leave it’ price, based on the price of commodities traders in America.  Because of competition, some of these pickers are the victims of terribly injustice, just so we can enjoy the cheapest possible coffee.  It’s time for this to stop.

That’s why there are people devoted to fair trade coffee, and other items as well.  They’re concerned that we who are already wealthy not enslave the growers and pickers by our inherent greed, and desire to save a few pennies.  After all, “doing justice”, is one of only three things that God asks of us.  Surely we can work at taking this seriously.

3. CONTENTMENT – Let’s say I don’t buy the cheapest coffee.  I buy fair trade, shade grown, organic.  WOW!  I might not be able to have as much coffee.  Do you know what that might mean?  My addiction will be revealed.  I’ll need to drink a bit less, and that might even mean I’ll need to sleep a bit more.  I’ll need to stop trying to be the Messiah, stop trying to do everything, be everything.  This has actually happened.  I’ve cut back on coffee, because I’m tired of living in overdrive.  My commitment to buying honest coffee that makes the world a better place means I buy less coffee anyway.  I sometimes want more than I consume, but I’m learning, in this simple area, some things about contentment.

This is a great lesson for me.  I don’t need a bigger TV, or an X Box.  I need friends, laughter, walks in the woods, genuine intimacy with my spouse and God, good conversations, prayer.  I need healthy food.  I need to give stuff away without fearing that I won’t have enough for my future.  I need to be creative, by writing, skiing, climbing, cooking.  I need laughter.  And here’s the newsflash, none of these things cost money.

We’ve been trying to fill the voids in our souls with stuff, and the real fact is we can’t afford to do that anymore.  Our credit cards can’t afford it; our landfills can’t afford it; our forests can’t afford it.  Let’s find contentment in what God has given us – because what God has given us is very good.

4. GENEROSITY - “Consumerism isn’t about giving and receiving; it’s about desiring and buying” (Mark Powley).  We are, many of us, a little too tight fisted, considering how wealthy many of us are.  What if, instead of 10% generosity, we tried 15 or 20?  What if we believed, so thoroughly, that God will take care of us like He promises, that we really do give, investing our resources of time and money by pouring them into others in order to be a blessing?

It’s Eugene Peterson who says, “giving is what we do best.  It is the air into which we were born. (Yet) some of us desperately try to hold on to ourselves.  We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving.  We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.  But the sooner we start the better….” The sooner indeed, for every day living with a closed fist, either for greed or fear, is a day utterly squandered.

Of course its true that no single person will solve the mess of global warming.  We can sell our cars, turn off our heat, and eat only stuff that grows in our backyards.  China’s still building massive coal plants, and the freeways are still jammed with people driving alone.  My response?

We were never called to save the world.  We’re called to give witness to a different way of living – a way rooted in Christ.  As stewards of the earth, in Jesus name, we’re called to stewardship, justice, contentment, and generosity.  To the extent that we live into that – we’ll approach the abundance Jesus promised, and shine as lights of hope in the midst of the madness.

 

 

 

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About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Curt

    I live on an acreage and want to make the most of it that I can. It is on an old abandoned farm site with lots of “buried treasure” everywhere (metal, machinery parts, various old fluid containers, etc). I have been cleaning it up and want to more with it – plant more trees, flowers, make it a place for animals to be and a place where my wife and family can walk and play. I hear what you’re saying about being a steward of what God has given us. How would you balance/compare what you are saying with the verses in the Word describing God destroying the world at the time of Judgement? Whenever I hear something in the “Save the Creation” genre I always have those Bible descriptions of the judgement and coming destruction come to mind. In trying to be a steward of the earth are we going overboard by trying to save something that God will destroy in the end?

  • CJ Robinson

    Being a steward of the earth is like being a steward of one’s body. Just because the physical body eventually dies doesn’t mean that one neglects their health.How we care for the earth impacts the quality of our physical and spiritual health, relationships, and all God has entrusted us with.

  • Curt

    In caring for the physical body one can go overboard as well. For example: A friend of ours says she has to eat kelp because this helps fight the radiation that has come across the ocean from the disaster in Japan. The radiation has polluted our food and kelp helps counteract that. Regarding the creation there is a point where humanity goes overboard and worships and serves the creature and not the Creator (Rom 1:25). I wonder if all this “green” talk is moving in that direction. Yes, take care of our environment – don’t dump used oil in a hole in your back yard, etc. We can take care of what God has entrusted to us but in His timing this Creation will be destroyed by God, not man.

  • Ken

    Curt,

    I’ve thought a few days about your question hoping some others would respond first to see what attitudes are floating around out there. I think CJ has a point, but you take it to its observable conclusion in the real world. There are many who see the green movement from the secular world as the new home of communist thinking, a new way for government to control and take from others. I was first awakened to ecological thinking in college many decades ago and even then came to realize the danger of how it was already beginning to be abused by those in power. And yet we are called by God to be good stewards of the earth and its resources.

    A few years ago I would have been first in line to fight the notion of a justice movement seeing it similarly as a way for government to control and take from others. Then through my local church and an odd assortment of study sources I have come to see the reality of God’s call for His people to practice true Justice is throughout Scripture. Again we see the secular world bending God’s ideals to its own advantage and in the end offering precious little true justice just as it offers precious little truly effective ecological choices. When examined deeply enough we generally find a handful of individuals benefiting and not God’s creation or His Justice in this world.

  • Curt

    Hi Ken,

    My concern is not so much with the secular world and governments inasmuch as it is with the Christian community following this movement. I think the Bible is clear that “friendship with the world is hatred towards God”. I see CJ’s comment: “How we care for the earth impacts the quality of our physical and spiritual health, relationships, and all God has entrusted us with.”, and I wonder how that is. It sounds nice but how does my taking care of the earth affect my relationship with Jesus Christ? At least that’s how I read the “spiritual health” portion of that comment. It sounds more like ’60′s “flower child” philosophy than it does Christianity. By following Christ in humble obedience brings blessing, not caring for the earth. We are called to make disciples of Christ, not save the earth. In a roundabout way that is what I’m getting at. I see a distinction between the two. I think it is fine to have a passion to take care of the earth but when that passion becomes a “God calls us to save the earth!” then I start to get leary. BTW, I mean no disrespect to CJ. I do not know this person or this person’s heart and my intention was not to belittle or make light of what this person said.

  • Ken

    Curt,

    I can only say I feel your pain in everything you said. Generally believers I have heard go on about the “green” Bible teachings rise up there with so many others in their torture of Scripture making it say things I simply can’t see and hear when I read it. The best that I can say is true followers of the Creator God would naturally respect and care for His creation and I think that’s about as far as I can extrapolate a green aspect to the Bible. Perhaps the only other angle I can take on being ecologically minded as believers is in being a reflection of that same Creator God. If the green movement followers are worshiping the creation and we are called to be all things to all peoples in order to win some for Christ then certainly it behooves us to have some respect for their position in hopes of introducing them to the Architect? But the dangers are great when our primary focus shifts from the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to His creation. There be dragons. Or at least a serpent…

  • Ken

    Curt,

    I though of an illustration that may help…

    I am a builder specializing in remodeling. When we bought our current home it was 24 years old and needed a top-to-bottom, inside-out makeover. Now 9 years later it has been completely rebuilt. Say we had an open house party where some friend attending brought along a friend of their’s that didn’t know us. This person enters our home and is impressed with the workmanship, creative details, etc. As this person is admiring the home, in walks another guest who the admirer is told is a close friend of our family. Wouldn’t it be a bit confusing if this “friend” tromped into our home with muddy boots wearing dirty clothes and immediately plopped himself onto our couch kicking off the boots onto the living room carpet? You can of course carry this little story forward with many imaginative ways in which the “friend” shows himself to be very disrespectful of the home and his friend’s craftsmanship and care for his home, but the point is pretty obvious.

    So what are the people that truly admire the magnificence of this physical world we inhabit (as opposed to those posers simply using environmentalism for their own gain) to think if those that claim to love and worship the Creator treat the creation poorly or worse with downright abuse and destruction?

  • Curt

    Ken,

    I hear what you’re saying and I get it. If I am understanding you I think we are on the same page, or close to it.

    I would expect people who are not Christians (aka “the world”) to a) care more about profit than stewardship of the earth. b) love the earth and all its beauty and worship it. The earth becomes a person, etc. I would expect Christians to care for the earth without imbibing the worldview and philosophy of the culture. I see this “imbibing” happening, not just in the “christian green” movement but in the church in general. So wanting to appear relevant to the world, the culture, that it ends up becoming a mirror image of it rather than transforming it. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of God is the Gospel, not wooing the world. ‘Tis the state I see the church in today.

  • Ken

    Well said, Curt.

    Amen.

  • Curt

    I think the Apostle Peter said it best on how we are to live in light of this movement. These should be a Christians priorities:

    “2 Peter 3:10-13 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.b That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

  • Per

    This looks like a problem for more than just Christians.

    http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/are-evolution-and-religion-compatible-0021897


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