Monday, January 14, 2019

Finding your place in the Kingdom

While most people were enjoying some time off work or being with family between Christmas and New Year's, I joined over 11,000 students at URBANA, a large triennial missions conference put on by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in St. Louis, Missouri. Five of TEAM's coaches (missions mobilizers), myself, and two other TEAM missionaries interacted personally with over 200 individuals that came to our booth to learn about TEAM.
Our group at URBANA

At the end of one seminar on creation care put on by some colleagues, I was able to share about how students can use their gifts and interests and environmental degrees for missions. In fact, one young woman, Emily, sat next to me and said she went to a Bible college but grew up on an organic farm her family owns in western PA. She has a love for the lost, and a passion to work the land, but just didn't know how she could use her non-science degree to help with environmental stewardship and reaching the lost. I couldn't keep from smiling when she mentioned this!

Another young woman came to our booth curious about creation care and missions. She's finishing up her Environmental Science degree in California, but wants to somehow use it in missions to reach the lost. She thought she would have to go back to school to get a Bible degree.

These young ladies are one reason why God has me in the place I am today with TEAM--helping people like them realize they can use their skills as well as environmental degrees for missions.

My response to both of these young ladies was to encourage them with their God-given interests/skills, and to give them specific opportunities to serve with TEAM in environmental missions, or creation care.

Two trips that are going to happen as a result of our conversations are what I call "scouting trips". Their purpose is to research and discover areas of critical environmental degradation that need to be addressed by followers of Jesus. Those who go on these trips will understand the role the church has to play in caring for creation and will develop initial plans to address those issues in appropriate ways that help TEAM accomplish its vision of starting churches. One is planned for the last two weeks of June, 2019 in Guatemala, and one in North Africa in January 2020. If you or someone you know is interested in one of these trips, please let me know. Here are the links to descriptions of the trips: Guatemala, and North Africa.

What a privilege to serve the Lord and His Kingdom here on earth right now, and to make a difference in real communities suffering from real problems.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Why does Creation Care matter to God?

Many Christ-followers sometimes wonder what caring for creation has to do with our faith as Christ-followers. I would answer: " Everything!"

Here's a couple straightforward reasons why:
1. Christ-followers should be known for their joy (Galatians 5:22), for their hope, and basically for being people who have LIFE IN ABUNDANCE (John 10:10).
2. Christ-followers have been reconciled to God through Christ (Romans 5:11) and are also the ones commanded to bring reconciliation to all things (Colossians 1:19-20), which includes creation, currently decaying due to no fault of it's own, but because of Adam's sin (Romans 8:19-23).

Simply put then, if we are to be people who are attractive to the world, and if we are the people who should be restoring and redeeming creation from it's bondage to decay (Romans 8:21), then being an ambassador for caring for God's creation is a simple step of obedience for all of us.

This is what I spent one week doing this November with a short-term couple visiting our missions work in La Paz, Mexico. We spent a day doing a beach cleanup with non-Christians. We spent time visiting beautiful places of God's creation in that area: some that have had plenty of efforts to bring them to flourish (Genesis 1:22, 24, 28; 8:17, 9:17) and others that have not. We met with people who never would have heard the gospel but for the environmental care that our missionary friends do in that city. However, because of time spent cleaning up beaches and mangroves alongside non-Christians, and kayaking for hours on the water, and snorkeling or scuba diving to see God's beautiful underwater handiwork among coral reefs, those people who never would come to know Jesus, now DO know Jesus and follow Him.

Time spent with people is never a waste, and time spent with people while restoring God's creation breaks down boundaries so they can see Jesus in us, and see that we care about this world--God's world.

And that's why Creation Care matters to God, and why it should be an inherent, natural outworking of our faith.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Life in the desert

When we think of Mexico, we often think of the desert, cacti, rattlesnakes... Though much of those are true, the Baja Peninsula, especially near La Paz, has much more life than we think. We went on a hike into the mountains and saw much of this amazing life God created!
This was at a high point between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. This is looking toward the Sea of Cortez.

This is the fruit we sometimes call dragonfruit--there are at least two varieties, one that is red on the inside and one that is white, but they grow on this specific cactus variety in the mountains near La Paz. You have to take the spines off the fruit before eating, of course, but this one was delicious!

We walked along a dry riverbed ("Arroyo" is the Spanish word for these riverbeds) until it widened much more than this picture. Dry most of the year except for the few rains that come in the spring. Because it's so sandy, the water doesn't percolate down into the ground and flows quickly into these streams and down to the ocean.

As we walked along the "Arroyo", there was a small oasis of flowery shrubs in a corner with dozens of butterflies.

Black iguanas are common in this part of Mexico.

Our local guide, a new believer, called this rock formation "the protector of the mountains". Can you see the nose and mouth shapes?

Look at how this tree has put roots out to look for water!

As we were walking along the dry riverbed, we suddenly came upon this spot where water was flowing underneath the sand! It may not look like much, but it is significant!

Another tree fighting to stay alive!

This was a giant boulder that's a historic site--there's a cave underneath where native Mexicans used to live and cook.

This was affectionately called "the marriage tree" by our guide. Why do you think?

After hiking the prayer trail at Rancho El Camino with friends, we stopped to pray for the ministry God is using there.

Looks like some creature bending over to talk to me, but it's merely a dried out cactus that didn't make it. 

This is at the top of a tall mountain looking down at the ranch property. On the way up, we ran into a large rattlesnake...quite scary!!

View of the sunset at Rancho El Camino.

The top of the mountain at Rancho El Camino!

On the boardwalk in La Paz.

Mangrove cleanup in La Paz, Mexico

Last week I was with another TEAM missionary in Mexico and a short-term couple. This couple was checking out the many creation care activities that we do in La Paz. So we joined a group of people and another organization for a clean-up of one of the the mangrove beach areas.

People leave so much trash behind them at the beaches after spending the day there, and it accumulates quickly when no one is picking up after them! There likely weren’t any other Jesus followers there with us, and the main organizer is very antagonistic toward Christianity. However, because we also care for God’s creation and about the people living there, we continue working with these people to share the love of Christ with them, and we work to bring God’s creation to a point of flourishing. But that takes work! So we spent the morning cleaning up tiny pieces of plastic, bottle caps, toilet paper, broken glass from beer bottles, and other items. When we were done, we had over 10 bags of trash!

One of the neat things at the end of the clean-up was that the main organizer told us “You did a great job guys! When we got here at 9 am there was trash everywhere; now, you have to actually look for trash!”

These are the kind of comments we hope to get from non-Jesus followers, especially the ones who are antagonistic toward us. We want them to see that we actually care about God’s Creation, and through it be able to start conversations, which ultimately lead to Jesus.

How about you--what are you doing to start conversations about Jesus?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Godly characteristics in cultures

There are some things in each culture that I believe reflect God’s desire for humanity.

When God confused the languages of the people at the Tower of Babel, they had no choice but to do what he had commanded Adam & Eve to do in Genesis 1:28, and Noah in Genesis 9:1--spread out and multiply over the face of the earth. When the people spread out on the earth, different cultures developed, each with their own unique traits and languages. I've enjoyed visiting many cultures around the world, and living in a couple of them for longer periods of time.

So after spending a full week with the Brazilian group of university leaders in Los Angeles in early September, I was reminded of one of the God-honoring characteristics of that culture that we in most Western cultures lack: a deep, relational aspect of community. There were a total of 15 of us staying in one large house, and after driving at least for two hours a day to visit each university campus, we spent the evening making dinner and fellowshipping during the meal. We laughed, talked, prayed, and processed through each day like this. Though this specific group of Brazilians don’t always see each other on a daily basis in Brazil, being in close quarters wasn’t a problem for them as their cultural (and God-given) sense of community quickly allowed for them to bond. This is one of those characteristics that I repeatedly see in certain cultures that I believe is what the Church should look like—and when it does, God gets the glory. What a privilege to be in the midst of a “culture of community” while in LA last month. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement during that time, but also for partnering with our family as we proclaim the gospel here and abroad through our efforts in Creation Care.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Stewardship in Question

In Chapter One of Bauckham's book, he delves into what "stewardship" means. From a Christian perspective, the main usage of the term is regarding the steward's responsibility to God. The secular use of the term stewardship lacks any theological content. Bauckham then goes on the describe the various criticisms of "stewardship" as we see or hear about them today.

  1. First, some say this concept of Stewardship is Hubris, unnecessary. The earth will take care of itself, it is self-regulating, with or without us. Much of the modern environmental movement speaks of this. Think back to Julia Roberts narrating for "Mother Nature" in Conservation International's video a few years back. Here is the video Julia Roberts: Nature is Speaking. However, much of the criticism coming from this perspective is a reaction to the faulty Christian idea that humans are in charge of the whole Earth and its destiny. The problem with this faulty Christian perspective is that we have taken "dominion" from the Genesis account and turned it into "exploitative", instead of responsible and caring. Bauckham blames Francis Bacon, from the 17th century, for hijacking the Genesis text and pushing for the superiority of scientific knowledge and technological exploitation, which have brought us our modern ecological crisis. It was this idea that total domination over creation is possible and is the right we have been given in Genesis. However, this kind of total control had always been thought to belong to God alone. Bauckham says we need to put our understanding of dominion back into place, in the larger context of the biblical perspective of the human relationship to other creatures.
  2. Stewardship excludes God's own activity in the world: this perspective says that God has entirely delegated his governance of the world to humans. God created and left it to be, leaving humans in charge completely, as if we take on the role of God in relation to the world. This is probably the most common secular position, in which God is "dead". But this is not the biblical perspective, of course, where we read and see that God is active in His creation, in ways that have nothing to do with creation as well as ways that do.
  3. Stewardship lacks specific content: this criticism relates the fact that often we don't know what stewardship means! Some say it is about preserving, not changing. Some say we need to intervene technologically and modify nature. Others say that nature would be fine if it weren't for humans--so our job is to protect nature from humans.
  4. Stewardship sets humans over creation, not within it: traditionally, stewardship has depicted the relationship of humans to other creatures in a purely vertical manner, with no horizontal dimension. It is a hierarchy, instead of mutual, interdependent relationships. This hierarchical understanding has probably been the most significantly harmful perspective toward creation in the modern era. Bauckham says that "modern western people, beginning with the Renaissance, forgot their own creatureliness, their embeddedness within creation, their interdependence with other creatures"(p.11). 
  5. Stewardship tends to isolate one scriptural text: So often, arguments for biblical stewardship hinge on Genesis 1:26 and 28. Though these verses are indeed key in our proper understanding, they also have to be taken within the broader context of Scripture, as all Scripture passages should be!
At this point, the author then goes into a proper understanding of the context of those two verses within the rest of the Genesis Creation account.
  1. The six days of creation: if we carefully observe the order of God's creating, He first creates the three environments that constitute the ordered space of creation, and then, on the fourth, fifth and sixth days, he creates the inhabitants of each of the cosmic habitats in turn. It is a spatial rather than chronological arrangement. Every inhabitant has it's habitat and purpose, it's own task. What is lacking, Bauckham says, "is any sense of building towards a culmination. Humans, the last creatures to be created, have a unique role within creation, but they do not come last because they are the climax of an ascending scale. The 'creeping things' (reptiles and insects), created on the sixth day, are not higher, in some order of being, than the birds, created on the fifth day. So this scheme of creation has nothing in common with that progressivist reading of evolution that envisages a process of increasing complexity and increasing intelligence that culminates in human beings" (p. 14). No, the true culmination of creation is the 7th day, not the creation of humans. Every part of God's creation God "saw that it was good", even before creating humans! This indicates that each part of creation has its own value that does not depend on its value for other parts. The value of the whole is more than the value of the sum of its parts. Humans belong to the whole, and are essential to the design of the whole, but so are the other parts of creation.
  2. The human place in creation: Here the author talks about our role of "filling the earth", in a way in which animals cannot. We are commanded to "subdue" the land, which has an implication of farming, and maybe even mining and quarrying stone (Deut. 8:7-10). The biblical writers, and ourselves today too, realize that not all places are livable. But the bigger issue here is that the land was also clearly assigned to the animals. Humans are to share the land with the animals. The animals were given all green plants for food, and we were given seed-bearing plants for food and fruit bearing trees. Therefore, as we share the land with animals, our "subduing" the land by agriculture should not force out animals of the habitats God created for them to survive off. There is a difference between subduing and having dominion. We are told to subdue the land, yes, to provide for our needs, but dominion is more about stewardship. This command presupposes that we bear the divine image, so that we can use our superior power in a way that reflects God's character and rule over his creation. "Whereas they [humans] are to 'subdue' the earth, they are to 'rule' the other living creatures. To me, this seems very clear that we should have conservation efforts as a natural part of our society's practices, especially with the Christians at the forefront. This is how it started for the United States, with John Muir, a strong Christian, out in California with Yosemite National Park, asking Teddy Roosevelt to set that land aside as a protected area.

Next Bauchman writes about the need to understand Genesis 2.

He says there is a Human solidarity with the rest of creation. The seven days of creation put humans within the order of creation, but the whole account of the Garden of Eden emphatically stresses Adam's kinship with the Earth and the other creatures of the Earth. We were made from dust, the animals were too. God breathes life into us (Gen. 2:7), which is the same breath that animates all living creatures (Gen. 7:22). We can safely assume it's the same breath of life God has given to us, otherwise, animals would not be alive.
    There is also the aspect of Caring for the Land: Adam's life was bound up with the soil! There is this idea implied that the soil needs Adam as much as Adam needs the soil to produce for him. How so? The soil needs Adam to make sure he preserves it, or keeps it; in other words, he avoids "exhausting it". He has a right to make a living from the soil, but he also has the duty to care for it, to steward it well.

    Last of all, he writes about Humans and other animals: In Gen. 2:19-20, God brings the animals to Adam for him to name them. Here Bauchman says that in the naming of the animals, it doesn't necessarily demonstrate a dominion over them as traditionally interpreted, but more likely it is the recognition that they are fellow-creatures and share the world with Adam. He will not have the relationship with them that he does with Eve, as he will find soon after naming them, but still, in their own way, they are companions of humans.