Friday, June 24, 2016

Dichotomous Worldview?

We Christians have a challenge before us. It is not a new one, but it is one that still has not been resolved. It has to do with the term “Creation Care”. Most Christians over 40 years of age in conservative circles still feel a bit uncomfortable at the sound of this, thinking it means we are “green”, or “tree-huggers” in the liberal sense of these words, and that we are on a slippery slope. While I believe it is true that we all should be this as Christians from a biblical stewardship perspective, it is certainly not true that we are liberal—not in our theology, nor in our practice. So what is Creation Care after all?

To answer this, we first need to go to Scripture and understand the spiritual, social, and physical environment of the biblical Hebrews. If we try to understand his or her mindset and way of life, we will see that they did not dichotomize between the spiritual and physical, the supernatural and natural. No, they were intertwined. In our Hellenized worldview where we dichotomize the spiritual from the physical realities, we have boxed God and His commands into separate compartments in our lives. For instance, we can go to our church building to worship God and thank him for his provision in our lives, but when we walk outside and see the beggar on the city street, we ignore the command to help the needy. We have disconnected the spiritual reality we deeply cherish within the church walls from the spiritual reality of the beggar outside the church walls (in our flawed worldview we actually would classify as only a physical reality). Think of how many times the spiritual and physical are intertwined just in the last two sentences.

Our God is a very real God, very involved in our physical lives—“In Him He holds all things together” (Col. 1:17)! If it weren’t for the spiritual reality of our God, we ourselves and all around us would immediately disintegrate, or implode…all of the universe would fall apart! The fact is that we cannot separate our physical world from the spiritual reality.

As a result of our faulty worldview then, the challenge before us remains: the words “Creation Care” do not lend themselves to “missions”, as missions stereotypically is understood. Believers tend to equate missions having to do with people’s salvation—hearing the gospel and having the opportunity to respond to it. Creation Care, as we see it at TEAM, incorporates more than simply “caring for the created order”. Yes, we need to protect our wetlands, our forests, our animals worldwide. These are important. But it is more than simply protecting. It is making sure the water is safe to drink in the village in Africa, it is helping the local farmer in the Andean mountains control the erosion on his hillside farm, it is reforesting deforested landscapes, providing for the return of the flora and fauna God established in the ecology of that region—all these things giving glory to God because He called it “good” at one point.

Creation Care, as we envision it, is carrying out God’s first two commands to Adam in the book of Genesis:
1. To “fill the earth and subdue it”(Gen. 1:28)
2. To “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15)

When we do this in a biblical way, we are enabling believers, all believers, to share the gospel one more way. Let me explain.

Caring for Creation is important—very important—but within the biblical framework, and within TEAM’s Kingdom building efforts, God’s creation is not the end result. Our end goal is to open more opportunities to share the gospel with those who might never have a chance to hear it.
Many of the people our efforts help are those who are living day to day trying to feed their families. They are working in their fields (where rainfall is not erratic or almost non-existent), herding their animals looking for pasture to feed (but it’s too dry due to desertification), or digging in the city dump for daily food (because they can’t get a decent job to provide for their family). They don’t get a break from the struggles. When we physically and practically help these people, these communities, we are opening a door to the spiritual emptiness in their lives that only Jesus can fill. We are investing time in their lives, with plenty of opportunities to live out the gospel, but with many opportunities to verbally proclaim the gospel as well.

Another aspect of Creation Care is enjoying God’s Creation—why? Because Scripture teaches us that all creation reveals God’s glory! Look at the Psalms. Look at Romans. The Heavens declare His power! God uses His creation to point people to Him! When we cannot see the stars in the sky at night because of our excessive pollution, does that reveal God’s glory? When we look at the river and there are trash and pollutants in it to the point that we can’t even eat the fish from it or float down the river on inner tubes with our kids, does that reveal God’s glory? When our hillsides are denuded and the soils wash away from the poorest man’s farm on the hillside, are those mountains pointing to a wonderful Creator? When we cut off the tops of mountains in West Virginia to get to the coal underneath, thereby also polluting streams with toxic chemicals that cause cancer and death in small towns in that area, does God smile at His creation?

We still want to enjoy Creation, do we not? And we certainly want creation to point back to God.
From a biblical perspective, we are commanded to be good stewards and to “keep” the earth. When we do this, we will be able to take non-Christian friends on kayak trips, hiking adventures, and other wanderings, all so that we can revel in God’s glorious creation and point to Jesus as the One who brings complete reconciliation. More importantly though will be the fact that many more people will be able to live off the land God designed for them to depend on—and they will hopefully be receiving the “Bread of Life” they so desperately hunger for from the missionary who helped them with a practical need.

I often say that if we took God’s commands more seriously, all of them, then this world wouldn’t be such a bad place…because the Church, the Bride of Christ, would be shining brightly and making a difference in each cultural context it is present in. Isn’t it about time we take God for His word and start following Him passionately? Let’s all change this world we live in, one person, one field, one stream, one habitat at a time, for God’s glory, and our good.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On Synchronous Fireflies & "Light Pollution"

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord!” Psalm 96:11-12.

I would love for you to learn a bit about “light pollution” and synchronous fireflies, one of God’s amazing creations! Their habitat is from Tennessee to Pennsylvania, but especially where we live near the Smoky Mountains, they are prevalent—most likely because of the moisture in the National Forest. Only a week ago, I stepped outside to take the garbage to the curb, and all the lights were out in our neighborhood. ****This is normal where we live—only a few out of 56 houses have any lights on outside their home at night. This makes for a VERY clear view of the stars at night.**** I then happened to glance at the trees in our yard—and I thought I saw Christmas lights! Yes, bright white lights flashing in a regular pattern, all over the yard! Wow! I had heard about them, but never seen them: synchronous fireflies! If you have never seen them, I encourage you to make a visit to somewhere you could appreciate them—usually the first two weeks of June are the most intense period of their mating season.

What strikes me is that if the lights were on outside, the fireflies probably wouldn’t be flashing, and most likely not in our yard—the female needs to see the males in the tree while she is on the ground looking up. This brings up the problem of “light pollution”, in that God created day and night for a more than one reason. Artificial light can often “mess up” the patterns God has established in his creation. Animals and plants depend on these God ordained patterns for their healthy life cycles. As is often the case, our focus is on our needs over those of the rest of creation. Yes, I agree, often times lights are left on for safety reasons outside our homes—but maybe we could try timers or lights triggered by motion sensors?

What is it that we can do in our little spheres of influence that will allow God’s glory to SHINE more clearly from creation? I think it is worth it when we consider the results—God is glorified in our actions, and we live more simply and in trust of God’s goodness proclaimed through His creation.

Sister's wedding & A Rocha Brasil

I’m in the airport packed and ready to head off to Brazil for my “little sister’s” wedding. She’s 21, loves Jesus, and is marrying Eric, a Brazilian who also loves Jesus. I’m thrilled to be going for the wedding. Unfortunately, again, Becky and the kids will be remaining in TN while I head off on this trip. We will appreciate your prayers for Becky with the kids, again, and for safe travels. We couldn’t do all this without your prayers.

While in the São Paulo airport in Brazil awaiting my final flight connection, I’ll be meeting a new friend, the director of A Rocha Brazil, a Christian conservation organization (part of the larger A Rocha International) that does an excellent job teaching about and helping Christians and non-Christians alike carry out biblically mandated creation care efforts locally that are world renowned. Our conversation will be about how a church planting organization such as TEAM, who cares about stewarding God’s good creation for His glory, can partner with an excellent Christian conservation group that teaches and practices creation care around the world, but specifically in Brazil as a first step. I’m not sure what will come of it, but I’m thrilled to be looking at how we can together expand the Kingdom we are a part of, with Jesus as our King.