Earth Day – 6 Reasons Christians Should Care for the Earth

I once read a piece by someone who was against Christians participating in Earth Day. I don’t remember the author, but his sentiments were something to the effect of “beware of the human tendency to worship the creation instead of the Creator.” While that’s not a wholly unwarranted caution (see Romans 1:20-25), I’d have to add the warning to beware of the human tendency to worship self and our own abilities. We still have a bit of Babel in us (Genesis 11). We cannot be content to build our skyscrapers and empires without taking heed to the way our “progress” harms our environment and actually causes us to work against the principles and goals God has established for us. Here are six reasons Christians should take responsibility for caring for the earth:

1 – We should care for the earth because God mandated that we do so.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”Genesis 2:15 (all Scripture references from NIV)

From the beginning, God told mankind to care for His creation. In the first chapter of Genesis (1:26-28), this command includes the fish and the waters, the birds and the sky, the animals and the land.

We have a mandate to care for the earth. Why would we turn over our authority and commission to others?

2 – We should care for the earth because creation brings God glory and reveals God to man.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made …” – Romans 1:20

God uses nature to bear witness to Himself. Wouldn’t our care of nature help us be better witnesses to the world?

3 – We should care for the earth because it’s God’s teaching tool.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” – Proverbs 6:6

This Proverb continues to instruct us to watch the ant to see how to gain a harvest. In contrast to the ant, man is called a sluggard and challenged to wake up and get to work. Otherwise, it says, “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” We have to admit, part of our lack of concern for the environment has to do with apathy and laziness.

I used to say that I’d be happy to recycle if they would make it easier – I just didn’t want to mess with different bins for different types of trash. Thankfully, my municipality did eventually make it easier. I have to wonder if I would have ever started recycling if they hadn’t. We often prefer to turn a blind eye to the notion that our world does actually have limited resources and that we harm it by our wastefulness and desire for convenience. Participating in environmental causes could teach us a great deal about ourselves. I’m glad that the younger generation is being taught to be better stewards. Shouldn’t more Christians be taking on the responsibility to help teach these lessons?

4 – We should care for the earth because our sin is the cause of its suffering.

“Cursed is the ground because of you …” – Genesis 3:17

Creation suffered from the curse when man sinned. Plants that flourished now had to contend with thorns and weeds. Animals that lived together in peace became enemies. Romans 8:22-25 says that all creations groans with us as we await our full redemption from the cares of this world brought on by sin. This passage also says that the “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” We are supposed to be helping to redeem creation as we await the final redemption. Are we, instead, making it groan even more?

5 – We should care for the earth because God cares for the earth.

After the flood (also brought on by man’s sin), God not only made a covenant with Noah, but also with the earth. When he put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this covenant to never again destroy the earth by flood, God said:

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:12-13

If God would make a covenant with the earth, why should a Christian be hesitant to do so?

6 – We should care for the earth because we are called to be good stewards of all that God has given us.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10

We would all agree that we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. We have often heard messages about being good stewards of our money, our homes, our talents. Why do we balk at being good stewards of this earth? We should look at our stewardship of this earth as a service to others who share this planet with us, as well as a service to the Creator of all things.

If the heavens and the trees and the beauty of creation all testify to God’s goodness, shouldn’t we seek to keep it healthy and beautiful?

Suggested Resources:

Christians and the Environment – A One Session Bible Study

Creation Care – A Three Session Bible Study

A Few Ways to Check Your Heart before “Speaking the Truth in Love”

We are told in Ephesians 4:15 that the body of Christ becomes more mature when we learn to speak the truth in love to one another. This is how we grow up and no longer act like infants in our relationships. Yet, we often avoid this command because it is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we rationalize it away by saying we don’t want to offend anyone. And doesn’t that sound pious? Or, we say, “I’m waiting for my heart to be right before I go say what needs to be said.” Again, that sounds good and noble. In the end, though, it is simply disobedience.

The problem is we never quite feel it’s the right time to go have that difficult conversation. And so, we leave unsaid the thing that might help someone recognize sin or error, or the thing we need to say to restore relationship. And the whole body of believers suffers as a result.

It is interesting that the verses prior to this text use the imagery of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). That’s exactly how this mind game we play with ourselves feels. The only way to relieve the tug-of-war in our thinking is to put on our big kid pants and follow God’s instructions. Otherwise, we are actually being deceitful and possibly resorting to “alternative actions” (Sounds better than “schemes,” doesn’t it?).

Those schemes are so appealing, though, and they too can seem justified. I’ll just go talk with my pastor about it instead. Or, I’ll just make it a matter of prayer.

Last week, I received a text from a friend who was struggling with this. I summarized for her the things I do to check my heart before going to someone to speak the truth I believe needs to be spoken. Below is the transcript of that conversation. Hope it helps the next time you are considering whether or not you are actually ready to speak the truth … in love.

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she's one of my night owl friends).

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she’s one of my night owl friends).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about you? Do you have any “heart checks” you use before going to someone to resolve an issue?

A Hint of Life, but Death Is Still in the Background

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14 (NKJV)

This scripture kept going through my mind after my sister’s death (Janell Joy Bartz, June 5, 1966 – September 19, 2012). Two weeks after her passing, I plugged earphones into my digital Bible to help feed myself the Word at a time I was not feeling prone to read it. I thought it might help me get to sleep (another thing I was not prone to do at that time). Later in the night, I woke up at the exact moment this passage was being read.

A few days later, I was at a labyrinth that I go to for prayer walks. Before going onto the prayer path, I sat on a bench for a while. A line of trees surrounds the labyrinth. I noticed a purple flower bud (Janell’s favorite color) on one near me. For a brief moment, I was comforted. Then, almost immediately, I noticed the very next tree in line behind it was already browning for fall and the coming winter. I thought, “A hint of life, but death is still in the background.”

When I got to the center of the labyrinth and stopped for contemplation, the dead tree was directly in front of me and I became overwhelmed. You see, Janell’s death was preceded just a week prior by the death of a 22 year old cousin who died in a car accident. That death alone had been very difficult to take, not only because he was so young, but also because it was yet another tragedy in my family which has a long history of young deaths, and violence and many forms of chaos and heartbreak.

While standing there, staring at the dead tree, I also thought of the many people I was praying for who were dealing with depression, and addictions and … well, many forms of chaos and heartbreak. For many of them, I had been praying a long time.

At that moment, the only prayer I could muster was, “Lord, I need to see someone overcome! To continue to believe it’s possible.”

Then, I remembered the meeting I’d had just that morning (how soon we forget) with the friend I am partnering with to write his life story. His is a story of someone redeemed from the worst of life’s circumstances. It is a story of true transformation that can only be brought about by the power of Christ.

I was gently reminded by God that there are many stories of redemption and transformation out there. And there are more to come. I WILL see the goodness of the Lord – in the land of the living. All of our hope is not just found “in the sweet by and by.” We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to see the heaven’s move on our behalf. There is still hope for deliverance, here among the living, even when death is seemingly mocking us in the background.

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos – March Encourager’s Devotion

March Encourager's Devotion

Just a quick scan of news headlines can be very discouraging, even downright frightening.

Justice Department finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices

Netanyahu Says Iran Poses ‘Threat to Peace of Entire World’

Iran calls Obama’s 10-year nuclear demand ‘unacceptable’

Target to cut thousands of jobs

Get ready—Fed to cause major turmoil this month

It is hard to maintain inner peace when our world is in such chaos. Yet that is exactly what Christ came to bring us – a peace that the world will never be able to offer us (John 14:27), a peace that defies human understanding and guards our hearts and minds no matter what is going on around us (Phil. 4:7).

I remember a time when I experienced that kind of peace. I was pregnant with my first child, but had been put on 24 hour bedrest due to complications. I was fearful, worried I might be losing my baby. Lying in bed, I read Psalm 91 (NKJV):

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. … He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge … You shall not be afraid.”

Things like this are hard to explain, but as I read that passage, I could just picture God “covering me” and I felt peace in His presence.

My father once shared a story with me about God ministering peace to his spirit when he was going through a bout with cancer. He was driving down the road worrying about life, death, and his family. He had a Christian radio station on and a song called “Silent Partner” by Jessy Dixon began to play. Dad said he started to weep as he was comforted by the idea that God was his partner during that difficult time – a partner you might not always see or hear, but you know He’s there giving you strength and seeing you through.

A few years ago, I discovered prayer labyrinths (you can see prior posts about labyrinths and an explanation of what they are here). The image for this post includes a picture of one of my favorites at Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO. When my sister passed away in 2012, I was so glad I had found these beautiful places to pray. My time there brings me peace.

I share these stories with you because they show various ways to draw closer to God and attain the peace He promises – Bible reading, Christian music, prayer walks. Other means of finding peace might be through the company of friends and family, through worship services, or through inspirational reading. I have also had art minister peace to me. We might do as Paul suggested in Philippians 4:8-9 and think on anything we can that is good, or lovely, or praiseworthy when we are bombarded with negative news images. Paul also says in Philippians that when you do the things you know are right “the God of peace will be with you.” It is interesting that Paul wrote all this while he was in prison. He had discovered how to have peace regardless of his circumstances (4:11-13).

OUR PEACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND US.

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Now, what does all this have to do with being an encourager? Well, this is a time when those around us are worried and fearful. We will only be able to encourage them if we are at peace ourselves. You cannot lead someone to a place you  cannot find yourself. So, build yourself up in the faith and then go minister to others who need peace.

MAY YOU SHINE AS LIGHTS IN A CROOKED AND PERVERSE WORLD! (Phil. 2:15)

This post is part of the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Accompanying materials for this month’s devotions: Click here for the Bible study for March and here for the answer guide.

Mature Love – February Encourager’s Devotion

Encourager's Devotional Series - February

Just as love is the crux of the Gospel message, it is also the key to building a vital, effective, mature church body. Love is such a key factor that Matthew 22:36-40 says everything hangs on it. When I read that verse, I picture a door with two hinges. One hinge is our love for God and the other is our love for people. If either hinge is broken, the door simply does not work as it should. It may even become stuck and be totally inadequate at fulfilling its purpose.

God has designed us with purpose. We are called individually to serve God in different ways. And we are called as a body of believers to function in a certain way so as to complete the work that God, through Christ, began on this earth.

Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible because in it I see how BIG God’s plan is for the church. It inspires me to see how a mature body of believers could really accomplish great things. If we are ever to fulfill that calling, we must get a grip on the love thing. We will never be the mature Christians we should be, or the effective church we could be, until love is firmly planted in our hearts. That’s why I’m so excited about The Encourager’s Devotional Series and the benefits of intentionally building an encouragement ministry. I think it’s the first, and perhaps biggest, step a congregation can take in becoming what God has planned.

You see, one of the biggest and most harmful myths that pervades the church is the idea that it is “THE” ministry’s job, or the job of a select few, to make everyone else become mature believers. But Ephesians 3:14-4:16 tells us differently. The ministry’s job is to prepare the saints to do ministry. The body is called to edify itself in love. We are all called to speak to each other in ways that promote maturity (4:15), to treat each other lovingly (4:2-3), and to do works of service together (4:12,16).

Like it or not, God has called us together to be a people – plural (Luke 1:17; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10). His plan is that we work in community (Eph 2:19-22). This community aspect of our faith is so important that unity was Jesus’ “last request” concerning His followers before His death (Jn 17:20-26). It is only when we work together with other believers in love that we are most effective as witnesses of God’s grace, power and love to the world (Phil 2:1-15).

When studying the life of Moses as he led God’s people, one thing is abundantly clear – God insisted that they stay together. They could not split up and say, “Ok, those with enough faith and maturity can go into the promised land now and the rest of you who aren’t quite ready yet must go wander in the wilderness.” No, they would either go in as a people or wander in the wilderness together as a people.

Studying Moses helps us answer the question of how you stick with a group of people when you see the promised land (in other words you see that things should be better than they are), but the people around you aren’t quite “there” yet. Continue reading

Scapegoat – an excerpt from my book

As promised in my previous post, On Writing the Grisly Scenes of My Friend’s Former Life, here’s an excerpt from the book.

The narrator of this scene is the book’s main character, Newman. He’s landed himself in prison, along with the men rumored to have a hit out on him. Newman’s best friend, Benz, has already been murdered. Denying they ordered the hit and trying to convince Newman they’re all on the same team, they’ve pledged to help him find Benz’s killer.

We went back to J-Mack’s cell and devised a plan to interrogate Lester. We’d press him about who killed Benz. I knew what pressing him meant; this dude was in some serious trouble. I also knew motherfuckin’ well he didn’t have anything to do with Benz’s death. But this was my out. Lester was a fallen lamb who got caught in the middle of the situation and was being used by both sides.

It didn’t bother me much. The guy was being a thug with DJ, so I figure he had something coming. I was okay with the fact that, at least for today, he was the dead man walking and not me. Continue reading

On Writing the Grisly Scenes of My Friend’s Former Life

It would be easier to write the scenes of murder, torture, drug-trafficking and all the other evils that come with the life of organized crime if they weren’t true stories, or at least if they weren’t true about the friend I’m calling Newman.

It is hard for me to imagine the man I know doing these things. And it’s an agonizing process to interview him for details, forcing him relive the things he’s tried so hard to leave behind. Seeing the pain in his expression, watching him unknowingly clutch his chest as if to stop the pain, and hearing him swallow down tears makes me want to stop pressing.

I hate when I’m in the throes of writing and I need to message him to get clarity on something. He’s commented on how this will sometimes interrupt an otherwise normal day and take him back to a place he’d rather not be. I’ve offered to send my questions via email so he can open them at his discretion, or save them up and let him initiate a time to go over them. He’s understanding, though, of my need to get the information quickly so the writing process is not stalled. So, we’ve continued in this manner – though, I do try not to do this unless absolutely necessary.

We’re both determined to push on with this book project, but I sure will be glad when it’s done. Sometime today or tomorrow, I’ll post an excerpt from the scene that prompted this entry. For now, though, I just wanted to take a break from it and bawl out into the blogosphere this is stinking hard.

Update 1/31/15 – I have published the promised excerpt from the book. At first I made it a password protected post so the “grisly details” and language would not pop up on the feed for followers who may not wish to see them. I have since decided to go ahead and post it without requiring the password. I will explain why I changed my mind in a follow-up entry.