By Alexei Laushkin
A few years ago I started a series on idolatry that I never finished. My original post generated responses from both friends and enemies. At the time I was too shocked by the level of response to continue the series. I had seen too many controversies visa via creation care to continue writing on the topic so I abruptly stopped.
Modern idolatry is hard to write about, because idolatry is a matter of personal practice as much as anything else. Idolatry gets to the attitude of the heart, and, as such none of us are free from our favorite idols. It's a commandment that goes back to the original 10.
"You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
Paul takes it up again and again throughout the New Testament.
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:15).
Peter calls it lawlessness. Jesus talks about idolatry as a matter of hope and trust.
"And he [Jesus] said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God"
(Luke 12:15-21 ESV).
Matthew Sleeth's latest book 24/6 brought the question of idolatry back to the forefront of my thinking. If Sabbath and rest are tied into the holiness of God and the holiness of God's people than endless consumption and a distrust of God make us prone toward idolatry. Matthew does a good job of reminding us that whenever other forces are at work in a society the first thing to go is the Sabbath. The Soviets for instance banned the Sabbath day and the Romans never had one to speak of.
Modern families and contemporary Christian culture does not easily commend the Sabbath to our keeping. Instead what once was a day of rest with stores closed has become just another day to fit in errands, entertainment, and that last work project on the house.
We have a hard time with idolatry because it hits too close to home. In light of a sense of vocation or a vision for Christian living we often let lesser things like status and a certain level of professional attainment and financial well being determine our goals and our lives. Idolatry is hard to flush out because we quickly enter the uncharted waters of ambition and security (or our lack thereof). Idolatry as at the heart of marriage failure, at the heart of children who disobey their parents, and at the heart of parents who have no time for their children.
It also gets us in the wrong realm of thinking when it comes to the good gifts that come from our way of life; commerce, vocation, and profit can all be good things, but like so many good things we can have way too much of them. Work is a joyful and good gift. Vocation and talent are God given and humanizing. Profit to build and sustain lives and communities and families are also good gifts. However how you attain those gifts, use those gifts, and what place these gifts hold in your heart gets to the root of some deep seated idols of modern life.
And when you look at our gifts compared with the great lack in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world the mismatch is hard to miss. The injustices experiences by others compared to our relative justice and prosperous way of life is stunning and sobering. How can we who have plenty ignore the plight of those who go without?
We have a hard time with this kind of language, because it immediately leaves us with a sense of guilt. When we think of our wealth compared to the great lack around the world the thought immediately rises, what are we to do with the problems of others, problems we did not create? Is it our fault that we have great success? Are we obliged to restrain ourselves in the face of the problems of this world?
The point for the Christian is that it should lead us to even greater generosity and care for the great injustices of our time. The response to scarcity is generosity. Not just a generosity of wealth but a generosity of love, resources, and talents. Our obligation is not to giving but to loving those who lack basic necessities, especially if they are in the household of faith.
We can do so in humility if we realize that the pursuit of endless consumption is not a sign of riches but a sign of spiritual poverty. What is provided for us is enough. What God has given us in his Son is enough. Our gifts and talents are enough to meet the challenges of modern life and to be a blessing to those who face greater challenges still. When we live into the full vision of the Christian life we have room in our hearts to bless and not to curse to give and be grateful for that ability, and to love without fear of a lack of return on our investments.
by Kevin Scott
It is unfortunate that many of us (and I include myself, through most of my life) think of environmental concern and sustainability as mostly a political issue, and worse, one that falls on the "wrong" side of the political fence. Combine this with a version of the Christian worldview that looks forward to escaping the earth rather than witnessing its redemption, and you have a serious blind spot.
It's time that we took a look at things from a different perspective. So I offer 7 reasons Christians can't afford to ignore sustainable living.
1. We are humans. Part of what that now means, unfortunately, is that we are fallen. We have the potential to do great damage, even though we might not be aware that we're doing it. And we are ambitious, and sometimes arrogantly overstep our bounds. The mere fact that we are human ought to cause us to stop and think how we might be harming God's creation.
2. We are made in the image of God. And just as God is sustainer, he has empowered us to be sustainers in our own limited way. He has given us the responsibility of managing the earth's resources, not only to meet our immediate needs but the needs of the future as well.
3. We live in a place. None of us is responsible for the whole earth; but we are at least responsible for the place where we live, work, play, eat, and sleep at the time we are there. We at least have a vested interest in the health and sustainability of our local community. None of us wants to see our own air or water polluted, our own soil lose its fertility, or our own beautiful landscapes marred.
4. We are stewards. The earth is the Lord's and he has entrusted its care to us. God has built a remarkable amount of sustainability into the earth. For example, he has given us plants that bear within them the seeds for the next generation of plants. We need to honor God by preserving and protecting the renewability systems he created.
5. We are to exercise self-control. We need to use the earth's resources conservatively so that our harvesting of resources does not exceed the earth's capacity to renew them. Exhibit A: the rising cost of gasoline. When we use resources without regard for other people or generations, we unwittingly become exploiters of others.
6. We are meant to be more than consumers. It is easy to fall into a pattern of accelerating consumption"buying and wasting more and more each year. We can buy food, clothing, furniture, and many other things, with little regard for or appreciation of the natural resources that were sacrificed so that we could have that item we so easily disregard. That's why it's healthy, in whatever way you can, to balance your consumption with production. Grow some of your own food, make some of your own stuff, repair rather than replace.
7. We are to care for future generations. Are we leaving our children and grandchildren more natural resources or less? Soil that is more fertile or less? A place that is more sustainable or less? An outstanding way to care for your children and grandchildren is to so steward your life and place that they will have the knowledge, ability, and example to help preserve the sustainability God built into the earth.
God's plan is to redeem the earth, just as he is actively redeeming human lives. It is his creation, just as we are. And we share in its oversight. Christians must rise and respond to this aspect of our calling. It's an area in which we must allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.
Believe me, I offer a lot of grace in these matters, because I need a lot of grace myself. But it simply won't do to keep quiet and to go on living as we have been.
re-posted with permission
by Leah Kostamo
The hallmark of a truly "simple" life is gratitude. "Gratitude is the heart of faith," writes Mary Jo Leddy, author of Radical Gratitude. In this vein, she relates a lovely prayer of gratitude the Jewish people pray every Passover as they celebrate the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt. The prayer centres around the Hebrew word Dayenu, which in English means, It would have been enough.
Leddy suggests using this template as a helpful spiritual exercise in reflecting on one's own life. For example: If I had only been born but not had a twin sister, it would have been enough. If I had only had a twin sister but hadn't visited Orcas Island, it would have been enough. If I had only seen the sun set off Otter's Point, but hadn't experienced a snowfall in the Rockies, it would have been enough.
When we are satisfied with our lives as being enough, we are able to resist the whispers of consumerism that tell us we don't have enough or we are not enough. When our sense of satisfaction is rooted in an amazement at the givenness of every gift"from friends to home to our very own lives"then we are grounded in the firm grace of abundance.
Gratitude's starting point is wonder. I love what the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel says about true spiritual living: "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement." He encouraged his students to take nothing for granted. "Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed." The amazement comes as we realize everything we have and every gift we experience is pure grace. To be born would have been enough, but then I'm given a loving family. Wow! To be raised in a loving family would have been enough, but then I am surrounded by caring mentors. Amazing! We are invited not only to consider the big gifts, but the little gifts as well"the light slanting through the fir trees on a fall afternoon or the caress of a small child's hand on our arm. It's all grace. It's all amazing. It all warrants our gratitude.
Leah Kostamo and her husband Markku have worked for the past ten years to establish the ministry of A Rocha in Canada (arocha.ca). As part of A Rocha's work they established a Christian environemntal center on the coast of British Columbia. The center is a hub for a myriad of conservation, education and sustainable living activities. Leah blogs about their salmon saving, stranger welcoming, organic gardening adventures at leahkostamo.com.
A really terrific devotional post in the Meet Me in The Meadow Daily Devotional. Here's a short excerpt:
With a dead end before us, Christ showed us the way;
When we walked in the nighttime, Christ brought us the day.
With our faces all hidden, Christ carried our shame;
When we felt so unwanted, Christ called out our name
by Anna Clark
Calling all frustrated writers, change agents, and Christian leaders. If you feel ineffectual or that your voice is too small, take heart. I've got proof that when it comes to serving God and mankind, the little way can have a large impact.
I can't talk politics with my husband Mike. We always end up arguing for opposing sides. If I cite facts to support my position, he says, "You can find evidence for any assertion. The two biggest red-flag words are 'studies show'." (He's a lawyer, can you tell?). The "facts-as-evidence" approach to debate is senseless because the truth gets lost amidst the statistics. Besides, I try to be an informed citizen but giving a rational justification for my voting preference is impossible. How one votes is essentially a matter of the heart.
How we serve God is also a matter of the heart. Unfortunately, society doesn't always recognize our contributions with a financial reward. Starving artists (and hungry authors) don't draw the same income that, say, a surgeon does. In such cases, how can the dollars we earn possibly represent the difference we make in God's eyes?
When we look for proof that we are fulfilling our mission, the residue of our materialistic,celebrity-oriented culture clouds the evidence. We fall into the trap of evaluating our results by sales rank, salary amount, survey responses or congregation size. Believing that bigger is better, we feel small when the numbers aren't there. Although worldly success and service to God aren't always at odds, too many variables lie outside our control. And the more we try to control, the less room God has to do his work.
In my efforts to reach everywhere, I feel like an unattended water hose. I'm also exhausted. To regain my enthusiasm and reclaim my mission, I may need to reorient my strategy from fireworks to laser beam " away from the masses and toward a pointed few that actually want to be the change. This revelation led me in search of proof that small can be just as good as big. In some cases, I've discovered that "little" can be even bigger.
Saint Therese de Lisieux was a sickly girl who died of tuberculosis at age 24. Devoting her life to Christ as a nun at age 15, she spent her days dedicating small sacrifices, unseen by others, to God. Virtually unknown until her autobiography Story of a Soul was published posthumously (now in 35 languages), Saint Therese has prominent devotees all over the world who have been drawn in by her "little way." Indeed, Mother Teresa chose her name in honor of her. "What matters in life," wrote Saint Therese, "is not great deeds, but great love," demonstrating how ordinary acts can become extraordinary expressions of faith. "My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death," she explained. "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth."
Just as no act of worship is too insignificant, no person is too small to witness to. Philip was a deacon in charge of food distribution in the early church. He dutifully spread the gospel everywhere he went. Philip built a thriving and exciting ministry in Samaria, attracting an audience of thousands and the attention of Peter and John.
But God directed Philip away from the great crowds toward Gaza, where Philip had a "chance" encounter with a new believer who needed help understanding a verse in Isaiah. Philip told the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus and he rejoiced at the news. The meeting resulted in a baptism, but it must have seemed a simple errand to such an experienced teacher. Swapping a popular, relevant ministry for a lonely sojourn in a foreign land had to feel like a demotion. Were it me I'd surely ask, "God, wouldn't I be a much more powerful an advocate for you with a larger stage? Why are you sticking me in the middle of nowhere to do a bible study with a random foreigner?"
But God's plan was greater. Turns out the Ethiopian was a high-ranking official in the queen's court. Philip became the instrument that brought Christianity to the power structures of another government, sparking the beginning of the witness "to the ends of the earth."
My friend and fellow writer has a lot in common with Philip. Like his early church counterpart, Kent Travis also has four daughters and loves to teach people how to interpret the Old Testament. Kent's book Soil and Seed: Episodes from the life of Abraham, a powerful poetic tribute to the founding patriarch of the Israelites, is written in iambic pentameter after the style of Milton. Those attributes guarantee that his book will not reach the masses with any immediacy. If he gauges his influence on sales, he may never know what a big difference his little book has already made. At a minimum, it has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for faith-based writing (enough so that I am contributing to this forum again for the first time in four months).
Of course, it's not just what we write but how we live that speaks volumes. I still remember Kent at age 15 on his skateboard, listening to U2 and wearing t-shirts with bible verses all over them. (I thought this very curious back then because all I wanted to be was invisible). Kent's book today is a more sophisticated iteration of his unique brand of courageous devotion. Were it not for the gift of his book - proof that I am not too "little" to matter " I might not have thought to redirect my work back to its original focus.
It's too easy to aim for "bigger is better" when we don't keep evidence of the little way in front of us. And it's too common to chase the spotlight instead of reflecting the light. But Jesus provides the ultimate proof that being a big deal is not supposed to be part of the package:
"And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:44-45
If there is a single thing I've learned in sustainability it is this: we are all connected. As you search for the best way to serve, remember that no single mission or person is too small to count. No message is too insignificant to share and no book is too little to write. Evidence shows that our smallest acts can create enormous ripples. You don't always know whom you're talking to. And you can never foresee what God might do through them in his own time.
Anna Clark is the author of Green, American Style. She lives in Dallas with her husband and two children in one of Texas' first residences to earn a Platinum LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
by Patrick Watters
As Patti and I plan our "living quarters" at the "family compound" back in Sacramento, I've been thinking about how we've become so consumptive in the western world. The family home is a primary example of this evolution toward "bigger and better" (worse in my opinion) homes. We have gone from 1K square foot easily sustainable living spaces to 5K monstrosities with separated living spaces where no one has to enounter anyone else throughout the day. There are "living rooms", "family rooms", "AV rooms" (the entertainment centers of our media submersed culture) and more.My first home in North Dakota was about 800 square feet. We lived there with a native American family who also had a baby, our dads worked together on Garrison Dam. One "living space" that constituted kitchen, dining, living, work space . . . and also the only room with heat! :-) Then two small bedrooms (sleeping quarters) for each family. Oh, yes we did have indoor plumbing, including a bathrooom. Now, we have so many separate spaces we really can "avoid" one another if we want to. However, we are thinking of ways to be "family" and save money too. All of it also helps reduce our "carbon footprint"; energy conservation, etc.
This poor economy has everyone looking for ways to save, which is a great thing. It motivates us toward simplification and conservation, something we all should be doing anyway. I am personally excited to experience three generations under one roof, just hope we continue to "get along" and not become our own version of a bad reality TV show?! :-)
By Alexei Laushkin
"Go and Make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. " These words of Jesus seem straight forward enough, and to many Christians this going out and making Him known is a cornerstone of faith. In America today we might as well substitute nations for cultures or people groups; we live in a country of many nationalities.
One of these people groups is the environmental community. Maybe reading environmental makes you a bit uncomfortable perhaps not. Make disciples of all people. Creation Care is much more prominent in the church today but why have we stopped short of the next step? Building the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven for millions of American environmentalists, many who have been burned by their encounters with the faithful.
All of us on staff at EEN can tell you the stories. I'm at a National Geographic Event and a participant comes running over to me introduces himself and we spend the next 40 minutes talking about his dad who was a Southern Baptist pastor who could not approve of his vocation and so eventually cut him off from the family, or the Christian environmentalist who is embarrassed to tell his/her colleagues of their deep faith in Christ because they are not sure where to take their colleagues to church should they come to the faith.
What stops us from going thus far and no farther when it comes to reaching out to the environmental community? Francis Schaffer in his book Pollution and the Death of Man exhorts us that if we have an hour to talk to anybody about the faith spend the first half hour talking about creation, the great middleman, that endless testament to the Creator himself.
I can imagine some of us don't open up to others because we don't know that much about the environment. We look outside our window and go, yeah what beautiful trees, what a nice bush. But do we know what type of thing we are even looking at? A former colleague of mine would always take me to task for not knowing the names of local birds and truth be told I should have been embarrassed. I can't very well reach out to birders if I am pretty much ignorant. It's not enough to build a relationship over I like pretty things too, you need to know a little bit more about the communities you're engaging.
After a few months exploring and living out my value for local foods I can now have a pretty coherent discussion about where our foods come from. But I had to start by consulting a few classic environmental texts. The Consumer Choices Guide to Buying put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists. At least I didn't have to go into a book store or even worse bring the book out to my small group for show and tell. But yes it may mean going into the science section of your book store and picking up a few books.
Beyond getting over some of our understandable cultural hang ups we need to understand why we care for God's creation. Sounds basic enough, but you get to know your scripture. At the very least you need to be able to given an apologia (a defense) for God's relationship to the creation.
A great place to start is to check out our Creation Care Book Store and pick up a few books like Ed Brown's Our Father's World, Katharine Hayhoe's A Climate for Change¸ Jim Ball's Global Warming & The Risen Lord, Ben Lowe's Green Revolution, Jonathan Merritt's God's Plan for the World¸ and/or Cal Dewitt's Earth Wise. All of these book layout a basic biblical frame and narrative for a Christian view on creation.
Just to recap God made the world, called it good, blessed it to flourish, and asked us to use our creative talents to steward and maintain it. We introduced sin into the world. We fell. The creation was cursed because of us. Man's days were shortened; chaos and disorder were introduced into the Creation. Creation did not lose its' continual witness to God (see the Psalms, Paul, King David, etc.). Jesus showed us that he is Lord of creation (eye on the sparrow, calming the seas, physical resurrection). Creation waits for the Children of God to be revealed so that it might to be liberated from decay (Romans 8:20).
One day Jesus will come down to earth and all things will be made new. There will be a great judgment of the living and the dead and the Lord will once again fully dwell with his people in a created world.
I know Hybrid's are expensive (actually not really), being creation friendly will break the bank (nope), I'll become really liberal (probably not), people won't understand what I'm doing (when has that ever held you back?), it's just one more thing to add on (like following Jesus faithfully no matter what the call might be?), it's just " just what?
Try committing to one thing. Live out the faith as it relates to creation care. Go and make disciples. Don't go out on the street corner yelling. Don't go start meeting environmentalists in order to get them to go to church. Don't became an enviros friend and then dump them when it's clear they aren't as immediately in to how you practice your faith. Eat with them, get to know them, pray with them, share common passion, show them why you care for creation and most of all love them. Be with them, love them, trust God. That's about it.
If you can relate to this or have a personal story in this regard e-mail us by clicking here.
by Dean Ohlman
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5).
When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day (Luke 17:26).
Below are a few more of my thoughts on the interface of God, man, and nature from my Musings journal started twenty years ago. Here I wrestle with some of the issues that come to mind on the matter of technology. These thoughts, of course, don't hold a candle to the writings of Christian sociologist Jacques Ellul.
If you desire to dig deeper into the issues of technology as they relate to the Christian walk, you can't get much deeper than these two extremely significant works by Ellul: The Technological Society and The Technological Bluff. A key statement by Ellul in The Technological Society: "Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. Death, procreation, birth, all must submit to technical efficiency and systematization" (p. 128).
Thoughts from my musings on technology:
Technology and Evil
Technology is not evil. It is nothing more than utilizing God's gift of creativity to do our work. What makes it evil is how we go about it and what we use it for.
Technology has brought us both bane and blessing. Whether or not our use of technology will benefit us depends on our having the spiritual insight to know what is bane and what is blessing.
Technological progression in tandem with moral regression always results in evil and death. In our century we saw this in Nazism and communism. In the post-modern, post-Christian West we are beginning to see it also in capitalism.
Technological progress has very little to do with human progress.
Technology proposes a toast to modernity: "Here's to a healthier, easier, longer, and busier meaningless life."Too often we use our technology to circumvent our problems, not solve them. Merely because technology enables us to do many things we were not able to do before does not mean we must do them. Technological power, the result of our creativity that comes from our being created in God's image, must be accompanied by personal responsibility to our Creator. The great tragedy today is that our technological capacity is growing almost as rapidly as our moral standards and responsibility for self-limitation are declining. This is nothing less than a disaster in the making.
Yes, we may champion technology and human creativity, but at the same time we must take the personal responsibility that technology and creativity are directed toward the wise use of the earth"toward meeting our true needs and resolving our real problems. Years ago it was said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Today it's more like, "Build a better video game or develop a drug to enhance sexual performance and the world will beat a path to your door." How much we spend our technological powers on meeting real needs and addressing real problems is the measure of our humanity
Free market advocates tell us that competition and capitalism will automatically lead to greater efficiency. How does the common industrial practice of planned obsolescence fit into that picture? Dedication to efficiency would demand that products last as long as they possibly can and would see that waste is minimal. Dedication to profit, however, sees that products last only as long as a consumer thinks is reasonable and disregards waste by seeing it as a byproduct of profit-making. I would have more regard for the laissez-faire, libertarian community if it questioned its assumptions more"and more critically. [Be sure to go to Chris Jordan's amazing website and click on the "artwork" to see it morph into startling reality.]
Ideally technology is people using their God-given creativity to do God-mandated work using God-created resources. So if our science and technology are carried on without reference to God, how can it result in God-honoring results?The trouble with the technological multipliers of power is that we know far too much about how and when to start using them and care too little about how and when to stopusing them.
Ironically we can learn a valuable lesson from the gun lobby. It's mantra is "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." (Of course, guns make killing easier!) The lesson comes from broadening the scope: "technology doesn't do anything; people do."
True progress is always vertical; never horizontal. Hence technology has little to do with progress.
For most folks progress is the more or less automatic process of traveling farther along the road we're already on. But real progress is the process of changing roads and directions as often as it's necessary for us to become good and wise.
[Chernobyl photos source]
by Tom Rowley
Somewhere between hearing Tony Campolo chastise Christians for driving fancy cars, piling clutter in our driveway to peddle to yard-sale shoppers, and eyeing with ever-increasing angst my ever-increasing middle, I began to think about consumption as sin.
On the off chance that you're still reading, let me admit my own uneasiness with the topic. Here be dragons. And there is, of course, that darn log in my eye. Nonetheless, with mounting damage to ourselves, our neighbors and the planet, the notion that consumption"at some level--becomes an offense to God is worth pondering. Not least as we look toward Good Friday's horrific reminder of and payment for our offenses"all of them. The recently released Lausanne Cape Town Commitment sets the stage for such pondering when it asserts that ""love for God's creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth's resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism." The word "sin" may be absent, but the message is not.
The big problem, of course, comes in determining that level. When does consumption, necessary as it is for sustaining and even enjoying life, move from good to bad? Does the threshold vary from person to person? Culture to culture? Is it different for the billionaire than for the pauper? For the American versus the Ugandan?
To be perfectly honest, I don't know. Or maybe, to be perfectly honest, I don't want to know. Imperfect knowledge, however, is no excuse for inaction. Not on this front. Nor, for that matter, is imperfect motivation. I am heartened here by words of The Merton Prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going" and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
Not withstanding uncertainty about the level of consumption (or wealth being a blessing from the Lord, or the connection between consumption and jobs, or the claim that free markets and technology will solve the problems if only we let them), I believe my desire to consume less is pleasing to the Lord. After all, the Earth is the Lord's and all the fullness thereof, and he did assign it to our loving care.
And that belief is only strengthened by the frightening accuracy of this 1955 quote from retail analyst Victor Lebow:
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives is today expressed in consumptive terms"we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.
Dubbed "conspicuous" consumption by economist Thorstein Veblen and later referred to as "consumerism"; the behavior might best be described as "licentious""lacking moral restraint.
So what is one to do? Of the many possible responses, the worst choice is the one most often chosen: to punt. To claim that it's too complicated to sort out, too inconvenient to act upon, or too big for my meager efforts to matter. And then go on consuming as licentiously as before.
Instead, a good place to start with any sin is, of course, confession. Even if I only admit that I don't know how much is too much, but want to honor God and care for his creation by consuming rightly. And then to start trying. In our house, we've begun to ask of any potential acquisition: "Is it useful or is it beautiful?" If not, then consume not. Deliberate instead of licentious.
All of which may sound like a turn toward asceticism. I don't think it is. Rather, as with all acts of faithful obedience, deliberate consumption brings a blessing. A savoring of the fewer things I do consume. A savoring that gets lost when I consume with little thought"like a child deep in Christmas toys grabbing for the next one then the next. There comes also a deeper savoring of God, free from the clutter that so easily distracts, numbs and insulates us. A savoring that surpasses all else. One that leads us to join the psalmist in proclaiming, "Taste and see that Lord is good""
re-posted with permission
by Katie Davis
(The following takes place in Uganda)
"I thought that if she was just going to die anyway, I should let her die quickly. Then I wouldn't have to love her, and it wouldn't have to hurt. Anyway, if she lives, she'll just grow up to be like this. Who wants to live like this?"
5 months ago my friend Regina, a Karimojong woman who picks fallen branches off our street to sell as firewood and occasionally stopped in for water, came to me desperate. She and her 4 small children had been evicted from their house because for the fourth time in four months she had been unable to pay their rent. As I looked at the three youngest, all on the brink of starving to death, I will admit I judged her. I had been providing the family with food for a while now, how did the children still look like this? But as she breathed the words above I understood. If one's hope is not in Christ, she simply believes that life is hard and then you die. If this is the case then of course, of course, run from the hard. If you know the pain of losing a child and you know that you will, eventually lose this one too, then obviously your only choice is to run. Immediately, my judgment turned to sorrow.
I don't think I have to tell you what happened next. Regina, Girl, Capata, Salimu, and baby Katie moved in. They needed a place to go, they needed some hearty meals, and Regina needed someone to teach her how to love her children. Someone to teach her about the Savior.
"I am entrusting you with much," He whispered.
4 months ago Makerere, the resident "crazy man" of Masese showed up at my gate with his leg burnt to the bone. Believing that his leg was salvageable even after several doctors alleged otherwise, I continued to bandage it daily. The only problem? As soon as Makerere went home each day he again fell pray to the addiction that has haunted him for years. Drunk and stumbling around the slum, his leg would get dirty and he would forget to eat. There was no way it would heal if he kept this up. His house had been burnt down, the reason for his leg wound, and all Makerere really wanted was to die. We begged him to move into the small house in our backyard. (This little house serves as a place for men or families to stay while we minister to them so that both my family and our guests can maintain a semblance of "normal" life while living in community.)
Friends advised against it. "You can't move the crazy guy into your back yard. You can't let the crazy guy sit at your table." But the vote from the kids was unanimous. Yes you can. We packed his remaining belongings (a lantern, an extra shirt, and half of a chair) into our van and made him part of the family.
"I am entrusting you with much," God whispered.
Last week a grandmother approached me at worship in Buziika and handed me a 6 pound 7 month old. I wasn't really sure he was breathing. His mother is dead, his father is gone, and this grandmother is just not really sure what to do with him. Figuring he would need at least a month of high fat milk dropped into his little mouth every twenty minutes before he was ready to live in Buziika and be bottle fed by Grandma, we again made the decision to grow. The two of them hopped in the van to come home with us while Grandma learns to take care of sweet baby Juma. In conversation on the way home it was apparent that Grandma had some confused ideas about Jesus and witchcraft. I sighed as I realized that taking care of babies wasn't all we would be teaching her.
"I am entrusting you with much," He whispered.
Today Regina and all 4 of her children are incredibly healthy and happy. Though we will miss them terribly, it is time for them to move out, to stand on their own two feet. Regina has been doing some work around the house to build up some savings and with this money and a small loan from Amazima, will begin selling tomatoes and onions to make an income and support her family herself. She is a beautiful mother. She is a beautiful friend.
Makerere's leg is almost completely healed. Only some pink granulation tissue and lots of smooth brown skin cover the area that was once festering with infection. Makerere is 3 months sober. He will stay here for a bit longer because he is afraid to relapse, but soon he will begin attending vocational school. This face that was once constantly sullen is now ever-joyful. Makerere smiles and sings songs he has learnt at church as he rakes our leaves or picks eggplant from our garden.
While Grandma and baby Juma are still fairly new, Grandma is learning and Juma is already growing. They are a sweet addition to our days.
This house I call home, it is where people flock for help. For a glass of water, for a welcoming smile, for a story of redemption, for a place to belong. "Come and listen," we say. "Come and listen to what He's done for us. For you." These 8 will leave, but more will come. They always come. I don't know why us and I don't know why here. Our house is a wreck and dinner is late. We make a ruckus in the grocery store and we don't get invited out much because surely we will bring a screaming baby or worse, crazy people. We are late to church and sometimes we get there and one doesn't have shoes and one forgot to comb her hair. We are the messy ones. And we pray and we pray that we could spill out the grace God has so lavished on us.
13 pairs of eyes look at me as if I hold the world. I pray they learn from me half of what I learn from them. They are growing. Trauma from their pasts surfaces and we fight to cling to truth and joy. The days feel long but the years are so short. Time slips away and these little people transform into big people and I pray only that they are becoming people who know Him more.
"I have entrusted you with much," He whispers.
The book releases in October. I know what this means: more eyes on us. I struggle with the thought of it. All I want is more eyes on Him. I am just a broken mess, grabbing for His feet, reaching out to touch His cloak, thankful for His mercy that washes over me. I am just a little girl, relieved to crawl into His lap and curl up there.
He has entrusted me with so much. And from those who much has been entrusted, much more will be demanded. We want only to represent Him well. So I have taken some time away to feel the weight of it all. 13 little girls, the families in the back yard, friends, family, people in Masese, people in Buziika, people in America looking at me. And satan whispers, "Run. Run and run and run. No book. No blog. No more homeless people in the guestroom. Lock your doors. Take these 13 and just shut yourselves in and stay away from all these eyes because you are not good enough to have so many eyes on you. Run."
But I look out in the yard and I see only redemption. I see God making thorn bushes into pine trees. I see Him filling our holes with His blood. I see traumatized children that struggle sometimes but laugh mostly. I see them embracing these one-drunk, once-lifeless, once-starving people who are growing in a merciful, healing Father. I see lives changed and I see eternities changed. I see family where there once was only loneliness. And I don't know why He chose me, this broken little girl, to witness all of it.
I look up. And His voice is so much louder than satan's. "I have entrusted you with much and I have demanded of you much. But only with me will your life bear much. So run. Run and run and run into my arms. Run. Run and run and run into this world sharing this story that has Me at the center. This making of disciples, it is my business. And I am with you always and my burden is light. I spill through your brokenness and I will be glorified. I promise. I will be glorified." And that is all I want.
I sat in the heaviness. And I weighed the risks of sharing our entire life, all of it, the joy and the sad, the beautiful and the ugly, with the whole crazy world. And I know. That if on the other side of that risk is the possibility that someone may see Jesus in our brokenness and know that there is grace and purpose in theirs too, then the whole crazy world is welcome. For a glass of water, for a welcoming smile, for a story of redemption, for a place to belong. For a glimpse of a Savior who uses even us, the messy ones. "Come and listen to what He's done for us. For you."
We look up. We are thankful for the mess. We are thankful for the much. We are thankful for a story to share, the story of His death and His story in our lives.
Would you pray with us? That as eyes turn to us, they would see only Him. That however, whatever, wherever He would be glorified. He will.
re-posted with permission
Katie Davis is a 22-year old missionary to Uganda. She is the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization that feeds, educates, disciples, and loves people, especially children, in Uganda. She is in the process of adopting 13 Ugandan children. Read about her story and visit her blog to find out more about the incredible work God is doing through Katie.
by Patrick Watters
My earthly father instilled a deep appreciation in nature in all of his children. We were raised to respect, protect and preserve the natural world. His heritage as both Celtic and Native American seemed to ingrain closeness to the natural world in him. He was a Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts, including leader in The Order of the Arrow, as well as being a true "horse whisperer" in his own right from days as a youth in Montana.
So, what does this have to do with discipleship and creation care? Well, if discipleship is truly modeling and teaching Jesus in close, intimate relationship, then my father got it right. I personally see education as the key to creation care globally, and my sons, a PhD in astrophysics and another studying environmental biology, would agree. As a family, we always appreciated the natural world, the environment. Having a father who was educated as a environmental biologist didn't hurt, and being an Eagle Scout helped too.
We practiced recycling long before it was an accepted practice or even trendy. We don't own any gas combustion yard equipment, only manual and Dad's new electric mower (the old push model was getting a bit much for the old guy.) The boys still prefer the push model, by the way. Energy conversation, whole house fans, and more were the norm in our home as the kids grew up. The attitude of creation care is now ingrained in my own children, and they teach and practice it in their own lives. And, I continue to remind them that God gave us "dominion" over all creation . . . as good kings and queens, we must practice responsible, caring stewardship in honoring God's confidence in us.
by Dean Ohlman
Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)
A few years ago I had an enjoyable time teaching an adult Sunday school class out Dr. Richard Swenson's book Margin. I feel it is one of the most important books for our day and time. I firmly believe that if we gave ourselves ample margins in the way we live, we will be happier and healthier. A major aspect of Swenson's appeal is for us to live more simply"living in a way that reduces our consumption and consequent degradation of God's good earth. Following is a list I made about activities and attitudes that I believe are major hindrances to living more simply"and more in keeping with Jesus' admonition to us in His "Sermon on the Mount."
Dressing to impress, having a different change of clothes every day of the week for every season, and "keeping up with Joneses" materially have all become unquestioned practices for many Christians"as are having a new car and/or grand house to demonstrate business success or high-class status. We need to get back to asking what God thinks about us, not what our family and friends think or expect. Status favoring is a sin; so it should not be hard for us to understand that trying to move up the status ladder is also sinful.
Living simply is often hard work (splitting wood for a stove, and so forth), and it requires planning. It often means doing without some conveniences (a second car, expensive tools, rarely used labor-saving devices). It can mean a much smaller house. It would mean learning to once again become familiar with the outdoors (which could lead to dealing with bugs, critters and coping with uncomfortable weather conditions). Getting a book from the library instead of buying it is also inconvenient at times, but the stacks of once-read or never-read books on our bookcases are evidence that borrowing is far more frugal and practical.
There is risk involved with some elements of simplicity: Others may think we are crazy. "Maybe I will hate simple living and be miserable." "If I spend more time outdoors, I may encounter a snake or get the West Nile virus!" "If I garden, I might get rough hands and dirt under my nails."
Feeling that we must own everything and unwillingness to share with others will kill the attempt to live more simply. We often fail to acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God, that He owns it and that He expects us to use these gifts to honor Him and serve others. We have to make time and put out cash to pay for and maintain a lot of possessions"time and money we could likely spend more compassionately and "Christianly."
In the developed nations today covetousness has become a lifestyle. Trips to the mall and frequent browsing in catalogs and shopping online are virtual pastimes. Advertisers spend billions each year to compel us to covet. Even in our churches we frequently show off our nice new clothes, accessories, and vacation tans and delight when others covet us and our circumstances. Such a lifestyle is clearly sinful. As Christians we should know better.
One key to living simply is dependency upon God and upon His people. But dependence runs counter to the American way. We have to understand that living simply requires accountability to community with others.
We are still trapped in the "Me" generation. Many of us have never grown up and learned the joy of self-sacrifice. Everything does not have to be manipulated to please me.
Impatience is the killer of simplicity. Many good things take time (crafting, gardening, animal care, finding and experiencing solitude, and so forth) We must be ALIVE: Always Living In View of Eternity. If we do that, we can much more easily escape the urgency trap.
We are so committed to personal comfort that we will run up thousands of dollars on our credit cards in pursuit of it. Carpets are more comfortable than bare floors. Turning down the heat in the winter will make our homes less comfortable (like turning the thermostat up in the summer). Hard work often creates some discomfort (but often far more joy). How different this is from the way Jesus lived"even from the way Abraham Lincoln lived! Christians of the past would be appalled at the amount of money we spend merely to make ourselves more comfortable.
We must become wise enough to understand that children do not need Disney World, the best bike, the latest clothes, Wii, and hours of daily TV. Our children will be better adults and better Christians if we require them to take some of the responsibilities of living more simply. Over-protection is not good for children. They need some risk and hardship to truly mature. Spoiled children become spoiled adults.
Most of what we consider needs are actually wants. We seldom take the time to really question our wants. If we spent half the time honestly evaluating purchases as we do rationalizing them, we would likely need fewer garage sales.
One of our major problems today is people seeking to do Christianity before they have become Christians in the true sense. Many biblical heroes spent years becoming before God let them do anything. We mistakenly believe that it is what we do, not who we are, that God is interested in.
While cities, homes, offices and cars insulate us from the harsher aspects of the environment, they also hinder us from understanding the creation and what we are doing to it by our extravagant living. We are absentee stewards of the earth, and that can only lead to waste and loss.
A number of our hobbies and pastimes are very expensive and time-consuming. We fail to see that our time and money could be better spent on activities that really count for the Kingdom.
Our own economic system is based on consuming the environment, upon unchecked growth and development, upon graft, greed, and corruption, and upon marketing strategies seeking to compel us to buy what we do not need. Absentee owners of stock, commodities, and land often have no knowledge of the environmental impact of what they are supposed to "own".
Physical weakness and poor health:
Our lifestyles have made us soft. For that reason the hard work often required to live more simply is made more difficult than it needs to be. We must get into shape"not by spending thousands on health clubs and exercise equipment, but by good old-fashioned work and a return to walking places and doing regular exercising. Taking the time and effort to actually research and prepare healthful meals is also a requirement of the simpler life.
Our educational system and employment often force us into a constant keeping up with the latest information and purchasing the latest computer hardware and software required to be on the information superhighway. We must realize that much of this is unnecessary. In fact, it is hopeless if we believe we must keep up with everything new. We must develop the art of ig-NOR-ance: choosing wisely what to ignore.
Generally the entertainment industry glamorizes wealth, fame, possessions, and the pursuit of pleasure as the highest goals. We must fight this. Christians who have chosen to turn off the TV, shun the movie theater, reduce time on the Internet, and refuse to purchase electronic gaming equipment seldom regret it.
If we "must" read the paper, watch the news, take in our favorite TV programs, go out to eat, go shopping, maintain our hobbies, and watch all the key sporting events, we will not have time for the more significant tasks. It's wise to prioritize our activities so that the important things get done first"after we have carefully determined, with the study of Scripture, what is truly important to our Savior and Creator.
We often assume that if something takes time or work, it is impractical. When we take the easy"or "practical" road"we often miss the harder, but better, path. Making something beautiful, or going out of your way to experience something simply grand is often impractical.
To conclude, I yield the platform to C. S. Lewis:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
by Alexei Laushkin
"All things needful for the preservation and recovery of this peace, such as the objects which are accommodated to our outward sense, light, night, the air, and waters suitable for us, and everything the body requires to sustain, shelter, heal, or beautify it: and all under this most equitable condition, that every man who made a good use of these advantages suited to the peace of his mortal condition, should receive ampler and better blessings, namely, the peace of immortality, accompanied by glory and honour in an endless life made fit for the enjoyment of God and of one another in God; but that he who used the present blessings badly should both lose them and should not receive the others." --- St. Augustine, Securing the Peace of Babylon, from City of God, XIX.
In The City of God, St. Augustine spends much time and energy to distinguish between two stark realities. Realities reflected in the history of ancient Rome and in St. Augustine's own conversion and life; mainly life with Christ and life without. While he writes, St. Augustine also addresses some of the perennial questions asked of Christianity.
St. Augustine gives an interesting and powerful answer. He paints two pictures, two realities of life. In one reality he places everything which is non-Christian; in the other he places everything that is Christian. In detail he shows how these realities stand on their own two legs as it were. What can we say about man apart from Christianity? St. Augustine writes that he is fundamentally unjust that he lies to himself and is unable to secure peace with himself or his neighbor. He is unable to rise from the human condition.
For those who are in the Christian realm, man is able to secure a sort of earthly peace even if his life ends in futility in the present realm man has hope and confidence in the renewal of the goodness of creation brought about by Jesus himself. In the Christian realm, man is to be assured that the things that are of God from His life will not end but will go on in the life to come. Man may not be able to leave his offspring earthly treasure but he can pass on true riches, an abiding love and vibrancy of life with God that will pass down through many generations.
Presently, we've lost much of what St. Augustine was driving at in his distinctions. What would St. Augustine say to our age? He might very well ask our ideas of the good life? What is your own best life now? What do people seek?
According to St. Augustine the Christian waits patiently for the hope that He is promised and even offered in this life. In this quoted passage, St. Augustine reminds us that for those who call upon the name of the Lord the outflow of daily goodness and glory will flow directly into our eternal deposit. In God's way He will uphold His nature in your life in this world and the world to come. Though we see through a glass darkly we know that the things that last faith, hope, and love have an eternal outflow in the Heavenly realm.
For we do not foolishly hope that our good nature will win us the good life for the present. Yet, we can be assured that there will be an eternal deposit for those things found in Christ in our life today; meaning those things that have that same eternal substance and nature. As we stay close to the heart of Christ, we will begin to reflect His actual image in our daily spheres of life (marriage, work, relationships, etc.). O What a Glory and Joy, to serve the Lord even as Brother Lawrence would, even as a dish servant. This is a good, in the philosophical sense that only the people of God can attain.
But notice that St. Augustine says that to those who use the earthly material well, who use to benefit to those suitable to his mortal condition "light, night, the air, and waters suitable for us, and everything the body requires to sustain, shelter, heal, or beautify it;" that to those an immortal peace will be added for the heavenly realm, but to those who do not use the material well, who do not use this life on this earth well, all will be lost; both peace in this life and in the life to come.
If you cannot catch the heavenly vision in this life, it will not be given to you in the life to come. Man knows what is required of him, as St. Paul would say that the eternal nature of God is known from what he has made. From His Creation knowledge of Him the Father flows as an endless witness to the "crown of His Creation."
What is required of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God. To those who start now even more will be added, for those who do not, even the peace they thought they had will be taken away.