by Steve Studebaker
Creation Care as Christian Formation
My sister and I were in college and graduate school at roughly the same time. She earned degrees in environmental science and management and I in ministry and theology. Her work concentrated on tending the earth and mine on the church and "souls." I thought I had pursued a higher calling than her and frankly thought her somewhat crazy for trying to "save" the spotted owls and old growth forests. However, now I believe she was hearing the groans of the Spirit within creation and "[keeping] in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25).
Many Christians will have little trouble considering their religious and moral activities of prayer, Bible study, and fasting as empowered by the Holy Spirit and acts of Christian formation. But fewer evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit's work and, much less, as a form of Christian formation. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation is a way the Christian can "keep in step with the Spirit." In other words, buying organic fair trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way "to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" as praying, attending church, and fasting (Philippians 2:12). What I want to suggest is that creation care is a way that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to foreshadow and in a real way participate in the ultimate renewal of creation (i.e., the New Heaven and the New Earth). Just as the activities that Christians typically classify as spiritual and moral are participations and foretastes of the everlasting kingdom through the Spirit, so also are efforts in creation care. In short, creation care is a form of Christian formation and discipleship.
Often we limit the Holy Spirit's work to the inner spiritual dimension of our lives. Yet, Scripture has a more expansive and earthy vision of the Spirit's work. The Spirit who works in Christians and fosters their participation in the grace of Christ, which finds its fulfillment in the God's everlasting kingdom, is also at work throughout the cosmos and will ultimately "liberate creation from its bondage to decay" and usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Romans 8:21 and Revelation 21:1).
The Spirit who is present and working in the Christian is present in and seeking the well-being of every part of creation. Christian formation is the process in which the work of the Spirit in the lives of people meets the presence and work of the Spirit throughout creation, both in its human and non-human dimensions. The inherent connection between human sin and redemption and the suffering and renewal of creation highlights the relationship between creation care and Christian formation The connection, on the one hand, between human sin and environmental suffering and, on the other hand, between human redemption and environmental deliverance indicates that when human persons experience liberation from sin, it leads to the renewal of the land and its creatures.
The theological rationale for creation care is the principle that the triune God's redemptive program extends to all of creation and not just to the human "soul" and to traditional "spiritual" disciplines. The benefit of an expanded vision of God's redemptive mission means that all of life is the arena for God's redemptive activity, whether directed toward the traditional "spiritual" dimensions of soul care or more broadly toward creation care. A vision of the mission of the triune God that comprehends all of creation enables Christians to see creation care as a dimension of their Christian formation.
by Gary Bergel
"Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people.... This, then, is how you should pray.... Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 4:19, 6:9, 11:29)
A prayer common to Christians worldwide is what we now call "The Our Father" or "The Lord's Prayer" -- a model prayer which Jesus of Nazareth, Rabbi Yeshua, taught his disciples as they sat together on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. A "rule" or pattern of prayer was part of the "yoke" of teaching that each rabbi presented to their followers and guided them in. Jesus lived the "yoke," the "Way," that He taught. (Matthew 6:9-13, 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; John 11:41; Acts 9:2, 9:9,23)
Every now and then I try to set myself free from ruts of familiarity with the phrases of this oft-repeated prayer. I do word studies, reflect on commentaries and sermons, and read teaching by authors new to me. Such study and meditation deepens my understanding and refreshes my prayer life. I often glean significant nuances of language and meaning.
One "discovery" radically adjusted the way in which I approach the Lord for provisions " whether finances for family or ministry, evangelistic outreach and church-planting, earth stewardship and community service, equipment and supplies, education and training for the children, music, books and reading materials, even in making Sabbath, vacation and recreational selections.
"Give us this day our daily bread," contains a compound word which is used nowhere else in the New Testament.
The very familiar phrase, "Give us this day our daily bread," contains a compound word which is rare in either classical or sacred Greek, and is used nowhere else in the New Testament. The Greek word, epiousios, rendered "daily," is found only in Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3. Linguists and Bible commentators have speculated upon its derivations and full meaning for centuries. Some speculate that it is derived from epi and ousia and signifies "bread for sustenance." Others contend that a more probable derivation is from epi and eimi, "to go," and that the prayer is for "bread for going on." Another linguistic derivation is from he epiousa which yields "for the next day" or "for the day already dawning."
A literal English translation of the Greek can be rendered "the bread of us, belonging to the morrow, give us each day." Many versions of the Bible include the marginal translation, "Give us our bread for the morrow" or "for the morrow's journey." Commentators agree that the word carries a settled sense of an appointed, sustaining measure" an amount that is sufficient "for the day already dawning." In ancient Israel an adequate supply of bread might be purchased by or passed to those travelers setting out on "a day's journey," often across arid, hostile and dangerous, or uninhabited regions. Jesus notes that such a provision to sustain those sojourning might even be persistently demanded and procured at midnight. (Luke 11:5-13)
Our pattern for asking for "our daily bread" might then better be understood to mean, "grant to us our full provision for the morrow, that which is necessary to sustain us on our assigned journey and to complete our appointed mission." This would interpret and position "our daily bread" more in the context of the "Thy will be done" and "Thy kingdom come" emphases immediately preceding. It would also reflect and heed the Lord's prior admonitions from both the Matthew and Luke accounts that we be careful to know our Father's heart toward us, and not to doubt His covenantal commitment to supply our basic human needs.
We are admonished not to worry, waste words or vainly repeat requests.
We are clearly admonished not to waste words, worry, or vainly repeat requests when praying for mundane personal needs. Our Father already knows what we have need of before we ask Him. (Matthew 6:6-8) Scripture also instructs us to emulate the example of Mary who worshipfully waited upon the Lord and was not worried and obsessively concerned about the many small matters of life. (Luke 10:38-42)
The unique Greek compound shows that our Lord's directive reaches far beyond asking for daily sustenance. I believe it points to the proactive, strategic, tactical requests we are to be making for the daily proclamation and actualization of the "gospel of the kingdom." It encompasses a thoughtful and regular requisitioning for the finances, supplies, collaborative assistance, provisions and protection necessary for "fishing for people" -- the redemption and disciplining of all nations, all peoples, all ethnos, and for the tending, cultivating and renewing of the earth. (Matthew 24:14)
Personally, I now pray for "our daily bread" primarily in the light of fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. (Matthew 5:43-45, 28:19-20) The daily ushering in of more of Christ's renewal and kingdom reign -- His person, peace and rule already in our midst, reaching for our neighbors and all in the human family, coming and coming more, unto consummation at His return. Such "kingdom" world-reaching requisitioning connotes a military aspect and is part of each believer's spiritual warfare. The Bible reveals Jesus Christ as "the ruler over the kings of the earth," and "the Lord God of hosts," conquering Lamb and Commander of the armies of heaven. (Revelation 1:5, 5:12, 11:15)
Imagine that you are on officer on the front lines engaged in a continuing battle. (Ephesians 6:10-13 teaches that we are all engaged in ongoing spiritual "wrestling," a warfare ultimately not with human beings but with unseen satanic forces.) Past training and experience helps you assess what assistance, equipment and supplies it will take to hold your position, and what additional deployments will be necessary to advance your front. You make phone or radio contact with headquarters, and you brief your Commander, on the situation and requisition what is needed. Your requisition is either approved as is, or is adjusted and forwarded to the supply depots, which dispatch all that you need to fulfill your mission.
Think of the consequences if you were foolish enough not to connect with headquarters and failed to requisition what you knew was necessary for survival and success. Asking only for K-rations might allow you to stay alive, maybe long enough to be overrun by the enemy when you run out of fuel and munitions.
This kingdom insight into praying for "our daily bread" should be of strategic interest to all of us collaborating together as part of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Undeniable climate change and discordant severe weather is enveloping the earth. The poor suffering from pollution and treatable diseases, and from water and food scarcity, climate orphans and refugees, energy-deprived nations needing light and electricity from clean, sustainable sources---all these and more need our immediate and ongoing collaborative concern and assistance. The rule of prayer which Jesus taught His disciples is actually universal and "other" minded.
In summary, let us see that the Way of Jesus instructs that we must (be careful to) requisition heaven (our headquarters and supply depot) for the supplies, volunteers and staffing, finances, equipment, "munitions and protective air cover" necessary to complete our assigned evangelical redemptive life-care and earth-care missions.
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)
Christ's "yoke" requires that we, like Him, take time to draw off, inquire, and know the will of God and the foreordained works we are to individually and corporately accomplish. (Ephesians 2:10) Such relational engagement entails consultation, obedience, accountability and adjustment.
Keeping this heightened "Lord's Prayer" perspective in mind, let us unite anew in requisitioning our Lord for tomorrow's full provision today. Let us pray for the supplies WE ALL NEED for ALL of our strategic EEN partnerships and deployments: "Give US this day, OUR daily bread."
With supplies "for the morrow" on hand, in transit and released anew each day from the storehouses and treasuries of heaven"which transcend fluctuating earthly economies and never suffer lack"we can be certain of ongoing impact and redemptive achievement.
by Mitch Hescox
I have a confession. I'm an evangelical Christian and I love to share Jesus. I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love. Jesus' story is a love story - a love for God, for all creation, a special love for the most vulnerable, for you, and for me. Jesus' love story doesn't offer an escape from this world, but it does offer hope for a new one, a renewed creation where all things are made new. The ultimate focus of the scriptures is that in the end Jesus will return us to a new beginning, a beginning that reflects its original design.
That original story, the one in Genesis, tells us that God walked daily with humanity, and we walked with him, living in sustainable peace with the rest of creation. The beginning expressed God's goodness in all that was created including the genuine happiness and joy that ensued.
In telling Jesus' love story, I'm not willing to make the same mistakes made by the 19th century social gospel movement. Sin still exists and God's Kingdom won't be complete until Jesus' return. However, the already but not yet exists, and we as Jesus' disciples are commanded to live now in the expectation of the future fulfillment. In fact, we must live as Jesus for this world until he returns, and that means loving as Christ loved - his greatest commandment.
1 John 3:19-24 (CEV)
When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in
the presence of God. But even if we don't feel at ease, God is greater than our
feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we feel at ease in the presence
of God, we will have the courage to come near him. He will give us whatever we ask,
because we obey him and do what pleases him. God wants us to have faith in his Son
Jesus Christ and to love each other. This is also what Jesus taught us to do. If we obey God's commandments, we will stay one in our hearts with him, and he will stay one with us. The Spirit that he has given us is proof that we are one with him.
Christ's love alive in us makes the world worth living in and provides us our daily provision for happiness, fulfillment, and joy. While this may seem like some empty statement, it's real and changed my life. I admit it's hard to explain until you receive Jesus' love, but those who have it know it, and those who don't have to ask for it. Jesus' followers overflow in his love and know it's more wonderful than anything is. Jesus' love makes life complete. His love satisfies more than the sweetest kiss or the joy of childbirth. Jesus' love outlasts the latest toy - even big people ones, the most successful business deal or even the great joy of grand parenting. Simply put, knowing Jesus' love and sharing that love supersedes anything human. It's the greatest joy in the entire universe and the greatest story ever told. Yet, we, the American church, seem to live more in fear and fear's external symptom, hate.
In the 4th Century, Gregory of Nyssa characterized the Christian journey in three stages. The first stage begins in fear as in being a slave, the second seeks reward as a good servant, and finally a friendship based on love and relationship. Gregory's points have too often become the basis for the church's theology and evangelism. Come to Jesus and save yourself from damnation (fear) - certainly the message of many an evangelist is "the sinners in the hands of an angry God." Others stress the reward of heaven, but unfortunately, this focus on escaping the present reality does nothing to further our Lord's commands to love and care for the least of these. Only as we transform by God's grace to understand God as sovereign friend in a loving relationship do we find the real good news in Jesus.
Looking around the evangelical church today or at least what so many evangelical leaders share in the press, it is hard to find deep expressions of a love built upon a relationship with Jesus. Joy should be the outward visible countenance of Christians. We should be the happiest people on earth. We have been freed from our pasts, have a friend in a glorious Savior, and a future already known. Christ's love does amazing things all around and when I look around within my church circles - I see fear and hate dominate so much. It's as if we are returning to the mourner's bench.
No one knows the full history but sometime in the early 19th century Methodist and Baptists began an interesting evangelism technique, the mourner's bench. The bench, originally used in camp meetings and later incorporated into sanctuaries, was placed right in front of the preacher, and many times the community's most "despicable" character was forcibly seated there. In true "hell fire and brimstone" preaching the "sinner" mourned their past and repented of their sins to avoid damnation.
Fear, manipulation, and coercion forced many a conversion and certainly a bit more friendly than the few hundred years' earlier method of being burnt at the stake. (The theological belief was it was better to feel the fire and recant instead of spending an eternity in flames.) Neither the mourner's bench nor the stake can be considered acts of love. Fear simply doesn't reflect Jesus or His Kingdom - not now, not ever. Repeatedly Scripture records the message, fear not. Fear represents the actions of the overly zealous and the misguided blinded by their allegiance to doctrine and not biblical faith. Somehow, I believed we were overcoming the "fear factor" but it's ripe and spreading across our nation. Just look at current events, religious leaders, politics, and everyday life for a glimpse.
We see Christians quoted in newspapers disparaging Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney for being a member of the Latter Day Saints and the same folks referring to our current President as a Muslim. Are these statements acts of love? We see immigrants dehumanized daily and yet Scripture has clear commands for caring for the stranger. Is this love? Nowhere more does fear and fear mongering present itself than attacks on science.
It's incredulous that our society has grown dependent on modern medicine, electronic technology, air travel, and literally millions of scientific advancements but we still love to belittle science. Recently, I witnessed a pastor giving a sermon berating science from his Ipad- talk about an oxymoron! Nowhere does this fear present itself as pure ugliness than in sharing climate change, the greatest moral challenge of our time.
Today across the world people are hungry, thirsty, disease ridden, and dying by the hundreds of thousands each year but so many in the United States deny climate change reality because of fear. Even with every major scientific body in the world recognizing that climate change results from humanity's use of fossil fuels - fear dominates reality. Moreover, there are those who spread the fear with name-calling and identifying people like me as a "Green Dragon", a not to subtle reference to the evil one's beast from the New Testament's Book of Revelation.
Personally, I refer to myself as the Jolly Green Giant filled with Christ's joy and hope rather than the allusion to fear. Fear preys on our fallen humanity instead of the life given in Christ. Fear degenerates into a mentality of scarcity instead of trust in the Good Shepherd to provide all our needs.
Psalm 23 (NIV)
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Recently the Heartland Institute, thankfully, failed in their attempt to continue this fear campaign in the secular world by linking climate change believers to Osama Bin Laden and the Unabomber. Calling people names, linking them to evil and dehumanizing them are broad attempts in both the church and the secular world to feed on our most basic fear: change. Fear of change isn't new. Who among Christians doesn't remember the Exodus story?
In the middle of the wilderness, Moses faced a revolt as many wanted to return to their known life of slavery instead of moving forward toward freedom's hope in the Promised Land. However, those living in much of the majority world don't have 40 years for us to grapple with our fear. Fear exacerbates our reality and delays God's hope for us all. It's time to reject fear and those who profit from it and move forward together in love, Jesus' love for all God's children.
Imagine what might have happened if Jesus gave in to his last temptation, fear. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced temptation to deny the cross and have the "cup" removed as fear almost overcame love. In the most powerful scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ Jesus arises from his temptation and stomps the serpent signaling victory over fear. Jesus' victory in the garden, on the cross, and ultimately his resurrection provides the love to overcome our fear and trust in the hope of our Risen Lord.
Are we returning to the mourner's bench and allowing fear to dominate our faith? I hope not for it's not the way of Jesus. I can't speak for all the church, but I have hope provided in Christ's love to overcome our challenges, live like Christ and share the good news of Jesus and His Kingdom. For me it's simple, it's love.
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know 'tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story,
'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.
By Katherine Hankey
The Rev. Mitchel C. Hescox is President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network
By John Elwood
On a fine summer morning last July, the mail carrier brought me my copy of John Stott's valedictory work, "The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling." Within hours, I heard the news that Stott had died at age 90.
We knew, followed and cherished John Stott for many reasons. Londoners knew him as the beloved rector of All Souls Church. Around the world, he taught Christians and seekers with his writings: more than 50 books in many languages, including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ and The Living Church. He was the chief architect of The Lausanne Covenant, a document which has come to define evangelical theology and practice throughout the modern world.
And his voice was heard far beyond the Christian church. In 2004, the New York Times wrote: "If evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose." The following year, Time Magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world.
But in the last years of his life, Stott grew concerned about "selective discipleship" among his contemporaries " "choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly" is how he described it. "But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority."
And so at age 88, he penned his final work, by hand, focusing on eight areas that Christians often neglect as a way of avoiding costly " or radical " discipleship. They range from "Christlikeness" to "Simplicity" and even to "Death." But they include one which gets almost no air time in contemporary American evangelical dialogue:
For Stott, care for the creation has nothing to do with deification of nature. On the other hand, it entirely rejects exploitation of the earth. Rather, it focuses on cooperation with God in conserving and nurturing the creation. "[God] has deliberately humbled himself to make a divine-human partnership necessary," he wrote. "He planted a garden, but then put Adam in it 'to work it and take care of it' (Gen. 2:15)."
And what are the key areas today for disciples of Christ to cooperate with God in tending his creation? Stott lists three crucial trends:
1) Depletion of the earth's resources, from wanton deforestation and habitat destruction to degradation of oceans and exploitation of fossil fuels
2) Excessive waste disposal, from thoughtless packaging and mindless consumerism, causing the average Briton to "throw out his or her body weight in rubbish every three months"; and
3) Climate change, the accumulation of greenhouse gases that threatens all the world's ecosystems with "the specter of global warming, which may have disastrous consequences on the configuration of the world's geography and weather patterns."
This last item " climate change " deserves special attention in Stott's call to discipleship. "Of all the global threats that face our planet, this is the most serious," he writes. "One cannot help but see that our whole planet is in jeopardy. Crisis is not too dramatic a word to use."
What should Christians do? Stott offers a short list: Support Christian environmental advocates and ministries; use sustainable forms of energy; switch off unneeded appliances; purchase necessities from companies with ethically-sound environmental policies; join local conservation societies; avoid overconsumption; and recycle as much as possible.
But more important than any list of do's-and-don'ts is Stott's sense that creation care is essential to discipleship, however rare in the modern American religious landscape. He quotes his colleague Chris Wright in calling Christians to repentance:
"It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it."
Christians who want to follow Stott in "radical discipleship" will do well to remember who it is that owns this planet we call home: "To the Lord your God belong the heavens, the earth and everything in it" (Deuteronomy 10:14).
by Patrick Watters
When we started we were strangers
barely knowing each other's names.
Now we love as brothers and sisters
and we will never be the same.
Now we have seen and we have heard
that our God is full of love and grace,
for the wilderness that was our hearts
He's transformed into a holy place.
God called forth this people
and responding to His call,
they rebuilt the ancient ruins
and restored the city walls.
The live as holy people
redeemed from the fall.
For God and His Christ
have become their all in all.
(based on Gerry Tuohy's ""God Called Forth A People")
by Alexei Laushkin
It's a common question when one leaves college or home for the first time and suprisingly does not get much clearer or easier as time goes on. It's a question we all muddle through together. Thankfully, in light of scripture the question becomes a lot clearer. We are to be about forming the character of Christ in our lives.
This is certainly true of our ministry focus at EEN. As a ministry we seek not the simple growth of the church but growth coupled with deepth. We want to lay aside the course of the world that so easily entangles us into the patterns of culture. To help embody and set forth the biblical vision for tending this world that God made. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:1).
God is calling us into something more. He is calling us into a deep call of obedience and an obedience that leads to an abundant life. Jesus is calling us towards not simply right thinking but right living. He is transforming our character to Christ's. As John Stott put it "Christlikeness is the purpose of God for the people of God."