Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Theology of Earth Day

Earth Day took place this past week and, to be honest, it’s hard for me to get excited – usually Earth Day just comes and goes for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible for Christians to celebrate Earth Day in the right way. I’m sure many do. We can thank God for the physical world, enjoy the beauty of creation, and think through ways to be stewards of the earth, which God has put under our authority.

But the official Earth Day has become extremely political and its movement rests on several debatable premises, such as “the world is in greater peril than ever” and “climate change is the greatest challenge of our time.” This makes for poor theology about how we are to view the Earth and our relationship to it. More to the point, there are deep assumptions, unspoken assumptions, that too often provide the foundation for our basic thinking about the environment. Unless Christians are building on the right foundation, we will not think about environmental issues in ways that are most helpful and most biblical.

I think most Christians who celebrate Earth Day do so because they believe the world is a gift from God for us to enjoy. I’m going to assume that Christians understand the Creator - creation distinction. I'm also going to assume they aren’t worshiping the earth or divinizing the creation. I don’t think any Christian would disagree with this motivation.

But there are a few other bricks to lay in the foundation of wise environmental stewardship. Kevin DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan. He is someone I read often and respect. He simply and clearly explains three bricks that need to be laid in the foundation of our environmental understanding and exercise. Read below:

Brick #1: We must distinguish between theological principles and prudential judgments
Consider this wise counsel from Jay Richards in the Introduction to Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

With respect to the environment, the theological principles are easily stated and uncontroversial. The biblical picture is that human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order. We bear a responsibility for how we treat and use it. We are part of the creation, as well as its crowning achievement. God intends for us to use and transform the natural world around us for good purposes. Proper use is not misuse. But as fallen creatures, we can mess things up. No serious thinker in the Judeo-Christian tradition questions these basic principles.

Prudential judgments are another thing entirely. They require careful analysis of the relevant scientific, economic, and political aspects of an issue. They require us to weigh costs and benefits, and to discern where facts leave off and fashion begins. (3)

Richards goes on to use global warming as an example. Before we make definitive pronouncement about the “Christian position” on global warming we should consider a number of questions: 1) Is the planet warming? 2) If so, are humans causing it? 3) If we are, is this warming bad? 4) If it is bad, what are costs and benefits of the proposed solutions? There is legitimate debate about all four questions. But if often feels like to be taken seriously as a person who wants to steward God’s creation you must quickly answer yes, yes, yes to the first three questions and then be in favor of cap and trade, Kyoto, or some other government initiative. Earth Day is steeped in politics, advocacy, and a host of assumed solutions so that it becomes difficult for Christians of a different ideological bent to appreciate what may be good about the modern environmental movement.

Brick #2: People matter most
I know it’s not the point of the Legion story in the gospels, but I think it is a reasonable conclusion: the life of one man is worth more than 2,000 pigs. Does this mean every desire of men and women should be put before every consideration of the plant and animal world? Of course not. The Bible wants us to care for animals too (Exod. 20:10; Jon. 4:11; Deut. 22:4, 10; 25:4). But human life is more valuable than animal or plant life (see, for example, the sacrificial system). Christians should not be intimidated by the charges of speciesism. The Bible plainly teaches that man is the crown of God’s creation with dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:3).

Similarly, we in the West who, after centuries of increasing affluence, have the time, energy, and resources to pursue new environmental goals should not impose those same sensibilities on people in the developing world still struggling to survive. As Environmental Stewardship puts it:

Further advances in human welfare for the poor are not often threatened by a belief in the West that human enterprise and development are fundamentally incompatible with environmental protection…This false choice not only threatens to prolong widespread poverty, disease, and early death in the developing world, but also undermines the very conditions essential to achieving genuine environmental stewardship. (68)
Brick #3: People are producers, not just polluters
If there is one biblical insight missing from the modern environmental movement, it is this one. Too often a model is assumed where the earth is a healthy organism and humans are cancerous cells. All we do is pillage, pollute, and destroy. The world would be better off without us. Our goal then is to minimize our “footprint” at all costs. All we do, it is implied, is consume the planet’s valuable resources.

But the Bible also teaches that we are (sub)creators. We are capable of spilling 11 millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska. But we are also capable of turning virtually worthless sand into silicon chips. We can create beauty as well as despoil it. We can actually make a harsh planet more inhabitable, more conducive for human flourishing. Would anyone but the most ardent environmentalists rather live on Earth now or 4000 years ago? By God’s grace, humans have learned to feed more people and help those people live longer, healthier, easier lives.

We must resist the temptation to think of humans as intruders from another world wrecking carnage in a pristine environment. Instead we must see ourselves as stewards, called to subdue, enjoy, protect, use, develop, and make more humane God’s fallen creation. I would argue that Christians should not be seeking a romantic ideal where the earth is untouched by human hands. Rather, we want to think carefully about how we can use our hands to make the earth more hospitable for more people, so that we might enjoy the beauty, grandeur, creativity, and productivity of our Father’s world.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

48 Hours

People can speak and write (as I often do) on issues concerning life. But often times, it's the personal experiences that impact us the most. As many of you know, Dan Stephens broke his neck on Good Friday and his wife, Ashley, has recorded the thoughts, emotions, reactions, fears, etc., that they experienced during those first forty-eight hours. I hope you can see that even in the midst of so much uncertainty and fear that God is still good. He is still faithful. He is still sovereign…

by Ashley Peterson

We feel so loved to have so many people care and ask about Dan and his accident. We could feel your prayers. Below is the story. Let it be a testament to the protection and mercy with which God has blessed us. He is so, so good.

"Let's move the TV armoire downstairs."

Dan is on the bottom. I hear a crash. The TV stand slips out of his hands.
It smashes him into the wall. He somehow gets out.

Panic. Fear. His ear is bleeding. His neck hurts. We drive to the clinic thirty miles away.

"You should never have moved with a neck injury."

Neck brace. Ambulance. Glens Falls Hospital.
Laying in the ER for two hours. CT scan taken. Waiting.

"Dan, hold my hand while I tell you this news. Your neck is broken in 3 places. It is highly unstable."
I fall to the ground. I keep squeezing Dan's hand. He keeps wiggling his toes.

One hour later, the special ambulance team arrives. They study the CT scan to prepare to move Dan.
Dan is strapped in. Everyone is scared.

No one can believe Dan rode thirty miles in a car without protection.
They must not have known he was held by the Protector.

Dad prays over Dan.
One hour ambulance ride. I follow with mom and dad in the car. Praying. We walk in the ER.
Fifty people are around Dan. We aren't allowed in.

"Can he move his fingers and toes?" I am crying. "We can't tell you anything for fifteen to twenty minutes."

Waiting. Praying. Shaking. We finally see him.
"Dan is fortunate- one move and he could have been paralyzed.
People try to move their necks and fall to the ground."

ER. Talk of emergency surgery or a halo. The guy next to Dan is having a heart attack.
We see the three large cracks on Dan's vertebra on the computer. Scared.

Moved to the spine ward. It's a waiting game.
MRI. The nurse sits down with me alone and goes through all the options.

Surgery- potential of paralysis from the jaw down. Halo. Months of recovery.

I am shaking. God allows that moment to be when my best friend arrives. She sits with me.
We talk about different scenarios. What would happen. What we would do.
Pray. Pray. Pray. MRI is finished. We wait. We pray.

Doctor tells us he feels there will be no surgery. No halo. How can this be? We are happy but a little in disbelief. We are nervous. We have to wait for the head surgeon to hear the final word.

Nightime. Dan can't sleep. Neither can I. He starts shaking uncontrollably.
Nurse takes forever to give him something. Praying the shaking doesn't hurt him.
The Glens Falls nurse told us any movement could damage him.
The Lord protects him.

Waiting. Friends. Family. We feel the love. We feel all the prayers.
Doctor concurs with the night doctor.
Says "You will not go paralyzed. Just don't get into a car accident or something".
We have long drives ahead. I'm scared. My faith holds me.

Scans. Scopes. X-rays. Tubes. So many questions. Waiting for answers.

We keep hearing how lucky Dan is. Lucky? No, God protected him.
Some scary moments.
Moving Dan so many times. Trying on new braces. Figuring out medicines with Dan's allergy to morphine.
God protects Dan.

We hear more and more. "He's going to be okay. Just be careful as he heals."
I think, "We were careful when we were moving furniture." Clearly, "Just be careful..." scares me.
We survive on faith alone.

"Dan's doing better than we could have hoped. He's so lucky." Luck had nothing to do with it.

We travel home. "God protect us." God does. We thank Him.

He is so gracious to us. I keep holding Dan's hand. He says he feels like God gave him a second chance at life.
I feel the same way. God doesn't owe us anything. Everything is a gift.

We have a long road ahead. We are scared. Cautious. Nervous.
God will protect Dan's neck. God will fill us with peace. He is doing it right now.

What would we do without our faith in Jesus Christ? If John 3:16 wasn't true?
If we didn't have the resurrection to celebrate today?

I couldn't have made it through this weekend without my faith. without all the prayers. Dan feels the same way.

So that is the story. In a nutshell.
The weekend felt like a whole year long, yet it went by like a whirlwind.
The next six months will feel so long. But in the end, Dan will be like new. There should be no mobility loss.

I don't know how to end this note except to say thank you for your prayers. Thank you for caring.
Thank you for your words of encouragement. We are forever thankful for our family in Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Must Confess

Over the last couple years, I have wrestled with my understanding of confession. Growing up, and into college/seminary, I often heard of how important it is to confess my sins to the Lord, even after my conversion, in my relationship with Him. I've also heard many people say, in relation to communion, that there should be no known, unconfessed sin in one's life – which would make them unworthy to partake in communion. Many people see confession as the time one takes to present their acts of disobedience to the Lord. And I have to be honest that these ideas about confession sit in my heart like sour milk would sit in my gut on a sunny, ninety-degree day – sick!

I am troubled by this understanding of confession for many reasons – and I while I believe each reason has sufficient Biblical reasoning in themselves, I would much rather you take them all as a whole.
1. It brings our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. It's comparing, not contrasting, His love and forgiveness to the love and forgiveness of an earthly father. THERE IS NO COMPARISON. While earthly fathers are to reflect the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. of God the Father, in all our striving we don't even come close. I am a poor dim reflection – just ask my kids. While, at times, Scripture does use, and thus makes it appropriate to use, the illustration of an earthly father to draw out, or teach, an element of our Heavenly Father – it never, ever, ever is appropriate to bring our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. This just devalues the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness God pours into our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Behind the guise of humility and obedience, it emphasizes a heart's attitude that makes confession an act of righteousness that can improve my standing before God. It's a "spiritual" rock, other than Christ, on which I can stand. Whenever you assign the power to justify, or sanctify, to a person, or an act, you are stealing a power, and a role, that belongs only to God – and that's idolatry (Romans 10.3-4).
3. It makes one's relationship with God dependent, not totally on Christ - but also on my confession. That's not freedom – it's condemnation (Romans 8.1).
4. I am so utterly depraved, my sin is so abounding, that I cannot possibly bring a list of any accuracy to God.
5. Related to the previous point, yet distinct from it – everything I do, every act of "righteousness," is tainted with my sinfulness. Therefore, I cannot possibly present a list of any worth to God.
6. This mindset and heart's attitude does not accurately reflect God's desire and aim in our confession before Him.

Now, after all that, let me say that I do believe spending time in confession with the Lord is imperative and an act of obedience. And while it is, at times, very appropriate to confess specific sins, such as habitual ones that seem to have constant victory over you, that is not God's overall aim in requiring confession from us. God's end is that Jesus would be exalted – and that He would be glorified. So, as we confess, we are to focus more on the rebellion of our hearts (pride, self-centeredness, anger, bitterness, deceit, jealousy, idolatry, indiscipline, weakness, inconsistency, discontent, etc.). Our sinful actions flow from our rebellious hearts. Searching our hearts, not our actions, will bring transformation (Proverbs 4.23). And in confessing the rebellion and depravity of our hearts, we must do so in light of the greatness of God. We need to confess to God who we know Him to be (praise) and confess what we know He's done for us in Christ (thanksgiving). This should be a regular time in which we spend with Him.

I want to close with this quote from Scotty Smith – “When I confess my sins, I’m never informing God of something he doesn’t already know. I’m only echoing the call to greater freedom whose origin is in the concert hall of the gospel. When I express a need, the repository of heaven has preceded my cry, readying sufficient grace and supplies beyond my imagination.”

Wow! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Centrality of the Resurrection

This past week I woke up in the middle of the night a few times, not immediately able to fall back to sleep. So, as I lay there staring into the darkness of my bedroom, I found myself thinking about, of all things, Jesus' resurrection. For Christians, Easter is our day. It's the day the work of our Savior was validated by His Heavenly Father and, therefore, our faith has now gained an object. We don’t have to have a general, flimsy faith that sometimes works and other times fails us because it's generated from within our own selves. No, our faith has meat. Now, it has muscle because our faith is given to us by the one who did the work - Jesus Christ conquered sin and death in His perfect, righteous life which was given up - and RAISED UP.

The resurrection of Jesus is where the victory was declared. If there is no resurrection, there is no Savior and no redemption. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is just like every other religion in this world – a bunch of people worshipping a dead idol. Even Paul acknowledges this - And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15.14-15) In other words – if there is no resurrection, we are frauds.

The great puritan theologian, John Owen, said this about the centrality of the resurrection: “This truth is so important that nothing in religion can exist without it. The apostles diligently confirmed it in the first churches; and for the same reason it was attacked by Satan and denied and opposed by many. This was done in two ways: first by an open denial of any such thing – “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12); and second, those who did not dare to attack it directly expounded it in an allegorical way, saying that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Tim. 2:18). Observe that our apostle in both cases does not only condemn these errors as false but declares positively that their admission overthrows the faith and makes the preaching of the Gospel vain and useless.” Note well – denying the resurrection, or allegorizing it away, invalidates everything else in Christianity.

When it comes to Jesus, people deny everything under the sun – from His deity, to the things He said, to the things He did. You don't have to look long or hard to find someone who has a problem with Jesus in some way. And yet, many of those people will even categorize themselves as a Christian. There are even countless numbers of people who don't take God seriously (I am referring to those who have an awareness of God but live as though they are their own god) and still call themselves Christians. But please understand, this is the reality – a denial, in any way, related to Jesus' deity, teachings, and/or works, or anything less than a surrendered heart and passionate pursuit of God, is ultimately a denial of Jesus' resurrection. The sovereignty and power a resurrection demands cannot expect anything less.

Take the time to just think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So many words/thoughts will flood your mind/heart – power…strength…completion…finality…approval…victory…commitment…. Note that last word because if Jesus is the reality of your life (the one through whom you see everything else) and His resurrection is the power of your life (Philippians 3.10) there will be no half-hearted pursuit of God. You will strain to live in reckless abandon to Him.