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Monday, February 17, 2020

He Saves the Animals Too - God's Green Earth, part 2

Introduction
Although modern Evangelical Christians are sometimes accused of shying away from teaching and preaching about environmentalism,  creation care has been part of the Christian faith for a long, long time.  Environmental themes and theology saturate the great hymns of the Church in songs like "For the Beauty of the Earth", "This is My Father's World", "How Great Thou Art", and "All Creature of Our God and King" (the words of which were written in 1225 by Saint Francis of Assisi).  Though the theology is deeply embedded in our faith, we don't always give creation care the attention it deserves.

Last week I shared how God created the green earth and we are supposed to take care of it as good stewards.  The earth is the Lords and all that’s in it.  You may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.  And in order to be good stewards who take care of the environment, you must get to the core of the problem.  You must repent of your sin and turn to Jesus as Lord so that he can restore you to a right relationship with God. Then you will recognize the earth is the Lord’s and you will begin to treat the earth with the care it desires as one of God cherished creations. 

Last week, I didn’t talk much about animals; and that’s what I want to concentrate on today.  What about the animals?  The title of the message is, “He Saves the Animals Too.”  The title is inspired by the story of Noah.  You know this story, but have you ever thought of why God saved the animals on Noah’s Ark?
 
Genesis 6:17-19
17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood.

Why Did God Save the Animals?
Have you ever thought about why God saved the animals? I mean, if they’re not important (as some people seem to think), why didn’t God go to the trouble of gathering all the animals onto the Ark? They are important to God.
All creation suffers because humanity’s sinfulness.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought a curse on all creation, including the animals.  Even though the animals did nothing wrong, they were under the authority of people and so they suffer the curse right along with us.  The way God created the world reveals a hierarchy among creation and the animals.  As God's creating progresses, things move from more and more complex elements.  First God creates light, then  water, then sky, then land.  And now the life forms become more and more sentient:  plants then fish then birds then land animals and finally people.  We see in this a general hierarchy of sentience (the capacity to think, feel, perceive, and experience life). Plants are the least sentient, unable to think, feel, and perceive (except maybe at the most basic levels). Then there are fish, birds, land animals, followed by people, who are the most sentient of all animals.

As the most capable of reason and reflection and understanding, people are to govern everything God
created as faithful stewards.  Unfortunately, humans rebel against God and choose to do things their own way and sin enters the world. The curse of sin invades humanity and all creation suffers alongside people.  And so, God, in His mercy, saves the animals along with Noah.  God will save the animals and all creation in the end too.  Listen to what Paul said in the New Testament.

Romans 8:20-21
20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 

2 Points
So far, we’ve established two points. Let me review them:  First, God saved animals in the Old Testament, in the story of Noah.  Second, in the New Testament, we see that God will save all creation in the end (which includes animals). Romans 8:21 says creation "will join God’s children in glorious freedom form death and decay."  Animals have always been and will be part of God’s great salvation plan. Salvation is not just about people. Salvation is about all creation – the people, the animals, and the land.

Animals Have Souls
This may seem odd.  Because if you’re like me, you may have heard that animals don’t have souls; that only people have souls.  This is what I was taught growing up, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.  Listen to Proverbs 12:10.  "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel." (NASB)  

Just at face value, this Proverb teaches a great principle.  Humans should treat animals well and not misuse, abuse, or exploit them without proper care and dignity.  But if you understand a little about the original Hebrew of the Proverb, you can understand even more.  

The Hebrew word translated as "life" is Nepes and it means "soul".  So, in other words, the righteous man cares about his animal’s soul.  That doesn’t mean we bring them to church and preach to them.  It means we recognize that an animal is a living thing with a soul just like you and me.  And we must treat them with the respect and dignity of a living, soul-filled being.  

Nepes, or soul, is what Genesis 2:7 says God breathed into Adam when he formed Adam from the dust of the ground.  It is the same word God uses to describe the insects, fish, birds, and cows and dogs and cats He created as well.  Nepes is the same Hebrew word the Bible uses throughout the Old Testament to refer to the souls of people and animals who are alive because God imparted a soul to them.

Nepes is the soul word used to describe animals when God put the rainbow in the sky and made a covenant with Noah and all living creatures in Genesis 9:9-10 saying, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth.” Normally, God makes covenants with people; but, in this case, God makes a covenant with the animals and all creation.

Nepes is the same word God uses to describe the lifeblood that pumps through all living creatures.  This is lifeblood, the soul, which people are forbidden to eat.  Genesis 9:4, “You must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.”  In other words, don’t eat animals while they are still alive and their soul is still there.  Not only would this be cruel, it’s evil! It’s like eating the animal’s soul and God forbids it.  If anyone eats an animal that’s still alive (or drinks its blood), God says that person must be kicked out of the community! (Leviticus 7:27)  God says, people must first end the animal’s life by letting their lifeblood cease to flow.  God says we can still eat animals (we don’t have to be vegetarians). An animal’s soul departs when their lifeblood ceases to flow.  God gives us permission to eat animals properly and humanely slaughtered.

Animal Souls & God’s Plan
So yes, animals do have souls. And animal souls are sacred to God, just as the souls within you and me are sacred to God. I don’t understand everything about how animal souls work, but I do understand this:
Animals have souls,
Animal souls are sacred to God, and
God’s plan of salvation includes the souls of animals too.


Visions of Eternal Life Include Animals
We know animals will be among us in the Afterlife.  The Bible includes animals in many visions of eternity.  Such as:

Isaiah 11:6-7 - In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.

Revelation 19:11Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

Revelation 5:13 - And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Practical Application
"Well, that's all great, Preacher, and way out there.  But what does this all mean for me?"  Treat animals as the sacred, soul-filled, living creatures loved by God that they are.  They are not disposable commodities that can be thrown away like trash.  There is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom. An insect is not the same as a bird. A bird is not the same as a dog or cat.  A dog or cat is not the same as a person.  However, they are all worthy of care, dignity, and respect.  Care for them as God's creatures.  And don't think so highly of yourself that you disregard the feelings of lower creatures.  

Furthermore, I suggest we not take for granted the food we consume.  It’s OK to eat meat. God gave us permission. However, we should never disregard or disrespect or take for granted the life of the animals we eat. In our modern world have lost touch with the sacredness of the food we consume. I'm a hunter; I sometimes kill animals.  Some may think that's cruel, but I don't.  I think it puts me more in touch with the sacredness of life, including the food we eat.  A few years ago, I was turkey hunting.  [Click here to read a poem I wrote about the experience.] I wasn't having any luck and had seen nothing all morning.  So I decided to just walk around the hunting property because it was a beautiful day.  Up ahead along the path, I heard some crows calling and thought it was odd they were being so noisy.  I just had a feeling maybe there were some turkeys gathered. So I put my shotgun to my shoulder and eased around the trees to see an open clearing where several turkey's we grazing.  I picked the one I wanted and pulled the trigger.  Boom! One of the turkeys was down and flopping around in its death throws as the rest ran off for the trees.  I walked up and stood over the turkey as its flapping wings slowed and became still as the lifeblood of the animal ceased to flow.  It was one of the most sacred moments I've experienced in life--to be with an animal as its soul departed from the justified actions of my hands.  Latter, as I ate the turkey for dinner, I had a truly spiritual understanding of the sacrifice it takes to consume the food we eat.  Some might think hunting and killing an animal is cruel.  However, you did the same thing if you ate turkey last thanksgiving.  The only difference is you were not present when the animal you ate lost its life to provide your turkey dinner.

Do you think about the sacred sacrifice that must be made anytime you eat meet.  Even if you are vegetarian, a plant likely lost its life to provide your meal.  We need to rediscover the sacredness of life and death that's played out every time we consume our food.  Never take this for granted.

The Most Important Thing – Repent
In order to make things right, to take care of the world and all the animals in it, we’ve got to go deep down to the core of the problem.  It won't do to only treat the symptoms.  What really needed it deep repentance.  We’ve got to turn away from our own sinful, selfish ambitions that thinks we are the center of everything and we've got to turn back to God through Jesus Christ.  We must recognize that Jesus is Lord.  If Jesus is your Lord, then we recognize that our Biblical mandate is to be good stewards of His creation.  Creation is sacred to God.  He loves the land and all the animals.  And our Lord has commanded us to be good stewards of it all.  It is not optional.  It is our Lord’s command.
Are you going to obey?
Is Jesus your Lord?



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