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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Stewards of the Land - God's Green Earth, part 1


Grace’s Question
[Click here to listen to the podcast.]
My teenage daughter asked a simple question that sparked this blog.  She asked, “Why don’t preachers ever preach about taking care of the environment?  Why don't Christians talk about it more?”  Her question really got under my skin.  It bugged, because she’s right.  We don’t talk about the environment very much--at least not in the moderately conservative churches I've served.  We mention it and it's part of our social principles (and we recycle), but we don't dwell on it much.  I don't know if many people in my church would label themselves "environmentalist".

Environmentalism is a huge political issue in our times.  Politicians use the subject to garner votes because they either "care for the environment" or they are "not one of those radical tree huggers".  However,  I’m not interested in what politicians or people have to say about the environment.  I want to turn to God’s Word in the Bible.  The Bible is the unchanging Divine Truth of God.  It is the Christian’s foundation for how to believe and live.  What does God’s Word say about taking care of the Earth?  God’s charge to humanity to take care of His creation goes all the way back to the beginning of time.

Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Stewards of the Land
God’s charge to humanity to take care of His creation goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  Some people zero in on the phrase in verse 26 that says people will "reign over" the rest of creation.  And some have used this as an excuse for people to do whatever they please to the earth.  But a more accurate understanding is reflected by the phrase, "Fill the earth and govern it."  A good governor does not use the governed for their own selfish benefit.  A good governor does what is best for the governed--protecting and caring for them.  God charged humanity to be stewards of the earth.  What is a steward?

A steward is a person who manages or looks after another person’s property.  This is the core of what a Christian must understand when it comes to how we treat the earth.  Actually, it’s at the core of every part of life, not just the environment.  It is the recognition that the earth does not belong to us.  It belongs to God!  Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”

Suppose a friend owns a mansion on the beach and says, “I want you to go down to Florida and enjoy a week’s vacation—free of charge—in my mansion on the beach!”  And they hand you the keys. Hopefully, you would be very grateful and you would go have a good time, but wouldn’t you also be very careful to take care of your friend’s house?  You wouldn't want to disrespect their property or damage it in any way so as damage your relationship with your friend.  Well, God has handed us the keys to His earth.  And He’s not just a friend.  He’s God.  He wants us to enjoy His earth, but we shouldn't do anything to damage His earth in a way that damages our relationship with God.

Avatar
After playing in the snow yesterday, my kids came inside to get warm and they watched the movie, “Avatar”.  Have you seen this movie?  It’s a spectacular 3D movie directed by James Cameron.  "Avatar" was noted at it’s release for the whopping $237 million it cost to make (which I think was a record at the time).  The story-line is a stereotypical summary of the modern, secular (NOT Christian) worldview of environmentalism.  (And this may be why evangelical preachers don’t preach about environmentalism very much).  In the movie, an evil alliance between the military and a big business corporation is stripping the resources of a futuristic planet, Pandora.  The a group of environmental friendly scientist are studyong the planet and oppose military/industrialists who are greedy and ignorant.  The even purer native Pandoran aliens are idealized as they worship nature as their god.  The trees and plants and animals are sacred and the planet is alive.  And it's no coincidence the story is portrayed this way; it's basically the underlying worldview pop-environmentalists of our age.  It's mysterious, intriguing, simplistic, and it attracts a large following in our age.

The modern, secular environmentalist movement often treats nature as if it were divine.  They sometimes even call her “Mother Earth”.  Environmentalists wrap their arm around science and say, “See!  Science is on our side too!”  Meanwhile, they simplistically romanticize Mother Nature and turn her into their goddess.  The plants and birds and trees are all interconnected and spiritual and we need to love nature (or some would even say worship her).  This is what turns many Christians and more rationally minded people off to the label “environmentalist”.

God Cares About the Earth
If we truly care about God’s Green Earth and want to take care of the environment, we’ve got to get back to God’s plan!  The earth is very important, but it is not god.  Tree frogs in the Amazon rain forest are very important, but they are not as important as people.  We’ve got to be very, very careful that we don’t make nature into an idol we bow down to worship in our hearts and through our worldly philosophies.

At the same time, we’ve got to recognize that humanity is full of sin.  It is part of humanity's fallen, sinful nature that we selfishly think we are the only things that matter on this Earth.  Our selfish greed leads us to think we can use the earth’s resources however we want, even if it destroys the environment.  But the earth is not ours to use and abuse however we want.  The earth belong to God and the Lord allows us to use and enjoy His earth, but we must take care of it.

"But what can we do?"  Taking care of the earth is more than a philosophical debate.  What are some practical things you can undertake to do your part in taking care of the environment?  Perhaps you think I might say, "Reduce, reuse, and recycle!"  (That's a popular slogan these days for people who want to take care of the environment.)  And there's nothing wrong with those actions in and of themselves; they can be helpful.  But if we really want to make a difference, we've got to go deeper--all the way to the core.

The Most Important Thing – Repent
The most important thing you can do:  You must ask God’s forgiveness for rejecting His Lordship, repent of your sin, and follow Jesus Christ.  Please don't think these cliches that a preacher must say.  It is the very core of the what we must do.  You see, it's all about who's Lord.  If Jesus (God) is Lord and the earth belongs to Him, we must use it in ways of which He approves.  Jesus must be Lord of your life.  If you really want to make a real difference, you’ve got to change your worldview.  Recycling cans or protesting to save the whales just won’t cut it.  If humanity comes before God, then all is lost.  We will always do what we selfishly want to do regardless of what's best for the earth.  And if you treat nature as if it is god, it cannot deliver and you will be spiritually bankrupt.

When we accept the Jesus is Lord, and seek to worship and serve him, we find that middle road that leads us to truly love and care for all creation.  We will resist the extreme that worships nature and created things, elevating them to a status they were never designed to hold (and are not able to hold).  Neither will we abuse nature , thinking we can use it however we please, because we will strive to be the good stewards God created us to be.  We will know that God loves His creation and we will love it too, but love it for what it really is and not some romantic fantasy we've created in our own mind. 

Now what should you do to take care of God’s world?
Once you've got your heart right with God, is there anything else you can do to help others take care of the world?  Yes!  What did Jesus tell us to do?  He said, "Reduce, reuse, and recycle!" Wait? What? No! No!  He didn't say that!  Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  You see, you’ve got to change people’s hearts and minds.  Isn't it interesting, with all the problems we face in our world--poverty, slavery, racism, sexism, addiction, trashing the environment, and so much more, Jesus never instructed his disciples to go stamp out these problems?  He said, "Make disciples..." because he knew something we're so slow to understand.  If you only attack the symptoms of brokenness in our world, you will never really solve them because the real problem is deeper.  It's in our hearts.  We are rebels. We've turned our back on God.  We want things our own way.  And our own way leads to all these issues--slavery, racism, sexism, addiction, trashing the environment, etc.  Win people's hearts for God and it will lead true healing.

Save the Planet
God’s ultimate goal is to redeem and restore all of creation.  People get saved, but so does the whole planet.  God’s green earth will be perfect once more, as it was in the beginning.  This is the whole message of the Bible!  There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth!  So, God’s Green Earth is not disposable and it’s not something we are allowed to misuse and abuse for our own selfish pleasure.  If you've been doing that, it's a symptom you're heart is still not really right with God.  It's time to wake up and make a change.  We are to be good stewards who care for God’s land.  “The Earth is the Lord’s and all there in.  You may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.” (Sandra Richter, “Christians and Creation Care: Seven Minute Seminary”)  

Perhaps today is the day you bow your head in prayer and ask for God's forgiveness.  Perhaps today is the day you decide to follow Jesus as your true Lord, to let Him truly be in charge of your life.  Perhaps you've already done that before, maybe many years ago; but today, you realize you have not been a very faithful steward of the earth.  Then now is the time to repent and let the Jesus be the Lord of your life in this area too.  Christ came to save you as a whole person and that includes every area of your life.  When you realize any area out of accord with his will, you must turn it over to him and seek the Holy Spirit's help in following Him.  I invite you to do so right now.


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