Here's my next article for our local paper, The Oconee Leader:
So I’m using less water these days. I’m turning off the faucet when I brush my teeth and shave. We’re using more paper plates and plastic utensils around the house. I’m even cutting down my 20 minute shower/sauna every morning that I use to thaw out since my pregnant wife leaves the thermostat somewhere between meat locker and deep freeze.
Six months ago, water conservation ranked somewhere between NASCAR and voluntary root canals on my list of interests – which in my world means it wasn’t on the radar screen. Droughts are things that happen in Africa. This is America after all – isn’t the ability to fill latex balloons with water and launch them with a giant slingshot one of our inalienable rights?
But not now. Lakes are drying up. Gardens and lawns are turning to dust. Governor Perdue is getting ready for a steel cage match with Governor Riley over in Alabama – winner takes all the water they want. It’s gotten so bad that at least two different rumors have made the rounds about UGA canceling the remainder of its home football games this fall. That, my friends, is a sure sign of the apocalypse.
So we’ve turned to conservation. Saving water. Doing stuff that in the past would have gotten us labeled as tree-hugging liberals, people who have watched Bambi three times too many and have become convinced that pure, innocent Mother Earth is being pillaged and plundered by mean, nasty evil humans driving SUVs.
It’s amazing what we’ll do in the name of self-preservation. Or rather, it’s amazing at how quickly we’ll change our habits and our behaviors in order to save our own skin. An inequitable distribution of water leading to drought is not a new problem – it’s just a new problem for me. And so now it matters.
Here’s what I’m worried about for myself when it comes to saving water and other environmental concerns – when drought conditions subside, will I go back to old patterns of life because my well-being is no longer threatened? Is there nothing more to conservation than romanticism or pragmatism – something that is bigger, deeper, wider than me?
In the ninth chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis, God voluntarily enters into a relationship with the earth – a relationship in which God promises to save creation from the abuse inflicted upon it by humanity (see Romans 8) and from the ability of God himself to destroy the earth as he had just done with a cataclysmic flood.
What I find interesting is that God tells us about this saving relationship he has with the earth. And I think he does so to remind us that he loves and cares for what he created. Instead of being driven by self-interest, self-preservation, or self-centeredness, following God in the way of Jesus creates a radical ecology that conserves water because wise consumption of God’s resources is good for trees and freshwater mussels – things God made and loves and cares for deeply.
Because we understand from the Scriptures and history and our own lives that sin gets a hold of all of us and unravels everything good that God has created, we respect nature even though God has given us power over it. Once we realize that sin disfigures everything, including nature, we begin to work to heal the hurts of creation because if we think that beach sunsets and snow-capped mountains are breathtaking now, imagine what they’ll look like when God gets done putting them back together!
This drought is merely a loud reminder of a much larger ecological problem of misuse and abuse that many of us – particularly Christians – are complicit to. And that is a tragedy because only the gospel story of creation-fall-restoration leads us to care about things like the environment for the right reasons. Only the gospel cares about this world not simply because it is useful but because God loves it and promises to save it.
Within a span of seven minutes, I received emails from two friends - one to let me know that his mother-in-law passed away earlier this evening and the other from a woman in our church who hadn't told anyone she was pregnant but had a miscarriage today.
Living in a broken world sucks. And yet somehow we're not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
In the midst of the fires in California, this blog post from Kaleo Church, one of our fellow Acts 29 churches, reminds us that we live in a world in which we try to block out pain with noise and entertainment.
A couple of weeks ago, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church near Chicago announced that after considerable research, Willow Creek had come to the conclusion that their approach to discipleship - focusing heavy on programs designed to attract 'spiritual seekers' - had resulted in maturing Christians who felt that the church had nothing left to offer them.
Their response was sadly tragic - their solution to a program-based spirituality is to create another program. What makes it even worse is that this is a program focused on making people 'self-feeders.' At the point where these people needed the church the most, the church responds by not just creating a program but creating a program that moves people further away in isolation from other people and the church.
In contrast, this month's ByFaith magazine, produced by the PCA, has an excellent article by Paul Tripp entitled 'Created for Community', reminding us that biblical spirituality is a community project. I cannot agree enough.
Here are John Piper's main points from a message he gave on valuing biblical manhood. As a church that is dead-set on connecting with men and seeing them lead their families and a movement of gospel transformation, this is as healthy and balanced of a perspective as I've come across. Very helpful.
Seeking to transform culture in this way does not
mean trying save the world apart from God’s grace. It simply means
obeying God as our thankful response to his grace.
A transformational approach does not assume an
unrealistic optimism about what is possible in fallen society. We know,
just as much as the dualists do, that the world is fallen, deeply
sinful, totally depraved. But we also have confidence in God’s common
grace and his special grace. Real change for the better can occur, and
history shows that it has occurred. Not perfection, but real change for
To apply Christian standards to art, for example,
does not mean that we must turn our artistic works into salvation
tracts. The Bible doesn’t require that. I do believe that the gospel of
salvation is a fit subject, indeed a glorious subject for artistic
treatment. Bach’s Passions and Da Vinci’s Last Supper are proof of
that. But art should deal with all aspects of God’s creation.
A transformational approach does not mean that
every human activity practiced by a Christian (e.g. plumbing, car
repair) must be obviously, externally different from the same
activities practiced by non-Christians. There is always a difference,
but often the difference is that of motive, goal, and standard, rather
than anything external. The Christian seeks to change his tires to the
glory of God, and the non-Christian does not. But that’s a difference
that couldn’t be captured in a photograph. When changing tires,
Christian and non-Christian may look very much alike.
Critics have often bemoaned the lack of high
standards in Christian art, music, and other cultural activity. To some
extent, anyway, these critics are right. But the answer to this problem
is not to accept secular standards uncritically. (Again, even if we
did, which ones should we accept?) The answer is rather to be more
faithful to God, both in his special and in his general revelation. We
ought to be humble enough to learn what we can from the knowledge in
these areas that God has given to unbelievers. But we should always be
challenging it on the basis of our knowledge of the true God.
...the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ's sacrifice and that God's wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God. (43)
Now I really like and completely agree with Dever's take on the gospel. I'm not sure he'd agree with mine. And I don't think the difference has to do ultimately with the brevity of my defintion, which is really just a way to remember what I believe is the overarching story of the gospel and hopefully opens up the door for follow-up and clarifying questions and conversations. Everything that Dever states falls underneath the umbrella of what I'm saying - but I'm not sure that everything I'm saying falls into the definition he states in his book.
My struggle for awhile now has been that while I wholeheartedly and emphatically agree with the standard Reformed definition of the gospel (which is what I take Dever's take to be), I'm not sure it's broad enough to encompass everything that the Scriptures put into the basket of the gospel. For instance, much of Jesus' description of the gospel refers to a 'gospel of the kingdom' in which the individual is a part, but seems to be broader than the individualized message found in Dever's book.
When our friends at 9 Marks Ministries questioned Derek Webb's understanding of the gospel in an online interview he did a couple of months ago because he took a broader, kingdom perspective, I wondered then - and still wonder now - if we're not seeing something that Tim Keller has talked about on occasion. If our definition of the gospel refers only to 'God-sin-Jesus-saving faith' (such as Dever), then how do we reconcile the biblical story of God's working to 'make all things new' (Revelation 21:5)? And if our definition of the gospel refers only to the narrative of 'creation-fall-redemption-restoration', are we not in danger of forgetting the centrality of Christ and the cross? Both are good questions, and in a day in which guys like McLaren set aside the relationship of Christ and the cross to sin and God's wrath, and Doug Pagitt talks about different stories of the gospel, they are questions that need to be asked.
In my mind both the systematic and the narrative perspectives must be woven together to reveal a tapesty as rich as the Scriptures intends. We can even agree with the message of I Corinthians 15 that the salvation of individuals is 'of first importance' - but I'm concerned that we're making that the only important thing while ignoring what appears to be the biblical picture of my individual salvation serving as a means to the end of God's work of a new heaven and a new earth where life will be as it should be and God is made much of.