Lake Erie, when I was a kid, I remember Lake Erie got to the point there was no living thing in it at all. Think of that. It was dead. The entire lake was dead. All the pollutants, all the stuff put in it.
Because, see, at the heart of pollution is greed, and ignorance, and carelessness. At the heart is speed. At the heart is money. At the heart is, “We don’t really care about other people. We don’t really care about the planet. We don’t really care about long-term implications.” It’s, “What can we get now? How much can we get? How fast can we do it?”
And those things always lead to not taking care.
Now, on the other hand, God says very clearly, “Hey, you know what? You should be productive. Take things wisely out of the ground. There’s energy to be had. That’s why I put it there.”
But we’ve been very poor stewards since the Industrial Revolution. Strip mining, clear cutting. And many believers, we either don’t have a position on it, or we just hope it all goes away. And we view people on either side as radicals or extremist.
It seems to me the Bible has quite a bit to say about our role.
Here’s the exciting thing. I was thinking about Lake Erie and the experts said it would take fifty to a hundred years for any life to be regenerated in that lake. After five to ten years when the pollutants stopped, fish were flourishing.
This amazing, amazing planet, the wisdom of God. The oil spill that was, what? Multiple times the Valdez that was in the ocean and all that we went through. It has been amazing. We humans got as much out of there as we could.
It’s amazing what God has done. All the organisms, and responding, and self-cleaning. But, boy, we’ve gotta be good stewards of that. You can use it but you can’t abuse it.
Fifth, God commands environmental stewardship to protect the land, animals, and vegetation for the common good. So He says, “Yes, man, you’re above it. I own it, you’re a steward, given you dominion, authority, responsibility. Don’t worship it. Enjoy it. You’re above the animals but here’s the deal: you are a steward. You have a responsibility to care for the land, the animals, and the vegetation.”
And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” It’s very interesting, all the way back in the Old Testament when God was preparing His people to be a great people. He took a group of slaves over here out of Egypt, completely uneducated in a world of all these multi-gods, demonstrated by the ten different plagues His superiority.
Every one of those was a polemic. Every one of those was a god of Egypt and God did that and He takes them out, and then He brings them to Sinai, to reveal who He is, and then He gives them laws about His holiness in Leviticus. And then the rest of the Pentateuch is, “This is the kind of nation I want you to be.”
And He starts giving them rules, and decrees, and He talks about those so that the world would know there would be no other nation with laws as beautiful, and perfect, and amazing.
We read that and we just think, “You know, what do you mean?” They didn’t know about bacteria. And they had ceremonial laws to wash their hands at certain times. They didn’t know about the blood clotting the eighth day, from a Purdue study, and that’s the best time to do circumcision. But that’s when God commanded them to do it.
They didn’t know anything about nitrates out of the soil and rotating crops. And in Leviticus chapter 25 God says to them… and they’re just coming out, they’re becoming a new people. He says, “Okay, every, after six years leave the land fallow.”
They didn’t know why, it was just a command. “Don’t plant anything.” And God planned in, in His Law, restoration.
Then He says after every seven-year period, seven times seven, forty-nine years, on the fiftieth year it’s the Year of Jubilee. All the land goes back to the original people.
God knew that with no limitations the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, some by opportunity, some by bad decisions, some by sin. So what He says is, “Okay, every fifty years we’re going to reboot.” If your family had owned this land, you can never sell it - or this tribe, or this tribe, or this tribe.
And so He does it in such a way that even the loans, and financial things, were done on how long you had to the Jubilee. And He says – why? - because the land belongs to Me.
Later in that Bible study, He’ll talk about Deuteronomy 25. He’ll say, “Here’s what you need to understand: animals matter. So when your ox is out working for you don’t you dare muzzle it. I even care about the animals. Treat them well.”
In Deuteronomy 20, He’ll say, “When you find yourself in a battle and besieging a city don’t you dare cut down the trees that have fruit on them. You can use these kind of trees.” Have you ever thought, have you ever stepped back and thought about, “Is that amazing?” I mean isn’t it amazing that God would give rules and provisions for, quote, what we would think a very low technology group of people, to preserve animals, the soil, and the economic system?
Here’s the implication. The implication is consumption and productivity must be governed by the boundaries of conservation. Are we going to be consumers? Of course we are. Do we need to be productive? Yes! Be fruitful. Subdue. Authority. Yes. But responsibility, with conservation.
With our track record on air, our track record on the water, our track record on what we’ve done in terms of with plants, and all the time what is it? It’s always to produce more, in a short amount of time, to get more money.
And what God would say is, “You know what? Let things cost a little bit more, let them take a little bit more time, and start balancing out the consumption, and the productivity, with the conservation.”
There are certain beautiful things that always need to stay beautiful. There’s a way to harvest trees where you replenish. There’s a way to get things out of the soil where you don’t ruin it forever.
I remember, I was a boy about nine or ten years old, and that was, in my house, when you got old enough to go see grandma and grandpa for a week by yourself.
Well, I was a pretty adventuresome little boy and hanging out with grandma and grandpa, after about two days, was pretty boring to tell you the truth.
And so they had a little brick house and then there was a hill, a real steep hill, probably three - four hundred… thousand feet, you know, like three or four football fields.
And so I wondered, “I wonder what’s up on the top?” And, of course, grandma said don’t go up there. So of course I had to figure out what it was. And so I went up there and I remember getting up to the very top just like this and looking out and it looked like a very bad science fiction movie where a nuclear blast had occurred or I had just landed on the moon.
Now I didn’t know anything about strip mining, I’m nine, ten years old. And I began to walk, and I began to walk through and it was sort of this sandy, brownish color, big rocks, no trees, no vegetation.
And we just went for miles, and miles, and miles. There were no animals. There was no vegetation. It was literally like, I’ve never walked on the moon, obviously, but if you ever walked on the moon it would be like, I think this is what it would be like.
The land was raped. And you know what? That’s a violation of what Scripture says. But, boy, it was fast. People made money.
Now, just before you lean there, then God would say, “Now wait a second. I want to take care of men.” So in response to that now we have situations where, you know what? This salamander that we may lose, it’s very important. But we have two million people that need water, and farmers who are going to produce for the whole nation, but we can’t give them water because we don’t want to lose this salamander.
Those aren’t hypothetical situations. And so we have people on one side that are so environmentally sensitive that every species, there are about two or three a day that we’re losing. We’re blowing it big time.
On the other hand, our response and the pendulum can’t swing to where we forget there are people. And there’s food required. And there’s water. And there’s technology and it needed to be harnessed with wisdom and balance.
And that’s why when I prayed about this whole series I thought, you know what we need? We need a biblical view of the environment. Because there are a lot of specific things, there’s going to be tension. I don’t know what the right answer is.
But I know that if I understand it belongs to God, I’ve been given dominion, and I’m to appreciate and enjoy it but not worship it, and I really get that I’m going to be called and account to be a steward of it, and I am to use it but never abuse it, it begins to give me a grid or a perspective about how do we honor the planet, and how do we make sure that people’s needs get taken care of?
And behind some of this is some of the just pure consumption has to stop. Some of us just have to say, “Wait a second. What’s fueling all of this?”
Number six, Christ’s redemption and redemptive work includes the earth. You might remember one of the perspectives and this is a bad theology. But some Christians have purported this.
And if you can imagine being a very strong environmentalist and hearing a “Christian” say this, this is where we’ve said some of the dumbest things in the name of God. Well, this is one.
“Well, it’s all going to burn anyway so what the heck? Just get rid of those rainforests. If we need the trees and do what you ever need to do and it’s all going up in smoke. In fact, I read the Bible, and it says it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I guess this is how it gets worse. So jump in, have fun, consume, consume, consume. Don’t worry about it. Put your head in the sand.”
It’s a very interesting perspective - far from biblical.
Now, when the Fall occurred, when sin occurred in Genesis chapter 3, a major break happened between our relationship with God. A major break happened, as we saw, in our relationship with one another. We started to hide and to feel shame. And then a break happened in our relationship with ourselves.
But maybe what you don’t realize is that there was an impact on the actual creation. When God made Eden there were no tsunamis, there were no tornadoes, there were no earthquakes. God, a perfect God, an all wise God, made a perfect world.
But when sin occurred it introduced the imperfection into the world. Look at your notes. This is a very interesting passage in Romans 8 verses 19 to 21. Notice how the creation is personified here as looking forward to and yearning for the day when redemption is going to occur.
Just as sin impacted creation, redemption impacted. When Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, and paid for your sin, and He bought you and bought me, and bought whoever would turn to Him in faith, bought you out of the slave market of sin and paid for it, He redeemed you. It impacted our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with ourselves, and the planet.
It says, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration. Not by its own choice but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself would be liberated from its bondage and decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
That is a sharp contrast to, “Well it’s all going to burn anyway.” The fact of the matter is, here’s the implication: we must treat the earth with the same priority that God does.
The earth matters. We want to see, just like your life is changing, like you want to see a marriage restored and redeemed, someone who’s out to lunch and struggling with difficult things, you want to see them restored and redeemed.
We want to be a part of restoring and redeeming the earth in appropriate ways. The earth matters to God. But the concrete… Eden was a real place and a great idea, gave us freedom, but God’s game plan supersedes Eden and part of His game plan was to take us to a new Eden – a very physical place.
I think the problem with a lot of Christians is our view of heaven when people say, “You know, Jesus paid for me, I’m going to go to heaven.” And you ask people down deep, “So, what’s that going to be like?”
And I think the average Christian thinks, “Well, I’ve read some of those storybooks. I think there are clouds. So you float on clouds. You can order either iced tea or lemonade probably. Nothing stronger. And then there’s a lot of singing, because I hear they worship.”
So your idea of heaven is, “Oh, thank God, someday, someway I’m going to float on a cloud, drink iced tea or lemonade and do a lot of singing. But, I do get it. God’s there, Jesus is there, it’s gotta be really great. But that sort of sounds like it’s what it’s going to be like.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nothing could be farther. The moment a believer dies you come into the immediate presence of Christ. But God has a game plan. And His game plan is not some ethereal place.
His game plan is a new heaven and a new earth. An actual earth with trees and fruit trees. And there won’t be a sun because His presence will supply the energy. And He will be with us and we will be with Him. And you will have jobs and there will be culture, and there will be music, and there will be sports, and there will be animals.
And it’ll be just like Eden was supposed to be. And you will have responsibility. And the responsibility, or a lack of responsibility, and the role that you have in that new heaven and that new earth will be commiserate with your faithfulness here, and what you did with what He gave you.
Your sins are completely forgiven by the grace of God, by Jesus’ accomplishment on the cross, received by faith. But there is another judgment for Christians about reward. And reward is about all those talents and now I give you charge over these cities.
Some of us would live way different if we actually believed in a new heaven and a new earth and a real eternity as opposed to, “this is all there is.”
You gotta see this for yourself. Please, we looked at the first page of the Bible. This is going to be one of the most amazing sermons we’ve ever had together. We’re going to look at the first page. Turn to the last page in the Bible… or at least almost.
Revelation chapter 21. Of course, it will come on the screens and all that sort of stuff, but it’s just there’s something about touching and seeing. Last page of the Bible. This is why the earth matters.
I hear those pages flipping, it’s a sound of beauty. Now listen. Redemption impacts the earth. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne of God saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and He will live with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’”
God’s future new earth, just like we are changing and being conformed progressively to the image of Christ, and when we see Him we’ll be just like Him as He is, so God’s agenda for His co-regents here on earth, is to be a part of bringing the earth and restoring, whenever possible, the beauty of what happened at the Fall.
And so, as Christians, we’re the agents to make a difference in the environment. There are few things in all the world where we line up with people that probably disagree with us on almost everything else, as environmentalists.
Is there a balance? Of course. But the most conscientious, lovers, care-ers of the earth, as the steward and co-regents of a holy God, are the followers of Jesus.
How do we live that out? Let me give you a couple ideas just as we go. First, I think we just have to focus on the seven or eight verifiable issues. I understand, this is a top level view. I understand that we could dig down into global warming, and we could look at issues here, and issues in plastics in the sea...
Candid. Here’s what the deal is: we can argue about stuff, that I have very little or no control over, until the cows come home. Or I can look at what I know for sure and I can act on that today. And I can make a difference.
And when thousands, and then millions of people, who call themselves followers of Christ, do that it makes a big difference.
And so some of the things that we would all say: clean air, clean water, balanced land use, preserving the beauty, productivity and progress, with constraints for conservation, eliminate waste, limit non-biodegradable plastics, and recycle. I mean, okay? Those are things we all agree on. Those are things we can all really do.
Write down these three words because the root of not doing those things, we can intellectually say that, or just sort of float by, or let the culture tell us what to do. You know, “I guess I’m environmental now since I can’t buy a bag in San Jose.”
Well, maybe we should have been bringing our own bag before they told us. Maybe we should be on the cutting edge rather than responding to the culture of people who take the earth that God made way more seriously than we do, His children.
And so greed, ignorance, and carelessness are why all of us are not more conscious of taking care of God’s earth the way He wants us to.
It’s greed. “I want convenience. I want to consume. I want it now. I want it fast. I want it packaged.” Ignorance. How many people, you don’t have to raise your hand but it would be nice if you did. How many people have heard a message on the environment in your lifetime in church? Wow. Fifteen hands out of a thousand. So part of it, we don’t know.
And then, finally, it’s just carelessness. It’s just careless. We just don’t think about it.
Let me give you some practical steps. I call them the four Es of just getting started. The first E is explore. And I mentioned this but I really mean this. Get outside, go see the redwoods, go sit in front of the ocean. Just take a walk without an electronic device. Put a lawn chair out and stare at the sky for fifteen minutes, without interruption, and just stare at the sky on a clear night.
Second, educate. Learn about nature. It’s fascinating. All the different stuff we’re putting in our mind. Read an article about whales, and about birds, and watch the Discovery Channel. Just do some stuff where you think and read, saying, “What does this tell me about what God’s like?”
Explore, educate, and then engage. Recycle, conserve. I mean, just put the dial up from seventy-six to seventy-eight or eighty and just get specific.
Confession. Believe me, I’m going to take further steps but just from this passage I have a habit, when I shave, I’m old school so I still use a razor. And, you know, the water is running and you just, on and off, on and off, on and off. And there’s something about hearing that water that’s sort of therapeutic.
So, the confession of my public sin before all of you, is for the last thirty or forty years or so I have been, I turn the water on and I do this and it just runs. Then I rinse and it runs. And I rinse.
And, you know as I’ve studied this, I thought, “You know what, Chip? That’s wasteful, that’s ignorant, and that is you being a consumer and insensitive to what God has provided for you.”
And after all that it’s also stupid. Like it takes, okay, here’s the energy. Like, the last two days I’m practicing. I’m getting it down. What, do you, are you with, what could you do? There are whole states that don’t even recycle. What do your kids think about this?
And then finally after you engage let me encourage you to empower. Go hang out with people that maybe you think they’re a little over the top and say, “I’m here on Earth Day too. I want to help preserve the world. Not because it’ my mother, not because it’s God, guess what? This is my Father’s world. I’d like to help you out on this. What could I learn from you?”
What would happen if we were open and embraced? Is there going to be balance and disagreements? Absolutely. But what would happen if the most environmentally sensitive people on the face of the earth were followers of Jesus?
I think a lot of people might open their ears to more than just the environment but maybe about a God who cares about them.