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The Church and the Environment, Part 1

From the series Culture Shock

As Christians, how are we to respond to the environmental debate? How do we engage on this topic, and where do we draw the line? Join Chip as he explores four truths from the Word of God about the role and responsibilities we have to the earth.

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Message Transcript

There are few topics that I’ve ever encountered that cause as much controversy and polarizing opinions as when you say, “What do you think of the environment? What are the issues? What’s the problem?”

And I’ve read a lot and in my research I’ve found people that will give me amazing statistics and tell me exactly who to blame and then I read some more and I find there’s a different group of people or multiple groups of people that will tell me all those people are wrong and they give me a whole different set of statistics and it is like, heat, heat, heat.

In fact, as I read I started to jot down some major different perspectives that different groups have - just to get my arms around this. And I’m just going to go through. These are actual perspectives people have on the environment.

And then as I read through these I’d like you to think about, “So what’s mine? What do I really think?”

One group says, “The real issue with the environment is whether global warming is happening or not. That’s the deal.” Another group says, “No, no, no, no. Tree huggers and environmentalists, they’re liberal, New Age folks seeking to thwart economic progress and prosperity.”

Another group says, “No, that’s not really it. The problem we’re in today is a direct result of the dominion dogma taught for centuries from Genesis chapter 1. It’s those Christians and they’re teaching and what they’ve said that has caused this idea of subduing the planet. We’ll they’ve subdued it alright.”

Another group says, “The whole environment debate is overblown.” This is a religious group. “The Bible says it’s all going to burn anyway so don’t worry about it.”

Yet another group says, “The earth is our sacred mother and it’s the equal giver of life of all species and so all species should be protected equally.” And so this is the pantheistic view, the earth is, in fact, god.

And then, finally, the skeptic or pragmatist is, “The ‘Going Green’ movement in business and government is just a sham to exercise undue control and increased profits.”

Now I don’t know about you but if you would just read through those and realize they’re all over the map and they conflict one another radically. And so I would ask you, “So if I put a microphone in front of you and then they put a camera and we were going to broadcast this to the world and I said, ‘Okay, those are a lot of different views. What do you believe about the environment? What are your convictions? What’s true? What’s false? What’s right? How should we live? And why?’”

And your answer would be…?

Well, here’s a confession. Up until recently, although, you know I’ve had a general position, I know God made the earth, I recycle, I put my thermostat high.

When I looked at all these different opinions, what I realized, maybe what I needed to do and so I thought might be good for you too, maybe I need to really ask and answer the question, “How, as a follower of Jesus Christ, do I need to think, and act, and respond, with regard to the environment?”

And maybe the best place to start, other than all those heated views is at least just do the basics and back up and say, “What does God say about the environment?” I mean, what does the Bible actually teach about the environment?

And then take that for sure truth and apply it to all these different issues that we’re faced with day in and day out.

I want you to go on a journey with me and I’m just going to tell you, it’s a fairly recent journey. I have never done, I’m a little bit ashamed to say this, I’ve never done a study of Scripture just for the environment all by itself. I’ve alluded to it in different things over the years.

And so as I began to read I thought, “Okay if I had to boil it down to six absolute things that the Bible says for sure about the environment, about our responsibility to it, here are six things I know for sure, as the basis, or the grid, to make wise decisions in terms of how I’m going to respond to all those different views.”

Number one is the earth belongs to God. It’s foundational. Psalm 24:1 and 2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it, for He founded it on the seas, He established it on the waters.”

In essence when you start with Scripture and the truth God says, “The earth is Mine. Everything in it is Mine. And, therefore, since I’m God and I made it it’s spiritual and it’s important and it matters and you can’t just blow off this issue.” This really, really matters.

The implication is we’re to honor God’s creation. We’re to honor God’s creation. Now, if you would, open your Bibles because we’re going to be there in just a second. Just the very, very first page. Alright? Genesis chapter 1. Just how it opens.

The very first thing we learn from the Bible is, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And it goes on in chapters 1 and 2 to talk about that process. And keep your finger there because we’ll be back there in a minute.

But we’re to honor God because He made it. He created it. Not only did He create it but as He created He said, “It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good.” And then later He will take the pinnacle of creation, which is you and me and He’ll say, “It’s very good.”

So how do you honor God? He’s the greatest artist and He’s the greatest architect who is infinite, who is all wise, who is all powerful, and who is all knowing. And one of the great ways we honor Him is we respect what He has made. We study what He has made. And we give Him honor, and credit, and praise for the beauty and the provision that He’s made for us.

The earth is valuable, it is precious, it’s irreplaceable, and here’s a word you might jot down: it’s sacred. It’s not just a piece of land. It’s not just air to breathe. God made it. It’s sacred.

A trite illustration but it brought it into focus for me. Early in our marriage I was working for a guy and doing some part time jobs as I was doing some other things and Theresa and I were going to have a getaway weekend. And we were very poor and he was my boss and he was pretty wealthy.

And he knew all about it and so the day that I was going to get away, it was like a Friday for a weekend, he pulls up and he goes, “Hey, I have a little gift for you to really enjoy your time.”

And this will date me but that’s okay. And so he pulls up and if you can remember it was like the first or second year the 280Z came out. And it was a silver, hottest sports car going at the time.

It was super fast. It was like being in the cockpit of an airplane and he hands these keys to me and goes, “I want you and your wife to have a really good time.”

My first thought was, If I wreck this car I’ll die and it’s my boss.” And then the second was, “I probably should test this to make sure it’s going to be okay for me and my wife on this trip.”

And so, boy, I punched that thing a few times. It was like, whoa, this is way too much fun.

And so then she gets in and we, you know, “Wow, here I am!” going down the road, and I feel really cool, and so then we get to this little place and I think, “I gotta park where someone’s not near it.” You know? What if a door hits it or…

Here’s my point. My boss gave me something precious and sacred that I, it was for me for my pleasure but I felt a tremendous weight of responsibility to both enjoy it and not mess it up.

How much more, how much more God thinks that way about the earth and the planet that He’s entrusted to you and me?

Which is the second point. God appointed mankind dominion over the earth. Psalm 115:16 says, “The highest heavens belong to the Lord but the earth He has given to man.” Underline the word “belong” and then circle the word “given.”

He’s given to man. So God says, “I’ve created this but I’ve created and the highest heavens and I’m the Creator. I’ve given this to man.” Well what’s that mean?

Here’s the implication: we are the earth’s vice regents. We’re the caretaker, we’re the managers, we’re the stewards. He says, “I’ve created all this but I’m putting you in charge.”

If you’re still in Genesis 1 skip down to verse 28. It says, “God blessed them.” speaking of mankind, “Be fruitful and increase in numbers; fill the earth, subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Those two key words are “subdue” and “rule.” They’re very strong Hebrew words. They’re used elsewhere for taking absolute control. They’re very powerful words. It’s, God says, “I gave you this earth. You are the executive vice president of this planet, you’re the vice regents, you’re the caretaker. You’re in charge.”

And so there’s a real sense of authority and power and, “Do well with this earth - cultivate it; develop it; grow it; tame it…” is the idea.

Now, unfortunately, those strong words, taken out of context, by some of our ancestors and some present day have made it out that we can just do with the earth whatever. It’s just made for us and we can treat it any way we want to meet our needs for whatever we want to do.

And so some of the worst offenders, environmentally, have been Christians, in the name of God, using that passage. Because any verse that you don’t get in context is usually a wreck.

Skip to chapter 2 because He’s going to define a bit more about what it means to subdue. In chapter 2 skipping down to verse 15 He says, “The Lord God took the man and He put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.” Or literally to cultivate it and to take care of it.

It was to steward. It’s the idea that He would take something and you have this huge opportunity and authority over this precious possession, and you have this huge responsibility to care for it the way I would care for it.

Again, early, early days Theresa and I were on this journey. And we took everything we owned and we put it in a Ryder truck. We put our car in the back of it, and then we went to Texas to prepare to go into the ministry, which was very new for me. I was a basketball coach.

And I didn’t, we had seven hundred dollars to our name. We did not have a place to live and I didn’t have a job. But other than that we were really set for this new adventure.

And so there was a missionary there who said, “Look, we’re going to be out of the country for six to eight weeks. You can put all your stuff,” because it was in a truck, we had to unload it, put it in his garage, “and you can just live in my house. You can have dominion over my house. You can use my refrigerator; we have some fruit trees in the back. You have complete dominion over my house. My car is there if you need to use it, it’s yours.”

I had this huge opportunity. And it was fun and I found a bunch of part time jobs and we eventually found a place to live and it all worked out well. But during that time to get all of our stuff in his garage I had to take his car and park it on the side of the road.

And it was parked at an angle and I think that was part of it. And the Texas sun was really hot and I didn’t ever think about one of those shade type things. So for six weeks his car didn’t move with the sun coming at a certain angle.

Well when I went to take the car and put it back in the garage, you know the part that does the windshield wiper? And all that was melted together.

We have a very big problem because I started with seven hundred dollars to my name. Well, I don’t have seven hundred dollars now and I’ve gotta make a payment to get in that apartment that we’re going to have and I checked on it and I found out it’s a whole part. And it’s like a hundred and thirty-nine dollar part, which back then was a lot of money.

And then I’m thinking, “What am I going to do? I can’t leave this messed up.” And I had a miracle. It’s one of the early miracles of my life. I went to a junkyard and I showed them, I actually took, I got screwdrivers out. It was scary. I’m not mechanical.

And I pulled this thing off and I took it to a junkyard filled with all these wires and I said, “I need one of these.” And the guy went out and pulled one of these off and I brought it back and I had no idea what I was doing but I thought, “Well, I bet the red wires go with the red wires and the green ones go with the green ones.”

And I’m serious! And I put it all together and I stuck it back and it worked and it was like, “Lord Jesus, after…” And my wife probably said, “There was the Red Sea and there was Chip doing that.”

But here’s what I’m going to tell you: it never entered my mind that after he gave me dominion over his home that I would leave his car in a way that didn’t work after I left.

Are you starting to get…? I want you to get the emotion and the feel of how your heavenly Father feels and thinks about this environment and this planet that He gave you dominion. You have power to subdue but to cultivate and to care for it.

You’re a vice regent, you’re a co-creator, you’re a caretaker.

Third, we learn from Scripture that the earth has intrinsic value and reflects the character and the beauty of the Creator. Underline the word “character” and “beauty.”

The earth. Nature. It has intrinsic value.

Notice what the Scripture says in Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they reveal knowledge.”

Look at the verbs there. Look at the verbs of communication: “They declare. They pour forth. They proclaim. They reveal.”

Yes, the earth is a gift from God with oxygen, plants, four-footed creatures that can become food, creatures that you can put heavy weights on so you don’t have to carry it. Creatures that you can learn to cultivate.

God gave us, “Subdue, develop, use your mind, be a co-creator.” We started out as just gatherers and hunters. And then we cultivated. And then we learned about seeds and then we planted things. And then we took animals and realized that some of them we could actually create livestock on a regular basis.

And then, years later, we would learn through our minds, and subduing, and technology that there are things inside the earth that were valuable like metals. And God knew when He gave all of this that there were fossil fuels.

And He knew that we would have the ability to extract as we learned and grew, and because we’re made in His image, that we would constantly develop this thing called technology.

But He says, “Those are to meet your needs but what I created I didn’t, it’s just not utilitarian. I created it in a way where there is beauty, nature, the earth, what you see, what you observe, in and of itself, reflects who I am.”

It’s like if you see a great painting, or you see a great sculpture, or you go to a building that’s just amazingly made, how that building is made tells you a lot about the architect. That painting tells you a lot about the artist. That sculpture tells you a lot about the sculptor.

God says, “I made this in a way to reveal My character and My beauty. I didn’t have to have over two or three hundred kinds of beetles. I didn’t have to make billions of galaxies. The Alps don’t have to be that beautiful. The Grand Canyon doesn’t have to be that breathtaking.

“I didn’t have to make an ecosystem that is so delicate and so amazing that I had these little bugs that fly around and insects that take the pollen from here, to here, to here, to here, to make everything work.”

I can go thousands of feet down and see things at the bottom of the sea that look like creatures from outer space and I can see breathtaking views of redwoods that are almost three hundred feet high, were here for thousands of years…”

He says, “All of those things are to reflect that I’m God. That I’m wise. That there’s beauty. That I have power” … of falls and Victoria Falls in south Africa that just, the roar and the rush, and the beauty… see God has made this for us to reflect who He is.

Look at the implication. The implication is we’re to explore but not exploit. We’re to enjoy but not worship the earth. We’re to explore that. Are you ready for this? Some of you, and especially some of your kids, you need to get outside. We’re living in a world! We’re living in a world where some of your kids, and some of you, this is your body posture most all the time.

Some of you, there are stars at night. Trust me. They’re out there. There are flowers. Or I watch people now. “Let’s get out in nature.” Here’s how people take walks. There is something that will shrink your soul when you don’t explore what God has made.

There’s a part of what He’s made to comfort you. There’s a part of the power, and the wisdom, and the beauty, that gets soaked into your soul through nature. He speaks through His Word, but He speaks through nature. He speaks to your heart.

And some of that you need to be exposed to, where you get this overwhelming sense of a God who created all those stars and billions of galaxies, do you think He really has the power to help me in my marriage? To help me get a job? To give me the grace to forgive someone who hurt me?

What do you think? You think, as I see the rotation of the seasons, and how things die and they come back to life that, regardless of a big failure in my past or what I’ve done that, isn’t God trying to tell me there are seasons of winter and death, but there’s new life in spring?

See it’s made to teach us, to renew us.

The danger, however, is we can get so involved in nature that we begin to worship it. It’s from the beginning of time. Of all the things He said to Israel, worshipping idols, worshipping idols and the sun, and the moon, and the stars. In fact, if you will turn to Romans - just middle of your Bible - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, then hit Romans.

Romans chapter 1 - A second critical place where He talks about creation. Because here’s what happens: when you focus on creation, creation, creation, creation after a while you lose the Creator.

So places like Santa Cruz, Sedona, Arizona; Boulder – I could take you to a number of other places in the world that are just spectacularly beautiful – they always gravitate to New Age colonies.

Because people who begin to worship the creation, pretty soon lose sight of the Creator. But when you begin to focus on the Creator, and see His creation, you get an accurate picture of His greatness, and His wisdom, and His love, and His beauty.

Notice what the apostle Paul would write, Romans chapter 1, picking up, go down to about verse 19. It says, “What may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them.” Well how? How did God make truth plain to them? “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities,” well, like what? “His eternal power, His divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from that which has been made so that people are without excuse.

“For although they knew God they neither glorified Him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

And what God is saying is, “Enjoy, but don’t worship it.” The earth is not your mother. The earth is a created, beautiful gift from your heavenly Father, to reveal His character and to provide for you.

And so He says, “Okay, I made it. It belongs to Me. Second, I’m going to put you in charge of it. You are a co-creator, you are a vice regent, you’re a caretaker, you’re a steward, and a manager of this creation that belongs to Me. And third, don’t get utilitarian. It’s not just getting wood out of this and it’s not just a piece of dirt. It’s just not rocks here. It’s just not food to do your own thing. I want you to pause, and stop, and explore the wonder of who I am, through what I’ve made.

“Fourth,” he says, “mankind is placed in the middle of the created hierarchy and is uniquely responsible to God above, and for the animals, plants, and resources below.”

I’d like you, if you would, circle that word “hierarchy” and underline the phrase “uniquely responsible.” God made the planet and the earth. He said, “It’s good.” And it’s interesting, we read it, it says, “By His finger He created the galaxies, the moon, and the stars.”

But when God talks about creating you and me it says, “He formed us with His hands and He,” whoooo, “He breathed life in us, into our flesh.” There’s the Creator.

A little bit lower than the Creator, there is mankind, made in His image, unlike any animal or any plant, you can think, and feel, and reason. Stamped in you is the very image of God. You were made for a relationship with Him.

Then there are animals. Animate living things that have breath with purpose. And there are inanimate things like plants and trees and rocks. And right in the middle of that are you and me, mankind.

And we have a responsibility, and a stewardship upward to our Creator, and we have a responsibility downward to treat animals and plants and the rest of the creation, with this delicate balance of using it for our good – productivity – and also preservation and restoration.

So notice the passage here: Psalm 8. He says, “When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place.” And then he ponders. And the awesomeness of God. “What is mankind that You’re mindful of him? Human beings that You care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels,” and notice the role that mankind has in the environment.

“And you crown them with glory and honor and you made them,” what? What’s your role? “Rulers over the works of your hands. You put everything under their feet, the flocks, the herds, the animals, the wild things, the birds, the sky, the fish of the sea, everything that swims in the ocean.”

Message: all living things have value, but not all living things have equal value. The earth is not God. It is not our mother. It is a created thing. Whales and babies do not have equal value.

And yet when we think wrongly about the environment, we kill babies and we save whales. Think of it. That’s a theological issue.

Should we save whales? Absolutely. But we have movements in the environment, some of the environmental communities that say your dog or your cat or this lizard has the same rights because it is a living species and you’re just part of the living species, and all of the earth is god and, therefore, when there are priority decisions you have no greater priority than a dog, or a cat, or a lizard.

That is not true. And what we’re going to see is God will call us to be good stewards of those things. But animals don’t have the same rights as humans.

By contrast, here’s the implication: we are to use, not abuse, animals, plants, and resources to glorify God.

See the Bible is so amazingly balanced. Over here it says, “Don’t do that.” And then over here it’ll say, “Yes, you’re above the animals.” And then Proverbs will say, “A wicked man is cruel to his animals but the godly are kind. Wicked people abuse the land but godly and righteous people are good stewards of My creation.”

So the Bible is very clear about the balance of how we treat things. But waste, the things that we’ve done, and often just we just need to own our stuff, as Christians, we have been some of the slowest to be responsible in the areas of stewardship of the environment and concern for it.