Sep 4 2013

Thy Kingdom Come

_CES0674Even though you don’t hear people talk about it much these days if you examine carefully Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels you will discover that his primary subject was “the kingdom of God.”  He begins his ministry proclaiming that the “the kingdom is near” (Mark 1:15) and towards the end of it he was still focusing on the kingdom.  Many of Jesus’ parables concerned the kingdom of God.  He would begin them by saying “The kingdom of God is like a… (mustard seed, a man going out to sow seed, etc.)”  In Luke 4:43 Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”   He understood that proclaiming the kingdom of God was central to his mission.  When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray he gave them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  An important part of this prayer is the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Yes, the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ teaching.

_CES0739In his book The Environment and the Christian Calvin B. DeWitt notes the importance of the kingdom of God for Jesus and says that we should understand Creation Care to be a part of what the kingdom means today.  He writes: “In the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament the kingdom of God is the central symbol for the new vision of life in its fullness; it involves personal, social, earthly, and cosmic dimensions of salvation; its earthly and cosmic dimensions of restoration lead directly to an ethic of care for the creation.  The kingdom of God is a vision of things as they ought to be in the entire cosmos, human and nonhuman; it is an order in which all things are in right relationship.  It is a creation-affirming alternative to those modern structures that bring the creation to ruination and brokenness.”

_CES0861The kingdom of God is wherever God rules or reigns.  As DeWitt mentions, this covers a lot of territory.  God’s intention is to rule in every area of our lives and every area of the world.  When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are simply offering a plea that in all places God’s will might be done.  Jesus added that our present concern is “on earth.”  Just as God’s will is done perfectly in heaven our goal is that it might be perfectly fulfilled on earth as well.  I think a lot of folks haven’t really contemplated what it means to say “on earth” when they pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It can be understood comprehensively to say God’s will should be done everywhere and that is true.  It can also lead us, however, to remember that God has a will, purpose or goal for the earth itself.

_CES0347DeWitt described the kingdom of God as “a vision of things as they ought to be.”  As we look at the state of our planet it would be hard to conclude that things are as they ought to be.  Did God intend for our waters to be contaminated by so many chemicals?  Did God intend for the air to be so polluted that it contributes to many diseases?  Did God intend for large portions of the earth to be destroyed primarily for personal gain?  As we look at our planet there are numerous areas where it is safe to say that things are not as they were meant to be, not what God intended.  If we are going  to pray seriously for God’s kingdom to come we will see a multitude of places where things are not as they ought to be and strive to bring about the changes that will move them to where God would have them be.  As we do so I hope we will not forget to include this planet we call earth.

–Chuck

(I took all of the pictures above last month in North Cascades National Park.)


Aug 1 2012

Nature “Con-Servancy”

Several years ago, when I first became interested in exploring the connection between environmental concerns and Christianity, I discovered the writings of Calvin DeWitt.  DeWitt is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Director emeritus of the Au Sable Institute. As both a scientist and a strong Christian Calvin used his credentials to become a leading advocate for what we now typically call “Creation Care.”  I learned much from his early books and would have to cite him as a major influence in leading me to where I am today.  A few days ago Rob Sheppard sent me DeWitt’s newest work, Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation.  I’ve read about half of the book thus far and would certainly recommend it to you.

Last night I read the fifth chapter in the book, “Singing From Two Books.”  In this section Calvin describes his “four principles” that reflect “the purpose of the Author of both books [the Bible and Creation].”  One of these he identifies as the “Con-Servancy Principle.”  At the heart of this principle is the thought of “never taking from Creation without returning service of our own.” DeWitt hyphenates the word ‘conservancy” to draw attention to its root meaning—con + serve means “to serve with.”  He goes on to describe how God’s original plan was for Creation to serve humans and for humans to serve Creation.

DeWitt writes: “We already know from experience with the ‘beautiful book’ of creation that this garden serves us.  It serves us with good food, beauty, herbs, fiber, medicine, pleasant microclimates, continual soil-making, nutrient processing, and seed production.  The garden and the larger biosphere provide what ecologists call ‘ecosystem services’ such as water purification by evaporation and percolation, moderation of flood peaks and drought flows by river-system wetlands, development of soils from the weathering of rocks, and moderation of local climates by nearby bodies of water.”  These are things that most people rarely think about.  We have a tendency to forget that God’s Creation serves us and serves us well.

DeWitt goes on to remind his readers that there is a strong call in the Scriptures for us to serve the Creation.  He notes that in the Genesis account of Creation, “The garden’s service to us is implicit; service from us to the garden is explicit.”  Focusing on Genesis 2:15, he adds, “Like Adam and Adam’s descendents, we are expected to return the service of the garden with service of our own.  This is a reciprocal service, a ‘service with’—in other words, a con-service, a con-servancy, a con-servation.  This reciprocal service defines an engaging relationship between garden and gardener, between biosphere and its safeguarding stewards.”

At the end of this particular section DeWitt sums things up by saying, “Our love of our Creator God, God’s love of the creation, and our imaging this love of God—all join together to commission us as con-servers of creation.  As con-servers, we follow the example of the final Adam—Jesus Christ.”  To all of this I say “Amen!”  This is, indeed, the way it is meant to be.  I appreciate DeWitt’s emphasis on “con-servancy.”  Somehow, someway, we have all got to learn that just as much as Creation exists to serve us, we exist to serve Creation.  At this point it would appear that Creation is doing a far better job of fulfilling its purpose than we are.  Surely we can do better.

–Chuck

(I took the image of the lavendar field in Washington State; the mountain scenic at Acadia National Park, and the desert scene at Mojave National Preserve.)


Feb 6 2011

Stay Alert!

_CES2494Earlier this year, while looking at some articles on the Flourishonline.org website, I saw one where it was reported that when Calvin DeWitt was asked what one thing he’d recommend pastors do to get more involved in Creation Care he suggested that they put out a bird feeder.  Since at that time I was photographing a lot of birds near my feeder here at the house I thought that was interesting.  Shortly thereafter I showed a couple of groups a multi-media program I had just put together on birds and asked them, “What can we learn from watching birds?”  After doing this for a group at Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge last month one woman came up to me and said that one thing she noticed about birds is that they’re not really care free at all.  She said they’re always on the alert.

_CES2603As I thought about the birds I watch I had to agree with her.  They seem to stay focused on what’s going on around them.  They are aware of what other birds are coming in and whether the neighbor’s cat is on the prowl.  Their very life is dependent on their staying alert.  This is something we too must do in order to care for Creation.  It is also something we must do to care for our souls.

In my sermon this morning I talked about Christ’s letter to the church of Sardis found in Revelation 3.  Jesus tells the Christians there to “be alert.”  There is an interesting story about Sardis that likely lies behind this admonition.  Sardis was surrounded by three large cliffs and the one pass leading into the city was difficult to approach.  The people of Sardis felt that they possessed an impregnable bulwark.  Twice, however, the city was conquered and neither time was a battle fought.  The people simply felt secure, got cocky and failed to leave a guard at the city’s one entrance.  During the night while everyone was asleep their enemies quietly entered and were able to take the city.

In Christ’s words to the church at Sardis he warns them of being too comfortable or getting too cocky.  He charged them to stay alert lest they also fall.  This is a warning that we should all pay heed to.  In the spiritual life we can become comfortable with where we are and fail to keep up our guard.  If we get lazy or complacent it could well spell danger.  Just as the birds must stay focused and alert to survive, so must we in our spiritual walk.  When it comes to caring for our souls—and the earth—we must beware of the dangers around us.  One of the greatest dangers of all is failing to stay alert.

–Chuck

(The chickadee and titmouse seen here were photographed at my house this winter.)