This week, Pastor Roger Barkley presented two short messages.
The first was an introduction to our church’s two weeks of after-church studies about environmental stewardship. This week, he explained why Evangelical and conservative Christians tend to be dismissive of – even hostile to – the environmental movement.
His second message is a continuation of our series on the Letter of James. This week, he digs into James’ teaching about managing our words.
The audio begins with Paula Nunez reading the scripture from James.
Caring for Creation
Genesis 1:27-31 September 16, 2018
One of the themes that has evolved in our church since the 2016 elections has been about being a presence of tolerance and calm in our world that has grown hostile and polarized.
We have to begin by being centered in Spirit, seeing that God loves those “other guys” every bit as much as He loves me, and developing a curiosity about the opinions different from our own.
After church today and next Sunday, Michael will lead us through an exploration of what we understand the Bible teaches about caring for our world.
My sense is that it will be really interesting and it will give you a biblical foundation for what you already believe about caring for our planet.
You probably are already concerned about the growing consumption of fossil fuels and the resultant accumulation of greenhouse gasses.
You probably already want to preserve natural spaces.
You probably already are disturbed by the massive islands of plastics, some twice the size of Texas, that are floating in the ocean.
But within the evangelical and conservative Christian communities – which are the majority of American Protestants – it is commonly thought that the environmental movement is a threat to Biblical teaching and is part of the secular attack on faith.
Some evangelicals call the environmental movement “the Green Dragon”.
Dr. James Wanliss, an influential writer and TV personality in the evangelical world, writes, “The Green Dragon must die…. This slimy jade road…is paved with all kinds of perverted and destructive behaviors, leads to death itself, and finally, to the pains of hell forever.”
Many evangelical leaders lump environmentalism with feminism, LGBTQ rights and pro-abortion movements that are out to undermine their understanding of our Christian heritage.
This belief was kindled back in the 1970s when the explosive growth of population – what Paul Ehrlich called the “population bomb” in a book by that title – was a very hot topic.
Ehrlich predicted that the exponential growth of human population was draining resources, creating food crises, and polluting the environment in predictably disastrous ways.
Coincidently, the Roe v. Wade debate was raging, and evangelical openly accused Ehrlich and environmentalists of wanting to use abortion as a means of population control.
This, plus the generally liberal politics of environmentalists, welded environmentalism to the “culture wars” that conservative politicians contrived.
Wanliss continues, “Christians must resist Green overtures to recast true religion, not allow themselves to be prey for teachers of pagan heresies…. Environmentalism, as a movement, is an alternative worldview and a substitute for Christianity.
This traditional hard line is now being challenged by some younger evangelicals, but it is a contentious debate.
I can’t do justice to their theological reasoning, but I will briefly lift up a couple of points.
First, is the conservative evangelical literal interpretation of Genesis 1:28 Be fruitful and increase in number and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
“Subdue” is the key word here.
For biblical literalists, any variance from their interpretation of biblical truth threatens a whole house of cards collapse of faith.
If your faith insists that every word in the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God, then any contradiction to any phrase or word threatens everything.
So, to people who understand this passage literally, environmentalists seek to elevate the concerns of nature above humans’ interests, which in their mind, is contrary to scripture’s mandate to subdue.
They read this passage as a command to rule over creation so that humans can prosper, and to do anything else is in opposition to God’s will.
Furthermore, they argue that claims that our exploitation of nature will lead to the destruction of humankind simply reveals a lack of faith in God’s goodness and power.
If God commands us to harness nature for our blessing and prosperity, then He will also make whatever adjustments are necessary as natural balances change.
And one more thing: environmentalists who seem obsessed with preserving wilderness are seen as ignoring God’s Genesis 1:28’s command in another way.
All creation is given to us to rule over for our own good – so we are not to let any of God’s land or sea remain idle.
In fact, those who seek to preserve wilderness are suspected of being pantheists – a pagan tradition that sees all things as divine, and that is seen as an alternative to Christianity.
Second, conservative evangelicals present the argument that restraining the use of coal, fossil fuels and other resources is a luxury of first world nations, whose secular elite are willing to keep third world populations in poverty so that they can preserve their environmental ideals.
This thinking points out that our use of environmental resources has transformed life for millions. Because we’ve followed God’s edict in Genesis 1:28, over the last three centuries, life expectancy in advanced economies has risen from about thirty years to nearly eighty.
Cures have been found for once-fatal diseases. Famine, which once occurred, on average, seven times per century in Western Europe, is now unheard of there. While the average Western European family in 1700 lived in a hovel with little or no furniture, no change of clothing, and barely enough food to sustain a few hours’ agricultural labor per day, today the average family lives in a well-built home with modern plumbing and amenities, along with enough food to make obesity, not hunger, the most common nutritional problem.
True Christians, they argue, should not prevent this same progress for the millions living in the destitute poverty of third world nations.
And third is their belief that at the right time, Jesus will return to make all things new.
We don’t need to preserve the earth like fine china carefully tucked away in a cabinet.
Use it now, and if the time comes when it is chipped or broken, Jesus will return and set everything right.
If you’ve been reading Life Journal, then you may have scratched your head through some of the passages from Revelation, but the closing chapter we read on Monday is clear enough. Revelation promises that at the appointed time, a fresh start, the New Jerusalem, will descend from heaven and displace all the corruption of earth.
By the way, the appointed time for Jesus’ return is linked to Israel’s expansion.
From the evangelical perspective, what will kick-start the End Times’ return of Jesus will be Israel’s political boundaries being reestablished to what God promised the Israelites in the Old Testament.
The U.S. embassy’s recent relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem makes little sense outside of this understanding.
It raised Mideast tensions and alienated our allies, but for American Evangelicals, it made all the sense in the world.
Many conservative Christians argue that the government should have a hands-off approach to most social issues like the environment, but we are called as a Christian nation to advance Israel’s expansion so that the prophesized return of Jesus is possible.
Understand that there is a lot of scholarship behind these points, and there are additional points I did not include.
You may not agree with everything conservative evangelicals advocate – and there is not complete uniformity of belief among them – but if we are to be part of the dialogue about policies, it is important to have a grasp of the context of these debates.
Without these understandings, we all end up shouting facts at one another – facts that are not believed by or that just don’t matter to the other side.
The Book of James Week 4
How to Live a Life of Integrity, Wisdom, and Joy
James 1:22-27 September 23, 2018
Mark Twain famously said, “I am not as disturbed by those passages of the Bible that I do not understand as I am by those that I do understand.”
Nowhere are we more challenged in this regard than in Letter of James.
We’re spending several weeks going through this short letter because it is such a clear, uncompromising call to align our faith with our lives.
This letter is very practical, and uncompromising about behavior.
For example, James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
Imagine the frustration of James, who was risking his life to teach the message of his brother, to hear his church members praise Jesus in the morning and then use their same tongues to put down their brothers and sisters in the afternoon.
What should he say to members he hears bragging about themselves, putting others down behind their backs, flattering people to get their own way, bullying people, or spreading rumors?
James 3:9-10 With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.
There is not a computer powerful enough to calculate all the people, families, businesses, churches, synagogues, and marriages that have been deeply wounded or even destroyed because someone said hurtful things or spread rumors that took-off with a life of their own.
Living in the West, we’ve witnessed fires explode because someone carelessly tossed a cigarette out their car window.
That tiny little ember takes down thousands of acres of forests, homes, and lives.
It’s the same thing with words.
James 3:5-6 A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
James wasn’t only concerned with slander and putdowns.
There’s also using words to manipulate with flattery.
By the way, slander is saying something behind someone’s back that you’d never say to their face. Flattery is saying something to someone’s face that you’d never say behind their back.
James says that a sure sign of a person maturing in their faith is that they can hold their tongue.
When we become a Christian, there is a seed of divinity planted within us, and as we practice using our words for encouragement and praise rather than put-downs or manipulation that seed will continue to be nurtured by God and continue to spread it roots throughout lives.
Over time, when we say something or do something that most people would say, “No big thing” we instinctively feel that it is wrong, and it bothers us.
You know that kind of dirty, yucky feeling when you’ve done something or said something that is wrong – even if others are saying, “Hey no big deal.”
We catch ourselves, we can’t ignore it, and so we have the opportunity to correct our course.
But I could never count the times that I’ve meant to do better, but spoke a put-down or a burst of anger then felt awful.
So, this takes more than my willpower in the moment … it starts with knowing what triggers our tongue to sin so we can anticipate and nip it before we speak.
I grew up in a household where my parents were frustrated that they were not achieving all they could.
My father was raised in a well-to-do family – his dad was a physician, a business leader and an entrepreneur.
My father started UCLA as a pre-med student before being called into the Army Air Corps in World War II, but when he returned he found his parents had lost their wealth and he was suddenly saddled with a newborn baby and a sickly wife.
He got work as a door-to-door salesman and then in the lower ranks of the Forest Service – but at night he read James Joyce, he sculpted and painted, he wrote poetry … always feeling he could do better.
Sometimes when we think that life has cheated us, or that we have somehow failed, we try to build ourselves up by putting others down.
So, my childhood home played a constant background score of cynicism and put-downs.
“That Harry Falconer can’t afford that Cadillac. He’s going to go broke trying to living like that.”
“That Dr. Grey? He’s a quack, probably came to this little town because he can’t make it in the city.”
There wasn’t anyone who could achieve anything that my parents would not ridicule with their words.
My parents’ tongues did the most damage to themselves and their own families.
Their cynical, mean-spirited tongues created a depressing, toxic environment.
So, I inherited that habit … as a matter of fact, for the early years of my life I assumed that was how adults talked.
It wasn’t until God broke into my life that I was even aware of how cynical and critical I was.
It took a long time for me to break that habit – but as I did, I began to feel better about myself and more loving of other people.
Words create our emotional environment that will pull us down, or to lift us up.
Max Lucado experienced this during a half-Ironman triathlon.
After his 1.2-mile swim and the 56-mile bike ride, he didn’t have much energy left for the 13.1-mile run, nor did the young man jogging next to him.
Lucado asked him how he was doing and soon regretted posing the question.
“This stinks. This race is the dumbest decision I’ve ever made.”
Lucado says he had more complaints than a taxpayer at the IRS.
He writes, “I know if I listened too long, I’d start agreeing with him.”
As he pushed on he caught up with a 66-year-old grandmother.
As she noticed his fatigue, her tone was just the opposite.
“You’ll finish this,” she encouraged. “It’s hot, but at least it’s not raining. One step at a time…don’t forget to hydrate…stay in there.”
He says he ran next to her until his heart was lifted and his legs were aching, but he finally had to slow down.
“No problem,” she called as she waved and kept going.
Now, I know that this is not the kind of sermon that you’ll go home and say, “I learned some interesting, new insights into scripture today.”
You’re not going home today excited because you learned some Greek words or some jewel of Hebrew history.
But I hope you take home a clear message of how God expects us to use our words – that is a specific, every day and critical aspect of being doers of the word, not hearers only.
It was important enough for Jesus’ brother to write a lot about, so it is important enough for us to take to heart.
Someday, we’re going to stand before God and give an accounting of our lives.
And when you stand before God I don’t want you judged for just being a hearer of the word … I want all of us to have been doers.
I don’t want any of us to stand before God and have to give an accounting for destructive ways we used out speech.
I want us all to stand before God as doers, and people who kept our speech holy and encouraging.
I want us all to stand before God and hear Him say, “Well done, faithful servant.”