Creation Care

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

#Advent16 – Relationships

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.

The life-giving Spirit of GOD will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-GOD.

Fear-of-GOD will be all his joy and delight.

He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp wth the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.

Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend to them.

Cow and bear will graze in the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.

Isaiah 11:1-10 (The Message)

This is the word of the Lord.

This is perhaps my favorite of the Advent passages in the lectionary cycles. The Prophet paints for us two beautiful images. The first is all about how the King that is to come will judge. The second is all about the beautiful Kingdom that will slowly-by-slowly come into being.

He will judge rightly. Not based on hearsay. Not based on wealth. Not based on power or strength. But, based solely on the wisdom and understanding that comes from the Fear of the Lord.

He will build righteousness—a legal and relational right-standing with God. The restoration of relationship destroyed by the fall. Man places back into right-standing with God, with neighbors, with himself, and with creation. All things working in tandem as originally designed by the Creator.

Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion, cow and bear all living and working together in harmony.

Little children taking the lead in caring for the creation.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching on entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. “Be like the child,” he said. Be fascinated with the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child is fascinated by animals.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily’s arms.

Elizabeth, my 18-month old, love animals. Dogs and cats and lions and bears and donkeys and any other animal that she can see. Last night, when I put her to bed she said, “Hav hav”—the sound that dogs make in Turkish. I handed her the plush dog. She then said, “Ayı”—the Turkish word for bear. So, I handed her the stuffed bear. She put one under each arm and went to sleep.

Today, as I read this passage, I think of that image. A little child fascinated by creation. Two animals that could hurt her. Resting peacefully together under a fuzzy blanket on a chilly Turkish evening.

And, the Prophet says, “This. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” Wild and ferocious animals. Animals that zoologists will tell us are natural enemies. Lying down together with a little child.

The fulfilled Kingdom of Heaven—that place that Jesus initiated with his birth—is a place where all things are restored to original design and intent. All things are made new again. All things are brought back to Eden.

Because all relationships are made right. Man is placed back into right-standing with his Creator. People are in right-standing with one another. The relationship with ourself is made right. And, mankind is taking care of the creation around him.

So much of modern teaching—especially in the evangelical world—is focused on only the relationship between and and God. We ignore things like psychological care for oneself, and right-treatment of one another, and caring for creation. We focus on “getting right with God,” but fail to talk about what that means for all of the other relationships of which we are a part.

Yet, all relationships are in need of being set right. The Kingdom of Heaven is about setting all things right. It is about restoring all things to original design. So, we must work through restoring broken relationships with our neighbors, and ourselves, and with creation.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to take care of ourselves. We set healthy boundaries. We sabbath. We know when we’ve eaten too much and slept not enough, and we change these things.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. And, we learn that our neighbor is often the one most unlike us. The muslim. The immigrant. The stranger. The homeless. The hurting. And, we care for them as we do for ourselves. We meet their needs without question. We love them.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to care for the physical world around us. We reduce our carbon footprints to ensure that our children, and their children have the resources they need. We reduce deforestation. We pick up litter. We invest more in alternate energy than in energy sources that damage creation—and the people who inhabit it.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven that the Prophet dreams about. This is the Kingdom of Heaven in all its fullness.

Relationships restored.

Relationships made right.

The Very Good Gospel

Book Review: The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Very Good Gospel

The Very Good Gospel

Read this book.

Seriously.

In her new book, The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper (Twitter, Website) presents us with a fresh approach to the Gospel. She takes us back to the beginning—to the creation poems in Genesis—and paints us a picture of a world as God intended it to be. She shows us how relationships were created to be in harmony, and when they are God declares it to be VERY GOOD.

Enter the snake. The apple. The deception. The “I will make a better god than you, God.” And, relationships are no longer in harmony. Death and destruction and suffering and pain and hurt enters the picture.

The remainder of the Scriptures, Harper points out, are all about bringing these relationships back into the order of God’s original intent. Salvation isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven, but is about restoring the relationships of creation back to their proper place. Redeeming the brokenness, and from it recreating something new and beautiful.

This is one of the most important books of our day. We need to recapture the depth and beauty of God’s original intentions and design for His creation—that which He declared in no uncertain terms to be VERY GOOD.

Harper helps us to understand the old axiom, “If it’s not good news to the poor then it’s not Gospel.” She paints for us a picture of life as Jesus intended. A life of serving one another without expectation for return. A life of living for the other and not for the self.

Every person who claims to follow Jesus should take time to read this volume. They need to let the truths in it sink deep into their marrow. They need to let it effect the way that they live and move and have their being.

Here’s a short promo video that explores some of the themes in the book.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Advent14 — Bounty and Blessing

A reading from the Psalms.

I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say. God’s about to pronounce his people well, The holy people he loves so much, so they’ll never again live like fools. See how close his salvation is to those who fear him? Our country is home base for Glory!

Love and Truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Truth sprouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

Psalm 85:8-13 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

How we live matters. Living a life that is built on the principles of the Kingdom will be a life that proclaims the Kingdom. It will be a life that shines light into darkness. It will be a life that spreads life and the desire to live similarly to others.

In the New Testament, we call that discipleship. Teaching–by example–how to live Kingdom life. Teaching–by example–even those who are not yet citizens of the Kingdom.

When we live based on the principles of the Kingdom, we change the world around us. People will see and choose to live differently. They will ask questions. They will wonder what makes you different.

Living based on Kingdom principles will even impact the environment–the physical world around us. We will be concerned with the beauty of a place. Not to make it into a show, but to make open the throat of the the environment to proclaim the goodness of God. Because God's goodness is not intended to only impact you and me. It is intended to impact every element of creation.

Advent isn't a time of waiting for just us Followers of the Messiah. It is for a time where all the world waits in breathless anticipation of something better than. Something other than. For a lot of the world, advent–this season of waiting–isn't just a month long. For parts of the world, it is a season that has gone on for millennia. Waiting for the other than. Waiting for the better than.

Let's be honest. The world isn't in the greatest of shape. Wars. Rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Over utilized farm and ranch land. Sickness. Disease. Floods. It's a mess.

And it's into this mess that God desires to proclaim goodness and beauty, and the land responds with bounty and blessing.

Remember the other day when I said that eschatology matters. Here's why. If our eschatology is one that says, “it's all gonna burn up anyway,” then our lifestyle will walk out with that belief as our foundation. We will work to keep people from burning up, but we won't work to keep the planet from burning up. We're only walking out half of the story. We will live as if Heaven will be only a place for those who die, and not a place to be walked out today.

God's intention is that people should life full lives. Lives where all they need is provided. Where life is full of joy and peace and goodness. Yet, He also intends for the land to be full of bounty and blessing.

I met a rancher in Nebraska a few months ago that understands this. He understands the importance of caring for the land. The importance of proclaiming the beauty and goodness of God. And, the land has responded with bounty and blessing. He has a ranch that has won awards for it's ability to produce strong and healthy cattle, but not at the expense of creation. He conserves the land. Plants trees. Manages the water consumption. And, in the lean years, his ranch continues to produce. After spending time with this friend, the phrase, “the Kingdom of God is like” rang through my ears. And, the land has responded. Beauty and goodness. Bounty and blessing.

As citizens of this new Kingdom that was ushered in from a manger in Bethlehem so long ago, we should live out a life that proclaims God's goodness and beauty. And in so doing, the people will be blessed, the culture will change, and the land will respond with bounty and blessing.

Yet, first, we must embrace the Kingdom Life. The “with God now” life as Dallas Willard calls it. We live life with God now. Waiting, yes, for the Kingdom to be completed in it's fullness. Yet, knowing that when the Christ child came, He brought with Him the Kingdom. Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

Here.

Now.

But also, not yet.

And, in between, we wait. In between, we live out our lives as Kingdom citizens first. Kingdom citizens above any other citizenship.

And we proclaim the goodness and beauty of our God. And, even the land responds with bounty and blessing.