Over the course of the last month I have written about 20,000 words on the topic and men and women in the church, specifically focusing on what role women have played and can play in the Kingdom. I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback. I realize that there are a lot of individual posts to go back and read through. So if you would like you are welcome to view and download the entire series by clicking this link:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
When was the last time you rested? Like, really rested?
I’m sure we’ve all seen the statistics and research about how Americans are among the most overworked people in the world. Americans on average work longer hours per week than their European counterparts, and they receive fewer paid holidays. We have no guaranteed maternity leave, while other countries insist on granting mothers and fathers paid family leave while their children are young.
We go on fewer vacations, take fewer sick and personal days, and we work more overtime than we should. We buy into the lie that busyness equals productivity. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’m seeing more and more studies that show the importance of rest, time off, and brain-breaks throughout the day. Something as simple as a 10-15 minute break to walk around the office or around the block can actually help spur creativity and productivity. If we don’t take breaks and if we don’t find time to rest and disconnect, then we are in danger of burnout.
I saw this video the other week on one of the YouTube channels I follow. It speaks to this very idea, but not in a Christian or religious way – so mind some of the language. But his points are spot on.
I think God knew that we needed rest. He created us, after all. I think he would be a pretty good judge of what we need. But here’s the thing about God – he never calls us to do something he is unwilling to do himself. God calls us to rest (as we’ll see in the 10 Commandments), so God sets the precedent by resting.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how good breaks and rest can be for our minds. I’m terrible about this, but when was the last time you did chores without listening to music or a podcast? When was the last time you exercised without your earbuds in? When was the last time you drove somewhere in silence? When was the last time you just let your mind wander freely? For me it’s almost never.
But I want to get better about it.
We are creative beings. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that we carry on his creative work. We can add value and beauty to the world around us unlike any other creature. We care about art and design and color and architecture and texture and lighting and ambience and aesthetic. God does, too. We get to participate in his creativity, but not to the point of losing ourselves in the work.
God rested. Rest does not equal laziness just like busyness does not equal productivity. We think people are either busy or they’re lazy. But so often we end up staying busy with things that don’t matter – and that can be as bad or worse than laziness.
God rested, and it was a holy, intentional rest. The seventh day was set aside, it was different than the other days. Again, we’ll talk more about Sabbath specifically in a few days. But God knows the importance of holy moments, holy spaces, holy days and times. We were not created to go 100% seven days a week. We were created to live in a rhythm of life – evening, morning, work, rest, worship, create, feast, celebrate, get busy, relax.
Don’t buy into the lie that you have to work harder than God. There’s a time for work and a time to rest.
Have you ever felt burnt out? What was that like? What led to that experience? What did you learn from it?
Why do you think society places such an emphasis on being and staying busy? In what ways might that busyness be hurting our physical health? our families? our churches?
Look at your daily schedule. Mark out some times to rest, to take breaks, to enjoy nature, and to disconnect from social media and the demands of your electronic devices.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Day Four (sun, moon, and stars) was about filling Day 1 (light and dark). Day 5 (fish and birds) was about filling Day 2 (waters and sky). Finally, Day 6 (land animals) is about filling Day 3 (land and vegetation).
One thing I find interesting about Days 5 and 6 is that God uses creation to do the creating. “Let the waters teem with life” and “let the land produce living creatures.” Life comes from non-life. That’s a statement that has sparked a lot of scientific debate over the years. Scientists are still trying to discover just how that happened. Why is there life instead of non-life? I have no idea when it comes to the nuts and bolts of it, but it does seem that wherever God is, there is life. Once everything was in place on this planet, life was virtually inevitable.
Or as we see in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”
People often wonder about the seeming conflict between science and faith. Do we take Genesis 1 literally? If so, then what about evolution? What about dinosaurs?
Frankly, that’s not what the creation song is about. It’s not interested in the science of creation. It’s not even written with a scientific worldview in mind. It predates the scientific method. One more time for people in the back: Genesis is not about science. Science is concerned with discovering the how. Genesis is more interested in the who and why. The God of the Bible creates out of love and community, and his creation is imbibed with a sense of purpose and order – and it was good.
The writer of Genesis 1 depicts three basic groups of animals – domesticated livestock, wild untamed beasts, and reptiles. Add those to fish and birds, and that’s basically the way the ancients understood the natural world.
God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and 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.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Another question scientists try to answer is What separates humans from animals? Technically, human beings are mammals, and we’re closely related on a DNA level to primates like chimpanzees and bonobos. But as far as we know, human beings are the only sentient, self-aware, conscious beings in the entire universe. Some would say that we’re no different than the non-human animals. I think the fact that we can make those kind of assertions proves that we are different.
Where does consciousness come from? Where does our sense of love and community and justice come from? Where does our morality come from?
I believe it has something to do with the very Image and Likeness of God embedded into each and every homo sapien on the planet. There is a little bit of God’s own nature inside each one of us. Forgetting or ignoring that fact has led to some of the greatest atrocities in history – persecution, genocide, hate crimes, slavery, human trafficking. When we dismiss the Imago Dei inside our brother or sister, we dehumanize them. Only when we dehumanize them in our minds can we justify violent actions against them.
Every living creature has the “breath of life” in it, but only humans bear the likeness of God. Thus we are his ambassadors and co-rulers. We are tasked with the creative process, ruling over and tending to the rest of creation just as God would do.
This is why, I believe, that Jesus says the greatest command in Scripture is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – to love your neighbor as yourself. Or as John would put it:
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
(1 John 4:20)
Love for God and love for others cannot be separated because God has created us in his own image. Or as Victor Hugo would write in his famous novel Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
How would the world be different if we all acknowledged the Image of God in each other human being we encountered every day?
Why is it so difficult to remember that all people are created in God’s likeness?
What are some specific ways we can live out the mission God gave us?
Recently, I came across this series of of questions asked by a Reddit user:
1) Do you agree with everything in the bible, sometimes it can be really messed up (like those quotes atheists like to bring up when they are debating with christians for example “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18”
2) Is the Bible like your law or advice for better life?
3) How often do you question your beliefs?
4) Are creationists the majority of christians?
Here are my answers:
1) It is my belief that if it can’t be said about Christ, it can’t be said about God (seeing as they are one and the same). I read about the violence of the nations in the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the cross of Christ. Jesus’ violent death at the hands of the state reveals the evil of state-sanctioned killing. So no, I don’t particularly “agree” that God truly commanded the killing of innocents. It was a shocking reality of war. I think this actually gives credence to the reliability of Scriptures. The writers certainly don’t try to sanitize or sugar coat anything. God is for sure a God of justice, but God is more so a God of grace and mercy, willing and desiring to save all who would turn to God.
2) The Bible is an argument about God. It’s a compilation of history, law, poetry, prophetic writings, letters, and biographical accounts. The Bible is a collection of 66 (or more) individual documents by at least 40 different authors/editors, written and compiled over the course of about 1500 years. It’s so much MORE than a law or book of good advice. It’s a window into how the people of God have interacted with, debated about, and sometimes literally wrestled with God. It’s the story of God and his people. The closest thing we Christians have to a “law” is maybe Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. But it really boils down to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and straight, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is our law. That is our advice for a better life.
3) I question my beliefs all the time. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Certainty is. Faith isn’t faith if there isn’t a degree of doubt, the idea that I could be wrong about all this. Certainty is the destroyer of faith, because as soon as your faith becomes too rigid it stops growing and evolving.
4) Young Earth Creationism stems from a demand for a 100% literal reading of Genesis 1-11. That view is dying off, and certainly isn’t as much of a stronghold as it used to be.
The storm at sea is threatening to kill them all. The waves are swelling and breaking over the boat. The wind is driving the rain like gravel into their faces. They are frantically hurling the cargo boxes overboard in an effort to lighten the ship.
In the midst of this fear and panic, they find someone who really couldn’t be bothered by it all – Jonah, a prophet on the run.
After quite a rude awakening, Jonah is brought to meet with the rest of the crew. They’ve got to find out who is responsible for this storm – not necessarily what person, but what god/deity is behind this. The most obvious god to pinpoint would be Ba’al, the Storm God of the Ancient Near-East. But Ba’al isn’t responding right now (shocker!), so they have to figure this out.
They cast lots (think Yahtzee, but with higher stakes). The lot falls to Jonah (shocker again!). Check out the interaction that follows:
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:7-10)
They want to know his job, his region, his country, his tribe, his shopping habits, his Social Security number, his mother’s maiden name. They interrogate Jonah to find out which god he might have angered. In the ancient world gods were viewed as very tribal and/or territorial. Your family would have certain gods. You tribe would have other gods. Your country and region would have bigger gods. Even certain occupations, like merchants and sailors, had their own gods. So they have to narrow it down.
Let’s look again at Jonah’s response to this line of questioning:
“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This is an interesting response for several reasons.
NATION OVER GOD
Jonah does the same thing I see so many people doing today. His first identifier was his country – “I am a Hebrew.” His identity was first and foremost grounded in his particular geopolitical situation. Jonah was a Hebrew before he was a worshiper of YHWH.
If you look back at 2 Kings 14, you will see that Jonah had every reason to be patriotic. Israel had just experienced the greatest time of political, economic, and military expansion in decades thanks to the word of God through his prophet Jonah. The king was evil, the nation was evil, yet God blessed them anyway. Jonah was at the top of his game. Jonah seems to be more than just a patriot, though. He has tendencies toward nationalism, the ideology that proclaims “My country, right or wrong.”
Today we have two identifiers – Christian and American. Which one is the noun and which is the adjective? That makes all the difference in the world. Are you a Christian American? Or are you an American Christian? Say you meet a foreigner for the first time and you’re getting to know each other. Do you tell that person you’re a Christian or an American first?
For Jonah it was clear that his allegiance to his country took precedent over his allegiance to God. He would rather blatantly disobey God than have a hand in saving Israel’s enemies. But when we become followers of Christ, we are now citizens of a new kingdom, a global kingdom. It’s great to be proud of your country and seek God’s blessing on the place you live (see Jeremiah 29). But it’s not ok to do that to the exclusion or detriment of other countries and nationalities.
YHWH, THE GOD OF HEAVEN
Jonah reveals the sacred covenant name of God to these sailors – YHWH. Any time you see “the LORD” in your Bibles, that is a replacement for the name YHWH. Jonah says, “I worship YHWH.”
But here’s the thing – YHWH was never just a regional God. YHWH had gone by other names, too. Most commonly the name El. El is the more widely used word/name for God. YHWH was the special name God gave to Moses in Exodus when establishing a covenant with the Hebrews.
I’m no Hebrew scholar, but from what I’ve heard and read, the name El is closely related to the name Ba’al, who was frequently referred to as “The God of Thunder” or “The God of the Heavens.” Jonah introduces these sailors to YHWH, the God of Heaven. Essentially, Jonah is using language they would have been familiar with to introduce them to YHWH and emphasize what a big deal this God is.
CREATOR OF THE SEA AND THE DRY LAND
Jonah gives the sailors the most basic Bible school lesson about who God is. YHWH created the sea and the dry land. That’s also a Hebrew way of implying “and everything in them.” So let’s all sing the Days of Creation song!
But this is an important distinction to make. Ba’al may have been “The Storm God” but he didn’t create the sea. There’s a big difference between having control over something and being the creator of something. I may know how to drive my Toyota, but I didn’t build it. My father-in-law worked at the plant where my vehicle was made. He knows where the parts came from and how they are all put together. If there’s an issue with the car, I defer to him.
YHWH isn’t just some little-case-g god like Ba’al. YHWH is the one who created everything that Ba’al supposedly controlled.
This rightly has the sailors terrified. “How can you run away from ‘the God who created the sea’ on the sea!“
WHO’S IN CONTROL HERE?
With as crazy as things are, we always have to remember who is in control. God has not abdicated his throne to the big wigs in Washington. YHWH is still the God of Heaven who created the sea and the dry land and everything they contain.
When our identity is primarily rooted in our nationality or politics, then we will always be on shifting sand. We’ll be like the foolish man who built his house on the beach with no foundation. Nations rise and fall. Politics change daily.
But if our identity is rooted in God and the kingdom of heaven, we know we will always be on solid footing, not being tossed around by the winds of political storms.
Idolatry is a trap.
An idol, as we saw last time, is something that makes big promises, takes all it can, and gives nothing in return. This video from I Am Second featuring hit singer Tori Kelly does a fantastic job illustrating this point. Check it out:
Tori Kelly was promised the world. She was promised everything she could want – fame, fortune, success as a singer. But her “idol” deemed her not good/pretty/bubbly enough. So long, see you later. Next!
She had to learn not to tie her identity to anything other than Christ. Kelly had to learn to let go and gain her freedom (remember the Monkey Trap?).
THE THREE TRAPS
If idolatry is a trap, it’s helpful to know what kind of traps to specifically be on the lookout for. The Bible identifies three main traps, and life has confirmed this to be true. Here’s exactly what we need to watch for:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Did you see the traps? 1) Craving for physical pleasure, 2) Craving for everything we see, and 3) Pride in our achievements and possessions. These are the tools Satan uses to draw us away from God and trap us in idolatry. We fall for them all the time. Every single one of us has been trapped by at least one of these tricks. And they are literally as old as human history.
LITERALLY, THE OLDEST TRICK IN THE BOOK
The Bible opens with the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. God creates the world and everything in it. God crowns his creation with God’s masterpiece – humanity, God’s own image bearers. God places the first man and woman in a garden called Eden. It’s a paradise – free of sin, pain, death, and I assume mosquitoes. They have one God-given rule, only one! Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it. There’s one tree you can’t eat from. Everything else is fair game. How could they possibly mess that up?
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)
Did you see the traps? Look more closely. She saw that the fruit 1. looked delicious (cravings for physical pleasure), 2. looked beautiful (cravings for everything we see), and 3. would grant her the wisdom that she wanted (pride in our achievements and possessions). The Serpent (aka Satan) pulled out all the stops. He set all three traps in place, and she fell for every single one.
**Notice, by the way, that she gave the fruit to her husband “who was with her.” Adam wasn’t some innocent bystander. It’s not like he was off somewhere else completely unaware of what was happening. Adam was fooled just as much as Eve.**
And with all three traps set and then sprung, sin and idolatry entered the world.
At the end of Genesis 3, however, God makes a promise that some day one of Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent once and for all.
Fast forward to the 1st Century CE in Palestine. A Jewish Rabbi is on the scene named Yeshua (or Jesus to us Westerners). Jesus is baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. As he came up out of the water, the heavens part and the voice of God could be heard proclaiming “You are my Son whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This is a literal re-creation story.
And just as with the creation story in Genesis, so it is with Jesus. He is immediately led into the Judean wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and faces temptations from Satan. Imagine fasting for 40 days! That’s about the limit for the human body to survive without food. Some of us get hangry after 40 minutes without eating. Picture being on-the-brink-of-literal-starvation-hangry…and then literal Satan shows up. Ugh…. Just read this passage while I go get a snack.
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4:1-13)
Ok, did you see the traps that time? Really, Satan couldn’t make it any more obvious. It’s the same three traps as he used in the Garden all those thousands of years before.
- Turn these stones to bread = cravings for physical pleasure
- I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world = cravings for everything we see
- Throw yourself down from the Temple in front of all these crowds of people, proving to everyone who you truly are and what you’re capable of = pride in our achievements or possessions
However, where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus successfully avoided the traps and exposed them for what they truly were – empty promises.
These three traps can be thought of like this:
“Cravings for Physical Pleasure” = Self-Centeredness – only caring about my needs, my physical cravings, my appearance, my schedule, my success, me – me – me
“Cravings for Everything We See” = Greed – never being satisfied with what I have, always wanting more things, new, shiny, latest and greatest, trendy, jealous, more – more – more
“Pride in Our Achievements and Possessions” = Pride – success, achievement, and being the best are the only things that matter. Second place is first loser. I have to be the best me, and I need other people to know it. Failure is not an option, win – win – win
Self-Centeredness, Greed, and Pride are the core tricks of the trade for Satan. They are the main ways our idols keep us trapped. Here’s what that looks like in real life.
My relationships become an idol when I make it all about me – what I can get out it, how my needs are being met, how that person make me feel.
Relationships become an idol when I’m greedy – always wanting more time, more devotion, or simply moving on to the next person if you aren’t good enough for me anymore.
And relationships become an idol when I become prideful – I have to have the best relationship, or at the very least we have to appear successful. I keep score of who does more for the other person and become resentful when the other person isn’t pulling their weight.
Work can become an idol when I’m self-centered – looking out for my own interests instead of the good of the company, doing anything to get more money or more promotions, making everything a competition with my coworkers.
Work can become an idol when I fall into greed – working longer hours for more overtime to bring home a bigger pay check to a wife and kids I never see so we can buy more stuff we never use.
Work can become an idol when I let my pride get in the way – making sure everyone knows how good I am, making myself indispensable, getting jealous of anyone else who gets promotions, always self-promoting and emphasizing my own achievements and successes.
FOLLOW THE GUIDE
These are the traps of idolatry. They aren’t always easy to see. Sometimes navigating life feels like that scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. The only way we know how to avoid the traps is by learning from those who have gone before us. Self-centeredness, Greed, and Pride can suck you in, keep you trapped, and totally derail your life. Maybe now that we know what to look out for, we can follow in the steps of Jesus and avoid these snares of life.
Which of the three traps is most difficult for you to avoid? How might these traps be lying in wait for us even in the church? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!
Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on the state of global climate change. Things are not looking good to say the least. You can easily look up the report and read it for yourself. At the rate we’re going, we have about 12 years to come together as a global community and turn things around.
It’s almost time to hit the panic button.
Mike McHargue released an episode of his podcast “Ask Science Mike” this week discussing the report and what we can/should do about it. I highly recommend giving it a listen (begin at about the 5:38 mark). It’s upsetting to me that we could be experiencing the catastrophic effects of global warming within our lifetime. We’re not just talking about the distant future of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are talking about a couple of decades from now.
When I was younger I remember hearing people in the church shrug off the warnings of global warming. I would hear things like, “The climate has changed before. It’s a completely natural part of Earth’s cycles.” Or “who are we to think that humans could cause such a thing as this?” Or worse, “God said he would never destroy the Earth again, so there’s nothing we can do to destroy it.”
There are still climate change deniers, but I think it’s time we all got more serious about this. Caring for the environment should not be a partisan issue. Reducing our energy consumption and carbon footprint should not be viewed as a bad thing. Even if you don’t believe that human activity (eg. burning fossil fuels and stripping rainforests to make pasture land for livestock) is driving climate change, I still think there are plenty of reasons to start taking better care of our planet.
I’m no Captain Planet, but here are six key reasons I believe Christians should care about the environment.
1) We are created in the Image of God.
Our Scriptures begin with the story of creation (Genesis 1, 2). Genesis 1 is a beautiful song depicting God’s work in breathtaking poetic language. God creates light, then oceans and atmosphere, then dry land and vegetation, then birds and fish, then land animals. Last of all God created humans:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Men and women – ALL homo sapiens – are created in the Image of God. This is one of the foundational truths of the Bible. If we don’t have that as our starting point, then nothing else really matters. The Image of God is a loaded term. We could write entire volumes of books on what the term means and its implications. But suffice it to say that human beings are God’s representatives to the rest of creation.
Humans were endowed with certain cognitive, physical, and social capabilities that (as far as we know) are unprecedented in the known universe. Humans have survived not because we are the most well evolved species on the planet, but because we have a language, fine motor skills, and social cooperation. A lone human will not survive for long. But get 20 or 30 of us together and we can create our own society.
As God’s image bearers, we have some of the divine spirit in us, too. We have the ability to show love and compassion, forgiveness and mercy. We share in God’s creative work, too. We see the world not just as it is but as it could be. Humans can help tame the chaos. Humans can help bring order and flourishing for all the codependent ecosystems.
Since humans are created in God’s image and likeness, then our first inclination should be to do the things God would do. That includes, but is certainly not limited to, caring for the rest of non-human creation on this planet.
2) God placed humans in charge of tending and caring for the Earth.
Closely connected with the first point is this: we bear the divine image and are given a divine vocation.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and 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.” (Genesis 1:28)
This is where a lot of people have gotten tripped up over the centuries. What does it meant to “subdue” and “rule over”? I believe many men have taken that to mean the Earth is ours to do with as we please. Some think this means that the Earth and everything in it was made for humanity to use, to exploit, to take advantage of for our own personal gains.
But this is kingly language. Humanity is “ruling over” the Earth is God’s vassal governors. Yes, there are parts of this world that I am glad to have brought under our control. But what do we do once we have brought about order and submission? I don’t believe the answer is to run roughshod over creation. We should instead do everything within our power to make creation come alive and flourish to the glory of God. After all, creation itself is supposed to reveal something of God to us – namely God’s divine nature and eternal power (Romans 1:20).
Would nonhuman creation call us benevolent rulers or maniacal tyrants?
3) Our actions impact more than just ourselves.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “sin”? The Bible is littered with lists of sins – those actions and attitudes that are contrary to God’s way of life for his people. But take a look at one of those lists – any list. Think about anything we would consider to be a sin.
Is there a sin that affects only you and no one/nothing else in any way?
Any sin you can think of has an impact greater than the one committing the sin. That’s why it’s such a big deal to God. God is community and love within Godself. God creates out of communal love for the purpose of communal love. That’s why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
When the first humans sinned by eating the fruit from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 3), God plainly laid out the consequences to their action. They did not die immediately, but they were separated 1) from God, 2) from each other, and 3) from the rest of creation. Sin drove a wedge between all these relationships.
Hear this: our sin of greed has caused potentially irreparable harm to the rest of creation.
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 will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Our sin of greed has made matters exponentially worse since the industrial revolution. Our desire for more – more money, more power, more things, more comfort, more convenience – has had devastating effects on the rest of creation. I can only imagine that creation is crying out more than ever, is more frustrated than ever at being subject to bondage.
We must be willing to take responsibility for our own actions and begin living in such a way as to reduce the harmful impacts of our own greed and evil desires.
4) It’s more economical.
Ok, so maybe you’re not convinced by the science or the theology. But everyone should be able to get behind the economics of sustainability. And no, I’m not talking about going out and buying a Prius. In fact, the more economical thing to do is to keep your vehicles as long as possible, keep them well maintained, and drive more efficiently.
Come on. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for gas? Who wouldn’t want to see a smaller electricity or water bill? Who wouldn’t want to support local farmers and merchants rather than gigantic, unsustainable mega-corporations?
We live in a consumeristic society. The real challenge is to consume less and create/contribute more. This is called stewardship. There’s a whole case for stewardship to be made in Scripture. Basically, everything belongs to God. The blessings we have come from God and are meant to be used to bless others.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops (Proverbs 3:9)
We have a say as consumers. We vote with our dollars. Companies pay attention to market trends. If we are spending more of our money on locally-sourced, sustainable, and/or fair trade products, then producers and manufacturers will take note. If we invest more into green companies who are working to develop more efficient forms of energy at lower costs, then we will all benefit in the long run.
Renewable energy and sustainable products just make more economic sense. We must be better stewards of the blessings God has given us.
5) It’s a justice thing.
This should be a really big wake-up call for Christians globally. According to all predictions that I’ve seen, those who are less well off are going to be the most impacted by climate change. Not everyone can afford to move. Not everyone can keep up with the predicted rise in food and energy costs. In extreme weather events, those with poorer housing and shelter are going to be the least able to survive. We must be preparing for a humanitarian crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Climate change has the potential to produce more refugees globally than we could possibly support.
When economies collapse, it will be “the least of these” who suffer the most. When hurricanes gain unprecedented strength, it will be “the least of these” who are swallowed in the storm surge. When wild fires rage and crops fail and sea levels rise, it will be “the least of these” who will experience the greatest impact.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:41-45)
Instead of preparing to help the countless numbers of
refugees men and women God’s Image Bearers who will be negatively affected by climate change, we are severely cutting down on the number of refugees we will allow into this country. We are building a wall along our souther border with Mexico to prevent people from entering the US. We are scaling back the amount of global aide and support given to developing nations. We have pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We have alienated our closest allies and buddied up with tyrannical dictators. We have beefed up our military spending while making cuts to social security and healthcare.
Remember – we will be judged by how we treated “the least of these.”
6) The Kingdom of God promotes flourishing of all people and all creation.
This isn’t heaven yet. Not by a long shot. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make this world a little more like heaven.
One of the key differentiators between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdoms of the World is abundance versus scarcity. God’s kingdom is one of abundance. In God’s kingdom everyone has enough, everyone has clothes, food, shelter. Everyone’s needs are taken care of. Everyone is given the chance to flourish and thrive and reach their fullest potential.
The Kingdoms of this World live on a scarcity mindset. The fear is that there is not enough for everyone. There won’t be enough food or water or luxuries, so we have to forcibly take and/or protect what’s ours.
This will only get worse with climate change. Resources will become more scarce. Water sources will dry up. Fossil fuel reserves will become depleted. Useable farmland could all but vanish. Extinctions could occur on widespread scales along the entire food chain. Scarcity will be the new norm.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Scarcity defines the kingdoms, empires, and nations of this world. Abundance defines the kingdom of heaven.
Think about everything Jesus did in order to prove this very point. He healed the sick, blind, lame, and deaf. He preached to the poor and outcasts. He caused a miraculous catch of fish – so much that it nearly sank the boats. He took a few loaves of bread and some fish and multiplied them into enough food to feed thousands.
Jesus came to preach a kingdom of abundance, not so that we could greedily hoard it all, but so that we could all share what we have and provide for each other out of that abundance.
This is exactly what the early Christians did:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
In the coming decades it will be increasingly important that God’s people live out of a place of abundance – sharing what we have, giving to those in need, not taking more than we need. The fear of scarcity has no place in the kingdom of heaven. But if we want to prevent widespread scarcity of resources (necessities, not just luxuries), then we need to take this as seriously as the early church did. We must redefine “enough.” We must reprioritize our wants and our needs. We must celebrate and become good stewards of the blessings we have from God in Christ. And we must be willing to share with those in need.
I’m not perfect at any of this. In fact, I’ve gotten lazier about these things in the last few years. But it’s up to each one of us to make little changes that will make a big impact.
That’s an ancient word/phrase meaning “Lord, come quickly.” It could mean we want Christ to return and for the kingdom of heaven to be fully realized as promised at the end of Revelation. Or it could mean that we need God to act in a big way, to show up and put everything to right.
As we proceed into a potentially ominous future, I believe this prayer is critical for God’s people. It reminds us who is ultimately in charge. It reminds us that this isn’t heaven yet. It reminds us of the hope we have in Christ Jesus that one day all will be made new.
Why are we here?
This is a fundamental worldview question with which mankind has wrestled since the beginning. Although we ourselves are mammals, and although we share many similar qualities with certain other mammals, when I look around, I can tell there is something unique about human beings. I have heard people say that the only characteristic separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom is our intelligence. Yet there are animals that are extremely intelligent and community oriented, just like us. (And according to others, humans are only the third smartest race on the planet…)
So what is it that really separates man from beast? I believe the answer to this question is also the answer to the original question: the Imago Dei, or the Image of God for you non-Latin speakers.
It is true that humanity is closely linked with the rest of the animal kingdom. Mammals and humans were created on the same day. Genesis 1:20 even says that all the animals have the “breath of life” in them – the same breath given to Adam.
The real difference comes when God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”
Ok, so humans made in the image of the Creator. This is something new, something special. God actually stepped back for a moment, looked at all He had created, and decided to create beings to bear his image to the rest of creation. Well, why?
Apparently, being one of God’s mini-me’s comes with a job description: “They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground”…Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
I chose the New Living Translation for this passage. Unfortunately, the job description/blessing given in these verses has been misinterpreted and abused. People used to understand “rule over/have dominion over” as permission to do with the earth and the animals as we saw fit…and we see how well that worked out. The world is not ours to do with as we please. As the NLT puts it, we are to reign over and govern the rest of creation.
Think of it as a prime minister/ambassador/vassal king position. We are ruling, watching over, and tending to that which ultimately belongs to someone else. We have been given the charge to participate with the Creator in the creative process by tending to, caring for, and governing the rest of creation.
There are other aspects to the Imago Dei which I will explore later, but first I wanted to address the most obvious side of the image of God. Each and every one of us continues to bear the image of the Creator to the rest of creation. Are we making every effort to live up to that image?
Or are we living as though we have no responsibility to the world around us? Are we healing or destroying? Are we creating or killing? Are we caring or exploiting?
In every aspect of our lives, we should be striving to bear proudly the image of the One who lovingly created it all.
Right from the start of Genesis, we see that God is a creator, a craftsman. He made the earth with purpose and intentionality. Therefore, everything He creates has meaning and value.
Next, we see that God does not rule from afar. He enters the darkness and faces the chaos head on. Redemption is embedded in the very fabric of creation.
Now it’s time for a bit of a side note. If you were like me, you probably sang as a child some little song about the days of creation. “Day one, day one, God made light when there was none…”
But then something happened. As I grew older, I started learning more about the “science” behind “creation.” Apparently, sometime in the last hundred years or so, believing in a young earth and the literal 24 hour days of creation became a major tenant of the Christian faith. For some, at least.
I was taught that the 6 days of creation were exactly 144 hours. No more. No less. To suggest otherwise was borderline heresy. I was also taught that the earth was not any more than 6,000 years old, and science could prove it. Carbon dating and the fossil record just had to be wrong because they didn’t support what the Bible obviously claims to be fact.
Before you go grabbing your torches and pitchforks, let me just say that I truly believe the God absolutely has the power to create an entire universe in 144 hours. He very well could have created the earth to look older than it actually is, just as he created Adam and Eve as adults and not babies.
Here’s my word of caution: Genesis 1 is a poem.
Let me say it again so it sinks in. The opening chapter of the Bible is POETRY. It’s not historical narrative like the rest of Genesis. It’s not a section of the Law, like Leviticus. It’s poetry, like the Psalms.
I think it’s really cool how Rob Bell breaks down this poem in his video Everything is Spiritual.
Is my faith threatened by the theory of evolution? Nope. Do I feel the need to take up arms against proponents of the big bang? Not at all.
Here’s why: I look around and I see how much science has changed over the last thousand years. We went from thinking the earth was flat and the center of the universe to putting men on the moon. Every year, scientists and researchers are discovering new and better information than we previously had. Scientific “facts” are always changing and evolving. Things we took for granted 100 years ago have shifted and taken on new forms. How much more so in the next 100, 500, or 1000 years?
And yet Genesis 1 will always say, “Let there be light.”
God has given human beings the capacity to explore our world and the universe around us. If he made it all, then why would he be threatened by anything we discover or by any new theories we might develop along the way?
Genesis 1 is a poem, the true depth of which is far greater than 144 hours of creation or the young earth theory. It is a poem about power, community, empowerment, and love.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
So begins the creation story. From there, God goes on to create light and land and stars and everything else. As a child, and on into adulthood, when thinking about creation, I always pictured God sitting in his throne room which resembled something like the bridge on the Enterprise from Star Trek. I imagined God sitting atop his captain’s chair, handing out marching orders to the angles around him, and watching it all take place before him on a 72″ LCD screen.
But look what it says:
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Formless. Empty. Dark. Deep. This sounds like a place I would never want to be. This sounds downright hellish. This sounds like the opposite of where God would be found, thus the made-up image in my mind of God creating from afar.
But God was right there. His Spirit was hanging out right in the middle of the darkness, the emptiness. Before there was light, or stars, or sky, or even love, God was there. When there was nothing but chaos and mayhem, God was there.
YHWH has never been one to rule from afar. He is and has always been an on-the-ground type of leader, one who would command from the trenches, one who would lead His army from the front lines. Creation was no different. He faced the void head on and watched the universe take form all around Him.
He created structure out of formlessness. He fill the void with the fullness of the universe. He vanquished the darkness with His light. And He raised up mountains from the abyss.
How’s that for a powerful God?
And the best thing of all is that He is ready and willing to do the very same in our own lives!
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
(For more on this topic, you can listen to the sermon I preached a while back under the “Sermons, etc.” page.)