Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CREATION CARE: Notes by Pastor Penno

Do you like to think about the myriads of stars and the vast constellations scattered throughout the infinitude of space? Just look up at those stars tonight, imagine if you can their glory. Then think of this globe on which we live, the astounding complexity of its multitudinous forms of life, and the billions of human beings on it, each created in the image of the Creator of this vast universe.
No human mind can begin to comprehend this infinitude of creation. Isaac Watts caught a little of the heart-thrilling realization of two truths: Watts has been considering “the thunders of His hand, . . . and all His mighty works,” the greatness of God’s creation, and His lowly condescension to us:
And will this sovereign King
Of glory condescend,
And will He write His name:
My Father and my Friend?
[You have to pause here, and let your humbled heart marvel.]
I love His name, I love His word;
Join all my powers to praise the Lord!”
Yes, look up at those stars tonight, and then ponder—that mighty Sovereign of that vast universe is YOUR FATHER! Yes, and your FRIEND.
All because of His Son Jesus, who has fully adopted you into that “Family of God” (see Eph. 3:14, 15), at an infinite cost. He actually died for you, died your second death, suffered hell in your behalf. Think that one through; how can you possibly go on being selfish? You CAN’T—not if you believe the Good News (see 2 Cor. 5:14, 15).
When God created the earth, He made man in His likeness and gave him guardianship over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the animals and every creeping thing (Gen. 1:26), which means God wanted us to become trustees of His creation. However, today there seems to be some contusion about what it means to take care of God’s gifts.
Some people with a narrow view of how to manage God’s resources believe it applies only to money. Like some of our nation’s founding fathers who were Deists, they believe in a God who has simply wound the clock and then left it to run by itself. This kind of thinking leaves the universe to luck, eliminating the responsibility for caring personally for the planet. God’s plan is for men and women to be caretakers (managers; of everything He has created or what man creates or manufactures from those created resources.
In Jeremiah 18:1-6 God is portrayed as the potter who created Israel. Isaiah 64:8 declares that we are the work of our Father and come from the clay of the potter’s hand. Job 10:8-12 says He fashioned and made us of clay and that we will return to dust. In spite of how we were created, God made us with the objective of being guardians—managers—over planet earth. All other creatures, plants, minerals and resources are under our stewardship and care.
When this awesome responsibility is recognized, it should raise our sights to what true stewardship is. Created as we are in God’s image, we are to practice and do His will managing the earth He created so we may someday assist in the management of the universe when our rightful relationship to the Trinity is restored through the plan of redemption.
Now is the time to practice our management responsibilities. These include the management of our time, talents, bodies, children, work, personal possessions, money, animals, forests or any other thing God permits us to control. It is as important to control what enters the mouth as what leaves the wallet, and what we do or do not do with our time. Call it guardianship, management or stewardship, but it requires a daily dedication to serve God as He intended. In every endeavor we should ask ourselves the question. How would Jesus manage this particular possession, object or situation?
As we endeavor to fulfill the purpose of our creation—the management of the earth—may God grant us the wisdom we need.
How can the Bible encourage us to become good care-givers of the creation? How can we use the Bible to teach responsibility to our environment? The Bible speaks of God and His creation. There is an indispensable bond between God and the creation of which mankind is a part. Without God’s superintendence the whole creation would fly apart and man would perish. Our beliefs about God, and our beliefs about nature must be complementary. God is not at odds with nature, it is His creation.
Of course, all kinds of ideas can be supported from a Bible text here and there. Some people have cited the command to subdue the earth, in Genesis 1:28, to prove that ecological issues are not of great importance. Even the teaching of the second coming, and in connection with it the destruction of the earth by fire, has been used as the supreme argument that God ultimately is not concerned about preserving the environment.
However, God cares for the creation. The creation, or world of nature, occupies a very important place in the Psalms. The song of Psalm 104 says:
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who Makes the clouds your chariot. . . .
You make springs gush forth in the valleys; . . .
They give drink to every beast of the field. . . .
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
The cedars of Lebanon which he planted.
In them birds build their nests. . . .
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
The rocks are a refuge for the conies. . . .
You create darkness, and it is night,
The young lions roar for their prey,
Seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they go away and lie down in their dens.
Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening.”
The theme of creation is the most powerful ecological symbol in the Bible. Mankind, like everything else, is a part of the creation and is subject to God, the Creator. Even though man is made in God’s image and is given the command to rule over the creation, the fact that God is the ultimate ruler limits any ambitions that man might have that would be contrary to God’s will for His creation.
In the books of the wise men, Creation also occupies an important place. Wisdom, personified in Proverbs 8, claims to have been created before anything else was created, and was at God’s side when He brought forth the world. Those who observe the ways of Wisdom are said to be happy; whoever finds Wisdom finds life. This implies that the same happiness and life may be found in observing the ways of Wisdom in the creation. Psalm 19 proclaims that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” Nature, then, is the work of God, and man is in harmony with both when he takes glory in what God has done.
Are you aware of the enormous amount of animal suffering there is in this world? If you have watched the PBS documentaries of droughts in Africa, and seen those helpless hippos and crocodiles and even lions dying of thirst, with even their mud holes drying up; and if you have seen where cows in our own land exist in terrible conditions—yes, you must be aware.
Romans discusses this pain: “We know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth.” “All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal His sons” (8:22, 19, GNB). The KJV is more explicit: it “waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. . . The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
Does God care about the pain that animals endure? The Bible says yes: He rebuked Balaam for beating his donkey (Num. 22:26-33); “men and animals are in Your care” (Ps. 36:6, GNB); “a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast” (12:10, KJV).
Innocent people suffer too, “up to the present time”! Look where you will, flora and fauna with humanity ‘await” deliverance from the curse that sin has brought upon the planet, they wait “for the manifestation of the sons of God,” an interesting phrase. We must be reverent, and tread softly; they wait for the 144,000 to be “manifested” or “revealed.” They wait for a people to choose to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,” who will learn to sing “as it were a new song” that has never yet been sung on earth, a people of whom the Father can honestly say, “in their mouth [is] found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:1-5). How much longer must “the whole creation” “groan” and “travail”?
Does it make sense to recognize that our planet is growing old, or as the KJV translates Isa. 516, “shall wax old as a garment,” like an old threadbare suit? The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 immediately preceded the beginning of the Great Industrial Revolution, which has reached a climax in the enormous amounts of fossil fuel that are being burned continually.
According to the Bible, God did create a perfect world in the beginning, with all the functions of nature exquisitely balanced for the good of mankind. All went well until humanity invited Satan in with his new invention of sin. The result: the earth was “corrupted under the inhabitants thereof” (Isa. 24:5). Sin made necessary the great world wide Flood that Genesis 6-9 describes, when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Pet. 3:6). At that time the vast forests and wildlife were buried, producing the coal and oil that we are burning as “fossil fuel” today. The results of the Flood are with us still today! And sin is increasing, for Jesus said, “As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mt. 24:37). We desperately need a new earth! If your clothes wore out, you’d need a new suit! God wants to re-create a new earth, but He can’t do it until the problem of sin is solved. It follows that there is a world wide need for the proclamation of the pure true gospel that is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16; that is, salvation FROM sin, not IN SIN). Next to food and water and medical supplies for hurting people, could anything be more important?
One of the clearest messages in the Bible is the last-days cosmic Day of Atonement. God knows that humanity are “destroying the earth,” and it doesn’t make Him happy (Rev. 11:15-18). The ancient Hebrew Day of Atonement was God’s pattern for how to live now: “On the tenth day of the seventh month there shall be a day of atonement. . . . Ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement” (Lev. 23:27, 28). Of course, all this was typical; the idea is NOT to sit in a rocking chair all the time, today. “It shall be unto you a [typical, or ceremonial] sabbath of rest” (vs. 32). In other words, a time for total reconciliation with God (“atonement” means that), living as Jesus lived, in loving, happy dedication to Him, in total sympathy with what He is doing as our “great High Priest.” His special work now? Preparing a people to meet the final issue of “the mark of the beast” and “the seal of God” (Rev. 13:11-18; 7:1-4). In past ages, that was not “present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12). But it is today!
Is there a better word than “stewardship” in describing our relationship to Jesus in His work of proclaiming the gospel “to every creature”?
Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
(a) That command of Jesus requires that we support those who “go.”
(b) That means, first of all, the giving of tithe—one tenth of our “increase” that the Lord gives us.
(c) It’s not a legalistic assessment upon us; it’s fellowship with Jesus in His work. It’s working together with the Lord Jesus in His work of proclaiming the gospel “to every creature” “in all the world.”
(d) That’s the work that the Lord Jesus loves. A “steward” is someone who cares for property; the word “stewardship” can be understood to imply a legalistic connection with the Lord Jesus in His work of proclaiming the gospel to “every creature.”
(e) But it’s almost infinitely beyond that; you never get to really know someone until you get down working with him in digging the ditch; “stewardship” rightly understood is getting down in the ditch digging with the Lord Jesus; sharing His heart burden for the world.
(f) Jesus said “Go ye . . .” and that requires that we support those who give their lives to “go.”
Your “going” may not be to any romantic place overseas, but it may mean next door; or it may mean, teaching “the everlasting gospel” instead of legalism to children or youth in your local Sabbath School.
If our hearts can be “enlarged” to comprehend the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the love [agape] of Christ in the true gospel (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 119:32), the Holy Spirit will take over our ministry and our teaching; and everything we do for the Lord Jesus will bear eternal fruit.
That will be a happy “stewardship,” both for now and for eternity.
Some struggle to put bread on the table and pay the rent, and put shoes on the children’s feet. Having experienced poverty, I would not lay another straw on the burden they carry. Others lay awake at night wondering what to do with the money the Lord has entrusted to them. I would like to encourage them to believe that the dear Lord will hear their prayer for wisdom to know what to do with it. Surprisingly, of the $144 billion Americans give to charity annually, they donate more than half of it during the last 45 days of the year. From Christmas to New Year’s Eve, they give an average of $1.6 billion a day. Motivated by different concerns, they want to end the year having done what is right.
Justification by faith is not a cerebral, theological exercise; it’s the joy of living. And part of the joy of living is the joy of giving. Yes, actually learning to enjoy giving more than getting. Why and how? Because in true justification by faith you come to realize that you own nothing that can rightfully be called yours. You don’t need a preacher to pound it into your ears that you are a steward, an estate-manager. You see that on His cross Christ took what was yours (your grave) and gave you what was His (eternal life). Yes, He redeemed you from hell itself! Simply believe this truth of justification, and you are set free from those terrible tentacles of “covetousness,” which is selfishness, the desire to acquire and to keep. Get on your knees, and ask the Lord where and how to give, rather, to pass on, what He has permitted to pass through your unworthy hands. Give, not because you hope it’s an investment that will pay off in “treasure in heaven” for you or because you want to receive (Mt. 6:20); give because you want to help lift the burden that Jesus carries on His heart by lifting someone else’s burden that He feels. Just for the joy of helping. Yes, He will guide you to give wisely, not unwisely.
As a pastor I once urged young people to listen to classical music rather than rock. Since then I have often been reminded that much classical music, especially that composed by non-Christian composers since about the middle of the 19th century, has been just as much an expression of frayed nerves as is rock. Something happened to humanity about a century and a half ago that has set humanity’s nerves on edge. It is expressed in popular music—a restlessness of spirit, an impatience with life, a minor key, frenetic irritation, expressed in cacophany and instrumental and vocal discord, yes, rebellion in music (if such it can be called). It’s musical “enmity against God.”
Some will say the problem was the Industrial Revolution; now we live in the age of roaring jet engines, Diesel trucks, and jack hammers. It’s like rubbing our ear drums with sandpaper. But we could endure all that and still be at peace in spirit if we could keep the Sabbath day holy. Industry is not primarily at fault; in fact, God has specifically commanded us, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work” (Ex. 20: 9).
About the same time in the middle of the 1800’s came what must be a call from heaven to reverence God and give Him glory as Creator and Redeemer, by raising up the foundations of many generations—observance of the Lord’s true Sabbath. It was intended by Heaven to be the call to “Come unto [Him] all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and [He] will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). The call to Sabbath rest was not a legalism burden, but a proclamation of the true Good News of justification by faith. Keeping the Lord’s true seventh-day Sabbath was to be the path through which humanity realized that “rest.” The restlessness of spirit that humanity find in rock is actually Sabbath-less-ness, coming naturally with the loss of Sabbath-keeping. Right now, pause where you are and “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”