Archives For November 2014

In 2013 the 15,000-member Northland Church and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Bob Giguere teamed up to produce a video called Our Father’s World.  I encourage you to take the time to view it.  There is much inspiration and insight.

Here are a few things that struck me:

1.  We learn that Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church apologized that it took him 33 years to give a sermon about the importance of caring for God’s earth.  When was the last time you heard a sermon about this topic?

2.  The video contains a very strong vein of thought that the poor are the most vulnerable to the consequences of the degradation of God’s earth.

3.  A note that was heard once but then not picked up again was Matthew Sleeth’s comment that “sacrificial action” is required in the care of God’s earth. This is a profound and challenging insight.  Another speaker,  Dr. Sandy Richter of Wesley Biblical Seminary, notes that being Christian is inherently a countercultural calling but that Christians too often are so embedded in the culture that we the don’t live out what God actually desires.  Ironically, in this same video you’ll note that Bill Hybels seems worried that his message might make SUV owners in the audience uncomfortable.

4.  Tony Campolo puts his finger on something important when he calls attention to the fact that because Christians abdicated leadership on the issue of the environment some time ago there’s an instinctive suspicion of concern for the environment because the issue is now associated with New Age adherents.

5.  I particularly liked the section in which the pastor of Vineyard Boise talked about how some of his parishioners challenged him with the question of how they should vote – for the party that cares about the unborn or for the party that cares about how God’s earth is stewarded.

6.  Did you notice that in this nearly half-hour video wildlife and animals in general are hardly seen or mentioned? The phrase “the elephant in the room” never seemed more appropriate!  You don’t hear about how wildlife are under siege around the world and that habitat is being lost at a tremendous rate.  You don’t hear about God knowing every bird in the mountains and how those birds are disappearing.  You don’t hear that the extinction of species is the ultimate sign that we are failing at good stewardship of this earth.  You don’t hear about how poorly animals are sometimes treated in agricultural production.

7.  Did you notice that voluntary recycling and reduction of energy use are the default ideas for how we take action?  Those are important changes of habit but they do not go far enough in two different ways.  First, we have an impact on God’s world beyond waste and energy use.  One of the most important is what we eat.  Our food choices and our nation’s food policies have tremendous impact on the land, water, and animals that are ultimately God’s. This needs to be wrestled with, but this video doesn’t even touch it, except for a brief mention of thinking about where your coffee comes from.  Second, there’s a failure of logic when the proposed solution to a problem is not at the scale of the problem.  Small individual actions by individual churches and individual churches will not be enough to counter the tide of forces that are depleting and degrading God’s earth.

Finally, it is interesting that if you go to Northland Church’s website you really have to dig (look under Media &  Blogs then click on Blogs and then look for the link in the right column for Creation Care) to find any mention of the importance of caring for Creation.

And it is even more telling that the Purpose/Mission/Vision/Belief section does not address how we treat God’s earth at all.  (And to be fair, after years of looking at church websites, Northland is completely conventional in this way.)

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am very encouraged that a video like this would be produced with the idea of inspiring more people and churches to be good stewards.  It is a reminder that the radical idea that this earth matters is actually an orthodox, Biblically-based one.  It is a sign that perhaps there are seeds of change in mainstream churches. And I do understand that for Christians that have not thought about these issues before from this perspective, hitting them with too much too soon might be counterproductive.

But what we need and what we need quickly is for an active, action-oriented concern for the vitality and flourishing of all of God’s earth to become part of the spiritual DNA of every church and Christian.

The Cross was a Tree

Nathan Aaberg —  November 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

Do we see the cross?

Whether we are looking at a representation of the crucifixion or of the cross alone, do we see what it actually is?

The cross, like a flag, is something that our eyes look at so often and that our minds register so symbolically that we don’t see what it truly is.

What do we see if we really look?

We see an object made of wood.

We see parts of what used to be a tree.

We see the remnant of a tree that was cut down by men with the express purpose of torturing an innocent man to death.

We see the perversion of humanity and Creation.

Humanity’s purpose is to love God, love each other, and care for Creation in the way a good shepherd cares for his sheep. Instead, in the image of Jesus on the cross we see humanity rejecting God, using its creative capacities in dark and awful ways against a neighbor, and ending the life of one of the living things of God’s earth for that dark and awful purpose.

It is easy to forget all of the brutal history that comes with the cross. It is easy to forget what an odd symbol it is for a faith.


Crucifixion of Jesus. Wood engraving drawn by Gustave Doré, engraved by J. Gauchard Brunier. From Sainte Bible (1866)

The Roman Empire used the cruelty of the cross to display its power relentlessly and with maximum psychological impact.

When Spartacus led his rebellion that ultimately failed, 6,000 of the rebels were crucified on crosses that stretched from Capua to Rome in 71 B.C. Imagine that. Picture it in your mind. Crosses with dead and dying and screaming and moaning men stretching for over 100 miles. One hundred miles.

Think, too, of the systematic effort it took for the Romans to cut down all of those trees, prepare them for their dark purpose, and transport them on their web of well-designed roads, the same roads that took their armies to ever-expanding frontiers.

In short, we see in the cross a potent and complete symbol of all that is wrong with this world, including the use of God’s earth for evil purposes.

I believe we also see in the cross a symbol of all that God will put right.

Just as the Creation scene in Genesis shows God, people, and God’s earth in harmony so we perceive a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation (as well as in Isaiah) with all of Creation at peace and praising God in love and communion.

And in the cross we see all that is at stake in whether we accept this message of a loving God willing to die for us at our hands and whether we live the lives we are meant to live by following God with the help of the Spirit.

What is at stake is our relationship with God, with people, and with Creation.

If we seek Jesus out and accept God’s transforming grace and commit to ever deepening our reliance on God, our relationship with God will become close and intimate forever. If we seek Jesus out and truly accept God’s transforming grace, God’s Spirit will cause us over time to love our neighbors in thought and deed, even if they are different from us in their culture or their beliefs.

And I believe that if we seek Jesus out and fully accept God’s transforming grace, the transformation of our hearts and minds will cause us to live out a new relationship with God’s earth. This relationship will be built on our abiding concern for the earth’s life and vitality. We will strive to use God’s earth in ways that honor God, benefit all people (especially the poor and marginalized), and enable the many amazing forms of life on this planet to flourish.

And what’s the very best news of this good news is that the whole life God offers through a whole faith is the very best life we could ever live.

A life interwoven with an awareness of the patterns and life of this world is a more complete one. A life that treats the world with love, patience, kindness, and self-control is a rich and beautiful one.

It is entirely fitting then that the actual, physical cross – that mutilated tree used to harm its very Creator – be part of our symbol of our faith and what that faith means and what that faith promises.

The cross was indeed a tree.