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God Rules Everything -- Even The Climate

People are getting a kick out of comments Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) made at a recent town hall. Because he’s a Christian, his faith is in the Lord — not science. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.”

So what’s going on here, aside from non-Christians still being surprised and repulsed by Christians for giving Christian answers?

With President Trump recently withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, it’s a great time for left-leaning “news” outlets to get a few extra clicks by turning the congressman’s comments into a story. Huffington Post wants you to know “you can rest easy now,” mocking Walberg. MSNBC thinks the congressman’s remarks are “problematic” because we could apply his logic when he says, “if there’s a real problem, [God] can take of it,” to everything from national defense to healthcare.

So what’s going on here, aside from non-Christians still being surprised and repulsed by Christians for giving Christian answers? Is the congressman correct? He said he believes “there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And [he’s] confident that, if there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.” Is he wrong?

God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe. And if that’s true, people—with all our pollution and carbon emissions and plastic water bottles—will not be able to render ourselves extinct by changing the world’s atmospheric makeup.

Sounds like Walberg is expressing one of the most basic beliefs of Christianity: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe. And if that’s true, people—with all our pollution and carbon emissions and plastic water bottles—will not be able to render ourselves extinct by changing the world’s atmospheric makeup. The simplest of Christian beliefs is that God is the ruler of everything, including time and history. It sounds like the congressman is only expressing a belief that since God created the world, God will rule it in such a way that if a changing climate is not God’s ordained means of ending the world, then we’ll be fine.

What Walberg didn’t say is that we should be irresponsible or not take any steps to steward God’s creation well. Because along with the basic belief that God created the world and knows how to keep it going until the end, is another basic Christian belief that people were given dominion over the creation and the responsibility to care for and steward it. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

Should we, as Christians, care about the world? More than anyone else! Is it important; should we be conscious of the impact we make on the environment? Absolutely. If we can take reasonable steps to guard our negative effect on the climate, we should. The trick is finding agreement on “reasonable steps.”

But should we, as Christians, place all our eggs in the science basket and abandon our trust in God’s providence? By no means. God’s promises are truer than all our climate data. Should we denigrate those who disagree with us — either for or against climate change? Not if we are followers of Jesus.

And should we maybe not read so much into a couple of insignificant passing remarks made by a congressman at a local town hall meeting? Now that’s an answer everyone should be able to agree on!

Is It True That Grass Is Green And The Sky Is Blue?

What is truth?

That was the question Pilate (I believe rhetorically) asked Jesus on the morning he was crucified. While Pilate was trying to ascertain guilt enough to warrant a death sentence, Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate answered with a question of his own, a question philosophers had been asking long before this day of Jesus’ trial — and people have been asking in every generation since. “What is truth?”

Is 2+2=4 true? Is it true that grass is green and the sky is blue? Is it true that I sound like Dr. Seuss, even though I’m not trying to?

The truth is, yes 2+2=4 — every time, in every culture, everywhere, on every day of the week. That truth is objectively true based on fixed laws of math; there is never a situation where you will not get 4 if you add 2 plus 2. And the green grass and blue sky? Yes, sometimes, and no, not really. Grass is green, unless it’s dead — then it’s brown. And it’s true the sky looks blue because we see blue light from the sun scattered through our atmosphere most of the time, but at dawn and dusk we see more red and orange light — so technically the sky doesn’t have a color because it depends on the time of day, light, and angle of viewing the sun. Our statement then, the grass is green and the sky is blue, is true upon conditions. It can be true, but it can also be not true. Head spinning yet?

One more. “There is no such thing as absolute truth — truth that’s true for everyone all the time.” Is that true? Of course not; in order for that statement to be true, it must be true for everyone all the time! No such thing as absolute truth? It sounds absurd, but people assert it, and as far as doubting truth goes, many believe seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes to be the founding father.

Personal truth as the only truth, has inevitably grown out of Descartes’ foundational proposition cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” After all, that’s the only truth any person can be 100% sure of—his own existence. Right? Stay with me for one more minute. Because if that’s the case and I can’t be absolutely certain that anything else is objectively true, it follows that I am the maker of my own reality and the only truth for me is what I perceive to be real based on my experiences.

But do you see the problem? The wrong I Am is at the foundation.

Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

When Moses asked God his name, God answered, “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). He is the only one who measures truth by his very existence, because he is Truth. And when we start the search for truth with ourselves instead of its author, we end up with nonsense like, “what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.” There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what truth is, but why wouldn't there be for people who don’t know Jesus? Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). When we don't recognize Jesus as the truth, everything else becomes distorted.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him (John 18:38). The answer to his question, the thing he was after, was right in front of his face — and he missed it. Today, let’s not miss it. Look into the face of Jesus and find the Truth.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him — and he missed it. Look into the face of Jesus and don’t miss the Truth!

 

REFLECTION

What kind of problems are created if everyone is able to define their own “truth”?

What “truths” have you created, that need to be measured against what Jesus said or taught?

For further reflection, read John 8:31-38. How can/does the truth set you free?

Renovate: A Helpful, Practical, Timely Book About Renewal

the right words + the right time = CHANGE

That's the formula that undergirds Léonce Crump, Jr's Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. In this new book about cultural renewal, the author has the right words--about the gospel, race, social justice, and a "theology of place." But this book also comes at just the right time; issues of race and reconciliation dominate the news, social media, and conversation perhaps now more than they have in at least a generation or two. And if enough people digest the right words at such a ripe time as this, that's a recipe for the type of renewal the author is seeking.

However, this book is not only about race. At the bottom, this is a book about reflecting the glory of God, and how Christians and churches achieve that--especially through the actions of intentional Christians investing in their communities. In what I thought was the best part of the book, before giving six very practical and helpful ways to seek change, Léonce Crump, Jr, explains clearly--and practically--how cultures change:

through community, not heroic individuals. Renovation happens through networks of people who think critically about culture and seek out ways in which the gospel can be applied to their work or creativity, creatively. (p. 127)

Renovate has many strengths, and I would recommend it to anyone--especially other pastors who wish for their people to embrace their "sent-ness." By itself Chapter 4, "A Theology of Place," is worth the price of the book. The author has a clear passion for being intentional in the place to which you've been sent, as well as a pastoral concern to see Christians and churches take on the task of renewing their cities to the extent that race relations, politics, education, and all other areas are affected -- and that's a message we all need right now.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Does The Heaven Promise Deliver?

Heaven is no easy topic to write about--yet there is no lack of people who've taken up the task. As Scot McKnight points out in his new book The Heaven Promise, a browse through the local Christian bookstore or a quick Google search reveals that heaven is an "intense human interest story." And how much more now with the recent surge of heaven tourism books...well, at least the ones that aren't rescinded because the author admits to making up the story.

So who better than a seminary professor who teaches New Testament to write a book about heaven with the subtitle, Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come? Except for the Bible obviously, that's the only book about heaven I'm interested in--one that engages what the Bible says about it! And The Heaven Promise promised to be that book:
"In what follows I want to sketch the most important ideas about heaven that come from the Bible." (page 8)
"God gave us our imaginations, but the surest place for understanding Heaven is not our imaginations or stories of afterlife experiences, but the Bible itself." (page 135)
"At the heart of my own argument is the belief that Christians need to form their beliefs about Heaven on the basis of the Bible." (page 165)

Unfortunately though, The Heaven Promise didn't deliver--which is unfortunate, because I liked much of the book. Well, I liked much of the first half. It's basically divided into two halves; the first to look at the promises of heaven, and the second to answer some FAQ's about heaven. Especially interesting to me in the first half are discussions of:
The two dominant views of heaven--theocentric and kingdom-centric (pages 11-14);
The difference between lowercase-h heaven, and uppercase-H Heaven (page 45);
Heaven as a place of deep, ecstatic joy and pleasure (pages 76-79).

To be fair, I agreed with much of what the author said, but I disagreed with much, too. And it's where I disagreed that I have the problem--not because I disagreed per se, but because I expected to be persuaded; I expected to engage the Bible's truth about Heaven. However, the second half of the book, especially, interacts very little with Scripture--at least in any meaningful way. In the section of the book with the potential to be the only part a casual reader may look at, this was where Scripture really needed to dominate the discussion. The FAQ's. The questions about pets. And people who've never heard of Jesus. And purgatory. And children who die. The questions people are asking. The questions were supposed to be answered by "engaging the Bible's truth."

Instead, many of the questions were answered with "it gets speculative at this point," "we don't know how God," "I cannot see how," "I am not confident the Bible allows us to answer this question with absolute confidence," and there was one especially entertaining string of if-then statements about marriage and families in Heaven.

Despite its challenges and failing to actually interact with much of the Bible on the topic of Heaven, I would recommend this book for the purpose of light study. For the person studying Heaven and wanting some interesting (and even encouraging) popular-level thoughts about it, this book would work. For the person searching for biblical answers about Heaven, I wouldn't recommend it--which is not fun to say since that was the author's aim.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Offering Money Is No Help; People Need Cash Instead

It seems like we're always hearing about Christianity's decline. About how fewer and fewer people are attending church or doing whatever a particular researcher needs them to do in order to be considered "Christians." At the same time, we're told that people are increasingly calling themselves "spiritual." They're spiritual, but not religious. They are the people who "seem to want some connection to the divine, but...don't feel affiliated with traditional religion." They're not part of the Christian religion, and they're not part of another religion--but they are something.

And most often what they are, is simply turned off by the word religion. Their beliefs and spiritual practices or habits probably square pretty closely with one of the hundreds(?) of religious sects in the world--even if they don't fit nicely into one of the big ones. But they're "not religious," and that's too bad because contrary to a very popular belief today--not all religion is bad. Sure, there are harmful religions (and I believe all others besides Christianity are eternally harmful for the soul), but in terms of whether they help or hurt society, there are religions that have had positive effects--and the Christian religion is leading the pack.

What was born out of this perfect man’s perfect message is called the Christian religion.

Though, Christianity is not perfect. Admittedly, there are dark spots and blemishes on its history--but its founder was perfect--still is. And the good news he proclaimed was perfect. So why don't I join in on the "spiritual, but not religious" zeitgeist--or to sound even cooler, "Give me Jesus, but not religion"? Simple. Because what was born out of this perfect man's perfect message is called the Christian religion.

In other words, religion is not the answer, but the answer is contained within a religion. 

Sound like we're going in circles? We sort of are, because you can't very easily separate Christ from Christianity. And it never gets any less confusing, no matter how spiritual it makes you sound. Suppose a person begs you to help them with a dire financial need. And suppose your answer is, "You don't need money to meet your need; what you need is some cash."

Now they also need to get away from you and your crazy talk.

But even though historically Christianity is not a perfect religion, it does contain the gospel. The gospel is the basis for this religion. Within the Christian religion is the answer to life's biggest need--redemption and a restored communion with God. And as the gospel takes root in a life, the outworking looks like the Christian religion: going to church to fellowship and be in relationship with your brothers and sisters, doing ministry to equip the saints for the work of evangelism, baptizing new believers, sharing in communion together as you remember the incarnation and death of Jesus, worshiping together who God is and celebrating what he's done. Praying, studying, solitude, fasting, giving some of your income, doing service.

All religion. All done because of Jesus.

And as the gospel takes root in a life, the outworking looks like the Christian religion: fellowship, relationship, ministry, evangelism, baptism, communion, prayer, fasting, service.

And that's why I don't want Jesus without religion. I want Jesus, but I also want his bride, the Church. I want the religion that bears his name and all the good works done by its adherents throughout history and all over the world. Everywhere the Christian religion has spread, the culture has been affected for good. Give me that religion! Give me a religion that:

  • Fights for human life because murder is a sin, and every person is known by God from the womb. (Psalm 139.13) So the pro-life movement is largely driven by the Christian religion, which is no surprise; Christians have been instructing against infanticide (a common practice) since as early as the first or second century.*
  • Dignifies women because--although created with complementary roles--every person is created equally in the image of God. (Genesis 1.26) So while many cultures even to this day treat women as inferior, "Christianized" or western cultures no longer see a woman as a second-class person or the property of her husband.*
  • Cares for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow--in other words, those who are most vulnerable--because God is compassionate. (Jeremiah 22.3) So the Christian religion helped end slavery, and records some of the earliest records of organized charity.*
  • Desires and promotes literacy and education because God revealed himself in a book, and we want people to have access to it. (2 Timothy 3.16-17) So Christian missionaries are responsible for many foreign (tribal) languages being first written down, and in colonial America 122 of the first 123 colleges beginning as Christian institutions.*
  • Encourages creativity, beauty, and the exercise of our gifts because we imitate our God who creates beautifully. (Genesis 1.1-27) So the Christian religion includes in its history authors such as Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky, composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, and European cathedrals which showcase some of the most incredible architecture in the world.*

The list could go on. Hospitals and healthcare have been heavily influenced by the Christian religion as people sought to alleviate suffering and bring healing. American government and some of our oft-taken-for-granted freedoms are born out of Christian belief. Science--yes, even science--doesn't escape Christian influence because of men like Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, and Louis Pasteur. And on and on we could go.

Everywhere the Christian religion has spread, the culture has been affected for good.

"But if you read the gospels, Jesus didn't tell us to start a religion." No, no he didn't. But that's what his followers did. Keep reading. Read the Acts of the Apostles. Read Paul's letters. Read Peter's letters. They started churches, and helped a rapidly growing number of Christ-followers to organize themselves and learn how to conduct themselves and their gatherings. They wrote letters that we've canonized because we believe they are just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

So cut religion a little slack. Sure, plenty of people have done it wrong over the years. I have. But lots of people have done it right. Lots of people are doing it right. Yes, start with Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Lead with the gospel; that's the first answer. But then let the gospel do its work.

The religion that follows it can be a pretty beautiful thing.

*For more on Christianity's positive effects on history and culture, go here.