Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day: whom are we fighting?

Earth Day XLI (40th anniversary = 41st Earth Day) has been greeted in the media with an interesting historical piece and a collection of observations from various experts to the effect that "things are getting worse", there's "still a lot of work to be done" and that we're "losing the battle".

Rather than revisit issues like global warming/climate change and its effects and discuss what we're fighting, maybe we ought to take a look at whom we're fighting; because I assure you, the enemy in the fight against global warming/climate change and its effects is not greedy businesspeople, recalcitrant governments, or even the guy with the SUV next door. You'd be surprised -- and a little terrified -- to realize Whom we're picking a fight with.

Consider this:
  • But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken (Jonah 1:4)

  • They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;(24) These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. (25) For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. (26) They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. (27) They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. (28) Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. (29) He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. (30) Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven. (Psalm 107:23-30)

  • Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:6)

  • If I shut up the heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or it I send pestilence among my people .... (2 Chronicles 7:13)

  • And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (26) And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's bands were loosed. (Acts 16:25-26)

  • And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. (8) For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in diverse places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. (Mark 13:7-8).

It's pretty clear from this that what we often think of as "natural phenomena" -- like storms, earthquakes and volcanos -- are actually sent by God. Sometimes, they're judgment and/or punishment; sometimes, they're a test; sometimes, they're a reminder that He's there and He's in charge.

  • The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell within. (Psalm 24:1)

And as Jesus says, they're also the signs that we should be aware of, preceding His return.

Lately, some scientists have been trying to draw a link between geotechnic activity -- earthquakes and volcanic eruptions -- and global warming/climate change, although even the leading expert in the field admits it's a long stretch.

At any rate, here we are, those who believe the Bible as well as those who don't, getting dragged into this seemingly never-ending battle to turn back these natural phenomena, as if we have some kind of power or control over them. That would add to the list of things that the environmental community would want us to believe are within human power to cause and control.

Approaching the issue from the standpoint that it is within our power to control is a fool's game -- not just because it's futile, but because it's dangerous.

  • For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

That's the "never-ending battle" we fight -- or are supposed to fight. But according to the people warning about global warming/climate change, we're in a never-ending battle against natural phenomena that are apparently sent by God in the first place.

Essentially, we're being dragged into a battle against God. And that's what's dangerous.

Now, lest people think this is an argument for inaction, not in the slightest: we have to be aware of the right action -- as in, the action that God will bless. Jesus never said that when we saw the signs, we were to roll over with our paws in the air and wait for Him to rapture us out of here; He gave us specific instructions -- the Great Commission -- and He warned that there would be a lot of things done to try to turn our attention away from that. Indeed, the Great Commission was given to us not just as marching orders, but so that we'd have a point of focus when the end-times signs manifest.

Yes, we humans are partly responsible for global warming/climate change, and primarily responsible for loss of farmland, air and water pollution, erosion and ozone layer depletion -- no question. But the natural phenomena attributed to global warming/climate change are in the hands of the Lord. We need to stop fighting Him and re-focus on the job at hand.

We are called to be proper stewards of His Creation, but that stewardship only comes from our relationship with God -- it is neither the end nor the means: it is a side-effect of the total relationship. And we need to be aware of God's instructions as to how we are to take care of Creation -- He has that all planned out, too.

Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to get a different result. After 40 years of Earth Days and at least half a century of concerted, earnest but fruitless effort to stop environmental degradation in various forms, we need a new approach -- something to break us out of this unholy cage match of The Chicken Littles vs. The Deniers. By "fighting" the symptoms of global warming/climate change, we are really fighting against God Himself, trying to subvert His plan. Nothing will stop that plan: and in a case like this, you don't want to be on the wrong side of the ball.

Now, how about some really good news? Take another look at the passage from Psalm 107, there. The mariners cry to the Lord in their trouble and then are quiet, because He hears them and calms the storm and brings them back home. Compare than with Mark 4, where the disciples go out on the Sea of Galilee and the storm comes up. They cry out to God -- Jesus -- "Master! Don't you care that we're perishing?" and He delivers them. He delivers us from the storms -- the actual, as well as the figurative.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another assault on social grace

If you have a hard time understanding what the Apostle Paul means when he tried to describe the difference between being "under Grace" and being "under the law", take a look at the latest move to restrict where smokers can light up. The Vancouver Park Board has brought in a bylaw that would ban smoking in most outdoor areas, such as parks, beaches, sports fields, playgrounds, etc.

I'm no fan of smoking, as I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago, when I decried the fact that, with so many people having to go outside a restaurant to smoke because Health Authorities had decided that it wasn't good enough to have separate smoking-permitted sections, one couldn't wait for one's reservation in the 'fresh' air. But I'm a bigger fan of letting people decide for themselves what is The Right Thing To Do -- and asserting their own rights, whether it's to breathe clean air or to pollute their lungs, or to allow someone else to do either.

Apparently, the Park Board plans to begin by "educating" rather than "enforcing". Does that mean, telling people smoking is harmful? I think that message has gotten a pretty good workout over the past 60 years, don't you? Or are they "educating" that it's nasty to toss cigarette butts on the beach? What's wrong with having a mom say to her child, "Eeeewww! That slob just threw his cigarette butt right where you're playing!"

Which, I wonder, has the greater potential for correcting bad behaviour? A bylaw that may or may not get enforced (or worse, educated)? Or a mother's disapproving sneer ringing in your ears? I don't know about you, but mom's disapproval carries a lot more weight -- and is less likely to create that "John Dillinger" kind of outlaw mystique of someone who blatantly stubs out his cigarette butt in direct defiance of the law.

A ban on smoking may come across as Progressive and Socially Responsible, but legislation strips us of the option to show grace towards someone -- as God shows grace towards us. We are created to be like Him, and the grace involved in saying, "Do you mind if I smoke?", while being fully willing to accept the answer, "as a matter of fact, I do" ... or for the other person to say, "by all means", even though they might detest the smell ... is something we shouldn't allow a tiny group of bylaw-makers to take away from us.

(I'm also increasingly aware of what musician and columnist Joe Jackson calls the "nanny state" -- where someone in "authority" decides what's best for us, on the premise that we common rabble are too stupid to figure it out for ourselves. (I don't necessary endorse all of Joe's article there, a liberty I'm sure he'd be the first to endorse.) I'm a little surprised (not) that I haven't seen any comment from the civil liberties bunch. Maybe they were too busy looking for people getting hassled at the 4/20 smoke-in.)

The irony of this story appearing on the same day as the aforementioned smoke-in has not been lost on me. I wonder if anyone there was busted for smoking "within six metres of an entryway, openable window or air intake of a building and the perimeter of a customer service area", per the City of Vancouver bylaw? But I digress ...

During the Olympics, I was walking along Robson Street a few steps behind two women. One was smoking and exhaled a huge cloud of smoke which, as the Lord would have it (He has SUCH a sense of humour!), blew right into my face. I coughed inadvertently, and she noticed it. I could tell she was partly embarrassed and may have also been thinking that I was being a smart-aleck. So I caught up to her. "You didn't know I was there," I assured her. She still apologized.

Grace. Grace, that I let her know it was accidental. Grace, that she apologized even though we both tacitly agreed there was nothing wilful or malicious about it. Under "the law", there could have been a "scene" with railing on her for doing something illegal and her railing back in defense.

Legislating people's behaviour brings that added nastiness that (a) someone's breaking the law and is, therefore, an arrogant the-law-applies-to-everyone-but-me wannabe rebel and (b) someone complaining about it has the weight of the law behind them and might just call the cops.

When we're under the law -- whether it's a park board bylaw or Moses' Laws -- we focus on not doing something wrong so that we don't get punished. When we're under grace -- be it God's grace or simple politeness and consideration for others -- we focus on doing what's right so we can find even greater grace.

What a world this would be if we focused more on "right" and less on "rights"!

Narrow-minded? Or confident?

The headline in Doug Todd's recent article in the Vancouver Sun about the owner of Banyen Books is a bit misleading, referring as it does to Christians' needing to be more "open-minded" about their faith. The piece makes for some interesting reading, and while there are some things I simply don't agree with, it should make for some provocative discussion among churches.

One area, for example, is Kolin Lymworth's suggestion is that more churches get involved in social matters -- like food banks and outreach. At first, I bristled, because my own work on the Downtown East Side is Christ-centered and Westpointe Christian Centre, where I fellowship, is one of the most outreach-focused churches you could find. Yet that's been one of the great frustrations of the work so far: encouraging other "suburban" churches to even consider the DTES as a mission field. (Case in point: trying to get articles on the matter -- or even news releases about Gospel Mission -- published in BC Christian News - I don't even get acknowledgement of receipt.)

He also calls on Christians to explore the "mysticism" of the faith more. It's hard to say what he means by that: there are intense spiritual experiences such as healings, prophecies and spiritual warfare - the very things that drew me to Christ in the first place - and that amazing experience called "basking in God's glory", but experiences like those are not meant for our own personal use, but to translate into power that can be used to bless others.

Lymworth's experience -- as is the case with so many of this generation (myself included) -- is very self-centered. We ask, "what can the church do for me?", when the whole idea of Christian fellowship is based on "what can I do for the church?", recognizing that the "church" is neither a building nor an institution, but a collection of people who need one another as much as they need God and Jesus. Jesus never said, "if you go into a sweatlodge, there am I in the midst of it": He said, "where two or more are gathered in My Name ...."

We try to find God through ourselves, when really, it's the other way around. We focus on The Experience as if "resting in Him" were the end in itself, rather than simply a means to re-charge and continue serving.

Buried in the article is the classic red herring: Christians have to be open-minded. Certainly, it helps to re-think doctrine in the light of Scripture and separate what is the Word of God and what is the embellishment of man, but is it not more narrow-minded to reject the notion that there is an single, absolute Truth -- Jesus -- the Way, the Truth and the Life? After all, if one accepts that 1 + 1 = 2, is it narrow-minded to reject that 1 + 1 might, at some point equal 3?

The article notes that Kolin Lymworth walked away from the church due to lack of interest at age 10. Since then, he's tried a variety of different "paths" (including LSD) in his search for whatever it is he's seeking. My prayer is that he takes another look at where he started from -- only this time, with the open mind he wishes on Christians.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Earthquakes and the foolish virgins

Yesterday's earthquakes in southern California/northern Mexico got me thinking about something: with the hysteria over global warming/climate change, how do earthquakes fit into the picture? They fit into Jesus' description of the signs of His imminent return (read Matthew 24), but while floods, fire, famine and even pestilence fit the global warming/climate change paradigm, where do earthquakes and volcanos?

A check online finds there are at least a couple of scientists who are promoting a theory that some geologic activity is connected to melting glaciers and rising sea levels. This appears to go back to 2006, and resurfaced last September at a conference called "Climate Forcing of Geological Hazards" in London. (You can also find a bit of a review of the evidence in a blog posted just after the Haiti 'quake in January.)

But while the suggestion gives one cause for pause, something that leaps out at me is that even the scientists researching it -- like Patrick Wu at the University of Calgary -- admit that it's "highly speculative". One commentator notes that "no one is seriously suggesting" that any particular earthquake was caused by a melting glacier releasing pressure on tectonic plates (one of the points of the theory). And nowhere (yet) have I seen a suggestion that any human solution like eliminating human production of greenhouse gases would make those geological events any less likely.

You want to see a real connection between global warming/climate change and signs that Jesus foretold, consider that He predicted that "the love of many [would] wax cold". Do you think there isn't a link between our obsession with the environment and homelessness? Vancouver prides itself on being the "greenest" city in North America, yet it's home to "the worst postal code in Canada" for the amount of drug addiction, poverty, homelessness and crime concentrated in about 10 city blocks called the Downtown East Side. It's gotten worse over the past several years -- interestingly, as our obsession with the environment has grown. Is that coincidence? I don't think so. After all, how can you reach out and love someone in sad state if you're too busy gazing at your own navel, trying to "reduce your carbon footprint"?
As we serve the Lord in the way He told us, it follows as the night the day that we will take care of His Creation in the way that He told us, by asserting dominion over it, being fruitful and replenishing the earth and subduing it. But nowhere does He say we're to obsess over that one aspect. We focus on Him: He takes care of the rest.
That will disgust some environmentalists, because it sounds like we're not taking action; but frankly, it's a question of the right action. Remember Peter: all gung-ho to defend Jesus in the ways he thought he was supposed to, but when Jesus really needed a witness, Peter denied him.

To me, it looks like another in a series of sleights-of-hand, designed to keep us from looking at the real connection, which is that these are all signs of Jesus' return. While He said there really wasn't anything we could do about the day or hour that actually happens, He did give us instructions on what we have to do in the mean time: care for one another, heal the sick, share the Gospel; be prepared and help others to get prepared, so that when Jesus does return, we're not caught with no oil in our lamps.