Thursday, June 18, 2015

Environmental Change: The Pope Speaks - others react - but are we missing the point?

The Pope's encyclical on climate change is stirring up a lot of reaction today. Some of it is, sadly, predictable: oil companies are fixing to lobby the Vatican ... Protestants in the climate-change-denial movement are telling the Pontiff to stick to religion and leave science to the scientists ... one critic has accused the Pope of being motivated by "megalomania" in getting on the climate change bandwagon ...

But something is being lost in the rhetoric. We were told 2,000 years ago that this was going to happen. The environmental changes we're seeing now are a wakeup call, but not just "clean up our environmental act". Rather than try to “fight” climate change or reverse it, we have to re-focus on what the Bible tells us to do:
  • Remember the First Great Assignment – “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it” and that we are to “tend the garden and keep it” – in other words, clean up our environmental act
  • Push past the vitriolic “debate” over climate change, which is totally inspired by the enemy to keep people at one another’s throats, and get on with the job of healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons and leading people to Christ
  • Remember what God tells Solomon:
    • "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Remember that, if we have committed sin by dropping the ball on the First Great Assignment (and we have!), Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross allows us to repent for that and change our ways. 
It’s a pity that Environmental advocates tend not to be Believers; the Bible contains not just the commandments but the formula for acting that is needed to respond to environmental changes. Things like the Land Sabbath, tithing and declaring the Word of God over a situation (like Elisha at the waters of Jericho) can all be applied to an environmental situation, but have they really been tried? And more to the point, look at how well not trying them has worked out.

Like Pilate, people trying to resolve environmental issues are crying out, “What is truth?” when, in fact, they’re staring the Truth right in the face. The solutions are right there, but for whatever reason, they don’t want to consider them.

It’s important to note that, while many environmental scientists assert that human activity causes climate change, I have yet to hear any of them say that any kind of human counter-activity will actually stop it. A few years ago, I asked that question of a prominent expert on climate change, and his response very neatly sidestepped that point. God’s Word, however, promises without reservation that turning to Him will save the planet.

If we allow this to fall into the realm of worldly science, we won't see the forest for the trees: there's too much room for debate as to the extent of the impact of human activity on climate change, or the extent of any action humans might do to mitigate it. The debate is too rancorous, too personal, too focused on "who's right" rather than "what's right" for it to be truly a God-centered discussion. We need to bring the discussion onto another turf with different rules, starting with the Word of God.

I go into detail on this in "A Very Convenient Truth -- or, Jesus Told Us There'd Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!" It's an e-book, available in most online bookstores. It could give you a new perspective -- and new hope in the face of the Doomspeak that dominates the current discussion.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

How to Keep the Church Relevant - Suspicions Confirmed

A new report, cited by Premier Christian Radio in the UK, shows a link between church health and its involvement in social action. It confirms something I've suspected for a long time: there's been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth over how to make the church "relevant" in the 21st Century, and the sight of Christians, walking out the Great Commission even when it's not convenient or comfortable, is a great way of solving that issue.

Somebody has to do it, after all, and if that "somebody" is glorifying Jesus in the process, that's what God wants -- both for the people being served and the non-believers, watching from the sidelines.

The name of the game is to provide Hope and point people towards Jesus and the Kingdom now and in eternity, by whatever means possible. It's one thing to run a soup kitchen; quite another to remind people that Jesus died for them, too, as you hand them the meal or the change of clothing or set them up with showers as we do at The Lord's Rain and Gospel Mission. It's one thing to say, "Next!"; and quite another to say, "you don't have to keep living like this, and Jesus has given you a way out". Not everyone will receive the message, but it's up to us to keep delivering it.

We have to remember, mind you, that Social Action does not necessarily mean "fighting for justice". Often, that's mistaken for revenge, and that's God's department. We need to remain in prayer, study the Word for the insights we need in how to approach a situation and, when in doubt, do it God's way.

A few things are worth noting from the rankings in the survey.
  • helping the homeless has moved from #22 in 2012 to #1 last year, in terms of having an effect on church growth;
  • caring for the elderly has gone from #8 to #3;
  • helping the jobless has gone from #19 to #11; and
  • relationship advice has moved from #27 to #12: could it be more people are looking to the church for answers?
What's also interesting is what isn't on the list. "Environmental Concerns" didn't even crack the top-16, and yet that's The First Great Assignment (see my book, A Very Convenient Truth). Also, there's no mention of churches' getting involved with substance abuse recovery -- another area where we should be involved, especially in urban ministry.

All in all, the survey gives some good insight for churches looking to keep themselves -- and Jesus -- top-of-mind. Get involved with people, don't get weary or discouraged ... and they'll get involved with you.