Master Gardeners Contribute to Creation Care

gardenWhen God commanded people to have dominion over the earth in the very first chapters of Genesis, he meant for us to take this very seriously.

Our ability to be stewards over all creation, to care for all God’s earth, is but a testimony of our love for God and neighbor.  Psalm 24 puts it well: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it” (v. 1).

We here at Trinity Baptist are honored to have folks who care for God’s earth by way of farming, gardening, and even the creative arts.  We recently installed a prayer garden that we hope to finish within the next few years, and ours has always been a family-friendly campus for all to enjoy.

This care for creation is not specific to our church; in fact, our county is privileged to have many stewards of God’s creation volunteering, working, and laboring for the beautification and health of our community.

The Master Gardeners of Rockdale County is one such group that is committed to providing a vibrant environment for all of us to enjoy.

Whether it is the prayer garden at Lighthouse Village (off of Sigman Road) or the one in Old Towne and the public spaces in between, the Master Gardeners have given thousands of hours to be stewards over God’s creation.  We should be thankful and continue to pray for their efforts.

Yet, what the Master Gardeners provide in our little neck of God’s woods is more than mere beautification and a partnership with our world.  It is just one avenue by which God’s justice is realized in our midst.

It was theologian Patrick McCormick who argued in his book, God’s Beauty, that creating public spaces for all to enjoy brings about God’s vision for a healthy, collaborative world.

Consider the price of beauty in most venues: One must pay to see beautiful works of art at a museum or to purchase a ticket to the aquarium or zoo.  Entrepreneurs and corporations make a large profit by monopolizing those very things–from music to masterpieces–that others find valuable and enriching.

There is nothing wrong with this business model, and it provides many jobs.  However, not everyone has the ability to afford ticket or concert prices.  It has always been a part of city and urban planning to incorporate free, public spaces for all to enjoy without an entrance fee.

McCormick argues that this access is important for improving both community and inhabitants.  It improves people’s lives and it allows families–children in particular–gain access to something that encourages them to see the world as a positive, beautiful place to reside.  It promotes ownership of our planet and connects us with something beyond ourselves.

That’s the Bible’s view of creation in a nutshell: A beautiful, well-tended earth is the stage whereby we worship God.  Creation bears witness to God’s power and encourages us to look heavenward to he who created all things.

The Bible says, “Lift up your heads, O gates…that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7, 9).  I am grateful to our Master Gardeners and so many others committed to creation care who help all of us experience God in unique and profound ways!

As a final note, I want to invite you to an event happening at the arboretum at the Horse Park this Friday at 11:30 AM.  The Master Gardeners are honoring late Barbara McCarthy by dedicating a tree in her memory.  It will be a reminder to us all of Barbara’s commitment to bettering our county, the Gardener’s work on our behalf, and our continued commitment to nurturing all of God’s creation.

God’s gift of abundance

Climbing the MountText: Luke 20:45 – 21:6

I.

Bob Hope once joked about a minister who was on a plane.   The plane had an issue, and it started to go down.  The people panicked and pleaded with the minister to do something religious.  So he did: he took up a collection.

Every Thanksliving we get some Sundays in the year to talk about tithing and giving.  We talk about money, which—other than the occasional church conference meeting—we rarely discuss.  I remember my first year as pastor, I didn’t want to discuss money because we had done it so much the year before.  The logic was that if we were faithful to God and to our mission, God—and the people—would provide.  That has been the case ever since.

This Thanksliving, we don’t want to shy away from stewardship, but I think it is important to see giving from other perspectives.  This month, we’ve been looking at giving from God’s perspective.  What giving does God “model” for us to show us how we can give to others in different ways.

Several weeks ago, we talked about God’s grace.  God gives us grace and forgives our sins no matter how undeserving, and we are to be agents of grace for God in the world.  We are to be agents of grace in our forgiveness, our compassion and sensitivity, and yes our finances and resources.

Last week, Karen and I talked about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  Sure, we all know that the Holy Spirit convicts and comforts, but we need reminding every now and then because we forget that the Holy Spirit empowers us for righteous living every day, not just when we’re at church.  The Holy Spirit can change us when we are at work at the building site or whether we spend one too many hours at the local bar.

Today, I want to explore God’s gift of abundance.  God’s gift echoes that oft-quoted verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9 in which God told Paul that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

II.

We begin with the story of Millard Fuller.  Millard was an entrepreneur from Alabama who seemed to have great luck with money and business.  By the time he was 30 years old, he was a millionaire who accumulated great wealth, status, and possessions.

But then his wealth and prestige got the better of him.   His life began to collapse, meaning and fulfillment became illusive, and his marriage teetered on the brink of divorce.    He realized that something needed to change, and so he started to sell his businesses and assets and give all of their money away.  He joined Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia—a commune of sorts of Christians who were actively engaged to help the poor.

It wasn’t long before his wealth turned into want, not for money, but for the need to help his neighbors and friends and people in his community who were not as lucky as he.   He and the Koinonia community, with a little help from a peanut farmer-turned president in South Georgia, started Habitat for Humanity, a partnership of community, church and business leaders that provides affordable housing for families in need.

Millard Fuller learned a secret about the Gospel and Christian life and God:  When we are wealthy, things come easily, they come naturally.  It is easy to give out of the excess; but when we are put into positions of weakness, when the funds run low, that’s when giving turns miraculous because God is found in the midst of scarcity rather than abundance.  “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

III.

In our Scripture lesson, today, Jesus is people-watching at the temple.  Ever go to the mall to people watch?  Kristina and I used to do that a lot when we were first married; Every Friday we’d go to the Palm Beach mall, get Chik-Fil-A for dinner, and people watch.

When you people watch, your perspective changes about the people around you, but about community, and even about yourself.   I am always surprised when I see someone doing something strange only to realize that I do the same thing!

So Jesus had this broad view of the temple, and the first thing Jesus notices is that he is surrounded by beauty.  The Pharisees are grouped together with their long, beautiful robes making merry with long beautiful prayers.  The wealthy are entering various offering chambers to drop in their tithes with their beautiful adornments, a beautiful site to anyone who believed in the work of the Temple and its upkeep.

And there’s the beauty of the temple with all of it’s “noble stones and insets.”

Jesus is surrounded by beauty, but he also has a different perspective because the beauty is an illusion.  Those with the long robes trust too much in their lofty prayers of self-righteousness; the wealthy seem to trust too much in their wealth; and those who worship at Temple trust too much in the engineering of the edifice.

And in the midst of all of this wealth, this beauty, this misplaced trust, Jesus spots a widow.  In a field of color—the colorful robes of clergy and the colorful stones and marble of Temple—there is the black shawl and cloak of a little lady who stands vulnerable, poor, and broken.  Hers aren’t long prayers of praise, but the silent witness of grief and loss.

And she carries with her only two small bronze coins that are worth about as much as a penny—it is all she has in her life; and with utter abandon, she throws her lot in with the rest.

Jesus is people watching, but the widow’s action causes him to lean forward.  His eyebrows raise, and his weight shifts under his elbows upon his knees.  He taps a disciple on the arm and points—

“Look at that, look at that!” Enthusiasm is showing on his face, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of the wealthy with their wealth and the Pharisees with their robes, for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in her whole life.”

IV.

Jesus recognizes in all of this beauty the real beauty of the truth that giving is not about how much so much as it is about in what proportion, the truth that giving must come from a different source that speaks to dependence on God rather than our dependence on things.

Jesus sees in her a prophetic act that suddenly strips down the sham and pretense that surround him.  Its a movement that goes from long robes to poor widows, abundance to poverty, strength to weakness, and in his foretelling of what’s to come to Israel—a nation that trusted too much in the Law rather than in God—from stability to destruction.  “In three days, this temple shall topple!”  The sham is destroyed; the jig is up; the pretense is being stripped of its pomp.    All toppled by a single act of throwing pennies in a bucket!

Upon hearing Jesus’ praise of this widow, the disciples may have remembered something he said earlier in their ministry: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”

Perhaps the disciples may have remembered some lessons from the Bible, especially the part from Deuteronomy that said that tithes in the offering plates were for the poor and widows.

V.

Step back with Jesus and the disciples and see what’s going on here: If you saw a widow at Temple, your first guess would be that she was there to receive something, to receive the alm that was due her; but she gives, and she gives out of her scarcity.  She doesn’t take, coming with open hands of want, but open hands, rather, of sacrifice—a beautiful gesture if there ever was one.

Step back with them and see that we are called to sacrifice and serve God and depend on God instead of trust in our resources and abundance, and that we can share in the gift that God gives us in our want:  strength, and purpose and even a little praise.

Sure, we all have trouble trusting in God’s abundance in the midst of weakness.  The wealthy are afraid of being broke.  Statistics show that the wealthy give a lot of money to charity, but actually give a small percentage of their wealth than do the middle-class, those engines of our society not only in the work place but in the ministry place as well.

And, sure young adults have trouble giving too because they are just getting their feet on the ground: clothes are needed for the children, a dependable car is important to get back and forth to work.  But the widow speaks to us too: There is some lesson there somewhere about trust in God’s abundance when we’re wondering if we’ll have enough money for gas next week.

The senior saints among us give the most statistically, but still have trouble diversifying those gifts because they have grown too callous with charity in the first place.  There is always a call for the fine print: How much of what I give goes to administrative costs rather than missions?  How will this money be used?  What do I get in return?

And, yet, you take all of these diverse people—step back and do some people watching with Jesus—and you come to find that there is not one person—either in the crowd or I dare say in this room today—that would not give testimony that when we’ve reached our weakest point, when we given something even when it meant forgoing a meal at the end of the month, when we’ve reached our whit’s end and gave even when we’ve given all that we have to give, that God has not miraculously stepped in and provided some sort of abundant blessing for us!  “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

Climate change is a very real challenge, requiring prophetic responses

The extraordinary and history-making cold spell we experienced several weeks ago reminded me of a time that one of my good friends posted on Facebook that, with all this cold weather, human-induced climate change is certain to be a hoax.

Although I’m sure that my friend confused weather with climate, it made me think of the importance of caring for God’s creation.  Aside from the science, we are called to be stewards over the earth, for “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

Most people now realize that climate change is a very real challenge, that studies show a dramatic shift in the earth’s climate following the industrial age in the last century or so.  In fact, just recently, a group of 200 evangelicals petitioned Congress to take climate change seriously, echoing President George W. Bush’s worldview that “an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem [of climate change].”

climateworldbankI have a feeling that my friend’s personal opinion is a result not of his biblical worldview but his place in our great society.  Ours is a nation of plenty and abundance.  We can eat meat, vegetables, fruit, and other foods whenever we want, wherever we want.  Most of us don’t have to farm the land, rely on seasonal changes for produce, and slaughter our own beef in order to provide for our families.  We can drink more water in one movie sitting than most impoverished villages get over a period of several days.

Frankly, this abundance keeps us from experiencing what other nations experience when it comes to farming and food sustenance (or lack thereof).  Currently, because of climate change, people around the world face severe droughts, flooding, deforestation, and famine.  Economic, political, and social conflicts also ensue wherever climate change is most devastating.

Scientist and director of Global Environmental Relief (and, admittedly, one of the co-chairs of our church’s Faith in Action Committee), Darrell Smith, has experienced these issues first hand in his own travels around the world:  “In Sub-Saharan Africa,” he explains, “most climate change effects are expected to have their greatest impact on food security.  Droughts and floods are already increasing due to shifts in rainfall, as I saw in South Sudan last year.”

The U.S. Department of Defense now perceives climate change as a threat to our national security.  The department funded the University of Texas to the tune of $7.6 billion for a study called “Climate Change and African Political Stability.”

What does all of this mean to us Christians?  For one, it means we have to take a closer look at how God ordained our partnership with all creation.  God did not give us “dominion” over the earth to destroy it, but to care for it.  We have a God-given responsibility to take any and all threats to our environment seriously.

For Princeton professor, George Philander, this biblical worldview should shape a positive approach to creation care.  He encourages scientists and Christians to focus less on “stories of gloom and doom” and “tell people what an amazing planet we live on” (http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-08/temperature-rising).

Second, we need to raise awareness about how other people in our globe live.  Then we need to take responsibility for our relationship to them and our interdependence with the wider human community.  We are not an island unto ourselves, and our actions, spending habits, and way of life make an impact, either positively or negatively, on entire people groups.

Since we are not likely to have personal, intimate relationships with many of these people groups, common-sense legislation related to environmental concerns can help us balance our ignorance with a healthy sense of corporate stewardship.

Last, we need to de-politicize creation care.  It does not help to side with partisan issues on this subject when this subject is (1) so close to God’s heart and (2) larger than our political debates make it out to be.  Creation care should be one of those things we find common ground on.  After all, why wouldn’t we all help nurture and restore a world that “God so loved”?  If God didn’t condemn the world than neither should we.