“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).
Happy Earth Day! Today is for celebrating the beauty of all God created. Look around you. Do you see these trees and canyons and oceans and stars that surround us and declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1)? We are meant to enjoy this earth and care for it.
Enjoying creation is part of what God commanded humankind in the Garden of Eden. But what he said was bigger than just enjoying the Earth.
“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 ESV).
The other part of enjoying creation is taking care of it. The type of "dominion" Genesis has in mind is stewardship or care taking. Taking care of our planet is our mandate as humans. We have this absolutely beautiful planet, and we get to nurture it and help it thrive. It's awesome that God has trusted us with this Earth.
I know we have a lot to worry about, and I know the weight of all the pain the world is feeling right now makes it difficult to act, but it’s so important. It seems like the Earth is dying a little more every day and it’s getting out of control—it’s easy to be cynical about all of it. And we all realize that a huge component of environmental decay is consumerism and pollution. We all know we can’t turn it around in a day or by ourselves. But we can do something together.
Let’s start small, start talking, start walking, start acting, and start loving the Earth how it deserves to be loved.
At this time of year, it can seem like a lot is asked of you. While much of the Christmas season in the U.S. is rooted in consumerism, there are some tangible (and profound) reasons why Christians give. By taking hold of these truths, we can honor God through our donating and gift giving.
At the start of our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here are four reasons why Christians give.
Creation itself testifies to the giving Spirit of God. In the beginning, God creates (Genesis 1–2). The act of creation is rooted in love and compassion: When God sees that Adam may be lonely, he creates a companion in Eve (Genesis 2:18–25).
From the divine imagination, comes creation. And God looks at his creation and gives again. Everything good in our world is based in giving.
But after creation, humanity went astray and mucked it all up. This put us humans out of alignment with God; and it put us out of alignment with the intention of God's creation (Genesis 3).
God once again looks at his creation and decides on a solution; he decides to give. That solution is the gift of Jesus (God the Son). And that's what we celebrate at Christmas time: God becoming flesh in Jesus (Luke 1–2). In Jesus, we have salvation (John 1; 3:16).
In Jesus, we see the miraculous. But the way God comes in flesh should tell us something: Out of what seems to be ordinary, God will do the extraordinary. God chooses an ordinary Jewish family and the savior is born in an ordinary place, in impoverished circumstances. The miraculous comes through the unexpected.
God certainly provides via the completely miraculous: We see this when God provides for the Hebrew people while they're roaming in the wilderness (Exodus 16). But more often than not, God uses other people to bring about his provision. And that also seems pretty ordinary.
This is why Paul pleads with the Corinthian church to honor their obligation to help the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 9:1–15). He knows that God will use ordinary people to accomplish his work. Paul himself also depended on other people when he was imprisoned and mentions these types of moments often in his letters (e.g., Philemon 1; Philippians 5:25).
When people helped Paul, or those he advocated for (like the Jerusalem church), they themselves were changed. Paul emphasizes this:
"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV).
Generosity gives us an opportunity to honor God with what he has given us. It enriches our souls. Paul explains this another way earlier in this same passage:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NIV).
We as Christians are expected to steward the resources we are given. If we give generously, God will give generously to us. That giving from God may not come in the ways our culture can measure, but it will come.
At the core of the Christian value is a value of giving. Let's give this Christmas season.
Fear drives many decisions. It leads us to make harsh decisions, based on stereotypes of whole people groups. Historically and of recent, fear has led people to bend the Bible to fit their own viewpoints.
At the core of the biblical text is a call to salvation, compassion, and equality. To characterize it any other way is to miss the entire point of the Scriptures we hold so dear and defend.
I have recently written on how Christians should respond to refugees and immigrants. Since that time, the comments I have received have made me realize that further clarity is needed.
The Bible is full of stories of refugees and immigrants. There are countless passages in defense of the helpless, weak, and marginalized; as well as many passages about how to treat an outsider.
Abraham the patriarch, was a refugee:
“And there was a famine in the land. And Abram went down to Egypt to dwell as an alien there, for the famine was severe in the land” (Genesis 12:10 LEB).
But Abraham is not the only one who is a refugee in the Old Testament. Abraham and his wife Sarah cause Hagar, Sarah’s servant and the mother of Ishmal, to become a refugee, when Sarah exiled Hagar out of anger (Genesis 16). Those once in need create injustice—as so often is the case with power.
Later in Genesis, ten of Abraham’s great-grandsons go to Egypt as refugees during a famine:
“When Jacob realized that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’ Then he said, ‘Look, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us there that we may live and not die’” (Genesis 42:1–2 LEB).
This moment leads to Jacob (Abraham’s grandson), and his entire family, moving to Egypt as immigrants. They are accepted into Egypt by Pharaoh himself (see Genesis 46:26–27; 47:1–12).
The Hebrew people eventually become slaves in the land of Egypt. This is the case when Moses comes on the scene. Moses himself becomes an outlaw and refugee in the land of Midian, after he murders an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave (southeast of Israel; Exodus 2:11–22).
And, as we all know, Moses and his brother Aaron—by the power of Yahweh—lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Effectively, the entire people group become refugees with nowhere to go (Exodus 2:23–25; 15:22–27). This leads Yahweh himself to provide for them (Exodus 16). And one of the first things God does upon their rescue is to recognize that they must have laws to protect the immigrant, refugee, and powerless (Exodus 22:21–27).
Later in Israel’s history, once the Hebrew people are a nation with their own land, king David himself lives as an asylum-seeker on multiple occasions (e.g., 1 Samuel 21:10).
Trekking forward in Israel’s history, we find the prophet Elijah living as a refugee because he spoke truth to the king and was persecuted for it (1 Kings 17:3, 8–10).
And these are simply the stories of major Old Testament figures who were outcasts, asylum-seekers, immigrants, and refugees. There are also many stories of immigrants who needed protection and help—such as the mother of king David, Ruth, who was a Moabite who immigrated to Israel (see Ruth 1).
The most famous biblical example of a refugee is Jesus himself.
“Now after [the wise men] had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to seek the child to destroy him.’ So he got up and took the child and his mother during the night and went away to Egypt. And he was there until the death of Herod, in order that what was said by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:13–15 LEB).
After Jesus’ birth, king Herod sought to kill Jesus (Matthew 2). As a result, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary had to flee to Egypt as refugees. To clarify an error I have seen recently: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus travel to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census before going to Egypt (Luke 2:1–7). Jesus did not travel to Egypt to register for the census; he went there as a refugee (compare Matthew 1:25–2:1).
It seems that in the midst of so much modern debate about policy and politics, we have lost sight of one vital part of the Christian message—compassion. I have even heard many people argue that we cannot judge how a real Christian should respond to the global refugee crisis.
To answer this question, we can simply look to Jesus’ own words. When speaking about his final judgment, upon his second coming, Jesus says this to those who understood and received his message:
“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me as a guest, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we [do these things]?’ And the king will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me’” (Matthews 25:34–40 LEB).
It is in the welcoming of the stranger, helpless, marginalized, and those in need that Jesus recognizes a true Christian from one who is not (Matthew 25:31–46).
In worries about security, many people have become apathetic to the suffering of the helpless. When empathy fails us, what we hold so dear—freedom itself—will also fail. The very nature of what we call Christianity will fail.
Out of a desire to protect ourselves, we often turn a blind eye to the suffering of other people. But in the process of doing so, we’re hurting humanity. We’re hurting freedom and we’re hindering the work of the gospel.
Related Audio Content by John D. Barry
Hurricane Matthew has devastated whole communities—from Haiti and the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast. In Syria, a war is raging that is killing men, women, and children alike. Part of Nigeria faces a severe famine. The pain of all this is completely overwhelming. It can make us feel completely helpless. We all know that a single person cannot fix the world’s problems. But to sit idly is equally wrong. How should we as Christians respond?
When we as Christians face a crisis of any kind, we must lean on our beliefs. Indeed, right theology results in right actions. We have a theology for crises. It starts with trust in a God who desires order.
If you look at the book of Genesis from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, you see that many of God’s creative acts are about bringing order to chaos. Take a look at the third day of creation:
“And God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear.’ And it was so. And God called the dry ground ‘earth,’ and he called the collection of the waters ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:9–10 LEB).
In the ancient Near East, water was the ultimate symbol of chaos. In several ancient Near Eastern myths, gods tangle with the waters to show themselves superior. But for our God, the Israelite God Yahweh, this is an easy task. He rules over these forces of chaos.
Later, Adam and Eve are appointed to steward God’s creation; God instructs them to bring order as he had done (Genesis 1:28). Our mandate as people, from the beginning, is to believe in a God who creates order and to bring the same order to our world.
We serve a God who walks with us. Even when Adam and Eve sin against Yahweh, he is walking in the Garden in the cool of the day—he is seeking them out (Genesis 3:8–9). God doesn’t need a relationship with us, but he desires one. Today, we continue the conversation with God through prayer—having Christ as the means of a restored relationship with God (Hebrews 4:14–16).
When we see the pain of our world, we must acknowledge that it exists because things are not as they should be. The order that God desires is not fully present. Everything from natural disasters to warfare to famines can in some way be traced back to things being out of alignment with God’s ultimate will for the world.
This is why Paul the Apostle says:
“For the eagerly expecting creation awaits eagerly the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation has been subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19–21 LEB).
In Paul’s era, many Jews were looking forward to a day when the Messiah would not just reign in Israel but restore order to the created world. They looked forward to a Messianic age. We have this same hope in the Lord Jesus—knowing that he will return and bring order:
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:1–4).
We must, like the apostles, pray for new creation for our entire world. We must pray, “Come, Lord Jesus come,” while also crying out, “Lord Jesus, please stand alongside the hurting of our world. And help me to be a person who stands alongside them with you.”
The gospel of Jesus requires us to take action. We cannot idly watch the state of our world and still call ourselves Christians. This is incompatible with Jesus’ theology. Jesus makes this clear when he says: “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37 NKJV). The Letter of James also articulates this idea:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV).
Note that James does not just speak of right action, but also a right spirit—being “unstained from the world.” In essence, he is saying that if we love the hurting, there is little room for the idleness that leads to sin (compare James 1:13–15).
For James, we—as those who bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—are representatives of God’s goodness to a broken and hurting world:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:16–18 ESV).
Therefore, as “firstfruits” of God’s labor, let us take action that represents him.
Let us as Christians be unified in our belief in the God of order. Let us have solidarity in our prayer, asking God to intercede on behalf of the hurting. Let us have camaraderie in action—serving the hurting together.
“In those days there was no king in Israel; each one did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 LEB).
Our problems start with each person doing what is right in his or her own eyes. Justice, mercy, and reconciliation should not just be buzzwords—they should be ideals we live by. We must live by God’s views of equality and the value of human life. God’s ways must be our ways.
Our world seems unstable. Each person seems to do what is right in his or her own eyes. But it is not as if our God has stopped talking. God is still enthroned in heaven—we just need to give him room in our lives here on earth.
Sometimes it helps to take a step back and think about the God we serve. I think of what God said to Job:
“Where were you at the my laying the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding. Who determined its measurement? … Or who stretched the measuring line upon it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars were singing together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7 LEB).
If we serve a God who can establish the earth, what can he not do? Certainly this God can reconcile people. Certainly this God can establish justice, bring mercy, and teach us to walk humbly before him (Micah 6:8). Certainly this God can bring stability to our unstable world.
The beginning of reconciliation is the recognition that we do not truly understand where others are coming from. But that should not stop us from attempting to empathize. I regularly think of my experience as a child who could not speak correctly—and being discriminated against simply for my speech impediment. It helps me to feel a little bit of what my brothers and sisters living on the underside of power feel. It helps me empathize.
Yet I also recognize that I still don’t know what it is like to be someone else. I can empathize, but I shouldn’t pretend to understand another person’s full experiences.
Truly loving other people demands action. When we witness people discriminated against, we must desire change and advocate for it, or we lack love. When we hear about people being needlessly killed, because of hatred, we must show love to fight the hatred. When we see the poverty in our world—and realize that we have the resources to alleviate it—we must act. If we ignore it, we show ourselves to lack love.
“No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 LEB).
And who should our friends be? And who should our neighbors be? The citizens of this earth, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We should love others to the point of being willing to give up our very lives for them.