Whenever I read the words of Dr. King, I am struck by how clearly he understood the world's problems. I also stand in awe of his belief in the power of the individual to do right and change the world. In one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s lesser read works, The Measure of a Man, he says this:
"Therefore whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good check-up at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent."
"This is the way our world is made. ... We are interdependent." If only we remembered these words as we remember Dr. King and his legacy. Think of how different our world would be if we recognized that no nation, no segment of society, and no individual is more important than the whole human race.
In The Measure of a Man, King does what a good reverend would do (did you forget that he was foremost a pastor?) and preaches the Bible. From the Bible and philosophy, King speaks of three dimensions of a complete life:
King describes this as a triangle:
"These are the three dimensions of Me, and without the three being correlated, working harmoniously together, life is incomplete. Life is something of a great triangle. At one angle stands the individual person, at the other angle stand other persons, and at the top stands the Supreme, Infinite Person, God. These three must meet in every individual life if that life is to be complete."
According to Dr. King's The Measure of a Man, the complete life looks like this infographic.
While there are some people whose lives seem envy worth, because they have acquired wealth and power, they lose what King calls "the breadth of life." Even a life with cultivated skills and a honed inner life will lack meaning. The cultivation of skills and the honing of gifts is essential, but a true and deep inner examination should lead a person to look beyond themselves.
Some people learn to care deeply for other people and that gives their lives "breadth," a meaning beyond themselves. And King has in mind here much more than just care for one's family and inner circle: "we are [all of humanity] interdependent ... we are all involved in a single process, ... we are all somehow caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."
The inner life then becomes something cultivated for larger purposes: it is not for my gain but the betterment of humanity.
Humanity is made by God to be interconnected. This is why the second greatest commandment is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36–40). What is good for you is also good for me. What is good for them is also good for us. What is good for humanity betters my life even (and perhaps especially) when it requires personal sacrifice.
"Seek God and discover him and make him a power in your life. Without him all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without him, life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing."
In the end, life without God and his community, the Church, is lacking. It is God who moves to create lasting change and God to whom we look for the grace required to do the work of making our world a better place. It is God who can break down national, racial, ethnic, and economic barriers.
King remarks that if one is to measure a life's success at accomplishing God's purposes, we need simply to remember three things:
"Love yourself, if that means rational, healthy, and moral self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. But never forget that there is a first and even greater commandment, 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind.' This is the height of life. And when you do this you live the complete life."
The work of Dr. King has been a deep inspiration to me. In many regards, his work inspired me to change my entire life and dedicate it to serving the impoverished and people yet to hear Jesus' name. King's views on the interconnected world and the centrality of the church influenced me as I wrote my recently released book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change.
In Jesus' economy, things are reversed from what you would expect. The book of James tells us that that the poor are rich in faith, and thus heirs of a great blessing—God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, James calls us, who have much, into a deeper faith where we truly love our neighbor.
“Did not God choose the poor of the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor! … [If] you carry out the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and thus are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point only has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:5–6, 8–10 LEB).
The poor of the world have the gift of to be rich in faith. You would expect for James to tell us that those who are rich are surely blessed, and thus are clearly the most thankful (and perhaps, by extension, inheritors of great things), but he doesn’t. The opposite is true.
If you want to find Jesus' greatest blessing, a life of faith, you look to the downtrodden. That's where Jesus is.
James goes on to confront us about that which we so easily forget: we’re called to love our neighbor, as we would want to be loved; and that means avoiding partiality. When we show partiality, we not only do wrong by others, but actually go against what James calls the “royal law” of God. When we stumble on the point of showing partiality, we are breaking the value of the entire law of God: loving him and others.
We cannot show our love for God without loving other people. Thankfully, God is always quick to show mercy and grace, but this does not make our mistake against the poor, marginalized, and outsider acceptable.
When reading James’ thoughts, I am struck by the fact that he presents us not just with a commandment, but with an opportunity. Here, in this little New Testament letter, it is revealed to us how God’s kingdom works. Here, in this letter, we’re given a chance to turn away from that which we think will fulfill us and turn toward the fulfilling work of God. We’re given a chance to show true love for the inheritors of God’s kingdom, the poor.
And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20 ESV).
To my brothers and sisters around the poor, I want to tell you good news: the kingdom of God is yours. To my friends around the world who are plagued by the trappings of wealth, I want to tell you that we will find God's kingdom among the impoverished. Let us join them in renewing our world.
In Jesus' economy, the value is not wealth, status, or prestige. The value is love. That's the currency. And that's why the poor, who are often well acquainted with grief and the need to be empowered, more easily understand the values of God's kingdom. They already know how the economy in this kingdom works.
James offers us a powerful opportunity and an incredible message—whether we’re wealthy or not. In God’s kingdom, the only difference between those who are wealthy and those who are not is the ease by which they enter his kingdom and join his work. Will you join his work today? Will you love like Jesus?*
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is based on my earlier article, "Everything in God's Kingdom is Reversed and That's Good News."
Faith without action is not faith at all. Faith and actions are inseparable. And that thought can change our world.
Consider what the biblical book of James says about this:
“My brothers, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with partiality. For if someone enters into your assembly in fine clothing with a gold ring on his finger, and a poor person in filthy clothing also enters, and you look favorably on the one wearing the fine clothing and you say, ‘Be seated here in a good place,’ and to the poor person you say, ‘You stand or be seated there by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4 LEB).
It is usually easier to build a friendship with someone who is like you than someone who is not. And most people want to befriend the most well dressed person in the room. I know this is obvious, but think on it for a moment. What are the ramifications of this inclination? What does it say about the type of people we are?
The inclination to favor one person over another reveals something about our view of God, others, and faith. When we show partiality to the wealthy person over the impoverished person, we betray a part of our very faith—love for others (Matthew 22:37–40).
God has called us to love others without partiality. He has called us to look at other people and do for them as we would want them to do for us—aside from how they appear or what they have to offer in return.
I am sure you already know this to be true, but are you practicing it today? Really, take a moment and think about it: are you loving other people without partiality? And if not, how can you change your behavior? How can you change the judgmental thoughts you have? For your thoughts are the place from which your actions emerge.
Imagine how incredibly different, and better, the world would be if we loved others without partiality. Imagine a world where Christians everywhere practiced their faith. Let's be people of faith and action.*
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "The Inseparability of Faith and Actions."
An often forgotten message of the gospel is that it empowers us to live free from the burdens of sin. You may be thinking: “but you don’t know what I’ve done, the mistakes I’ve made.” Let me tell you this, God used a murderer, a man named Saul whose name was changed to Paul, to lead the missions efforts of the early church. Do you think God can use you? Paul firmly believed, that despite even his ongoing struggles, that God would prevail. So when you sin, confess and repent. And aim to live a life free from sin.
You’re not alone in this: you can seek accountability, someone to regularly ask you how things are going, that you can be real and honest with. You can grow as a Christian in community. There is no shame, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
But it is in the denial of sin that we show that we are Jesus’ followers. First John 2:3–6 (NIV) reads:
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
So John tells us to live like Jesus did, that means resisting the pull of evil on our lives. On this point, the author of Hebrews says:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tempted, like us, as a human and prevailed. So know that he is there to listen, understanding of our weaknesses. He wants a better life for you but he is also gracious and loving.
But what are these commands that we should aim to keep? Usually we think of keeping commands as abstaining from something, what we don’t do. But John tells us that Jesus’ command is also about what we should do. In 1 John 2:7–11 (NIV), he says:
“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”
John tells us that his new command is actually old. It is old in the sense that it has been around since Moses first wrote the Law. It is new in the sense that it is now understood in light of Jesus, as an integral part of what it means to follow God. This commandment is to love your “brother and sister;” this is how one “lives in the light.” This is also new in the sense that it is now understood as loving to the point that we are willing to lay down our lives for another person, as Jesus laid down his life for us. On this, Jesus says:
“A new command I give you:
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another … Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 13:34–35; 15:13).
This is the fourth truth: Light is in the world, fighting the darkness, through the self-sacrificial actions of Jesus’ followers.
This is not the way people in our world live. We live in a every person for him or herself sort of world. At most, it’s every family for themselves.
But John calls us to look at the “whole world” as that which Jesus wishes to redeem (1 John 2:2). And we are to be advocates of this sort of self-sacrificial love. This is how darkness and hate loses, with light and love. This is the trajectory of the true story of the whole world that God is telling.
Because this is such a great contrast, John says in 1 John 2:15–17 (NIV):
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
John confirms that we should resist the desires “of the flesh:” pride, sex out of context of marriage, and many other things that could be added to this list. So discipline, as a Christian, is to be desired. This doesn’t mean that human nature is bad, but instead John is juxtaposing the way things are commonly done in the world with God’s ways. He is saying there is a truth to the light and darkness dualism. There is a real war here between what the Holy Spirit desires for our lives and the human realm, culture, pulling us in a different direction.
John reminds us that this is not what is eternal, but instead God and those who enter into relationship with Jesus will last forever. The battle is temporary.
And this is the fifth truth that is often forgotten in our dualistic, two powers metaphor: That there are not two powers in heaven, but one supreme power! That power is God! Satan and Jesus are not equals. Instead, Christ is victor and this is where we find eternal victory.
It is in light of this that John says in his poem in 1 John 2:12–14 (NIV):
“I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.”
We have overcome the evil one, because there are not two powers. Hate and love may be at war today, but the love of Christ is victor! This is because there is only one power in heaven and that is God. Live love. Fight the power of hate with it. It is this way that we keep darkness at bay.
It is the common thread through every epic story, through each narrative: There are two powers and they are at war. There is good and evil, love and hate, darkness and light.
Think of Star Wars: the dark side and the light side. Think of Lord of the Rings: Sauron versus the Fellowship of the Ring. The same theme is in ancient literature throughout the ancient Near East and Jewish world, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls’ community who envisioned themselves as the “sons of light” who would one day fight Rome, whom they viewed as the darkness. But in this dualism, where everything is polarized, there are a few truths missing.
To see what I mean, let’s venture into 1 John, which uses similar light and dark language, but in a different way.
In 1 John 1:1–4, John tells us that God has come in flesh as Jesus. John says that he is an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry; this makes the letter we’re reading deeply personal.
John then uses darkness and light language, saying that he has heard from Jesus that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Thus anyone who claims to know Jesus must walk in this light, confessing his or her shortcomings. Living in the truth that we are sinful and flawed, and completely dependent on Christ, is key to our relationship with God and with other people (1 John 1:6-10). There is wrong in all of us.
This is the first truth that should confront the dualistic, two powers myth that is so common in culture: light and darkness are not polarized in us humans, but instead we each have both good and evil in us. We are incapable on our own of living in the light without Jesus.
This is where 1 John 2:1-2 (NIV) comes in [the beginning of our focus passage for today]:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is the second truth: it is Jesus’ “atoning sacrifice for our sins” that makes us right before God. And the invitation to enter into relationship with God, because of what Jesus has done, is available to everyone, to “the whole world.”
But this isn’t a grace to be taken for granted; it is God’s wish that we “will not sin.”
This is the third truth that should confront the common dualistic, two powers myth: God has come into the world to bring light, in Jesus, and that light can change our very lives. It frees us from sin. God wants you to be free from sin.
This is the end of part 1. Part 2 will be published tomorrow, so tune in for the rest.
Being able to read and write is a privilege many of us don’t understand. Literacy creates opportunities, spreads information, and brings people together. This is true, yet an estimated 781 million adults around the world don’t have the resources or ability to read, and we need to talk about that.
Having access to literature and literacy training should be a basic right for all people. As we work toward equality, we should remember that every person on earth deserves the chance to read and write because of the hope that comes with literacy.
This isn’t a new notion or a new struggle.
These ideas—of opportunity, information, and fellowship—were at the heart of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. Martin Luther and other reformers believed that everyone deserved the chance to hear and understand the gospel.
Salvation is not only for those with the highest education or for those who live in the most privileged communities. Salvation is an offer for everyone, and fighting for literacy means continuing the fight of the Reformation—the fight to make the gospel accessible because we know that “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11 ESV).
It is possible to hear, understand, and surrender to the gospel without being able to read, but having the ability to study the world of your own volition is so important. Faith rests on the ability to hear what God is saying and meditate on his truth. Paul reminds us of this and says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV).
On International Literacy Day, it is important for us to remember the value of literacy, both to personal and to spiritual development. Literacy brings people to knowledge of the gospel, but it also provides opportunities for people to fight against poverty. Communication is at the core of many jobs, and knowing how to read and write properly is important. Furthermore, literacy opens up a world of art that enhances life on earth.
Living for Jesus means working to eradicate poverty. Living for Jesus means spreading the gospel. Living for Jesus means advocating for equality in all ways, including the right to literacy. We do these things because of God’s grace working in us, because we love like he loves.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 ESV)
You can be an advocate in your own way—by donating to a literacy organization, offering your time to after school programs that teach reading and writing, or even starting your own project.
Here at Jesus’ Economy, we are funding church planting in Bihar, India. Each church plant we fund supports a local Bihar pastor in building and nurturing several home churches around his community. These pastors are hosting Bible studies, giving literacy training, and spreading the gospel throughout their villages. Thousands of people in Bihar are hearing the gospel and are learning to read it for the first time.
There are so many ways to get involved, but no matter what you do, remember that literacy is so much bigger than reading and writing. It’s an issue of equality, it’s an issue of access to the gospel, and it’s an issue that matters to God.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).
Literacy can change the world and give people hope, and that’s what we’re about here.
Every Christian faces the challenge of discerning how to authentically live for Jesus. We’re given a story in our culture. We’re told what it means to live, what we should value; and then there’s the biblical story, which is in in sharp contrast to the story of culture. This makes authentic Christianity difficult to come by.
What is it that makes an authentic Christian? And how can we live as authentic Christians? How can our lives tell a different story, a better story?
For the answers to these questions, we can look to what Paul the apostle told his young apprentice, Titus. Paul had left his young apprentice Titus on Crete, to appoint leaders for the fledgling church(es) there and to inspire them to live authentically for Jesus (Crete is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, located southwest of modern Turkey. Paul wrote this letter at some point in the mid-60s AD, between his first and second Roman imprisonments).
In Titus 1:5–9, Paul has explained to Titus how to identify authentic Christian leaders, noting that they must be: (1) capable and respected; (2) loving, in all sphere of life (at home and publicly); and (3) experienced at living as a follower of Jesus (a true disciple of Jesus). From here, Paul told Titus how to discern the difference between a true Christian leader and a trend seeker, by explaining what inauthenticity looks like (Titus 1:10–16).
In Titus 2:1–15, Paul tells Titus how to minister to specific people groups on Crete, explaining what each of them will need to hear. From these very specific instructions, rooted in the cultural issues on Crete, we can derive some principles for how to authentically live as Christians and then apply these principles to our present circumstances, to our lives.
In Titus 2:1–5 (NIV), Paul says to Titus:
“You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
Paul first reminds Titus of the value of sound doctrine, which can be defined as that which is consistent with the gospel message—of Jesus’ saving act on the cross and his resurrection—and with the teachings of the apostles (Titus 2:1; compare 1 Timothy 1:10). Paul gives to Titus here a principle that is applicable to all situations: If you want to know how to live, look to the Bible as your guide.
From here, Paul turns to what he believed older men on Crete needed to hear (Titus 2:2). (In the first-century AD, “older men” would have referred to those over age 50.) From this group, we see five practices or disciplines we should aim to have:
The recommendation of Paul for older women is similar to that for older men (Titus 2:3). Likewise, Paul reflects the value of garnering respect in the teachings he offers for younger women (Titus 2:4–5), which in his context would have been women between the ages of 20 and 30, but this also seems to be a general reference to women younger than the older women group (over age 50). In Paul’s first-century context, the values he gives for young women would have all been cultural norms; Paul’s concern seems to be that violating a cultural norm so central to Graeco-Roman culture would have brought unwanted scrutiny to the fledgling church.
What these four values show us is that at its core, Christianity is not just a faith about belief, or about a commitment to a set of religious standards; it is also about practice. It’s about what we do with our time, resources, and energy. Christianity is not just about what’s coming, or going to heaven, but about the now—what will we do with the fact that heaven has come to earth in the personhood of Jesus, the one who suffered, died, and rose on our behalf? What will we do with sound doctrine? That’s the question of Paul for us.
Jesus came to reclaim our entire lives. About this, Paul elsewhere says: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2 NIV).
This reminds me of a line from the band All Sons and Daughters song “Dawn to Dusk:”
Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender
We come before you [and] lay our burdens down
We look to you as our hearts remember
You are the only God
You are our only God.
So let us surrender, lay our burdens down, and embrace the open arms of the God of the universe. Let us authentically live our beliefs.
Today is International Widows’ Day, established by the UN as a day dedicated to taking action against the injustices committed against widows worldwide. But it’s not just a day to have a meal with the widows you know or to make a donation to a cause you support. It’s a day to commit to taking care of widows and to changing the opportunities they have.
In many countries, widows are not treated fairly or kindly because of their status. While this is not the case for most widows in the United States, we should still be supporting the widows in our lives, and we can strive to make things better for widows who are mistreated, as we know God has called us to do.
“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).
You probably know a few widowed women, either personally or from your church. Start there. On International Widows’ Day, make a plan to support these women—not just for one day. Make sure they are being taken care of and do what you can to assist them spiritually, emotionally, and physically. You could do a Bible study together, volunteer together, or even provide meals for them. A lot of widows also need help with projects around their home because they might not have the time, money, skills, or resources to do it on their own. Just having an extra set of hands can be very helpful, so ask what is needed and do what you can.
There are also several ways you can get involved with programs to support widows worldwide. Here are a few great organizations:
“We are dedicated to providing support to grief-stricken young families in their time of deepest need. When a parent dies the financial burden can be huge. The LLF awards monetary grants to meet families’ emotional and financial short-term needs.”
“The Global Fund for Widows is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering widows and female heads of households to overcome poverty through skills-based training, job creation, and micro-finance.”
“Modern Widows Club is committed to being advocates to give widows a voice, enable and empower them to move forward and become vital members of society once again able to thrive.”
“GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.”
Jesus’ Economy doesn’t have a program set up directly for widows, but we do have a program to empower women in Bihar, India. Through this program, several women will be trained to maintain their own businesses and therefore be able to provide for their families. The women in this program come from a variety of family backgrounds—some married, some single, and some widowed—but because of their businesses they will have a way to support themselves. If any of these women were to become widowed, they would have the resources they need to feed themselves and their families.
On International Widows’ Day, we should think about how we can support women around the world, whether they’re in our neighborhood or in a developing country. Take this day to be there for your friends who are widows, and think about how you can contribute to the welfare of widows worldwide not just today, but every day.
Planet Earth is always changing, and that is a part of life. But some of the changes, such as climate change and diminishing resources like forests and fresh water, are hurting us and our witness to others. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycles of consumerism and forget about the ways our lifestyle impacts everything God made. But when we forget to take care of creation, we are disobeying God’s commands from Genesis.
“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.’… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:28, 31).
God’s first command to mankind was to be fruitful, multiply, and to take care of the Earth he made, which was very good. He made the Earth for us to live and grow in, and we have to be good stewards of it so that we can continue to do these things. The Earth is our home right now, and we should cherish it.
The Earth is not just good for us because it’s our current home, it’s good because it reveals God’s presence to believers and unbelievers alike. We know that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
What we see in nature is a revelation of God’s creative power and glory, and is also a revelation of the gospel. When we enjoy the Earth we can learn about who God is and what he is like. Enjoying the Earth can help believers draw nearer in relationship with God, and it can help unbelievers find somewhere to start. Paul talks about the witness nature gives, and how God’s creation exposes his eternal power. He writes,
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).
As Job declares to his friends,
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7-10).
If nature is so incredible that it glorifies God and draws people nearer to him, shouldn’t we protect it?
The Earth is suffering because of our careless attitudes toward resources. We should be taking care of what we have because it was left in our care and it can help us as we bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Here are a few ways we can be good stewards of creation:
Strive to buy products that are produced ethically, fairly traded, and have minimal environmental impact. Try looking into businesses, like Jesus’ Economy, that are honest about the materials they use and how they use them.
Did you know that most plastic is produced only to be thrown away, and because of this, a truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute? And this doesn’t account for what is thrown into landfills or even sent elsewhere to be recycled. Regardless, we are using too much plastic. Consider cutting out single-use plastics from your life and recycle all you can. Buy a few reusable bags for groceries and pack your lunch in glassware instead of plastic wrap. Thrift shopping is also a great way to reduce waste.
This one is simple. Get outside and look at what God made for us and for him. Take a break from work, technology, and those little life stresses and go rest in creation. It will be refreshing and it can be a wonderful retreat to grow closer to God.
God created the world for us to live in and care for, and sometimes we get wrapped up in the living part and forget the caring part. But I encourage you to care for creation in all the ways you can, and see how you get to know God better as you do.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk a Stations of the Cross path for the first time at a local abbey. Stations of the Cross is a path made up of a series of images depicting the story of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each station has an image and an accompanying prayer to read as you contemplate what Jesus experienced in his last moments before death. Many Christians walk through the stations during Lent because they focus on the suffering and sacrifice of the Lord leading to the celebration of the Resurrection.
When I visited the stations, I hadn’t known much about them and I didn’t know what to expect. Some of my reflections were surprising, others humbling, but the whole experience left my spirit quieted by Jesus and what he did for us. Here are a few of the reflections I made on my journey.
Sometimes it’s difficult to picture how Jesus suffered. But as I stood at the fifth station and saw the picture of Simon helping Jesus carry the cross, I was reminded of the gruesome nature of Jesus’ death because of his humanity. Jesus was tired. He was exhausted. He was dirty. He had a human body, and that body was quitting on him. At some point, he nearly gave up—he needed help to carry his own cross.
Before his death, he was thirsty, and he had to drink wine from a sponge on a stick. We don’t always think about it, but Jesus got thirsty. And he got hungry, too. When Jesus came to earth he became like us—small and weak.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7, ESV)
Many of the images made my stomach clench because of the horror of how Jesus died. Then I thought about the prophecies from hundreds of years before. Jesus was not surprised by how he was betrayed or how he was mocked or how it was finally finished. The blood and dirt did not shock him. God the Father was not surprised, either, as he turned away.
Everything that happened those last days from Gethsemane to Golgotha was known by God. He knew that Jesus would suffer, and that the suffering would ultimately lead to salvation.
Knowing it was planned doesn’t make the scene any less brutal. But it does remind us that God’s hand is in everything—even the things that make us cringe.
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9b-10, ESV)
At the last station, I was very emotional because I could imagine the feeling of loss among the disciples. Their friend had just died and they were left alone.
I bet they felt abandoned. I bet they knew it would all be worth it, but I bet they were filled with sorrow. Even knowing they would see him again would not be enough to fully ease the pain of loss. But after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, God sent the Spirit to guide us. We are not left alone, and that truth brings us peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)
These are words of peace Jesus leaves with his disciples before his journey to the cross.
Each station’s image was covered in a glass case, and as I stood at each one, I often found my eyes wandering to the reflection of my own face in the glass. I tried to avert my focus, to turn my eyes away from myself and onto Jesus.
But as I stood there, my face reflected at the feet of Jesus as he hung on the cross, I was struck with the reminder that this story is for us, too. Just as Jesus died with the full weight of our sin on the cross, so we “[die] to sin” daily so that we can be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11, ESV)
Jesus died because all of us are sinful and we can’t amend that on our own. Jesus died because he has such deep love for us and he truly wants to spend eternity with us.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)
Jesus’ death shocks us. It humbles us and baffles us. It changes us. It brings us to our knees and reminds us of the greatness of God. We can live because Jesus died. What a wonderful paradox.
In the middle of Lenten season, I encourage you to reflect on the journey Jesus took so that we might have life because of death.