Christians & Climate Change

Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

I did a crazy thing for a 72 year old emeritus Campus Pastor and Institute Director: I enrolled as an student to audit a college class. So now I find myself reading hundreds of pages of assigned reading each week and trying to keep up with both regular students and other auditors in discussion groups.

What class am I taking? Glad you asked and bet you would never guess it: my class is “God, Country and Climate Change”. It is live streamed weekly from the campus of Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college in upstate New York. The classes have been great, featuring lecturers who are climate scientists, environment activists, and theologians.

The classes are challenging, informative and sometimes discouraging. One week we compiled a list of things to personally do to lower our carbon footprints. On this list were things like buy less, create less waste, and be more mindful about how our choices impact the environment. I looked at the list and thought “If I did everything on this list I doubt it would contribute enough toward solving our ecological crisis to be noticed.” It was a discouraging thought.

That is when I had an epiphany. God doesn’t call us to results but to obedience. No good work done for the sake of Jesus is ever wasted. Even the smallest acts of goodness and love reflect Jesus to the world around us. Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

Since I believe Christians are mandated to take care of this world, whether making lifestyle changes will solve the climate crisis, is really not the issue.  My obedience to God is the issue. Every small step toward a more sustainable lifestyle is a way for me to obey God’s mandate to take care of His creation.

This epiphany caused me to take off my environmental glasses and put on my Biblical glasses. Then it hit me: the whole human caused global warming crisis is not an environmental issue as much as it is a sin issue. Gus Speth, an environment lawyer and US advisor, was cited in Christianity Today as saying:

“I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Gus Speth

It is easy to attribute selfishness, greed, and apathy to industrial polluters and corporate greenhouse gas emitters. What is not so easy is to realize that they are all too often the reason for our lifestyle choices.  Can I have a positive impact on the world around me if my lifestyle choices are selfish, greedy, or apathetic?  For example:

  • How do I choose the clothes that I buy? Is price and style my only criteria? Or do I ask, “Does my low price come because they are made by overworked impoverished women in underdeveloped countries?
  • How do I choose the food I eat? By taste and price? Or do I ask, “How was this food produced and brought to my supermarket?”
  • How do I choose the snacks I munch on? By taste and convenience? Or do I ask, “What happens to the wrappers and packaging when I finish my snacks, are they destined to sit in a landfill forever?  

If you think I’ve gotten a little obsessed you are right, that is what happens when I turn my internal spotlight on my sin. I feel like I am directly polluting the oceans whenever I drink from a plastic cup or through a plastic straw. My choices are so often selfish, greedy and apathetic that I am consumed with guilt. Fortunately, I know that guilt is meant to alert me not overwhelm me. God loves me, sinner that I am! So when I feel guilty I go to Him and pray for forgiveness and the grace to be a better caretaker of the world in which He has placed me.

The solution to our climate change crisis isn’t just to buy secondhand clothes, or to become vegetarians, or to call our legislators and give them our top ten environmental reforms list. Those things are good things to do to protect and serve God’s creation, but they won’t fix the main problem: us. Our disregard for the environment is a heart issue. Most Christians are aware that sin broke humanity and that “selfishness, greed, and apathy” are symptoms of our individual fallenness.  What took me much longer to come to terms with is that sin broke not only humanity but all of creation. Evidence that sin broke both humanity and this world is all around us. If broken people living in a broken world was the end of the story then being consumed with guilt would be the least of our problems. But the story of the Fall is the beginning of the story of how our Redeemer God loved us and His creation so much that He provided One to set things right.  One who can transform our broken world into the world it was when He pronounced it “very good”.

Most believers are familiar with the words “For God so loved the world that…” He loved the world so much that he incarnated Himself into creation in order to redeem it back to himself. God saw our brokenness and loved us enough to pay the great price to restore it—the price of making His incarnate Son Jesus our Paschal Lamb.

I no longer believe that John 3:16 only refers to God’s love for humanity. God so loved us, yes, but He also loved all creation so much that he lovingly infused every animal and plant, down to their very cells and molecules with evidence of His character. The Psalmist wrote that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”1 and “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”2. In the book of Job, God tells Job how His sovereignty is on display throughout nature:

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is it that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’”3.

The entire book of Job emphasizes the sovereignty of God over mankind and all the earth. But as the ultimate sovereign, God delegated to humans sovereignty over the rest of creation:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”4

He has delegated responsibility for caring for creation to us. This delegated responsibility is anything but permission to exploit, instead it is a mandate to care for this world so it can sustain us both physically and emotionally.  The climate crisis we are facing is proof of our failure to take God’s delegated sovereignty seriously.

Jesus, in His last monologue to his disciples before his crucifixion said:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”5.


When I get discouraged over the the harm we have done to God’s creation and how this has made life so much harder for the impoverished, I feel so overwhelmed that, to my shame, I often do nothing. My inaction is my sinful nature controlling me. But I don’t have to be bullied by my old nature because Christ has defeated it. Jesus’ atoning death wiped the slate clean. The more I trust in Him the more His indwelling Holy Spirit empowers me to go into the world and love as He loves. As the Apostle John wrote, “by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments… For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world”6

Right about now you are thinking “Nice sermon Tim but what does this have to do with climate change?” Don’t worry I’m not going to leave you hanging. One important thing is that looking at it through the lens of Scripture gives us the assurance that one day all of creation will be made whole again:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.”7


All creation eagerly awaits the return of our Savior. Until then, he instructs us to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”8. Certainly as caretakers of creation and as followers of Jesus, justice, mercy and humility should characterize how we respond to the world around us. It also means that whenever natural disasters strike (and unless we control global warming we must expect more severe disasters), we Christians should be first responders, ready to get our hands dirty, humbly showing mercy and advocating justice for the vulnerable.  This is how we love the world as Jesus loves it.

Where you go from here is up to you. I suggest you start with some introspection. A good place to begin is to seriously consider the ways your lifestyle choices affect the environment. Be fearless, this is not a pledge to change everything at once. Once you’ve done an internal audit I challenge you to sit quietly, pray, repent, accept God’s forgiveness and love then write an action statement on how you will better love the world God created and the people in it.

Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

Scripture references:

1 Psalm19:1ESV

2 Psalm 24:1 NIV

3Job 38:1-7 NIV

4Genesis 1:28 NIV

5John 16:33 NIV

6I John 5:2, 4 ESV

7Romans 8:18-24

8Micah 6:8

God’s Will

I am writing this from my hospital bed (ain’t technology great!).  This is day 5 since discovering another pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung).  Over these 5 days I have heard the phrase “God’s will” used a lot – “if it is Your Will heal Tim”, “it is God’s will for this to happen (in the context of lessons to be learned)” “thank God that His will was for you to have available the best medical care”.  Now, I do believe in God and I do believe he has a will (definition: volition to act).  But being a Shadowlander hearing the phrase “God’s will” tossed around always resurrects the cynic in me. 

Part of my cynicism comes from the way people historically have thrown around the phrase ‘God’s will’ to endorse their agenda. Crusaders used it to endorse decades of war.  Slave owners used it to endorse owning slaves.  Televison evangelists use it to endorse their need for our money.  There have been a lot of awful things endorsed with the phrase ‘God’s will’. 

But my cynicism isn’t only abuse driven.  I also wonder why, after dedicating my life to serving God, he has willed to curse me with a body that hasn’t worked right for the past 25 years and why now, on the eve of my retirement from CCF, I am in the hospital again.  Times like this are good reminders to me that a life of ease was never promised to those who walk the Path.  That wrong expectation fuels many frustrations about ‘God’s will’.

Assuming God does have a will for each of us why do we pursue it?  Is it to get something in return?  More money.  Better health.   Easier life.  Brighter future .  More health.  Less chaos. Less resistance. Less risk. Less illness.

What do we expect from God in exchange for following His will?  The expectation that God will rescue us from a life of risk, disappointment, and failure ignores the Biblical examples of the lives of  some pretty extraordinary people who followed God’s will to their peril.  A life of faith is a risky life.  

What should we expect from God in exchange for following His will?  Joseph’s (the Old Testament one) provides a good answer to that question, though one you may not like.  He definitely was where God willed him to be according to his own statement to his brothers in Gen 45:7  “God sent me here ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

  • Joseph began life as his father’s favorite son. This made his brothers jealous so they
  • Sold him as a slave to some Egyptions (I’m personally glad this was not an option for my brothers). 
  • But he ended up managing the estate of the Pharoah’s highest civil servant Potipher which was great unil
  • He was seduced by Potipher’s wife (her name is not given but I think it was Slut).
  • But Joseph not only turned down the offer of sex but literally ran away from Slut (Potipher’s wife).
  • She patented the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” by accusing Joseph of trying to seduce her and Potipher
  • Had Joseph thrown into jail where he
  • Interpreted dreams for a baker and butler who promised to put a good word in for him to Pharoah when released  
  • But they forgot (ingrates!) but finally
  • Joseph interpreted a dream for Pharoah, saved Egypt from a huge famine, got promoted to Vice Pharoah, was reunited with his family and saved the entire nation of Israel.

Sometimes when difficulty or suffering comes our way, we conclude that we have made a choice outside of ‘God’s will’ and sometimes we have.  But Joseph’s story is only one of many stories of people who followed God’s will and still had lots of difficulty and suffering in their lives. 

I believe there are two parts of God’s will.  Part one is the big picture, far beyond what we can perceive. Part two is the particular picture, His will that is revealed and is to be obeyed.  Joseph believed that God’s big picture was being accomplished even though he didn’t see much evidence of it until near the end of the story.  It’s the same way with us.  As part of the story we can’t comprehend how He is working to fulfill His big picture – we just don’t have the perspective for it.

Joseph’s story illustrates how these two parts of ‘God’s will’ look.  Joseph chose to do God’s revealed will  by every day doing the things that kept him connected to God.  Joseph trusted God completely even when circumstances were completely contrary to what he expected God to do.  By obeying God’s revealed will Joseph helped fulfill God’s big picture, but Joseph couldn’t see it.

This is an important lesson for us to learn: God is in control but we may not always know how… so we trust His sovereignty by obeying his revealed will in His Word.  Joseph didn’t know he was JOSEPH he just obeyed God’s will and God did the rest.  Will your name one day be spoken in all caps by those who have look back on our time with the perspective to see more of God’s big picture? 

What should we expect from God in exchange for following His will?  Nothing.  We should thank Him for making us part of His big picture!

God’s Call

Christmas is over and talk of “making a list and checking it twice” have now been replaced with “making my New  Year’s resolution list”.  I don’t know why but I turned to Exodus 3:1-10 this morning and read this rather bizarre account of Moses’ call to become the savior of the Israelites.  Standing before a talking, burning, but not burning up, bush (I told you it was bizarre) God speaks to Moses and says:  “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh” (Exodus 3:10)

After having all his doubts and objections answered Moses obeyed God’s call and returned to Egypt.  The rest is history. 

I have never seen a burning bush much less had one speak to me but I have sensed God’s call to serve Him in a specific way.  Twenty eight years ago just such an experience led me here to UGA to minister to the students and staff of this great university.  The call made no sense at the time but I had no doubt that God was calling me.  Looking back I am so thankful for the call and for answering it!

Have you had a burning bush experience?  Have you sensed God calling you to serve Him in some specific way?  2010 is only a few days away.  As a Christian I know that all time is God’s time but as a Shadowlander I enjoy the fiction that New Year’s is a special time for starting over and doing better.  At any rate now is a good time to explore God’s call . 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I felt God directing me to a specific task or area of service? 
  • If so, have I said yes?
  • Have I, like Moses, told God about my fears? My objections? My feelings of inadequacy?
  • What am I doing right now to answer God’s call?
  • If I’m feeling led to a new area of service, how can I verify what God wants me to do and follow it?

Here is my four step burning bush experience verification plan:

  1. Make sure God initiated it. Don’t force it.
  2. Check the Bible to make sure it’s morally right.
  3. Pray about it — for as long as it takes to be confident of His call.
  4. Get to work doing it!

If God calls you to serve Him in a specific way, do it.   Don’t let anything keep you from obeying God’s call in 2010.

If you hear God’s call, whether through a burning bush or a still small voice, say yes!