God cares about the environment (and so should you).

A couple weeks ago at my church, we discussed the concept of “creation care,” which simply defined is the concept of taking care of the earth that God has created. One of the questions we discussed in small groups was how we can improve our own care for the earth in practical ways. We mentioned cutting down on the amount of disposable dishes we use (a tough one living in a college dorm), trying not to drive places unless absolutely necessary, and of course recycling the resources we do use.

As I continued my week, I started noticing more and more ways that I and those around me could try and improve the way we are treating the earth. Ranging from wasteful uses of paper towels to professors who insist on having us print out every assignment, I realized many of us are unaware how many resources we use up and how much waste we create. I began to wonder how much the average person impacts the earth with their own use of resources and found some rather startling facts. According to an article by MARCK Recycling called, “What If Everyone Stopped Recycling?” (http://www.marck.net/what-if-everyone-stopped-recycling/), the amount of waste the average person produces in just one day is 4.38 pounds. Considering there are over 7 billion people on earth, that amounts to over 31 billion pounds of waste—in just one day!

I decided to do the math for a whole year and the amount of waste the human population produces in just one year amounts to 11,388,000,000 pounds.

As my friend Lisa said when I told her this statistic: “That’s disgusting!

I agree.

And this is purely dealing with the human populations’ production of waste. Not to mention the amount of smog we are sending into the atmosphere, or the oils and other harmful chemicals we are dumping into the sea.

Now, if somehow seeing the numbers here didn’t convince you to start going green, maybe the Bible will. In Genesis 2:15 it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Here we see that God places humanity over the earth to care for it. Some people I know really like the verse that says that we have dominion over the earth, but fail to read it in light of the call to care for the earth as well.

Recently, Pope Francis released an encyclical addressing this very issue. The following is a quote from this document which touches on the relationship between human dominion and stewardship:

“We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature… we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

As Pope Francis challenges us to not abuse our dominion over the earth, I want to encourage you to do the same. We have a responsibility as Christians to care for this planet that God so carefully and thoughtfully created. Creation care is just one of the ways that we can practically live out our faith in God who cares for His creation.

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America has a gun problem.

In the past nine days, the United States has experienced three school shootings. The first took place on October 1st at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and the second two both took place today: one early this morning at Northern Arizona University and one close to Texas Southern University’s campus. With what seems like a sudden increase in shootings recently, I began to think the United States might have a gun problem. This lead me to research more into the facts to see if we really do. According to an article by CNN title “Death and guns in the USA: The story in six graphs,” these are the facts:

  • The U.S. has the highest per capita gun ownership of any country, with 88 guns being accounted for every 100 people (the second highest, to give you some comparison, goes to Yemen, with approx. 55 per 100 citizens).
  • From 2001-2013, gun violence has accounted for the deaths of 406,496 people, while terrorism has resulted in 3,380 (which includes those abroad).
  • The number of mass shootings in the U.S. (where 4 or more people are killed) since 1997 is 51 shootings. Comparatively, Germany has had 3, and the UK has only had 1.
  • From 2007-2011, almost 70% of homicides were carried out with firearms.
  • In 2013, gun violence led to the deaths of 33,636 people.

I think America has a gun problem.

But here is the question that is probably bugging you as much as it is me: What do we do?

Now, I do not think completely taking away guns could be the solution. Our Constitution gives us the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights, so I do not foresee that one going well, nor do I think it is a great idea to begin with. But I think it is time for us to face the facts, and admit that something has to be done. As Christians, I do not feel we can sit back and watch such violence continue. How can the same people who serve a God of justice let this injustice happen? How can we justify fighting terrorists in other countries but not trying to solve these problems in our own nation? We need some sort of gun reform, and no matter whether or not you think people should be able to have guns, we need to agree on compromising for the sake of a much needed reform in gun control. Maybe we need to have more restrictions, maybe we need to limit the number of firearms someone can own, maybe we should require background checks; to be honest, I do not really know. But I do know that Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (ESV). We are called to be those who create peace, and I think one step in that direction is supporting the much needed conversation for gun reform.

Don’t fight fire with fire—literally.

This Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, an unknown arson supposedly smashed open a window and lit a Planned Parenthood facility on fire. While the fire was extinguished rather quickly and the clinic only suffered minor damages, the incident still shows the increasing tensions about the issue of abortion. According to an article by the LA Times titled “Arson investigation underway at Planned Parenthood in Thousand Oaks,” this was the second violent attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic within the last couple of weeks. this article also pointed  out the potential dangers this kind of behavior could have on the overall community, both in possible physical injuries and damages but also in the general sense of security for the neighborhood.

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that while I adamantly disagree with abortion, and would fall under the “Pro-life” category, I do not want this blog to become a discussion of whether or not abortion is wrong. What this blog is a discussion of is how we as Christians should respond to causes which we do oppose, particularly those as controversial as not only abortion, but gay marriage, immigration, and other similar issues in the United States and around the world.

When I heard about this incident, I was frustrated with the way that this clinic was attacked in a violent manner. This kind of attack, one characterized by violence and harm, is one that does not make people want to support the cause you are fighting for. This is the kind of behavior that is going to hurt your cause and only have people lose respect for your opinions and character. While I doubt anyone reading this would ever commit this kind of crime (since you are all probably in the same class as me at a Bible college), we may replace physical violence with aggressive comments, verbal violence, and other forms of threatening or demeaning responses to causes that go against our personal convictions. These may be considered less extreme ways to respond to these issues, but are still coming from the same mindset of aggression and anger that this violent behavior also stems from. Our response to controversy should not be one of violent or non-violent aggression towards others, even if we are right. And I think Jesus agrees.

In Matthew 5, we find Jesus begin his teaching which is now widely referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount.” Here he teaches:

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:6-10

I would first like to note that Jesus affirms a desire for righteousness, and teaches that those who do so will see this desire fulfilled. But then Jesus goes on to also affirm mercy, which is one aspect of dealing with controversy that is most easily overlooked. While I may strongly disagree with some of the values and “services” that Planned Parenthood provides, I am still called to show those who support and work there mercy. In this teaching, Jesus also blesses those who are peacemakers. I feel we can all agree that lighting a clinic on fire is not how you become a peacemaker, and so going about controversy in this manner is highly inadvisable. And lastly, Jesus says that those who are persecuted for righteousness will be blessed and inherit the kingdom of heaven. While you may be persecuted for your own beliefs and you may someday end up on the receiving line of a similar act of violence, you are not to become the persecutor. Remember to show mercy and pure intentions when dealing with sensitive and controversial subjects. And don’t fight fire with fire—literally.

Justice?

Pablos Casals, a famous cellist, composer, and humanitarian once said, “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” As I have been watching the U.S. presidential election lately, this is a quote that has kept coming to my mind, particularly in regards to the issue of immigration. This is particularly true when hearing Republican candidate Donald Trump speak on his plan for immigration reform, which includes massive deportations for illegal immigrants.

According to CNN, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States is roughly 11 million people. That means, were Donald Trump’s plan for immigration reform to be enacted, 11 million people would be taken from their homes, and would be placed in another country, even if they might never have lived there. While thinking about the impact that Trump’s immigration reform plan would have on 11 million people, I could not help but begin to feel anger towards the injustice that this supposed reform would serve. 11 million people’s lives would be drastically altered, and not for the better.

When expressing these concerns to other students at the Bible college where I attend, I found some people actually in favor of this plan for immigration reform. I struggled to understand how someone who proclaims to love Christ and follow him could justify disrupting the lives of this many men, women and children. One person I was speaking justified his opinion by pointing out that these people broke the law, and that they should be penalized for it. The lack of compassion and grace in this defense astounded me. How could someone who has received to endless grace of Christ on the cross show so little to those around him?

In Deuteronomy 10:18-19, God tells the Israelites, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (NIV). God reveals himself here as a God who cares about social justice, one who calls his people to care for “foreigners.” I feel it is impossible to defend that deporting millions of people could be caring for them.

I want to clarify that I am not trying to make a political stance on immigration; I do not feel that I have done extensive enough research to do so, and I certainly have no desire to make this a political discussion. What I do want is for Christians to approach the issue of immigration with the mindset of grace and justice. I would argue that justice is not simply about rules and punishment; I would argue that a crucial part of justice is grace. If you do not believe me, look to the cross.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)

God did not choose to be just by punishing us; He chose to be just by sacrificing his Son on the cross. My prayer for all of us is that we do not get too caught up in patriotism or a crime-punishment form of justice, one that is so prominent in the United States. Let us never forget to extend the grace that was freely given to us to others.