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(we'll keep this short & sweet)
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“...Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…”
– Philippians 3:19-20 NIV
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
– Isaiah 65:17
“...For this world in its present form is passing away.”
– 1 Corinthians 7:31 NIV
A few years ago, Eric and I were walking out of a Whole Foods Market in Orange County, California, when suddenly two young women holding clipboards approached us. One wore long, blonde dreadlocks; the other sported a large nose ring. Their faces were intent and sincere as they asked for a moment of our time.
“We represent Green Peace,” said Dreadlocks. “We have a very important issue that we’re letting people know about today.” “That’s right,” Nose Ring chimed in. “There are 50 humpback whales in danger right now off the coast of Japan. We are fighting for legislation that will protect them.”
Dreadlocks shook her head mournfully. “It’s so sad how the government is stalling on this,” she told me. “The lives of 50 animals are at stake and they are just sitting on their thumbs. If you sign this petition it will motivate them to action.”
Nose Ring held out her clipboard. “And if you want to give a donation, it will help toward the 18 million dollars we are trying to raise to build a safe haven for the whales.”
The two young women were so passionate about their cause that they actually looked close to tears. You would have thought the 50 whales were their beloved childhood pets that were about to be ruthlessly murdered. They simply could not rest until the precious creatures were saved.
Hours later, when we drove past Whole Foods again, the two young women were still standing outside, earnestly pleading with everyone exiting the store to stand up and fight on behalf of the defenseless ocean creatures being overlooked and mistreated by a corrupt and lazy government.
I couldn’t get past the irony of the situation. Only a few months earlier, Eric and I had studied the plight of orphans around the world. We learned that there were 143 million orphans – children alone and without advocates; children dying of starvation and disease without anyone to rescue them. The number was so staggering that we couldn’t even imagine how to put a dent in it. (That number has now increased to 163 million.)
And here were two young women full of youthful zeal, willing to give their lives to save 50 humpback whales off the coast of Japan while countless children around the world perished.
I thought about the thousands of little girls forced into slave prostitution in Cambodia and South America. I thought about the hundreds of little boys kidnapped into the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, forced to murder members of their own family or else be killed in cold blood. I thought about the countless children in Liberia, dying on the side of the road with no one to hear their weakened cries for help. I thought about the more than 700,000 children trapped in the foster care system, longing for a stable and loving family, but instead being passed around from one short-term home to the next, a large percentage of them destined to fill U.S prisons. I thought about the 1.2 million babies aborted in this country every year. I thought about the estimated 150,000 people dying each day without knowing Christ, on their way to eternal separation from God.
In light of these harsh realities, focusing on 50 humpback whales off the coast of Japan seemed nothing short of ridiculous. Sure, I love whales, dolphins, and ocean creatures, and think they are truly an amazing part of God’s creation. I have no desire to see whales, or any other animals, harmed. But I also know that I am not called to give my life, time, and energy to the cause of whales, but to the cause of Christ.
The value of saving this planet is very small compared to the importance of rescuing the human souls on this planet.
Yes, I realize that it’s not politically correct for me to make a statement like that. However, Scripture has far more to say about standing on behalf of vulnerable human lives than fighting on behalf of endangered animals or trees.
Like I said, it’s not that we should be intentionally cruel, indifferent, or irresponsible toward the plants and animals God has placed on this earth. In fact, God says in Proverbs 12:10, “A righteous man regards the life of his animal...” I’m all for being kind to animals and doing what we can to keep them from going extinct or dying untimely deaths.
But we need to get our priorities straight. We need to start living according to God’s value system, rather than give our lives to the causes the world deems important.
Going green is just about the trendiest thing in our society right now. You can’t walk out your front door without seeing “green” dry cleaners, “green” gas stations, “green” baby formula, or “green” toothpaste. Using catch phrases such as “preserving the earth’s natural resources” or “cruelty free” is a sure way to make your company seem modern, enlightened, and culturally relevant.
On the flip side, admitting that you forgot to recycle is like confessing that you are a convicted criminal. Failing to celebrate Earth Day with your children makes you an irresponsible parent. And using disposable diapers instead of cloth means you value your own convenience above the fate of this planet.
At a recent nature museum we took our children to, a movie about dolphins was featured. In the movie, two sick dolphins were rescued by a team of over twenty marine biologists, nursed back to health, and released in a safer part of the ocean – which was then monitored for several months by the scientists to ensure their safety and well-being. As I watched 20 grown men and women tenderly stroking the dolphins’ rubbery skin with looks of deep concern on their faces, I grimaced with embarrassment. It’s not that I wanted the dolphins to be sick. But watching 20 skilled humans pour months of their lives into these creatures and lavish so much passion, concern, and emotion upon them just seemed a little extreme. You would have thought they were on a mission to save the world, rather than a quest to help two dolphins recover from pneumonia.
When Eric and I took the kids to SeaWorld, the Shamu theme song was stirring enough to motivate even the most hardened ocean polluter to give his life to protecting the planet’s “family” and tenderly caring for every creature under the sun. The lyrics commissioned us to “think of the earth just like a child” and “join with one voice” in saving the earth.
This unified “save the earth” mantra has been building for years. I will never forget the high school science class in which our teacher told us that our planet was on the verge of total destruction due to global warming and a weakened layer of ozone. We were told that if we used aerosol hairspray we were personally contributing to the end of the world. I left class that day truly believing that within a few decades, the world would be an empty wasteland unless we all joined together to “make a difference.”
Even many so-called Christian voices contend that loving and caring for this earth should be a primary focus for every believer. Author and pastor Brian McClaren, for instance, says: “[Jesus] taught us to see every creature as beloved by [God]...So let us learn to see and love this good earth as Jesus did, and to care for it, and enjoy it, and rejoice in it...” (from the song This Good Earth by Brian McClaren).
McClaren, along with many other post-modern church leaders, encourages believers to become environmental activists as an outflow of their salvation. This idea is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the earth” (meaning the trees, soil, and animals on this planet), but rather, “For God so loved the world“ (meaning the lost human souls on this planet). Jesus gave His life to rescue lost humanity; not to preserve the earth’s natural resources or save endangered animals.
In Romans 1, Paul warns against worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. When we begin to worship and serve the things on this earth, we fall into the pit of idolatry and we “[exchange] the Truth of God for the lie” (Rom. 1:25).
Whether motivated by fear and social approval, or misguided by false Christian voices, young women everywhere are jumping on the save-the-planet bandwagon. It might seem healthy and wise, but in reality it’s a waste of precious time and energy.
You can make yourself look so caring, responsible, and even spiritual (not to mention hip) by raising awareness for endangered animals or aspiring to become a marine biologist and rescue the whales. But as a set-apart young woman, God has bigger, more important battles for you to fight. Despite what modern “greenies” believe, this earth is not our home. God’s heroes throughout the ages have lived not as long-term residents of this planet, but as mere pilgrims passing through (see Heb. 11:13,16). First Peter 2:11 reminds us that we are to be “aliens and strangers” in this world; not seeking an earthly home, but a heavenly one.
Of course, during the time we are temporarily here on this earth, we should be considerate of what God has given us. There is no reason to trash and pollute the planet or disregard the lives of animals just because our true citizenship is in heaven. Christians who act this way are only living selfishly and failing to represent the nature of Christ.
But when we invest major efforts into trying to save and preserve this earth, and stress over things like global warming, we are focusing on what is temporal and not eternal. God says that we are to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (see Col. 3:2).
Modern environmentalists dream of maintaining the earth for thousands of generations to come, because they believe this earth is their long-term residence. They believe that this is the only home we, and every future generation, will ever know, and thus it is our responsibility to make it last as long as possible.
But Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world (see John 18:36). As children of God, we are called to build and promote His kingdom. Rescuing souls, washing the feet of the saints, and defending vulnerable human lives is kingdom work – saving whales and trees is not (see James 1:27).
Whether you are an aspiring environmentalist, a dolphin lover, or simply confused about how “green” your life should really be, here are some practical steps for staying in alignment with God’s pattern:
1. Fight the Right Battles
While it’s fine to recycle or take steps to prevent animal cruelty, don’t devote your life to protecting the environment or saving whales. In Eric’s upcoming book, Heroism, he writes,
God is in the business of delivering justice and mercy, setting captives free, bringing health to the sick, clearing the debts of the poor, and breaking the shackles of slavery. God burns with fury when He sees the weak and the little ones being exploited. He cries with indignation when He sees child prostitution in Thailand, abortion in America, death squads murdering street children in Brazil, and little boys and girls struggling to live in a garbage dump in Central America.
And His heart breaks for the hundreds of thousands of human souls that die each day destined for eternal separation from Him. These are the life-or-death battles He has called us to fight.
In Heroism, Eric goes on to say,
Our God is not passive, and He is certainly not unfeeling. He has entrusted His [children] here on earth with the job of expressing His indignation, His compassion, His generosity, and His love here in this physical world. Christians are supposed to be His hands, His feet, His voice, and His response to these atrocities in the natural realm.
If it appears God is doing nothing to halt these horrors, the blame for inactivity falls squarely on the shoulders of those of us entrusted to be His representatives. It’s Christians that bear the onus of culpability. We are the ones commissioned to carry out God’s epic agenda, and if we fritter our lives away pursuing puny goals and do nothing to stop these horrors, then we will stand before God in the end with a stain of responsibility upon our souls.
2. Set Your Mind on Heavenly Things
When Amy Carmichael’s life was changed by God at the age of seventeen, she wrote, “Nothing could ever matter to me again but the things that were eternal.” As set-apart women of God, we must adopt the same attitude. Ask God to show you any habits or thought patterns in your life that keep your focus on temporal, earthly things rather than eternal, heavenly ones. Begin learning how to “take every thought captive” and set your mind on things above, not things on this earth. Don’t allow your thoughts to wander aimlessly or dwell on trivial issues, whether it’s saving the planet, the latest Hollywood gossip, or how many friends you have on Facebook. Rather, meditate upon the words of Scripture, pray for the salvation of the unsaved people in your life, and remain yielded and surrendered to the King of all kings as you go about your day.
In addition, don’t fill your mind with the philosophies of this world. Articles, books, television shows, movies – even a trip to your local zoo or aquarium – are often filled with “save the earth” messages. Sometimes the world’s perspective can be hard to escape from. But whenever you have a choice, steer clear of worldly information that pulls you away from God’s perspective. And if you have an incorrect message set in front of you, immediately counter it with Truth from God’s Word. This doesn’t always mean standing up in the middle of the zoo and preaching against evolution. Rather, it means filling your mind and heart with Truth and reminding yourself of what you really believe.
Finally, be on guard against so-called “Christian” messages that exalt creation above the Creator. (Word to the wise – most post-modern, emergent-style messages are brimming with this idea.)
3. Build Your Life Around Jesus
It might sound like an overly simple piece of advice, but so often we as Christians try to “add” to our Christianity. We preach Jesus Christ plus environmentalism, or Jesus Christ plus homeschooling, or Jesus Christ plus republicanism. Be sure your life is focused upon Jesus and not other “causes” that sound spiritual but steer you away from Him. Showing kindness to animals, being a home-schooler, or voting republican is perfectly fine, and it might even be an outflow of our walk with Christ, but it should never become our identity or primary focus. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). If you make your life all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, your life will naturally be built around the right priorities. He will cause your burden for lost souls to be far greater than your burden for sick dolphins.
“The earth is the LORD‘s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1 NASB).*
Note: For more about this principle, I encourage you to listen to Eric’s message The Poison of Political Correctness.*
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