Monday, December 24, 2012


[I hope you enjoy a merry Christmas. I am repeating the second most popular post of this series. I first wrote it in November of 2010.]

Take a glass. Put it in a bowl. Take a water pitcher. Fill it with water. Pour water from the pitcher into the glass until the glass overflows with water. Let the over flow fill the bowl. Drink water until your thirst is quenched. If you drain the glass and are still thirsty, fill it again from the pitcher.

After your thirst is quenched, pour water from the overflow (in the bowl) into the glass. Chances are, the overflow will not satisfy like that first drink did from the pitcher.

The gap between having a need and satisfying it can be great. Meeting that need can be a very fulfilling experience—maybe even a very happy one.

Once that need is met, the gap between satisfying a need and receiving emotional blessing is small, maybe even miniscule. You can keep drinking water from the overflow, but it is not going to be an immensely fulfilling experience. (Filling, yes, but not FULfilling.) It will not add greatly to your happiness. It may even create discomfort.

Ever hear that you are supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day? I have rarely tried to do so, when it was not an experience of discipline--even suffering. Some days, I could not even attempt it, unless, I knew I was going to be near a bathroom. My body, after glass three, would say, “Enough of this.” I would feel bloated. Not a good thing.

Now, on a hot summer day, after mowing, I might drink four glasses of water. I needed that much to meet a need. And, oh, did it feel good. Once that need was met, satisfaction dwindled.

You may own one home. If it keeps you dry and comfortable, that need is satisfied and you can’t do much better. Donald Trump owns a few homes—maybe five or ten. Donald Trump is not five or ten times more happy than you.

You may need a billion dollars in the bank, and you may have a billion dollars in the bank. Bill Gates has $55 billion in the bank. I assure you, Bill Gates is not $55 billion happier than you.

Here is my point. Jesus promised us that God would take care of our basic needs and to not worry about them. Most of us, when we worry, are not worried about basic needs; they are being met. Instead, we are worrying about the overflow of blessings God provides.

We are not worrying about getting the drink of water from the glass. That is being provided. We are worrying about the overflow of water in the bowl. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

If God Were King # 8—We Would Treat Justice His Way

             There is a catch-all word in the Bible that describes the heart of God. Here is one of the 200 times it is used in the Hebrew Old Testament: “And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God[1]” (Micah 6:8b.)
            The word is “justice.” In the Old Testament, justice means giving people their rights.

Consider these passages:

“… defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9b.)

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’” (Zech. 7:8-10.)

            In the time of Zechariah, four groups had no social power: widows, orphans, foreigners, or poor people. They lived from day to day. Today that would include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, the single parent, and elderly people.
            So the justice of the society from the scriptural point of view is evaluated by how the society treats these groups. Indeed, neglect is not only called a lack of mercy but a violation of justice.
            Listen for to the words of Psalm 146:7–9:
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

            Do these words evoke memories of proclamations of Jesus? I think about Jesus and the book of Luke when I hear them.
            As God plans out his government in Israel in the book of Deuteronomy, he offers his wisdom. Let me present them to you in bullet form:

* God is the defender of the poor.
             In Deuteronomy 10:17–18 we read, “The LORD your God… defends the calls of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the immigrant, giving them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:17-18.) NIV
            While we have passages showing the objectivity of God (such as Deuteronomy 1:16–17, “16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it”) we never see the Bible describe God as the defender of the rich. Yet, many times he is called the defender of the poor.
            While there are texts in Scripture calling for justice for members of the well-off classes, the number of passages calling for justice for the poor outnumber these 100 to 1.
            Of course, rich people can be treated unjustly. Still, think about history; think about human nature. It is easier to act unjustly toward people without money or social status, who have no means to defend themselves, than it is to act in such a way toward those who can.
            Do you remember (or have you read about) the O.J. Simpson trial? There was a great deal of debated and nervous energy during that time period. Obviously, there were racial overtones. People of all races weighed in with opinions. But now that we have almost 20 years perspective, notice, no one of any race embraces O.J. Simpson. He quickly became an outcast to all of society—the object of derision.
            So what was the fuss all about? The fuss was about money and justice.
            A number of people at last felt vindicated because O.J. Simpson had the means to pay for the best legal counsel costing millions of dollars. Millions felt that O.J. Simpson was guilty, but his legal counsel got him off the hook. And many, who had been frustrated by the perceived “injustice” of the judicial system, felt vindicated. You could almost hear millions of people say, “See! We told you money gets its way in the judicial system.”
            Now, out of the courtroom and back to everyday life in Deuteronomy. Here is another pointed expression of what God thinks in Deut. 27:17 Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
18 “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!

* God hates bribes.
            Ever been asked to pay a bribe? If so, you will appreciate the words of Deuteronomy 16:19, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.
            I can't tell you how much it undermines the morale of people when you're traveling in countries where bribes are prevalent. It makes God even more angry. Incidentally, who can afford the bribes that offer the illegal incentives to government officials, lawmakers, and judges? Of course, it is the rich and the powerful.

* God’s good life emphasizes the pursuit of justice.
            What you see in the Old Testament over and over and over again is God's concern about what is happening to the poor. Israel is told that they should keep God's commands so that all the nations of the world will look at the justice and peace of their society based on God's laws, and, consequently, be motivated to give their God glory (Deut. 4:6-8.)
            I find it notable that when Job seeks to justify his life before God, he offers his recollection of how he lived up to these teachings later expressed in Deuteronomy and the rest of the Old Testament. For example, Job 29:11–17:
11 Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
and those who saw me commended me,
12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
13 The one who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing.
14 I put on righteousness as my clothing;
justice was my robe and my turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy;
I took up the case of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their teeth.
            (Contemplate also Job 31:13–28.) Job knew this was how you were supposed to live.
            That was then. What is now?
            Today living a life that honors justice means that you assist battered women. You reach out to them.
            You work with those coming out of prison.
            It could also mean respectfully supporting and encouraging the local police department to respond just as rapidly to calls and crime scenes in parts of town that are poorer as those that are rich and prosperous.
            It is a public spirit that watches out for businesses, who are not only cheat and are unethical, but also prey on the poor and exploit them.
            Frankly, justice is one of the reasons I am against the lottery. It is exploitive of the poor. Now, I am not saying that in a free society it should be outlawed; what I am saying is the government—whether it is local, state or federal—should not arouse false hopes and dreams in a person who cannot afford to purchase a ticket (or tickets!) that is statistically worthless.
            In various locales I have seen retired teachers offer educational tutoring opportunities to children from poor families and broken families—families with limited resources that typically generate troubled and uneducated adults. 

* Justice is rooted in the character of God.
            Want to know what God takes delight in? “23 This is what the Lord says:
‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’
declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:23-24.) NIV
            The character of God never changes.
* Justice in Israel included debt forgiveness.
            One of the most challenging places to look for what God’s society of justice is supposed to look like is Deut. 15. There one finds two verses that seem to be in tension with each other. Look first at verses 4-5, “However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.
            Compare that with verse 11, There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
             Now, look at 15:1–2, “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.
            All of this addressed the Israelite who fell into debt. He was to be forgiven those debts every seventh year. Not only were his creditors to no longer demand payment, but they were to release the pledges of collateral taken on account of the debts. Collateral often was using a portion of the land from which produce could have been used to repay the loan. This law of release was a powerful public policy aimed at removing one of the key factors causing poverty–long-term, burdensome debt.
            Now, full disclosure here. I am not a communist. I am not even a socialist. I am not telling you what to do. I realize a lot of variables involved in 21st century United States public policy. I am just simply reporting, you decide.
            What we should seek to answer is this question: what is the character of God and how does this character relate to government? And how do we live this out?
            Look at some of the following adverbs I have highlighted out chapter 15:

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.”
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

            This policy is more than a handout. (For that matter, it was not even administered per se by the national government—individuals administered it.) What you have here is the call to relate with the poor, walk with the poor, and help the poor until their need is eliminated.
            Look at 15:7–8, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.
            Again, in ancient Israel, the idea was not to offer handouts; the idea was to offer a hand.  Credit was to be extended to the poor to help him become self-sufficient. God's concern for the poor was so strong that he gave Israel a bunch of laws that, in practice, would have severely reduced the amount of people who were poor.

* Having said that, Israel did have handouts!
            Here is another law to help those in need: the laws of gleaning. What that meant was that the farmers and landowners were voluntarily limiting the amount of their profits to help the public good:
 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this Deut. 24:19-22.)

* Yet, the poor were not to take advantage of the privilege of gleaning:
24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain” (Deut. 23:24-25.)
            They were only to take enough.
            Interesting, isn’t it? The rich were to care for the poor, but the poor were not to be greedy, either. The rich were not to be “villains” and the poor were not to be “Robinhoods.”

* Every third year, one tenth of what people made was put in to public storehouses so that the poor, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows would receive them (Deut. 14:29.)

* Every seventh year servants and slaves were to be freed (Deut. 15:12-18.)

* Every 49 years was a year of jubilee.
            In that year, the debts were to be forgiven and the land reverted back to its original tribe and family allotments. It was assumed that some families would economically do better and acquire more land, while others would fare more poorly and would have to sell their property. However, every 50 years the land was to go back to his original owners (Lev. 25:8–55.)
            It is almost as if God was giving the people of Israel a Monopoly game. If you struggled for a year or two, somebody would loan you money to keep you in the game. After 49 years, you put everything back in the box and you would start all over again with what you originally had: two $500s, two $100s, two $50s…
            (If you hate the concept of Jubilee, think about his. Play Monopoly with your kids, beat them badly, and keep the same game going day after day. See how much they like that!)
            Regarding these Old Testament practices, Greg Bloomberg writes, “Here… on average, each person or family had at least once in a lifetime the chance to start fresh, no matter how irresponsibly they could handle their finances or how far they have fallen.”

Summing Up
            Now, again, I am not trying to get all “socialistic” on you. Still, I am saying let’s let the Word of God work on our imaginations. How can we make this a better world, and, in the process, bring more people to Jesus because we are reflecting the character of God?
            Undergirding our view of justice is spiritually committed heart in a material world. “Relationship” must interface with most of the aforementioned activities. That remains the biggest obstacle to government programs. They typically lack relationship.
            You know what is doing more to destroy poverty and the discrepancy between classes in India? It is not the United States handing over to India billions of dollars saying, “Pass this out randomly to your people.” Rather, it is businesses and corporations freely and relationally engaging with the people of India, hiring them to perform important tasks.
            We can joke all we want about the operator in India taking our calls for the consumer product we purchased in the U. S., but ponder this: India is ascending from poverty. The major factor has been relationship and employment, not mindless charity and associative distance.
            The Bible offers principles defining justice; we cannot necessarily enact laws today like those of Israel. (Evidence indicates that Israel itself never practiced the year of Jubilee.) Furthermore, one cannot tie what the Bible says about social justice to any one political system or economic policy. Indeed, there is always tension in trying to pursue justice. For example, balancing between compassion and accountability is hard. Consequently, there is something to be said for two political parties holding the American people in tension. I, like most people, am often frustrated with politicians and government officials. Nevertheless, if we can harness the energy of the political process, allow the poles of politics to assist us in gauging what is a humane, balanced public policy, I believe we can squeeze out of our democracy an effective method of healing people economically sickened by a fallen world.
            Still, this will not be true, biblical justice, and that is where churches come in. No government can address all economic ills just as no medical practice can address all physical ailments. In both cases, you must address the spiritual facet of humanity as well. Any effective governmental policy should recognize the role of religion in the pursuit of justice; that is another blog for another day.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all passages are out of the NIV.

Monday, December 10, 2012

We Would Treat Time His Way

            Ah, the Sabbath.
            Eric Liddle honored it so much, he would not run a trial heat in the Olympics on the Sabbath, which he considered to be Sunday. That won him the privilege of being the subject of an Academy Award Winning movie. Not bad.
            Historian William Manchester has written that in the early 1900s, Great Britain experienced a shift in culture. The middle class found more time for leisure. Consequently, Sunday became less about the importance of observing “the Lord's day” and more about entertainment.
            At the turn of the 20th century, very few major league baseball teams played games on Sunday. Many of them were based in areas of the country where it was illegal. That mentality began the change. In the 1980s, the “blue laws” were dropped in Texas. Today, many businesses and organizations consider Sunday to be a major workday.
            We have become busy. We like to achieve. Moreover, in those moments when we can rest, we like to find activities to keep us moving. A friend of mine said two words summarize the lives of most Americans–hurry and worry. There's probably a relationship between those two words.
            I remember when Judy encouraged me to take a day off. I did not think I could afford to do that. I was working seven days a week. Boy, was I wrong.
            The Bible talks more about Sabbath than many people realize. His purpose was more than the ceremonial law. God grounded his purposes on the twin foundations of creation and redemption. Consider the following:

 12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deut. 5:12-15.)
            Did you hear the reference to the Creation? Did you hear the reference to God's redemption when he parted the Red Sea?
            That text also contains two commands:
1. Observe the Sabbath,
2. Work the other six days.
            The command to observe the Sabbath was given to Israel apparently for three purposes:

1. It recalled the week of creation and the pattern established by God and working for six days and resting on the seventh (Ex. 31:12ff.)
2. Sabbath observance set Israel part as a special nation to God (see Exodus 31:13).
3. It met the need of humanity for a regular periodic day of rest.
            No other culture had a teaching or practice like this. Each Sabbath, Israel was to recall how they were slaves in Egypt and required work constantly. Then God brought them out with a mighty and outstretched hand. He made them his own people. This mighty act of creation recalled his original creative work and emphasized their need for the Lord and how they depended upon him for everything.
            Notice this was to be a time of rest for the entire household. Even the aliens where to know this privilege. Even the animals were to know this:
On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deut. 5:14b-15.)

            For these reasons alone I would argue that for a nation to enjoy health, it must allow its people to enjoy Sabbath.
            Furthermore, a healthy practice of Sabbath helps us confront the challenges of greed and worry. National leaders could probably care less, but they should care because this confrontation produces more productive citizens.
            On the one hand, we are surrendering one day of production that human instinct tells us would generate more. On the other hand, we are surrendering one day of production that human instinct tells us we cannot live without.
            In Luke 11, Jesus tells a parable that illustrates the connection that greed and worry have with time. In the parable, a rich man is so consumed with the generation of income, he loses all perspective on time… and life. That leads to death.
            Jesus points out that a person who loses perspective of time, loses perspective of things, which causes him to lose perspective of self. This leads to worry.
            A regular time of Sabbath reminds us that God is our leader and our priority. We place our trust in him and not in ourselves. Understanding this, we utilize our time of Sabbath to reconnect with God, which renews us. We rest in God.
            When my two youngest were little, they hated taking naps. They were full of energy—two imps never seeking much needed rest. Without naps, they would grow irritable.
            My secret treatment for this malady was simple. I would lie down on the bed between them; one arm lovingly wrapped around Timothy, the other arm wrapped around Annie.
            Before long, both would be sound asleep… enjoying much needed rest.
            We are like that with God. We run around full of energy, doing all we can to avoid a day of rest. When we program into our busy schedules a time of Sabbath, we can enjoy rest with God, as if he is putting his lovingly wrapping his arm around us.
            Enjoy God.

Monday, December 3, 2012

If God Were King # 6... We Would Treat Creation His Way

           I want to preface what I am about to say by telling you that my father was a political conservative. He was the son of an East Texas sharecropper. He came up the hard way, anI think he assumed that if he could do it, anybody could.
            Back in 1964, my dad voted for Barry Goldwater. In fact, of one my earliest memories is of my dad helping to establish the headquarters for Barry Goldwater in my hometown. That year Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, won the presidential election in a landslide, so my dad was in the political minority.
            All of that to say, when my dad and I would go fishing at White Oak Creek, (in Northeast Texas), he would always lament the fact that there were not as many fish as when he was growing up.
            My dad was a small businessman. He did not believe in government regulation of the economy. He was against the excessive taxing of the 1970s against the major oil companies. As a result, he grabbed my attention one day when he told me, “I cannot prove this, but I think oil companies are either pouring or spilling chemicals up the creek… and that is why there are fewer fish.”
            I have thought about that through the years as we have seen places where indeed, companies were discovered spilling or dumping chemicals in places containing natural water.
            Now, fast forward to the early 1990s. My mother still owned our property on White Oak Creek. She had been leasing the land to some friends, but she wanted me to visit and see if I thought we should sell it.
            We had approximately 53 acres of property on and around the creek. Our property and the surrounding area contained many trees. However, on that visit, I was stunned to see that all of the land surrounding our property had most of the trees cut down. It looked like a fire had swept through the area.
            What happened was the surrounding owners had contracted with individual companies to have the trees cleared out and hauled out for various purposes including, ultimately, converting the wood into lumber.
            I am a believer in the free enterprise system. Not only does it hold people accountable, but also it is the only economic system I have ever seen that actually channels the inherent selfish desire within fallen man–i.e. greed–and actually converts that into products beneficial to society.
            Certain people gained economically from that decision to cut down those trees; jobs were created. However, I also know what it is to have once owned property surrounded by beautiful trees and wildlife to see it diminished to a barren land. Most of the animals left because there was no place to hide—or live. There was no need, no reason, continue to hold our land.
            For these reasons I have read with interest some of the things the Bible has to say about creation. Deuteronomy says this about the land, 19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls (Deut. 20:19-20.)
            To watch out for trees after destroying the city seems comical. However, God provided the Israelites trees for sustenance and trees for conquest. This tells us that we should take deal with our natural resources with careful reflection. Defeating the enemy was important for Israel, but so was preserving and conserving natural resources.
            Mark Biddle has written that a common tactic used by invading armies in the ancient Middle East was to cut off and destroy the enemy sources of supply: crops, cisterns, wells… and vineyards and orchards.
            Think of General Sherman’s march to the sea in the Civil War. His scorched earth policy spelled disaster for the South. It had a long-term impact on the regional economy for years into the future. Orchard and vineyards require years to mature to the point of yielding. What this passage in Deuteronomy did was prohibit such scorched earth tactics. Scorched earth policies promised to continue to harm life, even to kill by starvation, for years to come. God showed a concern for preserving ecological balance.
            In this context, there was a fourfold objection to cutting down trees that showed God’s concern for people, the trees, the land, and the future. (I am sure these are not original with me.)
            1. The trees were innocent. They should not have suffered because men were at war. He made trees and wanted to preserve them.
            2. The Lord is Lord of the universe; he maintained concern for the land. Land typically needed trees. To cut them down indiscriminately was to rob the countryside of necessary resources.
            3. The Lord was concerned for the people of the nations. Both the Israel’s army and the citizens who survived needed trees so people could eat the fruit.
            4. Finally, the Lord was concerned for the future. The children and grandchildren of those who lived in the city would need the fruit, which trees provided. We likewise should always think about the future as well as the present.
            As far as I know, the men who cut down the trees at White Oak Creek never planted the more trees in their place. We need trees. They beautify the landscape, they provide fruit, they shelter birds and animals, and they help secure the stability of the soil.
            When trees are indiscriminately cut down on a large national scale, it incurs calamity. In the last half of the 20th century, the soil erosion in China increased a disastrous 32%. This was because they cut down to many trees.
            Our revolutionary fathers founded this nation on the concept of liberty. This is good. Yet, in our desire for liberty, we must take care lest hurt ourselves. The environment is one of the areas where true discernment is needed.
            Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden for a moment: 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 
 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 
 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 
 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day (Gen. 1:24-31.)
            Ellen Burstein wrote that God made a covenant with his people. He made a contract. He gave discrete boundaries for behavior. One scorecard for the people was the land. God rewarded and punished the Israelites by controlling the rain, in essential component of an agriculturally based society. “If you follow my commandments, you will receive rain in its season” (Deuteronomy 11:13–14.)
            Whenever Israel engaged in murder, sexual misconduct, and idolatry, the land was defiled. When the pollution reached a certain point, God considered it spiritual pollution. The people were vomited out to the land: 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you (Lev. 18:26–28.)
            This first happened in Genesis 3. God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden. Here and in numerous other examples, the land collects pollution. The land is a victim of Israel's bad behavior. The land told Israel how Israel was doing.
            So what Genesis chapter one, Lev. 18:26ff, and other passages tell us is that God acts in reaction to people. Since people are free moral agents, they have a powerful force to add to creation. God has not abandoned creation. He lives and moves within it, and the land reflects all. Like marriage shows the world our relationship with Jesus, so too does the way we treat creation. It is a reflection of where we are and how we stand with Almighty.

Animals and Creation
      A fascinating verse is found in Deuteronomy chapter 22:6 If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. 7 You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life (Deut. 22:6-7.)
            One has written that the principle here is very practical. To prevent the depletion of the bird population one must not take mother and young at the same time. To take the mother only before the young reach maturity would doom the young and be the same as taking both together. The young may be taken in, leaving the mother to bring other offspring into the world in the future. This was a very practical principle of wildlife management.
            Certainly, in scripture, animals are not the equivalents of human beings. However, we do read that there is a respect for the balance of life in God's creation, which insures humanity a long life that all is well with the land.
            Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:6–7, one Rabbi wrote that the intention was to encourage creation to exist as fully as possible and to not have untimely destruction. The mother bird continued God's creation. That is what it meant to fare well have a good life. This commitment was not for the animal world but for the human world. When creation continues so that one in the future will be able to participate in it, then the future has been blessed. Moreover, we have demonstrated a willingness to rely upon God rather than our own means.
            What you think when I say these words–Chernobyl? Or the Exxon Valdez? If you are of my generation or older, you think of environmental disasters, death, and destruction to creation.
Of all people, former Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan administration, James Watt, while testifying before congress, told them that there is a “delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be a steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.”
Consumption and Creation
            16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
 (Deut. 17:16-17.)
            Leaders were to model restraint. They were not to be guilty excessive consumption. That could have led to moral corruption, greed, and  financial burdens on the people.
            God warned against utilitarianism, which meant viewing things as to what they could provide a person. Moses is telling the people, “Do not become so greedy that you fail to appreciate the nature purpose of prosperity.” Consider   Deuteronomy 8:16–18: 16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

            12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you (Deut. 23:12-14.)
            With God, you see a concern for environmental ethics, sensibilities, and, for lack of better word, laws, and structures. Even in the great urgency of war, the small details of maintaining the proper environment remained crucial. Why? Is this good for the land? I suppose so. But it is good for people.
            What is the lack of fecal control called? Pollution.
            What comes out of this pollution? Diseases… such as cholera. Do you want to live in a city that is not well planned environmentally? Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “The history of man is reflected in the history of sewers…. The sewer is the conscience of the city.”
            In Jewish tradition, you had an ethic of working for the good of the whole. That may not be a bad thing to remember today. Remember the golden rule.
            I've seen some who have written that creation is a promise to keep.
            A covenant with God concerning creation a promise and a threat. The promise of God's kingdom is a promise of good news, but it carries some importance for the present.
            One analogy that I heard was a young man gives a young woman engagement ring, which is the pledge of promise. It is not the wedding band. It is the promise of one. God's fullness in his kingdom is promised. And what we have now, the environment, is God's gift to us. It's not all that will be, but it is still very valuable, like an engagement ring. The girl who receives an engagement ring is not about to say, “Well forget that! What I want is a wedding ring.” No, she will treasure the engagement ring. Likewise, we treasure the creation as we await the wedding feast in heaven.