Monday, December 10, 2007

Serve God, Save the Planet

I just read a great book by J. Michael Sleeth entitled Serve God, Save the Planet. Sleeth is by all definitions an environmentalist. However, he is well aware that that title brings certain negative connotations with it. He prefers to use the terms “Creation Care” and “Earth Stewardship” when describing his work and his passion. For some of us, myself included, the fact that the Democrats and Hollywood are for environmentalism makes me want to be against it. But after reading this book and looking at what the Bible has to say about it I have a different perspective. Let me give you a little background.

Dr. Sleeth was a successful emergency room doctor when he became convicted about certain environmental issues. He was a Christian and had been recycling, etc. for all of his adult life, but as he examined his life he realized just how little he had really been doing. He was living in a 5,000 square foot home with a 3 car garage filled with SUVs, a lawn tractor and a boat. He was taking out 3 large garbage cans full of trash every week and consuming tons of energy a day with a clothes washer and dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, etc. As he and his family began to focus on God’s will for them and for the earth they decided to make a change…a BIG change.

The Sleeth’s now live in a house that is exactly the size of their old garage. They no longer own a clothes dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, or motor driven lawnmower. They drive small hybrid cars and bicycles. They eat only locally grown organic foods and turned their entire backyard into their own garden where they grow and preserve as much of their own food as they can. They recycle and/or compost everything. They now take out one Wal-Mart sized bag of trash every 3 weeks. He no longer works in the ER, but travels around the country speaking about Creation Care and starting Christian environmental groups on college campuses. He is also an author and travels as a doctor on humanitarian missions around the world.

His book is excellent and really gave me a lot of food for thought. I won’t go through everything here but I’ll give you some of the highlights. The book asks the questions:

“How can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life? How can I help people today and in the future? How can I be less materialistic? How can I live a more charitable life? What would happen if I led a slower-paced existence? How can I become a better steward of nature?”

Here are his answers (kind of):

On Materialism:

  • “The earth was designed to sustain every generation’s needs, not to be plundered in an attempt to meet one generation’s wants.”
  • “The consumer lifestyle demands an enormous amount of work, worry, strife, and struggle by instilling a deep sense of longing and discontent. If all of us were suddenly happy with our homes, for instance, how many decorating magazines could be sold, etc.?”
  • “At the end of a materially rich day, consumerism says, ‘Buy more’. At the end of a spiritually rich life God says, ‘Well done by good and faithful servant.’”
  • “It is not our spiritual longings but our material desires that keep us from a right relationship with God. (Rev. 18:13)”
  • “How much time have I spent admiring what God has wrought, and how much time am I spending admiring my possessions?”
  • “We buy things for many reasons: to cheer ourselves up, out of guilt, to reassure ourselves of our worth, because we cannot discipline our children or ourselves, and to try to make our lives more meaningful, easier, or interesting.”
  • “Simplifying means having less, wanting less, being satisfied with what you have or less than what you have. It does not mean boredom.”
  • “Spiritual concerns have filled the void left by material ones.”
  • “Each time we divest ourselves of possessions, we have fewer earthly things that bind us. This lack of attachment to things, brings us priceless freedom and allows us to hear His call.”
  • “When I worry about what the world thinks, I disconnect from the power of heaven.”

Wow! This section really spoke to me. I have been struggling with this lately, especially with the kids. They have a sense of entitlement that scares me and their begging for things and discontent with the thousands of things they have is awful. I really started examining what we are doing that has promoted this kind of behavior and mind-set.
Christmas has been especially hard for me. Not because I want things that I don’t need but because I don’t want anything and I don’t want to get anything for anyone. To think about spending hundreds of dollars on things that are totally and completely uneccessary is about to make me sick. Of course there are thousands of things that I want but there is absolutely nothing that I need. Food is about the only thing that I actually need and Brian and I are blessed to be able to provide that for ourselves. Of course I want to buy things for people because I love them and I want to show them how much I appreciate them and value them in my life. I just wish there were another way to do it. One thing I have promised myself is that I won’t try to push these views on anyone else or refuse gifts that are given to us, etc. But we are definitely paring down our Christmas shopping. We have spent money that we don’t have on Christmas every year since we have been married. This year we don’t have any more money and we have more people to buy for, so common sense says, “Buy less.” That is what we are doing, but it is hard not to get things for people that they really want and we know they will enjoy. Anyway, it is a step in the right direction.

On Creation Care:

  • “God created the world to sustain all living creatures, and in turn to sustain humanity.”
  • “Being pro-stewardship is not a case of valuing forests more than people; rather it means valuing human possessions less, and God’s world more.”
  • “God created the earth, and if we do not respect the earth and all of its creatures, we disrespect God.”
  • “We say that trees exist to make oxygen, or to give shade, or to be made into paper, and we assign them no further mystery. In other words, nature has purpose and value only insofar as it fulfills our material needs. The Bible says the tree is there to glorify God and to give God pleasure.”

Creation Care also includes caring about other people and future generations. The people who live by subsitence farming in Africa or South America are doing nothing to harm the environment and have no means to protect the environment either. The damage that we do effects them, but when we work to protect our environment and heal it we are helping and protecting them too. God cares equally about all people and so should we. The fact that we cannot see them and will never meet them should make no difference. Unborn generations deserve a healthy planet just as much as we do.

On Energy Use:

  • “Our generation consumes five times more energy than our grandparents’.”
  • “When people’s live become dependent on a substance we call it an addiction.”

Dr. Sleeth says that our dependence on oil is an addiction. How else can you explain the Christian’s eagerness to monetarily support a government that forbids religious freedom, declares the world to be flat, sees democracy as a capital crime, and oppresses women. Every man, woman and child in America today is sending about $700 a year to just such a government. We are so addicted to oil that we don’t care where it comes from our how we get it, we just know we have to have it.

On Helplessness:

  • “In one respect, it is consoling to believe that the problems of the world are too big for us as individuals. If they are too big or too complex for us to solve, we are relieved of any responsibility. Powerlessness can be comforting.”
  • James 4:17, “Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
  • “As the 30 million evangelical Christians—and all those who consider themselves people of faith—grow in their understanding that God holds us accountable for care of his creation, we will begin to see positive changes on an unprecedented scale.”

We’ll never see our need for change if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than we do. But if we compare ourselves to a family in Haiti who makes $540 a year and eats only two meals a day and has one bicycle for transportation than we realize just how selfish we really are.

The End Result:

Brian and I are discussing the changes that we need to make in our home. Changes that will promote spirituality over materialism, help to keep the world God created for us healthy and clean, and give us more time to spend together worshipping God and serving Him. They aren’t going to be easy. Christmas is just one step we are making toward change. There are many more steps to come, and harder battles to fight, like the TV battle (Dr. Sleeth calls TV “mental junk food that separates us from the Creator”), but we will cross those bridges when we get to them.

If this article has peaked your interest in Earth Stewardship you can find Dr. Sleeth’s book Serve God, Save the Planet on Zondervan.com. He also gives several practical tips on how to reduce your energy usage, recycle, simplify your life etc. He also supplies a worksheet that will allow you to estimate the energy usage (in gallons)
of your household.

2 comments:

Travis Penn said...

Interesting review. But I still want you and Brian to get me a BIG Christmas Present!

:)


Just got your blog address again - I'll be reading.

You can check mine out at www.sweetestframe.org

Hope to see you guys at Christmas.

Dustin F said...

Hi, my name is Dustin and I work with Christians in Conservation: A Rocha USA. I saw your post about the book "Serve God, Save the Planet”, and I thought that you might like to know that our organization sponsors its author, Dr. Matthew Sleeth, as a "creation care evangelist." We would love for you to check us out at our website, en.arocha.org/usa. You might also be interested in the website for Dr. Sleeth's book, www.servegodsavetheplanet.org.