Melting Polar Ice More Concerning than Swine Flu

The total volume of sea ice in the Arctic is likely to have reached a record low last summer, despite previous reports that the area of ice recovered slightly from the previous year’s dramatic decline, leading experts have warned according to  recent article in the Guardian. Unfortunately this news which probably has far more dire consequences than the Swine flu outbreak has passed many of us by with hardly a blink of the eye.

And it is not only the Arctic ice caps that are melting.  Ice in the Himalayas and Tibet where about 40% of the world’s fresh water supply comes from is also melting at an alarming rate.  In some parts of the world – like the Middle East, we are already seeing wars fought over access to water.  What will happen if our reservoirs of water held in the ice disappear?

I know that there are still many people who believe that the global warming trend we see is due to normal temperature fluctuations rather than human impact – in spite of the fact that there is well documented evidence that shows soot from engines, forest fires and partly burned fuel is collecting in Arctic and causing north pole to warm at alarming rate.  read more 

Evidently Canada represents one of the fastest rates of growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world. In 2007, emissions were 26 percent above the 1990 levels. Now Canada aims to end traditional coal power.  Read more

Why am I mentioning all this you may ask?  First because I think that we should be paying as much attention to this sweeping pandemic as we are to Swine flu.  After all it could have more dire consequences for our health and that of the entire planet than any virus could cause.  There are other reasons for my mentioning this now too – partly because I am very focused on God’s concern for creation at the moment with my seminars on Spirituality and Gardening and partly because The Flourish Conference is just around the corner – May 13 – 15th in Duluth GA.  

Flourish™, a national conference for pastors and church leaders, is an invitation to one of culture’s most exciting conversations: creation care. Our goal is to explore the biblical call to care for God’s creation through the teachings of today’s most insightful church leaders.

I am so pleased to see that evangelical Christians are starting to raise their voice in this important issue.  I believe in fact that it will only be when Christians grab hold of God’s command to steward the earth and make it flourish that we will see the kind of action needed to reverse these alarming trends.


Death Will Be Swallowed Up in Victory

The fears are mounting, the panic is spreading and even though there have still not been any deaths outside Mexico from Swine flu people around the world are starting to withdraw into their private worlds to take cover.  I can understand that from non believers but why do Christians react in exactly the same way?  Is it just because we get sucked in by the media hype which is giving us a blow by blow description of the spread of this disease or is it something deeper than that?  Perhaps it is because we do not really believe that God will either protect us from illness or will sustain us if we get sick.  

And what if this flu is as bad as some predict?  How do we react in the face of death?  Many of us view death, like disease as something to be conquered or at least delayed as long as possible, sometimes with little respect for the wishes of the patient or concern for the quality of life that may be suffered.  When we are unable to prevent death health care professionals often feel that they have failed and sometimes even blame God for God’s lack of intervention.  But is that God’s view?

From a Biblical perspective death is not failure but an entrance into a new life.  Our hope is not that we will be saved from death but that we will be resurrected to new life.  We should be especially aware of this during the Easter season.  Christ through His death and resurrection has triumphed over death and disease but we do not as yet see the full outworking of that triumph and will not until Christ returns in glory at the end of the present age.  Death should not bring fear to the person who is dying, nor should it leave medical personnel with a sense of defeat.  However death will continue to bring the pain and grief of separation to those who are left behind.

The Eastern Orthodox church has a view of the supernatural that means this separation at death is not seen as being as absolute as we evangelical Christians tend to regard it.  The icons in the Orthodox church represent the saints who have gone before.  When the congregation comes in to worship they regard themselves as being surrounded by their forebears – that great cloud of witnesses who continue to worship with them.

Let me finished with some of the most reassuring verses that talk about death in the New Testament from 1 Corinthians 15.  One day death will be swallowed up in victory.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.27For he “has put everything under his feet.”Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

 29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord….

The Resurrection Body

 35But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body….   42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body….. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

H1N1 Swine Flu – What Can Christians Do?

Many of us are watching anxiously what is happening in Mexico as the country battens down to hopefully ride out the Swine flu epidemic which many are saying could become a deadly worldwide pandemic.  Some seem to be treating it as a bit of a game as they follow the spread on google maps.  Others are taking simple precautions to reduce the spread.  Others of course are already panicking, stockpiling food and heading for the hills if they can.  

The question that revolves in my mind is “How should Christians respond?”  How can we be God’s light shining into the midst of the darkness?  

For many of us our response needs to start with our theology and our perspective of God in the midst of this.  Does God care for people who are already suffering and dying from this disease?  

God does care. From the time the children of Israel came out of Egypt God showed concern for their physical as well as their spiritual well being. However God’s prescription for health was always very different from that of the surrounding cultures.  

Central to God’s model of health and wholeness is reconciliation. Healing depended not only on the taking of medicine but primarily on obedience to God’s word and commandments. Many of the Levitical laws are good preventative health directives that still work today . These regulations include nutrition, environmental laws and behavior – the three primary factors that influence the health of any community. They also include basic health measures like the washing of hands which is still one of the basic things that we all need to do to reduce the spread of this disease. Others are guidelines for how the most vulnerable in society are to be cared for and at the moment of course it is the people in Mexico who are the most vulnerable and I think that part of our response needs to be “How can we be God’s hands of healing and compassion in the midst of this.?”

Interestingly the Greek word most commonly translated save in the New Testament SOZO can also be translated heal. It means to heal, preserve, save, make whole.  Healing from a Christian perspective is the process of moving towards wholeness in body, soul and spirit. The purpose of medicine is to support and encourage human wholeness in every respect.

I think it is good to remind ourselves at a time like this that nothing speaks more highly of God’s desire for healing than the incredible systems of protection and repair within our own bodies. The immune system cures most of the illnesses that attack us. In fact the mere fact that many of the people infected by the H1N1 strain of flu have died is due to the miracle of God’s healing processes, a miracle we rarely think about unless something goes wrong  At best doctors and nurses assist God’s healing work yet we rarely thank God for these miracles. 

Unfortunately in our imperfect world, corrupted by sin and disease, these systems don’t always work but God provided other elements to assist the healing process. Most modern medicines originate from medicinal plants and herbs that are a part of God’s wonderful creation. 

The Cross is probably the most powerful symbol of and power for healing in the world. Its redeeming and transforming power brings healing to body soul and spirit – and beyond that it brings healing to communities, and eventually will bring healing to our entire broken world.

The taking of communion is another powerful symbol of healing. In many churches healing services are Eucharistic, deliberately linking our need for healing to confession, repentance and forgiveness. (1 Cor 11:27-34) Baptism too, because it infuses a person with new life, the life of Christ, can drive out before it all the powers of sickness and death. (Rom 6: 1-14)

James 5:13-16 lists other important symbols of healing we need to pay attention to. Praying for the sick, often associated with laying on of hands, anointing with oil, singing psalms and hymns, confession and forgiveness are all practices that can encourage the healing process. 

Observing the liturgical calendar is another way that God’s people can find God’s healing: 

By connecting to the seasons of the church year we enter into a rhythm that focuses every day and every season very intentionally on the One who gives all of life meaning and purpose. By celebrating through the structures of the Church we actually are given the forms we need to become whole and we are given the formulas to make whole every human experience.

I am always challenged by the fact that in pandemics that have swept through the world throughout history it is usually the Christians that have been at the forefront of response.  In the aftermath of the Black Death of the 1300s there were not enough priests to shepherd the people partly because many of the monks and priests had looked after the sick and the dying at the risk of there own lives.  Just this last week we watch the film about the story of another priest – Father Damien – who worked amongst lepers on the island of Molokai until he himself developed leprosy.

It is probable that this strain of flu may not hit our communities in the same way that it is already impacting parts of Mexico but I feel that it is never too soon to think about what our response could be.  How in the midst of the devastation that is already being created can we be God’s compassionate response and show the world that there is indeed a loving and caring God who desires to embrace all who are suffering and in pain.

To Garden With God

The first ever Spirituality of Gardening seminar held at the Mustard Seed house is over and I am feeling exhausted but delighted.  What began as a few blog posts and an interest in discovering the connections between my faith and my garden is becoming an important aspect of my ministry.  I am awed at the way that God has made this possible and has brought together all the different elements.

We had 25 people gather at the house from as far afield as Texas and British Columbia.  Most of the focus was on how to grow organic vegetables.  We walked the garden, shared our garden and faith stories and even planted seeds and shared recipes.  We were able to video it too so hopefully it will be available as a DVD in the not too distant future.  

The highlight for me was to see how others had experienced God through their gardening.  One woman had just gone through a messy divorce and was very aware of the healing power of God whom she encountered as she knelt and weeded the garden.  Another participant commented that as we planted the seeds she was struck by the fact that alone the seed, the soil, the water and the air were inert.  It was only as we brought all these elements together that God gave them life and enabled the seed to grow.  How like the way God acts in our lives we reflected.  Seeds can often lie dormant within us until the right time when God brings them into a situation in which they are planted, watered and given air – a little like the way I feel about the fruit of this garden seminar.  

This seems to be such an appropriate way for Christians to respond both as individuals and as churches to the recession.  Not only can we help provide for ourselves but through the generous bounty of God’s harvest we are able to provide for others as well. 

I am really looking forward to the next one at the end of May and to the possibility of others in the future in other parts of the country.  The garden journal which was given to each participant has grown so that it is now more like a book than a journal.  We are hoping to have it available as a pdf file that can be purchased online, by the end of the week.

Does Sweden Have A Socialist Nightmare

Earlier today I did a link to this video on the The Daily Show with Jon Steward about the socialist system in Sweden   It has raised quite a bit of discussion on facebook so I thought that I would link to it here too.  What do you think – is this a nightmare or is it a dream?

To be honest growing up in Australia where we had a partially socialized medical system and then working in New Zealand where health care was more fully socialized I can see both good and bad in the socialized system.  Yes taxes are higher but one does not live in fear of losing everything you have when you get ill. And I must say that 4 – 6 weeks vacation a year is rather nice too.  

Would love to hear your thoughts.  Check out the video here 

(I know I should be able to embed this but have not been able to figure it out so ideas on that would be appreciated too.  Obviously not as techi as I thought)

Justice for the Gardeners

A couple of days ago Pat Loughery sent me a link to the trailer for the film The Garden.  You probably realize that I am not a film buff because I rarely blog about what I have seen or want to see but this is definitely one that catches my imagination,.  Thanks Pat for the recommendation.  

THE GARDEN is an engaging and powerful look at the famous political and social battle over the largest community garden in the US (located in South Central Los Angeles)…. THE GARDEN exposes the fault lines in American society and raises crucial and challenging questions about liberty, equality, and justice for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. 

View trailer here

Speaking of gardening films, my all time favourite is Greenfingers which is about a group of British prisoners who find their redemption through gardening.  It is based on a true story and I think that it is a wonderful inspiration for all garden enthusiasts.   


Happy Earth Day – Another Prayer

I have just been sent a copy of an earth day prayer by Sam Hamilton-Poore who has just written a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation.  The book has just jumped to the top of my must read list.  It is available from Upper Room. Here are links to a couple of his prayers.

PRAISE TO YOU, my God and Creator!
Your creativity is matched by your compassion!

Read the entire prayer

WITHIN THE ECONOMY of God’s grace,
nothing is ever wasted
and no one thrown away.

Read the entire prayer

To Garden With God: An Earth Day Prayer


squirrel eating red hot pokers

squirrel eating red hot pokers

God bless the earth and all that lives within it

God bless the earth and all that lives on it

God bless the earth and all that lives above it

God bless the soil on which we live and work and make community.

In your mercy may it bring forth goodness to nourish and renew the whole community who share it

(The last 2 lines of this this prayer are adapted from a prayer by Ray Simpson) 

Tomorrow is Earth Day and though I have not had much to say about it (or about anything else in the last week) it is a day that I think we should celebrate with enthusiasm.  God who created and sustains all life loves this world and all of creation with a deep and abiding love.

This is not far from my mind particularly as I work on my book of garden reflections and garden advice: To Garden with God in preparation for the seminar The Spirituality of Gardening that I am conducting this weekend.  I am hoping that we will have this available next week as a pdf download.  This seminar is proving to be so popular that we will be holding a second May 30th and I am starting to get enquiries about conducting one elsewhere too.  

Working on this book of reflections has been a really fun project even though it has added more pressure to my life than I like.  Over the years I have thought a lot about where and when I encounter God in the garden but it is really only as I sat down to reflect on this that I started to become excited.  And much of this has been because some of you have encouraged me to start writing more on this topic.

First I am intrigued by how much of what I do in the garden is a metaphor for my life and what God is doing in my life – from the planting of seeds to the producing of compost the garden is an incredible assurance of the faithfulness of a loving, caring God who is intimately involved in all we are and do.  

There is another dimension however that I am just starting to discover what orthodox Christians have known for centuries –  the sacramental nature of gardening.  In his delightful little book Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, Vigen Guroian shares his own reflections as an Armenian orthodox Christian.  As I read his book I wondered how differently would we view God’s creation and our faith if each time we planted a seed we entered into an experience of the death and resurrection of Christ.  And what about if we saw the watering of the garden as a partaking in the baptism of Christ after all each time we water it does bring new life to the plants we are tending.  

The Bible uses so many garden and farming metaphors – from the parable of the sower and the separating of the tares and the wheat to the imagery of the harvest.  We are all impacted by these but rarely understand their significance.  So this earth day maybe all of us need to enter more fully into the story of God as it is revealed in the created world around us.  Why not meditate on this verse from Isaiah 45:8 as a start.  

You heavens above rain down my righteousness

let the clouds shower it down.

Let the earth open wide,

let salvation spring up

let righteousness floruish with it;

I the Lord have created it.  

Sharing the Good News.

During the Easter season JR Woodward is hosting a blog series on The Good News, where we will hear and discuss the Good News in its rich and multi-layered depth. To find out more about this series you might like to read the introduction.  There are already some great posts up that you can look at.  

Below you will find the guest blogger schedule. Contributors include authors, bloggers, professors and practitioners.  As with any endeavor like this, the schedule may change without notice so you might like to subscribe to this RSS feed or go to Twitter and search for #The Good News hashtag to keep engaged.

April 13: Len Hjalmarson / The Good News post
April 14: J.R. Rozko / The Good News post
April 15: Brad Sargent / The Good News post
April 16: John Chandler / The Good News post
April 17: Sivin Kit / The Good News post
April 18: Brother Maynard / The Good News post
April 19: Danny Gutierrez / The Good News post
April 20: Dave Kludt / The Good News post
April 21: Kurt Fredrickson
April 22: Winn Collier
April 23: J.R. Briggs
April 24: Noel Heikkinen
April 25: Dustin James
April 26: Jim Pace
April 27: Erika Haub
April 28: AJ Sherrill
April 29: Andrew Perriman
April 30: Raffi Shahinian
May 1: Benjamin Sternke
May 2: Joey Tomassoni
May 3: Brian Hopper
May 4: David Fitch
May 5: Christine Sine
May 6: Jonathan Dodson
May 7: Kathy Hanson
May 8: Jason Clark
May 9: Alistair Johnson
May 10: Greg Larson
May 11: Brian Russell
May 12: Sonja Andrews
May 13: Jamie Arpin-Ricci
May 14: Nathan Colquhoun
May 15: Todd Hiestand
May 16: Doug Paul
May 17: Luis Fernando Batista
May 18: Evan Hansen
May 19: John Santic
May 20: Mark Van Steenwyk
May 21: Ryan Bell
May 22: Eugene Cho
May 23: Joe Racek
May 24: Audrey Blumber
May 25: Tony Stiff
May 26: Maria Drews
May 27: Jason Coker
May 28: Andy Bleyer
May 29: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
May 30: Jon Tyson
May 31: JR Woodward

Teaching at Fuller Seminary

I thought that some of you would be interested in the course that Tom and I will be teaching for Fuller Seminary in Pasadena at the end of June.

Re-imagining Life, Community, and Mission for a Changing Church in a Changing World 

This course will examine how we might re-imagine our lives, communities of faith, and how we do mission to more fully express our kingdom faith in a changing church and a changing world. Major course attention will focus on identifying some of the new challenges and opportunities facing our lives, congregations and the world that we serve as we race into an increasingly uncertain global future. We will place primary emphasis on imagining and creating new ways we might respond to these new challenges that also gives more authentic expression to the values of God’s new order. We will particularly examine some of the new models being fashioned by those on the emerging, missional, multicultural and monastic edge as well as fresh expressions being birthed in established churches.

Who | YOU!
What | a Fuller intensive course with Tom & Christine Sine
Where | Pasadena, CA
When | June 15-26, 2009
Info at

For more info, visit the MSA blog entry.