The Pecking Order and a Possibility for Peace

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃ isn’t Greek to me, but it is Hebrew, and to follow it, you must read it from right to left. If we were to read this in English, it would be left to right and, if anglicized, it would read: “Bereshith bara Elohim eth hashamyim v-eth haaretz, “In the beginning created God the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning” is repeated in John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

Here we are at the beginning of a New Year, with a new president and administration about to be sworn in, but somehow my expectations for 2021 have been diminished. So far, 2021 seems a lot like 2020, a year that most of us would like to forget. We are weary of isolation, death, disease, restrictions, high and low domestic drama and endless commercials attacking political opponents.

Fascinating to me is the Hebrew verb, “bara,” “to create.” It is ONLY used as God’s prerogative. The New Testament Greek verb to create, “κτίζω,” or “ktizo” is similar. It is also ONLY used of God. So, guess where that leaves me and you? We are not God, but we are caretakers. Psalm 8:5-6 describes where we as humans fall in the pecking-order and what our job description is: “You (God) made humanity a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands.” This sums up Genesis 1’s description (vss. 26-27) of us humans as uniquely made in God’s image crowned with glory, and though we are not equal to the God who creates, we do have responsibilities to have stewardship over the “works of God’s hands.”

Genesis 2:15 is even more succinct as it describes our function in God’s created order: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. So, how are we doing? Do we treat one another with proper respect? Are we taking care of the planet? Do we acknowledge the image of God in other people, or judge them too harshly? Have we exhibited stewardship of Spaceship Earth or taken advantage of it to its own demise?

God used positive words in Genesis 1 saying, “Let there be light…” and described everything as either “good” or as Genesis 1:31 puts it, “God saw all that he had made. And it was very good.” Wouldn’t we do well to follow God’s positive assessment rather than being hypercritical? God spoke into the formless chaos and brought forth order as his Spirit hovered over the waters. Our ill-chosen words too often create more chaos.

Can we please lay down our swords of vitriol and venom? Might we pray for peace and it begin with me, each of us? We pray for a peace that surpasses party, personal preferences, and tightly held prejudices. I know I have allegiances for things and ideologies that would put me at odds with others, and, worse than that, I have made choices that have put me at odds with the God who so loved the world that he gave his Son to redeem us.

I know that there are causes and truths for which sacrifices are necessary. This week I am utterly dismayed as people of both parties jockey to move God off the throne as the sole creator, and try to set themselves up as the arbiters of what or who is right and wrong. Yes, there must be standards, consequences, and repercussions, but I feel a strong need to say to everybody in D.C., “Please just be quiet!” As much as I love our flag, this week and every week, I need to pledge my allegiance to the one and only God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop the mutually assured destruction. I want to follow Jesus who looked into the storm (Mark 4:39) and said, “Peace, be still!” I want to watch the winds and waves of a horrible year subside into a calm that can only come from God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Please Lord, redeem 2021 and our country. Please give us a second chance as the caretakers of your Creation. Amen.

The iconic “Earthrise” image taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 liftoff.

Domed and Doomed Christians

As much as I’m an underdog-fan as a Gamecock, I was glad the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. I like the Steelers because I like the city of Pittsburgh. I’ve spent time there upon several occasions. It’s a pretty city with the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers meeting to form the Ohio. The tunnels through Mt. Washington are daunting and majestic. The ride up the city’s famous Incline is worth the view overlooking historic Fort Pitt. The PP&G (Pittsburg Plate & Glass) building is an east coast version of the Crystal Cathedral.
The steel mills are mostly closed in this Rust-Belt city, but the Steeler attitude is still present. For the nearly two weeks I was there five years ago, I witnessed the what-you-see-is-what-you-get grit of the people. For instance, practically every day I ate at the Steel City Diner. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant, not even close. It was exactly what the name said it was, a diner. The food was hearty, hot, and hit the spot. The folks working there were personable and caring. The whole city exuded a raw edgy work ethic that was both no-nonsense and refreshing. There was no “putting on airs,” as the old adage goes.
It’s interesting that the Pittsburgh Steelers play at Heinz Field, named, of course, for the famous condiment company that is one of the backbones of the Pittsburgh community. Heinz Field is completely au naturel in both grass and sunlight. The Cardinals play in a facility with a retractable roof. I think there’s something to be said for football teams willing to duke it out in the brutal cold of winter. I think it helps them win, too.
Here’s why. The conditioning of a Super Bowl team requires rain, wind, mud, heat, cold, snow, and sleet. No team will be ready for the challenges of the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl, who hasn’t been through the elements. For my two-cent’s worth, the hardship of the elements builds character and character is what wins Super Bowls. Every team has talent. Therefore, hunger, desire, and character are huge. That says to me, from my experience of their hometown, why the Steelers were able to pull the big win off.
But what has this got to do with Christianity and faith? Christianity that resides in a sheltered environment is domed and doomed. To be Christian is to be in the world, open to all of its elements. Christianity didn’t begin in the protected enclave of a hot-house but in the open-air arenas and coliseums of Roman martyrdom. When pagans saw how Christians fared under the sword, how we weathered the persecutions, and how we died for Christ; they knew there was something “real” about Jesus, and they wanted to learn more.
We don’t play on artificial turf. We live in the real world, and the real world needs us! The earth needs us! I saw a bumper sticker the other day as I was driving down the street: “It’s time to Mother Earth.” At first, slow of mind, I didn’t get it. Then, wham! Yes, it is time for us to nurture this planet. We take and take, and hardly ever give back. Spaceship Earth is in dire need of our protection and stewardship.
Genuine Christianity is involved in an open-air transparent defense of creation and all its creatures. Artificial Christians and sheltered ones need not apply for discipleship. God wants us to make a difference. Can we? If we keep playing on real turf in the real world both history and statistics are on our side in the Super Bowl of life.