G.R.O.W. G.R.E.E.N. for the Glory of God
Have you ever wondered if God might have a favorite color? Perhaps that sounds like a trivial question for theology, but what is the first color mentioned in the Bible? Might it have any significance in God’s design for creation and redemption?
We need only turn to Genesis 1:30b to discover a gracious and bountiful God saying, “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.” The “life-giving Creator of both great and small” has designed the very substance of life to be green.
Genesis is but the beginning of God’s taking glory in his “very good” (Gen. 1:31) green earth and the multiplying menagerie of living creatures that this greenness sustains (see Ps. 104:24-26).
Surely there is a vivacious “green theology” in Scripture that we must vigorously explore and then expound. Perhaps then, even in red-letter verses like John 3:16, we will discover that God has a redemptive green passion far bigger than just saving lost sinners: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. . . .” Yes, God so loves this whole world. He has set in motion a cosmic redemption plan in Christ and through “the sons of God” on which the whole creation itself “waits in eager expectation” (Rom. 8:19).
The theme of this series is G.R.O.W. G.R.E.E.N. For this purpose, G.R.O.W. = God’s Re-creational Opportunities in Our World and G.R.E.E.N. = Getting Refreshed by Enjoying Engagement with Nature. Ordinary Time or springtime would be an excellent time to begin this series as we focus on growth around and within us.
The theme is informed by the book This Is Our Father’s World by Edward R. Brown (IVP Books, 2008). God loves this world, and so must we—apart from any political agenda. Cultivating our natural connections to creation will deepen our relationship with our Creator God. We were created to work with God in his glorious garden!
Discovering the Genesis of Green: How Very Good It Is!
Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15; Psalm 104:24, 26, 31
The aim of the first message in this series is to open people’s eyes and hearts to the biblical green of God’s creation. It’s important to unpack the little Hebrew word for “good.” It’s a word pregnant with growth and potential. God’s “very good” green earth is a zoological garden, ever growing and multiplying with life. And then there’s still “the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number” (Ps. 104:25).
This ever-green, ever-growing, very goodness of God’s creation brings him glory. God rejoices in his works. He continues to sustain life day by day and is joyfully engaged with his creatures (Ps. 104:10-31). Even the mighty sea monster, Leviathan, brings glory to God as it frolics in the deep blue sea beneath our busy commercial shipping lanes.
Have we gotten so preoccupied with man-made industries, wealth, and commerce that we have lost sight of our original calling? God made us to be co-caretakers with him of this grand zoological garden and the vast oceans of life. Planet Earth is a wonder of life in an other-wise lifeless universe. When we read Genesis 1:28 and 2:15, do we realize that creation was not made for us as much as we were made for the creation? Yes, we were made for the creation. Yes, we were made for creation care. We were put in the garden “to work it and take care of it.” God gives us “his own image” (Gen. 1:28)—a seed of godliness, so to speak—so that by participating with God in creating his garden we may enjoy the experience of growing ever greener ourselves, to his glory.
- The Green Bible NRSV
- Teachings on Creation through the Ages edited by J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D.
- Green Revolution by Ben Lowe
- Earth-Wise by Calvin B. DeWitt
- It’s Not Easy Being Green by Emma Sleeth
- Saving God’s Green Earth by Tri Robinson
- For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger
- Loving Nature by James A. Nash
- Agri-Culture by Jules Pretty
This is the “take-home” or “action steps” part of the message. Go outside, engage “Our Father’s World” and G.R.O.W. (God’s Re-creational Opportunities in our World) to the degree that God provides by your location, the weather, your physical abilities, and other factors. G.O. G.R.E.E.N.–Go Outside to Get Refreshed by Enjoying Engagement with Nature.
In his book The Nature Principle, Richard Louv addresses “Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He makes a very strong case that humans need Vitamin N—the power of the natural world—for our physical, emotional, and family fitness. Louv does not address biblical green theology or Christian spirituality, but his gathered insights on “Green Exercise and Green Care” ring true with what God reveals to us in the “beautiful book” of creation (Belgic Confession Art. 2).
As we G.O. outside (or enjoy some nature books and videos) consider these green insights as well: “The creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God.” (John Calvin). “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” (Martin Luther).
Now GO! Do something to explore, enjoy, engage, and embrace “Our Father’s World.” Connect with our bountiful Creator in the beauty of his creation.
This prayer by Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) is a fitting way to end the message of Week One:
Master of the Universe
grant me the ability be alone;
may it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grass—among all growing things—
and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer,
to talk with the One to whom I belong.
“This Is My Father’s World” LUYH 21, PH 293, PsH 436, TH 111, WR 21 could be a theme song for the series.
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” LUYH 20, PH 267, PsH 435, TH 120, WR 30 and “All Creatures of Our God and King” LUYH 551, PH 455, PsH 431, TH 115, WR 23 could fit in beautifully with a litany based on Genesis 1:1-24 and Psalm 104. Projecting pictures or videos could enhance the congregation’s wonder and worship of the glorious Creator God. Consider inviting children or artists in your church to contribute artwork for projection.
“How Great Is Our God” LUYH 574 based on Psalm 104
“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (esp. st. 3) LUYH 579, PH 263, PsH 460, TH 38, WR 48
Ambitious worship planners could prepare a sight/sound litany that includes songs, Scriptures, and scenes from the beauty of the earth.
The Voice Bible (hearthevoice.com) gives Genesis 1:24-31 a vocal power that could be used very effectively. The added summary comment captures the heart of this passage.
A Black Hole in God’s Greenhouse
Genesis 3; Matthew 6:24; Micah 6:8
This second message acknowledges the blackened green of God’s “very good” creation caused by the Fall—the sin of human disobedience with its resulting curse of pain, conflict, toil, and death. This is a sober wake-up call to the present reality of polluted planet Earth.
Pollution is not a convenient truth, yet it’s an accurate one that theologians used throughout history to describe the results of the Fall and original sin in human nature. Being polluted by sin, we become polluters. Remember we’re not sinners because we sin now and then. We sin because we were born sinners! That’s our fallen nature. This sinful nature in turn so pollutes us that we are “born polluters.” We’re born with a self-centered desire to get whatever we can out of the world and not give a thought to how that affects the earth and its inhabitants.
Sinners need to confess and change. Sinners need a Savior, and polluters need a new Lord and Master of their life who will redeem them from the god of materialism and reclaim them as creation caretakers for God’s glory.
I started this message by having the sanctuary darkened so we could take in the beauty of the “Earthrise” picture by the Apollo 8 astronauts. As they circled the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, suddenly Commander Frank Borman exclaimed, “O my God, look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up!” The picture then taken ranks as one of the most important photographs ever. Nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
In this photo, our entire living planet appears as a small, blue, and very finite globe in the midst of the dark vastness of space over the horizon of the moon’s desolate surface. The contrast is vivid! Earth is a tiny, fragile, but vibrant haven of life in an otherwise vast and seemingly lifeless universe. We are a privileged planet! How have we handled that responsibility?
At this point, one could easily find any number of pictures that would vividly display the human-made degradation of planet Earth. I found it best to confess my own naïve and youthful sins of abusing nature, along with my present adult sins of blind consumerism that wastefully depletes the earth’s resources at the expense of our poorer world neighbors. We showed the first few minutes of the YouTube version of The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard to encourage people to watch it later at home during the week.
Be sure to ground and end the message back in the Fall of Genesis 3. It’s important to note that human sin and our guilty nakedness before a holy gracious God occasioned the first killing and death of animals (Gen. 3:21). Human sin brings death and “bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21) to God’s good earth. But the animal skin clothing that God graciously provided to Adam and Eve was only the beginning of all that God would provide through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). The hope of redemption is always upon us, even though we have blackened God’s good green earth.
Google and watch The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Admittedly, many environmentalists have cried “wolf” a little too often and a little too loud, but The Story of Stuff presents truths about our consumeristic materialism that are worth pondering in light of Matthew 6:19-24.
God calls us away from the buying and storing up of stuff, which gets in between God and us and also causes injustice toward our needy world neighbors. Read Matthew 22:37-39 along with Micah 6:8, and then repent and rid yourself of all stuff that keeps you from loving God above all and your neighbor as yourself.
Song and Litany Suggestions
We used Psalm 19:1 and Psalm 8:1 as the call to worship and then sang “Lord, Our Lord, Your Glorious Name” LUYH 500, PsH 8 and “God of Wonders.” LUYH 4 This was followed by a dramatic reading based on Romans 3 and a music video entitled Gravity by Shawn McDonald (tinyurl.com/GravityMcDonald).
Other songs used were
“Holiness (Is What I Long For)” (Scott Carl Underwood)
“One Pure and Holy Passion” (Mark Altrogge)
“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” LUYH 747, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WR 461
“Give Us Clean Hands” LUYH 628
Paradoxically, an appropriate benediction and final encouragement for the service could be 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, with an added informal challenge to be willing to “get our hands dirty” in the good deeds of picking up trash and helping clean up our world. (As part of the setting for this service we had “trashed” the stage, so we asked for help to clean it up as we prepared our hearts and God’s sanctuary for Holy Communion the following week.)
An Extreme Green Makeover
Romans 8:1-2, 12-27
This worship series came to its redemptive climax on Pentecost Sunday with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was a foretaste of the Holy Spirit’s renewing work in our lives and thus in our world.
In Romans 8 we see the “red thread of salvation” that weaves across the green foundation of creation to redeem it. The Holy Spirit is the Weaver; we, the redeemed daughters and sons of God, are the red threads of Christ, called to live like Christ—the firstfruits of the resurrection hope and restoration yet to come. As spirit-filled Christians we weave a redemptive cross of hope into every square inch of planet Earth to reclaim it, to remake it, to cleanse the blackened earth and give it an extreme green makeover. You could call this “Reformational Green.” But it’s so full of passion (“eager expectation” and “groaning”) and so full of the Holy Spirit’s fire, I call it “Pentecostal Green.” When we pause and listen long enough to hear the groanings and to reflect on from what and for what we have been redeemed, there will be a glorious coming to grips with the manifold brightness of Pentecostal Green and the cosmic scope of our redemption in Christ.
I found a message by Ed Brown on Romans 8:18-22 entitled “Waiting for the Sons of God” very helpful. I also decided that the text lent itself very aptly to the “four pages of the sermon” model.
- Trouble (“groanings”) in the text
- Trouble (“groanings”) in the world
- Grace (“redemption”) in the text
- Grace (“redemption”) in the world
If you have “Trekkies” in your audience, you may find Star Trek IV The Voyage Home an interesting way to introduce the groanings of creation. Even more interesting is the book Mind in the Waters: A Book to Celebrate the Consciousness of Whales and Dolphins by Joana McIntyre Varawa, which seems to indicate that the Star Trek film’s portrayal of whales communicating with intelligent groanings or singing is not far from the truth. To the “listening ears all nature sings and round me rings the music of the sphere” because “This Is My Father’s World!” Today, as “in the beginning,” the Spirit of God is still “hovering over the waters” of planet Earth, gathering redeemed agents and empowering them for the makeover work of restoration and recreation. What a privilege to be on God’s Green Team!
This service and message called for careful reflection and the next would call for responsive action, so we held a Creation Care Prayer Retreat on that Sunday afternoon. The format of the retreat was simple. With a change of clothes and lunches packed, we carpooled about an hour’s drive to a beautiful retreat center. We ate our lunch in the central garden and then, after a brief nature devotion and time of prayer, we dispersed over the grounds and down various paths as the Spirit led. After 60 to 90 minutes of reflection, prayer, or just the blessed solitude of beholding nature and listening to the Spirit in creation, we gathered for sharing and prayer. Simple, but profound! Hopefully, people got a good enough taste of this blessed “creational Sabbath” to seek shalom with their Creator more often in his great outdoors.
Song and Litany Suggestions
Our opening call to worship for this Pentecost Sunday was a litany based on Joel 2:28-29. Then we sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” LUYH 537, WR 656 and “I Am Free” (Peter Furler; Jonathan Christian Egan) which was also our closing song.
For a lead-in to communion, the preamble of “Our World Belongs to God” fit beautifully. During communion a mournful yet hopeful violin solo called “The Gift of Love” was played. We also sang “We Fall Down” and “The Nails in Your Hands” (MercyMe).
the green mission, the green miles, and your green address
Mark 16:15; Psalm 8; 24:1-2
Following the climax of the Pentecostal Green Sunday, we used this final week as our Commissioning Sunday. We held the worship service outdoors in front of our church. Being outside lent an appropriate informality and spontaneity to the service. I would not have chosen Psalm 84 as a call to worship for an outdoor service, but just as the service was to start, someone pointed out to me a bird feeding her young in a nest just behind the cross that hangs on the outside of our sanctuary wall. Psalm 84:3 was happening before our very eyes!
The point of this message was to engage people in the mission of creation care. I proposed a simple re-creational solution: G.R.O.W. in your love for God, your neighbor, and our Father’s world. God’s Re-creational Opportunities in our World are limitless and invigorating. The congregation was encouraged to go and explore, enjoy, and embrace God’s amazing creation with another person (perhaps a neighbor or acquaintance who needs hope, joy, shalom, and wholeness in his or her life).
Creation care that is rooted in our love for God and God’s world cannot fail to grow and be joyfully attractive to others. Christians should be the very best environmentalists as we live out the calling God gave us: to take care of his creation.
In his vivid and insightful book called Heaven, Randy Alcorn quotes Alister McGrath describing how our human longing for paradise lost fuels a very deep passion in us: “The whole of human history is thus enfolded in the subtle interplay of sorrow over a lost paradise, and the hope of its final restoration.” It is human nature to desire to be at home, almost at one with nature. We want to be back in the Eden paradise again. We long “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). And the good news is, we will! But, meanwhile, there is creation care work to do.
So tap into that longing, and experience what Hildegard of Bingen described as viriditas and Barbara Brown Taylor calls “green power”—the divine power of creation. It is that fresh liveliness of young leaves and grass, that verdant spring green that burst outs of the ground or from the buds of trees after a spring shower. People with “green thumbs” who can’t wait to plant their spring gardens are expressing “viriditas,” as God created us to be gardeners with him.
In light of Mark 16:15, Psalm 24:1-2, and Psalm 8:6-7, there are some very crucial questions we must answer. What is “all” included in Mark’s shorter but more comprehensive version of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)? Note that “preach the good news to all creation” (NIV) is also translated “to every creature.” How can we humans preach, practice, and be “Good News” to the living creatures of planet Earth? How does that square with the role of “ruling over” creation and its creatures that God gave us in Genesis 1:28? Just how much is all creation counting on us to be godly creation caretakers?
Read Romans 8:19, 21 in the J.B. Philip’s New Testament version: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own . . . In the end, the whole of created life will be resaved from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”
The mission is clear and broad. The miles can be many and long. But it all starts with the conviction and inspiration to take the first step right where you live. “Awareness is becoming acquainted with environment, no matter where one happens to be,” said Sigurd Olsen. Rick Warren adds, “We cannot be all that God wants us to be without caring about the earth.”
Field Work: Your Personal Vision and The Church’s Mission
What are you willing to do at your home address to “grow greener?” You know all the slogans, like “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” But what will you actually do? And what about your church? How can “Grow Green” be applied in your church’s vision and mission? What green impact could your church make in the community?
In Ecology and Life, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson writes, “In a time of ecological emergency, the church can offer to the world a hope that is rooted in the power of God to bring new life (viriditas—green power) into all that has been created.” To “rediscover the church’s responsibility to environmental stewardship,” read Saving God’s Green Earth by Tri Robinson, founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Idaho, which has become a creation stewardship model and leader in its community.
Song and Litany Suggestions
For this outdoor service we relied on our youth praise team and a few contemporary praise songs: “Your Love is Extravagant” (Casting Crowns) and “Forever Holy” (Glorious Unseen). Most fitting was the chorus “I Lift My Hands to the Heavens” (Hillsong; especially powerful outside under a big blue sky) and the closing song of surrender, “Nothing Back” (John Walker, Scott Johnson).
There was no litany for this service, but there were three very effective testimonies given before the pastor’s final message. The testimonies demonstrated that young and old, male and female, avid bicyclers as well as those in wheelchairs, can all take the Grow Green message to heart and G.O. with it! It was great to see the youth especially respond during this series. It reminded me of this Amish proverb: “We did not inherit the land from our fathers. We are borrowing it from our children.”
Additional Ideas and Resources
The sheer volume of amazing nature videos and pictures is overwhelming. I can’t even keep up with the forwards I get through email. Don’t overwhelm your congregation with the visual. Perhaps in this ever-surfing, ever-seeing age “a good word from God’s Book is worth a thousand pictures.” However, when I preached this series I was informed and inspired by these videos:
The BCC series Planet Earth and The Blue Planet.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a film by Ken Burns, is also a great resource for stunning beauty and the inspirational history of some key environmentalists and nature enthusiasts, from John Muir to Theodore Roosevelt. The first episode of six is actually entitled “The Scripture of Nature.” I used a short clip from this episode to introduce the first message, “Discovering the Genesis of Green.”
Another way to make use of the plethora of nature videos and to expose your congregation to healthy family films is to have a different video running each week after the service in the fellowship hall or in a separate nearby room. After the message of Week Three, “An Extreme Green Makeover,” we used Michael Jackson’s Earthsong with its mournful, melancholy tone as a way of reinforcing the message of Romans 8:19-22: “the creation waits in eager expectation” for us (God’s creation caretakers) to follow through on our redemption and work for redemption in this groaning world of endangered creatures.
Two children’s books that plant a beautiful seed of creation care in the next generation are Miss Rumphius, story and pictures by Barbara Cooney; and The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. These could be used for a children’s message, children’s worship, Sunday school, or reading at home.
I recommend having a special literature display in the church narthex or fellowship hall. Again, there’s so much to highlight, from specific Christian nature devotionals like Letting God Create Your Day by Paul A. Bartz, to a great variety of nature wonders in the RBC Ministries Discovery Series (www.rbc.org), to inspiring and informative nature magazines like The Nature Conservatory, The International Crane Foundation, State DNR magazines, and various travel/tourist magazines. Display some of the books listed in the overview as well.
Schedule a guided hike at a nearby county or state park with a local naturalist. These opportunities are all around us, but many of us are too busy with sports and social engagements to actually ever GO! Schedule a church nature outing and recruit vigorously. Or get a church group signed up for activities during Earth Day Week in April. National Trails Day is the first Saturday in June. Go and work among others in your region to clean up trash and do land and stream restoration. Creation care opportunities are all around us. Just dig in and do it! This is the ongoing field work of Growing Green to the Glory of God.
The Garden So Far
This is a five-point summary that a high school senior wrote in response to the first three messages in the GROW GREEN Series. He asked that it be shared at the final service. We entitled it The Garden Story So Far.
- In the beginning, God made man to work in the garden. It was VERY good. It was perfect, but able to be improved. It was as close to heaven on earth as is possible. Man, the Garden, and God were unified. The Creator walked in his good creation with man, who cared for God’s masterpiece and was himself part of God’s craftsmanship.
- Then man sinned and man fell. Creation fell with man, since man was part of creation and the caretaker of creation. God’s good garden was broken. Man was separated from God and separated from creation, kicked out of the garden.
- God, all-knowing and all-powerful, had a plan for salvation. He sent his Son, Jesus, who died for our sin so that we could be reunited with God in the garden of his creation. The garden had been groaning because no one worked it and took care of it. The garden waited for the sons of God, the caretakers God had originally made, to return and work it once more.
- But even though man is saved through Christ, man still sins. Man has forgotten why he was made, forgotten that caring for the garden is part of who we are and why we were made. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and they cared for it. This was when God said things were good, when things were as God meant them to be. Where is our garden now? Who cares for our garden? If the caretakers of the garden do not know the answer to these questions, are they doing their God-given jobs?
- What happens next is up to the caretakers. When Christ returns, what will our Garden look like?