Monthly Archives: May 2013

Unseen Grace, Divine Providence

In the past, the phrase Divine Providence, was a common phrase used to refer to God’s overriding prerogative to advance His Kingdom and protect His people even when they were unaware of His guiding hand. In a culture that emphasizes the personal relationship of each individual believer with God most heavily, and that calls for personal seeking of God’s guiding will; this concept of Divine Providence, a grace we cannot see or ask for in our lives, is somewhat lost.

My upcoming 5th wedding anniversary has caused me to meditate heavily on this topic recently. I have been blessed to be married to a wonderful woman, who lives out Proverbs 31 every day. She cares for our family and shows me perfect respect, while not allowing me to move forward in areas of weakness or error. To be honest I couldn’t have picked a better wife, and it truly was the hand of God that brought us together. None of it would have been possible, however, if it wasn’t for one small action.

I met my wife working my first “real” job in high school. Now let me just be honest here, when it was time to decide where to go to college I spent weeks praying with my parents and researching where I would get the best education. When it was time to take that first job, I simply took the first decent job that I could get. There was very little thought, and not too much prayer either; it was simply a decision that had to be made and I made it.

This is the blessing of following Christ. I was pursuing His will for my life with an open heart and mind. I wasn’t looking for a wife, I wasn’t really looking for anything but some money and job experience as I got ready to go to college. Other than a few very important relationships (let me include a special shout out here to my 3rd set of parents, we love you all!), college didn’t really do much for me. That first job however impacted who I married, and as a consequence my 2 precious children. Not only that, it proved instrumental in providing for me all through college and the early years of my marriage and helped me land each new job I’ve had since. What I considered a small thing, turned out to be one of the most important decisions I ever made. Yet there was Christ, watching out for my needs and interests even in something I thought was small. The decision was guided and secured by the strong, sure hand of my Father in Heaven whether I thought it was important or not.

Looking at a more recent example, I have been moving forward much faster in my agricultural education through the online Permaculture Designers Certificate Course I mentioned recently. The funny thing is, I wasn’t looking for educational opportunities. I knew my family needed to do something, but we were having a very hard time finding anything compatible with having small children and a busy work schedule. So we were simply being faithful to try to develop skills at home through gardening and raising chickens in the backyard. I found the class, not through some great search engine or my own ingenuity, but simply because I decided I should finally set up a twitter account to support this blog (follow @thetonedeafbard). In order to keep up to date I followed several Permaculture news type sites, and one of them posted an interesting video by Geoff Lawton about how to develop abundance on just 5 acres. I watched several more videos and he announced the course, and my wife and I chose to enroll. Think for just a minute with me, had the timing of my impulsive decision to get on twitter been off just by a few days, I might have missed a big opportunity, yet I didn’t because there in the background of my life was grace.

Think over your life the last few years, have you had any random events of grace in your life? Be sure to praise God for taking care of you even when you didn’t look for it.

We, as a western culture particularly, get so caught up looking for direct answers to prayers and guidance for situations we have chosen to pray about, that we easily miss these small movements of God in the background. The fact is, life is busy and we don’t always think about the possible implications of our actions. What a joy it is to know that in the fullness of His Divine Sovereignty, God is in the backdrop of our lives, working for our good even when we don’t see it. His purposes will not be frustrated or stopped, all we have to do is submit our lives to His will and the rest begins to fall together.

Does Climate Change Really Matter?

One of the great, most politicized debates of our time is whether or not the Earth’s climate is changing. Many have claimed scientific consensus that the planet is warming, while many, including scientists still remain skeptical. The corollary question of “What do we do if it is changing?” has unleashed a whole host of government regulations and controls.

The truth is, the whole debate is completely irrelevant. How can a topic that has potential to so greatly affect the lives of all the people on this planet be irrelevant? There are two reasons.

First, the ecological damage the planet has sustained through soil erosion and poor agricultural practices is so severe that we are in extraordinary danger, regardless of the climate change issue. In addition our “improvement” efforts over the last century or so, have caused dangerous climate change at the local level. The straightening of the Mississippi River for example has left us with a devastating flooding problem. Soil erosion, however, should remain our top priority. Monoculture based, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture is destroying our soil at a ridiculous rate. One report I saw recently said we are now losing 200 tons of soil per acre on acreage turned over to the 5 main food crops traded on the stock market, soy, wheat, maize, rice, and potatoes. This is totally unsustainable, and has resulted in a situation where maintaining our current production requires more energy, chemical, and water input each year. Sooner or later this loss of soil is going to result in a catastrophic failure of our agricultural system, when it does we will see massive food shortages. In a period of extreme global famine, I don’t think there will be tremendous concern whether the earth warms or cools.

The second issue is where the good news begins to come in. The key point is that the solution to our soil loss problem will also reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere that is blamed for climate change. When we return to healthy food production processes, through careful application of the design principles of permaculture, and a restoration to normal, local food production systems, we can begin rebuilding soil, but we also begin returning carbon back into the soil. According to Joel Salatin, a move to perennial based, high efficiency grazing, if done only in the United States would sequester all of the carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, in as few as 10 years. This methodology also builds soil at a faster rate than the environment can normally do on its own. In addition, permaculture systems can produce vastly more nutritious food per acre than industrial systems, allowing us to reduce the distance food travels to the table, and allowing us to return a lot of the acreage of forests we destroyed for farm land back to sustainable forestry.

This fix is a total package. It not only heals the land in the micro space, but it also meets human need in a way that fixes the larger issues facing our planet, assuming climate change is real.

The news gets better! This is not a large scale solution that requires massive government regulation and the loss of liberty, instead this a solution that can be carried out by individuals and communities at the smallest scales imaginable. Only as more and more small scale answers are found will the large scale problems be repaired.

International Permaculture Day 2013

Today is celebrated throughout the Permaculture community as “International Permaculture Day”. To be honest I have no idea who made the decision to celebrate May 6 as International Permaculture Day, when that decision was made, or what the motivation was behind it; but I figured this would be a great day for a discussion about permaculture, as well as an important announcement.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept permaculture is the idea of permanent culture, based on permanent agriculture. Rather than treating mankind as either the dominant force on the planet with full rights to exploit resources as he pleases, or as a force for evil that is always destroying things, permaculture harmonizes the relationship between man and creation and works to form systems that are beneficial to all parties involved.

When humans use their intellectual prowess to design systems that mimic natural cycles, but provide for mankind’s needs, as well as the needs of the soil, water, animal life, etc; we can become a force for improving and stewarding the earth’s resources. This is done at the miniature level, through the actions of individuals, as well as at the larger level through community.

Permaculture, presents an answer to many of the problems we face today, by creating sustainable systems that can preserve individuals and communities through even the toughest times. The key is in working with nature an not against it.

Personally I see tremendous value in the use of this system and methodology, not just in solving the environmental and agricultural problems we face today, but also in solving some of the deep cultural wounds that our modern culture suffers from. Returning to our proper role as stewards in the created order has a natural effect of bringing us closer in relationship to the creator. Permaculture systems should play a vital role in the future of Christian mission as, much like the Gospel itself, they strive to solve the whole of the problem and not just part of it.

For an amazing look at how a mature permaculture system works check out this article and video of Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm.

In closing I need to make an important announcement. In continuing to pursue the path God has for my family, I have enrolled in a 72 hour, 9 week Permaculture Design Certificate Course with Geoff Lawton. Balancing that with time with my family, and care for my Mini Farm, is going to take quite a bit of work. As such my posts will probably become less frequent until the course is over at the end of August. I doubt I will be able to stop writing altogether, since it is important to keeping me sane, but I will have to slow down. Thank you so much for your support and for keeping up with my blog!

Daily Scripture Meditation

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of of the world makes himself and enemy of God. -James 4:4 NKJV

It would seem to me that we have largely forgotten that the Gospel is incompatible with the rest of the world. When we take on worldly behaviors or give in to worldly thoughts and activities we are moving away from God in doing so. We cannot continue in the normal, day to day activities of everyone else around us, as Christians, and please God.

Christian worship is rebellion against the world and all of its wicked ways. When we give our lives in worship each and every day, we press in to obedience to God and rebellion to this world.

We need to stop more often and ask ourselves questions like: Is my life to compatible with the lifestyle and culture I find myself in? Does the behavior of the world around me bother me, or have I become comfortable with it? Do I stand out from the world around me, or have I become so like the world that no one can tell the difference?

We are called to be set apart to holy behavior before a holy God, this requires that we reject sinful influences and patterns in our lives. While the rejection of sin is a daily battle, it is one that we ought to win more and more as we fight it and in so doing make it clear before the world that we serve a different king, Jesus!

Can the Old Testament be Trusted?

In the ongoing debate over the morality of the homosexual lifestyle this question is becoming more and more relevant, and yet the focus has been entirely on the issue at hand with most people quietly refusing to ask the hard questions that should be at the center. Can we accept the Gospel apart from the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament reliable, and is it compatible with the message of the Gospels?

Over the past few weeks, I have repeatedly seen info-graphics, pictures of facebook discussions, short “stories”, etc. that take an aggressive posture against the teaching of the Old Testament, particularly when it comes to basic definitions of morality. The argument is that the Old Testament Law is separate from the New Testament teaching of grace and forgiveness. The idea is that when Christ introduced the Gospel of grace all obligation to the Old Testament law was lost. For Christians, according to this line of thinking, the Old Testament is outdated and shouldn’t be relied upon for sound moral teaching.

Those who teach this seem to have forgotten to read the Gospels in all of their haste to separated them from the Old Testament.

Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:17-20

We should note that this passage comes right after the ever popular beatitudes, in the middle of the sermon on the mount, and just before all of the “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” teaching that no one wants to dispute.

Is it possible that Jesus could really have meant to uphold the teaching of the Old Testament law? Look at the teachings on murder (5:21-22), adultery (5:27-30), and divorce (5:31-32) that follow right after this teaching. In most of these cases, true to what He said in 5:20 Jesus’ moral teaching either affirms the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of the law or goes beyond it. From this it is safe to gather, that just as He said, Jesus fully intends for Christians to adhere to the Old Testament’s moral teaching.

All the confusion comes from what we see happening in verse 17 “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”. The key to understanding what is going on in this passage is to have a correct view of the unity of Scripture.

The Bible is divided into to two testaments, or covenants, but it stands as a unified whole. The key is to understanding this unity is to properly recognize the purpose of the Bible itself. The purpose of Scripture is to tell the history of God’s redemptive working for mankind after our fall into sin, and to ultimately tell how God stepped down to redeem us from our sin and show us the way back to Him through grace.

This purpose is clear from the message itself. Genesis 3 tells the story of mankind’s deception and fall into sin. Yet look what God promises from the first moments of man’s sinful condition, in speaking to the deceiver:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Even from the beginning God had promised to send One who would crush the head of the Serpent, but since a testament is a covenant, we should recognize that everything that proceeds the giving of the covenant to Abraham in Genesis 12 is the prequel, the back story that explains why the story is necessary. Look at the covenant itself and God’s plan is perfectly clear:

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)

From the very institution of the covenant, God is working to see the redemption and blessing of all the peoples of the earth, in fact, those who read the Old Testament well will find that the “Great Commission” is simply a restating of what God has been getting at all along.

When we recognize this unifying theme in Scripture, then we can ask ourselves what the point of all those dreaded books of the Law is. The New Testament writers as well as the early church fathers all agree, the purpose of the Law is to demonstrate to mankind our own sinful condition, the insufficiency of animal sacrifice as well as our own works, and our ultimate need for redemption. This means that the moral requirements of God do not simply go away because we cannot meet them, they are tied directly to God’s divine nature and cannot change. What does change is the means by which mankind ACCESS God.

God gave us the full weight of His moral law, and a sacrifice system for when we failed to live up to it, to demonstrate in fullness that we are unable to live up to His just requirements. As shown above Jesus reiterated and reinforced these just requirements, but then chose to introduce the power of grace. Christ bore the punishment of our moral failure on the cross, once for all time, and freed those who place their faith in Him from the just recompense of their sinful ways. In so doing He put an end to the need for the sacrifice system, by His one perfect sacrifice.

It gets even better though! Rather than excuse us from the demands of God’s just law, the power of Christ allows us to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirt who makes us able to meet God’s righteous requirements. The moral demands of God cannot go away because to do so would make God not God, but being God He has chosen to not only pardon our past sins but also to empower us to walk a life free from entangling sin. The message of Christ is not that holiness will be redefined so we can reach it, but rather that we will be transformed so that we can attain true holiness.

Where does that leave this discussion? What is it we are actually doing when we try to reject the moral nature of God and His just requirements? There are two ultimate issues with choosing to ignore the Old Testament because we don’t like what it has to say.

First and foremost, those who reject the moral teaching of the Old Testament are closing the door to God’s grace. The Old Testament is necessary to demonstrate to mankind that we are sinners in need of grace, without the knowledge of sin, there is no room for grace. When we try to redefine sin to make ourselves or others more comfortable, ultimately we are blocking God’s ability to forgive us of that sin and to empower us to overcome that sin. God had to give the Old Testament first, before we would have any ability to comprehend what the New Testament meant. Apart from the knowledge of sin, there can be no forgiveness of sin. The reason for this is obvious, I won’t repent of sin that I don’t acknowledge is there. Our goal ought to be to recognize and repent of ALL sin in our lives, and as followers of Christ we are under command to help others recognize and repent of their sin as well.

Second, those who fail to study the Old Testament will fail to see the working out of God’s constant faithful dealings with those who follow Him. The New Testament doesn’t attempt to cover any ground that the Old Testament has already thoroughly addressed, for this reason it dwells on the Gospel itself, the establishment of the Church, and the teaching necessary to establish the Gospel in men’s hearts. Most of the great stories of God’s faithfulness to those who trust Him are in the Old, not the New Testament. Christians would have a much better grasp on how to handle suffering and walk faithfully through difficult times if they would just read the first 2/3 of their Bibles.

Ultimately, Scripture is a unity. It is all written for man’s redemption. If we choose to ignore part of it, we damage the means of our own redemption.