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Friday, June 10, 2005

The Water of Life--author of truth

Today I’m reflecting on the weekend a bit. We are in a series at Westwinds called “Can’t Live Without” where we are tracing the elements (Water, Air, Fire, Land) through scripture and asking questions about life and God while reflecting on these four necessary things.

About a month ago, I started preparing for the message. My intention was to trace the elements—Water, Fire, Land, Air—throughout scripture and do what practicing hermeneuticians call “Biblical Theology.” Basically, this is where concepts or phrases or words or ideas are traced throughout scripture for continuity and understanding within a specific genre or time frame or within a certain author’s work. There are so many amazing stories in scripture with water from the flood—which shows both the destructive nature of water and the power to save as God spared Noah’s life through the water, to the crossing of the red sea, to baby Moses being saved through the water as they placed him in a small basket (literally an ark) and floated him down river, to the passages that speak of the new earth and the crystal waters, to water as a symbol of new birth, baptism, etc. The list is endless. My study took me down a path I didn’t intend to head down, but one I believe God is speaking in to.

I have heard some say that Christians are responsible for ecological dilapidation. That always seemed like an outrageous, unfounded, ridiculously inept claim to me. However, I recently read the book “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger and was thoroughly convicted. He quotes Ludwig Feuerbach as saying “Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul.” There was a time in my life, not too incredibly long ago, where my actions and attitude toward earth care would have been right in line with that assessment. There are a lot of things I am happy for and proud about when it comes to my growing up in the church. However, the sins of the fathers passed through the generations to me in some ways—including earth care attitudes—have been a stain on my soul.

I remember being a painting contractor with my dad. In the early days, it was totally acceptable to make sure the neighbors weren’t watching when a contractor poured used paint thinners, solvents, and general paint crap down the drain or tossed it in the bushes. We would make jokes about tree-huggers and lake-lovers and how we’d love to work them over because they had no respect for the working man. In my childhood, everyone who strapped themselves to a tree or saved the whales was worthy of a worse fate than what they tried to protect. We had names for these people like Eco Freaks and Earth Nazis—those were the kind names. Anyone who considered themselves religious—even called themselves a Christian—and fought for the cause of earth care was labeled as New Age.

I will admit, I think the argument that Christians are the cause for the rape of the earth is seriously flawed, but I understand the heat behind the fury. I also blame my forefathers for my attitude to some degree. Brian McClaren sets the stage well in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy” when he says “Christians in the power centers of modernity (England in the 1800’s and the U.S. in the 1900’s) saw nothing ahead in the secular story of industrial modernity . . . nothing but spiritual decline and global destruction. Their only hope? A skyhook second coming, wrapping up the whole of creation like an empty candy wrapper and throwing it in to the cosmic dumpster so God can finally bring our souls to heaven.”

I am learning more and more the error of my ways. I see how my extreme selfishness, my hurry, my greed, my short-sightedness, my competitive-win-at-all-costs spirit, my arrogance, my working man’s pride, and my general punk attitude have been very harmful to the environment and have been quite contrary to anything God ever intended for me to be. I have peed in God’s pool and I have laughed the whole time.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with some people who have dedicated their lives to getting safe water and sanitary conditions to people in the world where lack of these things threatens their health. My chiropractor, Dr. Jill Mitchell, invited me to the seminar because her family is very involved in the cause. I am ashamed to admit I never knew it was a problem. I was too consumed with me.

One estimate says that contaminated water and pour sanitation cause 30,000 deaths around the world every day—the equivalent of the death toll of 11 World Trade Center tragedies every day or of 75 fully loaded Boeing 747’s crashing every day. We could destroy every life in Jackson five times over to equal the amount of worldwide deaths per week because of bad water. 2 million children alone die each year from water related illnesses.

Whatever occurs on the land and in the air also affects the water. Water does go through a process of purifying itself, but it can only absorb so much damage. Statistics say that roughly 50% of the people in the “so-called developing world”—about 25% of our overall population does not have an adequate supply of drinking water. Only 53% of the people in the “so-called developing world” have access to potable, drinkable water. Having enough water and having safe water are two major concerns facing our world today. Something I take for granted—every day I take a 10 minute shower or flush the toilet.

McClaren says, “the surface causes of environmental carelessness among conservative Christians are legion, including subcontracting the evangelical mind out to the right wing politicians and greedy business interests . . . we often display a reactionary tendency to be against whatever liberals are for.” I hope we don’t let ourselves be defined by our camp or shadows of a camp we used to be in.

This weekend I asked, “How cool would it be if Westwinds became known as the earth-friendly church in some circles?” Call us freaks—we’ve been called that before. Call us New Age—whatever floats your boat. Call us hippies and eco-freak earth nazi’s—that may even be fun. I think God calls it worship—responding to the gift God has given us. Worship always includes surrender. It costs time, energy, money, and is empty of self. God smiles on that posture.

So . . . I shared all of this with our congregation. We also talked in depth about Jesus as the Water of Life and how that title is much more than a metaphor. The chemical reaction in H20 is magic. So is the Water of Life—there is something magical in the title.

For example, music is not just black dots on a page. And, hearing and responding to music is more than waves rattling bones in my inner ear and fluid washing past hairs in my inner ear. It’s more than electric signal to my brain. MAGIC HAPPENS. Don’t tell me when I hear a song on the radio that I haven’t heard in a long time and it makes me cry it is just because hairs are bending in my ears. When that song approaches me like meeting an old friend, there is magic! You can’t reduce the Sistine Chapel to paint flecks on fresco. You can’t reduce sex to a biological, physiological or reproductive act. And you cannot reduce the Water of Life to a metaphor.

It was an awesome weekend! People came out of the woodwork expressing their desire to take care of the earth as an act of worship—responding to The Water of Life. I am hopeful that some will be starting a ministry around Westwinds to lead the charge for earth care. We are putting a recycling center on our property soon. Our children’s ministry is growing a garden with the children and learning about worship while tending to it. I believe God is smiling on this. We are learning about being husbands of the earth as He commanded us in Genesis 2 (which, by the way, was always God’s plan. Working the earth is not part of the curse, the command came before the fall). It is all part of the process of learning what worship is.

Wouldn’t you know it though? I got a letter on Monday from a lady complaining about the message. I MUST share it with you—along with my response.

Here we go . . .

I just wanted to let you know that my husband and I were very disappointed in our worship with your church this past Sunday. We had attended worship with you before and enjoyed it immensely. The youth pastor preached that day, I believe. We come to hear God's Word and be refreshed by His Spirit as we worship Him for His greatness and all the love and mercy He pours upon us, not to hear man's word from a book written by a man. If we wanted that we would watch Oprah! Sunday for us is a day spent really being taught (indepth) about God's Word. Maybe it is different in Michigan...

Next time we are coming out to Michigan to visit our family, will there be a way to find out who is preaching and on what topic and out of what Book of the Bible? We want to know if we should come there or go to a different church that Sunday.

Thank you for letting me voice what God put in my heart this past Sunday. I work as a secretary in a Presbyterian Church but do not attend worship here. I go to a non-denominational church that preaches straight from the Bible and expects everyone who is a member to have their Bibles with them on Sunday mornings. That's another husband and I had our Bibles but no one else did... The people with their back facing the one screen never even saw the Scripture readings that were shown, so they did not even see the Word of God.

In the service of my Savior and loving every minute He gives me,


Here is my response:


My name is John Voelz and I am one of the teaching pastors/elders/and the worship pastor at Westwinds. I am the one who spoke this weekend.

It looks like you may have some presuppositions about what is to take place in a worship service. And, I might add, it seems you have a bit of sarcasm (hence the Oprah comment) about your expectations and I am deeply saddened by this. I must confess I have a hard time approaching a conversation when it starts out with this stance. I certainly don’t want to get in to a defensive situation. However, I am willing to talk if you want to give me a call.

In short, we believe very strongly that all truth is God’s truth. At times, we will quote theologians and bible scholars who have a wonderful perspective on God’s word. Indeed—those citations from those men were interpretations and passionate responses to God’s word which states we are to be husbands of the earth (Genesis 2—which was referenced this weekend), God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Matthew 6—which was referenced this weekend), the earth was created for his glory (Psalm 104 which was referenced this weekend), and Jesus as the Water of Life (John 4 which was referenced extensively this weekend). Even the writers of our own bibles—which I hold dearly as the word of God—quoted contemporary poets and scholars of their day.

At times, our hermeneutic will be a bit more scholarly and probably more to your liking. However, I must tell you it is neither our desire nor our mission to impress anyone with lofty exegesis or Bible study methods. It is our desire that people come face to face with a living God who wants to grab a hold of their heart and walk with them daily. At times, the best approach will be to have a good talk—like you would across the kitchen table—about what God is doing in our world and how we can get on board. It is not our desire to create a worship service that makes anyone go away feeling “good” or like they learned something for the sake of knowledge.

The highest level of hearing is emotive hearing—hearing that moves us to action. I am excited about the response in our people this weekend. Many are coming out of the woodwork to ask how they might help become better worshippers by taking care of God’s world He has entrusted us with. For that, we are proud. We believe God is smiling. No one wants to play church; we want to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and become the kind of people where sacrifice becomes our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1-2). It is not the pastors job to simply “feed” those who are part of the church—or, who visit it—it is the pastor’s role to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4:12).

I would encourage you to stretch your definition of what is appropriate in a sermon. I would encourage you to talk with God about your expectations when you come to church. It is my solid conviction that appropriate responses to worship have way more to do with what we “put in to” responding to God than what we “get out of” a message.

Call me if you like for any clarification.

In His grip,



Audio Collective said...

I thought it was a great message! Check out this page:
I went to school there for 2 years and they focus a lot on Christian environmental stewardship

good work and letting you know we enjoyed it a lot!

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