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Nothing grows alone…especially YOU!




(Today, we are sharing Part 5 in a series we are doing on Spiritual Formation in the Bible and its importance for believers today.)


Nothing grows alone…especially YOU!


The Jesus of the Gospels sees many parallels between our world and the kingdom of God. Stephen Lowe says, “Jesus teaches us in his parables that there’s a direct relationship between how things and people grow in nature or creation and how they grow in the kingdom.”[1] Dr. V.J. John agrees, “The message that Jesus sought to communicate through the parables from nature was that there is a similarity between the divine work of the Kingdom and that of the process of nature. It is God who is active in both.”[2] In his parables, the Messiah “often borrowed analogies and metaphors reflected the ecological realities of growth in creation that stress organic interconnections and reciprocal interactions of shared nutrients producing mature, mutual growth.”[3]


The last quote is from Lowe and his wife, Mary. Together, they authored Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age. In it, they show how the earth’s ecosystem mimics the kingdom of God and how, in a digital age, we can be more connected positively as believers than ever before. Like Paul (see above), they do not imagine a believer living their faith separated from the bionetwork of kingdom relationships anchored by being en-Christō. Paul uses this phrase eighty-three times in his letters.[4] “In the natural world, nothing grows alone, isolated and disconnected from its ecological habitat. Instead, everything grows ecologically through connections to and interactions with other living and nonliving things, producing mutual growth and fecundity.”[5] It is the same with the body of Christ; we are all connected.

 

Habitation of the Earth

Lowe says ecology is a biblical word stemming from the Greek oikos, which means “habitation” or “house” of the earth.[6] In Acts 2:2, the Spirit fills the whole oikon, “house, temple or building.”[7] We find some form of oikos more than two thousand times in the NT and the Septuagint.[8] From the first pages of Genesis, we see the locus of God’s creation in a garden. The word Eden means “land of bliss.”[9] When Hebrew speakers refer to heaven, they don’t say hashamayim, “heaven,” but Gan Eden, “the Garden of Eden.” Adam had a role in the garden, but God was the life source that caused fruitful trees to “spring up” (Gen 2:9).[10] Likewise, in the Church, Paul planted, and Apollos watered, but God caused growth (1 Cor. 3:6).[11] No matter how advanced our global society becomes, we still depend on garden ecology to survive.


One can only imagine what life was like before the fall. If one cuts off a branch from a tree and leaves it on its own, it will die. Without connection to the tree and its roots in the nourishing soil, the branch will shrivel up and decompose. When Adam sinned, “All of the ecological harmony and synergy that existed prior to Genesis 3 fragmented into pixelated brokenness. . . . The entire web of connections and interactions that made God’s original ecology hum along in perfect harmony was suddenly off-key and discordant.”[12] God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, reconciled us to him.[13] Now, Eden is a metaphor for the body of Christ. Just as Eve was taken from Adam’s body (Gen 2:22), the Church is the body of Christ (Eph 5:30) connected to each other through him.


Nature in the Bible

The picture of a healthy soul in Scripture is often connected to ecology (Jer 17:7–8, Ezek 31:4–5). “Psalm 1:1–3 draws a comparison between the ecology of trees and the righteous person—who, like the tree, is ‘planted by streams of water’ and ‘yields its fruit in its season’ (Ps 1:3).”[14] Conversely, a tree removed from the ground and separated from the water will die.

God himself is revealed in nature. When God is angry, the earth reacts (Ps 18:7). When he comes in judgment, we see “thick clouds dark with water . . . hailstones and coals of fire” (18:11–12). His voice is like thunder (18:13). When he shoots arrows, it is as lighting (18:14). 


We can receive revelation of the spirit world through that which is seen (Rom 1:20). Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways, says through nature, we can connect to God, “[C]reation [is] God’s cathedral.”[15] The Psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). The sermon on the mount was not preached in a church or synagogue.[16] John baptized people in the Jordan River. God revealed himself to Israel outside, next to a mountain through “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud” (Exod 19:16).” Thomas says, “When we lock ourselves inside, we leave part of God’s creation.”[17] When the desert monk, Anthony, was asked how he is content without books, he answered, “My book . . . is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, it is at my hand.”[18] Anthony could only dream of the view that astronauts would one day experience.


In 1998, seventy-seven-year-old John Glenn returned to space. Almost immediately, he was overwhelmed with the presence of God. “To look up out at this kind of creation,” he stated in a news conference from space, “and not believe in God is to me impossible.”


Glenn is not alone. Space flight apparently is a rather effective evangelist. Bryan O’Connor, a retired astronaut, said an enhanced faith “is pretty common” for astronauts. “I can tell you I felt a sense of awe out there looking at the Earth that I never had before.”[19]


Not only do the heavens declare God’s glory, but so does the earth from the heavenly view.


Harmony, Rivalry, and the Ecosystem

Believers are connected to the same Jesus. The Bible does not offer a concept whereby each one is connected to their own individual Jesus. The most potent imagery we see is in John 15, where Jesus is the life-giving vine, and we are branches. Through him, we are all connected. “Interconnection is the hallmark of an ecological understanding of creation that recognizes and values the mutual resources these interconnections provide for the growth of all living things and persons.”[20] We feed not only from the vine (Jesus) but also from the other branches (each other).


The Lowes speak of syn-compounds both vertically to God and horizontally towards each other.[21] Syn is a Greek prefix that means “together with” or “connected to.”[22] While the vine is perfect, what happens if some branches rebel? The Isaiah 5:1 vineyard is perfectly cultivated, yet it does not produce fruit. There was something off in the ecosystem. Despite God’s tender care for the vineyard, it produced worthless grapes.[23] In Philippians, Paul urges believers to be sympsychos, “united in spirit,” or “harmonious,”[24] as the rivalry between two women was hurting the Philippian ecosystem (Phil 4:2). Paul uses four syn-compounds in the next verse, “to make his point for seeking unity generally and specifically as it applies to the two women he names.”[25] We referred to Paul’s comparison of such divisions to the destruction of God's temple (1 Cor 3:17).


These ruptures in the spiritual ecosystem are all too common. The Azuza Street Revival of 1906, of which Frank Bartlemen famously said, “The color line was washed away by the blood,”[26] ended in splits,[27] racism, and arguments over doctrine. [28] The Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, which “claimed 2.5 million visitors from all over the world, some 5,000 people at nightly services, and 200,000 converts,”[29] ended in a schism that negatively impacted the spiritual ecosystem of the worldwide charismatic body. As we will study in the next section:


A divided body of Christ disconnects these vital corridors of nutrient exchange (between believers) and interferes with the spiritual growth process. . . . Anytime we experience a disruption in our relationships with other Christians, we jeopardize the spiritual growth of all the parties involved.[30]

 

It is not the negative voices outside the church that are most detrimental to growth but the ones inside.


The ecological motif is present throughout scripture, from the Garden of Eden to the “river of the water of life” (Rev 22:1–5) in the last chapter of the Bible. The celebrated Israeli kibbutznik, Daniel Hillel, wrote, “All the events described in the Bible took place in the distinctive ecological domains of the region that includes the Fertile Crescent.”[31] Understanding ecology assists us in understanding God’s kingdom and helping us in our quest for spiritual formation.



 

[1] Stephen Lowe, “Ecologies of Spiritual Formation – Part 1,” Liberty University, accessed February 13, 2024, 00:56, https://canvas.liberty.edu/courses/581417/pages/watch-ecologies-of-spiritual-formation-part-1?module_item_id=61391379.

[2] V.J. John, “Kingdom of God and Ecology: A Parabolic Perspective,” Bangalore Theological Forum Volume 34, No. 1 (June 2002): 93.

[3] Lowe and Lowe, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, 33.

[4] Thompson, The Church According to Paul, 52.

[6] Lowe, “Ecologies of Spiritual Formation – Part 1,” 01:41.

[7] Swanson, DBL Greek, oikos.

[8] Ibid., 02:25.

[9] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, NL: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 792.

[10] Lowe and Lowe, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, 19.

[11] Ibid., 43.

[12] Ibid., 21.

[13] Ibid., 22.

[14] Ibid., 29.

[15] Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 35, Kindle.

[16] Ibid., 37.

[17] Ibid., 36.

[18] Quoted in Thomas, Sacred Pathways, 39.

[19] Ibid., 39-40.

[21] Ibid., Chapters 9 and 10.

[22] Ibid., 140.

[23] Ibid., 31.

[24] Arndt, BDAG, 961.

[25] Lowe and Lowe, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, 162.

[26] Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 60. Kindle. 

[27] Ibid., 61.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 69.

[30] Lowe and Lowe, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, 61-62.

[31] Daniel Hillel, The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 13.

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Satan's agenda is to split Christians along political lines. Jesus brought division, but between those who are for him and those who are against him. He demands allegiance to himself over our loyalty to family. A friend of mine expressed it like this: "Blood is thicker than water but Jesus' blood is thicker than any other". If we live by this tenet, it will promote unity among believers.

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