Announcement from Matthew About New Book

IMG_4140My son-in-law, Zach, gave me my Father’s Day present a little early this year. Before we moved into our townhouse, a large tree had died along the fence line dividing us from the neighboring apartment building. We got permission from our homeowner’s association to replant a tree. There was only one problem: a humongous stump–about three feet in diameter–was in the way.

That’s when it comes in handy to have a son-in-law. Zach went to a tree farm and picked out a beautiful sugar maple. Before heading out of town on a work trip, I suggested that Zach plant the maple beside the old stump, even though it was a less desirable position. But Zach wanted to do it right. He dug and dug and dug. Several neighbors came by to watch and encourage. It took all morning and half the afternoon to fully remove the remains of the old tree.

When planting time finally arrived, Zach backed up the pickup truck as close to the hole as possible. The root ball must have weighed a couple hundred pounds. Zach recruited Nancy to position the trunk while he backfilled. One of our neighbors gave us a water gaiter so we could keep the roots moist throughout summer. Zach returned later with a load of mulch to reduce evaporation and competition from weeds.

Every time I walk by that tree, I marvel. And every evening when I admire the tree from our bedroom window, I thank God for sharing His love of trees with me (and giving me a son-in-law with a strong back).

Last year, I read through the Bible underlining everything that scripture says about trees. From the Tree of Life in Genesis to the Tree of Life in Revelation, I discovered a forest with deep roots in faith. The first psalm says that a righteous person is like a tree. Abraham welcomes the angels under the oaks of Mamre; Deborah holds court under the palms; Zacchaeus shinnies up a sycamore-fig to see the Savior.

Most importantly, Jesus, the new Adam, plants a tree–the cross–on Calvary and waters it with his blood, sweat, and tears. The Apostle Paul tells us that in heaven the leaves of the Tree of Life will heal the nations and bear fruit in every season.

This summer, I have begun writing a book about trees and faith. Writing does not come easily for me. I rely on the Holy Spirit and the prayers of friends like you to help me.

It’s been a wet summer so far, and Zach’s tree is flourishing. I hope that in days to come, my writing will help the faith of others flourish as well.

–Matthew Sleeth

A Visit to Polyface Farm

unnamedThere is nothing as lovely as a road trip with someone you love. Just before Christmas, I went on a road trip with my son-in-law, Zach. We headed east to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Joel recently asked me to write the foreword to his upcoming book, and I wanted to see his farming methods first-hand.

Also, I was taking a young farmer just starting out to see another farmer who has become the world’s best-known spokesperson for sustainable agriculture. Smart is when you learn from your own mistakes; wise is when you learn from others.  I was hoping to help Zach gain wisdom.

For those unfamiliar with where your food comes from, I highly recommend a fieldtrip to a farm. Many of us have a vision of farms gained from children’s board books and singing Old MacDonald. We envision a farmer tending a few pigs, chicken, cows, and sheep, with an oink, oink here and a cluck, cluck there. But what the typical farm has is soybeans here–period, or Black Angus there–period. Diversity is not the hallmark of the modern agricultural system: monoculture is.

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Joel’s farm is the diversity of the operation. There are cattle, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs, and people. Four generation of Salatins work and play along with numerous young people doing internships. Which brings me to the first rule of agriculture: a farm should be a place where people are welcome. It should be a place of community.

The Christmas story we recently celebrated reinforces this lesson. There may not have been room for Jesus upstairs in the crowded tourist town of Bethlehem, but the manger was a place of safety and warmth. In the typical Jewish house of the first century, the barn was the first floor of the home. It was a place of community. Which brings me to the second rule of agriculture: a well-run farm should not stink.

Joel took Zach and me all over Polyface.  He walked with us through the fields and hoop houses. He took us to where hundreds of cattle were munching contentedly under cover, standing on thick beds of fodder. Nowhere did it smell.  Animal stench is a sign of waste mismanagement and, too often, inhumane living conditions for the animals.

In my first creation care book, I wrote about being in a chicken house with 15,000 hens. I couldn’t wait to get out of it mainly because of the stench. More recently, I visited a feeding lot in the Midwest that could be smelled from a mile away. These confined feeding operations bear no resemblance to the barn in which I learned to milk cows as a youth, nor do they resemble Joel’s operation. They are inexcusable. Joel and other farmers like him have demonstrated that farming can be scaled up without becoming an olfactory–and, for the animals, living–hell.

Which brings me to the third rule of agriculture: don’t eat food that has ingredients with names you can’t pronounce. Because of the attention to hygiene at Joel’s farm, neither human nor livestock must be pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals.

The kind of farming my son-in-law and Joel do isn’t as cheap as factory farming. The food costs more than mass-produced agriculture. But I wonder what the real cost of our mass-produced food would be if we included the cost of treating the diseases correlated with chemical-laden diets?

If you need an incentive to spend a little more on food now and a lot less on medical treatments later, go on a road trip to two farms–one industrial and one like Joel’s. Then spend the money to support the one you’d want your Savior to have spent his first night in–the kind of farm where you would be proud to see your own son or daughter work.

–Matthew Sleeth

The Gift of Water

With so many of our brothers and sisters around the world suffering from the effects of either droughts or floods, I cannot help but think about water–an indispensable building block of life. Our very bodies consist mostly of water. Without water, life on this planet would not exist.

God was extravagant with water–he covered nearly two-thirds of the planet with it. Some people have described the earth as a “water planet.”

But there”s a problem: 97 percent of the water on earth is saltwater–the briny, ocean water we all remember tasting as a child on our first trip to the beach. And there”s a second problem–about 85 percent of our fresh water is locked up in polar icecaps. This means that of all the water on earth, less than one half of one percent is drinkable and accessible to us. Fresh water is relatively rare.

Yet water is so much more than a physical necessity of life. It”s a symbol that Christ uses over and over again to describe himself. Water is God”s symbol of rebirth, his metaphor for resurrection to a new life.

Jesus himself was baptized in the water of the Jordan River as a symbol of what was to come, a physical death and a resurrection to eternal life.

Being a good steward means we must recognizing the powerful role water plays in our lives, physically and spiritually. We must work to bring water to those who have too little, restore the homes of those lost to floods, and conserve water at home.

Your brother in Christ,

Matthew Sleeth, MD

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).

Five Years in the Making

Greetings, my brothers and sisters. May the peace and joy of Christ be with you!

I have never had bigger or more joyous news to share with you. Never has the gracious hand of the Lord been more clearly seen in our ministry. We are beginning two new programs which are the fruit of five years of work and seed planting. These programs will change the manner and the scale on which we operate. Before I begin telling you about our new work, I want to share that we have received a $3.2 million gift to help us in our new labors. Now forgive me if I back up a bit to tell you the story.

Less than ten years ago, I became a follower of Christ. At that time the Lord called me to work in the area of creation care. This is not a new calling: in Genesis 2:15 the Lord placed our great grandparents on earth and instructed them to “tend and protect” it. Failure to heed this mandate has resulted in our current environmental problems. The results of our lack of stewardship are undeniable for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. In the American West, hundreds of thousands of acres of evergreen forests are rust red. A recent report on the state of the earth’s seas predicts an accelerating systems collapse over the next half century. Adding hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil in the Gulf and nuclear material from Fukushima’s crippled plants has not helped matters. Unusual weather events are becoming the norm.

Even our legacy in space is mixed. Today there are half a million pieces of trash orbiting the earth; 20,000 of these hunks of litter are large enough that NASA must continually track them lest they threaten the space station. The moon has a car up on blocks, the result of man’s giant leap. In many ways the situation is grave. We are reaching the point where humanity’s choices will become more and more limited.

Never has the moral compass of the church been more sorely needed. As surely as thousands of environmental articles will appear in the press this month, it is unlikely that even a few will bother footnoting what Christians think about the situation. It is as if the 300,000 Christian congregations in America decided not to get involved as a gang of hoodlums vandalized their Father’s masterpiece. The non-Christian observer must surely question whether we love, much less believe in, our own Father.

It is the mission of this ministry to rouse the church in defense of their Father’s creation. We have never been alone. Moms, dads, children, schoolteachers, pastors, journalists, publishers, film makers, as well as seminaries and denominations have heard the clarion call of the 24th Psalm and turned to help.

Two persistent problems have yet to be overcome. The average seminary graduate has no systematic training in what the Bible says about caring for creation, and the church has little voice in the noisy and pressing worldwide environmental crisis. To help with these two areas of need, we are beginning the Blessed Earth Seminary Stewardship Alliance and the Blessed Earth Church Stewardship Alliance.

The Seminary Stewardship Alliance will start with a dozen flagship seminaries covenanting to lead schools and churches in research, teaching, and modeling stewardship. It is important to note that many of the modes of dealing with the world’s environmental problem are not anchored in the scientific method, but in the Bible. The sabbatical principles, as well as those of sacrifice, restraint, concern for the future, and mercy for the poor come from the Lord, not the lab. We will bring the seminary presidents and leaders together next year in Washington, DC, to sign a covenant and to announce before the Lord, the nation, and the world their commitment to provide leadership and accountability in stewardship.

At the same time, we are launching a five-year creation care teaching program, starting with one year of programming at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral is a place of magnificent architecture and history. One half million visitors come every year to its location on the highest elevation in the nation’s capital. We believe that the Cathedral’s location serves as a metaphor for the project we are undertaking. After our year at the National Cathedral, we will bring the year of teaching to five additional large and influential churches. In each city, we will relate the eternal truths of the Bible to the trials of our current age. We will include media outreach, concerts, films, forums and other special events. Further details will follow, but make plans to join me and my wife for the launch at the National Cathedral next April 22nd.

To help fulfill this expanded mission, Blessed Earth has brought on Dr. Chuck Gutenson as our chief operating officer and head of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance. Dr. Gutenson is a seminary professor at Fuller and Asbury, an author, an electrical engineer, and has spent the last four years at Sojourners as their chief operations officer. We are blessed to have Chuck on the Blessed Earth team and will keep you informed as other staff joins us.

Please continue to pray for us and communicate with us as we begin these bold new programs. Pray that we choose the other city/church sites for the Church Stewardship Alliance wisely, and that we round out our first dozen seminaries with leaders who represent a group that seeks the Lord’s will. Join us in thanking the Lord for providing the initial $3.2 million dollars to do this work, in thanking all those who have supported us thus far and who continue to do so, and in helping us raise an additional $10 million in the next 24 months.

All glory, honor, and power are the Lord’s. Agape, love, and blessing to you, my brothers and sisters.

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).

The Specks in Our Own Eyes

The Bible provides answers to the problems of every age. If the world is dying, God has something to say about it. He has something he wants us to do. Our proper course of action is woven into the very fabric of scripture. What we are supposed to do is not so simple that it can be spray-painted on a placard. Our moral responsibility to God, the earth, our neighbors, and the future cannot be discharged by simply voting for the right party, or voicing the right opinions. Nor can we rely on others to do the work of change for us. Instead, this millennia-old Gospel requires us to look in the mirror. Matthew 7 tells us not to worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye until we remove the plank from our own. How can we become more like Jesus–more meek, humble, compassionate, thankful, forgiving, and loving? To start, most of us in the developed world need to scale back our lifestyle. We need to focus less on getting, and more on giving. We need to consume less, so we can serve more. These scriptural principles apply equally to the Church. Humanity stands at a great crossroads. We hold the fate of God’s creation in our hands. This is not because there is no God, or that God is not all-powerful, loving, or in control. Rather, it is the result of us being made in the image of a Creator God. We are free to choose life or death, light or darkness, and the very fate of our own souls. With this awesome responsibility comes the stewardship of not only the natural world we inhabit but the fate of our children, and our children’s children.

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).  

Make Earth Day a Church Day

Last year Blessed Earth celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day by hosting a simulcast event at Pastor Joel Hunter’s modern mega church in Orlando, Florida. More than 2,200 groups from every state and forty-five countries participated.

This year we will mark the day at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.–“the nation’s church” and the sixth largest cathedral in the world. Since President Teddy Roosevelt attended the laying of the cornerstone in 1907, the Cathedral has been a force in binding us together as one nation under God. Its gothic arches echo with the beauty of a people who bow their heads at the funerals of Presidents and inaugurations of its leaders. It is the church in which the Reverend Martin Luther King gave his last Sunday service.

To be invited to share a sermon at the Cathedral is a great and humbling honor; on Sunday, March 27, I will be reflecting on Earth Day in light of the 24th Psalm (“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters”). Please join us if you are in the DC area. A film of the service will be available on our website as well as suggestions to help make Earth Day a Church Day in your community.

It is fitting that this year Earth Day falls on Good Friday and that three days later the greatest dawn since the beginning of time is celebrated. To those who claim that the earth and the life on it are disposable–or that God cares only about altar calls and that He has no time for the call of whales–Easter Sunday reminds us of something quite different. God is the author of all life. It pleased Him to take the form of humanity and to dwell among us. He came to pay a ransom and redeem us. Christ reminded us that his Father notices every time a sparrow falls from the sky. He is that kind of a God–no less.

In the fullness of time, God will choose to sound the last trumpet. A theology that says we should force God’s hand by wanton greed or negligence seems dangerous at best. Easter marks the day when all creation held its breath to see the firstborn, the new Adam, the Messiah. This Easter let us renew our commitment to love our neighbors with extravagance and to care for this gift of God’s called the earth. Let us remember that Mary did not mistake Christ for a soldier or even a Rabbi on Easter morning, but rather a gardener.

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).

A Sense of Place

Nancy and I are in a new home. I lived for eighteen years in one place and have moved eighteen times since then, the last move occurring just three weeks ago. Once our community was defined by the common ground we tilled and the crops we planted. I grew up in that kind of place, four miles from the nearest town. When Russian dogs began hurling over the corn fields at night in silent space ships (remember Sputnik?), everything changed. Like many, my community is no longer knit together by walking paths along fence rows. It is woven from the threads of cell phones, cars, and computers. Forty million Americans will uproot and move in the next year.

Whether we move because of schooling, marriage, or work, whether we choose to go or are carried off in the child seat of a van, the Good Book contains wisdom for us today. “Put down roots as if you are staying forever!” is what Jeremiah wrote in his email to the captives in Babylon. Seek the peace of the subdivision in which the Lord has placed you. (Jeremiah 29)

Making a commitment to the place we live is sound advice for our hydroponic society. It is not possible for many of us to stay put for years, much less generations, but it is possible for us to plant vegetables and trees and to take a long-term interest in our community regardless of how long we are staying. “It’s our mindset that matters” is what the Lord communicates through his Word. “Don’t act like transients.”

Many of today’s ecological problems (plus a host of other problems) are a result of not taking Jeremiah’s advice to heart. We act as though we’re just passing through. We forget that time and place are a gift from the Lord. Jeremiah’s instructs his readers to make sure they find husbands and wives for their children. What does he mean? Think long-term about where you are staying–even if it is not the Promised Land.

As Nancy and I settle into this new place, I’ll try to keep this biblical perspective in mind. All those satellites whizzing overhead remind us of just how connected our communities are to one another. We may communicate daily on a global scale, but we need to seek the peace of God right where we are. Shalom.

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).

A “Treehugger’s Theology?”

A number of years ago, I was told I had the “theology of a treehugger.” This was not said in a kind tone. So, I read through the Bible, to see what God had to say about trees. It turns out that, except for humans, trees are the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Bible.

In the first chapters of Genesis, we see a relationship that will continue throughout the pages of history: God, humans, and trees. In Genesis, we learn that trees have a purpose beyond prosaic utilitarianism. They are “pleasant to the sight.” Trees are beautiful—it is a biblical truth.

Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last. If something is an Alpha and Omega in the Bible, it is worth paying attention to. This is the case with trees. We have encountered the Alpha of trees—the Tree of Life—in Genesis and the Omega tree in Revelation 22: 1-2.

Noah is handed an olive branch. Abraham meets angels and the Lord while sitting in the shade of oaks. Isaac is spurred by a sheep caught in branches. Joseph is a fruitful tree. Moses hears God in a bush, parts the sea with a stick (Genesis 49:22), and makes the waters of Marah drinkable with bark (Ex 15:24).

What of you and I? What if we find favor in the eyes of the Lord? Then we will be “like trees planted by streams of water.” (Psalm 1) Wisdom too is “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. (Proverbs 3:18)

Considering the importance of trees to us, and to God, it is not by chance that the most important events in the Bible are framed by trees. Jesus is one of only two named carpenters in the Bible. He describes the kingdom of heaven as a mustard tree that grows into a tree where birds can nest. He is the true vine and describes his followers as fruit bearing orchards. Palm leaves are spread before him. In the end, he will stretch out his strong calloused carpenter’s hand and die on a tree.

When Jesus of Nazareth arose from his grave, the first person to see him was Mary of Magdala. It is no accident that at first she mistook him for the gardener. Jesus is the gardener, arisen to redeem all of creation.

Christ the gardener has returned. This is the good news: God’s plan for redemption of the earth is no less bold or powerful than his original, creative one. The difference is that although we were not part of his original creative team, we are invited onto the redemptive one.

A “treehugger theology?” You bet. I hug trees for Jesus, because He died on a tree for me.

Adapted from Matthew Sleeth’s Introduction to The Green Bible (HarperOne).

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth

God’s Rx for Health


All of life on earth is precious—a gift from God. With this gift comes responsibility. Like any gift, it is to be cared for and appreciated.

As a physician, my job was to take care of people. In the emergency room, I saw a lot of what could go wrong with the human body.

It was not my job to judge the patient—only to treat the disease. If a finger was dangling off, I sewed it back on. If children came in with croup, I helped them breath again. If a drunk got in a fight, I repaired the damage.

Diagnosing a problem and fixing it is good work; I found great satisfaction in sending people out of the ER in better shape than when they came in. But in some cases, I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been even better if we could have prevented the damage in the first place.

The same is true for the earth. God is in the life-giving business. He has put all of creation in our care. We are to use the gifts He has given us, but never abuse them. We are to be good stewards of our own lives—and of all life on earth.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

Generation 2:15


“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)

In Genesis 2:15, God gave us our first job assignment: to tend and protect the Garden. One reason God wants us to take care of the planet is because we can’t live without it.  Our very survival depends upon the health of the planet.

Taking care of the planet is also a form of giving. Jesus said that the most important kind of giving isn’t the kind that seeks recognition. It’s about helping people who can’t thank you. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about helping people who aren’t even born yet. It’s about planting seeds for the future.

Some people think we don’t need to take care of the earth because it’s all going to be destroyed. Why bother? Jesus could come back tomorrow. And they’re right; Jesus could come back tomorrow. But if he doesn’t come back for 10,000 years, think about how many people would get to hear the good news. Isn’t that reason enough to take care of the world? Wasn’t that reason enough for our great-great-grandparents to take care of the world? Someday Jesus will return, but until then, we’re told to be the hands and feet of God here on earth.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, maybe we should ask ourselves this question: why were we born here? Why weren’t we just born in heaven? God placed us here because He wants us to choose Him.

This life, this time, is a gift—it’s a love story. God wants us to say, “I do,” not, “I have to.”

God designed each of us to be part of a vast body that stretches across time and space and culture. It’s called the body of Christ—the Church. God didn’t leave His Church, His body of Christ, floating out in the middle of nowhere. He left it on a planet teeming with life and teeming with hope. God’s hope for creation rests in us.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

Ask the Animals


“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10, NIV)

God is in the life business. It’s his desire that the sky and the air teem with creatures. He allows Adam the privilege and responsibility of naming each creature, and He entrusts us with their stewardship. We are charged with caring for and protecting the habitats they depend upon for survival. Even though God has entrusted us with stewardship of animals, the reality is that He still holds the deed to the planet. It’s therefore not surprising that compassion for animals is associated with godly people, such as Noah, Moses, Rebecca, and Laben. In contrast, people such as Levi and Simeon are cursed not only because they are cruel to humans, but because they are cruel to animals. Jesus, our model for compassion, is called the Good Shepherd and “the firstborn of all creatures.” He’s born in a manger surrounded by animals, and his first visitors are shepherds who have come to see the Lamb of the World. After Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. Christ gets his taxes out of the mouth of a fish and he rides into Jerusalem on the back of a colt. There’s an intimate connection between Jesus and God’s creatures. As followers of Christ, we should love what God loves. When we care about every bird in the sky as deeply as our Father, He is pleased.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

God’s Rhythm

article_imageWho Could Ask For Anything More? As an emergency room physician, I often worked twenty-four hour shifts. ER docs are not alone—today nearly one-fifth of the world population works in shifts. Our regular pattern of waking and sleeping—called circadian rhythms—are fundamental to mental and physical wellbeing. The resulting lack of regular sleep and rest is not conducive to a healthy home life, or a healthy body. Hypertension, peptic ulcer disease, cardiovascular mortality, higher incidences of work-related accidents and car accidents, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and higher divorce rates are more common in shift workers. Life expectancy for shift workers is reduced by as much as four years. Artificial light also harms wildlife. When we disrupt God’s natural rhythm of light and dark, the migration, reproduction, and feeding of life on earth is affected. Along the coasts, sea turtles have a harder time finding darkened beaches for nesting. Frogs and toads living near highways artificially made as much as a million times brighter than normal have their nighttime breeding songs thrown out of kilter. Whole flocks of winged creatures exhaust themselves trying to escape the maze of city lights. Is our 24-hour productivity quota really worth the toll? By short-circuiting our sensitivity to God’s patterns of light and dark, we are blindly experimenting with human health as well as the health of every living creature on earth. But here’s the good news: Of all the forms of pollution facing the world today, light pollution is probably the most easily fixed. Simple changes in lighting design and installation translates to immediate reductions in the amount of light we pour out into the atmosphere. As a bonus, these changes also save us energy. Hundreds of communities throughout the U.S. now use covered street fixtures that light only the ground below rather than wastefully shining it in all directions. At home, porch lights that are tucked into ceilings and outdoor motion detectors can ensure safety while reducing waste. Light pollution (and air pollution in general) interferes with stargazing. But something else often gets in the way: we are often so worn out from our busy schedules that we don’t take time to connect with the natural world. Slow down. Shut off the TV, close the laptop, and linger outdoors in the evenings for a change. Switch off the porch lights, spread a blanket on the lawn, and try to count the stars, just as Abraham did. As you gaze upward, you cannot help but be filled with the humility and wonder at God’s creation.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

Milky Way/Bars


A friend of Emma’s recently told me that he rarely looks to see if the stars are visible at night. “I just don’t think about it,” he said. “My dad said he and his friends could find all the constellations and would play late into the night under the stars, but I didn’t grow up that way.”

This young man is not alone. When I spoke at a college in Texas, I asked how many of the students in the audience had seen the Milky Way. Only a few hands went up. I have found this to be true in colleges all over the country: Three-fourths of Americans grow up never having seen the Milky Way. In the last two centuries, we’ve obscured the Milky Way that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and Paul all knew so well by filling the night sky with manmade light. While artificial light certainly has benefits, it also has consequences—something called light pollution. Light pollution is caused in large part by poor lighting design—artificial light shining upward and outward toward the sky rather than focusing downward, where it is needed. From space, all of Europe and Japan and most of America can be seen as a glowing dome of light. In satellite photos taken at night, we can see that at least two-thirds of humanity lives under light-polluted skies. Here on earth, even on the clearest nights, most city residents can no longer view the stars. Instead, we have grown accustomed to a ubiquitous orange haze, while the glorious heavens created by God continue to shine, undisturbed and unheeded. Make an effort this summer to get outside the city and drink in the stars of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the light that beget Jesus and you and me and every follower of Christ.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

He Calls Them By Name


“He counts the stars and calls them all by name. How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!” (Psalm 147:4-5, NLT)

God created a universe of wonder for us to enjoy. He gave us the sun and the moon for warmth and light and stars to help us find our way.

On the one hand, these heavenly bodies are reassuring, giving order to our days, our seasons, and our yearly calendar. On the other hand, they are full of mystery beyond our comprehension.

Both of these aspects of the night sky teach us about the face of God. The heavens show us that God cares about every detail of our lives; God knows the name of every star, just as he knows every hair on our head. At the same time, the vastness of the heavens reminds us just how small we are, keeping us humble before our Creator. The universe is filled not only by stars and solar systems, but by untold billions of galaxies.

When we look up at the night sky, we get a glimpse of just how big God is. He’s a God who can speak galaxies into existence; He can create extravagant, over-the-top beauty in the farthest reaches of space…and provide the moon to help us find our way home on a dark night. He’s with us when we feel lost and small and scared and alone.

It’s not by accident that a star announces the birth of the infant Christ. And on the last page of the Bible, Christ describes himself as the “bright morning star.” If you ever begin to think that maybe God’s love isn’t quite big enough to save a people or a planet as messed up as we are, stare into the night sky and—just like Abraham—try to count the stars.

God calls us to trust that He is present in all the mysteries of life. When we embrace the mystery of the heavens, we begin to understand a little bit more about the nature of God.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

Like Trees in Good Soil

article_image“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

One of the few parables that Jesus overtly explains is the story of the four soils. As we sow seeds, some fall on the path and are eaten by birds; these are the truths that we hear and the devil takes away. The seeds that fall on the rock are truths that sprout, but wither in hard times because they have no root to sustain them. The seeds that grow up with the thorns are eventually choked out; these represent the cares and the emails and the current events that distract us from God. But the seeds that fall onto good soil yield good fruit in abundance—this is the soil that pleases God.

God wants us to grow in our faith, like trees planted in good soil. Trees are mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible. Wherever there’s a tree, a branch, a bush, a vine, or a stick on the page, it’s a safe bet that God is at work. At the center of the Garden of Eden are two of the most important trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. God speaks to Moses through a burning bush. Moses holds up a branch to part the Red Sea. Abraham meets the angels under the oaks of Mamre. Deborah holds court under a palm tree. Nathaniel prays beneath the trees when Jesus calls him to be a disciple.

All of these scriptural references to trees, branches, and vines call us to bear fruit in our lives. Jesus describes the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When our actions are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, we are in a right relationship with God, our neighbors, and His creation. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Apart from Him, we cannot become better stewards of creation, but with Him all things are possible.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

The Great Oil Kill

article_image This past Sunday, many thousands of gallons of oil spewed into the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and began its journey up the food chain. At the same time, 400,000 people sat in the midday sun and cheered as 33 race cars sped in a circle at 200 miles an hour toward the place they began 500 miles before. While dolphins gasped their last breath, the race fans cheered. It was Memorial Day weekend in America, but it was not a typical one. We are witnessing an environmental catastrophe of biblical proportions–and the end is not in sight. For those of us who receive our marching orders from the Bible we should ask, “What does God have to say about this?” When I open my Bible, I find that generally God is a God of very few words. He communicates directly with less than a dozen people, and these missives are usually very concise. (“Moses, take off your shoes.”) Not so when speaking to Job in the book that contains the longest soliloquy from God. For those unfamiliar with the story, Job is a blameless pillar of society who loses his fortune and health. Most of the book contains a back-and-forth between Job and his friends, attempting to answer the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It reads like an argument between a husband and wife; things get repeated–only louder each time. Finally, God shows up on the scene. His answer to Job”s question is a five-chapter walk through the glories of nature. Think that God doesn”t care about the world and what we are doing to it? This section of the Bible says the morning stars “sang together” and the “angels shouted for joy” at the making of the earth. When answering our deepest questions, God points to the splendor of the coastline, the importance of wilderness areas, and the vastness of the constellations. Much has changed in the millennia since the Book of Job was written. Humanity has traveled into space and peered at the bottom of the ocean; we have split the atom and sliced our genes, but we have not learned the lessons of hubris. This Sunday I visited a church to talk about the Bible and the environment. As is often the case, it was the congregation”s first sermon on the subject, even though the entire Bible is filled with stewardship principles. Adam and Eve are told to tend and protect the earth (Gen 2:15). God instructs his people not to pollute the water (Ezekiel 34:18). And when Jesus is resurrected, Mary–not surprisingly–mistakes him for a gardener. According to scripture, those responsible for the destruction of ecosystems can be held accountable by the creator of life (Revelation 11:18). But as Jesus taught, we should not judge others until we have gotten the log out of our own eye. Every time I fill up or use a plastic spoon and toss it in the trash, I am supporting the system that looks for oil on the ocean floor and beneath the permafrost of the poles. This past Sunday we had nothing to be prideful about in front of the God who instructed Job on the ways of the deer and the ravens. It really was a Memorial Day. My prayer is that the church awakens to the biblical call to be good stewards of the planet. May God forgive us if we do not change.

The Water Planet


“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.” (Genesis 1:6-7, NIV)

Water is an indispensable building block of life. Our very bodies consist mostly of water. Without water, life on this planet would not exist.

God was extravagant with water—he covered nearly two-thirds of the planet with it. Some people have described the earth as a “water planet.”

But there”s a problem: 97 percent of the water on earth is saltwater—the briny, ocean water we all remember tasting as a child on our first trip to the beach. And there’s a second problem—about 85 percent of our fresh water is locked up in polar icecaps. This means that of all the water on earth, less than one half of one percent is drinkable and accessible to us. Fresh water is relatively rare!

Yet water is so much more than a physical necessity of life. It”s a symbol that Christ uses over and over again to describe himself. Water is God”s symbol of rebirth, his metaphor for resurrection to a new life.

Jesus himself was baptized in the water of the Jordan River as a symbol of what was to come, a physical death and a resurrection to eternal life.

Being a good steward means we must recognizing the powerful role water plays in our lives, physically and spiritually.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).



I was meeting with a group of graduate students from around the world. In a relaxed moment, the students started talking about what they found most striking about American culture. They brought up the size of our grocery stores, our religious and ethnic tolerance, and our friendliness.

One woman explained that she was from a small farming village on the Korean peninsula. When she came to school in the U.S., it was her first time out of her rural setting. What is it like to live in rural Asia for decades and then suddenly be beamed up to urban America? “What strikes me most,” she said.

“What strikes me as the most amazing thing is that in America everyone empties their bladder in gallons of pure drinking water.”

Her cheeks blushed, and she looked around the room to see what the reaction would be.

One flush of the average American toilet is more fresh drinking water than one third of the world uses in a day. As access to clean water becomes increasingly rare, followers of Christ must become better stewards of this precious gift.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

And It Was Good


“In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3, NIV)

This was the beginning of the beginning—the moment when God chose to create a universe for His own glory. God speaks the first sentence of a love story that will include all creatures and all people throughout all the ages…and it all begins with light. Everyone we know and everything we see starts with God speaking light into existence. Scripture is full of references to light: light is used to represent God’s goodness (Psalm 56:13), a guide (Psalm 43:3), and the truth (John 3). God himself is light (1 John 1:5). So, it’s not surprising that when God sends his only begotten Son, He is called the “Light of the World” who conquers all darkness. And we, as followers of Jesus, are called to be children of light (Ephesians 5) and the light of the world (Matthew 5). In choosing to follow Christ, we become new people with new priorities. God changes our hearts…and our behaviors change, too. It’s not about following a list of rules; it’s about following the lifestyle of Jesus. Just before Jesus left this earth, He said, “Go into the world and preach the gospel to all the creatures, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you.” The very first commandment we were given in the Bible is recorded in Genesis 2:15. We were told to tend and care for this garden—the earth. We can’t go out and make disciples while simultaneously destroying the water, the air, and the creatures that God loves. If we don’t respect the world around us, we’re missing a major part of what God commanded us to do. It’s time for the church, as children of the light, to take a leadership role in caring for the planet. And it will be good.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).

Children of the Light


My first scientific encounter with light occurred in kindergarten. I can’t recall my teacher’s name, but I remember the experiment we conducted.

Our class filled two clay pots with dirt. We planted bean seeds in both pots and watered them. We then placed one pot in a closet and shut the door and put the other outside in a courtyard, in the sunshine.
After a number of days, both plants sent up shoots—and for a short while they resembled each other.

Both grew on the energy stored within the planted seed. As the days passed, the plant in the sun began to change. It turned green and beautiful. The plant in the dark closet continued to grow for awhile, but it looked pale and spindly. It never produced any fruit or seeds of its own.

What I learned in kindergarten is that life runs on sunshine. Irrespective of whether it’s you, me, or a tree, life on earth is dependent on the element of light.

When we give ourselves over to God, we step from darkness into a great

light. The light is necessary for beauty, growth, and bearing fruit. We cannot supply the light on our own any more than the plant in the closet can make itself green.

For more of Dr. Sleeth’s reflections, see the Blessed Earth Hope for Creation Films and Guidebooks (Zondervan 2010).