The Jesus Who Came to Serve

by Jim Ball

But I am among you as one who serves.

Those were not empty words. And Jesus does not let us get away with projecting a false Christian servant-leader model. Jesus doesn’t let us fool ourselves with lame rationalizations by in effect saying in our own minds, “I can be a servant leader in my heart and at the same time continue to lord it over those within my power and influence.” His teaching and example are very concrete. To be the youngest is to be last in power and influence. Those who served at table were not those who did such service temporarily. No, they had a full-time, 24/7 servant status. They had masters whose power and influence they were under.

To be crystal clear, the Gospel of John reports that Jesus even washed the disciples’ feet. Afterward he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? … You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am … I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:12-15).

In Philippians Paul gives us perhaps the greatest interpretation of Jesus’ example of service and how it is to inspire us to live out the same attitude. We should consider others not only equal to ourselves, but better than (or superior in authority to) ourselves (2:3) just like a servant in the first century would. He goes on to say:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)

Jesus as a human being is not only the true image of God; he is also the preexistant Son of God, Creator of all things. He not only empties Himself of His Divine Sonship, “pitching his tent among us” or becoming finite flesh and blood just like us, he becomes servant to the servants (us), even unto death.

The Rev. Jim Ball is EEN’s Executive Vice President for Policy and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.


Climate Change and International Adaptation

Climate change is a natural disaster intensifier. It makes floods fiercer, hurricanes harsher, and droughts dryer. The one thing the world doesn’t need are more victims of natural disasters, like the father and his family during the 2005 Niger famine found hundreds of miles from the nearest feeding station “I’m wandering like a madman. I’m afraid we’ll all starve.” During the same famine mother lamented as she watched her young daughter die “As far as I’m concerned, God did not make us all equal. I mean, look at us all here. None of us has enough food.”

The reason such stories should not simply touch us as compassionate individuals but rouse us as nations and as an international community is because of the scale of the impacts, which have important economic and security implications. Billions will be adversely impacted, making it in our common interest to overcome the causes and consequences of climate change.

Given that these impacts will fall hardest on the poor in poor countries, those who have done least and yet will suffer the most, it should not surprise you that the Bible speaks to our responsibility to help them.

In several accounts in the Gospels people ask Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Law. In effect, they were asking: if there is one thing our lives should be about, what is it? What is the most important thing in life?

Jesus quotes Dt 6:4–5, something that observant Jews of his time recited in the morning and in the evening: “ ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ ” (Mk 12:29–30). Jesus immediately says, “‘And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ ” (Mt 22:39, quoting Lev 19:18). To make things perfectly clear, Jesus adds: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt 22:40).

Why does Jesus add the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? He does so because you can’t love God unless you love your neighbor, because while God loves you, He loves your neighbor, too. These two commandments joined together by Jesus are what the Church has called The Great Commandments, and from a Christian perspective they are what our lives should be all about.

In the Gospel of Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching of the Great Commandments, one of the experts in the law asks Jesus a follow up question: “‘And who is my neighbor?’” This sets up one of the most memorable and loved of Jesus’ stories, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

During Jesus’ time Samaritans were considered by Jews to be heretical, traitorous, half-breeds and were regarded with utter contempt. By having the Samaritan be the one who demonstrated love by his actions, Jesus in effect says that everyone is our neighbor – even or especially others we hold in contempt. And furthermore, those of us who think of ourselves as religious, as doing the right things to appease God and look righteous to others better think again.

Here is where this parable intersects with climate change.

The priest and the Levite were not the ones who robbed the man. , just like in our time we didn’t necessarily create the poverty of the poor, a situation that makes them much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But the priest and the Levite did pass by on the other side. Righteousness and love are the presence of good acts, not simply the absence of bad ones. By not helping the man in the ditch, the priest and the Levite made his plight worse and failed to love God.

Today, collectively, we are in fact making the plight of the poor worse through our contribution to climate change. And knowing their plight and not doing what we can to help to overcome it is like passing by on the other side – something no morally mature individual or nation can do. We must be Good Samaritans.

Part of rich nations acting like Good Samaritans when it comes to climate change is by providing sufficient funding and assistance to poor countries to help them do two things: (1) achieve sustainable and climate-friendly economic progress, and; (2) adapt to the consequences by helping them enhance resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts.

There are two complementary and sometimes overlapping ways to achieve adaptation, to enhance resilience and reduce vulnerability. The first is achieved by realizing the poverty-reducing and democracy-increasing dimensions of freedom, something that traditional overseas development assistance (ODA) should be helping to foster. The second is achieved through projects, processes, and mechanisms designed in whole or in part to address climate impacts. Both are needed. Neither can be neglected. Funding to help poor countries both mitigate/abate and adapt needs to be new and additional in comparison to traditional overseas development assistance (ODA) as required by the Bali Action Plan.

That the rich countries have a moral responsibility and opportunity to help the poor ones grow in a climate-friendly manner and adapt to climate consequences there is no doubt. We have the means. Let us now summon the moral will to be Good Samaritans on climate change.

The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD

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Book Review: Global Warming and the Risen Lord

by Brittany Bennett

I am truly astounded by how much has been put into this book. It is packed solid with the most accurate scientific information, true stories, and Scripture – yet it’s very easy to read. I can’t say it’s not challenging, but I really couldn’t put it down! I’m sure that you will be able to find the time in your busy life to read it as well, and will come back to it many times. I felt like I was literally taking a journey around the world and the Lord was holding my hand the whole time. I believe that’s because He was at all these places and He sees what’s going on. He knows all the people we meet and the places that are described. He also has a plan as ever, and that’s where we come in.

This is a book to unite generations and denominations into the Church that had the courage to walk with Jesus across the earth, and the faith to believe that there could be healing in the midst of global warming. It’s a strong bridge across the widening gap that the followers of Christ are called to stand in.

This book is written with the careful wisdom and understanding that most Christians simply didn’t know that the future would look like this. We’ve tried to live our lives in obedience to the Lord, we’ve enjoyed what we worked for,and we given what we can – but along the way we became distracted from an understanding about our impact on the environment, and the ways that our neighbors and other living things are struggling to adapt.

This is where I was a couple years ago. I’ve come to general understanding of what is going on and why I should care. The biggest struggle I have is wondering how I can be more faithful? How can I keep hope and know that in a few more years I won’t be devastated from the weight of these challenges? What does it mean to be a son of God in a world where millions are seeking refuge from a climate that is changing around them? How can I be in this world where these things are occurring, but not of it? What are the most accurate specifics about global warming? Where can I give? What can I do with my talents and skills? What can we do together?

So many questions friends! It is not easy to carry the cross down here, though it is an incredibly light burden compared to the alternative. Let me tell you that if you are wondering about these things too, please read this book. Don’t be afraid. I have faith that it will bless you and give you sustenance as it has me.

I thought that I had been hopeful, but I realized how little I’ve actually believed that the Risen LORD can so fully overcome. It is so easy to forget, but How good is He! How powerful and glorious is the Risen LORD that all our sin and weakness has been overcome! Many are the believers and great is the Lord. Let us walk together with Him as He brings redemption, and let us learn more about how we can love and care for all that He has loved.

Brittany Bennett is a recent graduate of Eastern University and has been actively involved with creation care


How Our Voices Make a Difference on Capitol Hill

By Rev. Jim Ball

Advent is a time of anticipation as we await the arrival or birth of our Savior on Christmas day.  For those of us working to improve the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, we had a great deal of anticipation about how the bill and the provisions for the poor we worked hard to secure would fare as the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee considered S. 2191.  I’m happy to report that on Dec. 5 the EPW Committee voted to approve the bill and send it to the floor with important provisions for the poor that we had fought hard for still intact.  Thus, we’ve been given an early Christmas present.  (If you were thinking of what to get me for Christmas, it’s already been taken care of).

The key turning point for whether the bill would be something we could support was a meeting of religious leaders with Sen. John Warner on Nov. 27.  We had been told that he would not agree to our major requests related to strengthening the provisions related to helping the poorest of the poor around the world adapt to the consequences of climate change – that he was “intractable.”

So expectations were low, and we were already developing our strategy of how we would try to move forward without his support – although we knew that success without him would be very hard to accomplish.  The outcome of the meeting exceeded our wildest expectations of what we could achieve for the poor at this stage.

While all of the religious communities played an important role, Sen. Warner himself singled out evangelicals as a community he felt was important.  Rich Cizik (NAE) and I were the evangelicals in the meeting, and Rich mentioned our polling results, including that 84% of evangelicals were in favor of climate legislation.  Rich helped him understand that the evangelical community was changing and growing in its concern for the poor and for God’s creation.

When Sen. Warner saw how much all of us were committed to the international adaptation provision, he said to his aide, “Chelsea, go get the bill.”  When the appropriate pages were handed to him, he took out his pen and said, “So tell me what you want.”

I reiterated to him what one of our Catholic colleagues had said earlier for the group, that we wanted the funds targeted to Least Developed Countries.  So Sen. Warner scratched out the language we wanted deleted and wrote “least developed countries.”  Then he asked, “What’s next?”  At that point my colleague Walt Grazer pulled out all of our suggested changes and handed them to him.  He then said, “Chelsea, let’s get this done today.”  Around 10pm that evening Chelsea emailed us the changed language that is now in the bill the EPW Committee approved on December 5.

While Rich and I played our roles in this meeting, we were representing you.  Without you, we could not have played our part.  So together the ECI, EEN, and the NAE are achieving great things.

This was an important victory.  While there will be many more battles to be waged before a bill is passed, we can now move forward in a supportive rather than critical stance.

God bless you all, and have a peaceful Christmas.

Rev. Jim Ball is the President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network