Posted by: Tom Rowley | January 18, 2010

The Local Church: Connecting People and Place

By Robert Campbell*

In focusing on what it means to be God’s people in the right place for the job of redemptive dominion,  I am not making a case for localism versus globalism–though I think there is a good case to be made for localism. Nor am I making a case for local church benefits–though there are many benefits of being part of a local church. And—sadly–growing numbers of people have abandoned the local church. They say that they are part of “the Church”,but are not part of a local church, which really has no meaning at all. Church, to be experienced, is always and only local. We actually have a theological term for someone claiming to be part of “the Church” but not the local church. We call it a “cop out.” God has put us in a place to be His people in that place. He has given us responsibility for that place.

God has always combined people and place. In Genesis 1 and 2 God creates man, male and female, and places them in a garden. The garden was a place, not an undefined wilderness. It was someplace with borders. He put them there to work it or to cultivate it. God put in the seeds and Adam and Eve were supposed to work to bring the flowers. There should be more glory in the garden because Adam and Eve were in it. The same is true for us. When we walk away from the place we are living, there should be more glory, more beauty, more good than when we arrived.

We see in Genesis 12 that God chooses Abraham and brings him to a place where Abraham and his descendents will be the sources of blessing to all the people of the world. People and place always go together.

In Psalm 104, the author sings about the greatness of God’s act of creation. God separates the waters in order to form a place. The psalmist describes the divine interconnection that happens between people and place. God channels the water to cause grass to grow, grass feeds the cows and man eats the cows. It becomes this happy, ingenious cycle of people and place as God intended. In the same Psalm, God waters the grapes, grapes become wine and wine makes man’s heart glad. God has always put people and place together.

At the end of the Bible, in Revelation chapter 21, God will create a new heaven and a new earth. That is, a new place for his people. God’s people are never without a place.

God has sent YOU to a people with the Gospel message AND to a place as stewards, acting toward that place as God would act. You can’t separate the two. You can not share gospel with your neighbor after peeing in his well. I know that sounds crude, but it will make sense in a subsequent posting.

Campbell is Pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church on the Central Coast of California. This series of essays comes from remarks delivered at the A Rocha USA symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, October 8-10, 2009
Posted by: johnnydogmatic | January 11, 2010

The Year FOR the Tiger

by John Humphreys*

Ah, the Tiger! Universally admired for its strength and beauty! And we are entering the Year of the Tiger! I quote from a Chinese astrological site:

Tigers may not be the king of the jungle, but these striped cats are no softies! Magnetic and self-possessed, Tigers are born leaders. They have an air of authority that prompts others to fall in line, which is exactly how they like it. Although they are magnetically charming and fun to be around, Tigers like to go it alone sometimes too. A Tiger’s main interest is in following its ambitions — and maintaining control…..(etc., etc)

Kind of ironic, then, isn’t it, that the last of the wild tigers in China has just wiped out? The villager claims to have killed it in self-defense, but still ate it. (

Now, it is the power of the tiger that is partly responsible for its downfall. Many Chinese, with a ‘sympathetic magic’ mentality, believe that if they consume part of a tiger, its strength will be imparted to them.

Fabulous. So tigers are farmed for their parts or killed in the wild. This most beautiful of creatures reduced to a source of questionable medicine.

A Rocha is making strenuous efforts to communicate with the Chinese Christian community here in the USA and elsewhere. Not a moment too soon! For although China is making certain efforts to cut back on pollution, this awful news is a terrible blow to conservation.

As William Blake said, in his poem Tyger Tyger:

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the Lamb make thee?

Let’s show a little more respect for this gorgeous, highly endangered creature. Please – let’s have a Happy New Year FOR the Tiger.

*Humphreys is a biochemist working in pharmaceutical software. He has been mad about natural history since the age of 5 and is an ardent conservationist and pragmatic environmentalist.

Posted by: Tom Rowley | January 4, 2010

The Local Church: Getting God’s People In Place

by Robert Campbell*

The church is a local gathering of believers. It’s a gathering of people defined both by their faith in Jesus and by the dirt they walk on. I think of that introduction to 1 Corinthians where Paul wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth.” Both the people and the place seem to matter.

Eugene Peterson writes about this gift of place in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:

“Everything that the creator God does in forming us as humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything that has to do with God is also in place. All living is local; this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, these people.

This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But I have spent an adult lifetime with the assigned task of guiding men and women in living out the Christian faith where they raise their children and work for a living, go fishing and play golf, go to bed and eat their meals, and I know that cultivating a sense of place as the exclusive and irreplaceable setting for following Jesus is mighty difficult.”

It is very difficult. But we are a people that always have a place.

My family moved to Santa Margarita, California just over one year ago. Santa Margarita is a unique town because it is entirely land locked by a working cattle ranch. The “village reserve” houses about 1200 people and it multiplies as the circle widens all the way to San Luis Obispo with a population of 45,000. In 1889, the railroad decided to build a town at the southernmost end of the tracks along the coast. The train would travel south from San Francisco and stop in Santa Margarita where the stage coach took passengers over the Cuesta Pass to pick up the train again in San Luis Obispo headed for Los Angeles. In Santa Margarita I am learning much about the way place defines a people. I am also learning about the local church.

The strength of a church is in its local mission. We are sent to a particular people in a particular place. Santa Margarita Community Church started with a local mission 60 years ago when a group of ladies, including Grandma Hazel, decided that the children of the community needed a Sunday School. It began in Hazel’s living room, before the church on the hill that we still use today was built. It started as a local mission and it still is today.

Not surprisingly, local mission requires being in and part of the community: David and Ashlee being part of starting A Rocha in San Luis Obispo; Su serving on our local Advisory committee where she takes part in all the bureaucratic and environmental conversations as a Christian woman; Karin and others starting a community-wide clean-up day; Jeff and Lindsay running a fine local restaurant, buying the food they serve from local farms and dairies; many in the congregation participating in local Community Supported Agriculture. It’s just normal everyday participation that makes us a local church bringing people and place together. That is what we are trying to do because our greatest impact will always be with the people we live among, on the dirt we walk on every single day. The local church is God’s way of getting His people in the right place.

*Robert Campbell is Pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church on the Central Coast of California. This series of essays comes from remarks delivered at the A Rocha USA symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, October 8-10, 2009

Posted by: Tom Rowley | December 14, 2009

Why Should Local Churches Care about Conservation?

By Robert Campbell*

I am a Christian man. I am a believer and a lover of the Gospel of Jesus. I believe that the eternal God, self-sufficient and happy in Himself, became a man in Jesus to die in my place, to save me from my sin, to restore me to the life that God intended and to bring me into restored relationship with Himself. That is where I begin all things. That is where I start all that I am and all that I do.

And when I look at the mission that God has called me to as a redeemed man, and I look at the mission of A Rocha, I see just how well the two fit together.

God calls me, and all of us, to be involved in a redemptive dominion in our world. When He first created Adam and Eve, He put them in a garden “to work it”, and He gave them dominion. That is, He put them—and us–there to act as His representatives, to act as God would act towards God’s creation. He didn’t give it to us for our own ends, but put us there to act on His behalf. And that dominion becomes redemptive as the story goes on when we see that God will glorify Himself, not just through creation which reflects His glory, not just through man and woman who reflect His glory, but through redeeming fallen men and women by His own sacrificial death and through restoring the groaning creation. So, as a Christian, I now take part in a redemptive dominion because of the sacrifice of Jesus, which includes both the people God created and the place God created.

My particular roles in carrying out this redemptive dominion are as a father and a husband and as a local church pastor. It is in the last role, pastor, that I write here.

I remember learning to love the local church while in seminary. Each year, during commencement, the first-and second-year students would become a tremendous choir – singing to the graduates, launching them out into ministry. We would sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God”, as well as a hymn I had never heard before: “I Love Thy Church, O God.” It goes…

I love thy church, O God

I prize her heav’nly ways,

Her sweet communion, solemn vows,

Her hymns of love and praise.

And indeed I did I learn to love the church.

Actually I learned to love a facsimile – a theory of the church.

When I got out into the real world I found out…they lied! The local church is dirtier, it is uglier and it is messier than you ever get out of the classes, the textbooks or the hymnals. And yet, as a pastor of a local church, I am learning to love the real local church–one in particular, Santa Margarita Community Church in Santa Margarita, California. Those are the people I walk with and that is the dirt I walk on.

And as a local church pastor, I believe that the local church—ours and every other–should care about and actively engage in the conservation of God’s Earth.


Because the local church is God’s way of getting his people in the right place for the job of redemptive dominion. More on that in my next few posts.

*Robert Campbell is Pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church on the Central Coast of California. This series of essays comes from remarks delivered at the A Rocha USA symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, October 8-10, 2009.

Posted by: Tom Rowley | December 3, 2009

Woe to the Label Makers

By Thomas D. Rowley*

When I was a kid, my mother—queen of catalog shopping—bought a hand-held, squeeze-trigger device with a dial on top. It being the early seventies and I being a TV-addicted adolescent boy, my recognition of the contraption was instant: Star Trek Phaser!

Instant, but wrong.

It was, alas, a label maker—one of those things with which you squeezed out letter by raised letter on thin plastic tape such useful identifiers as “wedding photos,” “washers,” and “underwear.” And though useless against such menaces as the dreaded Salt Vampire of planet M-113, it was for a while fun. Soon every box, drawer and cabinet in our house had a label stuck on it. Now, the theory went, everything had a place. Everything could be stowed properly, found easily and used efficiently. Life under control.

Or not.

It turned out that wedding photos also contained grandparents, aunts and uncles. Should they be filed under “relatives” instead? Washers come in several kinds: flat, lock, and rubber to name a few. Could one box hold them all? (At least we got the underwear right.) Labels, it turns out, are tricky business.

Especially when slapped on people. Take me, for example.

When I lived and worked in Washington, DC, I was often the “conservative” in the crowd. Why? Because I owned cowboy boots, read the Bible and voted Republican at times. Now back in small-town Texas, I’m regularly viewed as that “liberal” who wears Birkenstocks (for the arch support), works for “some kind of environmentalist group” and votes Democratic at times. (For the record, I still have the boots, read the Bible and vote Republican in some elections.)

In which drawer do I belong?

None, I hope. And that is the point. Labels are all too often an excuse to stick someone in a drawer. A means of dismissal. At A Rocha, a Christian conservation organization with community-based projects in 19 countries, we see it all the time. For many who care about the environment, “Christians” are the bad guys; for many who follow Jesus, “environmentalists” wear the black hats—if not little red horns.

But little by little, the glue on the back of those labels is failing. Christians—even so-called “conservative” ones—are starting to take seriously the biblical command to steward the Earth. For their part, environmentalists—seeing the need to have all hands on deck—are starting to welcome Christian involvement. (Witness E. O. Wilson’s appeal in his book Creation.) Consequently, and perhaps miraculously, the two camps are beginning to get along, at least well enough to cooperate occasionally.

We see this, too, all the time.

In Boise, Idaho, A Rocha is mobilizing churchgoers to help the local chapter of Trout Unlimited plant streamside trees to shade the water and improve fish habitat. In northwest Washington, we’re working with environmental groups and farmers alike on eco-friendly ways to protect the region’s blueberry crop from ravenous Starlings—an invasive exotic species that devours some 40 percent of the annual harvest. In Lebanon, we partner with the Society for the Protection of Nature to identify and protect endangered habitats critical to migrating birds. In Kenya, working with a range of interests, we crafted a program that both protects the last remaining stands of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and generates income with which families living in and around the forest can now send their children to school and help free the next generation from poverty’s grip.

Through these efforts and many others like them, common cause between Christians and environmentalists (and advocates for the poor, health care, farming and more) is forged, conversations begin, labels peel away and behind them persons—sometimes friends even—emerge. It’s a wonder what the sweat of shared work can do—not just for the goal, but also to the people pursuing it.

That doesn’t mean we will all agree on everything—whether the root cause of a problem or its ultimate solution.  And certainly not on politics! But evidence is growing that we can, and do, agree on this: the Earth—however one thinks it came into being—is worth caring for. And that seems a pretty good place to start.

So, as Jesus himself might say, woe to the label makers that seek to dismiss, divide and put us all into drawers. Let’s turn them all into Phasers, go outside and together zap some Tribbles—those fuzzy pink but dastardly invasive exotics.

*Rowley is executive director of A Rocha USA, a nonprofit conservation organization mobilizing Christians to steward the Earth.

Posted by: Marty Robertson | November 23, 2009

Christmas Already?

by Marty Robertson*

Sorry. I’m not trying heighten your anxiety about getting ready for Christmas. Actually, I’d like to help lower it—for you and for me. How? By challenging each of us as believers to take Christmas back: to move away from all the over-busyness of the season—the shopping, partying, caroling and carding–and instead put our energy into celebrating the simple gift of Christ’s presence.

Okay, so you might say, I get it. It’s about Presence not presents. But what exactly can I do?

Well, I have a suggestion.

To begin with, consider this: each year Americans spend some $450 billion on Christmas. Each and every year! Let that sink in for a minute.

Now consider this: modest estimates attribute about 28 percent of income in our country to evangelical Christians. If we evangelicals contribute to Christmas expenditures on par with our income, then that 28 percent of expenditures totals $126 billion. The number may actually be higher, since this is a holiday we support, endorse, and rally around more than our non-faith sharing friends.

What if we the evangelical church took the $126 billion we normally spend on Christmas presents for people who really don’t need them and instead gave that money to someone who truly does have need? Too radical, you say? Then how about a tithe on our Christmas spending this year? A simple 10 percent tithe on our Christmas spending would net $12.6 billion! Think how much good we could accomplish with that kind of money!

If you are still with me, then allow me to suggest two ways that some of that money could be used to accomplish good.

First, give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ. Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption ( For the past three years, Advent Conspiracy has partnered with Living Water International ( to bring fresh water to people all over the world. Why? Because more people die of water-born illness than anything else in the world. Amazingly enough, the price tag for getting wells and water education to everyone in the world who needs it is about $10 billion. Our one time tithe could fund all the wells and water education necessary to bring an end to thirst. That’s incredible!

But what if we took this a step further and focused also at the roots of water quality. Because even if we put in new wells to provide clean water everywhere it is needed, a measure that is vitally necessary, we have still not addressed the issue of environmental degradation that causes much of the problem. Many of these areas will still struggle with an impoverished environment due to deforestation, pollution, poverty and injustice.

So my second suggestion is to direct some of the money we don’t spend on Christmas toward conservation groups that work with people to help improve the environment where they live. A Rocha does that. A Rocha has community-based projects in 19 countries that show God’s love for all creation. Check out their work at

I know this may all sound a bit Pollyannaish–I often set my goals a bit high! But I really see this as an easy way to help us be people of the Kingdom of God. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So let’s take back Christmas and help build the kingdom!

*Robertson is a team member of the Santa Barbara Group of A Rocha USA.

Posted by: Tom Rowley | November 10, 2009

Doesn’t God Love Nevada, Too?

by John Humphreys*

How easily we fall into prejudice and stereotype, not just about people, but also about places. For his part, Nathanael couldn’t believe that anyone important – let alone the Messiah – could come from an obscure place such as Nazareth. Does anything good come from Nazareth?

For many of us, it seems, Nevada suffers similarly. Be honest: What do you think of when you think of Nevada? Las Vegas—a city that many equate to Sodom and Gomorrah? Perhaps, at a stretch, people might remember Reno. Or maybe that some parts of the state allow legalized prostitution.  That’s about it. The rest is desert, and that’s even worse, we might think.

If so, you might scoff at the idea that some Nevadans object to the notion that Nevada could earn money—cool millions, actually–by being the trash dump for other states. Nonetheless, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal (November 6, 2009), a proposed dump at Winnemucca, Nevada – a small town in the north-central part of the state – has run into opposition. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is attempting to block the arrival of four thousand tons of trash a day from San Francisco.

“I just decided enough is enough…why should Nevada be the place where other states send their garbage?” Reid is quoted as saying.

While staying away from the politics of whether Nevada should accept California’s garbage, (I live in Pennsylvania after all) I do want to examine a couple of facets to this story.

Firstly, Nevada isn’t just “useless desert plus Sin City”. Desert is, in fact quite valuable. We may have considered it useless over the last few decades—as evidenced by nuclear tests, pesticide dumping, military exercises and more–but a goodly part of that “barren” land is beautiful, and beautiful or not is a precious and fragile ecosystem. The authoritative State of the Birds Report ( paints a very clear picture of just how critical this type of habitat is, and how threatened it is. “Dramatic declines in grassland and arid-land birds signal alarming neglect and degradation of these habitats.” This is not an endless stretch of moon rock for us to “improve” with our waste. Check out for more on this!

Secondly, trash needs to be reduced not just relocated. The burgeoning US population has, as we all know, an insatiable appetite for consumption–and just a lousy record on recycling and reusing and composting. Consequently, we produce so much unsorted, wasteful garbage that it beggars belief. I know townships and cities are working very aggressively to get this quantity down, but …boy oh boy, there is still so much. We can get methane off landfill sites, if we make the effort to, which is wonderful, but the landfill still exists. Except that, in this case, it doesn’t exist where the trash is generated. Nor does it exist in Yellowstone or Manhattan, where it would generate howls of protest. Instead, it is being sent to Nevada where it will be out of sight, out of mind. After all, who cares about Nevada?

Well, I’ll tell you who.

God. He loves every Nevadan as much as he loves every Pennsylvanian and New Yorker and Californian. He loves Red Rock Canyon, the desert outside Winnemucca and all the birds that call it home. And He wants us to take better care of every square foot of the Earth that He created and called us to steward.

Consume less.

Waste less.

Respect more.

Love more.

Even Nevada.

*Humphreys is a biochemist working in pharmaceutical software. He has been mad about natural history since the age of 5 and is an ardent conservationist and pragmatic environmentalist

Posted by: Tom Rowley | November 3, 2009

Let All Creatures Praise Him

By Calvin B. DeWitt*

In churches everywhere people sing the familiar doxology: “Praise God, all creatures here below…” All creatures–all people and hills, birds and trees, turtles and streams, beetles and mushrooms, all creatures great and small. Far from just a song, the directive is, in fact, scriptural, richly declared again and again in the Psalms.

For what are we to praise Him?

For his many works, all of which he has made in his wisdom (Ps 104:24).

For his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the children of men (Ps 107:21).

For the faithfulness and justness of God’s works (Ps 111:7).

For God’s glory (Ps 113:4).

And as described in Psalm 145: for his unsearchable greatness, his mighty acts, the glorious splendor of his majesty, his abundant goodness, his faithfulness, his graciousness … Well, you get the picture.

Let all God’s creatures praise the Lord” is the clear message of the scriptures and of the doxology we sing each week. Bringing praise is expressing joy for the Lord’s creative and sustaining power.

All of this was brought home to me when one late afternoon, our family looked out the window and saw that it was raining while the sun was shining. Immediately, we ran out to the lakeside beach, where we could look into the rain with the sun at our backs. A botanist friend of mine noticed it as well and also came out. It was beautiful: a rainbow in full double arc with one end above the water. To add to the beauty, silvery fish began to jump in great numbers between us and the rainbow’s end, glistening in the rays of the setting sun. My friend asked what they were doing. In all seriousness I replied, “I think they’re praising God.” He agreed. And then, reflectively, he added that for each fish, as for every individual human observer, there was a different rainbow– a fact that had struck him as he looked at the rainbow first reflected in one of his car’s rear-view windows and then in the other. Each one of us, and every other living creature, observes our own rainbow and are refreshed by this personally customized and delivered, if you will, sign of God’s covenant—his promise not to destroy life on earth (Genesis 6-9).

And God does not stop there. In the final book of Scripture we are told that those who destroy the earth, themselves will be destroyed (Revelation 11:18).

With all these thoughts in mind, I think on the meaning of “let” in “Let all creatures praise the Lord” and ask two questions. Imaging God’s love for the world, do we also make and keep a covenant with earth’s living things not to destroy them? And as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, do we truly want our covenanting God’s kingdom to come, and our covenanting God’s will to be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven?

*Cal” DeWitt is Professor, Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison and President, Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists

Posted by: Tom Rowley | October 27, 2009

Is Satan Green?

By Thomas D. Rowley*

In the three years since PBS’ Bill Moyers asked “Is God Green?” the answer from American Christendom has become a resounding “yes!”  Proclaimed by everything from eco-friendly Palm Sunday fronds to the soy-based, Kermit-hued ink in the Green Bible, God’s color has been decided.

But what about Satan’s?

I know. I know. Talk of the devil these days is déclassé. Too fire-and-brimstone for our post-everything mindset. Plus, everyone knows he’s red with horns, tail and a pitchfork. Right? But what if C.S. Lewis were still uncovering missives from that diabolical Undersecretary of Temptation, Screwtape to his nephew and Junior Tempter, Wormwood?  What might that reveal about Hell’s slant on the environment? With apologies to Lewis, perhaps something like this…

My Dear Nephew:

I see a certain despondence in your last correspondence. The long-delayed awakening of Christians to the Enemy’s directive to steward the Earth has gotten you down. Particularly, the awakening of that pesky group called evangelical Christians–a label that writers of the New Testament might well have thought redundant! Do not let it. As with all surges of that army, this, too, can be redirected. Confusion is the order of the day, dear Wormwood. Confusion!

To begin with, keep striking the chords that have proven so successful for us already. Keep your patients focused on the politics of it all–feeding the notion that the Enemy simply could not mean them to side with those they growlingly call “tree-hugging liberals.”

At the same time, nag them with doubts about science; keep them asking, albeit subconsciously, how something associated with abortion and evolution (thanks to your good works, Nephew) could ever be trusted?

Play, too, the note that says “it will all burn anyway, and the sooner the better.” Ah, there’s nothing finer than bad theology mixed with hopelessness for turning them aside.

Finally, addle their puny brains with false dichotomies: Surely, they cannot evangelize and care for the poor, for example, while also stewarding nature! Needless to say, you must keep hidden from them the indisputable facts that nature sings so disgustingly of the Enemy who created it and that upon nature the poor of the world so heavily depend.

As always, keep them from thinking deeply on any of these matters. There lies our undoing! Instead, fill their minds with the busyness of life—the grocery list, the children’s piano lesson or the church committee meeting. Should you detect a serious thought forming, however, simply give a nudge that now is the perfect time to text message, email or turn on some enlightening talk radio. Oh, how I love that last one! What victories it has given us!

Should these attempts fail to keep them off balance and ignoring the Enemy’s directive, we, too, can become green—at least our own shade of it. Here, I, of course, mean money, that ancient yet infallible tempter. How they love their money! Forgetting as they so laughably do that it is not theirs and that the Enemy has warned them again and again about what He ridiculously refers to as idolatry. I’ve also learned of a new shade of green developed by our labs: that of the perfect green lawn. How delightful! The illusion of health and beauty fostered by poison, copious amounts of precious water, and the weekly toiling behind a deafening, fume-belching machine! Brilliant! Simply, brilliant!

Above all–and I really shouldn’t have to warn you of this–keep them from opening that dastardly book the Enemy gave them! Rare indeed is the patient who can be retrieved once he has devoted himself to study there.

Finally, make sure to keep our correspondence secret. Human ignorance of our plans is one of our very best weapons. Nevertheless, should this letter leak to the press, I am confident that misunderstanding and emotion (never forget the power of emotion) will cause such a disturbance that you and I will be dismissed as the depraved imaginings of some witless human writer.

As always, your affectionate (and green if need be) uncle


*Rowley is Executive Director of A Rocha USA, a nonprofit conservation organization mobilizing Christians to steward the Earth. For more information, please see

Copyright 2009, Thomas D. Rowley

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