The Radically Normal Christian:
Part XI: This Life Matters
December 4, 2011
Scripture reading: Luke 1: 26-45
It’s all going to burn!
When I was 21, I toured Europe with my cousins and saw some beautiful, wonderful things.
* The Swiss Alps.
* The Eifel Tower at night.
* Unexpected sight (thanks to Rick): Sweetheart’s Abby.
Q What have you seen that has struck your heart with wonder?
* When you think of all the wonder in this world, both natural and man-made, it really is too bad it’s all going to burn.
That’s what we believe, right? Everything here is going to be destroyed and only our souls remain and Christians go to heaven. The only thing that really matters is the human soul.
Q Does that bother any of you?
It does me. And not just because I love this creation, but because of the results of that doctrine, especially among Evangelicals and Fundamentalist:
* Christians tend to be behind the ball on the environment.
* We are frequently hostile to art.
* We have been behind on social justice and physical health.
It’s not surprising many atheists consider our belief in heaven to be one of the most destructive elements of Christianity (which is perhaps why Lennon wanted us to imagine no heaven).
* So I was quite happy to discover just how misguided this doctrine is.
It is normal to treat this life and this world as all there is, that this is the only story. When this is over, everything is over. And it is normal to live like it is:
1 Corinthians 15:32b If the dead are not raised [i.e. if this is all there is], “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
It is radical to treat this life and this world as a rough draft and once he is done with it he will crinkle it up, throw it in the fire, and start over with the real story.
Q Isn’t that what the Bible says, that in the last days God is going to destroy everything and start over?
Not exactly. There is one passage in 2 Peter that seems to speak that way, but we misunderstand it. Scripture doesn’t speak of destruction, but renewal.
* Jesus calls heaven “the renewal of all things” (Matt. 19:28).
Perhaps the clearest passage it this one:
Romans 8:19-21 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
I could spend more time on this, but I want to get down to how this hits us where we live.
The First Chapter
So then, what is the Biblical perspective? It is Radically Normal to see this life and this world as the first chapter of the great story.
* Imagine how differently you will treat this life if you view neither as the whole story nor a rough draft.
I have a lot of rough drafts – just throw stuff on a page, but I am trying to carefully craft the opening chapter. It is perhaps the most important one:
* It sets the stage, introduces the characters, tells you what they are like. And I think this life does the same.
Said another way: Heaven is not a giant reset switch that you can do whatever you like here but if you are saved you get to start with a clean slate.
* What you do here matters, it has eternal consequences.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
In other words, this is not about salvation – that is only by God’s grace.
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
I’ll spend the rest of the sermon talking about four ways we get to craft this opening chapter, the honor and responsibility God has given us, to affect this story for good or ill.
* I will talk about how our bodies matter eternally, other people matter, Art matters, and this earth matters.
1. Our bodies matter.
It is normal in our culture to base your value on your body. On the other hand, it is radical not to care.
* A recent study showed that those who attended church regularly were 50% more likely to be obese.1
The study didn’t say why, but I think I know: Overeating is our one acceptable vice. We can joke about eating too much, but not drinking too much.
* And I think it is acceptable because we undervalue our earth body, seeing it as unrelated to our soul.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
* Not just your soul, your body (contra Gnosticism).
Again, heaven is not a reset switch; how you treat this body affects the next:
1 Corinthians 15:35-37 35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
In other words, this body is the seed from which God will grow our next body. Different in form, but of the same substance.
* It is Radically Normal to view our earthly body as the seed of our eternal body and to treat it accordingly.
I am not saying if you have crippled or overweight now you will be so in heaven, but my guess is there will be some relation. I think that it is very telling that Jesus kept his scars.
Perhaps for a person like Joni Erickson Tada, who bore being a quadriplegic with grace and trust, her former disability will become an honor. Perhaps for the person whose obesity was caused by a lack of self-control, they will suffer some loss for it.
Again, those are only guesses, but if nothing else, Jesus made is clear that if you are not trustworthy with what we are given, he won’t trust us with greater things.
Q If you can’t be faithful even the most basic gift of your body, what can he trust you with?
“To live is Christ” means we should get as much out of this body as we can, because there are many things we can only do here.
Evaluate yourself: How are you caring for your body, without being “normal”?
Are you filling God’s temple with junk food or eating responsibly? Especially during the holidays!
Do you exercise?
Do you dress and conduct yourself in manner that honors the body God has given you?
2. People, not just souls, matter
Q If you had $1000 to give to either a Christian organization that would save 5 souls or a secular organization that would save 50 girls from the sex trade, which should you do?
According to many evangelicals, it should be the Christian one because what is the point of saving the girls if they are going to still go to hell?
* That seems to have some sort of logic to it, but it is totally foreign to the way the Bible expresses itself.
The Bible has a deep, deep interest in social justice: Freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, and comforting the suffering, even apart from evangelism.
Nowhere in the Bible is the idea that we should only care for their souls; in fact the Bible has far more to say about caring for the poor’s earthly needs than saving their souls.
Matthew 25:41-43 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
It is normal not to give except occasional guilt offering to panhandlers. It is radical to only work to save souls.
* It is radically normal to work to save bodies and souls.
One of the positive changes happening in the modern church is a new, balanced emphasis on evangelism and social justice, because neither stands alone.
This is also something God has begun doing in me. It partially about becoming more generous, but also caring more.
* Of course, caring, by itself is useless, so I have be praying and watching to see what God had for me to do.
Then last month, The Friendship House approached me and asked me to serve on their board of directors. I discussed it with Marilyn and the leadership team and after they ensured it would not take too much time, they encouraged me to go for it.
* I am very excited to see how God works with that.
Look for ways to care for spiritual, emotional, and physical needs this Christmas. (EG: Salvation Army bell ringers).
3. Art matters
Back when I was on my DTS, I found a book on the clearance rack written by Frankie Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer called “Sham Pearl for Real Swine.” It was a rather nasty attack on Evangelical Christianity’s hostility towards art.
The church used to be a champion of art: Some of Mozart’s sonatas were written for Sunday service, art flowed from fellow believers, some of the most beautiful buildings are churches.
In contrast to that, I have heard it taught that spending a lot of money on a building is an ungodly waste of money. That money should be used for missions instead.
Again, that seems logical, but it is foreign to the way the Bible expresses itself. The tabernacle had 3.75 tons of Silver, value: c. $4 million. Gold: 1 ton, value: c. $53 million.
* That is the world most expensive tent!
And the Temple was even more impressive. It was by far and away the largest temple compound in the ancient world. The tabernacle and temple’s glory was to draw attention to God’s glory, to be a mirror to his greater glory.
God never went back on that idea. The reason the early church didn’t have buildings wasn’t because they didn’t believe in them but because they were an illegal religion.
This same idea can be applied to many areas of art. In short, God meant us to be little creators and little truth tellers. Art is meant to be both, and the Christian artist has the ability to do both better than others.
That to say: It is normal to treat art as an end to itself. It is radical to treat it as a waste of time. But it is radically normal to treat art as a way to reflect God’s glory and truth.
* That doesn’t mean all Christian art must be pretty and nice; sometimes we must tell the truth about sin to bring him glory.
The practical application of all this is two-fold: 1) Enjoy art without guilt (though be aware it affects you), and 2) If God has given you the skill, use it for his glory.
4. This earth matters
Evangelicals and Fundamentalist have been behind the ball on caring for the environment because, as I said at the beginning, “It’s all going to burn.”
It is normal to treat this world as our only home and justify any means to save it. It is raDiCal to treat is as a hotel room and not take care of it at all.
* It is radically normal to treat it as God’s property in our temporary care.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
We are to be his little rulers in his place.
* How we treat this earth that he has entrusted to us shows God how much he can trust us with other things of his.
Not only that, if we take that passage about creation groaning seriously, we get the impression this earth is also like a seed from which God will bring forth the new heavens and new earth.
* How we treat this earth, I believe, has eternal consequences.
Look for specific ways you can better care for this earth.
To wrap all this up, I want to read from a book by N. T. Wright that has profoundly influenced me, “Surprised by Hope,” about all this stuff.
He begins by quoting a verse at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, which is the chapter about the resurrection and how God will transform these bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
In other words, because you know what you do here matters, that it has eternal consequences, work at it with your whole heart:
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. “Surprised by Hope,” P. 208
* PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A