Readers of this blog know that I write about down-to-earth subject matter. More than just about anything, I hope to see the Kingdom of God increasingly oust the kingdom of this world (and its chthonic ruler).
But it strikes me as odd that so many of us American Christians, as much as we assimilate the world’s methods of operation and thinking, still erect sacred/secular divides. Many of us think nothing of spending an entire weekend browsing for yet more stuff at the local mall, but should anyone talk of helping the world’s poor find economic justice, that poor soul gets branded as a minister of the “social gospel” or part of some sect of Christianity somehow gone to theological seed.
I guess I don’t understand the hypocrisy of the typical heavenly-minded suburban Christian loading up her shopping cart with pre-Black-Friday deals that only tie her to the world, then having her say, “You’re taking your eyes off Jesus if you talk about fighting for people’s jobs.” Talking about earthy truths somehow can’t be viewed as having any relevance to the Church’s ultimate mission.
Yet I can’t read the Bible as some kind of gnostic document that imagines the physical world doesn’t exist. Most of the Law consists of bringing truth into the everyday earth-bound problems people faced. I can’t read the compelling tales of the early Church in action and not see that right away they’re addressing the down-to-earth problems of simple people. So the Hellenists complain that their widows aren’t getting the same attention as the rest. Do the apostles blow them off as social gospel advocates or worldly advocates of taking one’s eyes off Jesus to stare at the mundane? No, they do something about the problem.
Hey, I can pray for hours on end if need be, but come Wednesday night, I still must take a garbage can down to the curb. I can’t pretend while in some spiritual swoon that I can just forget about paying my taxes. As much as Jesus might love me, I’d still wind up in jail for tax evasion. And I’m sure that instead of being immaterial, those cold, steel bars would feel plenty solid in my hands.
Jesus didn’t think it was too smart to build one’s house on sand, and I’m sure His hearers agreed, even if they didn’t initially get the deeper spiritual point being made. That parable of the heavenly world makes sense only because Jesus tied it to the earthbound world. In fact, Jesus perpetually ties the spiritual and secular together. He Himself embodies the dissolving of the sacred/secular divide. He is the God Man.
I’m sorry, but when I hear people superspiritualizing Christianity, disconnecting it from its dust-laden incarnation, it makes me want to scream. I don’t get how people can spend all weekend in church, pray and read the Bible for hours on end, drop Jesus into every conversation they have with the lost, yet somehow think it’s too worldly to consider helping the down-and-out neighbor family get their car fixed.
I’m making no apologies: I’ll expose that kind of hypocrisy every opportunity I get.
It’s not enough to think we’ve got our vertical relationship (with God) down pat. We’ve got to get the horizontal one (with people) fixed, too. And being horizontal means that we graciously fix the problems here on this skubalon-encrusted world—and we do that fixing in Jesus’ name armed with Holy Spirit power.
As we go into the week of Thanksgiving, just what are we thankful for? God knows that I am thankful for Jesus and all He did for me and for you. I’m thankful as all get-out for every spiritual truth God surrendered His Son to live and die for. I’m thankful that Christ embodies all that I can every want or need. But I’m also thankful for the wooden roof over my head and the clothes in my drawer. I thank God for the flesh-and-blood woman He saw fit to give me and the little package of snips, snails, and puppy-dog tails that is my son. I thank Him for the land outside the four walls of this house, land that provides us food, and reminds me in its tree-pounding woodpeckers, slimy-cool salamanders, and sky-tickling walnut trees that God is Creator and King of All.
And I thank God that He saw fit not to take me up to heaven in a fiery chariot the second I placed my faith in Jesus. He has a mission for me here. Sometimes that mission will include helping a lost person find his way to salvation in Christ. Sometimes that mission will find me pounding a nail in the frame of a house destined for someone who couldn’t afford a home unless Christians like me stepped in and made it possible. It means I get to pray on behalf of a brother. And it means that the prayer I pray may be that this brother and his wife find more opportunities to get away from the kids so they can get wild in the sack without interruption. It may even mean my wife and I watch those kids to make that possible.
I can be a holy man of God by being an earthy man of God. There is no distinction:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
—2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Church, this week, manifest Jesus to someone else. And do so any way that seems right by the Holy Spirit’s leading.
I’ll be taking the rest of the week off from blogging. See you all here on Monday the 26th. May our Lord bless you abundantly this Thanksgiving.
24 thoughts on “Holy Man, Earthy Man”
Happy Thanksgiving Dan!
And as far as your post goes, it is good!
“If God has work for me to do, I cannot die”
Thanks, Francisco. A Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.
Happy Thanksgiving! Have a restful week!
I’ve shaken my head often at the contrasting realities shown by the juxtaposition of the American Christian and the Word of God. But when I was listening to NPR this afternoon, and listening to a writer discussing how he presented the “christian” personality of a person with multiple personas, I realized that while I may shake my head and ‘tsk’ at the hypocrisy, there are millions riding the rails to permanent seperation from God because of the actions of people who call themselve Christian, but act like the world.
This matters to God, and it should matter to me.
A Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!
Yes, the worst argument against Christianity sometimes is self-proclaimed Christians.
Dan — I understand very well the hypocrisy of loading up merchandise for self while chastising others for supposedly taking their eyes off Christ to help the poor. I’m not sure it’s hypocrisy, tho, but rather a misunderstanding, or rather erroneous knowledge, of Who Christ is and of what He taught. Some of this results from the pulpit, some from the evangelical church culture, and some from an absence of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual who simply does not know Christ.
I am not saying that all who share this mis-knowledge are not Christians. No doubt one can trust Christ without understanding Him.
I should confess that even tho I help the poor, I still load up on stuff, and would like to load up on more. That is as bad as the person who doesn’t know any better.
All of this comes from, I believe, our personal pursuit of self. It gets religiously justified by lumping good works in with works of the Law, and claiming that if works of the Law don’t save us then good works after salvation are bad.
This would be like saying if God doesn’t like pre-marital sex, He sure wouldn’t like post-marital sex.
It’s a lot more comfortable to denounce serving the needy; it’s just not more Christian.
The struggle to get by with less is indeed that. I’m with you, too.
I’m eating less processed food. I’m attempting to recycle more (in an area where there is no real recycling). I’m doing without more clothing, more electronics, more gadgetry, more stuff that only causes heartache and separates me from God. I don’t want to be like the fool who steps back and says, “Look at how much I have!” only to find out that I lost my soul in the getting. We Americans think that only applies to the filthy rich, but it applies to even those we might consider poor in this country.
Thanks for this post. Interesting that just last night (while attending a Dave Ramsey video seminar) I came upon this quote “There is a Hebrew word “Avodah” from which come both words ‘work’ and ‘worship’. To the Hebrew man, what he was doing on Thursday morning was just as much an expression of worship as being in the synagogue on the Sabbath.”
But we Americans need to be very careful because we have made an idol of our work lives. Our crazy ideas about our “careers” has brought about countless societal pressures, yet Christians continue to worship the “self-made man” idol that undergirds the American Dream. We need to be wise about these things.
One of the things that you write about so often is community. I guess part of the problem with stocking up on stuff and forgetting those in need around us is that we forget that Jesus calls us to a community where we are called to give and receive. We then justify ourselves by saying that God has “blessed us”. While it´s true that God does bless some materially, it´s equally true that we are blessed to be able to be a blessing.
Each year we host a number of short term teams from the States here in Peru. Each year the teams comment on how much the Peruvian Christians here sacrifice and how much love there is between the brothers and sisters in our church. For example… this past Sunday I made an announcement regarding our annual Christmas outreach where we serve hot chocolate and give a large number of children special christmas bread and other things. After the first service we had almost everything we need already! The people that have offered to help are some of the same people that often wonder where their next meal is coming from. They have learned the blessing in giving.
There is a connection! Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We have chosen to put the emphasis on relationships (and the giving and taking that is required in them), rather than programs in the church. The people love to help their brothers and sisters and the children that are so needy.
Don´t get me wrong. We have many problems in the church but we´ve made a commitment to work them through.
Making disciples in Peru,
Brian Vander Kodde
p.s. Dan, we´re praying for you.
You are so blessed to have a congregation that responds in true Christlikeness when a need arises. That’s what we’re supposed to be like here in the States.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Christians spent less time planning how they are going to hit all the right sales on Black Friday and instead spent that time working to help the less fortunate—and doing it year-round?
Thanks for the great prose-I have gained alot of insight as well as enlightenment from them. Its good to have things to ponder at times.
I belive, that unless we are hermits in the harshest of deserts, that we are all hypocrits of some sort. Its a small problem centreing around greed. Being humans, we are week, and easily tempted into thinking we need to “do” certain things. Having big meals to express gratitude-such as on thanksgiving, really doesn’t reflect what its about. Frankly, it would be more proper to go and help someone who is destitude, in need, living on the street, impoverished, or sick, then to be spending our shillings on frivilous things- that we really don’t need. We won’t however, we’ll gather our families around us, dress nicely, have a big meal, and then spend the rest of the time lounging around digesting it. Every month, during the season, there is some kind of a greed fest. We live in a country that is literally a cornucopia of wonderful food- that is there for us to eat. There are many of our brothers and sisters, who will not have even the simplist meal this holiday- or for that matter, during the week in an average calender time. Many will freeze to death in the cold, because there wasn’t any room in the shelter. Are these not also our brethern?
The church I belong to, serves all who need assistence. They have a Warehouse for those who need food. They can provide clothing and education to those in need. They can do this nationally as well as internationally. It truly amazes me. They serve many, and don’t desire even an acknowledgement that they did it. In fact, many are p ut off if you try to acknowledge it. They consider it the Lords work- a part of their life-both spiritual and physical.
Ja- we are weak beings. We fill up our carts, spend lots of money, and go our merry way. We figure the other person will do it- the Salvaton Army, or the Goodwill. Someone else will do it surely. We drop our nickels and dimes into the little red buckets in front of stores, and go away like the pharasie in the bible- while the widow left her mite. We beat our chests with pride as we march to Church on Sunday- because we have put our nickel and dimes into that very bucket. Pretty pathetic eh?
The real sad thing is this: Therefore by the grace of G-d go I. Anyone of us could end up on the street, lose our home, lose our family, lose our job or career- we can end up the poor man or women living in the street on a cold winter night- thankful to get a cup of coffee from a local restaurant at closing time. Then, after, curling up in their doorway to spend the night. Yes, we could all be that person.
In anycase, it boils down to this- Charity begins at home. Benevolence also begins at home, as well as fraternity. Its these things that hopefully differentiate us from other faiths. We have a manual to direct us, and we have the willpower and means to do it.
the challenge is: Can we really do as our Lord did?? Can we love our brothers and sisters as he has loved us? Can we serve the samaritain beside the road? Those are questions, that each of us as to ask.
I pray that all of you- have a marvelous holiday, a safe one, and especially a good one.
Happy T day Dan- enjoy and be glad!
“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be Glad”
psalm from the Torah.
I am not an ascetic. I think that every once in a while we need to celebrate bounty. Our problem is we celebrate bounty so much during the year that it becomes idolatry.
Josh McDowell (or was it Chuck Swindoll—the memory is going) has told how on his speaking travels he sometimes splurges and buys a flower arrangement for his hotel room, just to spruce it up and make it feel alive. I like that. That’s the right kind of attitude. It’s not over the top. It’s just right.
But I don’t need more than that. I don’t need more stuff. Some things I can do without. Some things I need to replace as they wear and break (or perhaps I can do without them, too.) We have to consume a little. But no godly reason exists to go overboard as we do.
If I have a fear, it’s that our quest for more cheap stuff will eventually make us dependent on other countries even for our food. That day may be coming and if it does, America is doomed. And I mean that, too.
I think you and I are very close to the same thought wave here. It is also my fear- and not only is it America that will suffer from that impact, but Western Europe too- for they follow in our wake. As a society we are doomed beause we are becoming dependent on the cheap goods coming from the East.
I hope you had a good Holiday-
i am awake early on thanksgiving morning. there is snow on the ground and the family is sleeping. after a week of financial disruptions,daughter’s legal problems, son’s misunderstood attitudes, bosses wanting more and other types of frosting on the cake of life – i am grateful there is peace in God.
i practice my faith. it’s called christianity. it involves Above and standing alongside. it involves hearts and hands. i practice.
i am grateful for the knowledge of peace, the mysterious healing of hope and the resurection of love. i fail but am not a failure.
thank you for your testimony and thanks for making me think.
Yes, let’s all be grateful to God today. And let’s be grateful for less. That way, when God showers even the little blessings on us, we are truly thankful and not ingrates!
I am so thankful that He is working in us to will and to do His good pleasure…and thank you for being one of the instruments in His hands that reminds us that unless we are real in the everyday mundane responsibilities of life we are not real at all and fool no one, least of all the Lord.
Every move I make comes under the banner of worship…I am no longer able to separate the small acts from the ‘heavenly’ acts.
Every breath I take is in worship to Him who gives me that breath. I see that you are coming to that conclusion as well. Others will come to it, God has promised to work that in us.
Thanks for refocusing my eyes on the stuff that matters. Have a great day of thanksgiving…
Thanks. You have a great Thanksgiving, too. What a blessing to be thankful for even the little things!
Happy Thanksgiving Day, Dan! (and family)
Very astute observation! Could not have said it better! Now the question, How do we transform people from the ‘high mindedness of the folks who in keeping thier eyes on Jesus, miss seeing the beggar at the door? Jesus encountered the same thing, with the Pharisees disdain for his efforts to bring healing. More concerned with the spiritual part of things, they had become so caloused that very little compassion was ever to be offered.
I encounter this same attitude in the church, where I serve as pastor, but we are gaining ground! Shalom! jim
I believe the only way to break people of this tendency to accumulate and be ungrateful is to suffer loss. Suffering loss seems to be the great cure for people who don’t appreciate what they have been given.It’s the only way to see the impermanence of worldly things. Only when we ourselves are transformed into the beggar at the door are we able to see all the beggars around us.
I can’t remember if I have visited this blog before but this post really struck home for me. Andy Stanley talked about this a couple of weeks ago. People in the world see us for the 6 days and 23 hours (minus sleep) that we are not in church. What we do or do not do in that space and time goes miles towards determining what kind of witness we truly are.
Sometimes I load up my shopping cart with items I intend to give to the poor.
I would so appreciate a distinction (if there is one) between “I don’t need any more stuff” being stuff you buy that’s mass-produced and stuff being things you might buy that you don’t need from an individual artist or small company making handmade (often more expensive) items. People tend to accumulate far less when they are broken of the mass-produced habit and have less-due-to-price while finding the joy of owning a unique item.
[Insert the anti-big box argument here. It would work very nicely.]
You have to understand how all of this feels to an artisan when someone who has a job that isn’t reliant upon direct selling of objects to people reads the constant barrage of “we don’t need to buy more stuff.” If art is the gift God gave you and you are trying to find a way to live with it, it’s a pretty annoying thing to be reading these things. We can’t all sell eggs and milk to the person working at the insurance agency.
There are many area of faith in practice where I struggle and know that my life does not (yet?) match the ideal toward which I strive. I should pray more than I do. I should read the Bible more than I do. However, materialism has been one area where I have been surprised at the grace God has granted me. I still struggle, but I find myself in odd situations. How do you convince your mother in law (a dedicated shopper) not to buy “stuff” for Christmas? I really would rather immaterial gifts – a weekend of babysitting, a hug, a donation in my name. Re-reading the comment, I sound awful self-righteous when the tone I was aiming for was surprise at God’s goodness.
Excellent. Worthy of an update/repost THIS Thanksgiving.
Grace and peace.