Don’t Be So Heavenly-Minded That You’Re No Earthly Good!
February 4, 1996 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | I Corinthians 12:27-31
If you have ever turned an eye toward the “Peanuts” comic strip, you know that Lucy is madly in love with Schroeder, the musician, but she can’t get his attention. He just sits on the floor and plays his toy piano with great intensity while ignoring Lucy. She tries and tries to turn his head and win his love, but to no avail. Schroeder ignores her. Finally, Lucy asks: “Schroeder, do you know what love is?” Abruptly, Schroeder stops his playing, leaps to his feet, and says precisely: “Love is a noun meaning to be fond of, to have a strong affection for or a devotion to a person or persons.” Then he sits back down and resumes playing his piano. Lucy sits there, stunned for a moment, but then she looks out at the reading audience and says sarcastically: “On paper, he’s great!”
Well that was precisely how Jesus felt about some of the religious leaders of His day: on paper, they were great! They looked pious. They sounded religious. They prayed feverishly. They rushed to the temple any chance they got, but it never impacted the way they dealt with people. They spoke of love, but never got around to being loving. They were great on paper, but they didn’t know how to help and heal and serve and share. They were so heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good!
That kind of religion was a real “turn-off” to Jesus. That’s why He said: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who in faith imitate God’s loving ways. You will know them by their fruits.” It is significant to note that so often in the judgment parables of Jesus the key question asked is this: “How did you treat your neighbor?” That’s what separates the sheep from the goats. Active love is the sign of discipleship, the emblem of faith, the key to the kingdom. In effect, Jesus was saying that it’s not good enough to be great on paper. It’s not good enough just to talk the talk, we also have to walk the walk. As Christians, we are called to imitate His sacrificial love, to live every day in His gracious, self-giving, helping, healing spirit.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians that we are “the body of Christ and each of us is a part of it.” We each have been given gifts by God, and we are to use them lovingly in His service. Yes, as Christians, we are heaven-bound, but before we get to heaven, we’ve got a job to do on this earth. We can’t be so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good! Let me bring the matter closer to home…
Don’t be so self-centered in your spiritual life that you miss out on the world of service.
We are always tempted to be selfish, but especially subtle and destructive is the temptation to be religiously selfish—to cry out “What’s in it for me?”; to think only of “saving our own skins”; to see faith as nothing more than an insurance policy for a better life in the hereafter.
Occasionally I see a bumper sticker which always punches my anger button. The bumper sticker reads: “Warning! In case of the Second Coming, this car will be left driverless!” That bothers me. That kind of “holier-than-thou” religious gloating is repulsive to me. It’s a way of saying: “I’ve got something you don’t have. Bully for me; tough for you.” What kind of religion is that? It’s certainly not what Jesus had in mind. In fact, that kind of religious arrogance upset Him and drew His strongest rebukes. Do I believe in the Second Coming of Jesus? You bet I do! Am I going to live with Christ in the kingdom of heaven? Absolutely! Does that make me better than anyone else? Of course not. All it does is drive me to serve the people of the world around me and to share with them the incredible good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Several years ago, Guideposts magazine reported the story of a man hiking on the mountains who was caught in a blizzard. He was not adequately dressed for the plunging temperatures. He knew that he needed to find shelter fast or he would freeze to death. Despite all of his efforts, time slipped by and his feet became numb. He knew his time was short. Then, in his desperate search for shelter, he literally tripped over another man who was almost frozen to death. The hiker was confronted with a terrible decision—forget about the man and continue trying to save himself or try to help the stranger in the snow? He started to walk on, but he couldn’t do it. He came back, pulled off his wet gloves, knelt beside the man and began talking to him while massaging the stranger’s arms and legs to keep the blood flowing. Soon the man in the snow began to respond—and together they were able to find help. Later on, doctors told the hiker that helping the man in the snow had saved his own life. For you see, the numbness which had stricken him had vanished while he was massaging the stranger’s arms and legs.
That is precisely what Jesus said that when we try to selfishly save our lives, we lose them; but when we lose our lives for Christ and for others—that’s when we get saved. So, my friends, don’t become so self-centered in your spiritual life that you miss out on the world of service.
And don’t be so hard-hearted in your spiritual life that you miss out on the world of grace.
Some of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time were so narrow, so harsh, so rigid, so critical, so judgmental that they weren’t very gracious—and that bothered Jesus. He spoke of it often. He urged us not to be so critical and harsh with one another, but rather to live in a spirit of forgiveness and grace.
Did you see it in “Dear Abby” not long ago? The poignant letter written by a hurting father? I saw it, and it razored its way into my heart. Some years before, apparently, this man and his son had argued bitterly. Later, the son had stolen the family savings from the lock-box and had run away. The father wrote this letter to Abby:
I hope this reaches you in time to make your Father’s Day column. It is a message to my son:
‘Dear Son, I haven’t heard from you in several years, but I want you to know that you are our first thought in the morning and our last thought every evening. Please contact us. All is forgiven and we hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us. We want you to know that there is a big hole in our lives where you belong. You are a young man now and there is so much we want to know about you. Where are you? What are you doing? Are you married? Do we have grandchildren? It would be the greatest Father’s Day gift ever if you would just pick up the phone and call me collect. If I could just hear your voice and know that you are all right I would cry for joy. If you can’t come home, please let us know where you are and we will come to you. You are our son and we love you.
(Signed) With tears,
‘Abby, we pray that you will print this, that our son sees it, and will call us. But even if he doesn’t, maybe it will be read by someone else’s son or daughter and they will call their parents. If so, that will have made this effort worthwhile.”
Is there someone you need to call? I don’t know anything in this world more beautiful than grace and forgiveness. My friends, we need to beware of being so hard-hearted that we miss out on the world of grace.
And don’t be so narrow-minded in your spiritual life that you miss out on the world of love.
I want us to be a church built on love and radiating love in all we do. To be sure, I am grateful for the phenomenal things which have occurred here over the last year—record numbers of new members, professions of faith, adult baptisms and infant baptisms; the opening of a new building and the creation of fantastic new ministries flowing out of it; the forging of some very special relationships with corporate and government groups which are truly unique in our nation and which ultimately will bless us all. All of that is wonderful, but it is not yet enough. I want us to be a church which fights against the tendency to be narrow-minded and to be instead a church of love.
I want us in love to break down racial barriers. I want there to be no racism in this house of the Lord—absolutely none. To bring us out of different nations, different heritages, different races, different cultures, and bind us into one is God’s idea, God’s plan, God’s strategy. The church of Jesus Christ follows no racial lines. The church was begun on the day of Pentecost by people from at least sixteen different nations covering all of the earth’s racial strains. None of us would be saved had a foreigner not died on the cross for us. I want us to be a church where, as Martin Luther King said: “People are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin”. I dream of the day when we have people of other races on our ministerial staff. If I live long enough, and you help me, we can do it out of love.
I want us in love to break down denominational barriers. We are receiving people from many denominations. In fact, I took a look and discovered that every denomination in America today has at least one representative on the membership rolls of our church. As I look at denominations in our country today—most of them in various stages of decay or disintegration—I suspect that in another 15-20 years denominations as we know them will no longer exist. Mind you, that comes from one whose family registers five generations in the Presbyterian ministry. I love the Presbyterian Church, but the day of denominations is done. People no longer join a church because of a denominational name out front. They join a church because of the spirit and the people they find inside. That’s what is happening here. Even our ministerial staff which now includes a Baptist and an Episcopalian reflects that reality. One day, God willing, our staff may include a Pentecostal preacher and a Roman Catholic priest. Frankly, I think the Lord will bless that. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord”.
I want us in love to break down physical barriers. I am determined to live long enough and work hard enough to see to it that every building on this campus is completely and easily accessible to those with physical disabilities and that the ministry of this church embraces those with physical, mental, or emotional challenges. Bubbling up from the spiritual ferment of this great congregation is a company of our people called our “Special Needs Council”, and they are going to lead us in enabling those persons to have access to us physically and then to be welcomed and fully integrated into the life and work of this church. Every barrier, whether physical or psychological will be coming down in this church. That day cannot come too soon.
And I want us in love to break down spiritual barriers. I want us to be passionate about the people God is passionate about. I want us to remember that Jesus said: “I came to seek and to save the lost.” I want us to be a church for people who don’t like church. I want us to exist to help seekers for Christ become fully-devoted followers of Christ. I want those people to come here knowing that while they shall hear the Gospel truth uncompromised and undiluted, they will not be judged or attacked, shamed or humiliated. Instead, they will be wrapped in the love of Jesus Christ. In Luke 14, John tells of a prominent man who gave a great dinner and invited his friends to come. One after another they offered excuses for being unable to attend. So the man said to his servant: “Go out into the highways and hedges and invite all people to come so that my house may be filled.” God loves a full house, dear friends, and He wants that house filled with the unlikely and the unlovely, the undeserving and the undecided, the helpless and the hopeless, the hearty and the heartless. There may be many churches in Orlando ministering to the saved; bless them all, but I want us to exist for the lost.
So let’s never be so narrow-minded that we miss out on the world of love in Jesus Christ.
Listen up, please.
God has a job for you. God has a special task for you. God has a ministry for you. You are headed for heaven but until then, God has a unique place of witness and service that only you can fill. If you listen closely, you can hear Him calling your name. And you can say with the
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.