Heavenly Minded = *More* Earthly Good

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These days, the word “Christian” seems to evoke as many negative reactions as it does positive ones.

This bothers me.

Does it bother you?

Critics might summarize their feelings about Christians with these alleged words from Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

While no original source seems to exist for this quotation, we do know that Gandhi (a) quoted and expressed high regard for Jesus, (b) attributed most of his humanitarian ethic to Jesus, (c) felt grossly mistreated by Christians, whose actions toward him did not reflect Jesus from the New Testament, and (d) very possibly on this basis, chose Hinduism over Christianity.

More recently, San Francisco journalist Herb Caen said, “The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.”

Painfully, and from the vantage point of a Christian convert who had become disenchanted with her church, Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice wrote:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Deservedly infamous. Ouch!

As a forgiven, loved, and Spirit-filled people, we can do better than this.

Can’t we?

Christians certainly did at one time. Look no further than Luke’s observation about first-century Christians in the book of Acts. Their quality of life was so rich, their worship so genuine, their life together so deep, and their neighbor-love so palpable, that they “were having favor with all the people” and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). So what went wrong? How did we end up alienating, rather than attracting, those around us?

As the sentiments quoted above make crystal clear, the people of Jesus have often not represented him well, and our poor representation has created a public relations nightmare for the movement that he began through his death, burial, and resurrection. In the eyes of a watching world, our lives can seem more lackluster than compelling, more contentious than kind, more self-centered than servant-like, more fickle than faithful, more self-centered than generous, more proud than humble, more biblically disinterested than biblically anchored, more bored with Christ than alive to Christ.

Rather than shining as a light to the culture, we have in some ways become products of the culture. As those whom Christ has called the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city on a hill, we still have a long way to go.

In spite of a checkered past and present for the Christian family, I am still optimistic about the Jesus movement. I am optimistic because Jesus still intends to renew and love the world through his people. I am optimistic because the negative stories, as concerning as they are, don’t tell the full story and, therefore, shouldn’t be allowed to completely own the narrative. The negative stories aren’t the whole story because for every poor representation of Christ, there are a thousand infectiously beautiful ones. For history is also illuminated by a Christian way of life that is truly remarkable and beautiful.

History is filled with these kinds of lives. For example, Christians have shown groundbreaking leadership in science (Pascal, Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Koop, Collins), the arts and literature (Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, TS Eliot, Tolkein, Fujimura, Cash, Bono), the academy (all but one of the Ivy League Universities were founded by Christians), and mercy and justice (Wilberforce with abolition, Mueller with orphan care, MLK with civil rights).

The identifying mark of the City of God is when citizens of the heavenly city become the very best citizens of the earthly one. As CS Lewis has said, history shows that the people who did the most for the present world were the ones who thought the most of the next one.

To be heavenly minded, then, is to be more earthly good, not less.

It is to be contagious contributors, not contemptible contrarians, to the world around us.

It is to be neither holier-than-thou enemies of the culture on the one hand, nor lawless and licentious products of the culture on the other. Rather, it is to be counter-culture for the good and flourishing of all. It is to resist every urge to lobby and position ourselves to become a power- and privilege-hungry “moral majority.” Rather, it is to pursue our God-given and biblically sanctioned calling to be a fiercely love-driven, self-donating, prophetic minority.

I think it’s time to embrace that kind of vision, don’t you?

It is heartening to see contemporary observers take note of how Christian belief, in its purest form, produces beautiful lives. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, a self-proclaimed agnostic, has often noted how today’s Christians far outnumber the rest of the world in volunteer hours and dollars given toward the alleviation of poverty and human suffering. The gay mayor of Portland, Oregon, Sam Adams, has spoken publicly about how positive his experience was partnering with local Christian churches to serve the vulnerable communities of Portland.

Here in our Nashville community, an abortion provider who is beginning to engage with the claims and ways of Christ recently told a member of our church, “I want your God, whoever he or she is, to be my God”—which appears to be his way of saying, “I like your Christ, not in spite of your Christians, but because of them.”

I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of Christianity I want to be part of, and this is the kind of Christianity I am committed to pursue. It is a beautiful and therefore truer Christianity that shines a light that is so lovely. It is a Christianity that mirrors the whole Christ and so offers a tired and sometimes cynical world a reason to pause and consider…and to start wishing it could be true.

How about you? Are you ready to embark on a journey toward a better you, a better us, and a better world?

If so, Jesus says, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19).

Let’s follow him together, shall we?

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10 responses to “Heavenly Minded = *More* Earthly Good”

  1. Deborah Mayhew says:

    Love this one. I used to work for NH Homeland Security & Emergency Management. I was amazed to sit in on meetings after weather-related events to see how often the answer to needs was a reaching out to the Faith community to provide shelter, clothing, services to clean up after flood damage, etc.

  2. Brian Fletcher says:

    Thanks Scott, for your thoughtful response to our current culture of negativism. Let’s look at Jesus more than our social media, let’s love unconditionally like Jesus taught us, and let’s proclaim this gospel of grace in everything we do, say and think about.

  3. Mike says:

    There always needs to be a balance, and often when focusing on one side of the balance things are not fully representative of the full Biblical-Christian position & situation. Certainly there needs to be a balance between being so Heavenly minded we are no earthly good, and on the other hand being so earthly minded we are no Heavenly good. This article seems to tip the balance towards wanting to live in such a way as to be loved & lauded by the world. But Jesus said the world (ie worldly minded people) hated Him, and so such people will hate us who now represent Him also. Scripture also says that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” You can always find some disgruntled Church member, and certainly some contrary society people to point out all the flaws of Christians as being their apologetic for rejecting Christ. That is just a disingenuous excuse that certainly wont hold any water at the Judgment time, and it does not accurately represent the balance of Christian testimony in the world either (as your article pointed out). Christians are in a bit of a conundrum no matter what. Yes we should be more compassionately & mercifully loving toward the needy & the contrary, but also we must take a stand with God’s truth that certain beloved & defended personal & societal behaviors (like Homo-sex etc) and practices (like abortion etc) are sin-wrong-evil. Also we must firmly assert that Christ and His Gospel is the exclusive-only way to be acceptable to God and accepted into eternal life, otherwise people will face the eternal judgment of Hell. It is in fact very loving to take that stance, because it is true and people need to heed it, but of course in the humanistical-religious self-righteousness way that seems right to Man (of which all the various religions & philosophies are just different variations of the same thing) our stance seems offensive. Regarding our flaws, where-as some Church-goers may in fact be hypocritical legalists or other various counterfeits at heart (who will be even more severely judged by Jesus), the fact is that real Christians all must affirm that we always & ever will only be sinners saved by Grace who are imperfectly following Christ with many flub ups; but that is what the atoning & cleansing blood of Christ is all about, and the real question for detractors is can you find anything wrong with Jesus (which you can’t) then why wont you get on board with Him, and join the club of us flawed disciples trying to genuinely follow Him, even though clumsily tripping up too often.

  4. Mary Jane Sobel says:

    Thank you Scott Sauls! I will be quoting you…or more likely knowing me, using this quote without attribution

    ” I am optimistic because the negative stories, as concerning as they are, don’t tell the full story and, therefore, shouldn’t be allowed to completely own the narrative.”

    What a writer and he need you are !

  5. Bob Berkompas says:

    God has demonstrated to me over and over that my effectiveness as a Christian starts with a regular and true personal conviction of my sin. By this means I am delivered from my Pharisaical way of looking at others and separating myself from them in an artificial way. It humbles me and allows me to empathically understand where the unbeliever is coming from. After all I need God’s grace today as much as anyone else.

  6. Barb says:

    Thank you so much for this hopeful message. You’ll never find me on the news, but loving Christ for me means I quietly love and serve my community. It is my prayer that others will see Jesus when they see me.

  7. Martha says:

    I can tell you that, being born and raised a Jew in Memphis, TN, I had many negative experiences from those who called themselves
    “Christians” but didn’t act as such. However, after moving to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, I became friends with some people who led my husband (not Jewish) and me to Christ. Their church became my church and I have been so blessed by all. There are those Christians who do follow the bible led by a pastor who teaches the bible and I am surrounded by those who love and follow Jesus. In spite of how I was treated before, I am so thankful to be a Christian.

  8. greg rogers says:

    Hi Scott: I agree and don’t agree with some of the items here. I agree that many times Christians appear judgmental, harsh and weird thus not attractive. I, as a business owner, many times do not enjoy working for Christians and this is a sad testimony.

    On the other hand, the gospel is the smell of death to those who are perishing. It was the smell of death in all of those who killed Jesus and many of his followers in the 1st century church. Where the gospel should create in the Christian a demeanor of eternal hope and longing to be with Jesus in heaven, love for Him and neighbor, a servant mindedness towards all, especially the church, it will also be the smell of death to those who are perishing and from this could come a very bad review by the world on those who call themselves Christian.

    If a person practicing unrepentant sexual immorality sees goodness and love in Christians and enjoys being around them, perhaps it is because the Christians are not loving that unrepentant unbeliever with the truth that without repentance from lawlessness against God and acceptance of complete forgiveness in Christ in order to enjoy Him forever, God’s judgement will stand. 1 cor 13:6 [love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth”

    My belief is that the seeker movement in America that tried to be loving, hip and almost attempting to entertain folks into the kingdom has so eliminated gospel hope at times out of the minds of those who attend those churches that fleshly irresponsibility, numbness and disregard trickle into the masses unsuspectently that remain in this church or who leave and yet call themselves Christian. The statement you have made here seems to support a philosophy that bolsters the ideals of seeker driven and does not address the balance well about the need for a gospel driven ideal.

    I love to love people and I treat my workers with kindness, respect and pay them well. But the gospel that calls them to repent of sin and selfishness sometimes causes them to want to hate me when I share.
    Anyway, that is my 2 cents.

    Blessings to you and your church!

    Greg

  9. Heather says:

    Good, thoughtful post. It’s a complicated issue, trying to figure out why the world doesn’t like us and what we can do about it. Some of their “hatred” is deserved because even genuine Christians can represent Christ badly (as you pointed out). We are still human, after all, and struggle with sin. And Christ has been misrepresented throughout history too (things like the crusades, people slaughtering and enslaving others in the name of “God”).

    But sometimes the problem is that people who call themselves “Christian” are really not. Instead they are “religious” or more along the lines of a Pharisee. And the world doesn’t do a good job of differentiating real Christians from pseudo-Christians. They lump all “religious” people under the heading of “Christian.” Yet there is a big difference between being religious and being a Jesus-follower. (As I like to say: “You don’t like religion? Good! Neither did Jesus!”)

    Another problem is that the world doesn’t want what we are offering them, so they will always find a problem with us. That way they don’t have to give serious thought to the Truth we are sharing. They want to not believe, and so they find ways reasons not to, oftentimes blaming Christians for being the reason they don’t believe. (Yet these excuses will not hold up when they stand before God and give an account for why they didn’t believe in Him. There will be no “pointing fingers and passing the blame” at that time.)

    And even if we Christians do it all right – balancing truth and love perfectly – the Truth will always offend. That’s the nature of Truth.

    We Christians are up against some huge obstacles when it comes to reaching the world. I like what you said, that for every negative story there is a 1000 positive ones about Christians reaching out to others in great ways. Oh, how I wish those stories were shared more in the media. I think the media is doing a great job of destroying any positive Christian testimony we have. And it makes it that much harder for the world to see any Christian in a positive light, when they have been taught to see us in a negative light from the beginning.

    And I guess that’s why the best way to reach people is to focus on making a difference in our own communities, loving those around us, working for God’s glory in the little things, living the Truth without compromise, and making sure to keep ourselves humbled and right with the Lord instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing wrong. It’s that “fierce love” coupled with an unapologetic commitment to Truth that will draw people to Christ (at least those who want to come to Christ, for no amount of love and truth will draw those who are resistant).

    Keep up the inspirational writing. I’m glad I stumbled on your blog.

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