Thursday, October 02, 2008

Build Your Boat

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. (Hebrews 11:7).

There’s a well-worn phrase that describes some people as being “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.” “Heavenly minded” means detached, out of touch with the realities of daily life, insulated by their religion so that they can’t feel the heat of city or hear the roar of the traffic.

The phrase is almost always invoked to convey a kind of disdain. I know because I’ve used those words that way. The intent is to say “I’m not that kind of Christian.”

The phrase is clever, but it’s wrong. It’s wrong because those who are of the most earthly good are precisely the heavenly minded. They bring unseen realities to bear on the world we see. You might say they bring heaven to earth – just like Jesus did.

Jesus’ rule over all things is an unseen reality. It is not apparent, and that makes it hard to believe for many people. To say that God’s Kingdom is in effect right now has implications for Wall Street and your street. That sounds good. We want to believe it – but we strain to catch the slightest glimpse of that reality.

Noah had his eye on things unseen; he knew something about the reality of things that no one else knew. It was this unseen reality that evoked in him a holy fear, a sense of God’s very presence in history and in his own life. It was the unseen that shaped his behavior. He started building a boat. Very practical. Very hands on. Very public. The seen shaped by the unseen.

Maybe the way to be of little or no earthly good is to see nothing but earthly things. Violence around the globe makes us cynical. Starvation and disease stoke our despair. Gridlock in Washington and nosedives in the economy fill us with fear. Some of us are so earthly minded we’re completely stumped, short-sighted, clueless as to what comes next. C. S. Lewis had it right when he observed that “if you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next.”[1]

From the way Jesus lived and taught about the Kingdom of God, this much seems clear: the Kingdom is never an escape hatch. We don’t retreat to God’s kingdom to find protection from sick and starving people; we don’t barricade ourselves in God’s Kingdom in order to weather tough times in the economy.

Instead, we see something that isn’t readily apparent in our world – the rule of Jesus in all things – and that shapes how we live. The Kingdom is always a base camp, never a hiding place.

What would it mean for you to begin building a boat today? Like Noah, how will you live this day in reverent fear and engage this world having glimpsed unseen things. Look carefully. The Lord reigns. Jesus is at work in the world. God is faithful. Get that firmly in your sights and enter this day heavenly minded. You will then do more earthly good than you imagined possible.

Gracious God, we want to make a difference in this world. Give us today sightings of unseen things: the reality of your presence around us and your power at work in the world. Let our living be a response to what we see. Make us heavenly minded that we might be of some earthly good, we pray. Amen.

[1] This is from Lewis’ Mere Christianity cited in Mark Buchanan’s Things Unseen, p. 23.

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