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Head in the Clouds

by Stu Johnson

Posted: December 6, 2017

Are you 'so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good'?…

No. 4 in the Thursday Morning Guys series

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic a few weeks ago centered on reflection on the phrase . . .

“He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.”

What do you think is meant by this phrase? If someone was to make this comment about you, how would you feel?

The phrase itself is attributed to a number of people, ranging from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to singer Johnny Cash!

THE CONVERSATION

Some thought the phrase could be taken as a compliment—having a spiritual focus evident to others—while others thought it represented a criticism—the Christian who misinterprets “being in the world but not of it” as a call to separation and avoidance.

A few other thoughts before proposing several principles:

  • While it is possible to be “too heavenly minded,” the most dangerous place to be is outside of God’s will.  The difficulty is doing that while being part of a world which is highly secularized or even hostile to spiritual matters.  When we pray for children we should ask that they be in the center of God’s will.
  • We often don’t pay enough attention to others.
  • Cultural sensitivity is needed.

PRINCIPLES PROPOSED

Three important principles struck me during our conversation.

Expectations and priorities

“Martha got a raw deal,” said one of the guys, referring to the story of Mary and Martha:

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”   
Luke 10:38-42
, New Living Translation

After all, it was Martha’s home and she was responsible for the meal.  Certainly, there were a host of details to attend to. Yet, Jesus seems to be urging Martha to scale back her plans, even if it meant lowering the expectations of hospitality imposed on her by her own nature as well as the culture of her time and place. How easy is it for us to be trapped by expectations?  When should attention to the message of the gospel of Christ take priority (whether in word or deed)?

Righteousness AND Justice.  

Too often, believers compartmentalize righteousness and justice, to the point where the schism between mainline churches and fundamentalists in the early 20th century produced a focus on one over the other (mainline churches embracing justice and social engagement, fundamentalists embracing righteousness and separation). To some extent, the evangelical movement following World War II tried to bridge the gap, though in general there has been a lingering suspicion of “social justice,” which I would argue comes from our cultural setting rather than Scripture.   

It seems to me that particularly since the 2000 presidential election in America, the term “evangelical” has lost much of its meaning as the media have conflated the “religious right” of the 1970s through the 1990s with more moderate evangelicals. That does not help.

Years ago I wrote on this subject, suggesting that the cross provides the image we need:  the vertical upright, planted in the ground and reaching toward the sky, represents righteousness, our relationship with a holy God. The horizontal crossbar, stretching from side to side, represents justice, our relationship with and treatment of people. In a Bible passage found in Isaiah 28, the imagery of a surveyor or builder is used, but importantly, the two appear together: “the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness.” Most important is the recognition of how often righteousness and justice are linked in the Bible. (See the “Guidance from Scripture” section below for some examples).

Empathy

There are many variations, but one of the guys said it this way: “If you have a problem with someone, walk a mile in his shoes—if not, he’s a mile away and barefoot.” 

Christians can be viewed as hypocritical or judgmental. This can result from a lifestyle of separation, perhaps to the point of fear in getting to know people who are not like us. Several in the group gave examples of working with international students as a way to build awareness of other cultures and religions. It is a good place for conversations to start while your own Christian faith is best shown through your daily life, which may open further conversation.

I did a quick search on the “walk a mile” phrase, with several interesting results. I was not looking specifically for Christian voices, but for material that provoked thought on the subject. You may wish to look at these or do your own search. 

These four entries come from different perspectives but reflect a common humanity. How much of God’s intent for his creation is found in the everyday experiences that we can all relate to? How can that be used to engage in conversations, and allow those of us who are believers to be used by God to connect with and bless other people. Just today, I was reminded of the simple, yet powerful, words of the chorus for the song “Make Me a Blessing” (words by Luther Barnes):

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing
Out of my life may Jesus shine
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s Word, the Holy Bible)

The Great Commandment (Jesus speaking to religious leaders trying to trap him when asked about the “the most important commandment in the law of Moses”). 

  • ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Great Commission, given to the disciples after Christ appeared to them following his resurrection and before his ascension into heaven:

  • “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The dichotomy of the spiritual and worldly:

  • And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:36)
  • The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. (Luke 16:8)
  • Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. (John 12:25)
  • I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
  • Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
  • … You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?  (1 Corinthians 3:3)
  • So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:5)
  • Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27)
  • Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (1 Peter 2:12)
  • Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. (1 John 2:15-16)

On Justice and Righteousness (just a few of many references, some applied to God, some to people):

  • Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban. (Job 29:14)
  • The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. (Psalm 103:6)
  • I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. (Isaiah 28:17)
  • But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! (Jeremiah 9:24)

About the Scripture references: NLT = New Living Translation,  ESV = English Standard Version,  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: December 6, 2017

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