“In, but not of the World” – Mar. 17, 2019

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 Sci-Fi fantasy film directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the story of Elliott, a boy who befriends an extraterrestrial, who is stranded on Earth. Elliott and his siblings help E.T. return home while attempting to keep him hidden from those who would cause him harm.

E.T. is a delightful movie, in part, because E.T. is kind, gentle and loving. He represents innocents and possibility. E.T. awakens hearts and shares love. Yet while E.T. is on earth, his focus is on getting back home. He is in the world but not of the world.

You might call E.T. a fish out of water story or the story of a stranger in a strange land. It is a common theme and one we know quite well. It is how we all feel when we start at a new school, start a new job or move to a new location.

We remember where we came from and now, where we are; it is like living in two different worlds. It is a paradox; we are halfway in and halfway out. It is how people feel who have dual citizenships.

In Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book ‘Living a Life that Matters’, he describes trying to live in two different worlds; one worldly and one Godly. “In one world we are competitive and striving for success and in the other world we are learning to live where compassion and sacrifice dominate. In one world, we climb the ladder of success – and there are winners and losers. In the other, we live ‘beyond ourselves’ and we try to find meaning and significance in the things of God. In one world, the moral absolutes tend to shift – and in the other they remain constant.”

So, which world do you spend the most time in?

As Christians, we are called to walk a very fine line. We are to be in the world but not overly influenced by it. We are called to have Godly values not worldly ones. Yet most statistics on believers and non-believers indicate that we live almost identical lives. Our spending habits, lifestyle choices and moral beliefs are remarkable similar to those living around us outside the church.

As Christians we need to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it and to not just do what everyone else is doing. Interestingly, Eugene Peterson, in his popular version of the Bible called The Message, translates Romans 12:2a as: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit in to it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

One scholar wrote, “The problem is that the secular has absorbed the sacred in the lives of most Christians today.” The one sacred place in most Christians lives is the church. We worship for one hour on Sunday and shift back to our regular lives for the rest of the week, where we give God little to no access.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon in 1874, “To a man who lives for God, nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday clothes and it is a robe to honor God. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice.”

Just imagine having higher thoughts, hopes, desires and plans that are focused on God all the time. Is that even possible? If we go and live with the Monks in a castle in the mountains, maybe, yet that takes us out of this world and defeats the purpose. And to be honest, that was never Jesus’ intent.

When he prayed to God, he said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world – but that you protect them from the evil one.” And he ends with these words, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them ‘into the world’.”  (John 17:15-18)

Like Jesus, we are to be an active participant in the world. He ate with the least and the lost; tax-collectors, women of the night, the hurting and the neglected. He was fully engaged in the world yet not overcome by it.

Remember how Satan tempted him in the wilderness? He appealed to Jesus’ basic desires of hunger and thirst, to his basic need to survive and his integrity and finally to his pride, his ego. Yet Jesus stood his ground and refused to give in. Unfortunately these ‘same temptations’ often de-rail us.

And so our answer is to often to give in and to be too much like the world or to reject it all together. In one of my favorite songs by Building 429, called ‘Where I Belong’, the lyrics go like this…

Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside,
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing – but am I alive?
I won’t keep searching – for answers ‘that aren’t here’ to find

All I know is I’m not home yet this is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus this is not where I belong

I love that song yet I realize that we must be careful how we interpret the song. Actually, this world is exactly where we belong, – for such a time as this. While our citizenship is in heaven, our focus and our purpose is — to do God’s work while we are here.

In a sermon, Billy Graham stated that the Bible is clear and we are not to become entangled in the world. He explains, “The word ‘world’ keeps coming up, so we might want to ask “What does it mean when we talk about the world?”

“First, he said, there is the created world. And we are not called to despise ‘the physical world’ and to reject it. In fact, Jesus gave his life for it. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:20, “that Jesus reconciled ‘to himself’ all things on earth and in heaven.”

“Second, ‘the world’ represents the inhabitants, of whom God loves and for whom Christ died. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world – that He gave His only begotten Son that ‘whoever believes’ in him – shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Third, there is ‘the world’ translated cosmos, our world system, which is headed by Satan and based upon self, greed and pride. This is the world that God warns about, and it is this world system and philosophy that Christians are to shun and remain free from.”

In Ephesians 2:2 Paul warns us about ‘following the way of the world and of the ruler of the air (Satan), the spirit who is in those who are disobedient.” In other words, we are involved in a spiritual conflict. This is a battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan, and we are involved intricately in it.

The world we are to stand in opposition to is best understood in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against ‘the spiritual forces of evil’ in the heavenly realms.”

This world is the one we are called not to conform to. To conform means to mold to or to imitate and participate in. Yet when we stand at odds with what others believe, we feel like we don’t fit in, that we might even stand out or feel like a stranger in a strange land.

So we bow to peer pressure, go along with others so we fit in, laugh at inappropriate jokes, pass on the latest gossip, and keep our mouths shut when we should be speaking out. That is why we are losing this war; it is easier to hide than take a stand. It is time to make a change!

We are not the first to do this. Even the disciples went into hiding after the death of Jesus. It took the coming of the Holy Spirit to get them moving again. But when they finally spoke up, everything began to change.

Martin Luther said, “A Christian doesn’t reach maturity until he re-enters the world and embraces the world again, yet not in its worldliness and its ungodly patterns but as the theater and the arena of God’s redemption.”

That’s what Jesus did; he went into the world in order to save the world. This world is the world that God has committed himself to renew and redeem, and we are to participate in that with him. And when we do, that is when we begin to live a life that matters.

We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back in to rescue others. And the Bible tells us that others will know us by our love. (John 1:4-5 Reference)

Writer and Theologian Jean Vanier described our mission like this, “to love someone is not, first of all, to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty, worth and importance; to say to them through our attitude, ‘You are worthwhile. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, love and to fully recognize the light that is shining within them.”

The thing is, those all around us are keenly aware of this world’s emptiness, its unfulfilled dreams and its failure to cope with life’s troubles. This world is inadequate to meet the deeper needs of the human heart. Without guidance, they will search in vain. The truth is, this emptiness they feel is the ideal soil for implanting the Gospel.

They will never find their answers out in the world, only Jesus can give them the peace they seek, because he does not give as the world gives. (John 14:27) The pleasures of this world are fleeting; people are always in search for something new, something more.

John Lennon’s song ‘Nowhere Man’ captures this essence of being lost and cynical,

“He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,

Making all his nowhere plans, for nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to

Isn’t he a bit like me and you?”

Jesus helps us rise above the monotony and the hopelessness the rest of the world suffers from. And he chose us out of the world and his kingdom is not going to return to dust, it is eternal. So with Jesus, we can set our minds on higher things and live faithfully in the here and now. We can live abundantly!

We can have the security of being in the world but not trapped in its downward spiral. And we can make the most of it, while we are here. We do that by being transformed ‘in Christ’ and then sharing our joy with others.

Others will know us by our fruit and the fruits of the spirit are; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we pass on these gifts of God to others, we leave a living legacy, we live a life that matters, and then hearts are awakened and love lives on.

Your assignment this week is…to find you passion and live it out. What is God calling you, as an individual and all of us as a church to be and to do? It begins with our passion. Then, we allow Jesus to guide our steps, so that we are more in ‘his world’ – yet still helping bring the kingdom of God to ‘this world’.

                                                            “And All God’s People said, Amen”