By Tim Harlow
The slogan I’m repeating these days: We’re called to bring Heaven to earth and take earth to Heaven. How well are we doing both?
I took my dad to the World Series in Detroit in 2006. The Tigers were playing our beloved St. Louis Cardinals (we are lifelong Cardinal fans), and we had connections, so we went. I had never been to Tiger Stadium, so I relied on MapQuest to guide us there. We arrived at a stadium, but it looked pretty old and run down; the lights weren’t on, and there were no cars in the lot. As it turned out, the decrepit park represented the way Detroit played in the series, but we knew we were in the wrong place. This was the old stadium; the new stadium was up the street. My information wasn’t far off, but it was off.
This MapQuest misadventure is the same type of thing that makes me a little nervous about the new justice movement in the 21st century. There is a beautiful new call, especially from the younger generation, to actually learn to live out Matthew 25 and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. I love it. Two of my daughters are training for that kind of ministry right now. One is in Bolivia.
I couldn’t be more committed to being the hands and feet of Jesus. My generation believed it was all about “us,” and many of our churches merely gave lip service to missions, and to serving Jesus through the “least of these.” But, thankfully, the next generation realizes we have been incredibly selfish, even in the church.
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, wrote an excellent book about this, The Hole in Our Gospel. He says, “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them” (p. 123).
I agree with all of this, and it has revolutionized the way we do ministry today. James warned us against saying, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed” (James 2:16, 17*), without deeds to accompany our faith.
But if we’re not careful, it may lead us to the wrong stadium.
Hole or Whole?
I worry that for some, the “hole” in the gospel is becoming their “whole” gospel. The strange thing about the wonderful new philanthropy that exists in the world— some of the largest companies and richest people are deciding to give to the poor and neglected—is that it can lure Christians away from the organizations that are doing something for body and soul.
We are called to spread the whole gospel. Salvation . . . period. The good news should be about having your physical needs met, but it must be about having your spiritual needs met, as well. It should be about not dying from malnourishment or easily preventable diseases, and not dying eternally from an easily preventable spiritual death.
Jesus plainly asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
We have ignored the part of the gospel that calls us to give “a cup of water” (Mark 9:41). But Jesus did say we were to do it “in my name.” If it’s just a cup of water, it’s not enough. Jesus’ priority was on forgiveness of sins, first, and healing the body, second (see Mark 2).
Jesus’ self-proclaimed purpose statement was to “seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) He came to give eternal life. If our serving the least of these does not maximize the opportunity to share eternal life with the people we serve, we are only prolonging the inevitable.
My new mantra is that we’re called to bring Heaven to earth and take earth to Heaven.
Jesus taught us to pray, “your kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It’s obvious from Scripture we are supposed to do more than pray about it—we are to be involved in the kingdom coming here. That’s bringing Heaven to earth.
But someday there is going to be an end to here, and there is going to be an eternal there, with no more pain or hunger or disease or sex trafficking. At that beautiful trumpet sound, our physical issues will cease and everyone who “calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). So we must continue to share Jesus and take earth to Heaven.
How tragic—MORE tragic than the James 2 scenario—would it be to find that these people we built water wells and schools for had a better temporary life, but never understood the whole gospel? That’s the wrong stadium!
Let’s do it all, the whole gospel.
The old adage says, “If you give a man a fish, you will save him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you will save him for a lifetime.”
Can I just add one more phrase? “If you lead him to the Great Fisher of Men, you will save him for eternity.”
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©1984.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois.