What I am about to put forth is a series of sermons I preached up at a retreat for my college students in Mammoth Lakes, as well as an expansion of them written from my study. Some may ask why I am continuing to put it forth as a topic needed to study, but as you will no doubt find, understanding your element—where your mind truly resides—is crucial to understanding our relationship to Christ and to this world we live in. In my opinion, nothing could be more important to understand, as well as study. It is simply the reality of being earthly minded, or heavenly minded, that comes into question. It should be noted too that I have borrowed extensively from Jeremiah Burroughs and his book entitled, “Treatise on Earthly Mindedness” for some of the flow of this book. I have done this primarily because of it’s greatness in structure but also simply because I love Burroughs’s insight that still applies today.
Consider the fish. Lately, the Lord has developed within me a passion for fishing; I say the Lord, for I never until recently enjoyed it. And for the sake of this example, let me explain to you that I truly enjoy sushi and making sushi. In the past, when I attempted to fish on my own without any instructors to help me or guide me, I used my own limited “logic” to try and catch the fish. Much to my disappointment, I was horrible; and consequently it was horribly boring. It got to the point where I’d rather stick a pitch fork in my eye than go fishing; were it any other way than I would say it! It seemed to me that the trout, particularly the rainbow kind, were simply smarter than me. And as I tied the lures onto the line, cast it precariously into the open lake, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was entering into an area that was foreign to me. Above the water the fish were mine and I could deftly cut and manicure my sushi to be quite beautiful and tasty; below the water, however, was a different story. It was their element in the water; they were masters of it and I was merely a spectator watching the pros from the murky cloud they swam in.
Fishing, however, is not my bane anymore. In fact, I have recently even delved into ocean fishing due to my location in this grand world, and have really come to enjoy it immensely. But it wasn’t until I really went on a men’s trip up to Mammoth Lakes, California, where three men in particular showed me patiently the ins and outs of fishing. I learned how to tie knots differently, how to shake the rod and reel, as well as using the proper bait or lure to attract the fish. By the end of the trip, I was actually catching more fish then one of the expert friends (but don’t remind him of that) who brought me. I am assuming you have no doubt heard fishing illustrations before, but it bears repeating for the subject at hand.
The lakes and oceans where the fish I so desperately want to catch reside are not my elements; I do not belong there and I was not created to thrive in those environments. My argument in this book is simple: this world that our bodies reside in is not our element either. Though we need to have wonderful teachers and pastors to help guide us and make us more effective in this life, nonetheless, we are here simply on a “trip” of sorts. Think of life as a simple weekend; a day perhaps compared to eternity. How ridiculous would I be if, upon our need to return home, I told the men that I was going to go buy some scuba gear and live with the fish for now on? This is not only absurd and laughable, but it is sad, for far too many of us who have called upon the name of Jesus Christ to be saved have done just this. We have told our church family to continue on and focus on eternity with Christ, but us; well, we are going to stay here and live only for the present. We are going to vest all of our time focused here in this life; we are going to spend all our money for ourselves as if we could carry it with us when we pass; we are going to lie and cheat and gossip to get ahead or acquire more power because we desire comfort for ourselves above all.
To most Christians in this day and age, God, and our focus on the eternal for that matter, has been relegated to third place at the very best. I say very best, because oftentimes God has received a much lower place on our rung of priorities than third. Primarily, the focus of our lives, the love of our lives, is ourselves. This is no shock; this you know. Christians should be the least surprised when I say this for this is all over the word of God. We are our own idols; just look at the bulk of technology. It is all meant to make us more comfortable and to make us more productive. The secondary focus of our lives is upon this world; this goes without saying, for when we love ourselves with reckless abandon, we love the things that make us most happy. The tertiary focus might be on God, but more times than not if we are honest with ourselves, we love ourselves and we love the world much more than we love God. I cannot combat the reality that we love ourselves; there needs to be some love of ourselves or we wouldn’t be able to function. What I do want to talk about is this idea of loving the world; this idea of earthly mindedness as opposed to being heavenly minded.
As we are on this “fishing trip” of sorts called life, let us learn from one of the Master’s greatest students, the apostle Paul. He explained the same concept in Philippians 3.17-19, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
This amazing passage penned by the Holy Spirit clearly opens for us the different mentalities or dispositions of those who are considered “wicked” by God’s standards and worldly; especially those who set themselves against the work of the gospel. It relates to those who are not only enemies of God by their work, but by their profession. As if their labor was dead set against the gospel and hindering Paul’s endeavors to honor the King.
He goes on to describe them in verse 19, specifically stating that their “end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” This idea of “minds set on earthly things” in the Greek brings forth the idea that they savor or relish earthly things in their minds. It’s like fantasies in the world; daydreams that are filled with corruption and desire. Now, before we go too much further, you have to stop and ask yourself, “Did Dan just describe me?” I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but stop and think for a moment. Do we savor and relish things that we know without a doubt are horribly dishonoring to the name of our King? You see, much of the bulk of this small book will be challenging us to look at our behavior. It will not be easy, but it is important to do.
I will be talking a lot about sin and the avoidance of it, but I am taking for granted something very important that I won’t be able to get into deeply. The reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, awakening our hearts to His glory and love, should effect change in us. It should be a transformation of love from us as the center, to Christ as the center. The more we interact with the risen Christ, the more we desire to live holy lives free from sin. But the shame of the Church these days, or at least a great many of them, is that we believe holy living is based upon avoiding sin rather than loving Christ. This is just moralism, and I am deeply passionate that we throw this sort of thinking away. Satan wants nothing more than for many Christians to fixate and focus on the mortification of sin before we come to love Christ; as if that were the only way we could come to Christ. Christianity is not about avoiding sin, it is about loving Christ and having a deep and thriving relationship with God by and through faith. Sin management is an idol to too many of us; to not lust, to not lie, to not gossip is not the goal. Loving Christ is. And the more we love Christ, then and only then will the allure of sin lose its effect on us. We will as Paul proclaimed consider everything in this world as rubbish compared to the surpassing riches of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.