Faith Is Not An Evacuation Plan

Many of us grew up with a heavy dose of heaven hymnology.

Sing To Me Of Heaven
When We All Get To Heaven
In The Sweet By And By
Beyond The Sunset
Face To Face With Christ My Savor
There’s A Land That Is Fairer Than Day
To Canaan’s Land I’m On My Way
There Is A Habitation

Great songs, and for some, heaven is thought of as the natural conclusion and climax to a life filled with a growing faith, lived for God here on planet earth.  But sadly for others, this longing for a future home in heaven is not really connected to life here in the present world.  Habits remain the same.  Plans for each day are not altered by a developing faith.  Speech, relationships, behavior do not surrender to the spiritual leadership of Jesus.  In fact, once the “salvation” ticket is punched, life continued on just as it has been, with little or no growth or change.

A friend of mine once asked the question, “What’s the difference between a man with ten years of experience and a man with one year of experience, ten times?” The answer?  The man with tens year of experience actually grew each year.  There was a slow but steady change in his life as one year built upon the progress of the previous year.  But the man with one year of experience, ten times, just repeated his first year over and over.  There was no real change.  He was in a rut.  He probably hated it, but as we sometimes say, “He had become adjusted to his rut.”  It was familiar, even comfortable in a twisted sort of way. I think that popular writer Brian McLaren had the first man in mind when he said,

The Gospel is not an evacuation plan
but a transformation plan

Other, much older writers follow the same line of thought.

Heaven is not to be looked upon
only as the reward,
but as the natural effect
of a religious life.

— Joseph Addison

The main object of religion
is not to get a man into Heaven;
but to get Heaven into him.

— Thomas Hardy

Do not conform any longer
to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind.

— Romans 12:2

Will heaven be a ticket that I purchase and then put away until the day that I have to pull it out at the end of my life?  Or, will heaven be the next logical, seamless step in a life that has been constantly growing and changing since the first day that God’s grace entered?  Is your faith an evacuation plan or a transformation plan?

The History of the Future

back to the futureIf you saw a university class with the title, “The History of the Future,” what would you think it would be about?  How could someone teach the history of the future?  How can history help us move into the future?

Think about yourself for a minute.  When you were a child, what did you dream of becoming?  By your senior year in high school, how had your plans changed?  Looking at your life now, how many of your plans actually occurred just as you thought they would?  What changed?  Why did it change?

Now think about an example from scripture.  As boy, the Peter probably dreamed of following in the family business even though fishing was a hard life and required both determination and leadership.  Later, as a young man, Peter’s plans changed.  He left his fishing business and followed Jesus, but his reasons had not yet found clarity.  At first, his motives were political and his is agenda eclipsed Jesus’ agenda.  There were arguments (Mark 8:32).  Later still, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s plans changed again as he became an early spokesman for the Christian movement (Acts 2:14).

Looking back over his entire life, what changed and what remained the same in Peter’s life?  What did his history reveal about his future?

Sometimes this is called “Faith in Process” and the steps are often as difficult as they are predictable as a person moves from one level of commitment to another.  What steps did Peter go through as he changed from the proud Peter who argued with Jesus to the humble Peter who represented Jesus?

Step 1 – Pride – he didn’t listen or learn.
Step 2 – Failure – surprised @ failure.
Step 3 – Bewilderment – wandering in shock.
Step 4 – Listening – facing his own neediness.
Step 5 – Learning – with an open heart.
Step 6 – Change – God brings transformation.

In his classic, The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes:

“… to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst – is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still … the one thing a clenched fist cannot do is accept … a helping hand.” (pg 46).

Peter eventually unclenched his fists, and while God completely changed Peter’s heart, He left his personality intact.  In fact, God dramatically brought Peter’s history in the future as He used Peter’s determination, drive, and leadership to launch the Christian movement.

And so, let’s go back to where we started – the history of the future.  What have you tried?  Where have you failed?  How have you learned?  What have you changed?

It’s the history of your future.