The choir began to sing, “This earth is not my home”, and I began to be uncomfortable. The more they chanted, the more I squirmed. “This earth is not my home, I am a stranger here, but I am bound for heaven, whence I shall never roam.” Well, yes and no. It is true that this earth is not our ultimate home; it is true that we have a destiny that is far beyond these years. But that’s only a half-truth. It is also true that we have to use this life well. It is also true that we are placed here, in this time and in this place, for a purpose, and if I am so caught up in heavenly things that I cannot invest in here and how, then what on earth – what on earth – am I here for?
It is entirely possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. It is entirely possible to be so spiritual, so otherworldly, that we don’t make a difference. We don’t do anything with our earthly life. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use and do no earthly good.
But it is also possible to think in heavenly ways, in spiritual ways, so that our lives on earth will be lived with purpose and meaning and power. When I am finished today, I would hope that the choir would forever scrapheap the song, “This earth is not my home” and would take up instead, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what you do for Christ will last.” A much better song!
What is the purpose of life? Why are we here on earth? Why are we taking up space and breathing air? What singer was it who crooned, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Indeed, what is this life all about?
Philosophers and theologians and all sorts of people have developed answers to that question. I could send you to the library to research the issue and we could have a very heady discussion about it. But, bottom line, how do you answer it? What do you and I think that the purpose of life is? That will not be answered with books or lectures. That will be answered in the practical, everyday world. What you and I think about the purpose of our lives will be spelled out in the way we use our time, our energies, and our resources. Somebody has said that if you want to know what a person truly values, read his checkbook. I would agree, and would add to that, read his calendar.
The truth is that many of us just rock along, day by day, hour after hour, without any real thought about why we are doing what we are doing. We just do it, that’s all. We don’t remember why. We get up in the morning to go to work to earn enough to put a roof over our heads so that we can rest and be ready to get up the next morning and go to work to earn enough to put a roof over our heads so that we can rest and be ready to get up the next morning ... do you see? Is that good enough for you? What on earth are we here for?
Now somebody will say, “Pastor, I just don’t worry about stuff like that. I just try to live a clean life, and trust God, and leave it at that. Pastor, my song is not, ‘This earth is not my home.’ But my song is, ‘I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.’” Well, I tell you, I think there’s more than that. I believe that God has given us more than that.
What on earth are we here for?
Now let’s be honest. You have to be sort of “together” even to ask that question. I know that there are some of us who have to spend most of our energy just with the question of survival. Many people are preoccupied with the issue of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. I do understand that. I know what it is to live from paycheck to paycheck and not have the luxury of taking time off just, as they said in the seventies, to find myself. Yet even when that is granted – even when we understand that people just have to do what they have to do in order to survive – I would still argue that we easily miss what life is all about. I am thinking of a young man who once told me that he couldn’t come to church any more because he had to work on Sundays, and he had to have that job in order to pay for the car he had bought. I asked him why he needed a car; his answer was that he needed a car to get to his job! Hmm. Doesn’t that go around in a circle? We just go around and around without really seeing the purpose. So again, what on earth are you here for? Your answer is written in what you do with your time, where you spend your money, and what you really care about. But do those things agree with God’s purpose for your life?
I am going to lay down a fundamental premise, and I want you to say it with me. It has three parts. Listen very carefully, and then we’re going to repeat them. The basic thrust of what I want to say this morning is this:
“It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
Now can you say that with me? “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
Well, now, that doesn’t add up to what most of the world out there actually thinks and does. But the Bible is clear that what the world thinks is wise and what God says are different things. Very different. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” And what the world says about the purpose of life is at variance with what God says it is.
The culture wants to tell us that accumulating things is the purpose of life. If you don’t have the latest, the best, and the shiniest, you are out of it. You are missing it. The culture’s “wisdom” is that the purpose of life is to build bank accounts, buy goodies, and to enjoy yourself. “Enjoy yourself” – what a phrase that is! I always cringe a little inside when somebody leaves worship and says that they enjoyed themselves, because I really did plan worship to enjoy God, not ourselves. But the culture says, accumulate, buy, enjoy yourself. That’s the purpose of life.
Mike Tyson earned – if you call it that – 300 million dollars and is now bankrupt, having spent it all on lavish things. I’d say he was bankrupt in ways other than in the checkbook, wouldn’t you? $300 million: what was that all about? And that’s success? Spare me! My son, along with a number of other workers at a prominent internet company, discovered several years ago that their stock options were worth a great deal. So many of them cashed out. A bunch of folks, in their thirties, who don’t have to work anymore. I never expected to see my child retire before I do! But Margaret and I are proud of him, because he has not spent lavishly, he has not gone out to buy expensive toys. Some of his coworkers have, and Bryan says that it’s clear that their money has not made them happy. Marriages go astray and toys break down. Having things is not the purpose of life. What on earth, then, are we here for?
The wisdom of the world says the purpose of life is to have things; or to have prestige, to be highly valued in your peer group. The wisdom of the world says you are a success if others think well of you. I was thinking this week of an incident that happened several years ago. I had shared in a special occasion with several other pastors, and the host pastor had taken us all to a restaurant for a repast. The conversation quickly turned to cars; one pastor said he had just bought a new Lexus, and did the others think it was better than an Infiniti? Somebody else opined that a good old American Cadillac couldn’t be beat, and someone else spoke about those magic three letters that compute so much better than BA or MA or PhD – you know the ones I mean, BMW. A half a dozen pastors yammering about their expensive cars; as for me, I scooted my chair around so they wouldn’t look out the window to the street where I had parked my ‘88 Plymouth Horizon! I felt small because I wasn’t keeping up with my “successful” brothers! (Of course, since then, and especially as the Horizon’s paint has faded and peeled, I’ve become quite proud of driving such a symbol of non-indulgence – which leads to another issue, about being proud of not being proud, but that’s another sermon!).
Let’s nail this down: the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, and what the world thinks about the purpose of life is way, way off the mark. Be very careful that you do not get trapped into something just because it is popular. Because, remember, “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
So, again, what on earth are we here for?
We are here to be used as the one who made us wants to use us. We are here to act in accordance with the purposes of God, because we belong to God. Our trouble is that we think we belong to ourselves. We think we own our own lives, and so should be able to do anything we please. But we do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God, who made us, to Christ, who redeemed us by His blood. But here is the wonderful thing: in belonging to God, everything really is ours!
One way to define sin is that sin is misusing what God gave us. It is using something that is good for the wrong purposes, in the wrong way. Money is like that. The Bible doesn’t say that money is evil, but that the love of money is at the root of all evil. Or sexuality; something else that God has given, but which we insist on misusing. This too is another sermon, but let me say in passing that I do understand what our Episcopalian friends are trying to do. They are trying to send a message of welcome to everybody, including people who are homosexual. I applaud that. Of course I believe in the “whosoever will may come” principle. But at the same time, that does not mean that whosoever will may do what whosoever pleases, if it does not agree with the will of God. Do I believe that the church should welcome gay people? Certainly I do! The church should welcome gay people on the same basis that it welcomes heterosexual people and all kinds of people – as sinners in need of the redeeming grace of God. Sin is the misuse of the good things God has given us. But when we belong to Christ, all good things belong to us, to be used as they were intended.
I have here a screwdriver – Phillips head. If you can see it from where you are, you will see that the business end is chewed up and the blades are mangled. That’s because I have not used this tool for the purposes for which it was intended. I have used it as it if were a hammer, and sometimes as if it were a punch. I have misused it, and it is not effective anymore. I got something done with it, and it’s still in my toolbox, but I ruined it because I did not use it for the purposes for which it was designed. I’ve lost it.
But I have here another tool – a very interesting instrument. It is a multi-function tool. It is a hammer, and a wrench, and pliers, and a grip – and maybe some other things I haven’t even found yet. Sort of like a Swiss Army knife. It was designed to accomplish many things. It speaks to me of what Paul says about us – that all things belong to us, and we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Once we acknowledge that we belong to Christ, and that our purpose in life is to be whatever He wants us to be, look out! Because once we belong to Christ, we can do all kinds of things. We can do everything that God wants us to do. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. It doesn’t mean, “I can do everything I take a notion to do.” It means, “I can do what God wants me to do.” He empowers us, because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, and then all things belong to us! Wow! Isn’t that great?!
I asked you say that it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about you, but, you know, in a sense it is about me and about you. In a sense finding the purpose of God is about us, because I will tell you that there is no greater joy than finding the place where you fit and fitting in it. There is no deeper excitement than knowing that you are doing what you were made to do. In Christ you don’t have to be a broken Phillips head screwdriver! You can be an effective multi-function instrument. It’s all in doing what you were made to do.
And so, once again, what on earth are we here for? The premise we’ve laid down is – do you remember it? – “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
Brothers and sisters, the heart of life is not in what people think of us, not in what the guys on the street will say or in what the girls at the beauty salon might feel. The heart of life is not in what the world thinks – that’s why Paul says to his readers, “Let no one boast about human leaders.” And that’s why he goes on to say that what they think of him is a very small thing; in fact, what he thinks of himself doesn’t matter much. It’s what God thinks that counts. Paul pronounces pointedly, “It is the Lord who judges me.” The Lord who will disclose the purposes of the heart. The Lord who will commend, at the end, or who will judge.
I understand I have a bit of a reputation for funeral sermons. I’ve even been told people are just dying to hear them! Well, I have a philosophy about funeral sermons. I instruct the people who print the programs not to use that old word, “eulogy”. A eulogy is praise for the person who has died, and that’s not what I am about. In fact, sometimes it’s not even possible! But what I am about is discerning, with the help of the Scriptures, the purposes of a person’s life. I am about trying to hear the inner heartbeat of a life and to set that in the context of the Gospel. At the end of life, neither one’s pastor nor one’s family nor one’s friends value us by what we have accumulated or by our social standing or by how good a time we have had. At the end of life, we value each other by how well we have discovered and lived out the purposes of God.
And so I commend to you, and indeed urge upon you, the serious study of the purpose-driven life over these next several weeks. Prayerfully and carefully read the book. Read each day’s passage and then call up the prayer phone, where I will add further commentary. Attend the Wednesday night discussions, share in the worship services, go to your Sunday School class, and above all, dream a great dream about your life purpose. Be heavenly minded, so that you may do some earthly good.
For if you are heavenly-minded, seeing your life in the light of eternity, you will find joy each day; otherwise get ready for misery and dissatisfaction, for it will come. “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
If you are heavenly-minded, looking for how your life fits in with the purposes of God, when you ask whether it has mattered that you have lived, you will hear God’s great “Well done”. “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
If you are heavenly-minded, each day, with its myriad of demands and tasks, with everybody clamoring for your attention, will begin to make sense. You will know what is urgent and what is trivial. You will see what is productive and what is merely time-wasting. “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
If you are heavenly-minded, you will get up each morning, with your list of things to do and people to see and stuff to handle, and you will be its master, so that when evening falls and you are weary, you are fulfilled. You are satisfied. “It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”
Oh, choir, do not sing any more, “This earth is not my home.” Park it! Leave it in the choir room and bury it, “This earth is not my home, I am a stranger here.” For all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Sing instead, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what you do for Christ will last.” Sing and sing again, “I am satisfied with Jesus; He has done so much for me. But the question comes to me, as I think of Calvary: is my Master satisfied with me?” For –
“It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about the purposes of God.”