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Cultivating the Culture of Heaven Pt. 3

(Sermon Outline)

1)      This is the third message in a series on cultivating the culture of heaven.

a)      The first message discussed the paradise lost and restored through the gospel.

b)      The second message explored the possibility of transforming culture without within a difficult situation and changing the culture through the missionary gospel that changes the situation.

c)      I will begin by reading a passage from James Sire that we are using as a guide in our Foundations of Biblical Transformation class.

d)      “An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workday life.” (James W. Sire)

e)      This message is going to do that with the passage from Jeff Meyers in Understanding the Culture.

2)      The picture of the death camp before the cultural transformation sounds like the description of the future for America and even the world that I hear from many Christians.

a)      I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Christians tell me what the future holds for America and for the world and conclude that their only hope is the rapture.

b)      Historically, it is a very unreasonable expectation, but we will play with the theoretical idea of the whole world being thrown into such darkness.

c)      As a side note – one of the values we have at LSCC is to be united in Christ through the Holy Spirit while people have different opinions on non-essential doctrines.

i)        There is no way to describe how important this unity based on essentials is for transforming culture.

ii)      People often leave churches if they hear something they do not agree with – but unity of conformity is an impossibility.

iii)    Ephesians 4:1–3 (NKJV) — 1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

iv)    Growth into the fullness of Christ requires wrestling with ideas we disagree with and wrestling with how the kingdom of God can transform culture in the midst of different ways of understanding God’s word.

v)      At LSCC, people hold different eschatologies and have different opinions on many topics, including reformed (Calvinism) and Arminian perspectives as Pr. Alan pointed out last week.

vi)    The first great awakening – Whitefield and Wesley.

vii)   When it comes to premillennialism and the “hope of the rapture,” one of my main concerns is that when our only hope is “the rapture” then all faith in the transformation of culture is dead.

viii) That “faith” that has no hope for light overcoming the darkness in our world could contribute to a self-fulfilling culture of darkness.

ix)     The story from Ernest Gordon describes such a world in a limited level.

3)      The light had gone out and only darkness remained – except for a seed!

a)      The cultivation of a culture begins with a seed.

b)      Seed & Awakening

c)      The prophet Isaiah describes resurrection power at a time where all hope was lost: Isaiah 11:1 (ESV) — 1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

d)      It is the birth of Messiah’s kingdom: Isaiah 11:2–9 (ESV) — 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. …6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, … 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

i)        One of the themes we revisit over and over is exploring when Messiah’s kingdom begins and how it operates in history.

ii)      The church fathers and missionaries throughout the ages were fully convinced that it operates today and they transformed cultures and nations.

iii)    Jesus is the seed that was sown and now the mustard seed is growing in the earth.

iv)    Jesus transforms us and then transforms culture – darkness to light, the power of the devil to the power of God.

v)      1 Corinthians 15:25–26 (ESV) — 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

vi)    Ephesians 4:11–13 (ESV) — 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

vii)   Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

4)      If these things are true, then why do we see culture moving in the wrong direction?

a)      I believe that is the right type of question to be asking and exploring, and I think it is a conversational question not a question with a simple answer.

b)      I believe the question needs to asked in the context of hope and expectation of changing the direction of history and cultivating the culture of heaven.

c)      I would like to bring James Jordon into the conversation with a couple of his thoughts on Samson from his commentary on Judges:

d)      As a Nazirite, Samson pictures to Israel that tremen­dous strength was available to them if they would live faithfully to God. If they would separate from uncleanness, they could all be Samsons, and the Philistine would be wiped out overnight. If they compromised their priestly status, however, they would wind up as Samson did.

e)      Has Israel adopted the Philistine point of view? Does Israel think that it is because Dagon is stronger that they are in misery? Do modern American Christians think that it is because Humanism is strong that we are oppressed? Not so. If the Church is oppressed in America today, it is because the Church has been faithless. It is not the Dagons, the Philistine, the Hu­manists and Statists with whom we have to deal. It is the Lord with whom we must wrestle. When our ways please Him, the tyrant will be destroyed. Our problems are not political, and neither is the solution to them.

f)       In scripture, God’s people are often faced with perilous times, and where they turn for salvation usually determines the outcome – trusting in men or trusting in God.

5)      How do we participate in cultivating the culture of heaven?

a)      I believe that is another conversational question.

b)      Can we turn the tide of history?

i)        A good starting place may be to recognize that there is power driving the kingdom of darkness, as there always has been in scripture, and it requires a greater power to turn it around.

ii)      Acts 1:8 (ESV) — 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

iii)    We need to ask the question of how to be filled with power from on high

c)      If the world falls into darkness, is there any hope?

d)      We also need to believe: 1 John 4:4 (ESV) — 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Ernest Gordon’s To End All Wars is a moving example of how Christians can shape culture even amid unimaginable circumstances. Gordon was a prisoner in one of the cruelest places on Earth: a squalid and terrifying World War II Japanese prison camp called Chungkai. Chungkai was filthy, disease ridden, and inhumane. Prisoners frequently died from starvation, disease, overwork, beatings, shootings, beheadings, or hopelessness. One man, Dusty, was mockingly hung on a tree to die like the Savior he professed. Deprived of their humanity, the prisoners adopted a beastly survival-of-the-fittest mind-set. Death meant nothing, and life meant little more. Gordon, a member of the elite Scottish Highlanders, described it this way: “Death called to us from every direction. It was in the air we breathed, the food we ate, the things we talked about. The rhythm of death obsessed us with its beat—a beat so regular, so pervasive, so inescapable that it made Chungkai a place of shadows in the dark valley.”

But two events, according to Gordon, changed everything. First, word spread of a prisoner who, in the name of Christ, offered his own food and stayed by the side of his bunkmate to nurse him back from the brink of death. His bunkmate survived, but he did not. In the second incident, a guard threatened to randomly execute the prisoners serving a work detail until someone confessed to stealing a missing shovel. A Christian stepped forward and confessed, saving the lives of the others. The enraged guard beat the man, crushing his skull. The others watched in horror, helpless to assist the man who had given his life for theirs. A later recount showed no shovels missing. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, these deaths were a foolish waste. But in the camp, they led to a new attitude of “You first” rather than “Me first.” Christian volunteers changed gangrenous bandages and bathed hideous wounds. Life regained some of its meaning. Even the experience of death changed as prisoners stopped piling bodies, instead electing chaplains to conduct honorable funerals for the fallen.

Out of this restored humanity grew a stunning culture. The prisoners formed a library and taught courses in everything from math to philosophy to languages (nine of them). They staged plays. Having retrieved six violins from a vandalized relief shipment, they formed an orchestra and held concerts. The overall camp conditions hadn’t changed. Frightful diseases still claimed lives. Food was still scarce and nauseating. But the culture had changed. Sacrifice had brought meaning out of misery. Gordon wrote, Death was still with us—no doubt about that. But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God to men.

What Gordon described was culture. He and a handful of others refused to accept the environment that had been forced on them. Despite their horrifying conditions, they were able to shape something beautiful. Along the way, they transformed a place of hatred, cowardice, and greed into a place of love, heroism, and self-sacrifice.[1]


[1] Myers, Jeff. Understanding the Culture: A Survey of Social Engagement . David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

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