In 2002, I was in a meeting where my friend Pastor Brian Houston from the Hillsong Church, Sydney, spoke to a gathering of leaders about the apostle Paul’s teaching on the relationship between the natural and spiritual realms. This ministry got me thinking about the many situations I have been involved in as a Pastor during the past 22 years. Too many of these were unnecessarily complicated because of people’s tendency to over spiritualise everything in their lives and turn simple everyday natural problems into major spiritual issues. I have come to see that this tendency to make everything a spiritual drama, which is particularly prevalent among charismatic Christians, is both killing churches and creating ‘no win’ situations between these superspiritual believers and their down-to earth pastoral leaders.
Another symptom of this problem is the church’s pattern of counselling a person on the same issue over and over again because we are afraid to call a spade a spade; instead, we call it some exotic spiritual issue. We allow superspiritual padding to cushion the blow of the earthiness of the natural wisdom that we as leaders are almost embarrassed to offer as spiritual counsel.
The truth is that many unbelievers live a better life using their natural common sense than believers do by the Spirit and that should be an unacceptable indictment against the church. Some Christians were more ‘together’ before they were converted than they are now. Before, they just got on with life and dealt with things as they arose - no big deal. But now, everything is a conspiracy theory; nothing is as it appears to be and there is a quest to find the deeper spiritual reason for everything. So, the car crash that used to be explained by, ‘I wasn’t looking,’ now becomes, ‘the devil is trying to kill me!’ Or, ‘God’s protection has lifted off my life so I must have some hidden sin somewhere.’ The newly redundant, that frankly faced the fact that ‘I got sacked because I am always late and not very good at my job,’ now becomes, ‘the boss is a Freemason and he can’t stand my presence as a believer; that’s why he has fired me.’ The debtor that once admitted, ‘I am in debt because I have been spending what I don’t have for years,’ becomes, ‘there is a devourer trying to attack my finances but I am a tither, so I rebuke the spirit of debt over my life.’
Let me just say, tithing and giving are no substitute or protection against poor stewardship and bad spending habits in our lives. We have got to start fixing natural problems by natural solutions, because these things are often not even spiritual issues. Unsaved, overweight smokers don’t go looking for a prayer line because they believe the devil is attacking their health, they change their life habits or they stay sick. Unsaved, scruffy, ill-mannered young guys with BO don’t go around saying, ‘I’m single because God’s got another plan for my life.’ They change or they stay single.
First the natural
On this natural versus spiritual issue, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: ‘It is written, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam a life-giving spirit.” The spiritual did not come first but the natural and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven’ (1 Corinthians 15:44-48).
Paul is explaining that in life there are two realms or two orders summed up in two men. These two men, the first Adam and the second, or last Adam, represent two different but related realms of life. The first Adam represents the natural realm and as the first man to live represents all natural life. This is the first realm of life we are born into. It is limited to earth, time and space. It is a realm governed by the five natural senses given to mankind and is subject to decay and death. The spiritual realm was made accessible by the second Adam, Jesus Christ. This realm goes beyond the five sense realm; it is divine, eternal, supernatural and beyond the limitations of time and space and the natural order of things.
All who live only in the first Adam are called unbelievers and are confined to living life solely on a natural level. This is where most people on the planet live. But despite being restricted to this lesser realm, millions of them still manage to live a great life. Why? Because God created and blessed both realms. The natural realm is blessed with its own order of life, beauty, knowledge, wisdom and harmony. This is so much so that the apostle Paul tells us that God will hold men accountable for how they responded to the witness of the natural order of creation (Romans 1:18-20).
Much of the Bible’s wisdom is based on the observance of the natural realm. God appeals to the laws of nature and the created order to teach all people, not just the church, wisdom for life. Proverbs is packed with wisdom from observing ants, birds, lizards, locusts, rain, snow, toothache and even nagging wives, which Solomon should know something about because he had 700 of them! Solomon shows us that God has filled the natural realm with information and teaching from which he expects us to learn and draw wisdom to empower us to live a better life. If Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived outside of Christ, got most of his wisdom from observing the natural realm, then I think there must be stock piles of unused resources all around us as believers that we are dismissing as too ordinary. These natural realm resources could be saving our marriages, finances, jobs, relationships, health and churches, but alas we are too spiritual to use them.
Over nearly three decades in the same church, I have become convinced that a great many of the spiritual problems found in the church are actually people’s personal natural problems that they have transferred onto the church. People leave churches all the time over things they would immediately deal with at work. If the boss told them, ‘your attitude is unacceptable and is damaging the team so you need to change or we will have to fire you,’ they would change immediately. But if the pastor or a fellow believer even suggests such a thing, that same person who can change in an instant for the sake of a job, will leave the church saying, ‘there’s no love in this church.’ For years now I have been teaching my home church that a bad attitude is no more a spiritual issue for a believer than it is for an unbeliever. A bad attitude in the church comes and goes in the same way as it does outside of the church, with natural everyday choices. If a man can change for a job, he can certainly change for his church.
Christian tradesman beware
Sadly, I rarely use Christian tradesman to do work for me anymore. Though there are plumbers, joiners, builders, decorators, gardeners and Christianity Renewal + may 2004+29 mechanics in our church, I’m ‘once bitten, twice shy.’ Why? Because on the occasions when I have employed someone in the church, but have not been happy with their work and had to complain, they have turned it into a major spiritual issue. They seemed unable to treat my plumbing as a ‘natural’ plumbing job and me as an ordinary customer paying for a service. A guy in our church once left my family with no central heating or hot water in the middle of winter. For two weeks he wouldn’t return my calls as I chased him to come and sort it out. This brother had become the plumber from hell! Now, the truth is that no heating due to bad service from a plumber in the pastor’s house is just the same as in anyone else’s house. So, I fired the guy, withheld payment for the remaining work and employed a heathen plumber who fixed everything in two days. The brother left the church, deeply offended saying, you guessed it, ‘There’s no love in this church.’
The issue was not love, it was plumbing! How do we get from plumbing to love? How do we jump from a customer not getting proper service which is a natural everyday situation to, ‘there’s no love in the church?’ I’ll tell you how; through super-spiritual Christians who put the spiritual before the natural and from that point on life just gets dafter and dafter!
I once remember rejecting a bouquet of flowers I had ordered for my wife from a florist in the church. The flowers were nothing like what I had ordered. Well, you wouldn’t believe the song and dance that followed over a bunch of flowers! The rejection they felt, the hurt, the grief. How did we get from a bunch of flowers to a rejection issue? Only in the church! That’s why all my plumbing and flowers are provided by heathens; normal people who, if I ever have to complain or send flowers back, which I have occasionally had to do, can’t do enough to put it right. They freely apologise and offer free bouquets or discounts to maintain good customer relations with me.
I know all these stories are probably not helping you, but I am finding it very therapeutic, so I will continue!
Here is the really sick part of all this. That plumber used to wear one of those WWJD bracelets on his wrist. For him it must have stood for, ‘what wouldn’t Jesus do,’ because that is what he did! He did the complete opposite of what Jesus would do.
I want to say something to the WWJD bracelet wearing fraternity: If it is on your wrist but it is not in you heart, then you are not going to do what Jesus would do. Also, the bracelet suggests that what Jesus would do is so special that in every situation we have to stop and ponder our most Christ-like response. If Jesus and Joseph’s carpentry business had a dissatisfied customer they wouldn’t leave town with a rejection issue, they would put it right like any other normal, natural business person. A whole lot of what Jesus would do, is what your unsaved next-door neighbour would do. Jesus spent the first 30 years of his life living in the natural realm with no bracelet, yet still growing in wisdom and stature with both God and men (Luke 3:51).
I have seen believers lose everything because they were too spiritual to see the obvious. I have watched people leave churches for years over things that unsaved guys at the pub just sort out. We want dominion in the spiritual realm not realising that we are dysfunctional in the natural realm.
The Crooked Manager
‘Jesus told his disciples: There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.” The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do so that when I lose my job here people will welcome me into their houses.” So, he called in each of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” “Eight hundred gallons of olive oil” he replied. The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it four hundred.” The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light’ (Luke 16:1-8).
This story has always fascinated me because Jesus is citing a natural, everyday situation about a man losing his job for stealing who then plots a common sense, natural realm solution to his dilemma. Though he is corrupt, Jesus uses him as an example to teach his spiritual disciples who were his audience on this occasion.
He was trying to show them that people limited to the natural realm are more street-smart in life than are the church. Jesus is not advocating sin but is saying that the world are far more shrewd in dealing in the natural realm than are the church. Peterson, in the Message translation puts it this way, ‘I want you also to be smart but for what is right, using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival’ (Luke 16:9).
Maybe building our church in a large and tough inner city environment for years has given me a deeper appreciation of scriptures like this, because for us naivety in the natural realm has always been expensive. We have had to become street-smart so that those we are reaching realise that though we live in Adam two we still know how things work in Adam one.
I want to urge you not to bypass the incredible resources available to you in the natural realm by being over intense and super-spiritual. Don’t be afraid to live by common sense in situations which others make major spiritual dramas out of.