Mere Christians

Skye Jethani (Author of What If Jesus Was Serious About Heaven? + Co-host of The Holy Post)

Episode Summary

What heaven means for your work today

Episode Notes

Why heaven being on earth matters so much to your work, how to not sacrifice the way of Jesus for the mission of Jesus, and where Skye sees himself professionally in five million years.


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Episode Transcription

[0:00:04] JR: Hey, friend. Welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I'm Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of Mere Christians? Those of us who aren't pastors or religious professionals, but who work as math teachers, coroners, and copywriters. That's the question we explore every week, and today I'm posing it to one of my absolute favorite writers, Skye Jethani. You may know him as the co-host of the very popular Holy Post podcast.


Skye and I recently sat down in person to talk about why heaven being on earth matters so much for your work. We talked about how to ensure we're not sacrificing the way of Jesus for the mission of Jesus. Finally, we talked about where Skye sees himself professionally in five million years. Trust me, you guys are going to love this conversation with Skye Jethani.




[0:01:10] JR: Skye, I can't remember the last time I did an in-person interview, but I'm in Chicago. We're hanging out together tomorrow at this conference, so I figured why the heck not.


[0:01:18] SJ: I'm all for it. It feels like pre-COVID to me.


[0:01:20] JR: I was going to say it. What world are we living in that we can do this?


[0:01:23] SJ: It's great. I'm happy that you're in town.


[0:01:25] JR: Do you know the legend of this room? Do who used to record in this room? Way back in the day?


[0:01:30] SJ: Phil Vischer did.


[0:01:32] JR: I think Bob the Tomato is like birth in this room. We're standing on the shoulders of giant tomatoes.

[0:01:36] SJ: Yeah. This is like the sound studio for Wheaton. I know quite a few friends who've done stuff in this space.


[0:01:42] JR: I love it. Hey, last time you were on the podcast, we spent a lot of time talking about this book Futureville of yours, right? All about heaven and the new earth. Today, we're going to be talking about the same topic. You just released, What If Jesus Was Serious About Heaven? The longest chapter in my new book, The Sacredness of Secular Work is all about heaven. Clearly, we care about this a lot. I'm curious why now for you, though? Why do you think this is particularly relevant to believers today? It's a timeless topic, but why are you and I thinking about it a lot more?


[0:02:12] SJ: I can't answer that for you.


[0:02:14] JR: Why not you can't?


[0:02:16] SJ: I can answer it for me. Part of the way I'm wired is I just – I think I get this from my dad. He's a physician and he's very good at diagnosing things that are screwed up. I've been increasingly focused on what is it that Christians are really getting wrong that screwing up multiple parts of their lives? You look for the simplest explanation, like what is the one thing that explains all the other – symptoms. Exactly. I keep coming back to Christians have a really unbiblical view of heaven and that that is warping so much of their life, like what? Well, like work, which I'm sure we're going to talk about, like their engagement with the world, their view of politics, their understanding of their neighbor, their understanding of mission, all these things.


Even frankly, their understanding of Jesus and the gospel is really warped, because we've inherited from tradition of view of heaven that is profoundly unbiblical. So, when we encounter the word heaven in scripture, or we hear Jesus say something about the kingdom of heaven and the gospels, or we even hear people talk about, how do where you're going to go when you die? That popular way of beginning to conversation. All of those things, I would argue, are misconstrued in our imaginations and therefore leads us to a profoundly unchristian way of understanding ourselves, the gospel, our mission and the world. I kept coming back to heaven is the problem. If until we get that right, we're not going to be able to correct these other things either.

[0:03:44] JR: I completely agree. I can't remember where N.T. Wright said it. He’s basically saying, “Hey, listen. Until we get this right, we can't understand Christian mission.” It's impossible. Right? All right, so let's get to work at it. Maybe most, definitely, many Christians. I know of think of heaven exclusively as a place that we go to in the future. It's not what we see in scripture, right? How would you define the kingdom of heaven?


[0:04:09] SJ: Well, those are two different things. The kingdom of heaven and heaven are two different things.


[0:04:12] JR: So, break it down.


[0:04:13] SJ: First of all, I think this is where I start early in the book is we got to just deal with the word heaven. We think of it as a singular place. I joke like, we talk about Chicago or Cleveland or Wrigley Field, it's a place. Almost everywhere in the Old and New Testaments, the word heaven is actually plural. It's heavens. you see that in Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. That's actually correctly translated, but for some reason, in many of the English translations we have, even though it's plural in Hebrew and Greek, in English, we make it singular. That makes us think of heaven as this location. It's this place. It's not. It's speaking of a realm.


The way we would speak about the seas or the skies. Scripture speaks of the heavens. That refers to, it's the same word for sky that you see. So, the birds and the heavens is just the atmosphere. It refers to the realm of the planets and the stars, the sun and the moon is in the heavens. It also refers to the immaterial, invisible realm of the spirits, including God. All of that is what the scriptures refer to as the heavens.


[0:05:20] JR: Okay. What about the kingdom of heaven? How do we understand that given that context?


[0:05:25] SJ: Given that God is spirit and he resides in the heavens, the kingdom of the heavens is the realm over which God rules. So, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven, he's not talking about a distant place you go after death. He's talking about the very present realm that we cannot see in which God is reigning and with his angels and hosts. It's in a real way, the biblical writers had an imagination that understood heaven is right here as close as the air is to my skin. That's where heaven is. It's right here. That's where God exists, but I can't see him. So, then scripture also talks about places where heaven and earth intersect, where –


[0:06:05] JR: Thin places.


[0:06:06] SJ: Thin places as the Celts talked about. The most obvious in the Old Testament was the tabernacle or the temple where the realm of God in the heavens and the realm of people overlapped. Then Jesus identifies himself as the temple, this intersection. Jacob in Genesis talks about having that vision of the heavens opening and seeing the stairway or ladder of angels ascending and descending from the throne of God. He wakes up and says, “God is in this place and I did not know it.” In other words, this place is a location where heaven and earth are easily accessible and visible to one another.


That's the idea Jesus is getting at is when we talk about, “May your will be done on earth as it is in the heavens.” It's how do we make that barrier between heaven and earth disappear, so that God can reign here as he does there. It's just a different way of conceiving of this world that is very different from the, this is earth and I go to heaven, which is some long-distance place away where God lives that has like mansions and angels and I'm going to reside there when I die. That is absolutely not what Jesus is talking about.


[0:07:09] JR: It's not the hope.


[0:07:10] SJ: It’s not the hope or the Old Testament, like it was all about the interplay of heaven and earth.


[0:07:15] JR: All right. You pointed out something in the book that I never thought of before. We talk so much about the relationship between heaven and hell. Scripture never does. Those words are never back-to-back. I had never caught that before.


[0:07:29] SJ: Literally never.


[0:07:31] JR: But scripture talks a whole lot about heaven and earth. When you look at the grand narrative of scripture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, what is that relationship between heaven and earth throughout that narrative?


[0:07:44] SJ: At the beginning in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. The realm of God being the heavens and the realm of humanity being the earth, and Eden is understood to be essentially an overlap of those two realms, because God walked with the man and woman in the garden.


[0:07:59] JR: It was the thin place. Eating with the first thin place.


[0:08:00] SJ: It wasn't even just a thin. There was no barrier. It's not a thin thing. It's just they completely overlapped and Adam and Eve were commissioned as priests to expand that temple, that realm of God and humanity throughout the world. Then of course they rebelled against him. They were kicked out of the garden. So, earth became the realm of humanity and the heavens separated from the earth, the realm of God. So, throughout the Old Testament, we see God encountering humanity in these thin places, Jacob and the stair, the temple and the tabernacle, all these thin places.


Then ultimately, Jesus shows up and he is that thin place. By the end of the Bible, it says that heaven descends. The city descends from the heavens to earth and the great declaration is the dwelling place of God is now with his people on earth. It's the restoration of Eden and the overlap of heaven and earth reunited. That's what the trajectory of the Bible and the entire Christian vision of the cosmos is one in which the realm of God and humans, heaven and earth are reconciled and become one again.


[0:09:04] JR: You wrote in the book, the scripture, “Emphasizes God's redemption of creation of the material world rather than our rescue from it.” But man, I know a lot of listeners whose pastors have told them the complete opposite. The only two things that last for eternity are God's word and people, right? Everything else is going to burn up. Man, please speak to this common misconception and help us dismantle it.


[0:09:30] SJ: Yeah. First of all, it's really hard to dismantle it, because it's so embedded in our imagination. It's so deeply entrenched, deeply entrenched. We got to understand why, it's deeply entrenched. I'll give you three reasons, which is oversimplification. One, is Greek philosophy. In the early centuries of the church, after it spread beyond Judea, it was deeply impacted by Greek philosophy. A lot of Greek philosophy, platonic philosophy was built on this idea of the separation of soul and body.


[0:10:00] JR: Yeah. Spiritual realm, good. Body, bad.


[0:10:03] SJ: That came into early Christianity and it just took over.  Tertullian and others bought in this idea that human souls are inherently eternal and anything material is bad. It's where you get the heresy of Gnosticism from and other things. That's one early influence. Second, influence much later is a popular American theology known as Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism, which is the left behind rapture theology that –


[0:10:28] JR: You're going to love my left behind gift tomorrow at this conference. I'm warning you. Okay. Great. It's going to be killer. It's going to be killer.


[0:10:34] SJ: It basically said the earth is a sinking ship and we need to rescue souls off of it. It's all going to burn. Ultimately, the material world doesn't matter. Again, not biblical, but dates back at least in the United States to around the civil war for various political and cultural reasons really took off and it dominated 20th century American evangelicalism and it's still with us, even though I would argue and many other theologians would argue it's profoundly bogus. The third one is probably the hardest and that is scripture. There is in particular one passage in 2 Peter 3, that people read, that talks about the earth being destroyed by fire.


[0:11:12] JR: Annihilated.


[0:11:12] SJ: Right. So, people go to that and, “Oh, there it is. There it is. There it is.” Then they attach to that the platonic ideas of ancient Greek philosophy and the dispensational ideas and they go, “There's the text that says it.”


[0:11:23] JR: That we take out of context, because the context of that passage is everything. Talk about the context of 2 Peter.


[0:11:27] SJ: Yeah. We could dig into it in great detail, but it's – the case of John Walton says, “We often see what we know, rather than know what we see.” So, when you read that text carefully, Peter is comparing the judgment of God that is coming upon the world with the judgment of God that happened during the flood in Genesis. He uses the exact same language or word of destruction and he says, “The world was destroyed by water with the flood.” He says, likewise, the world will be destroyed with fire. Well, okay, let's go back to Genesis. Was the world materially destroyed by water? No.


What “world” means there is the system of humanity. Back in Genesis, God was grieved because of the evil of humanity and the systems we have created and the injustice and the murder and all the terrible things that were happening. The water came, like in baptism and cleansed it away, washed it away and it was renewed, so that no one has found, they could then start again. Peter uses that imagery and metaphor and says, that's what's going to happen again. Only this time it's going to be fire, but it doesn't mean the world is materially destroyed. It means the system of the world. The evil of the world is purged away.


[0:12:38] JR: It's all the graffiti that's going to burn up.


[0:12:40] SJ: Right. Similarly, what you find throughout both the Old and New Testament, it says fire is often a metaphor of cleaning or purging. Refiners fire. If you remember that old song, we used to sing back in the 90s. It's the burning away of the draws, right? When you really dig into that text, there's a lot going on and it's actually really beautiful. I mean, he talks about the heavens being rolled up and cast away. Well, there you have to know your temple architecture. The ancient temple in Jerusalem was designed to be a microcosm of the universe. I go in lots of detail there, but the main room of the temple was the holy place. It was designed to be like the earth. It was a garden motif with trees and plants and flowers and all that.


At the back of that room were these huge curtains that separated the holy place from the holy of holies. A lot of people know about these curtains, but the detailed description of these curtains in Leviticus is that they were deep indigo blue purple color. They were embroidered with angels and stars. They represent the heavens. Literally, the sky. On the other side of that is the throne room of God. The holy of holies, which is all gold. When Peter says, the heavens will be rolled up and tossed aside. He's referring to this barrier between the realm of God and the earth is going to be done away with.


[0:13:57] JR: No more thin places.


[0:13:58] SJ: No more thin places. The curtain is gone, which we always refer to the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain tore from the top to bottom, but that's what he's referring to, is this physical separation between God and the earth is done. He says, the earth will be exposed. Meaning –


[0:14:14] JR: Laid bare.


[0:14:15] SJ: Laid bare. Everything will be seen and all that is not of God and his character will be purged away by fire and everything that remains will be glorified. Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 3 where each person's work will be tested with fire and if you've built with wood, hay or straw, it will be consumed. If you've built with gold, silver, precious stones, it will endure. That's the whole imagery of the coming of the day of the Lord is this devastating revelation of all that has happened on the earth and that which is evil will be judged and destroyed, that which is of God will be refined and bring glory to you and to him. That's what Peter's talking about. It's not the physical destruction of the earth. It's the exposing of the earth and the refinement purification and sanctification of creation.


[0:15:02] JR: Yes. All right. Let's talk about why this matters to the Mere Christian. This is why this, the only two things are going to last for eternity in God's word and people boils my freaking blood. Let me give our listeners two reasons. Number one, if that's the case, then Jesus is only a partial winner, right? Because in Genesis 1, God said that all of creation, spiritual and material was good, right? Genesis 3, Satan breaks everything in that good creation and God promises that one day our redeemer is going to come and not just strike Satan's head, but crush it and win back everything that was lost.


There's this great quote from a theologian named Steven Lawson who says, “If redemption does not go as far as the curse of sin, then God has failed.” That's what we're accusing God of. If we say the way two things that last for eternity are God's word and human souls to say that I believe is to accuse Jesus of being a loser rather than Lord or at least a partial winner, right?


[0:16:00] SJ: I 100% agree.


[0:16:01] JR: All right. Here's the second reason why this matters though. If this earth is eternal and this earth matters to God, then it doesn't our work with this earth and this material world typing on laptops made out of aluminum matter to God. Does that flow for you?


[0:16:17] SJ: Absolutely, totally. So, this should be a fundamental recalibration of the calling and mission of God's people.


[0:16:23] JR: Yes.


[0:16:25] SJ: I'm all for sharing the good news. Welcoming people back in a communion with their maker. The repentance from sin. The renewal and sanctification of our characters. All of that matters, massively. But if the ultimate telos, the ultimate purpose of the Christian story is for God to reign on the earth with us and to redeem this creation, then all the other things we do matter as well. If we do them in communion with him and for his glory, they will endure for eternity.


[0:16:55] JR: Yes. If the earth is going to be truly destroyed and obliterated, the Great Commission is the only commission go save as many souls as you can and let's all get the heck out.


[0:17:04] SJ: Well, hold on. That's not the Great Commission.


[0:17:06] JR: Well, I understand. How we think about the Great Commission.


[0:17:09] SJ: What's a disciple, right? A disciple is not just somebody who shares the gospel with other people to make more disciples. A disciple is someone who learns to live all of their life as Jesus would live it, which means if you are a plumber, being a disciple of Jesus means you are going to plumb pipes the way Jesus plums pipes and that work matters for eternity. There's so much to unlearn and it begins with getting the scriptures right and the message of Jesus right. One other thing that just really screw with people's heads here, like depending on how you measure it. There are there are six to eight gospel sermons in the book of Acts.


[0:17:48] JR: Oh, I love this part of the book.


[0:17:51] SJ: I owe this to Scot McKnight in New Testament process, theologian. 68 New Testament or gospel sermons in the book of Acts. The most famous is Peter on the day of Pentecost. Preaching to the crowds in Jerusalem, right? In all of those sermons, those gospel presentations in the book of Acts. Heaven is never mentioned once.


Now, here's the big question. If heaven was not central to the gospel proclamation of Jesus and his own disciples, why is it so central to our gospel proclamation? Do we have the arrogance to think that they got it wrong, but we got it right? No. We have fundamentally misunderstood something and we are preaching a gospel that is more the product of 2000 years of church history and tradition and platonic philosophy and dispensational bogusness than it is the gospel of Jesus and his apostles.


[0:18:39] JR: We're preaching in a bridge gospel, that's all about me going to heaven when I die.


[0:18:42] SJ: It's not just a bridge. It's wrong, right? It's not short. It's wrong. That's a huge problem if we care about the mission of the church.


[0:18:51] JR: It's good. Speaking of the mission of the church. You say you have a devotional in this book that I loved. One of the titles is, If Jesus Was Serious About Heaven, then his followers will bring heaven to earth, like he did, right? But what does that look like, practically? Talk to the marketer, talk to the plumber, talk to our friend, Gayir, man in the audio booth right now. What does that mean to bring heaven to earth through our work?


[0:19:11] SJ: Oh, it means a lot of things, but let's begin with what it meant for Jesus. We often look at his miracles and we go, wow, those are amazing, and they are. They're amazing stories, but really, fundamentally, what he's doing is bringing heaven to earth. He is restoring the proper ordering of things on earth. He's bringing life where there's death. He's bringing abundance where there's scarcity. He's bringing order where there had been chaos. He's bringing love where there had been hatred. Forgiveness where there had been condemnation. All those things.


Similarly, for us to be agents of heaven on earth means that everywhere we go, every person we interact with, every relationship we have, every task we engage should seek to reflect the realities of heaven, which are the same. We want to bring order where there was chaos. We want to bring justice where there was chaos. We want to bring love where there was hatred. We want to bring abundance where there was scarcity. We want to bring life where there was death and whatever capacity we've been given to do that. If you are a follower of Christ, and pick a vocation. Name one.


[0:20:12] JR: Audio engineer.


[0:20:13] SJ: Audio engineer.


[0:20:13] JR: Not recording this podcast. Recording Joe Rogan's podcast.


[0:20:17] SJ: An audio engineer has to deal with personalities, like you and me. That's going to call on him to be patient, right? It's going to call on him to be long suffering. It's going to call on him to take his expertise and correct us where we're wrong and to do that in a way which communicates our dignity and worth and his expertise, that's bringing heaven to earth. Then it's taking the raw material of some audio and making it better, right? Cutting out the background noise, editing it together and producing something which is more beautiful, more excellent, more truthful and putting it out in the world and giving God the glory for that.


[0:20:49] JR: That's bringing heaven to earth.


[0:20:51] SJ: Yes.

[0:20:51] JR: Yes. Wayne Grudem has commented on the cultural mandate of Genesis 1. He said, “Hey, listen, this is real simple. The cultural mandate is to make the earth more useful for other human beings benefit and enjoyment.” Right? I don't know if it's that simple, but I'm like, that's a pretty darn good definition and describes a lot of the work that most people do today. But here's what I loved about the book. You spent a lot of time talking about this. You talked about how – all right, we understand the mission of heaven. The mission of heaven is to bring heaven to earth, like Jesus did, but we can't be so obsessed with the mission of heaven that we neglect the methods of heaven, because there's a way to pursue the mission of heaven by pursuing the vehicle being the methods of the world. Talk about this.


[0:21:31] SJ: I mean, this is basically, everything that makes you sick about church history, right? You think about colonialism European Christians who fueled by some sense of we want to spread the word of God around the world and we're going to use military conquest to do it. You go, “Okay.” Spreading the word of God and telling people about Jesus, good thing. Doing it with swords and ships and armies and the subjugation of other peoples, not the way of Jesus, right?


Similarly, we have in a lot of the American church, at least. We have people who are captivated by this imagination of, “Oh, we want to spread the gospel or spread the mission.” But then our imaginations are so fixated on consumer capitalism and corporations and their methodologies that we think that's the right way to do it. We're going to market the gospel the way you market Coca Cola or we're going to build an institution as big as Apple or Google or whatever. You go, “Time out. What does it mean to do Jesus’ work in the way of Jesus?” That means it can't be anything that dehumanizes anyone, let alone those who are opposed to you.


It means not seeking the accumulation of power, but the surrender of power. We go on down the list. If you are pursuing the work of Jesus separate from the way of Jesus, that's a recipe for design. Let me give you one very vivid text that I think captures this more than anything. For the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. Jesus talks about the day of judgment and he says, “Many will come to me on that day and say, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons and do many mighty works?”


Now, let's break that down. These are people who say, Lord, Lord to him on the day of judgment. He's speaking to a Jewish audience. According to Jewish theology. The only rightful judge on the day of judgment is God, is Yahweh, the Lord. For these people to say to Jesus, Lord, Lord on the day of judgment, they're acknowledging His divinity. They believe in the deity of Jesus. Then they say that we prophesied in your name. That means they preached in the name of Jesus. They cast out demons. You could take that literally or figuratively. I don't care, but let's say this. These are people who worked against evil in the world, right?


They're either social justice warriors or maybe they're Pentecostal exorcists. I don't know. But they're working against evil in the world and then it says they did many mighty works. That's actually the word for miracles. They performed supernatural feats in the name of Jesus, right? These are ministry people. These are people who've spent their life serving Jesus and doing amazing things in the world.


[0:23:55] JR: This is you.


[0:23:56] SJ: Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but yeah. Jesus says, “Away from me, I never knew you.” Why? They're pursuing the mission of Jesus, but He also calls them workers of lawlessness. Meaning they weren't doing it the way of Jesus. That's what's frightening and actually what's most frightening in that whole text is Jesus has many. Many will come to me on the day of judgment, completely convinced they belong to me, because they've been pursuing my mission, but they haven't been pursuing me, and they haven't been pursuing the mission as I would pursue it, and that means they don't belong to me.


I fear for Christian traditions, like my own, which so heavily emphasize the mission, which is a good thing, but we don't emphasize doing it in the way of Jesus and in communion with Him. All we're doing is setting people up for the disappointment of eternity when they find out I've spent my whole life serving this guy, and I never knew him, and I didn't know his ways, and now it's away from me. You evildoers, really? That's a frightening judgment. It's terrifying. I don't think we spend enough time, and especially evangelical circles where we emphasize mission so much, really contemplating what that means.


[0:25:04] JR: Let's make this more concrete. Talk to a tech entrepreneur, who's building a software business, right? In our current cultural moment, what are her greatest temptations, right, to substitute the way of Jesus with the way of the world?

[0:25:20] SJ: That's a great question. I think, I do have something of an entrepreneurial bent as well, and I have launched multiple entities or companies. In my experience, and this may be true for a tech executive who's launching them as well. The temptation is to put the, especially the financial success of that enterprise ahead of valuing people. That doesn't mean you can't fire anybody, or you can't – of course not. But there's so much dehumanization that exists in our capitalist system that puts capital above humanity, or that sees people as just human resources. You're just a resource. You're not an actual incarnate person made in the image of God. Anytime we are tempted to devalue somebody, that's where we're in trouble.


[0:26:07] JR: What does that look like? Be explicit. Do you have a story from your own past where you were tempted to do this? You made the right or wrong call here?


[0:26:14] SJ: I'll give you – this is going to sound really bad. I can give you a story of where I felt this happened to me when I was on the other side of it. I was working for a ministry. I don't want to give too much detail, because it could hurt some people. My second child was born, my son was born premature and had just enormous health challenges. He was in the hospital for two months. His first whole first year of life, we had tons of crazy health issues.


Our insurance, which was through my employer, this ministry was fine. It wasn't great, but we had just enormous expenses, far beyond what we were able to pay. If it wasn't for family and some incredibly generous people at our church, we never would have made it through that financially. In the midst of all that, the ministry I was working for actually cut my healthcare benefits. I went to the powers that be, to find out why, like why are you cutting –


[0:27:03] JR: They knew what's going on.


[0:27:05] SJ: Yeah. They knew what was going on. It wasn't just mine they cut, they cut all, everyone's. He was born in 2004, so this is 2005-ish. The ministry was struggling financially in different ways. I've never forgotten this. What the representative told me was, the less money we have to spend on health insurance, the more we can give toward the mission of the gospel. I was like, “I'm part of helping you advance the mission of the gospel. If I can't pay for my family, if I can't care for my family, I can't stay in this position, which is going to hurt the mission, you say you care.” But there was this bifurcation in their mind that health insurance wasn't part of the mission.


They didn't intend it this way. I know that, but it felt very devaluing, right? Honestly, that was a moment which I knew I wasn't going to stay here, because I was not being valued as a person or my family. I'm not saying that every time you cut someone's pay, it's always bad. There may be legitimate reasons to do that. But I do think it means, if you're not paying people a living wage, whatever that looks like in your community space, you're not honoring them and their work. If you are not respecting people as human beings incarnate made in the image of God rather than just human resources, then you are doing something that Jesus would not do.


Those are the forces at work in our system that values ROI and got to pay back the investor and you got to make more money or you got to make the stock price go up, whatever it might be. They have a tendency to dehumanize. Anything that dehumanizes means you're drifting from the way of Jesus.


[0:28:33] JR: I think about this quote. I think it's from with all the time, I think. You could take credit for, even if it's not. God does not need us. He wants us.


[0:28:42] SJ: Yeah.


[0:28:42] JR: That is the foundational truth that we have to constantly remind ourselves of to not sacrifice the way of Jesus for the mission of Jesus, right? God doesn't need you or I to accomplish anything in this life.


[0:28:59] SJ: Right. If he does, our vision of God is way too small.


[0:29:02] JR: That's exactly right. His purposes will not be thwarted, you have said. So, man, I just think he cares way more about us following the way than the mission of Jesus. Amen.


[0:29:12] SJ: Totally. That is the mission.


[0:29:14] JR: That is the mission.

[0:29:14] SJ: Right? You can't separate the two.


[0:29:17] JR: Yeah. You wrote about one of the methods of heaven in the book around just the pace of heaven, which I thought was really good riffing off of Ortberg, and Willard, and John Mark. You say that, “If Jesus was serious, then life in the kingdom of heaven doesn't hurry.” You wrote, “Because Jesus wasn't driven by an unrelenting urgency to achieve something.” That's what we've been talking about. “He was able to give his attention to what his father was doing at each moment and with each person he encountered.” Man, that's freaking hard.


[0:29:48] SJ: It is really hard.


[0:29:49] SJ: What changes have you made to your life to help you eliminate hurry and just pay attention to what God's doing in the moment?


[0:29:56] SJ: Yeah. It's not easy, like you said. It's hard. I credit my wife partly for this. When we first got married, I was in seminary and we didn't have any friends, because we just got married and we were in a new community and we were trying to meet. So, I suggested to her at one point, there was this thing, I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and there was this group called Trinity Wives Fellowship, I think was the name of it.


[0:30:17] JR: Well, they did ladies T’s?


[0:30:18] SJ: Yeah. Ladies. So, as the wives of a lot of seminary students. So, I said, “Well, why don't you check that out?” She went one night and she came back and she's like, “I'm never going back.”


[0:30:28] JR: It sounds like my wife at every woman’s event at church ever, yeah.


[0:30:31] SJ: I asked her why? She said like, “The wives just sat around and complained the whole time about how terrible their husbands were and how absent they were, and how they just studied all the time and they were never around.” I said, “Well, what did you share?” She said, “Well, I shared how I don't ever see you studying.” Partly, that was because I had made a decision that I was going to work my tail off, like nine to five.

When she was working to put bread on the table, I was in school. I was going to work, but when we came home in the evening, I wasn't going to work. I wasn't going to study. I was going to spend time with her. Even from those early years, I have tried to really have good boundaries and be more present, especially with my kids and my wife when I'm home. Some seasons I've succeeded at that more than others. It also means, whatever you're doing, if you are working, then work.


[0:31:19] JR: Be fully focused.


[0:31:20] SJ: Be fully focused. But fully in case, let me contradict myself there. They're fully engaged, yet always aware of God's presence with you. So, that's the challenge. It's every person you encounter. It's the clerk at the checkout. When you get angry at the person driving in front of you, like all just to be aware as you're interacting with those people that they're human, that they're made in God's image, that he's with you and you are to be an agent, a thin place between heaven and earth as you encounter them and to bring that awareness, but you can't do that if you're always thinking about what's next.


[0:31:51] JR: Yeah. I think you got to have some margin in your calendar to be able to do that. I over budget everything. When I came for the airport over here today. I got here 45 minutes before I was expected to, but you know what? It's great. Number one, I felt like a champion. I'm like, I got 45 minutes of my disposal, even though I could have planned that. Also, I had time to ask the hostess what her name was, right? The restaurant that I went to lunch at, right? Checking on people that I wasn't planning on checking up on. I'm not great at this by any stretch of the imagination. I get it wrong more than I get it right. Man, I just don't think we can pull this off, pull off of Jesus-like pace and be filled to the brim on our counters.


[0:32:30] SJ: Yeah. It's hard. It's a legitimate place for responsibility toward other people.


[0:32:35] JR: Yes.


[0:32:36] SJ: I'm sorry, I can't have a 20-minute conversation with you in this checkout line, because my daughter needs me.


[0:32:41] JR: It's screaming. Don't you hear her? Right? Yeah.


[0:32:44] SJ: But one of the stories I focus on here in this part of the book is in the gospels where Jairus comes to Jesus, because his daughter is dying and desperately wants him to come and Jesus said, “Great. Let's go.” They're on their way to save this little girl. On the way is where Jesus encounters the woman who's been bleeding for 12 years. The crowd pushing around, I mean, he stops to heal her and interact with her. His disciples are like, “What are you doing? We have to get to this girl who's going to die.” Yet, Jesus stops and takes the time to care for this woman.


There's a lot of nuances to the story. It's a fascinating, beautiful story. The language there and there's a direct parallel between this girl and this woman and Jairus and Jesus. It's just fascinating, but –


[0:33:23] JR: It sounds like a book.


[0:33:23] SJ: It is a whole book. It could be a whole book. The important thing is Jesus did not believe that by stopping and caring for this woman, he was putting Jairus's daughter in an equator risk, because he knew, I'm going to go and raise her from the dead. It's going to be fine, ultimately. That's a really hard thing for us to grasp that if I pay attention to what God is doing right now, can I entrust him for what is yet to come? That takes a lot of discernment and wisdom.


[0:33:51] JR: Being faithful with what's in your hand right now and the moment that's in your head. Hey, let's circle back to thin places. I think about the story from C.S. Lewis's life all the time of the moment where at 17 years old, he's well steeped in his atheism. He reads George MacDonald's, Phantastes and he can't put his finger on it, like something's wrong here. There's a hairline fracture in his atheism. That was a thin place. That novel created a thin place for him. MacDonald didn't put a Romans road track at the end of the novel. Jesus' name is on none of the pages of this book. Is that good enough? Is that enough to create a thin place and not do it explicitly and overtly in Jesus' name?


[0:34:29] SJ: Yeah. It partly depends on what is your calling. If you are called to be an evangelist, like explicitly an evangelist, I would say, no, it's not enough, like you need to talk about Jesus, right? If you're called to be a novelist, or a poet, or an artist of some kind, then creating transcendent beauty with words or pictures or paint or music. Yeah, that's enough.


[0:34:50] JR: It's tending soil.


[0:34:52] SJ: Yeah. I mean, that's one of the things I find fascinating about this, all the stats that are coming out about young people in our culture who are not identifying as religious or are nuns, as they say, religiously unaffiliated. People are, the secularization of our society and everyone's walking away from God and all that, I'm going, oh, slow down. Yeah, they are walking away from institutional religion and we need to look at that and explain or explore why. But when I have conversations with a lot of those people. They are very, very drawn to God.


They are very drawn to the transcendent. They are drawn to those thin places and they experience them in surprising places and through music, and art, and film, and storytelling and all that. They are very ripe for this. Part of what they need, like Lewis is just the accumulation of those thin places to create enough doubt in their understanding of the world that maybe there is an invisible realm right here. There is more love, and purpose, and intentionality behind this creation and me than I thought there was.


[0:35:53] JR: That's the power of truly great art. I would argue just truly great work. A great business, right? That's a great coffee shop can create those thin places. All right, we've been talking about how the kingdom of heaven shapes our work today. Let's talk about the work we will do for eternity. Revelation 22:5 says, “We're going to reign forever and ever with Christ on the New Earth.” Isaiah 65 talks about we're going to long enjoy the work of our hands. What is this going to look like? It doesn't mean to reign with Christ forever and ever. It means a lot.


[0:36:20] SJ: It does. I don't know is a short answer. I mean, we're in the realm of speculation. Well, here's why, because I think so much of what we think of as work is in the context of a still fallen cursed creation, right? Yeah, so much of what we do is just combating the deterioration of the world around us, right? How do we keep a building from falling down? How do we maintain our bodies? How do we fight disease? So much of our effort in this world is just combating the effects of –


[0:36:50] JR: Just trying to keep up.


[0:36:50] SJ: That's right. When you erase that and you have a renewed creation that looks like it did at the beginning in Genesis 1 and 2. The cultural mandate was given to the man and woman before evil and sin had entered the world. There they're told to subdue the earth and reign and basically bring heaven to earth and increase its flourishing. There must be a way of working which is built not on stopping deterioration, but expanding flourishing.


John Walton, who's a friend of mine here at Wheaton, Old Testament professor. He talks about how in the Genesis account, there's three categories you can look at. There was non-order in the beginning, the spirit was hovering over the waters of the deep. There's a lack of order. It's non-order. Then there's order. God separates sky and sea, dry land from the ocean, or night and day. He brings order out of non-order. Then there's what he calls disorder, which is when the serpent shows up and goes, “I'm going to screw around with this whole thing.” The analogy I like to use is you buy a Lego set and you open it up and it's unordered. It's just all the pieces. Then you assemble the thing with the instructions, now it's ordered. Then a two-year-old toddler comes around and crashes it and now it's disordered, right?


We are used to work in a disordered world where things keep breaking. What does work look like where it's not a disordered world, but it's an unordered world where it's not evil, but it's not all set up perfectly yet either. There the motivation is curiosity, and wonder, and innovation. What new thing can I build with these Legos? What new thing can I discover or how they go together? What new way of operating? That opens up the world to endless possibilities where work is still, there's still a task. There's still the achievement of things, but it's not fighting against disorder.


[0:38:44] JR: Yeah. Isaiah 65 says, “We will not labor in vain.” I think that's the difference, right? Where do you see yourself in five million years, vocationally?


[0:38:52] SJ: Well, here's the great part. The one vocation that I can confidently say will not exist is ministry.


[0:38:59] JR: That's right.


[0:39:00] SJ: Because there will be no need for it. Because knowledge of the Lord will cover the world as the seas cover – the waters cover the sea. You're going to be pretty useless. No one will be need to be told how to think about God, right, or how to commune with Him. The irony is in so much of the church, the one vocation we exalt above all others is the one that is only temporary. I don't know. I don't know.


[0:39:22] JR: What do you want to do? You want to explore out of space? The new heavens?


[0:39:25] SJ: Maybe. If you believe Enneagram stuff, like I'm a five. I love learning. It explains a lot about what I do, but I love learning.


I know that there's going to be an infinite number of things for me to continue to learn. So, wherever that takes me, I'm going to love learning and maybe there'll be a place for me to teach to share those learnings with other people, be mutually beneficial. I imagine that's going to be some level of what I'm doing, but it's not going to be learning and teaching people things about God, because, like I said, they'll know Him perfectly.


[0:39:57] JR: I love it. I hope we're doing this podcast on the New Earth. I hope we can look back at time.


[0:40:01] SJ: There will be technology. I'm convinced of that.


[0:40:03] JR: Yes. Talk about why – will this sets up your devotional on one of my favorite passages of scripture period, Isaiah 60. Make the case for technology and culture and commerce on the New Earth.


[0:40:14] SJ: Isaiah talks about, and John echoes this in Revelation, that the kings of the nations will bring into the New Jerusalem the glory of the nations, which Richard [inaudible 0:40:23] and others have written about this, talked about how it is the artifacts of human culture. Technology is an artifact. It's something that we have made out of the earth. Unfortunately, technology can be very dehumanizing and it can be destructive if you saw Oppenheimer, like the brilliance that created nuclear fission and yet the evil that it can do. It's terribly screwed up, but what does it mean to have technology that does not diminish our humanity, but supports it?


I don't know. I don't know what that looks like. I don't know how it's going – totally in the realm of speculation, but we have been making technology since we picked up a tool and beat a rock. That's technology. Books are technology. Fire’s technology. All those things are technology. Microphones and computers and phones are technology. They will exist, but they will be redeemed and not instruments of evil.


[0:41:15] JR: Yeah. That's right. This assigns terrific meaning to the work that our listeners do today, right? Even the work that we don't slap a, “ministry label on”. You wrote, “Imagine how different our world would be if more Christians actually believe this.” I'm going to ask you to imagine out loud. What would be different about the world if the Mere Christians listening, really believe that God cares about the literal physical works of our hands and the things we are doing today, even the things that aren't overtly evangelical?


[0:41:49] SJ: I think you would not see a sacred secular divide in the church. You would see all vocations honored and celebrated. You would see discipleship that looks more like equipping people to follow Jesus obediently in the vocation or calling that they've been given. It would mean obedient, faithful Christians embedded in every bit of our society and trying to bring flourishing, and abundance, and goodness to those things, whether it's government and law, medicine and health, education, the arts, commerce, business. It would mean that we would work to correct all the systems that are dehumanizing.


I think, was it Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “Some people are so earthly minded that they're so heavenly minded than they're earthly good.” Unfortunately, there's a lot of truth in that. That we have discipled people in much of the church to care about heaven and neglect the earth. You see the effects of that when, frankly, the most churched states in this country have the worst education. The most churchgoing states in this country have the worst health care. The most churched parts of this country have the highest rates of pollution. There's a link there because it's people who think the earth and their neighbors and the systems we're creating, don't ultimately matter. That would fundamentally change.


[0:43:09] JR: Yeah. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. Hey, Skye, three questions we wrap up every episode with number one. Which books do you find yourself gifting most frequently these days? If we opened up Amazon, looked at your order history, what do you buy in over and over again?


[0:43:22] SJ: What am I buying? That's a good question. The problem is, I read so many books and partly, because I have to for my job and I interview so many people. Right now, like in the last two weeks, the book that I have purchased numerous copies of and I am telling everybody to read is my friend Esau McCaulley's new memoir, How Far to the Promise Land. Amazing. Beautiful. Stunning. Esau is a professor here at Wheaton College. It's a book about his family and upbringing in a very poor part of Alabama.


Esau is African-American and grew up in a poor black community and it is just, it's such a – I interviewed him for the Holy Post. People can go find that interview. I confess this. I picked up the book the day before the interview and I really try to read the books of people, I mean, I knew, I was like, “Oh, man. I'm not going to have time to read all of Esau's book. I'm just going to skim it. I'll do the best I can.” I picked it up and I started reading. I could not put it down and I read the whole thing. I stayed up late that night. I could not put it down. It was so riveting. That's the book.


[0:44:22] JR: It’s a great answer. Who do you want to hear in this podcast talking about how the gospel influences the work that Mere Christians do in the world?


[0:44:29] SJ: Who do I want to hear? I would like to hear Ben Sasse.


[0:44:34] JR: Wow. Okay.


[0:44:35] SJ: You know, Ben Sasse. Former Senator from Nebraska. Former College President. Now he's a president of Florida State.


[0:44:41] JR: Florida, right?


[0:44:42] SJ: Florida or Florida. I don't know which Florida.


[0:44:44] JR: Yeah.


[0:44:43] SJ: Florida. So, he’s in your neighborhood, he’s nearby. Committed Christian guy, I think it would be interesting to hear him talk about that through his experience in academia and politics and in the world, like what does that look like?


[0:44:56] JR: Lord. Well, we'll get Ben. That's a great name. All right. One thing from our conversation, you want to reiterate before we sign off. You're talking to this global audience of Mere Christians, very diverse vocationally, but they want to work in the way of Jesus. What do you want to leave him with?


[0:45:11] SJ: I want to leave them with a reminder that the gospel is not how you get to heaven. The gospel is how you get to God. Our presence is to bring the presence of God and his realm here on earth through all that we do.


[0:45:25] JR: It's good. Skye, I want to commend you for the terrific work you do, man, for the glory God and the good of others, for giving us a more biblical and hopeful view of heaven and for reminding us not to forsake the methods of heaven at the expense of the mission of heaven. Guys, I crushed Skye's newest book. I crush everything this guy reads, but this one's really terrific. It's called, What If Jesus Was Serious About Heaven, and go read Futureville, too. Futureville, massively shape my own book, The Sacredness of Secular Work. It's an oldie, but goodie. When did you publish that?


[0:45:56] SJ: Oh, gosh. That probably was 2012, 2013. Yeah. It's about 10 years ago.


[0:46:00] JR: Oldie, but a goodie. Skye, thanks for hanging out, man.


[0:46:02] SJ: Anytime. I love it, Jordan. Thanks.


[0:46:04] JR: I loved that conversation with Skye. I hope you did, as well. Hey, thank you guys so much for tuning in to the Mere Christian podcast. I'll see you next week.