“This World is Not My Home” and Other T-shirts I Can’t Wear Anymore

In Jr. High I had a lime green t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “This world is not my home.” It was a billboard advertising my holy longing for heaven. My pastors would say things like, “When we suffer, we find hope in knowing that this world is not our home, our true home is in heaven and one day we will join God there and everything will be perfect.” And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

I wore my t-shirt proudly, secretly hoping that carrying the words on my body would make them true. Because, try as I might, I could never seem to muster up enough hatred for the world to really feel like I was a stranger wandering in a foreign land. I knew I was supposed to pray for Christ’s swift return, but secretly I sometimes prayed that he would wait just long enough for me to go to Jessie’s pool party, or to learn to drive, or to go to college, or to fall in love. I felt an urgency to see and experience everything I could before God took it all away.

Even as a child, I saw this desperation as a moral failing. It was undeniable proof that no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, I loved the world too much and loved God too little. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” the pastor said and I shuddered in fear.* I worried that my hunger for life meant I wasn’t really saved. I asked Jesus into my heart again and again, hoping it would stick eventually.

As the church I grew up in grew and expanded, the focus shifted from evangelistic, fundamentalist values to more seeker-friendly messages of what God can do for you (another problem for another time), but those early impressions had taken root in my heart.

My church and school weren’t alone in these beliefs. In fact, there is a whole sector of Christian merchandise that capitalizes on the concept that this world is just a temporary annoyance that we endure without investing in until we can shake the dust from our feet and move on to the place we truly belong. (The song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ through,” anyone?)

t-shirt

not my homeLike all good Christian kids, I memorized John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” but the Christianity I grew up in only seemed to care about the second part of that, the part where we needed to believe in Jesus. How could they miss what this most foundational of evangelical Scriptures spells out?

“For God so LOVED THE WORLD,” it says. God SO loved, not just individual people, you and me, but the world itself and everything in it.

But we didn’t treat the world like something God loved, much less like something we should love too. We treated the world like a place we feared, a place we wanted to separate ourselves from, or a place we wanted to escape from, bringing as many people along with us as possible.

A few weeks ago I listened to this sermon by Australian professor Ben Myers during our house church meeting. It’s part of a guest sermon series he preached on the Apostle’s Creed, specifically the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Myers points out that to treat the world as a place we need to escape from, a place where we are just biding our time as we wait to be delivered, is denying God as a good creator. He points to the Scriptures’ depiction of the end of time when there will be bodily resurrection and where Christ will bring his kingdom to earth and reign. “Salvation will never be an escape from this world, but God’s loving restoration of a good creation.”

St. Francis of Assissi (patron saint of hippies and vegetarians) understood this so well that he wrote about the natural world as if it were part of his family – Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He doesn’t say this in a pantheistic, God-is-in-everything way, but in a way that acknowledges himself as a part of this wildly beautiful and good creation that he is at home in for as long as he is on Earth. His mission isn’t to escape the world. It’s to bring redemption and healing and reconciliation, working to restore creation to the perfectly good thing it was created to be.

This really struck me because I’ve lived most of my life believing that I wasn’t really meant to love this world as much as I do. I’ve never longed for heaven as a relief from this world, even in moments of suffering. The world is far from perfect and it certainly isn’t divine. There are broken bits that make my heart ache. But I still believe that it can be redeemed. I believe this world can be restored. And I want to be part of that work.

Jesus didn’t just come into the world and head straight to the cross. He came and he lived. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he showed compassion, he taught another way. If his purpose was only to rescue us from a world that is beyond hope, why waste his time with these acts of redemption?

I believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and restoration in the world precisely because this world IS our home and because the Creator has given it value. God said he is making all things new, NOT all new things.**

__________________

* John 12:25

** I didn’t come up with that pithy phrase – my friend Laura actually reminded me of it, but I can’t remember where it came from.

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36 comments

  1. Brilliant brilliant brilliant Lily – i firmly believe most cheesy christian t-shirts [which is most christian t-shirts] should be gathered together and have petroleum poured over them and WHOOSH!!! But especially where there is bad or unhelpful theology and you nail it on the head here – kingdom theology [which i discovered in the Vineyard church] really helped me get my head around this one – Jesus died for our lives now and also to come – the already and the not yet…

    This is why you write – forget the numbers or awards or recognition or anything else – you are meant to do this.

    Keep on
    love brett fish

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post. I grew up feeling confused about this as well. All of the “us against the world” talk, and “this world is not my home” keeps many of us from realizing the opportunities in front of us to invest in and love people who need Christ. I remember meeting non-Christians as a kid, and telling myself that I didn’t have to worry about what they thought of me (me being a major dork), because they don’t belong to the place where I’m going — soooooo self-righteous! Now I see how selfish that mindset can become, and that world is actually a place that needs love and redemption; and who better to display that than God’s redeemed children?

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    1. I agree, all the “us against the world” stuff is just so counter-productive to what Christ came came for. I also remember being oddly proud of how weird I was – how I didn’t listen to secular music or date or watch PG-13 movies or whatever. Those things didn’t make me a better person and my pride in them certainly didn’t help me love people well. I love seeing comments from you, Anna. I feel like we have so much in common. 🙂

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  3. I know about this.
    I grew up in a church culture that was very dispensational; always looking for reasons that Christ might come back ANY MINUTE. If ISRAEL was mentioned in the news for any reason, it was a “sign.” The Anti-Christ was always lurking around the next corner. I remember having the exact same thoughts. “Dear Jesus, I love you, but don’t come back yet… I just want to graduate from high school. Have my wedding night. Have a baby. The list could go on and I felt so guilty for wanting those things more than heaven.

    I will confess though, I do long for Heaven much more now. I want Jesus to return. Soon.

    Every time I hear of millions of girls trapped in sex-slavery. When I hear of the christians tortured in china, or annihilated in Iran. When I hear the hatred dripping off the tongues of certain groups. I long for Jesus to return. For His love and redemption.

    And my own kids now, they have dreams and goals for their lives like I did. They long to enjoy their lives. They just want to LIVE.

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    1. Remember that “perfect love casts out fear” and “he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18). Are you secure in God’s love? Do you confidently believe that He cares for and loves you? Why then should we be afraid? “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). Hopefully you are encouraged and find comfort in these verses. 🙂

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  4. Love this!! I just had this discussion with my youngest daughter last night… The Kingdom of Heaven is to be established herein the earth realm!! We have to do that. I love life. It is a gift to be cherished and fulfilled. Bravo to you for fulfilling the purposes of the gift you’ve been offered.

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  5. Yes! Yes! Yes! I am really over (you hear me say I’m “over” things a lot now, I know . . ) the whole idea of the church vs. the world. Why can’t it be both? You’re totally right – Jesus lived in the world and worked to redeem it before he even died on the cross. During Epiphany, we actually have a blessing of the waters (it’s when we get our holy water for the year) and the next morning the priest blesses the local river. Part of that prayer says: ” Today the waters of the Jordan are changed into healing by the presence of the Lord. Today the whole universe is watered by mystical streams.” I’ve thought about that a lot – that the whole world can be made new.

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  6. I am going to admit a rare feeling of guilt here over making you feel the need to say sorry. Just dropped by to say you have great style and don’t let the whiny nature of bloggers like me pull you down. 🙂

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  7. Thanks for this post – it’s very encouraging. I’m a Christian and a nature-lover. I sometimes feel that the church looks down on loving God’s creation, as it’s only temporary. But God has blessed us so immensely with the glory of his creation, how can we not love it?

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    1. Yeah, I definitely see that sometimes. But I think God reveals himself in nature more profoundly than almost any other way. I truly believe there are people in the world who never hear about Christianity, but who have a genuine understanding of God just from the way he’s left his fingerprints all over the natural world.

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  8. I feel like so many of us (now in our 20s & 30s) were raised with a very confusing perspective of what it means to follow Jesus. It has seriously been a journey unravelling the mess well-intentioned fundamentalists left in our hearts and minds. It’s a wonderful thing the Holy Spirit works louder and more consistently in our souls than preachers, parents, and youth leaders…. and most definitely, t-shirts!!!

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    1. “The Holy Spirit works louder and more consistently in our souls.” I love that. It’s such a great picture of how, even in the ways we’ve really gotten wrong, God has not just left us there to deal with the mess. He is constantly at work.

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  9. Hi Lily. Very thoughtful post. Where to begin? First I agree that God made an awesome world for us and filled it with beautiful, inspiring, and delicious things for our comfort and delight. BUT, sin tarnished both the creation and our experience of it. The world—as it is now—is not our permanent home. Whether God makes a new heaven and a new earth, or just does a remodel of this one is for the theologians to debate. I just know it will be perfect and we’ll be content.
    When I think about Christ’s return or about dying and awaking in His presence I focus on one or two things about heaven from Revelation 21:27 and 22:1-5
    First none of the icky, awful, tragic, violent, selfish, cruel things that have too often characterized life on earth will ever happen there. And that includes the icky stuff we Christians still do. Because we’ll be changed. We’ll be like Christ. Never again will we act selfishly, seek prominence, speak evil, or do harm. I can’t wait for that.
    Then there’s the description of heaven in chapter 22. A river of life, the throne of God and of the Lamb, the tree of life that offers healing of the nations. No more curse. Full and continual access to God. The blessing and joy of living and reigning with Him forever and ever.
    It’s said of the patriarchs that they desired a better, that is a heavenly country. (Heb 11)
    I think we have trouble conceptualizing what God has planned and promised, but it isn’t called heaven for nothing 😉
    I think instead of wearing our creed on t-shirts we should live it ourselves. We’re to be living letters known and read of all men, us—not our shirts.
    Cheers

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. I agree with you that sin has tarnished the world and perverted it from the way God intended it to be. I think I hold to more of a Kingdom theology which is a belief that God’s intention is to bring his kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, to earth. And that is the work he is doing through us now on a small scale that will ultimately be completed and perfected when Christ returns. I believe the patriarchs desired a better, heavenly country because we are made to desire the restoration of creation. I think God’s plan is to bring reconciliation between heaven and earth, and ultimately unity between the two – not escape from one to the other. The heavenly country reminds us of our goal and of what we are working towards. You are, of course, welcome to disagree, but that’s my perspective on this. Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful response!

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  10. Lily,
    Wonderfully written post on a topic that confounds the minds of men. One of the verses of scripture that comes to mind is written by the Apostle Paul in which he says he longs for death so that he can be with Christ however he needs to stay in his earthly body to continue to love, pray and teach his followers (Phil 1: 21-26).

    I thank you for sharing. Sometimes we think we are the only one who “thinks” this way…it is always encouraging to discover others who have the same thoughts and struggles.

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  11. Your post reminds me of two essays, one by an atheist (Albert Camus), one by a Christian martyr (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that ought to be on every Christian’s reading list. “The Unbeliever and Christians” from “Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays” by Albert Camus and “Costly Grace” from “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These call attention to how hard it is to walk the Christian walk. The modern Christian church has forgotten not only these words but also the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.

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