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The Puritans, Dorothy Gale, & Looking Forward To Going Home

  |   Words of Grace

A couple of weeks ago I shared a non-expository (although I used tons of Scripture!) sermon about Heaven in which I used the classic 1939 movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as a springboard.  The basic premise was that each character in the movie was trying to find their meaning, significance, purpose, and primarily peace in particular attributes, abilities, or personality traits that they felt were lacking in their life.

The Scarecrow was under the false impression that education or intelligence would make him significant and give his life meaning.

The Tin Man believed that if he had a heart, then he would be able to experience real human emotions, and thus would be a ‘complete’ person.

The Cowardly Lion was living under the misguided notion that in order to be a true King of the Jungle then he needed to have ‘courage’; as if it was something you could buy at the store.

Toto – Dorothy’s dog – was small in stature, thus he was insecure and overcompensated for his “weakness” by barking and snapping at anyone who tried to get in his way.

The Wicked Witch of the West had plenty of wicked power, but it wasn’t enough.  Her goal was to obtain her late sister’s ruby slippers from the new rightful owner – Dorothy – because those slippers possessed power, and the more power the better.

The Wizard of Oz was living a lie – pretending to be a Wizard or god to the people of Oz, thus he was not being true to himself.  He was lonely, alone, and unfulfilled.

Now, as helpful and positive as:

a good education is;

as well as the possession of a sensitive heart that empathizes with others;

and the courage to face the challenges in life;

and self-assurance despite self-perceived handicaps;

and power;

and authority…

….can all be to each of us –

the only true ‘thing’ that satisfies, brings true contentment, issues forth eternal peace, establishes forgiveness, and produces lasting and meaningful meaning, purpose and significance is a relationship with the Lord God through Jesus Christ.

As St. Augustine famously said in the world’s first spiritual and psychological autobiography ever written ‘The Confessions of St. Augustine’, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless, until it rests in You.”

The protagonist of the classic “Oz” tale – Dorothy Gale – was bright, rational yet emotional, courageous, had received a good dose of a newfound place of honor, prestige, fame, popularity, the opportunity for impending great wealth, as well as the potential for supernatural power, yet she was not content or satisfied with any of those benefits that humans would – may I say – kill for.  No, not one of those ‘blessings’, ‘rewards’ or “benefits” was attractive to Dorothy.  She knew in the deepest part of her soul that none of those things would bring her the peace, contentment and satisfaction that she truly yearned for.  In her mind she had to be wondering, “What good would it be if I gained all of this fame, glory, wealth and prestige, if I was to be kept from the only thing that would truly satisfy the longing in my soul – and that longing is to be where I belong – to be home?”

Since this particular sermon was a “reboot” from a similar sermon I preached almost twenty-years ago to the day, there were illustrations that I cut from the original in order to cover more verses and emphasize certain other aspects that I didn’t include previously.  One point that I skipped over that I want to expound upon right now involves the Puritans of America’s early history.  It might seem odd to include the Puritans in a story about ’The Wizard of Oz’ and finding our true meaning in the reality that we will be spending eternity with the Lord”, but I believe it’s the perfect illustration.

Unfortunately, for many Americans – Christians and non-Christians alike – when they hear any mention of the ‘Puritans’ they immediately think of the rather negative word ‘puritanical’.  Even our common dictionary defines this word negatively.  Dictionary.com defines it as: very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so; rigidly austere.  That doesn’t sound very positive or affirming to me!

Besides the dictionary definition, if you ask the average person where the word ‘puritanical’ comes from they might very well say something like: “From those cold-hearted, strict, humorless, against all forms of pleasure, sexually repressive, religious zealots, who burned women at the stake – claiming that they were witches”.  But the truth is the Puritans were godly Reformed Christians who were hard working, loving, fun, kindhearted and sincere followers of Jesus, who loved life and all of God’s earthly blessings.  AND no women were burned at the stake!!

Yes, there was a total of nineteen women who were convicted of being witches, and they were hung – which is definitely tragic – but this travesty was limited to the Salem area, it was limited in time, and was/is NOT indicative of the biblical love, grace, piety, devotion and hard work that biblically grounded Reformed Christians lived by.  Shortly after these shameful trials were completed the people involved repented, reparations were made to the families of those convicted, and it was seen by all as a disgraceful example of mass hysteria, unresolved conflicts between families, and life lived in the flesh.  Unfortunately, most of modern society doesn’t know this truth, and as a consequence a dark cloud of hypocrisy, hatred, and ignorance hangs over ALL Puritans, although these foolish crimes/sins were committed by a relatively few people.

A little more backstory to the Puritans: They were Reformed Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to ‘purify’ the Church of England from its superstitious and non-biblical practices, but since the Church only saw them as detractors or enemies of the Church they were mistreated, ignored, and forced to leave England.  A large group of them first migrated to the Netherlands and then to New England.  Many of these Christians were referred to as Separatists because of their desire to separate from the established Church of England, and many of these Puritans/Separatists/Pilgrims were the passengers of the Mayflower that arrived in what was later called Massachusetts in the New World.

Some of the most brilliant, educated, humble, pious, and grace-filled Christian theologians and preachers were Puritans.  Men such as: Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan (“Pilgrims Progress”), Richard Baxter, John Favel, John Owen, Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Stephen Charnock, have always been viewed as excellent preachers of the Gospel of Grace and men filled with the true and humble love of Christ.

Allow me to share with you a quote from the another great modern day preacher of the Gospel of Grace, who is not only an authority on the Puritans but teaches and believes much in the same vein as the Puritan preachers of old – J.I. Packer.  This is from his wonderfully insightful book on Puritan life, “The Quest For Godliness”:

The Puritans experienced systematic persecution for their faith; what we today think of as the comforts of home were unknown to them; their medicine and surgery were rudimentary; they had no aspirins, tranquillizers, sleeping tablets or anti-depressant pills, just as they had no social security or insurance; in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy, disease, distress, discomfort, pain and death were their constant companions.  They would have been lost had they not kept their eyes on Heaven and known themselves as pilgrims travelling home to the Celestial City.  Dr. Johnson is credited with the remark that ‘when a man knows he is going to be hanged in the fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully’, and in the same way the Puritans’ awareness that in the midst of life we are in death, just one step from eternity, gave them a deep seriousness, calm yet passionate, with regard to the business of living that Christians in today’s opulent, mollycoddled, earthbound Western world rarely manage to match.  Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did, and we lose out as a result.  For the extraordinary vivacity, even hilarity (Yes, hilarity; you will find it in the sources), with which the Puritans lived stemmed directly, I believe, from the unflinching, matter-of-fact realism with which they prepared themselves for death, so as always to be found, as it were, packed up and ready to go.  Reckoning with death brought appreciation of each day’s continued life, and the knowledge that God would eventually decide, without consulting them, when their work on earth was done brought energy for the work itself while they were still being given time to get on with it.

You see my friends, some people think all about Heaven and yearn to be there just to escape the problems of this life, but the Puritans actually LIVED in and through horrible conditions, yet it wasn’t a matter of wanting to escape their pain and struggles, but rather it was a genuine, grace-inspired love of Christ and His Church, and their absolutely confident expectation and hope that they would be with Jesus for all of eternity, that encouraged them to face their trials, work hard (not to win Christ’s love!), and persevere patiently.  They trusted in God’s sovereignty over a fallen and sinful world, so they made the best of their struggles.  Knowing in the deepest recesses of their soul that they WOULD SEE JESUS AND BE RELEASED OF THEIR FLESHY TOILS was all the motivation they needed to press forward in life.  As the apostle Paul – one who suffered and endured much persecution for his faith – so beautifully said in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 –

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now, back to ‘The Wizard of Oz’: although Dorothy was understandably concerned that she wouldn’t get back home to Kansas, she still had the burning desire to do what she could to make her journey home a reality.  But along the way, she didn’t make her pursuit to gain her freedom so self-centered that she didn’t care for those around her.  On her way to the Emerald City Dorothy helped others, fought for the freedom of others, loved others, and was a kind and selfless friend to all she encountered….just as the Puritans loved, cared for others, and worked hard for the glory of the Lord.

And with that in mind, we all need to ask ourselves: “What are we doing with the life the Lord has graciously given to us?”   Are we living it for Christ, and by that I mean, are we pursuing a ‘quest for godliness’? Are we seeking the Lord with all of our heart? Are we working hard at whatever we are called to do for the glory of the Lord and by His grace and Spirit, rather than by a works-oriented salvation? Are we encouraging others along the way?  Are we enjoying this world that we have been blessed to live in, but not to the extent that we are building earthly kingdoms, and by that making this life on Earth our permanent residence?  And are we looking ahead to the day when we will all stand before the Lord and hear our Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant?  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)

When our spiritual attitude is “live our life here and now – no matter what befalls us – for the glory of God, knowing that one day we will be with Jesus”, then and only then will be find true contentment, peace and satisfaction in Christ as we move along through this spiritual journey called life.  We are indeed ‘the absolute examples of what a true exchange student is’, ‘pressing forward toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14).  And with that attitude we will always remember while we live on this planet, there really is, “No place like home!”