It’s going to happen very early next Wednesday morning. It has never happened before. It will never happen again. At five minutes and six seconds after 4 a.m. on July 8, the time and date will read: 04:05:06 07/08/09.
That sequence will never repeat. Some things in life are just for once.
In fact, life itself is just for once. Sally Field knows that. “I only have this one body and this one life,” she says in her profusive ads for Boniva, which is used to treat osteoporosis.
And she’s right. One life it is. No reruns. No returns. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27, English Standard Version).
So what are we going to do about it? Is the eternity factor going to make any difference in what we buy today, where we go this week, or what we plan to do next year?
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
That sobering line was penned by Charles Studd, a popular 19th-century English cricket player. It is part of a larger verse written after he decided to give up playing cricket. Why did he do that? “I knew that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last. But it was worthwhile living for the world to come,” he explained.
So C.T. Studd became a missionary to China, to India and then to Africa. He told someone, “Some want to live within the sound of a church bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” He did just that, serving in foreign missions until his death at the age of 70.
On this Independence Day weekend, you may be saying, “So we’re to live for eternity. OK. But isn’t it possible to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good? Doesn’t God also expect us to leave this world a better place? Aren’t we to be good American citizens, too?”
Of course. Jesus calls His followers to be salt and light in this world. The Bible advocates compassion for the poor and needy, here and now. There is a great deal of truth in the words of that old Glen Campbell tune: “I will pass this way but once. If there’s any good that I can do, let me do it now. Reach out to those who need you and lend them a helping hand. I will know this world but once. If there’s any love that I can give, let me give it now.”
But let’s never forget the best way to be a good citizen of this world is to remember we are first and most importantly citizens of the world to come.
In his most notable work, “The City of God,” Augustine wrote about an earthly city — perishing, imperfect, ruled by humans. And he wrote about a heavenly city — imperishable, perfect, ruled by God.” He claimed that Christians make the best citizens because of their eternal perspective.
Many of the all-time great men and women of faith are listed in Hebrews 11. These were heroes who kept believing without ever having reached their ultimate goal. “How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that — heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” (Hebrews 11:13b-16, The Message)
As the cultural wars intensify, Christians should not forget their primary marching orders. The Great Commission is to proclaim, not protest. Our priority should be evangelism, not activism. We are to make Christian disciples, not power plays. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Corinthians 10:4a, New International Version).
On this Fourth of July, let’s enjoy the fireworks. Let’s sing “God Bless America.” Let’s stand up and speak out for historic values and biblical morality. Let’s write our letters to the editor, sign worthy petitions, and pray for our rulers. But let’s also never fail to remember we are ultimately only poor wayfaring strangers in this world, traveling onward with our eye on heaven country.
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and associate pastor of the Monson Community Church. He may be reached at the Web site AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.