In Stephen King’s latest best-seller, “11/22/63,” hero Jake Epping has traveled back in time to head off Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of numerous complications is that the time-slit into which he’s able to slip lands him smack in the middle of 1958, some 5 years before the dastardly deed is done.
Eventually, Epping, who happens to be a teacher of high school English literature, moves to Texas and takes a job teaching in a suburban Dallas small town. And there something happens he had not anticipated.
He falls in love.
He loves the small town, the people, the school, the atmosphere, the kids, and the librarian. Especially the librarian. And he arrives at a momentuous decision.
He’s not going back to 2011. He’ll stay in 1960’s Texas.
Now, I’m only half-way through this massive book (845 pages!), so anything can happen, and usually does. But it’s an intriguing thought. He leaves contemporary America, retreats into the America in which I came of age (I was born in 1940 and graduated from college in 1962, so Jake Epping has hit my generation perfectly) and decides he prefers it.
He likes the real butter as opposed to the oleo, the absence of excessive (and ridiculous) airport security, the friendliness of communities before everyone became paranoid, and the laid-back attitude. (Note: He does see and reacts to the Jim Crow laws, the harsh racism, and the way factory plants are polluting the water supply, and begins to address these in his limited way. Just saying.)
I’m struck by the idea of the time-traveler finding a time he likes better than his own and settling down. When that happens, his mission is threatened.
We who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ are time-travelers, on a mission in this world, with plans to report back home when the mission is accomplished.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
In the 8th Century B.C., according to the legend, Romulus and Remus, abandoned as infants, were suckled by a she-wolf and eventually grew up to found the city of Rome. After Romulus killed his brother over a border dispute, he populated the place with outlaws and homeless men. Then, in order to establish some type of normal civilization with families and communities, they staged a raid into the camp of the neighboring Sabines and captured their women.
By the time the Sabine men organized an army sufficient to retake their women, they learned the captives had grown satisfied being married to the Romans. The women negotiate a truce and the two “races,” if that’s what they were, merged and intermarried.
Humans are nothing if not adaptable.
In 722 B.C., the juggernaut which was the Assyrian army defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and, in order to keep them under control, transplanted its citizens across their empire. Historians speak of “the lost ten tribes of Israel,” since the Israelis resettled by the Assyrians never returned to their homeland as such.
It would appear they learned to adjust to their new homelands and made the most of it.
Such adaptability is a tribute to the perseverance of the human spirit; it’s a danger to disciples of Jesus Christ who are in this world “on assignment.”
Before His arrest, the Lord prayed for His followers. “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:15-18).
1. The Basic Principle: We are sent into this world; we are not of this world.
Deal with that, Christian. It’s a doozie.
Our citizenship is in Heaven. We’re headed there and will live there for eternity.
And yet, we are also residents of Planet Earth. Residents of our communities. To the transplanted Israelis struggling to adjust to life in Babylon, God said, “Work for the welfare of the city to which I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf. For as it prospers (i.e., “in its Shalom”), you will prosper (“you will have Shalom”)” (Jeremiah 29:7).
They were to settle down in Babylon and make the most of their time there. And yet, that was not to be their home. A few verses later, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Within 70 years, they would be returning to Jerusalem and thus they were not to forget this, not to get too comfortable in Babylon, and to be ready.
2. The Underlying Principle: We have a commitment to Christ in this world; we are not to “love” this world.
Here’s how the Apostle John put it….
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him(I John 2:15).
Is this contrary to John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world….”)? It is only for those who don’t take the time to look at what each is saying. God loved the people of the world to the point of sending His Son as their Savior; we are not to love this world’s system, its way of doing things, its culture.
3. The Bottom Line: Those on assignment for Christ will always live with this-world/other-world tension.
Believers who take seriously both the command to serve God on assignment in this world and the very nature of human life on this wondrous planet which was created by the same God will forever experience tension between the two. There is probably no getting around it. Nor would we want to get around it.
This means that we must always stay alert to two threats….
–The possibility that we will pull out of this world and become (sorry for the cliche’) so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good. When we become so detached from life in what we euphemistically call “the real world”–an insult to the living God; see Hebrews 11:3–we lose the ability to speak to it.
It was for good reason that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). In order to be seen and heard by the world, the Son of God had to become one of us.
–The danger that we will join up with this world and lose all distinctiveness as aliens, residents of that other world, disciples of Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus called the salt “losing its savor”(Matthew 5:13).
One thinks of Abraham’s nephew Lot, who, given a choice between territories, chose the lowlands toward Sodom and Gomorrah. We read: “Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord” (Genesis 13:12-13).
Before long, we find Lot living among the Sodomites with hardly a qualm. (See Genesis 19. To be fair to him, II Peter 2:7-8 calls Lot a righteous man whose soul was vexed by the sin around him. Even if we grant this, we still wonder why he persisted in living there!)
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:20-21).
4. The Victory: How then do we deal with this constant tension?
We must always stay:
a) Close to the Lord in a daily recommitment of our lives to Him. (Romans 12:1-2)
b) Focused on His Word, filled with its truth, fixated on carrying out our assignment.
c) Fearless in our obedience. Anyone reading the New Testament quickly sees that most participans in this amazing drama of redemption were the captives of their fears. The religious leaders feared the people, feared Rome, and feared Jesus. The Roman authorities feared Caesar, feared for their own jobs, and thus feared the displeasure of the Jewish leaders. The people feared their leaders of all kinds.
God has not given us the spirit of fear…(II Timothy 1:7).
He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,’ so that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my Helper, and I will not be afraid’(Hebrews 13:5-6).
Some years ago, Paul Marshall wrote “Heaven is Not My Home” to make the point that we must not pull out of this world to serve the Lord. God created this world, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and we must not consign this planet to the cosmic trash-heap. Good point.
The current (April 16, 2012) issue of TIME magazine has as its cover article, “Rethinking Heaven,” the idea being that more and more Christians these days refuse to think of our eternal destiny in the old, tired, boring ways (lolling around on clouds, playing harps). Instead, writer Jon Meachem says, many are thinking of a “heaven on earth” image, one transcending religion and encompassing culture, politics, economics, class and psychology.
My conclusion is not profound at all. Let us read these articles and books, let us discuss them, and let us stay rooted in the Scripture’s message about both aspects of our existence: our earthly assignment and our heavenly roots.
If there is tension between the two, or if the lines do not always fit together as neatly as we would wish, so be it.
“We see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12).
“We who are in this body do groan….” (II Corinthians 5:4).