Sunday, April 23, 2006

This Train is Bound for Glory

     This train is bound for glory. One of these days we are going to hear ‘all abroad’ and ‘last call. The question is when is that day going to come? My father, who is a skeptic, says that the world has been saying that Christ is coming forever, and it never seems to happen. I patiently point out that never ever before has Israel been regathered. When we see the fig tree got tender and put forth leaves, (Israel regathering) Jesus says that this generation shall not pass away until they see the coming of the Son of Man. What exactly does that mean? Bible scholars have variously defined a generation as being forty to seventy years. Moses himself defines it in Psalm 90. Moses, you remember, lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, with his strength and vigor not abated. Yet he himself said that a man lived to be seventy years, eighty if due to strength.
     So doing a little math we can confidently assert that the time is upon us. The Balfour Declaration set aside Palestine for the horribly mistreated Jews, and the Jews flooded back to their homeland. The year was 1948 when Israel declared itself a nation. Add seventy years to 1948, and you get 2018. Remember that we cannot get exact here; rather Jesus said specifically that that generation would not pass away until they saw the coming of man. I do find it interesting though to see that Iran is supposed to be five to seven years from developing nuclear bombs, and the present leader has sworn to destroy Israel.
     Now I have observed that Jerusalem was not part of the original regathering, and it was not until 1967 that Israel conquered Jerusalem and began occupying it. So it may be permissible to add seventy years to 1967, but I do think not. Jesus’ parable was simply put forth: when you see the fig tree beginning to bud. That would indicate 1948 as the more reliable starting point.
     But this is not all the evidence. It might interest you to know that early Bible writers were all convinced that the world itself was to last 6000 years until the coming of Christ. Over 1900 years ago, writers wrote convincingly of this, repeatedly stating that the coming of Christ was going to signal the coming of the last age- the age of Christ reigning on earth.
     I love my father. If I loved him less, I might have rejoined his last statement with Peter’s talking about the scoffers who said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” I do not like putting my father down, and I am not sure he would get it anyway. Skeptics seem to have a veil over their eyes, but in my father’s case it is a veil partly torn away. I do hope for its full tearing.
     This train is bound for glory. The next line says: Don't ride nothin' but the righteous and the holy. The time is upon us. Let us not neglect well doing; neither let us be timid in our warnings. Jesus Christ is coming and until he does there is still room for more!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Groundhog Day

I would like to write again about Groundhog Day. I have been watching it this evening once again (actually I told my wife tonight that I thought someone could never watch Groundhog Day once) The meaning of a man is in his courting of his love, which he wishes to be eternal, but which is not, is probably what makes this a guy film, and that may explain why I keep returning to it. I am not sure about that analysis at all- but you tell me why I am so fascinated with it. It does refer to time change which is an awesome attraction to humans, but it's main theme is trying just once to get it right and you cannot. Of course the film eventually has its star getting it right, but in real life, in our hearts, we know that we could never do that.
     “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?” asks Bill Murray. That has to be the quintessential question for modern man. What poignant words to express our lives apart from their meaning that our Lord gave us? Aren’t we all dunderheads, repeating over and over again the same stupid things that make up our inane days? What if we could but live the day again (and again)?
     I just came off of a wonderful day with children. I am a fourth grade teacher who gives children an extra hour before school to learn web page building. Many of the children who are coming this year have younger siblings who come along; voila! I am a babysitter too. This morning I happened to feel especially exuberant (that does happen to an older fellow less and less often), and played with the younger children, lifting them into the air and letting them down suddenly. They swamped me and begged for more; that is the problem always with young ones- they have so much more energy than I do. Of course I do remember running out of energy with my young nephews when I was a mere twenty. What chance do I have now?
     But still during that day I had things wrong which I thought, which I wished I could think differently about. I had things I might have said better, or compliment that I might have expressed to put my peers at ease. Wouldn’t it be nice to relive the day so that I could get those things right? Wrong!
     If I had all of eternity to relive a day, I could not live it perfectly no matter how hard I tried. This is the meaning of what Calvin calls total depravity. Though he defines it in a way that I could never ever agree with, I do believe in my own definition of total depravity. Man can never ever be right in the total sense. At the best he can be right only erratically- most of the time even at the best of times I would get only a B minus. Most of the time I, of course, cruise in the “less than B minus category.” In the eyes of God we are inept, and less than the perfect which he desired us to be. We can never ever reach the standards which Christ has dared us to live in: “Be thou perfect, as even the Son of Man is perfect.”
     Yes, I am aware that the word perfect might have been better translated, or at least as accurately translated, complete. But, in my opinion, that begs the question. We cannot in any sense be complete. We are stuck with being incomplete, just vestiges of what we should be, specters of what God has called us to be. That is total depravity. It does not mean, as Calvin insists, that there is nothing good in us. Rather it means that we can never ever be finally good; rather we are condemned to our random goodness (and general badness) - and that only when we are at our best. That is total, complete depravity. We are irredeemably lost apart from the grace of Christ.
     But let me talk about what it does not mean; and what we as Christians give the short shrift to our testimony about Christ because of our insistence on a poor doctrine. I think this is one of the dangers of Calvinism, and I want to explain why it does go way too far. It does not mean that a mother’s love for her child is evil. It does not mean that a brother cannot express love to his brother in a good way. It certainly does not mean that a friend cannot give the greatest goodness in giving his life for his friend. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he should give his life for his friend.” Was Paul a liar in saying this? Nay, let it never be said! Rather let us assume that there is something in man, created in the image of God, which reflects the creator who made us, however dimly.
     I am aware of Lewis and The Great Divorce. In that very great book, Lewis does us a great service by letting us know about how selfish a mother’s love might become; still in its conception and common practice who would ever say it is an evil thing? That a good thing might become utterly defiled Lewis poignantly shows- what he is not attempting to show is that there might be a good thing that is done in man apart from God’s doing it. Are we to believe that every man who gives his life for his friend, every mother who loves her child, and every brother who shows brotherly love is only showing what God empowers them to show? I think not.
     Rather the holistic view of depravity is one that I believe. Man, created in the image of God, is able to feebly replicate the goodness of his God in good deeds, but he is never able to share in the goodness of God because of sin. That sin has forever sold him to evil, which must always predominant apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not then look forward to living one day over and over again forever; let us do look forward to a day without end which we will live forever at the feet of Christ.