Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What If Jesus Returns in 7000AD?

In the Christian circles I live, there is a continual buzz about the imminent return of Christ. He could come any day, so be ready.

But Christians of some sorts have been saying that for almost two-thousand years. Who's to say it won't be for another five-thousand?

For some of you, you never, ever, ever wonder or worry when the Lord will come back to earth. I've tried not to think about it for the past decade or so. But the issue just won't go away. The theological word used to describe the thinking around the return of Christ is: eschatology (in Greek - study of last things). Does eschatology matter, does what you believe about the coming again of Jesus matter?

On one level, it doesn't seem to. It doesn't really affect my purchase of wheat or white bread, of a red or blue car, of getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep, or a thousand other mundane, daily decisions I continue to make.

But don't you ever wonder what the purpose of life is?

Don't you ever wonder where history is headed?

What trajectory are our actions taking the human race?

If God is at work in the world, and he sent Jesus once, and promises to send him again at the end of the ages...what does that mean for where humanity is headed and what does that mean for how I live today?

That's the question I'm trying to answer.

My first action is to squiggle out from under the oppressive weight that Jesus might return in my lifetime. Of course he might, but odds are he won't. Pretty much every generation has had somebody who was convinced that this was the season when the Lord would return as a "thief in the night." Except he didn't.

This belief that Jesus is headed back soon because of XYZ events going on in the world tends to result in a couple of negative traits: one being short-sightedness. We do the work of the LORD with only short-term gains in mind. We think of doing Christian work with the goal of saving as many individuals now as possible...before the LORD returns.

But what if a bunch of Christians - committed to the Return of Christ - took into account that it might be another two-thousand years, or twice that: how might that shape what kind of plans we implement for being/bringing Good News to the Nations?

At Anchor I made a commitment to pastor for a minimum of a decade. For most in my profession, that's a long-term commitment, especially for a first appointment. But in the scope of the next four-thousand years, how might I change my perspective for how much of my life I invest in Anchor? How might it change my perspective for what kind of work Anchor might be committed to? I'm sure somebody is scoffing at this proposal. At Anchor most people scoffed at my thirty-year vision for the church. I was serious, too bad not many others were. I know the world changes fast, that many insist that three-year visions for a church are almost too lofty. But that just depends on what you envision being accomplished - stuff that will be forgotten in a couple of years, or stuff that will endure for a couple of decades, maybe a couple of generations, unto the ages.

Some crazy people think in terms too lofty to stay anchored in reality. Most normal people think in terms too safe, too predictable, too trivial. But if Jesus has promised to return at the end of the ages for the renewal of all things, and if he is teaching us to pray for his kingdom to come now, then there is a link between our Isaiah 61 work today and the work of the Spirit that endures into the millenia.

Brian McLaren has some helpful thoughts along this line in his book The Church on the Other Side:
Could it be God's plan for all people through all time to live with this dynamic tension - not enough patience to breed complacency, and not enough urgency to inspire panic. Does he want us to hold urgency and patience in synergy to encourage us to plant trees (a long-term investment requiring patience) and plant them today (with enthusiastic urgency)? And could it be that on a personal level, urgency always makes sense, since each of us will face our own apocalypse (called death) within this generation anyway? And could it be that on a global level, patience also always makes sense, since God's plans and time frames make our longest life span seem like a sigh?

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