June 25, 2008

On Temporary Assignment

2008 1518 page14 capCCORDING TO RICK WARREN, “LIFE on earth is a temporary assignment.” This was a new thought to me. And while my “assignment” may be nearing its end (I’m now 88), I’m happy about it.
The Bible compares the brevity of life here on earth to “a mist,” a “fast runner,” a “breath,” a “wisp of smoke.” In Job 8:9 it says: “For we were born but yesterday. . . . Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow.”* Just moments ago I brushed off the pine needles from the face of my sundial. Its shadow remains always true. It reads: “Minutes to 12.”
David wrote: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is” (Ps. 39:4).
Time and again God’s Word compares life on earth to living out of a suitcase and in a foreign land. In the words of that old popular Negro spiritual: “[We’re] just a passing through.”
Foreigners and Pilgrims
I’m definitely living on my children’s inheritance! With four journeys to the Holy Land; a trip to Norway, the homeland of my maternal grandfather; and two trips to Nepal, where my son (recently deceased) was chief medical officer at Scheer Memorial Hospital (some 15 tortuous miles east of Kathmandu). In each case, though living abroad, my passport constantly identified which was my true home.
You and I, happy pilgrims that we may be, are actually strangers in this world.
2008 1518 page14David said: “I am only a foreigner in the land” (Ps. 119:19). And a thousand years later, Peter would speak about Christians passing their time as “foreigners in the land” (1 Peter 1:17). God doesn’t want us to be contented with this world, because this is only our temporary home. “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Cor. 7:31).
As an Adventist believer, I cannot afford to become hypnotized by everything I see in the media or the culture—the desire to have the biggest home or the fastest car, while men, women, and children are starving and dying in the world. We should keep remembering that we’re here only on temporary assignment—pilgrims in a foreign land. “For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor. 4:18).
I suggest that one of the reasons we seem to experience all manner of trials and sorrow and hard times in this world as children of God (with life seeming so unfair) is that this is not the end of the story (see John 16:33; 16:20; 15:18, 19). The reason we’re not always completely happy here is probably that we’re not supposed to be!
Oh, we have some happy moments every day. But what is that in comparison with the eternal happiness that lies ahead? “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV). “All they think about is this life here on earth,” said Paul about some worldly people in Philippi, “but we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives” (Phil. 3:19, 20).
As a modern Adventist living daily in the spirit of what we still call the blessed hope, I’m reminded every moment of the imminent coming of Jesus. This means I’m not ready to adopt all the world’s customs and practices. If the typical sitcom lifestyle looks inviting to me, then I am actually flirting with temptations. Says the apostle: “You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way” (James 4:4, Message).†
Comfortable in Their Bondage
God’s chosen people in Ezra’s time became so involved making a living and keeping up with the Joneses, Ellen G. White said, so involved in ensuring the success of their business investments, that in time they became comfortable in their bondage. Some of the children born in exile began to rise in the corporate world. So that when God invited them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the holy city and its broken-down walls, hardly anyone was ready to accept the challenge. Even the priests themselves had become too comfortable to be willing to venture into the unknown. Only after some arm-twisting were some of them persuaded. (See the chapter “Ezra, the Priest and Scribe” in Prophets and Kings.)
As I was walking along the hills near my home and reading from the above reference, two paragraphs jumped out at me from the life of Ezra. The passages said that as Ezra “learned to yield mind and will to divine control, there were brought into his life the principles of true sanctification, which, in later years, had a molding influence, not only upon the youth who sought his instruction, but upon all others associated with him” (Prophets and Kings, pp. 608, 609).
Then the passage went on: “As he communicated to others the truths he learned, his capacity for labor increased. He became a man of piety and zeal.” He became “the Lord’s witness to the world of the power of Bible truth to ennoble the daily life” (ibid., p. 609).
May this be a portrait of your life and mine today!
Not at Our Soul’s Expense
The Bible doesn’t mince words. “Friends,” it says, “this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, Message). It’s not wrong to succeed in the commercial world, but if we think success for us is an 18-hour day with no time for our family, then we need to think again! God’s ideal for us is not material success.
In God’s eyes, the greatest heroes and heroines of faith are not those with the biggest bank account or those holding political power. Rather it’s those who serve faithfully, who regard themselves as on “temporary assignment.”
You and I can be added to God’s hall of fame. “All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad. They said they were like visitors and strangers on earth. . . . They were waiting for a better country—a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God, because he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13, 16, NCV).‡
I’m absolutely convinced of one thing: When we drop anchor in the haven of rest, we’ll all be amazed at the things that we allowed to fill our lives here—things that didn’t really count. They “went down with the Titanic,” so to speak.
An old story tells about a retiring U.S. missionary returning home to America. On the same boat was the president of the United States, greeted as they arrived by cheering crowds, banners, a military band, and the media—all welcoming him home. But the missionary slipped off the ship unnoticed.
Feeling self-pity and resentment, the missionary complained to God, who reminded him: “But, my child, you’re not home yet.”
Countless men and women down through the years—even children—have gladly given their lives for Christ and His dear cause, “faithful unto death.” There awaits them a crown of life. And you and I, now on temporary assignment, can be added to their number.
*All Scripture passages, unless otherwise indicated, are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
†Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
‡Scriptures credited to NCV are quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century Version, copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Word Publishing, Dallas, Texas 75039. Used by permission.
Dick Rentfro is a retired pastor-evangelist living in Thorp, Washington.