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Eternity

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As the final few hours of the twentieth century drew to a close, I sat watching my television screen eagerly anticipating the “live” broadcast of the Y2K celebration in Sydney Harbor. On the other side of the international date line, the great Australian city would be one of the very first to welcome the new millennia. At the stroke of midnight, horns began to blare, and the sky was rent with bursts of color from erupting fireworks. Then, as I watched in astonishment, the Sydney Harbor Bridge was illuminated with thousands of lights, carefully arranged to spell out Sydney’s millennial greeting to the world. It consisted of one word: “Eternity.”

Having lived for several years in the Land Down Under, I know very well that Australians are not an overly religious people. Less than 5 percent of the total population can be found in churches of any kind on a Sunday morning. It classifies itself, in agreement with the United Nations’ description, as a “secular” country. Nevertheless, there it was in gigantic neon letters: “Eternity.” After a few moments, however, I understood.

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, a broken man was released from prison. Poorly educated and handicapped by a long-term addiction to alcohol, he found his way to the Sydney City Mission where, miraculously, he met Jesus Christ and found a new reason for living. In his desire to testify to the great change in his life and to alert others to their own need to be reconciled with God, he took a piece of chalk and began to write one word over and over again on any surface that might be seen by others. For many years he walked through Sydney writing the word “Eternity” everywhere he could—on street corners and curbs, on the sides of abandoned buildings, at train stations and down at the famous Circular Queue, where the great ferry boats disgorge their cargo of workers every morning. (A recent renovation of the old General Post Office uncovered his message high in the building’s bell tower!) He was so faithful in his self-appointed task that by the end of the twentieth century, the one word that nearly every Australian would automatically associate with the city of Sydney was “Eternity.” Most Sydneysiders never knew the name of the man who made such an indelible impression on their city. They just called him “Mr. Eternity.”

Every time I read the Book of Acts or ruminate on the letters of the apostle Paul, I come away challenged by the fact that these first century believers were somehow different. They invested their time, their talents and their fortunes not in “treasures on earth,” which Jesus said are susceptible to rust, moths and thieves, but instead stored up “treasures in heaven.” They were living for eternity. “We fix our eyes,” Paul said, “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). A few verses later, he reminds his readers that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body . . .” (2 Cor. 5:10). I wonder how different things would be if we were to consciously measure every thought, every word and every action against the fact that one day we will stand and give account to the one who is first of all our Savior, but also our Judge.

As I contemplate my own life and the lives of the Christians around me, I cannot help but conclude that in the light of the one all-surpassing preoccupation that so utterly consumed them, the apostle Paul and the whole first generation of believers he represents would find many of the things for which we live our lives incomprehensively trivial. They lived for Eternity!

Not long ago I attended yet another self-help seminar. In one of the exercises we were encouraged to write our own epitaph—the thing we hope that someone would someday say about us at our funeral. I wrote: “Here lies Mr. Eternity.”

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