Vol: 75 Issue: 29 Saturday, December 29, 2007
For most people, the New Year’s Anthem of Record is Robert Byrnes’ “Auld Lang Syne”, but for me, it’s the Tennessee Ernie Ford ballad, “Sixteen Tons.”
I love ballads and balladeers and Tennessee Ernie Ford was one of the best. Ballads capture the human experience, and “Sixteen Tons” expresses all the pride and pain, hopelessness and glory of life in a single verse:
“You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt / St Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store.”
As I take stock of the old year, I don’t think about old acquaintances being forgot and never brought to mind. I take stock of the sixteen tons that I moved over the past year — did I end up in the plus or minus column?
The balladeer takes stock and concludes that he is so far behind he can’t even afford to die. I often think of that in terms of the spiritual ‘fruits’ borne by the efforts of the past year.
There is an old hymn that reminds me, “Only one life, t’will soon be past / Only what’s done for God will last.”
The Bible, in one respect, is an expression of God’s will for the human race, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done,” explains the Prophet Isaiah (46:10).
But within the human race is a small group that have been “called out” [elected] by God to be used to accomplish another Divine purpose. (The word ‘church’ is from the Greek ekklesia, meaning, “called out”)
The Bible says that Christians are specifically called to seek out God’s will for our individual lives while we are here and to make ourselves available as servants to that Divine Will.
God’s overarching purpose for the Church Age is to ‘call out’ as many from the lost as possible, promising to extend it as long as is necessary to give the Church time to fulfill its Great Commission.
The Apostle Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
In context, Peter is addressing a murmuring within the early Church that expected the Lord to return within their lifetime. That ‘Promise’ to which Peter refers is Jesus’ Promise to the Church:
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:3)
The Apostle Paul explains how He will come again, and how He will receive us unto Himself:
“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1st Thessalonians 4:16-18)
Peter is explaining that the Lord isn’t late (slack) according to His timetable, but instead, is allowing as much time as possible, “not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance.”
God knows exactly who will be saved and who will be lost, and the exact number of those to be ‘called out’ into the ‘elect company’ of saints before God’s timetable forces a close to the Church Age.
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His Will. . .” (Ephesians 1:5)
But God uses us to accomplish the ‘calling out’ process. That is our ‘sixteen tons’ and until the load is completed, we won’t be called, and we can’t go, so to speak, in the Rapture.
But as each year draws to a close and ‘St Peter’ still hasn’t called, more Christians begin to lose faith in the Promise that the Church Age will close with “the dead in Christ” rising first, followed by “we who are alive and remain” joining Him in the air.
I got three emails in the past two days from readers who begin by saying they once believed in a pre-Trib Rapture, but have since adopted some other view that they insist I accept unconditionally or be immediately labeled a ‘false teacher’.
It is almost as if they were unconsciously fulfilling the prophecy of 2nd Peter 3:3:
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
My ‘sixteen tons’ isn’t to convince other people of a pre-Trib Rapture. My sixteen tons is to convince the lost that a loving God has made provision for their sin and extends them an offer of Pardon and eternal life through Jesus Christ.
As each year ends and the new one begins, I think about how well I bore my own sixteen tons the year before, and the Promise that the new year holds.
Somebody, somewhere, at some time, (maybe 2008?) will lead that last member of the elect company of called out ones to Christ, that last soul who was foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son during the Church Age.
And THEN we can go.