Time

            Life is busy. It seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to maneuver, better yet cram, everything in that is screaming for a slot on the docket.  And no matter who you are, no matter what you do, we all have the same amount of time allotted to us each day, 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds.  From the richest to the poorest, the CEO to the mailroom clerk we can’t buy, barter, beg or steal more.  Each minute is an irretrievable gif t, a non-transferable slice of eternity and once it is gone it’s gone forever.

            Each minute brings us face to face with a choice that must be made in the blink of an eye:  How will we spend…no invest, that moment?  Consider these statistics from U.S. News and World Report on the topic of how much time the average American will spend on the following activities in a lifetime.  We will spend six months sitting at stoplights, eight months opening junk mail, one year looking for misplaced objects, two years unsuccessfully returning phone calls, four years doing housework, five years waiting in line, and six years eating.  And most of these activities are not the kinds of things we hope to build our life upon.  So on top of these mundane chores we have the tug of war between spending time with family and friends, meeting work deadlines, attending our kid’s soccer games and PTA meetings, enduring some form of exercise, and spending time on a hobby or two, and I’m sure you could add several pages to this list of things that vie for your time.  Oh yeah, and somewhere in there it’s probably a good idea to pencil in an hour or two of sleep.

            But even on the best days as our head hits the pillow it is easy to find our minds racing to all the things we didn’t get done and have to transfer to the ‘to do list’ for an already overloaded tomorrow leaving us restless and unable to get a sound nights sleep so we can attack the moments placed before us tomorrow.  The truth is time flies and if we are not careful we will look back on the moments of our life to find all we have is a bushel full of wasted opportunities. 

Jonathan Edwards, former President of Princeton College and great revival preacher of the 18th century, summed it up like this, “Every part of [time] is successively offered to us that we may choose whether we will make it our own or not.  But there is no delay: it will not wait upon us to see whether or not we will comply with the offer.  But if we refuse, it is immediately taken away and never offered more…If we have lived fifty, or sixty, or seventy years and have not improved our time, now it cannot be helped; it is eternally gone from us; all that we can do is to improve the little that remains.” 

            Unfortunately it takes most of us far too long to realize the preciousness of time.  It is too little considered and too often lost in the hustle and bustle of this thing we call a rat race.  Our maturing view of time is well summed up in the following poem;

            When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept.

            When as a youth I dreamed and talked, time walked.

            When I became a full grown man, time ran.

            And later as I older grew, time flew.

            Soon I shall find while traveling on, time gone.

            We can accumulate more money and things.  We can work our way up the proverbial corporate ladder to greater power and influence.  We can commit to an endless pursuit of pleasure, but there is no secret to accumulating, working, or pursuing more time.  There has been no successful attempt at creating a time machine or a remote control for the universe.  So rather than bemoaning the futile pursuit of wishing there was more time in the day, which I find myself doing far too often, let’s recognize that each moment is given only once and when it is given it is pregnant with opportunity which will be squandered or embraced.  With that in mind how would your “squander to embrace ratio” change if you knew there was just a handful of moments left to your fleeting sojourn here on earth?  Why wait to make those changes and find yourself with nothing more than a handful of regrets and no time left.  As they say, “There is no time like the present.”

So many “Pacos”

            I recently came across a Spanish story of the relationship between a father and son which became so estranged that the teenage son ended up running away from home.  Realizing the consequences of his stubbornness the father quickly had a change of heart and began a journey in search of his estranged son.  The father searched for several weeks with little success so he decided to run an ad in the local newspaper.  The ad read, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon.  All is forgiven.  I love you, your father.”  The next morning the father showed up at the newspaper office shortly before noon and to his surprise, there waiting for him in front of the office were eight hundred ‘Pacos,’ standing there, all of them seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.father son

            The reality brought out through this story is that we all want and need forgiveness in our lives.  Though our desire for forgiveness may vary from situation to situation and some of us may have effectively desensitized ourselves to our drive for forgiveness through resisting it, this built in mechanism still resides within all of us.  This innate drive to seek forgiveness is further confirmed by our decisions to withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged or hurt us or someone we love.  Withholding forgiveness is like our way of disabling the individual who has been so insensitive to us, and seeking to keep them in a position of indebtedness to us until such a time as we determine that the price has been paid for the pain they have inflicted. 

            I was recently speaking to some friends of mine who work in the area of finance and banking.  I asked them what they believed was the average amount of credit card debt for an American.  I figured they would say something like eight thousand dollars, but I was shocked when they shared that it was probably closer to the neighborhood of fifteen thousand.  That figure does not include mortgages and cars!  Some of you may be higher than this average and some of you may be lower but just imagine if the every lending company you are indebted to called you this week and released you from all further payments on your debt.  I’m talking mortgage, car loans, boat loans, second mortgages, third mortgages, credit cards, department store cards, etcetera, etcetera.  There is not one of us who would refuse such an offer though we may ask to see the fine print and ask what the catch is.

            Forgiveness between individuals is much like the financial debt we have incurred.  Each time we pain someone we sustain a moral debt to them.  As we seek to pay back this debt the individual from whom we have incurred the debt makes the determination at what interest rate the debt will be paid back.  Our desire is that forgiveness would be granted with just a simple “I’m sorry,” and the debt would be cancelled, though just as with our financial debt, forgiveness usually requires more than just a simple, “I’m sorry.”

Jonathan Edwards, a preacher who was central to the Great Awakening of the 18th century described it this way, “Any sin is more or less heinous  depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we have offended.  Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence.”  Our debts against God carry a humanly immeasurable interest rate, thus making the debt humanly un-payable.  No amount of saying, “I’m sorry,” no amount of good deeds or kindness can ever cover the debt even of just one thought that is contrary to the holy character of God.  That is what makes God’s offer of forgiveness so absolutely amazing.  Only He could take the necessary steps to guarantee our forgiveness and rather than dangle that fact over us like a vindictive and vengeful God, He followed through for us at great personal price to Himself.  Our moral debt against God requires a morally perfect sacrifice, and the only morally perfect sacrifice was God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.  Forgiving our moral and spiritual debt against God cost God His one and only Son and what does it cost us, absolutely nothing.  It is highly likely that your bank won’t call today and cancel all your financial debt but it is absolutely certain that God is calling today offering full forgiveness of all your moral and spiritual debt to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  No fine print, no catch just a free gift of a debt cancelled.  All you have to do is accept it.

History: Much more than just a bunch of dates and names

jonathan-edwardsThose who know me well know that one of my passions is history.  I just absolutely love to dig into history whether through reading a book, going to a historical location, or watching a good movie/documentary.  I realize for some of you (maybe most) just reading that list of things causes your eyelids to get heavy and a yawn to creep up into the back of your throat.  I remember a time when that was exactly how I felt about history, so I sympathize, but I’m not going to let you get off that easy!  For far too long we in the church have looked on church history as one of those courses in college that you have to take to get your diploma, so as long as you scrape by with a passing grade you’ll be satisfied, sell the books back to the bookstore and ne’er remember the dronings of the prof ever again.  Shame on us!  We rob ourselves of priceless life lessons and more important some amazing stories of individual faith and community piety because we ‘believe the lie.’  I fear we have over done it with our buy in to autonomy and individuality that are so prevalent in our culture.  Everything is about forging our own path and standing on our own two feet, which aren’t necessarily bad, but who said seeking counsel and learning from the successes and failures of those who have gone before us makes us any less an individual.  Perhaps its more a question of wisdom than individuality.  I was recently reading a biography of the great American pastor and revivalist Jonathan Edwards and was stunned to find that shortly after he lead his church through one of the greatest seasons of revival this nation has ever known his church had him removed as their pastor.  This sad story was actually a source of encouragement for me as a pastor because it revealed the nature of ministry even for the greats.  The highs and lows that I have experienced in ministry seem small in comparison to the story I read of Jonathan Edwards, and yet he remained faithful to the call God had placed upon his life and pressed on.  The amazing thing about history is that it is full of stories like this, stories that speak into our life situation right where we are at and shed light on dark places for us.  Church history really is more than just an endless list of meaningless dates and names, it is the story of life.  It is the conglomeration of the stories of those who have gone before us, and one day, future generations may be looking at our stories for wisdom and encouragment.