January 2, 2022


New Year’s Message ❧ Part 1 of 1

This morning I want us to look at making the most of our time. Have you ever watched a lion tamer work with lions in a cage? They always have three items with them: a gun – of course, a whip, and a chair. I can understand a gun and a whip, but why a chair? Expert William H. Hinson says, in fact, the most important tool the trainer has in the cage with him is the chair. Holding the back of the chair he thrusts the legs in the lion’s face. Trainers, he says, do this because they know that when the lion sees the four legs of the chair coming at him, he tries to focus on all four legs at the same time. When he does it creates a kind of confused paralysis that overwhelms the animal and the lion becomes tame, disabled because his attention is fragmented. Now, I have a lot more empathy for lions.

I think all of us at times have felt overwhelmed, confused, and paralyzed over the course of this past year plus. Let’s face it, 2021 has been chalked full of unprecedented global and national change and confusion. Many long for the “old normal” – the pre-Covid-19 days – when life was simple(r). When we didn’t feel like we were lost in one of Rod Serling’s 1950’s Twilight Zone episodes or George Orwell’s dystopian science fiction novel 1984. For many the “old normal” with all of its frustrations, struggles, and challenges is a lot more preferable to the “new normal” of mandates, masks, and madness. Change is happening. So much so, it has left many of us feeling like a lion with a chair being shoved in its face – overwhelmed, confused, paralyzed, maybe even frightened. I want you to know, you’re not alone.

In the midst of our nations’ growing uncertainty and increasing instability, what should we do? How should we respond? I want to turn our attention to the helpful words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children… be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:1,15-16). First, we’re to be like God because we’re His children. Let me ask you, is God afraid? Do you think He is feeling overwhelmed by all of the world’s growing problems? Is He wringing His hands, pacing the floor of His throne room? Not at all!

Psalm 2 says when the nations are in an uproar, that is openly conspiring to overthrow God so that evil can reign (Ps. 2:1). What is God doing? Fidgeting in fear? No! He sits in sits in the heavens and laughs (Ps. 2:1,4). Why? Because He is God! He’s not intimidated or afraid. Nothing takes place without His knowledge or outside the bounds of His control. He’s not worried. If God isn’t overwhelmed and we’re His children, then we shouldn’t be overwhelmed either. But that doesn’t mean we should poke our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening. Verses 15-16 be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Vv. 15-16). We’re to be wise in how we live making the most of our time knowing the days are evil. These verses remind us there are Two Important Gifts God Has Given Us in Order to Combat Our Fears: time & choice. Once we use them, they cannot be undone. You can’t recapture time or completely undo a choice. But these verses more than remind us of these two gifts, they also tell us The Best Way to Utilize Them – Put God First in your time and your choices. Using the word time as an acronym, I want to look at: Four Areas We Need to Make the Most of Our Time. T is technology. I is interpersonal relationships. M is money. E is evangelism. We’ll look at the first two today – T and I.

I. Technology. “T” stands for technology. We’re told in Matthew 22 that an expert in the Law once asked Jesus what God’s greatest command was. Jesus told him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus’ answer could not be clearer. God needs to be our first priority over our time and our choices.

The truth is the world has always been full of temptations vying to usurp God’s rightful place in our lives, but none quite like twenty-first century technology. Hands down, the number one go-to of where spend the bulk of our time and make most of our choice’s centers around technology.

Technology has literally revolutionized and consumed our lives in unbelievable ways, and it is growing at an exponential rate. The internet has been around since 1974, yet 90% of the world’s data has been produced in the past two years alone. More than half of the Earth’s population owns a mobile device. About 96% of Americans currently own some kind of cell phone. 84% of Americans have a personal computer in their home. One in every five Americans is said to be smart-phone dependent. In the words of author David Murrow, We’re the first generation with portable, network-connected screens – the most revolutionary communications technology ever devised (Murrow, Drowning in Screen Time, p. 53). People are constantly starring at their iPhone, their iPad, their computer, or their big screen television. Studies have consistently shown people spend on average nine hours a day interacting with media – not counting the time they use screens at work. Believe it or not, three-quarters of Americans actually admit to using their phones in the bathroom!

And the consequences are not all good. We’re reaping a generation of unprecedented anxiety, fear, and loneliness – especially among our youth. Media and technology constantly bombard their minds with the message: “We’re all gonna die!” For hundreds of years we had little to know idea of all the bad news taking place around the world. Now, with the swipe on our mobile screens we can see hear all about the devastating effects of the recent Midwest tornados, the riots, murders, and mob lootings taking place in America’s major cities, the mounting tensions of war between the Russia and the Ukraine, or the threatening development of nuclear arms in Iran. Little wonder many are living in constant fear.

Technology is not only breeding fear, but also loneliness. Screen-mediated relationships have replaced face-to-face relationships. We can “image-craft” ourselves into the ideal person living the ideal life. But the truth is screen-mediated relationships are often shallow and unfulfilling. They have hundreds of people to joke with but nobody to go deep with, says Murrow. We’re more digitally connected than we’ve ever been, yet the most relationally disconnected. The result is a deep wide-spread loneliness.

Am I saying technology is bad? Not at all. It is a tool that we have become so enamored by that we’ve lost touch with what it is really doing to our lives. Whether we’re aware of it or not, both our time and choices are being consumed by technology. As a result, God has been squeezed out.

In his enlightening book: Drowning in Screen Time, David Murrow uses a fable he calls the parable of the fishbowl. A guy named Sam likes to play ping-pong a lot. It just so happens that he stores his ping-pong balls in a glass fishbowl. Over the years his fishbowl has become full of ping-pong balls. But it is not completely full. There’s still a lot of empty space between the balls. One day Sam notices that the balls are looking scuffed and dirty. So, he fills a pitcher with water and pours it into the fishbowl. Tow things happen: 1) All of the empty spaces between the balls are filled with water. 2) Ping-pong balls begin rising to the top and spilling out of the fishbowl.

Murrow says the fishbowl represents your brain’s total capacity. Each ping-pong ball represents something we do or think about. Every worry, dream, thought, goal, and emotion is a ping-pong ball. So, are relationships, work, school, leisure activities, responsibilities, sleeping, eating, and socializing. Each one is represented by a ping-pong ball. Over time the number of ping-pong balls in our brains have increased. People have more to think about and more choices than ever before. Our fishbowls are full of ping-pong balls. To name a few – family, finances, hobbies, scheduling, career, dreams, friends, health, the home repair we need to make, and so on.

As full as our brains may be and as busy as we may be, even the fullest brain has moments of downtime between activities, those small pockets of space between ping-pong balls. Murrow reminds us that this precious downtime is crucial to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Our brains literally rest and repair themselves during these intervals of nonactivity – preparing us for the next challenge we’ll face.

According to Murrow’s parable, the water in the fishbowl represents screen time. It is filling every spare moment of our attention. Drowning out creativity. Pushing out thinking time. Displacing spiritual pursuits such as time with God in His Word, prayer, and reflection. Our screen time keeps us constantly focused on the trivial rather than the important.

Don’t believe him? What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Check our phones. Over breakfast we watch the news on TV. Often our spare moments at work are filled with looking at our phones. We do the same thing while we stand in line at the grocery store or the bank. As soon as we get home, we turn on the TV or the computer. We even take our phones and laptops to bed to lull us to sleep or to serve as an alarm to wake us up in the morning. When, asks Murrow, do our brains rest? Where is there time for God?

When Jesus was asked what God’s greatest command for us was, He responded: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Proverbs warns us saying, Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever your heart loves most will capture your eyes and ears first.

How we spend our time and how we make our choices announces what is most important to us. Many people spend the vast majority of their free time interacting with screens, not God. Not people. Not their church family. Screens have become the object of our affections, not God.

All of us will give account of how we used our time and made our choices (Rom. 14:12). How will we explain to God why we spent nine hours a day staring at our screens while our mission in life goes unfulfilled? My challenge to you is avoid allowing technology to become the object of worship. Could it be your life is plagued by fear and loneliness because the bulk of your time is spent in front of a screen? In this next year, make it a priority to have less screen time and more God time. It will clear the dark clouds of worry and fear from your mind and replace it with His assuring peace.

II. Interpersonal relationships. “I” stands for interpersonal relationships. These are the face-to-face relationships that are closest to us that we invest in, cultivate, intentionally spend time with. Our greatest need in the year ahead will be to intentionally develop our interpersonal relationships, first with God, then with others.

Recently I read about a well-known pastor who stood before a group of small children and asked, “How many of you can quote Psalm 23?” Several of the children raised their hands. One of them was a beautiful little girl with blonde hair who could not have been much more than four years old. Surprised to see that such a young person would know Psalm 23, he asked her to come to the front of the room and recite it for the class. Standing before the class with her hands clutched behind her back, the young girl smiled and with great confidence said only this: “The Lord is my Shepherd. That’s all I want.” She may have gotten the words wrong, but she got the meaning right. The most important thing to understand about Psalm 23 is our relationship to the Shepherd. When David wrote in Psalm 23:1, The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He was saying when we get God, we get everything.

Taking the time to cultivate a close relationship with God takes time and determination – both of which it seems are in short supply. Yet, we often find time for the things we really want to do. What is your relationship with God like? How well do you really know Him? What is your determination to really know Him, to spend time with Him? Would you like to be closer? Wouldn’t you like to be able to say with David, The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want? He’s all I need? What did David know about God that caused him to make such a statement? What was his secret to knowing God so well? Lately, I’ve been asking myself these same pointed questions about my own relationship with God.

Elihu, in the book of Job declares, Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable (Job 36:26, ESV). The truth is, we cannot know God too well. Yet, in knowing Him we find the greatest satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment we can find in life. Reflecting on this, theologian John Piper writes, He (God) is the most important Person who exists. And this is because He made all others, and any importance they have is owing to Him. Any strength or intelligence or skill or beauty they have comes from Him. On every scale of excellence, He is infinitely greater than the best person you ever knew or even heard of. Being infinite, He is inexhaustibly interesting. It is impossible, therefore, that God be boring. His continual demonstration of the most intelligent and interesting actions is volcanic. As the source of every good pleasure, He himself pleases fully and finally. If that’s not what we experience in Him, we are either dead or sleeping. It is therefore astonishing how little effort we put into knowing God.

It is not that God makes it too difficult to know Him, it’s that our desire is too limited. He makes this offer to those who would truly know Him in Jeremiah, You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13, NAS). In God’s offer to know Him, He shows us the very answer we’re looking for that enabled David to say God was all that he needed. It is God Himself, nothing else.

I was reminded of this not long ago through a small phrase in the Old Testament that leapt out at me as I read it. It is found in Exodus 33. Before I read it, I need to briefly share the context. The nation of Israel was in the early years of their time in the desert. When Moses was not meeting with God on the mountain, he met with Him in a tent called the “tent of meeting” Moses set up outside of the camp. Whenever Moses entered the tent of meeting a pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:9). It was here God would speak with Moses’ face to face just as a man speaks to a friend. Then it says, When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent (Exodus 33:11). There they were, Joshua…would not depart from the tent. Those seven words suddenly grabbed my full attention. It’s not that Joshua had a lot of idle time on his hands. He was Moses’ right hand man helping him take care of literally millions of people. He was busy, to say the least. But every spare moment Joshua had, he spent it at the tent of meeting, in the presence of God. What did he do? It doesn’t tell us short of the fact he wanted simply be in God’s presence. Did you know we have a tent of meeting as well? It is God’s Word. When we come to His word, we come into the presence of God where no other book can bring us.

Dr. R. A. Torrey was a famous evangelist, author, teacher, who traveled the globe during the nineteenth century telling others about Christ. He shared that he had a transforming experience in his relationship with God when he came to God asking nothing from Him but to be satisfied with Him alone. Puritan Thomas Goodwin wrote, I have known men who came to God for nothing else but just to come to Him, they so loved Him. They scorned to soil Him and themselves with any other errand than jus to be alone with Him in His presence.

So often we open God’s Word with a prayer on our lips with some pressing need. God, please help me understand what You’re saying here… God, please show me what I should do…God, please heal so and so… God, please help me to… and our list of needs goes on and on. Is it wrong to make these requests of God? No. He wants us to come to Him with all our needs. But there is a deeper need God wants to meet that David understood, that Joshua shows us, that Dr. Torrey experienced – it is making no other request of God than simply to be alone in His presence.

As we look to the year ahead, I can’t think of a better choice of how we use our time than to seek God for God alone, to be alone with Him in His presence. To shut off our screens and open up our scriptures. To meet with God simply and quietly.

Have found God’s peace? You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you (Isaiah 26:3, ESV). You can find it by seeking God and trusting in Him alone.

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