Saturday, January 5, 2013

Making Life Count: Insights for Success in 2013



In light of this being the first Sunday of the new year, we will depart from the gospel readings today, which I addressed a few weeks ago in my homily on the Newtown shootings, and focus our sermon on our attitudes for the new year.
We’re all making our New Year’s resolutions, we’ve had a chance to review the old year, and we are still with hope that we can improve in 2013. I’m reminded what the late Erma Bombeck, said, however, about New Year’s resolutions….”there is nothing so deceiving that the first four hours of a diet.”

I’m sure you’ve noticed that each year almost all the major news magazines put out an issue with special pictorial sections recalling people & events that made news during the previous year. Many magazines also include articles by experts predicting what they expect to see happening in the years ahead. Some even go so far as to make predictions covering 10, 20, or more years in the future. In the past, a few of these predictions have proven amazingly accurate, while others couldn’t have been more wrong.

"TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it." -- author unknown, from The New York Times, 1939

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co., rejecting The Beatles, 1962. Dick Rowe, Decca's record executive, uttered the fateful prediction to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who pleaded for Rowe to reconsider. Decca reportedly went a step further and said, "The Beatles have no future in show business." Dick Rowe did sign the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, by the way. Forrest Gump’s mom was right—stupid is as stupid does.

For example, back in 1967, experts predicted that by the turn of the century technology would have taken over so much of the work we do that the average American work week would be only 22 hours long, & that we would work only 27 weeks a year. As a result, one of our biggest problems would be in deciding what to do with all our leisure time. How’s that working out for you?

'Portable computers:' "The portable computer is a dream machine for the few," the founder of an early computer mag wrote in the New York Times in 1985. And "no one would want to take one fishing."

IPhone: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007. "No chance."

So here we are, at the first Sunday of 2013. I wonder how we’ll do this year? Will we be as busy? Will we make any better use of our time? In 361/360 days, when this year is over, will we be looking back with joy, or with regret? Will we be looking at the future with anticipation, or with dread?



How do we make our lives count for more in this New Year? There is a passage of Scripture that I believe can be of help to us as we look forward to the rest of 2013 if we’ll listen to it.

The passage is Ephesians 5:15 17, & here is what it says, "Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."

I think that in this passage the Apostle Paul presents some important lessons that we need to consider today, in light of this new year.


I. OUR TIME ON THIS EARTH IS LIMITED
 First of all, we must be very careful how we live because our time on this earth is limited.

The Psalmist wrote, "Show me, O Lord, my life’s end & the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life" (39:4). And again, "The length of our days is 70 years or 80, if we have the strength...they quickly pass, & we fly away" (90:10).

Now, I realize that for some of you younger folk, 70 or 80 years sounds like a long, long time. In fact, I can remember when I thought anyone over 40 was ancient. But no longer. It is all rather relative, isn’t it?

For example, for teenagers in love talking together in the car, an hour or two seems like a blink of an eye. But for mom & dad worrying about what’s going on out in that car, an hour or two seems like an eternity.

The Psalmist also tells us to number our days so that we will develop a heart of wisdom.

So how do we number our days? Well, thanks to Technology, we can get some help. There’s a website called Death Clock.org.  So you program your sex & age into the clock, & from then on it will tell you how much time you have left. Interesting, it also asks if you are an optimistic person or a pessimistic person…the swing is as much as 11 years (my wife Mary tested it). You go online, and it tells you when you should be checking out. Isn’t that what the Psalmist told us to do to number our days?

So I plugged it all in, and I figured out that if I lived to be 79 years old that I had just about 3,105 days left to live. That’s all, just 3,105 days left to live. I may not see Notre Dame in another Championship game. But wait a minute. Neither you nor I have a guarantee of even one day more to live.
In fact the Bible tells us not to count on tomorrow because tomorrow may not come for you or for me. All we have is right now. So our time on this earth is valuable because it is very limited.









II. MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY

Secondly, Paul tells us that we must make "the most of every opportunity." And he gives a reason, "because the days are evil."

Jesus said that Satan is a robber & a thief, & one of the things he tries to rob from us is our time because time is a very precious possession.

Just think of the time wasted in sinning. Think of the time wasted in bars or in gambling casinos or in shallow affairs. Think of the time wasted in gossiping or spreading rumors. Or think about all the time wasted worrying about the consequences of the sins we have committed. Satan is a thief & a robber!

But it is not just sin that makes demands on our time. Sometimes even good things can make demands.

Jesus went to the home of Mary & Martha & Lazarus. He sat down to teach, & Mary was sitting at His feet just soaking in every word. Meanwhile, Martha was out in the kitchen preparing dinner. Now, you know the story. It is found in Luke 10. Martha gets upset because Mary is not in the kitchen, too. So she complains to Jesus, "Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"


"Martha, Martha," Jesus answered, "You are worried & upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, & it will not be taken away from her" [Luke 10:40 42].
 

Now was Martha committing a sin by fixing a meal in the kitchen? No, of course not! But here’s the problem. She was so preoccupied with what she was doing that she didn’t realize that God was in her living room.

That’s the same mistake you & I make almost every day. We get so caught up in the here & now that we fail to deal with the eternal, the things that will last forever & ever.

We get overloaded and we get distracted. Daily Bible Reading, daily prayer.

I could go on & on, but you get the picture. There are so many demands on our time, so many good things that need to be done. But there are just 8,760 hours in this year, & we’ve already used about 120 of them. We do want to make the most of every opportunity, so what are we to do?

III. UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS


Well, to answer that, Paul tells us, "...do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."

Now what do you think God’s will is for you in this New Year? Do you think He wants your mind so saturated with worries & anxieties that you can’t think spiritual thoughts? Do you think He wants your calendar so crowded that you don’t have time for the important things? What do you think God’s will is for you this year?

 
First of all, establish your priorities.

1. I’m assuming that since you’re in church today that you believe God should be a part of your life.
But when you begin to establish priorities, you have to decide just where He stands in your life. So ask yourself, "Who or what is most important in my life?"

And I’m hoping that your answer will be, "My relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is most important to me." If so, then put that at the top of your list of priorities, & say, "This will affect my decisions, my scheduling, my relationship with others, & my whole outlook on life."

"Therefore, when Sunday rolls around neither rain nor shine nor football kickoffs will interfere with my being in church, because He comes first in my life. I’ll worship the Lord & nothing will interfere with that."

2. You also need to schedule some definite time each day to pray & to read His Word. Pray for yourself & for your family & for people around you. Pray for Our Lady of the Pines--we have some exciting and faith-challenging things for this year.

3. You must also spend time with your family. Every husband here ought to have a date night with his wife. I’m serious. You ought to have a date night with your wife, a time when just the two of you get away & don’t have anything else to interfere. No smart phones, Facebook updates, texts, no interruptions, & you can just talk. Maybe at a nice restaurant or maybe at home. Wherever it is, spend some time together.

Spend time with your children, too. They’re growing up ever so fast. These are precious moments. Don’t let them get away. Make sure that you spend quality time with your children. Make sure that your family is very high on the list.

4. Now most of us have to work. And I think Christians ought to be good workers. When someone hires a Christian they ought to know they’re getting someone who will give them an honest day’s work, & not cheat them. Because we’re Christians we have a responsibility to the Lord to honor Him even in the marketplace. “Do you see one skilled in his work?” the writer of Proverbs asks. “He will serve before kings; he will not labor in obscurity.”

Another year has come & gone. A new year stretches before us. Help us Lord, to redeem the time. So have a happy new year!

Romans 13:11 12 says, "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness & put on the armor of light."
So first of all, establish your priorities. We have to take some actions, write them down, share them with someone you trust, and act. For me, it is my weight. I was approached by the Coleman Outdoor tent company for a corporate sponsorship of my vestments. I went to the doctor this past week—seriously—and I had a rendezvous with reality—got on one of those digital scales, one that talks to you, and it said “One at a time, please.” We had to let the shower curtain out to fit in there now. So I made some decisions, we’re walking and exercising, losing all the carbs—no donuts in the Narthex for me—and I had my wife Mary there to have her hear the doctor say to me—you want to live longer or shorter. Take you pick.” And I am telling you so that you can hold me accountable this year.

As one of my favorite R&B bands, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, put it, it’s time to “wake up, everybody, no more sleepin’ in bed, no more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead. The world has changes so very much from what it used to be, there is so much hatred, war and poverty….”

So let’s review

Prayer: Lord, please help us to use the 8,760 hours of this year the wisest way we can for you, & for your glory.
May each of us have:

enough happiness to keep you sweet - enough trials to keep you strong,
enough sorrow to keep you human - enough hope to keep you happy,
enough failure to keep you humble - enough success to keep you eager,
enough friends to give you comfort - enough wealth to meet your needs,
enough enthusiasm to make you look forward to tomorrow,
& enough determination to make each day better than the day before.

Amen.