For While We Live …
Recently we had a little issue in the church office when we ran out of toner for the printer/copier. Long story short, I drove up to the Canon distribution facility on a rainy day because we had to have that toner to print the newsletter, bulletins, etc. When I arrived a gentleman in a ratty t-shirt in the front office told me I had to go to the back to pick up the toner. When I got to the back of the big distribution facility, I walked up the stairs to a door next to one of dozens of truck bays into a cage. Yes, a cage. After a few minutes of trying to get someone’s attention from the cage, someone told me I had to go one cage over. OK, so I walked outside in the rain to the next door, entered the cage, and again tried to get some help. A gentleman entered the cage who looked like he worked there, and I asked him where to pick up my toner.
He said, “I don’t know. I’m just a driver like you!”
“Um, I’m just a pastor,” I said, “trying to pick up our toner so we can print again.”
He gave me a blank look and then exited the building. Shortly thereafter, someone on the inside waved me through the cage door (which was not locked as I thought it was), and then I entered the traffic of forklifts and workers with clipboards and scanning devices. Wow, I was out of my element. The whole scene reminded me of that 1981 FedEx commercial with the world’s faster talker at the time, John Moschitta.
Remember that one? That commercial was prophetic. Think about the onslaught of information in our society in the last three decades. Every day on the internet …
- people post more than 300 million photos and 3.2 billion likes and comments to Facebook
- people upload nearly 8 years of videos to YouTube
- people and “robots” send 247 billion email messages, 80% of which are spam
The volume of data created by U.S. companies alone each year is enough to fill ten thousand Libraries of Congress. Google’s Eric Schmidt claims that every two days we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.
And the amount of data is growing, possibly exponentially.
Through all the busyness and all the data generation, do we feel more connected? Are we accomplishing more and better things? Are we becoming better people? What is it all for?
Without knowing the first thing about modern “information overload,” the writer of Ecclesiastes gave an answer to these questions: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.”
In the midst of life’s busyness, we find time to synchronize our faces and fingers with thousands of pixels on the tiny screens of our cell phones and tablets because we depend on these devices to schedule our time and communicate with each other. I am the first person to admit that I have a codependent relationship with digital technology. I repeatedly refer to my Google email and calendar as “my brain.” I often email myself information so I can access it later. I often schedule reminders on the calendar that conveniently pop up on my phone and my PC. It’s so convenient to search my Gmail and browse my calendar to refresh my memory about the important things in my life.
Are the important things in my life on my calendar? In my email?
I have a feeling there are very few, if any of us, that have the stuff we always do, day-after-day, on the calendar. For example, Tim has to be picked up from school every weekday at 3:40. That’s not on the calendar. Every night I go to sleep. That’s not on the calendar. I wake up every day. That’s not on the calendar. I eat every day. That’s not on the calendar. Many work-related things are on the calendar, but designated family time is not on the calendar. Cutting the lawn. Doing the laundry. Reading a novel. Listening to music. Dreaming. Planning for the future. All of those things are not on the calendar.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth.” We have tossed this wise suggestion on its head. Instead, when we are young, we get all worked up for education, competition, career, family, achievement, and then, if everything goes well, we retire. And then, at that point, when we’re much older, we’re suppose to enjoy life … in retirement. In the midst of Ecclesiastes’ poetry about growing old, the primary message is “enjoy life” because God created you … and because death awaits. Sounds pretty bleak to our ears, doesn’t it?
Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians is similar but the focus is reversed. You’re already dead … because Christ died for your sins, therefore your old “sin nature” is dead; you can enjoy life because you are being made new! Christ is in you and you are in Christ, and Christ is resurrected! Indeed, all things are being made new! “So death is at work in us, but life in you. … Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
Of course we cannot set the time of our own demise on our calendars. I’m sure most, if not all, of us would not want to set the date if we knew it ahead of time. To do so would be to take the Ecclesiastes approach to life and happiness, which is perfectly legitimate, for example, in the making of a “bucket list.” But this is not the perspective on life that Paul advocated to the Corinthians. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
You probably have many things scheduled on your calendars, many things that seem important to you. What would your life feel like if you scheduled times to stop and contemplate the goodness of life? To worship God? Is Sunday worship on your calendar? What would life feel like if you periodically stopped the schedule, closed the calendar to dream? To widen your glimpse of the future? To see the unseen? To see the eternal?
There are so many important things in life we can plan for our own future and that we can do to generate a flourishing future for others. Often we don’t plan for serious life events because we’re too consumed with all of the stuff I mentioned earlier: education, competition, career, family, achievement. We’re too overloaded. Too busy. Too emotional. Too stressed. Too bogged down by the past. Too limited in our vision of the future.
Last week I shared with you a video of Plainfield Township Cemetery I created for my last sermon on All Saints Sunday. This week I asked a few PUMC members to join me in the cemetery to show me their final resting places.
Cheryl purchased her plot decades ago. Shirley made her own arrangements at the same time they were preparing for her husband’s passing, just two days before he died. Don and Sharon just a few months ago created their headstone to mark where their ashes will be laid to rest, though the plot has been in Don’s family for decades. So, you see, there is always a time and a place to prepare for the future.
Rest assured. There are some important things you can do for your future and the future of others that actually take little time to get done compared to the impact they will have on the quality of your life. Many future-oriented things are a one-and-done or a simple discipline you can set on autopilot and then feel good about yourself and enjoy life. Here are few things to consider in planning for the future:
- arrangements for death
- will / guardianship for kids
- college savings for kids
- paying off debt
- pledging & giving to church / charity
- planned giving
- general endowment
- IRA beneficiary %
- IRA rollover 70½ by end of year
This week I invite you to schedule one hour on your calendar. Name the hour on your calendar as simply “The Future.” It just might be the most important hour of your week. When that hour comes, “the future” will have arrived. Sit down, relax, pray a simple prayer, read the passage from 2 Corinthians again, and plan at least two of those future-oriented items I mentioned: your pledge as a member of the body of Christ to God’s future through the work of PUMC and one of the other items. Through these plans you will gain a wider glimpse of the eternal life God is giving you in each and every moment of your life by planning for your future and the future of others. Amen.