Preached January 4, 2009.
Today we are beginning a sermon series that “hits us where we live” in a lot of different ways. We’re going to talk about being “Debt Free.” Now, when I say that phrase, most people think of financial issues. But we incur “debt” in other ways, not just financial – we’re also going to talk about debt in relationships, the debt of sin, as well as finances. So, as our first installment, this morning we’re going to talk about how to relieve our “debt to society” by putting first things first.
”Debt to society.” Strange phrase isn’t it? But it most accurately describes much of our lifestyle today. We make promises and commit to projects that ultimately rob us of our time with God and time with family. We become a slave to calendars, and deadlines, and the tyranny of the urgent. We are always paying the “debt” of time to our commitments, spending our time being busy but rarely being fruitful. There’s a big difference, you know. And being able to tell the difference between fruitfulness and busyness determines whether we live a peaceful or hectic life.
There’s a humanities professor named Stephen Bertman who published an important book about ten years ago. It’s called Hyperculture: The Cost of Human Speed. Bertman believes that our fast-paced lifestyle is ultimately the cause of much of our stress and illness – it affects our bodies, our relationships, or emotions, and the like. Bertman says we are all “hard wired” to live a slower lifestyle…and our current pace causes more problems that it solves. Not sure if you suffer from “hyperculture?” Try these phrases on for size: “I’m totally lost without my calendar. If I get more productive, I’m gonna scream! Sometimes it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. My life is on fast forward. I don’t spend enough time with family and friends. I don’t feel like I accomplished anything today.” Listen to some of the symptoms of “hyperculture” Bertman describes.
The technology explosion has changed our lives – over 25 million televisions are purchased a year – so many in fact that in America today, more people have television sets than indoor plumbing. With the rise of the internet and rapid access to information, Psychologists have noticed a trend they have dubbed “information anxiety” – a scenario where our mind literally cannot handle the deluge of information to which we expose it. In the process, the assimilation of knowledge among school age children is becoming thin and is producing an ever widening gap between what we think we know because we “googled it” and what we really know. We are becoming a mile wide and an inch deep. But an even more disturbing trend is occurring as well. Psychologists are beginning to see the emergence of a new type of personality among younger generations called the “saturated self,” where all stimuli are completely self-generated. In other words, a “self-saturated” person does not respond to anyone or anything outside of the world they create. They may be online, but they are personally isolated, remote, and detached. They alone create their own entertainment and they induce their own level of stress. What’s more, our stress levels are beginning to affect the national heart rate average. And it’s affecting our bodies as well. Recent studies estimate and average of 200 billion dollars is lost annually due to stress-related accidents, illnesses, and absenteeism. Over-stimulation and too many choices are making our nation physically sick. Houston, we have a problem! And a growing one at that. We’re so busy managing our time that we’ve forgotten to enjoy the time we’ve been given. The urgent has gotten in the way of the important. And church can be one of the greatest culprits in this struggle.
I remember the first time I really encountered this type of stress. Beth and I had been married for about two years. I worked for Flowers at the time and Beth worked for a health insurance company in Tallahassee. We were both actively involved in church…to the point where it took up most of our nights with meetings. We had also taken on several service projects and agreed to be the FCA leaders at Brookwood school. Though all were considered worthwhile Christian activities, we were totally covered in “busyness.” And something began to happen: whereas once we had a stable, though young, marriage, we became distanced and argumentative. We stopped connecting with each other because our “debts” to society took away our time to connect to each other. And that’s always the case: time spent doing one thing is time spent not doing something else. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. So, Beth and I started saying no…to everything. We finished our commitments and declined offers left and right until we had most of our weeknights back. And things got better. But it’s still difficult for us to “just say no.”
Out text for today, Matthew 6:33, is the first scripture I ever memorized: “Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” It’s one of the most important scriptures you can apply to your life. Now, most preachers I’ve heard over the years apply that scripture in the following way. They give you a list of priorities and the list usually goes something like this: 1) God 2) spouse 3) children 4) church 5) job – or something to that effect. And then they’ll tell you that what you spend your time on determines what your priorities really are. And that’s when everyone goes home feeling guilty for golfing or shopping or working long hours and promises to change for the better. They vow to spend more time with their children or their spouse. Or they vow to spend more time in daily devotions with God. But, to me, that’s as stressful a way of living as any. Those expectations are just as demanding. There’s got to be more than just learning to guard your time and say no to unnecessary commitments. And there is. Let me explain.
Part 2 tomorrow…