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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Mark 1:35-39  audio

I guess you’ve worked out by now, if you’ve been here over the last three weeks that the theme of this sermon series is cutting back on the busyness of life.

What do you think? Is your life too busy? Do you find yourself trying to pack as much in to your life as you can?

I wonder have you done any of these things:

  • Stopping at an airport stopover on the way to holidays to visit friends or relatives you haven’t seen for a couple of years?
  • If you’re a parent do you find yourself dropping one child at ballet, taking the next to a piano lesson, doing the shopping then hurrying back to pick them up in the reverse order?
  • If you’re a worker do you find yourself arranging meetings one after the other with no break in between?

I haven’t done all of those, but I know others who do.

Have you thought about why you’re so busy? Is it something you do to yourself or are you a victim? e.g. Do you find yourself sitting down to check your emails and spending the next 30 or 40 minutes sifting through the 50 emails that have just arrived of which 45 are junk mail – but you’ve got to check them all in case one of them is important. And then you do it again a few hours later.

Or are you one of those people who feel they have to fill their diary to bursting or they’re not doing a good job?

In either case, how do we fix this problem without giving up our values, without abandoning our call to Christ-likeness?

The title of our sermon series is Creating Margins. It’s the idea of a page with a border around it, where you’ve got room to write notes, where the page doesn’t feel like it’s packed to the borders.

But I think there’s a slight problem with that image, that metaphor. It might feel like a passive thing. Like the margins are all that we need. Cut out a few activities and everything will be fine. But is that true? Or do we need to think about making margins as something more active, pro-active?

The problem with the passive approach is that nature abhors a vacuum. Inevitably if we just leave space something will fill it. Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the person who drives out an evil spirit but doesn’t replace it with anything else? He said the spirit will go away and bring back seven more spirits to live there (Lk 11:24-26). Well our time is similar. Unless we plan what to do with our time it’ll fill itself up with whatever else we come across.

One of my favourite quotes comes from a Chinese general of the 6th century BC, a man named Sun Tzu. You may have heard of him. He’s thought to be the author of “The Art of War”, an important work on military strategy. One of the things he said was “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; but tactics without strategy is noise before defeat.” In this context, if you don’t have a plan for what you might do with your time it’ll defeat you.

So what will we do with these margins of time we manage to carve out of our lives? If we manage to free up some time will we spend it on ourselves or use it constructively for the sake of the gospel? Or will we perhaps manage to do both?

The Paradox of the Gospel

There’s a certain paradox in the Christian gospel. It’s that we don’t need to work for our salvation, God does it all; yet having saved us God has work for us to do.

Do you remember what Eph 2:8-10 says? “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God has freely given us our salvation, but he’s also prepared work for us to do: work that he’s made us for.

What about Philippians 2:12-13. I especially like this one: “12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Work out your salvation with fear and trembling – but how will we do it? Through the work of God who’s at work within us.

Making margins doesn’t mean we forget about our prime directive. We’re made for a purpose. God has chosen to work within each one of us to do the good works that he’s prepared beforehand. So we need to think about how our time can serve that purpose.

Prioritising our time

In our gospel reading today we saw a great example from Jesus about prioritising our time.

Jesus has been flat out teaching and healing the previous day and in the morning he does two things that reflect his time priorities. First he goes off to a deserted place to pray. He needs to get away from the pressure of the crowds, not to relax, not to have time to get his thoughts together, but to pray. He needed to connect with his heavenly father, perhaps for guidance, perhaps to renew his strength.

But then when Peter finds him and seemingly rebukes him for disappearing like that, Jesus points out his clear priority. As much as he cares for the people here in Peter’s home town, as much as he’s happy to teach and heal them, there are so many more towns and villages that need to hear the message of the kingdom. This was a case of “The good is the enemy of the best.”

So how are we to use our time for the sake of God’s kingdom?

Last week Hannah reminded us of Paul’s warning in Gal 5:1: “1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” There’s a danger in what I’m about to say; a danger that our tendency to over-function might be reinforced; a danger that our guilt levels rise as we wonder whether we should be doing more of those good works that God has prepared for us. So keep in mind Hannah’s words last week about the freedom of finitude as we look further down the chapter in Gal5.

We see here again, one of those paradoxes of the gospel. In Gal 5:13, 14 we read “13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” So we’ve been set free by the gospel. God allows us to choose what we’ll do with our time. You don’t have to be here at Church every Sunday. You don’t have to give your time to serve others. Yet we’re warned not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh. It was sounding so good up until that point wasn’t it? Di and I have friends who retired around the same time we did and they’ve spent the last couple of years sailing the globe in their yacht. They’re free to do that of course. They can clearly afford it. But is that what our freedom is for? No! We’re told to use our freedom to serve one another humbly in love.

Likewise Peter tells us, in 1 Pet 4: “7The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ”

Be serious and discipline yourselves. Time management clearly fits into that idea of discipline. But did you see how he’s suggesting we use our time? Be hospitable to one another. Serve one another with whatever gift you’ve received. Again, we need to listen closely. He isn’t saying wear yourself out trying to please. He isn’t suggesting we go beyond our natural limits. No, he’s saying think about the gifts God has given you and use those. What’s your gift? Some people have what we might call up-front gifts: preaching, leading services, leading music, leading prayers; others may have less ‘showy’ gifts: a gentle spirit, a listening ear, a warmth of hospitality, a quiet wisdom; others may have practical gifts: an ability with their hands, skills learnt through practising a trade or a profession, skills with computers or accounts or law; others have opportunities that arise from their profession or their contacts or their family connections; some simply have time to spend with someone who’s lonely.

Whatever your gifts, are you using them to humbly serve others? Are you able to make time in your busy schedule to give yourself space to do that? If so are you planning times to serve others?

A bit before that second passage in Galatians we read: “7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Gal 6:7-10) Paul’s aware that not everything we do will have immediate effects. In fact there will be times when we have no idea whether what we’ve done has been effective or even useful. But he says don’t give up. Don’t weary of doing good things. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see immediate results. The results will come at harvest time. I planted some bulbs in the garden last month and we’re just now seeing shoots coming up on some of them, but with others there’s no sign of whether they’re growing until springtime; and even when the shoots appear we won’t know if they’ll have flowers until the flower heads start to appear. That’s what life is like sometimes isn’t it? You sow seeds and then you wait to see what will come of them. And in Christian service the waiting can be a long time. I used to comment that it was a good day when I had to change a light globe at church because I could go home knowing I’d achieved something that day. So don’t give up. Whenever we have an opportunity, let’s work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Finally Paul tells Timothy: “17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Tim 6:17-19) This is a word for those of us who are rich, which probably means most of us here on a global scale at least. Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. You heard the saying: “Time is money?” It may be that we need to think about how we can be generous with our time as well as our money; to think strategically about how our time can be freed up to serve others.

Well, how can we do it? What practical things might we do to use our time well?

How do we do it?

Personal

In our personal life we need to make time as Jesus did for renewal of energy and commitment: like allowing yourself a day off. If you’re a parent that might mean the whole family having a day off, or one parent taking the kids while the other has time for themselves, or finding some leisure activity for you and the kids to enjoy. My younger daughter just bought a year’s membership to the zoo so they can take their toddler there regularly.

A daily quiet time for reading God’s word and praying is an age old Christian discipline aimed at preparing us for God’s service and at freeing us from the compulsion to be busy all the time.

You might decide to take time to go on a retreat where you can spend an extended time with God, if your circumstances allow it.

Service

There are lots of ways we can be ready to serve others. Here are some simple suggestions:

  • You could have a simple lunch ready on a Sunday to invite someone home after church.
  • You could simply ring a friend – not to find out an answer but simply to connect. Yes, there are still people who like to talk on a phone, not just exchange texts.
  • Perhaps you could cut something out of your diary so you have time to volunteer somewhere.
  • If you have practical gifts maybe you could offer those gifts or skills to someone who needs help with something you’re good at. Of course that doesn’t need to be a huge amount of time or a long term commitment.

Those are just a few practical ideas which I’m sure you could add to from your own situation. The main thing is that we’re called to love and serve one another as a sign that we’re followers of Christ. This isn’t another thing to bind us or make us feel guilty if we’re not doing something every minute of the day. Rather God has set us free so we’re able to choose to humbly serve one another with the love that he’s shown us.

Let’s find ways to make margins in our life that can be used for that purpose.

 

 

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Phone: 0422187127
 
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