RETRO – BACK TO THE BASICS
January 15-16, 2005
Life is like a circus. Maybe you feel like you have all these things in the air. You’re struggling with juggling. Maybe you feel like you’re a tight rope artist trying to balance life’s demands. Maybe you feel like a lion tamer. You’ve got a couple of pre-schoolers you’re trying to control. The bottom line is, so often when you talk to people, when they really open up, they’ll tell you, “My life is out of control.”
What’s the problem? Why? Why do we struggle with this stuff? Why is our life circus-like? Bottom line: we’ve got the wrong ringmaster in many circumstances and situations. We’ve got the wrong person calling the shots. And that wrong person is you. You’re doing something you’re not wired to do when you take the mic, when you don the top hat, when you wear the tuxedo, when you try to run your circus, when you try to run your life. Running your life is a formula for frustration. Running your life will not get you to where God wants to take you. God wants the best for all of our lives.
Two things we need to understand when we think about God’s best. Number one: our time is limited, but we act like it’s unlimited. Isn’t that true? Time is limited. And only God knows how much time we have left.
Number two: we’re gonna spend and use up all of our time. I’m not going to get to the end of my life, you’re not going to get to the end of your life and say, “Oh, oh, wait a minute! Before I die let me bring in four or five trunks, because I have time saved in these trunks and now I’m going to spend the time.” No, no, no. When we clock out, we clock out. It makes logical sense, doesn’t it, to give our time to the author of time? To give our lives, to give the microphone, the top hat, our all to the one who knows how much time we have left? Because our great God has a specific agenda for our lives.
This agenda has to do with the subject matter we’re going to be addressing—priorities. Priorities. You can’t talk about priorities without talking about the context of time. Time is fluid. Time always marches on. And we have the opportunity to stop in today, to look at yesterday, and to see how we allocated our time, to see how our priorities line up with God’s priorities. And then we can make decisions today based on yesterday that will give us a fantastic future tomorrow.
When I say the word “priorities” what do you think about? You should think about rank and order. You should think about saying yes to the best. Simply put, having the proper priorities is all about agreeing with God. So if I have the proper priorities, I’m going to agree with God.
[Ed begins writing on a Plexiglas board. Throughout the course of this series, Ed writes on the board to illustrate the distance between our priorities and our commitments, how that happens, and what we can do to lessen that distance.]
As I jot this word down, “priorities,” and as I jot this other word down, “commitment,” most of us would take a step back and go, “Wow, okay. Priorities and commitments. I’m sure mine sync up. I’m sure mine have great connectivity. What I say as my ringmaster and what I do in my circus, there’s a great relationship there. There’s no real gap. There’s not a delta, a variance, or a short fall. They come together in my life.”
That’s what most people say. However, if you get deep, if you get specific, if you begin to start logging your time on the internet or journaling how you spend your time, you’ll see something that will rock you. You will see there is a gap, there is a delta, there is a ravine separating your priorities from your commitments.
What are priorities? They’re God’s best. Principles, God’s principles, are my priorities which are carried out through my commitments. All I’m talking about when I talk about going Retro: Getting Back to the Basics; all I’m talking about are a bunch of God’s principles that are my priorities, whether I agree with him or not. They’re there for me. And they’re carried out through my commitments. Let’s say that together—one, two, three—God’s principles are my priorities and they’re carried out through my commitments. Whoa, that felt good! That’s what they are.
I’ve discovered something: the closer the gap, the greater the liberty; the wider the gap, the greater the bondage. Whenever you think about priorities you need to think about the word “paradox,” because in the world of priorities, there are a bunch of paradoxes. And let me let you in on a story that occurred in my life that’ll help you unpack this.
Several years, I had a Ford F250 4×4, and I packed up my truck strategically for an overnight camping trip with my son. I was thinking, “Okay, we need this. And I’ve got to have that.” And we packed it up and everything was, you know, tied down and all that. So we drove down I-45 South to the metropolis of Fairfield, Texas. We drove past Fairfield, 25 miles out into the middle of nowhere down a series of dirt roads. I was driving and I saw a little ravine in front of me. [There was a] beautiful spring just trickling through the ravine. I saw where a few people had crossed the ravine. It looked a little shaky, a little tenuous, so I turned to my son and said, “EJ, you’re now going to see what off-road driving is all about! You’re now going to see what 4-wheel drive is all about!”
So I put it in 4-wheel drive, mashed on the accelerator and I kind of took a right turn as I crossed the ravine. To my dismay and shock I hit a huge hole and the entire front end of my Ford F250 truck began to sink in the mud and mire! You know what I did? I just pressed the accelerator more. And you know what happened? The more I pressed the more mud started flying everywhere! Water was actually coming in the truck. It was horrible!
So we got out of the truck. I’m like, “Oh, man! I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere, 25 miles outside of Fairfield! What will we do?”
BRIDGING THE GAP
Well, I learned something that day. I learned something about ravines. So often, we misjudge ravines. We misjudge gaps. We misjudge the delta, the variance, between things. And I would argue that most of us in this place have misjudged this concerning our priorities and our commitments. There’s a variance between what we do and what we say.
In the world of priorities, there are a bunch of paradoxes. For example, in the world of priorities it’s good to live in the past. It’s good to live in the past when it comes to priorities. I’m talking about going retro. Think Uncle Rico in [the movie] “Napoleon Dynamite.” 1982—that was his year. If you haven’t seen the movie, check it out. It’s clean and it’s hilarious, I think.
We can look in the past and see the commitments we made, the choices we made, the decisions we made. And we can say, “Whoa, okay, okay, okay. I get it. Against the back drop of time, the fact that my time is not unlimited but is limited, the fact that God is in control, the fact that somebody or something is going to determine how I spend my time. You know what? I can make a discerning wise move right now. I can agree with God’s priorities and have a great trajectory.”
That’s good to live in the past. We use the past, we leverage time past for time present and time future. You might be saying, “Well, Ed, you talk about priorities. Well, what are God’s priorities?” Let’s go back to the circus picture for a second. We’ve got three rings of priorities. Obviously, we’ve got to make a microphone transfer to the Ringmaster. We can’t run the show. We’re not wired to do it. “Here’s the mic, Jesus. Here’s the top hat. Here’s the suit. You set the tenure and the tone for my life.”
What do we do, though? We say, “You know what? I want to go for the gusto. I want to live!” So we add and add and add and add and add and add and add and add and add and add. And we put too much stuff on our lives. We need to give the mic to the author of time. After all, he knows how much time we have left.
The first priority: the relational family priority. The second one: the church priority. And the third one: the work priority. All those priorities are important. All those priorities are huge, and they begin when we give the mike to the Ringmaster who—watch this now—places the presence of the Holy Spirit inside our lives, who gives us the inertia (I like that word) to make the right call, to bridge the gap.
Priorities. Say that word with me. One, two, three, “priorities.” Now say the word “capacity” with me. One, two, three, “capacity.” There’s a connection between our priorities and our capacities. Our priorities determine our capacity. And also, you can switch it around. Our capacity determines our priorities.
Go back to the truck. What did I say? I strategically packed the truck that got stuck. You remember that? I tied everything down. What did I do? I prioritized. “Okay, I’ll need the tent. I’ll need the tackle box. I better bring a gun because there’s some monster rattlesnakes.” And I put first things first. And then the other stuff I didn’t really need? “Ah, I don’t really need that. EJ, we shouldn’t bring that. And not that video game. And….” I began to, you know, kind of call everything out.
I could have overpacked the vehicle. I have that much stuff, and so do you. I could have put so much stuff, so much stuff, so much stuff and add and add and add. I could have messed that vehicle up because different trucks have different weights, you know? Half ton, quarter ton, one ton, whatever. Our lives are the same way. We keep on adding stuff, don’t we? “I’ll add this. I’ll add that. I’ll add this. I’ll add that.” We don’t think about priorities. I just add and add and add. And a lot of us are stuck in the muck and the mire and the junk in this giant ravine because we’ve added too much stuff to our lives.
If I’m the enemy, the evil one, I would want to mess your time up. That’s what I want to do. John 10:10, “The thief,” Jesus said, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Now Satan doesn’t come up to you and me with a pitch fork and horns and go, “Ha! Ha, ha, ha! I’m going to mess you up, brother!” No, he doesn’t do that. Satan is so sly. He just inches us. He just kind of moves us. And then he gets us to make these choices and we don’t think they’re really that big. We don’t think they are really that important. It’s just little stuff. You know? It’s not that big of a deal. And then, the more we get involved in the little stuff, what happens? Our priorities become Pac-Manned! That’s what happens. We get eaten up.
So we’ve got to take stuff away. We’ve got to pack first things first. We’ve got to go back to the rings. “Of course, God is number one. Our relational family ring is number two. The church is number three. Where’s number four?” And we pack that in. The other stuff, we just say no. But most of us calendar this way, “Oh, well, we’re not doing anything Friday night. I guess we’ll add that. We’ve got four hours on Saturday. I guess I’ll add that. I’ll add that too and that too and that too and….” And in our attempt to control our lives, what happens? We spin crazily out of control. So in the world of priorities there are a bunch of paradoxes. We need to live in the past. Use the past.
Here’s another paradox, too. In the world of priorities, the seemingly insignificant decisions and commitments are significant. When we come to priorities, we think, “I’ve got to make these monster chopper, monster garage, extra large, super-sized decisions.” No we don’t! Our priorities are set in stone. We see the rings of priorities and we agree with God. Priorities are lived out with commitments on the rugged planes of reality; as I like to say, in those ravines. You know what I’m saying? I’m talking about in the mud, in the junk, that’s where we have to make those decisions.
“Well, Ed, okay. You mean you’re telling me that the insignificant is significant in the world of priorities? That small is big? The mundane matters?” Yes, I’m saying that. “Well, show me in the Bible.”
I’m glad you asked. In the book of Judges, body building is talked about. The ultimate body builder is there, Samson—the strongest guy that ever lived. Samson—the tragedy of what might have been. Samson, if you read about his life, had connectivity early on between his priorities and his commitments. I mean they were there, synced up. Little by little, though, Samson began to make these decisions. He said they were insignificant, that they really didn’t matter that much.
See, back in the Old Testament, a long, long, long time ago—we don’t do it any more—but back in the Old Testament, people like Samson oftentimes took something called the Nazarite vow. And the Nazarite vow was an outward symbol of an inward commitment. Samson said he would not do three things. His parents agreed to this, too. Number one, Samson would not touch anything that was dead. Number two, he couldn’t touch any grape products. And number three, he couldn’t get a haircut. Three things.
What did Samson do? Read about his life. Did he make a monster garage, monster chopper, extra large, super-sized priority shift? “I’m going to live for the enemy.” No, he didn’t do that. You know what he did? One day a lion came after him and he killed the lion. Later on, he walked by the lion to check out what he had done and he noticed some bees had made a little bee hive in the carcass of the lion. And he had a sweet tooth. You know, no one was looking. “It’s just an insignificant thing. And just this one time.” And he began to eat the honey. The first portion of the Nazarite vow had been violated.
And then he went to a bachelor party, and there were grapes and Merlot. And he had a little sip of Merlot and grapes and, you know, no big deal. Samson said, “Just this one time, you know? It’s not that big of a deal. I’m God’s man anyway. Look. I’m He-man, you know?”
Samson, though, was a He-man with a she-weakness, because later on in his life what happened? He had a haircut in the devil’s barber shop. That’s what happened to him—Delilah. Before Tony and Guy was invented, man, she cut this big man’s hair!
Were those decisions big, honking, monster garage, monster chopper, extra large? No, they weren’t! Small stuff. It’s just small stuff.
Church attendance. I mean, that’s a priority—church attendance. Why should we attend church? The Bible says in Hebrews 10 we’re to attend church. It says don’t diss the gathering together of believers. Why? Because of priorities. We recalibrate, we reprioritize, and we realign our lives. We say, “God,” collectively, “you’re God and I’m not. You’re the creator, I’m the creature.” And church attendance gives us—here’s the word again—inertia (I love that word, inertia) to spend time in private worship with God. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Well, you go on Saturday and Sunday.
Why do we have daily worship? Priorities. We reprioritize, we realign, we reassign our lives. “God, you know what? You’re God, I’m not. You’re the Ringmaster, I’m not. I agree, God, with your priorities, with your absolutes. God, I know you’re the author of time. I give my time to you and I’m going to watch you multiply my time.”
Marriage. That’s all about priorities. Why do you have a date night? I talk about date night all the time. “Oh, here he goes again talking about date night?” Why do we have a date night? You know why? It’s all about priorities. We reprioritize, we realign, we recommit. “Oh, so this is why we’re married!” Date night.
I talked to a friend of mine. Last week he and his wife spent a night away from his kids. He said, “Ed, it was incredible! And while we were in this hotel, enjoying each other, having a wonderful time of communication….” And then all of a sudden he says, “You know what? We looked at each other and we said, ‘Why don’t we do this more? Why don’t we do this more often?’” Priorities. Priorities.
Why do we spend time with our kids? Priorities. We’re just realigning, recommitting our lives.
How about singles? If you’re single, shoot your hand up right now. If you’re single. Let’s give the singles a round of applause. Man, singles give energy. “Ed, man, I know he’s not a Christian, but he is hot and he’s wealthy. He reminds me of Brad Pitt. I’m telling ya. And surely, Ed, I can just go on one date. I mean, one date is not going to be that significant. It’s a small thing.”
Talk with Samson. You can fall in love with the wrong person. “Well, Ed, man, this girl…you’ll not believe it. This girl is awesome, man! Her personality? She is beautiful. I mean surely just a cup of coffee, that kind of date thing at Starbucks. I mean, it’s not….”
You can fall in love with the wrong person. See these small, insignificant, mundane little decisions can take you away from the big stuff from these priorities.
We live in a world of technology don’t we? Everybody is tethered to technology. Cell phones and beepers and Blackberries. You know what’s funny about technology? I love technology, but technology is all about communication. And we can definitely use it to communicate. But also, a lot of us use technology as a blockade that that keeps us at bay from real relationships. I talked to somebody the other day who said, “You know, Ed, I’ve not really talked to someone, uh, in about 5 years. I just email and I haven’t really talked to anybody in like 5 years.”
You know that’s not true! I was just…. But you know what I’m saying to ya. Technology. We’re always wired into technology. [Ed imitates answering his cell phone.] “Oh, wait a minute, honey. Yeah, what? Okay. I mean, oh, yea.” Everything. It’s crazy.
Telephone and television. Think about it. I’m for all that stuff in balance. But think. Television comes at us in 30-minute increments and it just screams, “Watch me, watch me, watch me!” The phone rings, “Talk to me!” You don’t have to pick the phone up. You own the phone. The person calling doesn’t own the phone. Lisa and I take our phone off the hook all the time. It’s incredible.
The other day, one of the twins whacked me. She said, “Dad, you talk on the cell phone too much when we’re in the car with you. How about turning the cell phone off and spending time with us?” I thought, “Ah, man! Talk about guilt trip.” I have a tendency…I’m a little bit hyper. I’m always dialing people, “What’s up, Mom? How ya doing? I know I talked to you an hour ago. I just wanted to see how you’re doing.” A lot of us need to go on a technology fast. You won’t believe it. There’s a whole world out there!
Now you might be saying about now, “Why does God want our priorities and commitments to sync. Why does he want us agree with this stuff?” Do you know what will happen? Do you know what will happen in our lives? We’ll have breathing room. When we live by these three rings, when first of all we give the mic to the ultimate Ringmaster—which is Jesus, who knows about time, he invented it and all that stuff—we’ll have breathing room, chill time, margin. And what do you do? Do you just sit there and twiddle your thumbs? No. We have time to get to know God better. We have time to get to know our spouse better, to build friendships in a deeper way. And we have a better read on work. We have better ideas. We become more productive and we become free.
Remember what I said earlier? Hope you didn’t miss it. The wider the gap the greater the bondage. If there’s a big gap between your priorities and commitments you might go, “Yeah, you know. I don’t live by priorities. I just live in the moment. Man, just, if I feel it, I do it.”
No, no. You’re under bondage. You’re enslaved. You’re incarcerated. But if you live by priorities, by God’s priorities? Then we’re free. We have breathing room. We’ve got chill time. Margin living. And we’re freed up to be the kind of people God wants.
Go back to John, Chapter 10:10. This is one of my life verses: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy…” But, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life to the full.” That word in the Greek is pronounced is “perison”—life overflowing. Waves hitting on the sea shore. That’s like filling your cup full of water and the water just keeps coming and coming, and it just spills over in your hands and all over the table and all over you. That’s the kind of ultimate life that God wants. And we can’t do it ourselves. We’ve got to leverage this gift, this amazing gift called time, and use it for God’s glory.
That’s why Ephesians 5:15-16 just screams at us. It begs us, it urges us to do what? “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” What do we do? In our attempt to get the most out of life we lose control because we don’t want to miss out. But I am arguing God’s case. His principles become our priorities and are carried out through our commitments when we do the three rings. When we live this life and agree with God we have the spacing to really understand what life’s all about. Our lives will be multiplied. We’ll be more productive. God will be glorified. We’ll have freedom. It’s a win-win.
Let’s talk about several things we need to do. First of all (this is homework), recognize now the fact that your days are numbered. The Bible says in Job 14:5, “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Isn’t that the fact? Capacity determines priority. Remember that? Priority determines capacity. Don’t tell me what you’re doing; tell me what you’re not doing. Agree with God. Give God the time because he knows how much is left.
Number two: use discernment in your life when you make decisions in the present based on the past so you’ll have a great trajectory in the future. Proverbs 3:21, “My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them (that means sounds judgment and discernment) out of your sight.” [Ask] “God, is this the most discerning thing for me to do? Is this the wisest thing for me to do?”
In light of yesterday, thinking about today, and thinking about trajectory of the future, is this the best thing for me to do regarding my relationship with you? Regarding my relationship with my friends, my family, my spouse, my kids, church, work? When you begin to do that, God will give us the ability to say yes to the best and no to the good.
Ask yourself this question: “Is what I’m about to do have a ring to it? Does it have the ring of priorities?”
Now, there’s one more thing I want to talk about, but I don’t have the time tonight. That’s next time. I’m going to talk about spending time with God. How do you spend time with God? People ask me that all the time. “How do you read the Bible? How do you pray? What do you mean ‘time with God?’ What are you talking about?” Well, I’m going to talk about that next time.
But I kind of left the story about the truck open-ended. Remember that? “Ed, did you get out?” Well, yeah, I’m here. EJ and I walked out in the triple degree Texas heat two miles. And we’re on this dirt road that I’ve been on many times. I’ve only seen maybe three or four cars come down this dirt road in my whole life of all my trips down to this area. I’m thinking, “EJ, we’re going to have to walk, I mean, 20 miles. I don’t know.” I was ready to walk.
All of a sudden, I hear something. There’s a car, there’s a car, there’s a car coming! Sure enough, we see a car coming. I get in the middle of the road, “Hey!” I had mud all over me and an elderly lady was driving and she was kind of looking at me like, “Who are you?” I said, “Ma’am, my name is Ed Young, and this is my son EJ. I am stuck way down in that ravine, way, way, way, down there. I know you can’t see the truck. We walked out. And I’m a pastor in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.” She was like, “Right. Uh-huh.” I said, “Really! In 15 minutes my radio show’s going to be on. We can listen to it. Would you please take us to town? I’ve got to get a wrecker to get us out.”
She sat there for a while, and asked me some more questions, and she says, “Okay, come in.” So we got in the car and sure enough, 15 minutes later we turned the radio on. “See? That’s me.” And she said, “Yeah, it is you.” So then we drove to one wrecker service, “Hey, would you please pull us out?” The guy said, “No, man! I’m not going there.”
Okay. Went to another, a second one, “Please. My son and I are from Dallas.” “We can’t do that. We don’t risk our equipment because it’s that bad where you’re stuck. We don’t, we don’t.” I kid you not.
Okay, we went to another one. “It’s just too sandy.” It’s too this or that.
Finally, finally, finally, I met a young man who says, “Yeah, let’s do it!” So we hopped in his wrecker and we drove, like, 25 miles and he looked at us he goes, “Man, you’ve really got yourself stuck!” He said, “You don’t go off road very much, do you?” “No, no, no, I don’t.” I still have his card in my wallet. He pulled us out and it was a great feeling. Wooo! Man it was great. It was great. It was great.
We’re stuck, so many of us. You’re going, “Ed, man, I’m stuck and I have the accelerator just pressed. I’m trying to get out of this. And I realize that the gap is wide and I’ve got too much stuff on my vehicle.” You’ve gone to this person, “Hey, get me out!” You go to that person, “Get me out!” You tried to buy this or that, “Get me out! Get me out!”
There’s only one person that can get us out and will free us up. And that person is Jesus. And we’re going to talk about how to spend time with him daily next time. All right? Let’s pray together.