Well, we're just a few weeks away from Y2K. The 21st century is right around the corner. As we approach January 1, 2000, I can't help but wonder if those predicting all the Y2K calamities are right. Will the Y2K bug bite us? Will the world spin out of control? Will the banking systems fail? Will telephone communication be suspended? Will airplanes crash and trains derail? Will there be a shortage of food, water, or electricity? Those are some of the worst predictions. Of course, a number of so called experts say we have nothing to worry about. Who's right? There's no telling, yet. On January 1, we'll all find out. No matter what happens, the 21st will arrive and life will go on, regardless of any technological glitches that may occur.
Have you ever noticed how the movies filmed in the fifties depicted life in the 21st century? Their predictions on how life would be today haven't even come close. For example, they seemed to think that eventually we would all dress the same - that everyone would wear a silver jump suit and a pair of go-go boots. They also seemed to think we would have sliding doors in every home and moving sidewalks through out the city. The only place you see those today are in airports. And speaking of airports, they also predicted there would be flying cars, yet I would imagine everyone got here today through ground transportation. And even though video conferencing is now in its infancy, we're still a long way from being able to call anyone and everyone on the phone and look at them as we speak.
Even though life today is nothing like the sci-fi movies envisioned, you can't deny that the pace of life is changing faster than ever before. And it's not just in the area of technology - families are changing; values are changing; society is changing; our idea of what is moral and immoral is changing; etc. The question is, "In the midst of all this change, how does a person prepare for life in the new millennium?" What will it take for you to THRIVE in the 21st century? As Christians, if we are going to be what God has called us to be in the new millennium, we need to learn to "see the big picture."
A college professor in West Texas used to listen to a tiny 150 watt radio station. It had a listening range of maybe 25 miles, yet, every morning one of the local preachers began his radio show by bellowing into the microphone: "Hello World!" We tend to think the world consists of nothing but our little circle, and the relatively few years we spend here are all that matters. There is a bigger picture to life on this planet; living effectively in the 21st century requires that we learn to see it.
Imagine two people watch the movie "Titanic." One in a movie theater on a big screen; the other on a black and white portable TV. Of the two, which one do you think will get the most out of it? Which one will be more involved? Which one will be most affected by the story, the sets, the special effects? The answer is obvious. It's the same way in life. If you really want to get involved in the life that God has given you, you have to learn to see the big picture. Here are three things we can do that will help us see the big picture: First of all, we must learn to -
1. THINK IN TERMS OF ETERNITY
We tend to think in terms of NOW - we see the mundane details of our life as urgent, as "do or die". This kind of thinking is counter-productive, and creates unnecessary stress. Most of our problems are not a matter of life and death, and there's no point in blowing them out of proportion. Dean Smith, the former basketball coach at University of North Carolina once said, "If you make every game a matter of life and death, you'll be dead a lot."
In order to keep things in perspective, we should condition ourselves to ask the following question: Will this make a difference in 100 years? For most of the things we allow ourselves to get stressed about, the answer would be "no". In 100 years will it matter if the waiter messes up our order? In 100 years will it matter if I don't make this sale? Will it matter what kind of car I drive? Will it matter if someone is rude to me? Will these things matter in 100 years?
On the other hand, if you share Christ's love with someone, will that matter in 100 years? If you take time to disciple a new believer, or encourage someone, or give financially to a worthwhile cause, will that make a difference in 100 years? The answer is obvious. While there are many things we do that have no eternal significance, there are other areas of our lives where we have the opportunity to make a contribution that will last forever. As we go about our daily business, we need to get in the habit of thinking in terms of eternity. Peter said:
2 Peter 1:11 (NKJV) for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the EVERLASTING KINGDOM of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
"Everlasting Kingdom" - these words remind us that there is a Big Picture to all of this. The few years we are here on earth, the small circle in which we live, these are only a tiny part of all that is- and we must remember not to over play our own importance.
Years ago an obscure evangelist sent out a fund-raising letter in which he said something along the lines of, "Since the days of the reformation, God has chosen a man to speak to each generation. In the 16th Century, it was Martin Luther. In the 17th, it was John Calvin. In the 18th century, it was John Wesley. In the 19th Century, it was Charles Spurgeon. In this century, it is me." Now, don't you think he may have been over-playing his own importance in the grand scheme of things? Not only did this evangelist greatly exaggerate his own importance, he also didn't know much about church history. Calvin and Luther both lived in the 16th century. Calvin died in 1564.
Learning to see the Big Picture involves learning to think in terms of eternity. We must remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe; the world, the team, the church, or the job does not revolve around you or me. We must also remind ourselves that there is more to life than just money, possessions, and materialistic pursuits.
Revelation 14:6 (NKJV) Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth; to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people;
The Gospel is everlasting, and those who believe it, and put their trust in Christ will live forever. There is an eternal aspect of life that cannot be ignored.
Secondly, learning to see the big picture requires that we learn to -
2. SEE DIFFICULTIES AS OPPORTUNITIES TO GLORIFY GOD.
Isaiah 43:7 (NKJV) Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."
God created us "for His glory", and trials, difficulties, and tribulation provide us opportunities to glorify God. We like the easy road, we like to be comfortable, we enjoy prosperity and success. But the truth is that God is most often glorified in our lives when things are the worst. God wants us to be lights in a dark world.
Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Our trust in God is magnified in the midst of difficult situations.
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
What is the standard of power in the Old Testament? When they want to speak of God's great power in the Old Testament, what do they refer to? The Exodus!
Psalms 106:7-8 (NKJV) Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, But rebelled by the sea; the Red Sea. 8 Nevertheless He saved them for His name's sake, That He might make His mighty power known.
How did God's people end up in Egyptian bondage? They went to Egypt to escape the famine, and in time, they ended up as slaves to Egypt. Why didn't God just not cause the famine, and they wouldn't need delivering? Through their deliverance, God's power was put on display and He was glorified. God said to Pharaoh:
Exodus 9:16 (NKJV) "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.
God's power is displayed as he delivered his children from bondage. In our weakness, we look to God's power for help:
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
It is in the trials and difficulties of life that we learn to trust and depend upon God. As we trust him in our struggles, He is glorified. So, all of our difficulties are opportunities to glorify God.
Thirdly, learning to see the big pictures require that we learn to -
3. LIVE IN THE MOMENT
James 4:14 (NKJV) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
James is saying that every minute - every second - of every day is crucial and must be lived to the fullest. I'm not contradicting what I just said; we must think of life in terms of eternity, but that doesn't mean we "become so heavenly minded that we're no earthly good." Every day is packed with eternal significance. Here is the crucial distinction: We must learn to live IN the moment, but not FOR the moment. Do you see the difference? Living for the moment can be summarized by the statement:
1 Corinthians 15:32 (NKJV) If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, "LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE!"
Living in the moment can be summarized by Paul's statement:
Philippians 1:21 (NKJV) For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
What's Paul saying? He's saying, "Live in the moment, not for the moment; live every day like it counts." Paul told the Ephesian believers to use each moment.
Ephesians 5:15-17 (NKJV) See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Each night on ESPN they show the highlights of the most important games of the day. Of course, the problem with game highlights is that they give the impression that one or two plays in the game were the deciding factor. That's not always the case. For example, in the 1993 NCAA Tournament, when Michigan was playing North Carolina, the game was very close. With 11 seconds left in the game, Michigan's Chris Webber made an unfortunate mistake. His team was behind by two points, and he tried to call a time-out. Except, his team was out of time-outs. Instead, he was called for a technical foul and North Carolina got a free throw. North Carolina ended up winning the game. Of course, the media made a big deal about the blunder, and many of the fans blamed Chris Webber for losing the game. This isn't fair! For one thing, Chris Webber was the leading rebounder and the second leading scorer throughout the tournament; he played very well. Even though his mistake in the final seconds was highly visible, the fact is throughout the game, there were a number of lost opportunities by the Wolverines - missed free throw shots, ineffective defense, poorly executed plays, and on and on. These all add up. Broadcasters and sports fans may focus on one bad play, but coaches don't. Coaches realize that in order to win a game, every play matters.
It's the same way in life. Every day matters. Every moment of every day matters. If you want to learn to see the big picture, you have to recognize the value of each moment - and live it to the fullest.
Randy Stonehill wrote a song called Celebrate This Heartbeat. The chorus says:
I'm going to celebrate this heartbeat
Because it just might be my last
Every day is a gift from the Lord on high
And they all go by so fast.
As we face life in the coming millennium, we need to learn to live in the moment, not for the moment. We must have the attitude that says, "Every day is a gift from God - and I will live like it matters for all eternity, because it does."
Fourthly, learning to see the big pictures require that we learn to -
4. PREPARE FOR THE BEST
Most of us are pretty good at preparing for the worst. We buy insurance for our health, for our cars, for our home; we lock the doors; we install alarms; we have smoke detectors, radar detectors, and computer virus detectors; we back up our hard drives; we fill our garages with bottled water and canned food; we put away money for a rainy day; we buy cars with airbags and seatbelts and grab the longest warranty possible; we meet the man or woman of our dreams, and then draft a pre-nuptial agreement in case the dream becomes a nightmare; sometimes we even carry an umbrella when the sun is shining "just in case".
Most of us know how to prepare for the worst, and, of course, many of these things are necessary. However, if this is all you to do to prepare for the future, you're missing the Big Picture. We must also step out in faith and prepare for the best.
No matter what circumstances we may face in the future, no matter what Y2K may bring, we should prepare for the best, because we are God's children. We should prepare for the best, because we belong to God.
Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
It was God who created you, it was God who formed you, it was God who redeemed you, and it is God who calls you by name. Then, at the end of the verse, God says to Israel, "You are mine." "Israel" is a designation for God's chosen people, believers. All who trust in Jesus Christ are part of the Israel of God.
Galatians 6:15-16 (NKJV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
All those who are part of the new creation by faith in Jesus Christ are the Israel of God.
Israel's existence is due to the pure grace of God, alone. The Creator says to his chosen people, "Fear not." Nothing should cause God's people to fear. Why? Because God is on our side, He is for us.
Romans 8:31-32 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
Believer, you belong to God. The word "if" is a first class condition in the Greek and can be translated: "since." There is no question or doubt implied - God is for us. How do we know this?
Romans 8:32 (NKJV) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
God put to death his only begotten son for us. Notice who delivered up Jesus to die. Not Judas for money, not Pilate for fear, not the Jews for envy - but God the Father for love. Christ's death is proof of God's love for us.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The Sovereign God of the universe is on our side, we belong to Him and He will "freely give us all things." So, we need to prepare for the best!
Matthew 6:19-20 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Someday there will be an end to our physical life. And at that time there will be a new beginning. We will live forever in heaven with Jesus Christ. We will experience eternal joy, eternal peace. Prepare for it!
Matthew is talking specifically about the after life, but it applies to our day-to-day life as well. Our God is a covenant keeping God, and he will keep every promise that he has made to us.
Romans 8:32 (NKJV) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
Let me ask you ask a question. If God blessed you beyond your wildest dreams right now, would you be ready for it? If he begins to bless your business, are you ready to handle the increase? If you're single and he brings the man or woman of your dreams into your life, are you prepared for the responsibility of such a relationship? If God decides to increase your ministry, are you prepared to do it? If you want to experience God's best, you have to prepare to receive God's best.
Have you ever seen an Academy Award nominee be so completely dumbfounded by being announced as the winner that they stand at the podium babbling incoherently? Instead of saying with finesse, "I would like to thank all of the people who made this night possible", they end up saying something like, "uh..........." - on national TV. This happened to Sally Fields when she won her second Oscar for "Places In the Heart". She didn't expect to win, because she had never been accepted in the industry as a serious actress. After all, she was The Flying Nun, she was in Smokey and the Bandit. She's no Meryl Streep. So, when she accepted her award, she had no idea what to say. Instead she stammered, "You like me -you really really like me!" She has been lampooned for that acceptance speech ever since, but it was all she could think of to say. Clearly, she didn't expect to win, and she hadn't prepared for the best.
This is the way many of us approach life. We read in the Bible how God wants to bless our lives, give us peace, prosperity, happiness, fulfillment, and so many other wonderful things, but we live as if we don't really expect it to happen. If you want to thrive in the 21st century, if you want to experience God's best in your life - you have to prepare for it.
Here's another example, but don't confuse it with a political endorsement. 20 years ago two men with political aspirations were facing the prospect of going to Viet Nam. Dan Quayle (whose political ideas I frequently agree with) pulled strings to get out of going - and his avoidance has been an obstacle in his political career ever since. Al Gore, on the other hand, (whose political ideas are quite different than mine) decided not to use his father's influence to stay out. Instead he served a full tour of duty overseas, because he believed it was his responsibility as an American citizen. He was preparing himself, even then, for the possibility of someday being a world leader. He even gave up violin lessons as a young child because, as his mother told him, "World leaders don't play the violin." He prepared himself to be in the position that he is in right now. Whether or not he becomes President, it can be said that he has the political career he has because he prepared himself for the best.
Learning to see the Big Picture means that we accept in faith that God has great things in store for us - in this life and in the life to come. And it means that we prepare ourselves for the good things he wants to give.
Regardless of what the doom and gloom scenarios say, the Bible plainly teaches that our future is bright. As the saying goes, "We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow." We can face the 21st century with optimism, because God will be with us every step of the way. Even when we face setbacks and challenges, he is with us. And ultimately, we will be in his presence in the heavenly realm forever and ever. Until that day, we must keep our eyes on the big picture -thinking of life in terms of eternity; seeing difficulties as opportunities; living in the moment and not for the moment; and always, in faith, preparing to receive God's best.