If I could save time in a bottle

The first thing that I’d like to do

Is to save every day

‘Til eternity passes away

Just to spend them with you.

That is the opening verse of “Time in a bottle”, which is the title of one of my favourite songs. If you are old, you might remember it as a Jim Croce song and album from 1973.

But the reality is that we can’t save time in a bottle. We can’t put time in a bottle or in a bank, and regardless of what people say, while you can waste time, you can’t save time. At midnight today will be gone.

And time confounds people. We can’t understand why it passes so slow sometimes or flies by other times. Dr. Suess wrote, “How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

And Einstein is said to have summed up his theory of relativity by saying Sitting with a pretty girl for an hour seems but a minute; sitting on a hot stove for a minute seems an hour.

And I’m often reminded of the truth of Andy Rooney’s statement when he said, “I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.”

These past eighteen months we’ve seen time disrupted. Time seems all out of whack. When was it that we were on a real vacation? How long have we been wearing masks? When was the last time things felt. . .normal?

Weddings and funerals have been delayed, birthday parties postponed, and the absence of family at holiday gatherings has been explained away and excused with the words, “next year it will be different.” But we said that last Thanksgiving as well.

Time disrupted.

Back in the summer, the province held out the hope of “Phase Five”, or “living with COVID” as Dr. Strang called it. But apparently, COVID had other plans.

Our theme for the next few weeks is “Resetting the Timeline”, and it’s not a nod to getting back to normal, it is a call to fulfilling the vision that God has given us. Because, regardless of all that has changed in the past eighteen months, God has not changed his mind about his plans for Cornerstone.

According to Collins’ English Dictionary, “A timeline is a visual representation of a sequence of events, especially historical events.”

So, you could have a personal timeline, which might show your date of birth, when you began school, when you graduated from High School, when You graduated from university when you were married, when you children were born, when you retired and eventually when you died.

If you go online, you can find biblical timelines, and historical timelines from any number of different civilizations and cultures.

Cornerstone has a timeline. It would show that Angela and I were called to start a new Wesleyan Church in Bedford in March 1994, while we were still pastoring in Australia.

It would show how we moved here in August 1994, began our first small groups in January 1995, had our first worship service in April 1995 at the Lebrun Centre in Bedford. That we moved to the Empire Theatre in September 1996 and moved back to the Lebrun centre in January 2002. In 2004, we changed our name from Bedford Community Church to Cornerstone Wesleyan church and we moved into our first building in November 2005.

Here is where we started our second service in September 2008. In January 2019 we announced our dream of a second location and began our partnership with a small village in Sierra Leone. And then we saw part of that dream fulfilled when we moved into our second location in October 2020.

And you could fill in all the blanks between those dates, with salvations, baptisms, weddings and funerals. When staff came and when staff moved on.

And then the timeline seemed to be disrupted in March 2020.

In the 1985 classic Back to the Future, Doc Brown warned Marty McFly about the dangers of messing with the spacetime continuum. But in reality, the spacetime continuum doesn’t have anything to do with time travel. It was just a cool way to describe, what others have called the Butterfly Effect, that changes that might be made in the past could impact the present.

If you could travel back 100 years in time and while you were there, your actions prevented your grandparents from meeting, there would be no you. Or if your actions resulted in the person who invented time travel not inventing time travel, you’d be stuck.

If you watched Marvel’s Loki this past year, they explained that if you were able to go back in time, that every event that you changed would result in a branching off of a new timeline or a different dimension.

And while the space-time continuum might not deal with time travel, it is a thing. Einstein concluded that space and time, rather than separate and unrelated phenomena, are interwoven into a single continuum (called space-time) that spans multiple dimensions.

So, you have the three dimensions of space that we are all familiar with. Length, width and height. To those, Einstein added a fourth dimension, time. And disrupting the space-time continuum happens when something dramatic happens in any of those four dimensions.

Professor Jerome Gauntlett, chair in theoretical physics at Imperial College in London, explained it this way “Think of a flat rubber sheet. If you put a heavy weight like a shot put in the middle of the sheet, it curves, so if you then put a marble on it, it would get curved due to the dimple in the rubber sheet caused by the shot-put.”

If you like history, you could point to any number of things that made that dimple.

Perhaps the birth of Hitler, the bombing of Hiroshima, the assassination of Kennedy, the events of 911. For each one of us personally, an event happened between our parents, which resulted in our conception. If you are confused, I will tell you what I told our kids, “Ask your mother.” But that event caused a difference or disruption in the timeline. Because when you were born, you changed history, and the world became a different place.

A shot put was dropped onto the sheet in early 2020 when a fairly insignificant news story out of China resulted in a world-wide pandemic. But the sheet didn’t tear, it was just dimpled.

The reality is that we can’t change what happened, We can’t uneat the bat, so to speak.

But we can work at navigating the dimple. We can reset the timeline.

Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier. James 4:13–17 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

The first thing I want to note is found in James 4:13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

We Want Time to be Firm

I am a planner in many ways. I like timelines and charts and spreadsheets. I want to be able to say, we will do this now and we will do this later. I am most comfortable saying, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

And there is a lot of validity in planning, I’m a firm believer in the old adage, when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

And most of the time, planning makes perfect sense. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.

And Jesus was teaching us the value and necessity of planning in Luke 14:28–30 Jesus said, “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

But on the other hand, there is an old Yiddish Proverb that tells us, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”

And if you want to be a little more spiritual, then let’s go back to the wisdom of Solomon, where he tells us in Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

In January 2020 I preached a message at Cornerstone laying out our plans for the upcoming year. And January and February were great months as we continued to plan the launch of our Sackville/Beaver Bank campus, welcomed new people to our church family and celebrated what we were seeing happen with our village partnership in Kenenday in Sierra Leone. Life was good.

Then Angela and I went away for three weeks of vacation and arrived back home the first of March and a week later, the state of emergency was declared. And all of our plans went out the window.

Which leads us to the next thing that James tells us, James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? . . .

So, the second thing we are reminded of is that Time is fickle

And while we would like to control time, that is one thing that is outside our authority.  We can neither make time slow down or speed up.  It was Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote, “Time and tide wait for no man.” So, while we may not control time, time certainly controls us.

We all know this. It’s not just pandemics. Events like 911 or Swiss Air remind us that on the big scale, time is fickle.

And on a personal level, a visit from a police officer in the middle of the night or the doctor telling us to sit down reminds us that time is fickle, and it doesn’t take much to disrupt the timeline.

And as much as I like to plan, I’ve also learned that I need to hold my plans loosely.

It was Corrie Ten Boom, who was a Nazi concentration camp survivor who said, “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it too tightly, it hurts when God pries my fingers loose and takes it from me.”

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?

When we become too attached to our plans, then when things change, as things often do, we find it difficult to adjust and we get stressed out.

I mentioned to someone recently that COVID has taught our children a valuable lesson. It has taught them how to be disappointed.

We try to protect our children from disappointments. We wrap them up in bubble wrap and give them participation awards and tell them that it isn’t whether they win or lose, only that they tried.

And then, along comes COVID with all of its disappointments that we can’t fix for them. Cancelled vacations and cancelled birthday parties, changes in plans and disruptions in schedules.

Because one thing we’ve all learned over the past 18 months is that time is fickle, and as a result we’ve become really good at letting go and pivoting and adjusting and readjusting.

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 7:14 Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

And more to the point, Ecclesiastes 9:12 People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.

Let’s go back to the scripture that we started with in James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

We don’t like to talk about the end of the game, or to be reminded of our mortality. But King David wrote in Psalm 103:15–16 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.

So, it’s here we discover that not only is time fickle, Time is Finite

Not only do we all come with a best before date, but we also all come with an expiration date.

The other day I heard a song on the radio that I haven’t heard for years. It was George Burns singing “I wish I was 18 again.” And it made a lot more sense now than when I first heard it in 1979. And a part of the song says,
Time turns the pages and life goes so fast

The years turn the black hair all gray

I talk to some young folks but they don’t understand

The words this old man got to say

Oh I wish, I was eighteen again

And going where I’ve never been

Now old folks and old oaks standing tall just pretend

I wish I was eighteen again

Oh I wish I was eighteen again.

We are not immortal, and our plans aren’t either. All of those cliches about not putting off for tomorrow became a reality with COVID, as we wished we had done in February what we couldn’t do in March.

Let’s keep going, James 4:15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

And while time may be fickle and our time might be finite, Time is not final

This world will not end with you, but you will have an impact while you are here, and you will have an impact when you are gone.

We often think of our lives as having a starting point and a finishing point. A timeline, so to speak, and we see our impact as what happens between those two points. The dash that will separate the two dates on our tombstone. But the reality is that each of you is the product of an unbroken line of successful ancestors that stretches back to the very first human being.

Now I don’t know who or what you might think that first human being was, or how they came to be.

I personally believe that God created mankind, that if we go clear back to the beginning of the book, it tells us in Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. That’s what I believe.

And maybe you’re thinking that’s so cute that he believes that. And you marvel either at my naivety or my faith. And you’re convinced that the first human being evolved from some primordial single cell blob that somehow appeared at the edge of a swamp. Regardless, you are the product of that first human being. Because they existed, and because every generation since them existed, you exist.

And because you exist, this world is a different place. And personally, my impact on the world will not just be limited to what I have done during my life, but what my children do and what my grandchildren do.

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time, he has placed eternity in the human heart.  We all know that this is not it, and the bible, the word of God promises that those who follow Jesus will inherit eternal life.

If that isn’t a surety that you have, you can. One of Jesus’ closest friends wrote in 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

It’s as simple as acknowledging that you have sinned and disappointed God and ask him to forgive you and make you a new person. And we’d like to be a part of that journey.  So, when you take that step, and pray that prayer, let us know.  Perhaps even today.

Political Commentator Dennis Miller said, “Everyone wants answers and wants to know what the timeline is. Unfortunately, it’s a complex situation, and we don’t have the final answers yet.”

We want to know the answers. We not only want to know what tomorrow holds, but what next week and next year holds. We want to see the timeline in its finished state, and that is not available to us.

But there are some things that I do know. I do know that the Church has been through major disruptions in the timeline before, and we are still here. I do know that the mission for the church has not changed through those disruptions. Through Plagues and wars, earthquakes and political upheavals, the church is still here, and her mission is still clear, to go into all the world and make disciples.

And I know the promise for God’s people is still as real today as it was when he made it through the Prophet Jeremiah almost twenty-five hundred years ago.  The people of Israel had been taken captive, the timeline had been disrupted, and there were those wondering what the future held for them as a nation. 

And God’s prophet, reassured them in Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  Pastor Rob is going to dig into that verse a little deeper next week.

Now I realize that was a promise given to a different people, at a different time, in a different situation.  But I also know that it was God’s promise for God’s people.  And God’s word tells us in Psalm 33:11 But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.

And the writer of Hebrews reminded us in Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Jesus we serve, is the same Jesus we served before the pandemic began, and the same Jesus we will serve when the pandemic is simply a footnote in the history books.

And I do know this, that even though the timeline for Cornerstone might look different than it did in January 2020 that God’s vision for Cornerstone has not changed. And God’s purpose for Cornerstone has not changed.

We are still here to provide a home for the spiritually homeless, we are still here to guide them into a deeper relationship with God and his family. And over the next few weeks, we will be looking at that reality and how each one of us can be a part of resetting the timeline.

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