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The year was 2020.  Can you think back that far?  It was early December, thirteen months ago, when I found a recipe for Caramel Pecan Pretzel Bars.  I was so excited to make this ooey gooey goodness.

Pecans, chocolate chips, heavy cream, pretzels, and soft caramels.  You layer it in a pan like a lasagna.  Who could mess that up?  How would it not turn out delicious? It seemed easy enough.  So, I decided to make it.  I went to get all the ingredients and the supermarket of choice didn’t have any soft caramels. No big deal. I gathered all the other ingredients and then went from store, to store, to store, to store looking for soft caramels.  I literally think I wound up finding them at the Dollar Store, but buddy, I wasn’t giving up.  I was going to have my Caramel Pecan Pretzel Bars.

I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know if life got in the way.  I can’t remember what was going on, but I never wound up making my precious Caramel Pecan Pretzel Bars.  I know we ate the pretzels.  I’m sure I helped myself to handfuls of chocolate chips over time.  I’m guessing the pecans were used for something else.  The heavy cream was thrown away. But those soft caramels, those rare finds during last year’s Christmas season, why they were still in my pantry until I brought them here for your viewing pleasure this morning. I am sure I thought to myself, “I’ll get around to making those another time,” but time passed. I lost track of it. and these sweet things expired last summer. We’ll never know what they could have been.  My Caramel Pecan Pretzel Bar dream has died.  That ship has sailed, but really it never left the port. The dream of ooey gooey Caramel Pecan Pretzel Bars in 2020 expired with the ingredients.  My dream expired because I lost track of time.  It’s easy to lose track of time.

You can get lost in a moment, get absorbed in work, get comfortable scrolling the internet, get lazy and binge watch Netflix and before you know it, the sun has set, and you are wondering where the day went and what you accomplished.  Has that ever happened to you? 

I know this:  Good intentions can become expired dreams and opportunities if we aren’t paying attention to the time.

The writer of Ecclesiastes has much to say about time.  Listen to chapter three.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,     a time to weep and a time to laugh,   a time to mourn and a time to dance,     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,    a time to search and a time to give up,   a time to keep and a time to throw away,    a time to tear and a time to mend,    a time to be silent and a time to speak,    a time to love and a time to hate,    a time for war and a time for peace.

God’s Word tells us that for everything there is a time, there is a season.  Times of testing and times of rejoicing, times of strategizing and times of waiting.  All are productive and meaningful for the believer.  There is a purpose for it all.

I suppose making the most out of whatever time you are currently in will be based on your ability first to discern what time it is.  I mean, if it is a time to be silent and you go ahead and speak, you could really mess things up.  If it is a time to throw away, but you prefer hoarding, you won’t be ready to move on when God says, “Pick up and go.”  People who are grieving need to take the time to do it, to work through it and to not circumvent the process.  Grief must not be packaged and shelved because the heaviness of that won’t stay in some compartmentalized box and the result will be that when it is time to dance and rejoice, you may not be able to give yourself permission to do so. If it is time to plant, but you don’t seize the opportunity, you won’t be harvesting anything when everyone else is reaping what they have sown.  You need to know what time it is for you.

If I didn’t accept that my kids were young adults and had moved into a greater state of independence, if I still tried to parent them like they were 7 and 9 or 13 and 15, I could really harm my relationship with them and could inhibit their growth as well.  Understanding that it is time for them to learn to make their own decisions, to seek out answers for themselves, is critical to their development as adults.  I wouldn’t do them any favors if I still parented them the way I did even four years ago. 

Do you know what time it is in your life?  I love that I Chronicles 12:32 tells us that some of David’s men were trained and skilled in understanding the times in order to know what Israel ought to do.  War is serious business. We need people who understand the times when the situation calls for some kind of offensive or defensive strategy.  If it is a time for peace and the person in charge of the troops doesn’t discern the time and leads people into war, what a tragedy that would be. I suppose history tells us who knew what time it was and who lived in the moment, unable to tell what a situation called for.

In the book of Esther, Mordecai spoke to his cousin, Queen Esther.  They had learned of a plot to assassinate the Jewish people.  Esther never wanted to be Queen, but God put her in that place of influence so that when this plot was learned there would be someone who could expose the plan and influence the King to save the Jewish nation.  When Mordecai was encouraging Esther to step up and step in to boldly do so, he said in Esther 4:13-14, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

God was using Mordecai to help Esther understand what time it was.  It wasn’t time to be silent.  It was time to speak and to speak loudly.  Do you have people in your life that can help you discern what time it is?  That’s one reason Christian fellowship, Christian relationship, Christian accountability is so important.  Sometimes we need a little help knowing what time it is.  Do you have wise and godly people who can help you discern the time?  Who are you talking to on a regular basis about spiritual things?

I remember a season when Thom and I were in our early 30’s.  We both felt like we had so much more to offer the church at large than we had been given opportunity for.  We felt somewhat overlooked and underutilized.  We wondered when “our time” would come.  When would people see us for who we were and what we were capable of contributing?  When would we have an opportunity to impact the Kingdom in a larger way?  It wasn’t long before Thom began doing work for Ohio Ministries, before God opened the door for us to come here and to pastor this wonderful church.  I was given a seat at some national tables during a pretty pivotal time for the Church of God.  Thom was invited to speak into national issues as well on various committees.  He became a part-time employee for West Virginia Ministries for the Church of God and has overseen Church Health, Church Turnaround and Church Planting.  I had an opportunity to serve on the Board at Mid America Christian University, one of our premiere schools, in Oklahoma City, something that now Thom is privileged to do.  God opened a door for both of us to serve as the Directors of the LifeGivers program for the Church of God for a season, and now God has given me a seat on the Ministries Council, the group that helps to execute the will of the General Assembly.  There have been speaking opportunities and travel in all those years as well. All those opportunities have been rewarding and have helped us grow spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.  There have even been some exciting opportunities we said “no” to because it wasn’t the right time for us to explore those.  Sometimes, as you discern what time it is, you have to say “No” to some exciting opportunities.

I have come away from those opportunities understanding that when you walk with Jesus, your time WILL come.  Looking back on our early thirties, it wouldn’t have been a good time to assume extra responsibility.  I had our first child when I was 31 and our second when I was 33. Our hands were more than full.  God was graciously giving us time to adjust to parenting, to learning to expect the unexpected, and was giving us time to catch our breath before piling on more responsibility.  We were better able to accept the assignments that came our way as our kids became a bit more independent.  Sometimes we long for things when it wouldn’t be in our best interest to experience them.  I’m grateful for longings and desires because they keep us future-focused.  If you aren’t living with a dream, if you don’t have a desire for God to do something in your life, you need to check your spiritual pulse.

Jesus was critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:2-3 when they came to Him to test him, asking Him to give them a sign from Heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

Those preoccupied, self-absorbed, religious leaders could see signs in the sky and interpret them correctly, but they couldn’t see Jesus Himself and interpret His coming correctly.  They could see what was in front of them, but they missed Who was in front of them.  They were so preoccupied with the things of earth that they missed the things of Heaven.  Do you have the ability to look past the natural, into the supernatural and to discern what God is doing?  Do you ever ask God what He is up to just now?  What time is it for us as believers?  You may have an ability to tell time on earth, to know how to juggle appointments, get where you are going, know what your season requires of you, but do you know what time it is in your spiritual walk with Christ?

I won’t try to discern the particulars for your life this morning, but I will say this about all of us:

It is time to throw off anything that binds or hinders us, and it is time to witness as if Jesus will return tomorrow.

If we are bound up in addiction, who would look to us to help them gain deliverance in Jesus’ name?  I declare it is time to be free from drug and alcohol addiction, from porn addictions, from addiction to social media and having other people like what we are wearing, who we are with or where we are going.  I declare it is time to get hold of spending that is out of control and eating that is adding to our health crises.  It is time to shake off a low opinion of ourselves that keeps us from stepping out on faith.  It’s time for the backward to move forward in Jesus’ name.  It is time to purge ourselves from any sexual immortality. You may think exploring such is an expression of your freedom, but I tell you, that kind of exploration will lead to the incarceration of your mind, your body, your reputation, your relationships, and more.  How could we say we are living productive lives if we are addicted to video games or binge-watching Netflix for hours on end? 

Throw off everything that hinders.  If we are bound up in fear, who would seek us out to help them get free?  If we are bound in shame, who would ask us for the way to freedom?  If we are absorbed in doubt, steeped in depression, wallowing in bitterness and un-forgiveness, how can we do the ministry of Jesus?  How can we help others who are bound become free?  How can we release the captives if we are trying to walk in both darkness and light at the same time?  How can we elevate and educate the oppressed about who they are in Christ if we don’t live as the forgiven, free, peaceful, joy-filled, and powerful Children of God? 

We who are the people of God are to live distinctly different from the way the world lives.  We are called out of darkness.  We aren’t called to the light and a little bit of darkness mixed in.  We are called to live as children of the Light.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.  Ephesians 5:8

We are chosen to be holy unto the Lord.  We are to reflect the image of Christ on the earth.

Romans 13:11-14 has something to say about how we need to be spending our time:

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.[aRomans 13:11-14

Wake up from your slumber.  Don’t be like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who had no spiritual eyes to recognize that God was in their midst.  Let the church be the church!  Let the church arise and live strong.  Let the church transform the culture instead of being boxed in and bound up by it. 

Hebrews 12:1-3  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Throw off what hinders.  Get singularly focused on Jesus.  Grow up in your faith. Crack open your Bible. Get into a Sunday School class or small group. Pray every day.  Move on to spiritual maturity.  Don’t get sidetracked by political arguments, and don’t live consumed by things you cannot control.  Get busy and do what Jesus has called us to do.  I guarantee you that as you do what pleases the Lord, He will be pleased to take care of you!

We have a message to deliver.  We have needs to meet.  We have people to heal.  There are captives to be set free.  There are souls that need salvation.  Some of them are in our immediate families.  We cannot sit around and complain that the world is in a mess when we are the ones with the message that can remedy that.

Let the church be the church!  Live unashamed of the Gospel because it is still the only power of God of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes!  Romans 1:16

I would also say regarding the need to know what time it is, if you aren’t saved, you are playing the worst kind of Russian Roulette. Your age doesn’t matter either.  I have heard of young people passing this past week.  None of us is guaranteed our next breath.  Two mothers in our church said goodbye to sons this week.  You need salvation in order to have abundant life, but you absolutely need it in order to be secure in Heaven for eternity. If you miss the time during which salvation can be received, you have missed everything.

II Corinthians 6:2-“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

If God is speaking to you by your Spirit and you deny Him entrance into your heart, you have missed the most important moment in time you could ever experience.  Not trying to lay it on thick; Just telling you the truth.

Have you lost track of time in 2021?  I’ve done it.  As I look back on 2021, I’m thinking, “Where did the time go?”  It happens.  Maybe this is a wake-call to the preciousness of time and the call to act for the Lord in whatever time we have left.

Do you have wise and godly people who can help you discern the time?

Are you wondering when your time will come in some area of your life?

Are you potentially missing God at work because you are focused on things on the earth?

It is time to throw off anything that binds or hinders us, and it is time to witness as if Jesus will return tomorrow.

It is time to run with Jesus and to run for Jesus as you have never done before.

It is time to see and seize the salvation of the Lord.

And if you have been just marking time by counting the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries as they pass, if you have been wasting excessive amounts of time on the things of earth instead of the things of the Kingdom, if you have been lamenting times that have passed or been spending time worrying about times yet to come, the Bible has a word for you.  I share it in closing.

Ephesians 5:15-17 15 So be careful how you live. Live as men who are wise and not foolish. 16 Make the best use of your time. These are sinful days. 17 Do not be foolish. Understand what the Lord wants you to do.

What time is it? Discern the time.  Redeem the time.  Pay attention to the time and make the most of every second the Lord allows you to have and whatever you do, when time for you is no more, make sure you ensure that your last breath here will be your first breath in eternity with Him.

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