Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Daylight Savings and Zero Sum

It was one of the most troubling e-mails I’ve gotten in weeks.

It came from my secretary, under the guise of a helpful reminder. “Don’t forget to set your clocks forward one hour this Saturday,” it read. And while I know it was sent with nothing but the most helpful of intentions, I got the distinct impression that somehow the e-mail itself had become sentient and taken on a smug, gloating kind of tone along the way, so that its true intent came though clear as day: “You’re going to lose an hour of sleep this Saturday night. Ha-ha!” Or, in my case, I’ll have one less hour to go over my message for Sunday morning, which is an incredibly important part of the process for me.

In the back of my mind, though, I know it will be well worth it later on, when I “gain” an extra hour in the Fall. I certainly won’t be complaining then, as I receive those sixty precious minutes right out of thin air for free! Isn’t that an awesome feeling? Free hour, no strings attached! 

Except it’s not free. And it’s not an extra hour. It’s exactly the same hour we set aside in the Spring. We know it works that way, but we're still stupid about it. I remember some mornings in high school and college, as my alarm started blaring and I lay there in that mostly-unconscious state, trying to scheme a way to create another fifteen minutes to sleep without running fifteen minutes late. There were times I thought I was on to something, but when I woke up for real, it became all too clear that time is and always will be a fixed commodity.

It’s like with taxes. I’m just about at the point in the year where I stop putting off the task of gathering together all of our tax documents and actually just do it.  It’s such a hassle that I often wait until the deadline starts to loom. But that didn’t used to be the case years ago. I used to love tax time ten or fifteen years ago.  Why? Because I got a big check from Uncle Sam. Free money! I mean, I knew it was my money anyway and I just had too much coming out of my check each week, but it felt awesome to suddenly have a big sum in hand. Then one year, all at once, it dawned on me that I was giving the government a large, interest-free loan every year, instead of earning interest on that money myself—just to feel that little rush of getting something for nothing (when really, it was mine all along).

This zero-sum idea (i.e., to have a bigger piece of the pie over here, you must have a smaller piece over there) really permeates our culture. Back when I used to see television commercials (before Netflix and Amazon mercifully removed them from my world), I remember the big feuds between mega-corporations: MCI and AT&T taking shots at each other, Coke and Pepsi, McDonalds and Burger King, all fighting for a limited number of potential customers. Just like an extra hour in November means an hour lost in March, so one new Big Mac devotee means one fewer Whopper enthusiast—or so the thinking goes.

But we need to be careful with that in the church. The very same day I got that horrible e-mail about that horrible thing with the clocks, I went to a pastors’ gathering, where about twenty of us prayed together for each other, for each other’s churches, and for the spread of the Gospel in our community.  Pastor Kevin DeYoung specifically prayed, “Lord, save us from the kind of thinking that assumes one church must shrink for another to grow. Help us to be Kingdom-minded and remind us that there are so many people in our communities who don’t know You that all of our churches could never fit them all.” 

In my mind, I immediately connected this with the chapter I’d been reading, re-reading, and translating for the past few weeks: I Corinthians 1.  In that chapter we realize that, while Paul addresses his letter to “The Church in Corinth,” there were actually a number of different gatherings taking place each week (after all, most houses wouldn’t accommodate more than about fifty people, and the church was meeting in people’s homes). Add to that the fact that some believers had been baptized by prominent Christians and multiply by our human desire to divide and do battle with each other and “The Church” in Corinth had become a rather fragmented body. And, as Jesus reminded us, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Today, I met with another group of ministers—this time to plan our inter-denominational community services for Holy Week. As such gatherings always do, it reminded me anew that, when we put aside our natural and cultural compulsion to grow our market share by shrinking someone else’s, we (the Church) are truly at our best in showing the love of Christ to a world that is broken and lost and in desperate need of the Gospel.

So often, we try to use the cold hard math of human limitation when dealing with the Infinite God of the universe—the One who stepped out onto nothing with a handful of nothing and threw it at nothing and called forth everything. We forget that, with no effort at all, he can make an extra hour (Joshua 10) or extra money (I Kings 17) or anything without taking away from someone/somewhere else. He’s the only one who can do this and he happens to be the one who has promised to meet all of our needs. 

As followers of Jesus, let us not try and confine him with our human limitations and our zero-sum mentality. Instead, let us glorify his name and proclaim his Gospel and show the world his love and know that he is limited by nothing at all and all of his promises in Christ are Yes and Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Great reminder, thanks Zach. I was just reading 1 Corinthians 1-4 this morning - SUCH good reminders for pastors and ministers in there. Like a slap in the face time and time again that God doesn't need us, but we have the privilege of serving, so HE gets the glory, not us. Easy to read, very hard to apply, especially in this weird world of wanting to be an author, blogger, & pastor that I'm trying to figure out. A reminder God keeps giving me:

    I don't need you.
    I'm not in a hurry.

    Thanks for the reminder and thanks for being honest about this journey we are on as ministers of the Gospel.