Until today, I did not know there was a Directorate of Time. I learned about it in a book I am reading — as quickly as possible — entitled Faster, written by James Gleick. In the book, I learned that the Directorate of Time is housed at the U.S. Naval Observatory (which also houses the official residence of the Vice President of the U.S., though I’ve not yet made a connection between the two). There you will find a Master Clock plus fifty others, each in climate-controlled vaults — “cesium clocks and hydrogen masers powered by diesel generators and backup batteries.” They apparently are interconnected so that they can monitor one another, then send their output to be merged with that of other timekeepers at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures near Paris.
As Gleick says, “The result is the exact time. The exact time — by definition, by worldwide consensus and decree… Humanity is now a species with one watch, and this is it.”
In our computer-based age, having the exact time is more important than ever. Navigation by Global Positioning System depends on it; make an error of one nanosecond (a billionth of a second) and you’ll be off by about one foot — the distance light travels in that nanosecond. How precise is such a measurement? Think of it this way: “Within the millisecond, the bat presses against the ball; a bullet finds time to enter a skull and exit again; a rock splashes into a still pond, where the unexpected geometry of the splash pattern pops into existence. During a nanosecond, balls, bullets, and droplets are motionless.”
Time consumes us. I am one of those who hates to think time has been wasted. The “Door Close” button on elevators is for people like me, who fear they might needlessly stand there for an extra seven seconds before the door closes of its own accord. Television producers speed the pace of their programs and commercials because they know that millions, like me, sit in their easy chairs with remote controls aimed and ready at a nanosecond’s notice. (As one man told his wife: “I’m not really interested in what’s on. I want to know what else is on.”)
And we resent those who appear to waste our time. Fast food restaurants add express lanes. When a company forces me to wind through tortured minutes of voice-mail levels instead of providing a human being that can answer my question, I look for an alternative place to do business. Because in our culture, time has become a more valued currency than money. Any pastor of an urban or suburban congregation has learned that more and more people will drop a few extra dollars in the plate rather than take the time to do something themselves.
The chief of Hitachi Corporation’s portable computer division created a slogan for his team: “Speed is God, and time is the devil.” In the nanosecond-paced computer business, speed is worshipped. The best steps aside for the quickest. That philosophy is seen in the way we do business every day. In 1984, only 80,000 fax machines were sold nationwide; they were an expensive curiosity. By 1990, virtually any business of any size — from law firms to gas stations to the church office — had a fax machine on the counter. Why? Because we need it now. And with e-mail and the internet, we can have access to more and more, faster and faster.
In the face of a speed-obsessed culture racing headlong into a new millennium, you and I need to remind ourselves that neither speed nor time are God; God is God, and He is above and beyond time. And even as God reaches into history, He comes “in the fullness of time.” Not early, not late; just at the right time.
In Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians who saw Gulliver’s watch quickly came to the realization that it was the god he worshipped, since “he seldom did anything without consulting it: he called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.” What Swift wrote in 1726 now hits far too close to home. As we enter a new millennium, it is time for all of us to look down at our wrist less often and look up instead.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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