|FINANCE OR FAITH?
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 31, 1998
I invite you to turn to our text for this morning - James 4:13-17. Our subject this morning concerns our financial planning and our trust in God.
While you’re turning let me ask you a question. How many of you have done some financial planning for the future - by a show of hands. How many of you have an IRA - or some kind of retirement account - mutual funds or something? And pretty much everyone is on Social Security, right? Which depending on how things go, may or not be a way to plan for the future.
Does our financial planning for the future mean we lack trust in God? Jesus said for us to look at the birds and the lilies and consider how God cares for them. And to trust God - because we’re worth so much more to God than birds and flowers. Jesus said, don’t worry about tomorrow - seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first - and God will take care of our needs. (Matthew 6:26-34)
Where does our faith in God fit into our financial planning? Should we even make financial plans for the future? James writes, James 4:13: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain;” - Here are a group of businessmen sitting around a conference table planning their next strategic move - perhaps looking at a map. Their plans are well thought out: When they’ll go - “today or tomorrow." They know where they’re going - “to such and such a town.” They know that they’ll be there “a year.” Their purpose is to carry on trade and make a profit.
James says, “Listen all of you who are planning your financial future” - whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. - you boast about your own cleverness - your own knowledge. You’re living in the arrogant assumption that you can foresee and control the future - and God has no part in any of your plans - All such boasting is evil. Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. - As Christians we should know better - We should do better.
A man named Smith was sitting on his roof during a flood, and the water was up to his feet. Before long a man in a canoe paddled past and shouted, “Can I give you a lift to higher ground?”
“No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.”
Soon the water rose to Smith’s waist. At this point a motor boat pulled up and someone called out, “Can I give you a lift to higher ground?”
“No, thanks. I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.”
Later a helicopter flew by, and Smith was now standing on the roof with water up to his neck. “Grab the rope,” yelled the pilot. “I’ll pull you up.”
“No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and he will save me.”
But after hours of treading water, poor, exhausted Smith drowned and went to heaven. As he arrived, Smith met his maker and complained about this turn of events. “Tell me, Lord,” he said, “I had such faith in you to save me and you let me down. What happened?”
To which the Lord replied, “What do you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”
James is not speaking against planning for the future. He is speaking against those who plan - and God has no place in the plan. Christians who conduct business just like everyone else - making plans without God’s will as the priority.
There is security when we plan according to the will of God - and disaster if we do not. James writes of two important truths we must keep in mind as we plan for the future. First:
1. OUR IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE IS A MATTER OF FACT (verse 14)James says - verse 14: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow...” We don’t know what the future holds for us.
The most accurate thing that can be said about those who predict the future is that they’re not accurate.
In 1926, Lee de Forest - the inventor of the cathode ray tube - said that, “Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility - a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.”
In 1943, Thomas J. Watson - Chairman of the Board of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
We don’t know the future. And we really don’t know if we’ll be around to see it. Can anyone of us say with certainty that they’ll be alive 5 minutes from now?
Two frogs were talking - one frog was predicting the future of the other frog. “You’re going to meet a beautiful young woman. From the moment she sets eyes on you she will have an insatiable desire to know all about you. She will be compelled to get close to you - you’ll fascinate her.”
The other frog replied, “Where am I? Where do we meet?”
The first frog said, “Biology class.”
James writes - verse 14: “You are just like a vapor - a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
Jesus told a parable about a rich man who was really making a great return on his investment. You can read this in Luke 12:16-21. The man was a farmer who had a lot of land which was really producing well for him.
And the this man began to think about ways to reinvest his profits and build a sizable retirement nest egg for himself. Do you remember this parable?
The man said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
A lot of us are hoping for this. We run around in this rat race - planning for the future - waiting for the day when it all slows down so we can enjoy life.
But God said to this man, “You fool! Tonight you die. And, what happens to everything you planned for?”
There’s a false sense of security that comes when we make our plans for the future - as if we have some control over what will happen. James says that its arrogance to think that we have control over our future. We don’t know the future - but God does.
Second of the two important truths we must keep in mind as we plan for the future, is that:
2. WE ARE TO PLAN ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD (verse 15)James says - verse 15: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”
Our God - who knows our future - the path our life and the number days we have to live it - what is important to Him? What priority does He set for our lives and our finances?
Bob Welch, who is the features editor of the Register-Guard, in Eugene, Oregon wrote about an auction he went to. It was no ordinary auction. The public could bid on unclaimed items that people had left behind in safe-deposit boxes. These were items that people once thought were so important that they had paid money to have them safeguarded in steel.
Bob Welch gives a list of the various items that were up for bid: Diplomas, coin collections, jewelry, train tickets, passports, marriage certificates - and the list goes on.
When I was reading this I began thinking about all the things in our safe deposit box. How many of us have safe deposit boxes? What’s in them and why?
Bob Welch’s list is fascinating - undeveloped film, the ink print of a newborn’s feet, photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings. After their owners had died - these items revealed what was most important to them. Going through their remains would be like taking a tour of why they lived their lives the way they did.
Bob Welch writes, “A 6x12 box full of mementos can speak volumes about what we valued....Amid our he-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave an investment in what God so dearly loves....”
As we live our lives - as we plan - what’s really important? How do we plan according to God’s will - what God loves - to establish His priorities as we plan for the future?
This phrase, “If the Lord wills.” So often we have this backwards - we put the cart before the horse. We make our plans and then pray that God will bless them. But what James has in mind is that our lives should first be surrendered to the will of God and from this surrender He will lead us to plan according to His will.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon - one of the greatest British preachers of all time - in a sermon published the week of his death, writes this: “Dear Christian friends, do you put yourselves entirely at God’s disposal? Are you really His, or have you kept back a bit or yourself from the surrender?....I am afraid that there is a kind of mortgage on some Christians. They have some part they must give, as they desire, - for their own profit and reputation. They are not all for Christ. May the Lord bring us all to His feet in whole-hearted consecration, till we can say, ‘We will not go to that city unless we can serve God there. We will not buy, and we will not sell, unless we can glorify God by not buying and selling; and we will not wish even for the honest gain that comes of trading; unless we can be promoting the will of God by getting it. Our best profit will consist of doing God’s will.’....This should always be our aim, and we should put this ever in the forefront of our life. ‘I go or stay, I ascend or I descend, if the Lord will; the Lord’s will shall be done in my mortal body whether I live or whether I die.’”
This summer I am looking forward to taking our boys and going to the beach. There’s something therapeutic - being at the beach - the rhythmic waves - the fresh air - the sun. And something we enjoy doing together is building sandcastles.
Have you ever watched a child build a sandcastle? Their imaginations run wild. And now they have these buckets that can be filled with sand and when they turn them over they make turrets and towers. Feathers and sticks become flags. Moats get dug. We can spend all day doing this - making something out of nothing but little grains of sand.
Imagine our world as adults - building things out of nothing. Running from place to place - answering phones - commitments and obligations. Tax Deferred Annuities become our castle walls - Capital Gains are our towers. Monuments to our achievement. Our life’s work - our security.
But, according to James - it all gets washed away. And maybe sooner than we think. So what do we achieve?
A child will watch the water - the tide - come in and wash away the product of hours of work and enjoy the sunset - pick up his shovel and bucket - take his father’s hand - and go home. No regrets - no sorrow - no fear - no surprise. This is the way it is.
We fear the tide. The waves of years that come to collapse our little castles. And maybe we need to learn from our children.
God owns the sand - He controls the waves. If we live trusting Him - surrendered to Him - then as we look to the future - He will guide us to plan wisely - and we will have the confidence of His presence and His provision.