|TOMORROW'S A DAY AWAY
Series: Faith On Trial - Part Eight
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 8, 2006
Please turn with me to James 4. You’ll recall that we’re going through the letter of James - Faith on Trial - testing our faith to see where we are in our relationship with God. In chapter one James focused on the struggles and difficulties that we go through in life. Encouraging us - in the midst of those trials - to choose to seek God - to allow Him to shape us into who He’s created us to be.
Chapters two and three focused on what faith looks like in action. James gave us a series of teachings - with examples - to compare our lives to. To see what our actions tell us about our faith.
Coming to chapter four, James has been focusing on what happens when we mess up - when we fail at trusting God. Two Sundays ago we looked at how we get into quarrels and conflicts because our faith - our trust - is focused on ourselves and not God. Remember that? Today - starting at chapter 4 verse 13 - James is focusing on our use of time - how our use of time can really mess up our faith - our trust in God.
who keep track of these things
estimate that in the average lifetime of an average
American - we
- 3 years in
Would you agree with this? Time is valuable. Even more valuable than oil. We never seem to have enough time. That’s where James is going this morning. The time that we do have - how should we use it? How do we use time so that our faith in God doesn’t suffer - actually grows - deepens. Because that’s what we want - isn’t it? A deepening faith - a deepening relationship with God.
Verse 13: Come now - which is James is way of saying “Pay attention.” Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
James is writing to Jews that were spread out all over the Roman Empire. For these Jews business travel was common. Just like today - these business men went from city to city - buying and selling stuff. They had places of business in different cities. So, its not too hard to imagine a group of Jewish businessmen sitting down together and laying out plans to expand their business into another city.
Notice two things with me. First, notice what’s included in their plans.
First, there’s a start time, “Today or tomorrow.” Second, there’s a place “Such and such a city” - which in James’ writing is generic. He’s making a generalization. But in the actual businessmen’s plans it would have been a specific city. “Tomorrow, let’s go to South Dos Palos.” Third: There’s a definite time frame - we’re going to spend one year there. Fourth: The particulars of the plan - again with James its generic - “engage in business” - with them it would have been specific: “Tomorrow, let’s go to South Dos Palos and open a Starbucks.” Well, that may be a stretch. Fifth: There’s a purpose: Make Money!!! Point being that these are well thought out specific detailed plans.
Second notice with me what’s not included in their plans? God. There’s no mention of God anyplace here. Grab this: Planning is not the problem. God is not against planning. Leaving God out of the planning is a problem.
Thinking about how business is conducted today - less and less - if at all - God is not a part of business today. Would you agree with that? The priority is self. “My life. My business. I do what pleases me. What pleases me is the bottom line.” What James is writing about we see happening around us every day.
Verse 14: Yet you do no know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Look with me at two truths that these businessmen have failed to consider.
First: Their ignorance of the future. Say that with me, “Their ignorance of the future.”
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.”
The most accurate thing that can be said about those who predict the future is that they’re not accurate. Bottom line, they don’t know. None of us has a clue about what will happen to us tomorrow, let alone 1 year from today. These businessmen are totally ignorant about the future.
The second thing these businessmen failed to consider is that their impotence concerning their future. Say that with me, “Their impotence concerning the future.” Ultimately they’re powerless to control their future.
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 got really excited. He asked, “Where am I? Where do we meet?”
The first frog said, “Biology class.”
James writes that were like a vapor - literally, we’re like morning dew on the grass. On our way up to Sacramento yesterday morning there was tulle fog up past Stockton. Fred and I were having a discussion about how tulle fog gets formed. Warm ground - cold air - and the right dew point. Moisture drawn from the earth. James is talking about morning dew. When the sun comes up - a force beyond its control - the dew evaporates - vapor. And there’s nothing the dew can do about it.
No amount of liposuction or Botox is going to add one micro second to the length of our lives. When our time is up. Its up. And the clock is ticking.
These businessmen are making plans like they own the future. But, bottom line: Tomorrow is uncertain. None of us knows if we will be around when and if it happens.
Verse 15: Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
This last week I had one of those God moments where the light bulb goes on and suddenly I came face to face with God at work. Do ever have one of those? It was like God hitting me over the head with a two-by-four to get my attention. In this case - about His sovereignty over time.
In the way I prepare sermons - choosing which passages to teach on - I try to get off someplace - way in advance - get alone with God and prayerfully look through passages - seeking to understand where God would have us as congregation to look into His word. Following that process - today’s text and topic were decided upon back in the Spring. Ponder that.
On any other Sunday this passage - that we’re looking at today - would be interesting - helpful - a good teaching for us to consider. But, with all that’s gone on this past week - trying to come to grips with Bill and Lena’s murder - the suddenness of their deaths - our ignorance of the future - the vapor which is our lives - today’s text is powerfully relevant. Bringing us face to face with God’s sovereignty in a way that we must pay attention to.
God exists outside of time. He has no beginning or end or succession of events in His own being. That’s mind blowing. Isn’t it? Time is God’s. He created it. He uses it according to His purposes. He’s not surprised by events in time that may surprise us.
When we look at how the events within the time of our lives - how those events unfold - and they may seem random - senseless - lurching along into an uncertain future - we need to be reminded that time - and the events within time - they progress according to God’s will. God knew - before we knew - the events around us of this last week. He knew which of us would be here today - even the message we need hear - to remind us this morning of His sovereignty.
Verse 15 - “If the Lord wills” - “Lord willing.” Ever say that? The phrase is not some kind of catch phrase like, “Good luck.” If the Lord wills is an attitude of the heart. A realization of sovereignty. If the Lord wills - we live. Say that with me, “If the Lord wills - we live.”
That truth needs to get in to our hearts and rattle around and shape the very core of how we look at our lives - how we view the time of our lives. We cannot assume anything about the future - even the next moments of our lives. We cannot plan for the future unless our plans follow His plan. Unless we first acknowledge that God is sovereign over the time of our life.
Verse 16: But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
Walter Cronkite tells about a time when he and his wife were sailing down the Mystic River in Connecticut. He describes how they were navigating through the river’s tricky - dangerous - turns through an expanse of shallow water. There was a boatload of young people that sped past them shouting and waving their arms. Walter Cronkite waved back a cheery greeting.
His wife said, “Do you know what they were shouting?”
He said, “Why, it was ‘Hello, Walter,’”
“No,” she said. “They were shouting, ‘Low water, Low water.’” (2)
Arrogance is being caught up in our own self importance - who we think we are. Letting our ego run wild. I heard a great definition of ego yesterday at Promise Keepers: “Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity.” (3) Isn’t that great?
Boasting in our future plans is arrogance. Its letting our ego’s run wild. Being impressed with our own knowledge and cleverness. James writes, when we boast in our future plans its evil. Its wicked. It shows us that we’ve messed up. We’ve stumbled in our faith. Something has gone terribly wrong in our relationship with the sovereign God.
Verse 17: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Its hard for us to think of how we use time as being arrogant. “Well I’m not an arrogant person.” Hard for us to think of our use of time as sinful. But that’s what James writes. If God - who is sovereign over the time of our lives - and we know that - if God isn’t at the core of our use of time then we’re living in sin.
Thinking about how we can use time so that our faith in God doesn’t suffer - so we actually grow closer - go deeper - in our following after God. Looking at what James writes - there are two points of application that I’d like have us focus on.
First: Time is not a birthright. Together: “Time is not a birthright.” Time is a gift of God.
C.S. Lewis - writing in The Screwtape Letters - Screwtape - a high ranking demon - is giving advice to Wormwood - his novice demon nephew who’s in charge of working for the damnation of a young human man. Screwtape is giving his nephew Wormwood advice on how he can really mess up the faith of this young man: “You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of his property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.” (3)
When we view time as our birthright we begin to think that all those interruptions to our plans - someone showing up unexpectedly - the driver going slow in front of us - the phone call in the middle of the game - the two nicely dressed young men who show up at the door - people who never stop talking when we’ve got places to go - people to see - things to do - we start thinking that all that is an imposition on “our” time.
When we view time as our birthright we start thinking that we have a right to use time as we see fit - we’re accountable to only to ourselves for how we use time. God gives us the privilege and time to meet with Him here for worship - but we feel we a have a right to be elsewhere. God gives us the privilege and time to meet together with Him and our siblings in Jesus - for prayer or Bible study - and we have other priorities. God calls us to witness for Him - “Go into all he world” - that’s proactive - direct - requires commitment - dedication - not “go and do what you think is best and pray that somehow an opportunity to witness might come along.” “Go witness” - and we allow other things to organize our time.
When we view time as our birthright we start thinking that we’ve earned the right to on our own recreation and leisure. The great American dream. Retire - buy a Winnebago - drive all over the place - stopping at every Starbucks - playing golf - and spending the kids inheritance. You can come up with your own retirement plans. But hear this: We aren’t retired from using time as God requires us to use time until God says our time is up. We’re suppose to keep serving God until God says stop.
Have you ever watched a child build a sandcastle? I love building sandcastles - especially with our kids. We went out to Pacifica last summer. The wind was blowing sand all over the place. The water was almost as cold as the pool up at Family Camp. But we still worked on making sandcastles. I love doin’ that with them.
There are buckets that can be filled with sand and then turned over to make turrets and towers. Feathers and sticks become flags. Moats get dug. Walls get carved and smoothed. We can spend all day doing that - making something out of nothing but little grains of sand.
Imagine our world as adults - building things out of nothing. Answering phones - keeping up with emails - taping schedules into organizers - commitments and obligations - running from place to place - never really catching up - hoping we don’t forget a child someplace - not that we’ve ever done that. Building our carefully constructed little worlds. Monuments to our achievement. Our life’s work.
But, according to James - it all gets washed away. And maybe sooner than we think. So what do we achieve? How did we use “our” time.
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. That’s the way it is.
We fear the tide. The waves of years that come to collapse our little castles. Maybe we need to learn from our children. Maybe we need to view time differently. God owns the sand. He controls the waves. Time is not a birthright. Our time is His.
Second thought of application. While time isn’t a birthright, time is a gift of God. Together: “Time is a gift of God.” Time is a well thought out gift that God purposefully gives to each one of us - to be used according to His purposes.
Do you remember the movie “Dead Poets Society” - Robin Williams portraying John Keating? He quotes the Latin words, “Carpe Diem” - which means what? “Seize the Day.” It was a way of energizing his students. Rise up and grab hold of life.
About 100 years ago Christians signed their letters with the postscript “D.V.” Wesley - for example - used to sign his name and then put the capital letters D.V. under it. D.V. stands for the Latin words, “Deo Volente” - which means? “God willing.”
“Carpe Diem” is arrogant. “Deo Volente, Carpe Diem.” “God willing, seize the day!” puts us under God’s sovereignty.
Elizabeth Elliot tells of two adventurers who stopped by to see her, all loaded with equipment for the rain forest east of the Andes. They didn’t ask her for any advice - just a few phrases to converse with the Indians. She writes: “Sometimes we come to God as the two adventurers came to me - confident and, we think, well-informed and well equipped. But has it occurred to us that with all our accumulation of stuff, something is missing?”
Way to often we have this backwards. We put the cart before the what? the horse. We make plans and envision the days of our lives - maybe even get down the road a bit and think its too late to change course. We plan and pray, “God bless our plans.” We’re going to such a such a city. But, what’s missing? God.
Kent Hughes describes us this way, “So pervasive is our culture's arrogant independence of God that even many (most) Christians attend church, marry, choose their vocations, have children, buy and sell homes, and numbly ride the currents of culture without substantial reference to the will of God.”
From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 - the Bible is a description of how God is using time - His plan - His purpose - His will. The theme is very simple: God’s redemption of humankind. That theme should rearrange our use of time - reorganize our priorities. Its a starting point for us. To ask the question, “How do the priorities of my life - how I’m using this gift of God - how does my life fit within God’s use of time?”
The way to answer that question begins with an acknowledgement of truth: “I’m not sovereign. God is.” Together: “I’m not sovereign . God is.” We need to lay aside the arrogance of faith in our own knowledge and cleverness - our own priorities and planning - our own vision of the future.
Second - answering the question, “How does my life fit within God’s use of time?” Second is a daily - minute by minute - if not second by second - process of discovery, submission, and faithful dependence on God. A life in which everything we do is first taken before God in prayer. Where all that we do is evaluated by His word. In which, from the core of our being, our passionate desire is to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness - the accomplishment of His will in us and through us. For us to lay our lives down before the sovereign God of time - so that if any vision is given - if any direction is given to our lives - it must be coming from Him.
That’s the life that goes deeper with God - faith that’s learning to follow after Him - to trust Him in all things.
Tomorrow is a day away. But what if tomorrow never comes? How will you live today? Will you have used the time that God has given you wisely?
It doesn’t matter so much to God as to how long we live. It matters how we live. God has given you His gift of time with purpose. Are you willing to give Him sovereignty over your minutes - the days of your life? If this is coming from your heart - follow me in this prayer of commitment. “God, the time of my life is yours. Take me into Your future. Wherever that may be. Whenever you desire to use me. In whatever you require of me for Your purposes.”
_________________________________1. Tom Heymann, In An Average Lifetime
2. Ray Ellis and Walter Cronkite, North by Northeast
3. Rick Rigsby
4. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.