Sunday, March 25, 2012

Getting the Big Picture

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.”  14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”  16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
James 4:13 - 17 (NRSV)
7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  8You also must be patient.  Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.  See, the Judge is standing at the doors!   10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance.  You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.  12Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
James 5:7 - 12 (NRSV)
There are two truths I have learned about how much God is in control of everything in life:
a.           Life doesn’t come close to being random.         A cowboy applied for health insurance and the agent routinely asked if he had had any accidents during the previous year. 
The cowboy replied, No; but I was bitten by a rattlesnake, and a horse kicked me an’ broke two ribs.  The agent was amazed.  A rattlesnake bite and a horse; weren’t those accidents?  No, replied the cowboy, they did it on purpose.[1]  We never catch God by surprise either.
b.           God’s plans tend to mess with my plans.                                                     

There was the year I lost my legs

At thirteen, life was really getting good.  Sports defined my life.  I cried foul when the doctor took a look at my knees, called it a condition with a name I still can’t pronounce and put me in a chair for five months.  God had messed with my baseball!

There was the year we had our first child, Jennifer

I went from being #1 in Elizabeth’s life to, Oh, and don’t forget to pick up more Pampers when you get the groceries; and get some more of that diaper rash cream.  I needed a cream for my honey-do rash!

God’s sovereign plans mess with everybody’s plans! 

A dear friend told me about a 54 year-old friend who died.  They went to school together.  My friend’s wife had a brain tumor a decade ago; the operation was successful, but my how it changed their lives.  Superman isn’t supposed to be vulnerable.  God’s plans mess with our plans; boy, do they ever!
And so, if we listen to James – take the advice he offers, we will find two very important principles for getting the big picture on how to run life’s race:

#1 Make Your Life’s Plans With eternity in focus

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year.  We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.”  You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.  You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.  Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”  As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves.  All such vaunting self-importance is evil.  In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.        
James 4:13-17  (TMNT)
The greatest arrogance in the universe is presuming upon God.  Stuff disappears quickly…just like our plans.  James teaches us that making our plans requires a reality check about the sovereignty of God. 
Some years ago the Florida lottery ran television ads attempting to promote ticket sales.  (Of course the chances of winning a lottery are one in several million gazillion.[2])  However, each commercial would end with an average-looking person holding up the winning ticket, saying with a smile, You never know…. 
We need to heed that saying about tomorrow for our lives – you need to include God in your plans…because you never know if you have tomorrow…or if today God will require your presence before the bar!  Friends, life is incredibly short; eternity is incredibly long. 
It may not be necessary, but I’ll say it anyway, it is wiser to prepare for eternity, than anything in the here and now. 
It is certainly not begging the issue to repeat – failing to prepare for eternity is more than dangerous – it is foolish!
James is so thorough.  He has told us to not leave God out of our plans.  Now, he turns to the other vital issue which naturally follows…how to include God on a practical level:

#2.  Carry Out Your Life’s Plans In A Manner That KEEPS Eternity in focus

Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival.  You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work.  Be patient like that.  Stay steady and strong.  The Master could arrive at any time.
Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know.  The Judge is standing just around the corner. 
Take the old prophets as your mentors.  They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God.  What a gift life is to those who stay the course!  You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end.  That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.
And since you know that he cares, let your language show it.  Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words.  Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God.  Just say yes or no.  Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.     James 5:7-12 (TMNT)

unpacking Patience – be like the Farmer

James uses the illustration of the farmer.  Prepare, plant, protect, nurture, and…….wait – then harvest!  It’s a long process, but God made it so.  When you come to the table of life, bring patience.  How, preacher?  I don’t know…you have to work that out for yourself.  But, mainly, you ask God for it, because it is not natural.  We are all impatient.
And while you’re being patient, make certain you’re working on the right kind of crop.  Remember that eternity is long, and whatever you grow is what you’ll reap.  Eddie was member of a church I once served.  Eddie practiced a different kind of “sowing” method.  I saw it firsthand one Friday when four of us played golf. 
Eddie and Jeff were in one cart; a third member and I were in another.  My partner drove his ball to the left, and the rest of us hit ours off to the right side.  After we located my partner’s lone ball on the left, we drove to where Eddie and Jeff were waiting with the other three balls. 
Crossing the fairway, we saw Eddie kicking a ball into the sand trap…then he stepped on it – hard!  He was sowing that golf ball – he mashed it into the ground!
When we arrived, Eddie had that look on his face – like when you’re about to get your pocket picked.  He said, as he pointed to the golf ball seedling, Preacher, your ball is in an awful fix.  I got up close to the ball – it wasn’t mine! 
Jeff looked – it wasn’t his; the only ball it could be belonged to our resident golf ball farmer.  Folks, believe it when the Bible says YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT.  Patience means playing fair and trusting God!

unpacking witness – Proclaim the Kingdom like a Prophet

Living your life in a manner worthy of eternity means you will stand for that which will stand in eternity.  That means sharing your faith in God with people.
It’s never been part of my “comfort zone” to go out on a limb with my faith.  Nobody likes being thought a fool or being mistaken for an offensive religious bigot.  Sharing your faith is hard work; it’s not an activity for the faint of heart.  But then, farmers and prophets are not lazy people!

unpacking perseverance – have an attitude like Job

     Job had it all – then he had it all taken away.  He went from hero to zero in an afternoon.  His wife got so discouraged she told her husband, why don’t you just curse God and die?  But Job hung in there.  He wasn’t patient like some say – he was actually ticked, and wanted an answer. 
But he did hang in there, and that’s what perseverance is all about.  You know that God is in charge, so you play by His rules, and leave the results to Him.

unpacking our language - Keep your speech clean

     James said a word about our words.  Folks, what proceeds out of the mouths of even Christians these days would have made our grandparents turn purple if they’re alive, and turn over if in their graves. 
All of your words are worship.  What James is saying is, don’t offer slop to our Lord!  He is the sovereign God of the universe – not the man upstairs.  He hears our words and attributes each of those words to us as our contribution to either praise or putrification of His name.  Be careful with your words!

unpacking the big picture:  who is god (and who is not god)

     In Daniel 4 we read the story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, one of Israel’s greatest enemies.  He was – to say the least – full of himself.  He surveyed his kingdom, and imagined (like Michael Jackson perhaps) that he had created Wonderland.  He celebrated his own greatness!  Look what my hands have made, he boasted. 
To humble this earthly king, Nebuchadnezzar, the real God of all creation, Jahweh, messed with everything the earthly king had.  Nebuchadnezzar wound up a madman, drooling on himself and grazing on grass like a wild animal.
At the end of his days, the Lord allowed the king’s mind to return to normal, and after coming to his senses Nebuchadnezzar gave God His due.        I do not believe we twenty-first century people (particularly those who call themselves Christian) have done any better than Nebuchadnezzar!  Here’s some evidence of that:
This sermon was first preached years ago on a Sunday in August, to a congregation that enjoyed a quite peaceful existence.  There was relative prosperity in the land, and a sense of God’s people enjoying the “good life”. 
Twenty-nine days later planes slammed into the twin towers in New York and Washington.  And our lives have not been the same since. 
The lone exception is the way people treat God.  For a few months churches were showing signs of revival.  But to a large extent churches are still empty – lives are just as busy with selfish pursuits and surveying our little kingdoms like so many Nebuchadnezzars enjoying our grasp on all that pleases us and makes our life “happy”. 
We fail to see the big picture…we fail to see that treating God like he is to be satisfied if we show up at church, drop a few dollars in the plate (if that), and go about our business of “what’s in it for me” with the other 167 hours a week…well that should be good enough for any God.  But…he’s not just ANY God!
Beloved…it’s like the sign I saw this week on some little church’s broken-down marquee: 
God doesn’t want your weekend visits; He wants full custody!
That’s the “Big Picture”!  It’s God’s way – it’s the good way!
Make plans for your life which honor God in light of eternity, and do your utmost to live worthy of those eternal plans.  Amen!

[1] Our Awesome God  © 1997 Ray Pritchard, 1997, Oak Park, Illinois
[2] A rather conservative and instructive (if not technically accurate) estimate!

No comments:

Post a Comment