Sunday, July 31, 2011

James 4 – Willful Planning

[Last week we were discussing "friendship with the world, making you an enemy of God"; and the question came up "What is friendship with the world"? In other words how do you know when you are headed down this path? My off-the-cuff answer referred back to Ephesians 2: 2 "You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world."; focusing on the central issue of "who's plan are you fulfilling"?

Now that's not bad, as far as off-the-cuff answers go, but as is so often the case with the Bible; a question raised is usually answered if you keep reading. I think we will see that today was we finish James chapter 4. Remember from verses 4-12, what James is warning about is spiritual infidelity, with humility as the key virtue that will protect us from this sin.]

13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

[Now taken out of context some might argue that James is against planning. Anyone who has pursued a business degree, or has run a business, knows that planning is essential. So what does scripture teach us about planning?

Proverbs 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.

Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'?

"Count the costs", now there is some good advice. Seems like our present government crisis could have been avoided if more of our representatives followed this practice. I remember many years ago taking out a loan against a paid-for truck to refinance some credit card debt at a better interest rate. The loan officer approved the loan but as he was handing me the check he said "Remember that you haven't paid off anything yet, you just moved the debt to a lender with more favorable terms"; and he was right.

I was reminded of that warning this week when the President said "congress should increase the debt limit, to pay for the things they already approved". The problem is, Mr. President, when you borrow to operate the government you haven't paid for anything yet, you're just kicking the can down the road; sending the bill to our children and grandchildren. I wonder if the President goes home each night and tells his girls how much of their future earnings he spent that day.

If the plans of the diligent lead to plenty, and the plans of the hasty lead to poverty, I would say our government has been more hasty, than diligent. They have pursued short term benefits to the detriment of long term security. Dave Ramsy frequently counsels people who don't want to pay off debt that has good terms, because they presume that they can invest the money for a better return. Dave tells them the problem with their reasoning is that they are discounting risk. They are not considering what could happen to derail their plans, and what the consequences would be.

That is what verse 14 is really telling us. Not that planning is bad, but presumptuous planning fails to consider the impact of things beyond our control. Life is a vapor, not one of us can say for certain how long life will be.

Jesus spoke of this very problem in Luke 12:16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'

Jesus said this man had a business plan and even a retirement plan when what he needed was an estate plan, he needed a will. Who caused the ground to yield plentifully or the rain to fall? It was God. Who determines the number of days each will live on the earth? That is also God.]

15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

[We may not intend for our plans to be arrogant, but when we ignore the sovereignty of God, that is exactly what they are, "our plans" instead of God's plan. Notice the change from verse 13 to 15. Where 13 said "we will do this", verse 15 says "If the Lord wills". My Grandma used to say "If the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise", she was allowing for God and bad weather, all things outside of her control. You see that's humble, that's planning that is neither willful nor prideful. Finally, even if God allows, and you live long enough, what does your plan accomplish?]

17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

[Madison spoke about this last week in terms of compassion. What he said mirrored my own experience. I was not by nature a compassionate person. I was busy, usually in a hurry and we would pass people in need and I wouldn't even see them. But Tonia would, and she would call it to my attention and over time I became more compassionate; with help from my wife and my God.

Back in Luke 12 after Jesus told the story of the "Rich Fool" he said this:

32 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

You see this type of thing over and over in scripture where God's reprimands people for a particular sin, gives the cure, and then tells them to get back to doing good. That's really the plan; God has redeemed us to himself, and then sent us out to do good to others.

Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. 11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

I could read this passage a million times and it would not be enough. I am still stunned by how many people claim to be recipients of grace, and yet seldom show grace to anyone. Grace and good works bring us near to God and put us in His plan; while pride and self seeking cause us to make plans for ourselves. And sometimes we even ask God to bless our selfish plans. Make plans to do good, invite God to the planning session, seek His will for His glory. The world has no hope without God, and neither did we, until we put away pride, and surrendered to God's plan.

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD.]

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