JAMES 4:13-17

SEPTEMBER 16, 2012




  A  little red-haired orphan girl sang a song and the words went something like this:


            The sun will come out tomorrow

            Bet your bottom dollar

            That tomorrow ther'll be sun.


            And remember the refrain?  It went something like:


            Tomorrow, tomorrow

            I love ya tomorrow

            You're always a day away.


            Those words lift our hearts.  The song expresses the popular and comforting idea that there is always going to be more time, and that the door of life will always remain open, and that things are always going to work out just right.  Things will be better, if we can just wait until tomorrow.

            But what if that's wrong?  What if tomorrow doesn't come?  What if James is correct when the states, You do not even know what tomorrow may bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes?

            James' words are not quite so reassuring.  Sure, we can always be assured of God's goodness, but not necessarily of tomorrow.  We don't know what circumstances tomorrow may bring.  We don't even know if we will be around tomorrow.  Life can be very brief.  We had better not assume a tomorrow.

            It seems to me James is saying three things to us today.  First, he is saying ... make sure you factor God into your plans.

            He begins by addressing business folk and wealthy landowners who assumed tomorrow was going to come, and who assumed they were the ones calling the shots.  Come 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."  James proceeds to call them on their arrogance and reminds them that time is not entirely in their hands. 

            Jesus did the same thing in one of his parables (Luke 12:16-21).  He told us the parable of the wealthy farmer who prospered and whose fields produced bountifully, and how the wealthy farmer built bigger barns to hold it all, and how the farmer got to the point where he felt that everything was going his way.  Time was in his hip pocket.  He was the master of everything and the wealthy farmer said to himself, "Soul, you have ample goods laid out for many years, take it easy.  Eat, drink and be merry."  And you may remember the punch line in the parable when Jesus said, "That night God said to him, 'You fool, this night your soul is required of you and who will then get all these things which you have gathered?'"  Life can go with the snap of a finger.  We better make sure we have factored God into our plans.

            Did you hear about the pastor who was out painting his fence one day?  He was meditating on this passage from the book of James.  About that time, a man came along the road pulling a horse.  The pastor looked up and said, "Where are you going with that horse?"

            The man said, "I'm going to go to town to sell it."

            The pastor said, "You ought to say you're going to sell it if it be the Lord's will."

            The man said, "The Lord's will has nothing to do with it.  I raised the horse to sell, and I'm going to go sell it."

            The pastor said, "I'm telling you.  You ought to say 'if it be the Lord's will.'"

            The man said, "Look, I raised this horse to sell.  I've got an appointment with a potential buyer.  The Lord's will doesn't have anything to do with it."  With that he walked off, pulling the horse.  The pastor kept painting the fence.  About an hour and a half later he looked up and saw the man walking back toward him.  His pants were gone, his boots were gone, he was trying to cover himself with his shirttail, his face and shoulders were cut, and his hair was messed up.

            The pastor asked, "What in the world happened to you?"

            The man said, "Well, I stayed here and talked to you so bloomin' long I was late for my appointment.  I cut across a corn field to save time.  The farmer who owns the field saw my horse, but didn't see me.  He shot my horse.  The horse fell on me.  I couldn't get out from underneath him without pulling off my boots and britches.  I got up and the farmer started yellin' at me to get off his property.  Gettin' away, I caught myself in a barbed wire fence. That's what happened to me."

            The pastor asked, "Well, where are you going now?"

            The man said, "Well, I'm goin' home if it be the Lord's will."

            Make sure we factor God into our plans.  Secondly, James says to us make sure you make the most of the brief time you have.  What is your life?  asks James.  Then he answers the question for us just in case we get it wrong.  For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

            Tony Campolo, that great communicator, tells about the Black Baptist Church of which he is the associate pastor in Philadelphia.  It celebrates Student Recognition Day once a year.  In one of those services after a few students had spoken, the Pastor stood up and said, "Young people, you may not think you are going to die, but you are.  One of these days, they'll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face, and go back to the church and eat potato salad."

            What a sermon opener and James was about as subtle!  We are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  We don't have a lot of time, so we better make the most of the time we have.

            Arthur Miller wrote a play called The Price.  In it, a middle-aged couple are reminiscing.  Life had turned out to be a disappointment.  They thought they had it all mapped out.  They knew what they wanted to do.  They had the academic degrees they needed.  Their goals seemed clear.  But they never realized those goals.

            At a climactic moment of the play, the woman says to her husband, "Everything was always temporary with us.  It's like we never were anything.  We were always just about to be."

            That's tragic, but not uncommon.  Many stand at middle age and look down the road toward a retirement that is not far away and wonder, "What happened?  Where did it all go?  Where did we make the wrong turn?"  Or maybe they didn't make a wrong turn.  Maybe they didn't make a turn at all.  Maybe at a critical moment they simply failed to decide.  They were too afraid to take the risk.  So they stand at middle age and ask the question posed in a Peggy Lee's song:  "Is That All There Is?"

            Wherever we are in life the question remains the same:  "What are we making out of the short time on earth that God has given us?"

            Thirdly, James not only says "make sure you factor God into your plans," and "make sure you make the most of the time you have," but also James says to us make sure you are preparing for the life to come.

            How do we prepare for life after life?   First, we put our faith in Jesus Christ.  We put our trust in his power to save us from ourselves.   The Apostle Paul declared (2 Corinthians 6:2), "Now is the acceptable time ... now is the day of salvation."  Now is the time to put our trust in Jesus Christ who has the power to save us and will take us to heaven and bless us beyond measure.

            There is an old story about Satan gathering together some of his top devils to decide how they could turn people away from belief in Jesus Christ.  As they gathered around the table at the conference, one of the devils said, "Why don''t we just tell people that there is no God?"  They talked about that for a little while and they said, "No, that won''t work because there's too many evidences of God in the world, too many evidences of God in the hearts and lives of people who know him.  We can''t say that.  That won''t work."

            Then finally another one stood up, and he said, "Well, let's just tell people there is a God, but God doesn't care for human beings."  They thought about that and discussed it for a little while and concluded, "No, that won't work either, because there's too much evidence of God''s care in the world and in the lives of people who know him.  We can't do that."

            Then another one stood and said, "I know what will do it.  We'll tell people that there is a God and God does care, but God doesn't have the power to help them in their troubles or to save them.  We'll just tell them that."  They thought about that for a little while and discussed and debated that, but decided that, no, that wouldn't work either because there were too many people who had come to know God personally in Christ, and they knew his power to help them in the midst of their troubles and his power to save them eternally and there were too many to testify to God''s power.  That wouldn't work.

            They were stumped, and they scratched their heads and wondered what in the world they could do to turn people away from trusting in Christ.  And then Satan himself said, "I know the sure-fire answer.  We can tell people that there is a God and that God cares for them and God can save them through Jesus Christ if they'll put their trust in him through what God's done on the cross and resurrection, but then we'll whisper in their ear, "There is no hurry.  There's plenty of time.  Plenty of time." 

            We prepare for the life to come by embracing Jesus Christ today, right now.  Now is the acceptable time.  Now is the day of salvation.

            Then the second thing we do in preparing for the life to come is laying up treasures in heaven by doing good to our neighbors, by positively living out our life of faith, and by telling others about Jesus Christ so that they too might be drawn to him and become citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

            Speaking of heaven, let's close with this.  An unknown author said, "As a boy, I thought of heaven as a city with domes, spires, and beautiful streets, inhabited by angels.  By and by my little brother died, and I thought of heaven much as before, but with one inhabitant that I knew.  Then another died, and then some of my acquaintances, so in time I began to think of heaven as containing several people that I knew.  But it was not until one of my own little children died that I began to think I had treasure in heaven myself.  Afterward another went, and yet another.  By that time I had so many acquaintances and children in heaven that I no more thought of it as a city merely with streets of gold but as a place full of treasures, of people I loved and who loved me.  Now there are so many loved ones there I sometimes think I know more people in heaven than I do on earth."

           We not only send treasures to heaven through our good works, but in heaven we will also be reunited with people we treasure.