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What I want to be when I grow up
02/20/2005
Scripture: James 4:13-17
Track 8 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 28 minutes, 04 seconds.


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


Sermon for Sunday, February 20, 2005
8th sermon in an 11 part series
"What I want to be when I grow up"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 4:13-17)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett


I'd like to invite you to turn to James 4 where we'll pick up on this next paragraph starting in Verse 13. James 4:13 James opens this paragraph the way he does Chapter 5, the only two places in the New Testament where this particular phrase occurs. It sounds something like this in paraphrase. "Listen! Pay attention!" Actually it says, Come now or go now, depending on the way you translate it. The NIV says, Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

It's a pretty straight forward kind of paragraph and it's not hard to imagine what was happening. The first century world was a world of growing commerce. And there were lots of people who were doing exactly what James is talking about, taking advantage of the fact that the world was in fact growing. New cities were being established. People would leave where they lived. They would travel to a new city, establish a business, live there for awhile, make money, come home. It's not even unheard of in our understanding of the New Testament. It's very early in the life of the church, at least in the missionary journeys when Paul finds himself moving from Asia Minor, what we now know as Turkey, over into Greece. He shows up in a city and goes down by the riverside and there he meets a lady by the name of Lydia who is a seller of purple. She fits this very scenario. She is this business woman who journeys, travels, labors, goes someplace, makes money. You see that happening in the New Testament fairly regularly. James says be careful with that.

Listen now, I want you to hear this. And I find myself reading that text and asking myself, "is James against that kind of planning?" Is he against being a business person? Is he against being an entrepreneur of sorts? Is he against preparation? Well you can't read the rest of James and listen to him talk about farming or listen to him talk about the second coming of Jesus and think that he's against planning. I mean, there isn't any other way to farm than to plan. You gotta plant it and then wait. The plan is that it will grow. Right? I mean, I'm not a farmer but that's what it looks like to me. In another few weeks we'll stick stuff in the ground with the expectation that come next fall there'll be something worthy of harvest.

It would seem very odd that he was against just planning in general, so what is his concern? I think it sounds a little bit like this, that he's against a kind of unpredictable "god-less" planning. I think he's aware that life is just to unpredictable to do the kind of planning that this implies. This kind of "god-less" planning.

Not too long ago a lady in New Jersey, Gladys Wyse, reached over to get some eye drops to put in her eyes. She held it up, squirted it in and realized she had gotten a bottle of SuperGlue and had glued her eyelids together. Life is a bit unpredictable.

I think you've probably already heard this but I'm going to share it anyway. This is the response from an insurance company letter asking for more explanation for a bricklayer's claim so here's his explanation.

I am writing in response to your request for additional information about my accident. In block number 3 of the Accident Report, I answered "Didn't provide a safe working environment". Which you asked me to explain this more fully.

I am a bricklayer by trade. The date of the accident I appeared at the job site, a 6-story building, ready for work. Upon arriving, I discovered that 500 pounds of bricks that were left over from the job and had not been loaded to the ground yet. Since no elevator had been installed as yet, I would have been forced to carry them down the stairs. I decided that I would lower the bricks in a barrel by using the pulley which was attached to the roof of the building.

After securing the rope at ground level, I went to the top level and swung the barrel out and loaded it with brick. Then I went back down to the ground and untied the rope, holding tightly to provide a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. Please note that in number 8 of the Accident Report Form that my weight is 155 pounds.

Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to release the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up the side of the building.

Somewhere in the vicinity of the 3rd floor, I met the barrel on its way down. This explains the fracture in my skull and collarbone.

My rate of travel being slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my left hand were deeply imbedded in the pulley, cutting off three fingers at the knuckles and breaking my left wrist. Fortunately, by this time I was able to regain my presence of mind and was able to continue to hold the rope tightly enough with my right hand to keep from falling to my demise.

At approximately the same time however, the barrel of bricks impacted the ground with such force that the bottom gave way spilling the 500 pounds of bricks. Now devoid of the 500 pound load, the barrel, weighing approximately 50 pounds caused me to make a rapid decent down the side of the building toward the ground following the laws of gravity.

Again in the vicinity of the 3rd floor, I met the empty barrel now on its way up. Once again I refer you to the accident report and to block 11. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and abrasions to my lower extremities. Fortunately the impact of the barrel slowed my decent enough to lessen my injuries upon impact with the broken brick lying on the ground and only 4 vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report however, that while lying on my back on the pile of broken bricks, I was unable to regain my ability to move. I was once again forced to lose my presence of mind when my breath was taken away by the impact of the rough surface causing me to release my firm grip on the rope. Thus the barrel was now on its way down toward the ground at an increasing rate of speed, and because I was not able to move, it landed on top of me. Thus the resulting fractures of both my legs and 4 ribs as indicated on the accident report in block 13 was also unavoidable.

It's a little unpredictable. Isn't it? I think that is all James is trying to say. Life is pretty unpredictable. In fact, he is going to suggest to you this question. How do you know about tomorrow? How do you anticipate when life is nothing more than a vapor and you don't know what tomorrow is going to bring?

One particular fella, a man by the name of Richard Love was thumbing through a pile of old Time magazines. Not old, old, but months old Time magazines. This was October of 2001.. He picked up the August issue of Time magazine and in the winners and losers column there was a column about the lame duck New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Crumbling marriage, crumbling health, crumbling political career. He was among the losers. Who would want to be Rudy Giuliani?

He looked back to the July issue and there, there was a gentleman by the name of Ted Olson, the Solicitor General of the United States. He was among the winners. Up and coming career. Who wouldn't want to be Ted Olson?

As you know, that was just ahead of 9/11. Time magazine went on to name Rudy Giuliani not only mayor of the world, but Man of the Year. And just a few days after September 11 Ted Olson was on television burying his wife who was in the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon.

James says, "how do you know about tomorrow?" When your life is nothing more than just a vapor, how do you know about tomorrow? Which one of us wouldn't have liked to, well, maybe some of you did because you're smarter than I am. But how many of you were in the same boat I am, would have loved to have predicted "Black Monday"? - October 19, 1987, just before the stock market went through the roof, I mean the floor. And some of you probably had relatives who experienced a previous "Black Tuesday" - October 29, 1929. Who wouldn't have wanted to know the day before that those things were happening? James simply says life is purely unpredictable.

March of 2004 the Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes; the headline quote that day was Ray Charles. "Live every day like it's your last, 'cause one day you're gonna be right." He died June of 2004. Life is pretty unpredictable

It's what we don't know that concerns James. I have a whole list of them here. Maybe you'll recognize some of them and understand.

March 5, 1963 - Patsy Cline; December 31, 1985 - Ricky Nelson; September 19, 1997 - (I can remember this one vividly) Rich Mullins was killed over near Peoria. December 31, 1972 I remember this one well too. One of the finest outfielders in baseball history - Roberto Clemente went down in a plane crash; December 26 of this last year. If you had known what was coming that day you would have left Indonesia and all of Southeast Asia because you would have anticipated a tsunami that would destroy 200,000 lives. James just simply says life is incredibly unpredictable.

One of the most often asked questions sounds like this. Where were you on September 11? You can answer that question. Right? You know when you heard the news, what you were doing. My guess is we could walk down through that list of dates in this room and every one of you would relate to one or the other of these particular dates. Where were you on January 28, 1986 when they showed the Challenger fall apart in space? Or November 22, 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated? Or December 7, 1941 when a President said, "This day will go down in infamy."

James simply says we don't have enough information to be able to live a life that brags about our self-centered self-sufficiency that I will do this and I will do that and I will do something else. In fact, that's the language of the text. It is such an interesting verse. James 4:13 in which he says this is the word, I will, I will, I will, I will connected with and's and I'll do this, and I'll do this and I'll do this and I'll do this, as if there is no question that is exactly how life is supposed to turn out.

I remember as a fairly young Christian, first becoming acquainted with Joni Erickson Tada. You probably know her because of Johnny and friends. She is the quadriplegic Christian woman who paints with a brush held in her teeth. She is the leader of the organization that Deb Tallcott works with when she goes to Romania and takes wheelchairs. She was a high school kid in Baltimore when one day she went swimming in Chesapeake Bay and hit her head on a rock and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Or how many of us are not familiar with Christopher Reeve? Or just this last week I watched a film clip yesterday of Tedy Bruschi (New England Patriot linebacker) walking out of the hospital after having had a stroke.

James simply says we don't have enough knowledge about tomorrow to live that kind of self-centered self-sufficient life. Instead, what does he say? Look at James 4:15.

Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." I couldn't help but think of the sermon as we were going into our worship and we were singing that song, "Be the Center of My Life". One of the dangers, of course, of this text is that we turn "If it is the Lord's will" into a clichˇ. We tack it on the end of every prayer. Lord we're going to do this. Lord would you bless that and oh, by the way, if it's your will. Please don't understand James that way. He's not talking about simply adding some kind of clichˇ to your prayer. He's talking about adding an attitude to your life that puts the will of God directly in the center of every decision. It has become clichˇ anymore. What would Jesus do right here, right now? But it's still the right question.

Let me just share with you a handful of texts. Proverbs 3 many of you will recognize this first text in Proverbs 3, one that many of us have grown to love over the years.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. But I wonder if James didn't have in mind something like Proverbs 3:27-28 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" - when you now have it with you.

I think of the passage in 1Corinthians 4 as Paul reflects this basic life attitude. He says in 1Corinthians 4:19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing. . . .

Over in 1Corinthians 16 he gives you this same kind of impression. 1Corinthians 16:7 I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

I can't help but think about Jesus' own story as he is describing this wealthy farmer who has had bumper crops and he says, we're going to build bigger barns so we'll have someplace to store our grain. And you remember the story, right? And God says, you're a foolish person because tomorrow you're coming to be with me.

There is this issue that we all face of trying to figure out how, in our Christian experience, let Christ be the center of every decision. So that what we do, how we respond in every arena of our life, is conditioned by that idea; if the Lord wills, we will do this and that.

It is a challenge I think not to be caught up in what James calls an evil approach to life, when you are so absorbed with yourself and your plans that you forget there's the rest of the world out here among you.

Outside a small town in Utah there is a place called Dead Man's Gulch. It got that name for a reason. The Russian author, Nabokov was once there to visit. He was an avid collector of butterflies and one day while he was out collecting butterflies he heard the groaning of a man down in a gully, formerly known as Bear Gulch. When he came back to the house from his butterfly catching expedition he told the people he was staying with, his friends, that he had heard somebody out in this gully moaning and groaning in misery and they asked. "Did you do anything to help him? Did you go take a look?" And he said, "Oh, no I was after a prize butterfly." It came out the next day that they found a body of a man who died in the gulch. From that day on, in Nabokov's honor, it became known as Dead Man's Gulch. Because he was so self-absorbed in his own life, he didn't have time to see the rest of the world.

James says, put Christ in the center. He's already taught in this Book so utterly clearly about the sins of commission. Things that we do simply because we are self-centered and self-absorbed. He talks about the fact that we blame God when bad things happen. He talks about the fact that we don't control our tongue. He talks about the fact that we show favoritism to other people. He talks about loving the world instead of loving God. He talks about judging our neighbor, rather than letting God judge our neighbor. He says there are things that we do that we ought not to do and we wouldn't do if, in fact, Christ were at the center of our being. And then in James 4:17 he puts a verse that I have to confess to you, I kind of wish he had left out. To those who know to do right and do it not, (the King James says) to them it is sin. And so, it's not just the sins that we commit that James is troubled by. It's the sins that we commit by not doing anything when we know we should do right.

I confess to you that I have used that verse on a number of occasions with people who were disagreeing with me and didn't want to do what I thought the Bible said they should do. So it becomes pretty easy to turn this verse on them instead of on yourself. Don't ignore what I'm telling you, because it's a sin if you don't do what's right. But is that not true? Is James accurate that there are things that we know we ought to do and we find ourselves not doing them.

I e-mailed my daughter. I said I was looking for a word. I understand what happens when you do what God doesn't want you to do. That's just plain 'ole rebellion. That's just. . . .you're just sinning. . . .it's just disobedience so I e-mailed her and I said, "Give me a good word for what you are doing when you're not doing anything that God wants you to do. If doing wrong is disobedience, what's the opposite when you're not doing anything?"

She sent back and said, "Well dad, I think it's still disobedience." She didn't help me at all! Or did she?

What I know that I ought to offer to my brother in the Lord or my sister in the Lord is forgiveness and I refuse to forgive, is that not an act of disobedience as much as any other sin? Would it be true that when I know that there is a service that I ought to perform because I am able to perform that service that I am gifted to do and yet, I refuse to do that because it imposes on my own self-sufficient life. That it's an imposition to me; is that not just as much a sin as if I had committed a sin?

If I hear the Scripture teaching me to be a better steward of my time or my money or my energy and I refuse to do that; is that not just as much a sin? If I see the clear teaching of Scripture that I should repent or be baptized or believe in Jesus and yet I, because I don't want to do it his way, refuse to do it; is that not just as much a sin as if something had been committed?

I come back to this text. It sounds like such a straight forward statement. Sometimes I wish James were not quite so clear.

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

Trusting God is not a "Sunday" concept. Trusting God is a marketplace word. Trusting God is a business word. Trusting God is a family word. Trusting God is a household word. Trusting God is a school word. It's a golf course issue word. Trusting God is a life word and unfortunately in American culture, we have made it a "Sunday" word.

We have neatly categorized our lives and we have put things in their appropriate place. Over here in our left pocket we have our money. And back here in this other pocket we have our driver's license and our credit cards. And over here in this pocket we have our keys to the car and up here we have our date book and over here we. . . . . . and it's neatly categorized and we know exactly where to turn and what to look for at any particular given moment in life. And the unfortunate thing is, we also know where to find our Bible and our church bulletin. And it's neatly tucked away in one of our pockets. We pull it out on Sunday because that's when we use it.

And James would say that your Christian faith is not something that belongs in a pocket. Your Christian faith is your suit and everything you do is impacted by your faith.

Self-sufficiency must, of necessity, give way to a dependence on God.

I think that's James message. It's not about dreaming about tomorrow or planning for college or preparing for your retirement. It's about whether or not you trust him or you trust yourself.

James would remind us that there is absolutely nothing that we know about today or tomorrow that guarantees today or tomorrow except this. That God is already there waiting for you to arrive. And all he wants from you . . . . .enough to believe that and to place your confidence in Him, not in yourself. Not in your own wisdom, not in your foresight, not in your good judgment, but to simply say I will make this the focal point of my life if the Lord wills, I will do this or that and whenever he calls to respond in obedience. Whatever that call happens to be, because he is the center of your life.

Let's stand.