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About this series
Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Wrong Beliefs Produce Wrong Behavior
Have you ever looked back over a situation or relationship in your life and wondered how it became so messy or difficult? In the series from the book of James, Five Lies that Ruin Relationships, we'll define five of the most common lies that have the potential to ruin relationships with those we love. We'll also uncover the source of quarreling, how our words wound, and how not to make decisions. And together, we'll ask and answer the question: do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior? We will discover that when we confront the lies we believe, there is power in knowing and applying God's truth to our relationships.More from this series
Five Lies That Ruin Relationships – we are on lie number three, how our jobs can destroy our relationships. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s a miracle story. This is a miracle story. It is a true story. And it has a sad, sad ending, and makes an amazing point.
In my very first pastorate in Texas, in a very small, rural town, about forty-five hundred people – it didn’t even have a stoplight when we got there. And we were in this little, tiny white building, about ten miles outside of town.
And we started with about thirty-five people, and God blessed, and, little by little, we grew. And it was a really warm group. And we had probably grown to a couple hundred people, and had remodeled an old high school.
And then, a fellow came into town. His name was Henry. And Henry was next-door neighbors to a seminary student that went to our church, and he began to build a relationship with Henry, and he said, “I think God really wants to reach Henry.” And so, he said, “Would you go over with me? And let’s meet Henry. I’ve talked to him a couple of times out in the yard, but let’s just visit.”
And so, I still – vividly, in my mind – this is twenty-some years ago – I remember coming to the door and knocking on it, drapes closed. It’s Texas, three or four in the afternoon, a hundred and two degrees, bright, hot. The drapes are closed, and I’m thinking, No one’s here. And so, we knock, and I look at him, he looks at me, “I guess they’re not home.” “Well, there’s their car.” And so, we knock again.
And to make a very long story short, finally, we hear people talking, so someone’s in there. But it’s like, Why won’t they answer the door? And, finally, someone opens the door, and we walk in, and it’s dark. There’s one little light, and it’s – you talk about depressing.
And we walked in, and we talked a little bit, and made a relationship. He was very closed, socially. His wife, I don’t think, said an entire word. Some kids came out, and looked behind. And that was the beginning of a miracle in Henry’s life. And this is with permission. Henry is a very good friend.
Henry and his wife both came from as dysfunctional, difficult, abusive backgrounds as your mind can ever imagine – so sad. And so, in great need, they met each other. And when people who come from horrendous backgrounds meet one another, and get married, apart from the Lord Jesus, they just reproduce exactly what they came out of.
And this was so over the top. They actually had one of their young daughters who was diagnosed as being mentally retarded. And we learned, later, that she really wasn’t mentally retarded, she was so emotionally retarded, and had such a low self-image, and lived in such a world that was so dysfunctional, she not only thought she was dumb – she didn’t take any risks. She was about twelve or thirteen years old, and could not read, and did not know the alphabet.
And I wish I could tell you all that happened, but this is one of those great stories. The power of the body of Christ. My seminary friend loved them, and communicated with them. It took time. Little by little they started coming to church.
And you can imagine, with those backgrounds, they didn’t have the greatest social skills. Walking in ways where they sent all the messages that make you say, “Let’s not get around those people. They have problems.”
And this church didn’t do that. They loved them. And people began to put their arms around his wife, and care for her, and began to invest in the kids. My wife actually took that little girl, and they met every Wednesday night, for about a year and a half. My wife taught her to read, got her up to about a third or fourth-grade reading level, began to give her little verses, and love her, and help her understand. She was an emerging, young, little woman, about twelve, thirteen.
And then, about four of us couples got together, and we paid her way to a Christian school, and she got mainstreamed. And you watched this little girl start to bloom.
And Henry, though – people can come from terrible backgrounds. You think they’re dumb. Henry was really smart. And he worked at one of those places where they drill and dye. But, man, he could fix anything.
And pretty soon we had him working around the church, and pretty soon he was involved with some men. And his kids had been through really difficult, difficult times, and you just watched them come out of their shells. This was awesome!
And Henry actually came to the point where there was a little house, and through the help of some people, he actually bought his own first house, and he got involved in the life of the church. And it was like as clear a picture from darkness to light as I have ever seen in my life.
And then, as Henry began to grow, and get into the Scriptures, and lead his family, the drapes were opened, and they built relationships. And it was like seeing a dead flower, and then watching it just totally be replanted, and then start to produce fruit.
And then, Henry got a job offer – because when God does things in your heart and life, and things really get going better, well, pretty soon, Henry’s changing, and he has more confidence, and he’s a very, very bright guy. And pretty soon, they have him doing other things, and he gets this juicy job offer, two states away. And it means more money; it means, actually, some people reporting to Henry. I mean, this is like, whoa! And so, Henry prays about it, about thirty seconds, and decides that this is what he’s going to do. And he is heading out.
And so, we stopped – and it was one of those times where – you never want to thwart someone’s good fortune, and that God may really be working, but I just sat down with Henry – and he was now in a small group of men, and we said, “Henry, you need to think this through.” “What do you mean?” We said, “Well, you need to think this through. What do you think this is going to do? It’s been three and a half years, your wife now has a friend for the first time in her life.
“Your daughter is in a school, and some people are actually taking care of it. And she’s gone from someone who they thought was mentally retarded to a young woman who is blooming, and growing, and has confidence. Your older daughter, who’s been a recluse, is beginning, now, to open up, and build some friendships. And your son is doing well. You actually own a house, and are making progress.”
And I said, “Henry, you have a church that loves you! And I just think, before you say ‘yes’ to this job, you ought to go check this out. And is there a church that is going to accept you and love you? And is there going to be education for your family? In other words, maybe a great job is not the only basis for relocating your whole family.” And he said, “Oh, well, it’ll all be fine.” And he took the job. And about four months later, things did not work out, and his family began to get back in the very dysfunctions that they had experienced before.
Within a year, he had a very difficult time with his older daughter. Regression occurred with almost everyone. And about two years later, I remember my wife getting a call at home; Henry and his family were homeless, and living in their station wagon, and he was in some state, calling because he just had this connection with our family. And would say, “Hey, I’m really struggling, and I know you guys pray for us. Here’s our situation. Could you…?”
And we’re going to learn that, sometimes, we can make decisions about a job that might be a great job, but that can destroy our relationships. There are some upwardly mobile vocational opportunities that, because of the culture that we live in, we can automatically assume, I have this kind of job, now I could have this kind of job or this kind of opportunity,” and we automatically do it. And the only thing we think about is the value of the job, and the perks, and the benefits, and sometimes we don’t consider that we can actually make bad decisions about our jobs that ruin our relationships.
And in the very first session, I heard a group of people, at least in this room, say, “The most important thing in all the world is not things, or money, or jobs; it’s relationships.”
And so, let’s pick it up together. What we’re going to do is, we’re going to get to listen in. James is going to allow us to be like a little mouse in the corner, or a microphone in the room, in James chapter 4, verses 13 to 17. And there’s a strategic planning meeting going on.
The historical context is, it’s called the diaspora. The Jews were just persecuted, and they were sent out in their synagogues everywhere, and now the Church is growing. And the way the Church grew is that it was to the Jew first, and then also to the Greek. So, it went out, and you notice Paul, he would always go to the synagogue first. And so, now, as the Church is growing and multiplying, there were unbelievable financial opportunities.
And these people are business people. And these people, as the trade routes – you’re going to learn – there are a few words here – that these are merchants. These are people that know how to start a business, see an opportunity, leverage the opportunity, make some plans, and, man, “We’re going to hit it big.”
And so, you’re listening as this is happening over Europe and Northern Africa. James is picking up, and you’re listening to a strategic planning session of two people.
And it says, “Come now” – and, literally, it means, “Whoa! Wait a minute! Wow! We’ve got an opportunity” – “you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’”
And so, James goes, “Wait a minute, come now, stop, reevaluate.” And that little phrase, “You who say” – the word for say, here, means, “you who have carefully researched and developed a logical plan.” That’s the word for say.
It’s just not casually, “Oh, you who say this.” It’s, “You, who, after thinking carefully about what you’re going to do, have come up with a plan. You say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to such and such a city, and we’re going to spend a year” – literally, it says, “We’re going to do a year there, and we’re going to engage in business.” And we get our word for emporium. It’s merchants. It’s a ground-floor opportunity. “Man, look at this. We’re going to get the first market share,” is what they are saying. “And we’re going to make a profit.”
So, notice what the business plan included. He chooses his time. It’s very clear: “today or tomorrow.”
Second, he selects his location, right? In business, it’s “location, location, location,” right? So, he selects his location. He’s got a map out, and he says, “Okay, here’s the opportunity. Here’s where we’re going to go.”
Notice, he limits his stay. He says, “We’ll do a year. It’s a ground floor opportunity. We are going to open another franchise in this area, in this specific location.”
He defines his market. “We’re going to engage in business. Here’s our market. This is what we bring. This is the opportunity.”
And finally, he projects his profits. He’s projecting cost. I have to believe there is a P&L statement somewhere: “It’s going to cost us so much to be here. Here’s the opportunity. Here’s what we’re going to do.” He has a very thorough business plan.
And so, you say to yourself, Well, what’s the problem? It sounds like a great opportunity, sounds like Henry’s opportunity. Man, more money, better job, people reporting to you. He planned it. He thought it through. He examined the market. He set specific times. He has a specific goal. What’s the problem?
James is going to say, inspired by the Holy Spirit – here’s the problem – the business plan excluded God. The business plan excluded God.
James is not prohibiting planning. The Bible is full of admonition that we should plan. He is not criticizing making a profit. The Bible is really clear. “Be shrewd; be wise with your money.”
What he is criticizing is this: arrogant presumption, or leaving God out of our plans. It’s getting so excited about an opportunity, of just immediately thinking, Well, here’s the opportunity. We can make money. It’s upwardly mobile – bam! – it must be God’s will. That’s what he’s saying is, “You arrogantly have left God out of your job decision, and your business planning.”
Notice what it says in Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” Or Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
God wants us to plan, but He wants our plans to flow out of a sensitive heart that says, Lord, I see a great opportunity. I want this filtered through Your will. I want to hear Your voice. I want to depend on You. What do You want me to do? And is this the job, or the right promotion, at the right time, and in the right way?
So, it raises the question, “Why is planning apart from God so dangerous?” And in verse 14, James is going to teach us exactly why planning apart from God is so dangerous. Because what he is going to say, in verse 14, is that bad decisions about work flow from some false assumptions.
Pick it up, as I read verse 14, “Why” – he makes a statement – “you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” “You have this big plan, and you say you’re going to go here. We’re going to go for a year. We’re going to open up this market. There’s a franchise; it’s a can’t-miss opportunity.” And James says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait! So, when did you get your crystal ball? You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.”
And then, he asks a question, a big question. And notice, he doesn’t ask about his job or his work. He says, “What is your life?” So, what is the big ball of wax – what is your life, when you think about it?
And then – in this translation, it leaves out a little word. In the original text, there’s the word gar. It means the word for. And the reason – “What is your life?” He answers, “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
See, the biblical answer to, “What is your life?” is, “You are a shadow. You are a vapor.” The word for mist, here, was fog, or smoke. It’s the idea of fog coming up – it burns off by ten a.m. It’s here, and it’s gone.
Your life is transitory. Your life is short. Your life is unpredictable. Your life is way different than you really think. And out of this, what you see is, there are two false assumptions to planning apart from God.
False assumption number one is that life is predictable. Life is predictable. It’s subtle. We tend to think, as things have been, so they will continue to be. And when we buy the lie, we set ourselves up for disaster.
The truth is, life is uncertain. The truth is, life is very unpredictable, and that we don’t know what’s going to happen.
I was with an executive in the Silicon Valley – and he became a member of our board for a period of time – and he was an upper-level of the top two or three guys at Cisco in their heyday, when they were the largest company. And not they are not in their heyday, but that was when they were just acquiring, acquiring, merging, merging.
And we were sitting on a plane, because he had joined the board, and he became a good friend and a counselor, because I’m not good on the business side, and my theory is, do what you’re supposed to do, and get really smart, capable, intelligent, wise people to figure out all the stuff that you’re really dumb at. And so, I would ask him all the questions about, “How do we do these things?”
And it was interesting – there was a copy of Forbes and it had the top forty wealthiest men on it. And it was an old magazine. You know how, in planes, they get stuck? And so, this one was almost a year old. And we pulled out a Forbes magazine, and he, because of his life and relationship, either knew or was aware of most of the top forty.
And he said, “You know what, Chip? Let me tell you about, you talk about, here’s the problem in business.” And he pulls out a pen, like this, and he took that, and he goes like this. And it was like, “See that guy? He’s broke. He’s broke. He’s –” “What?” “He’s broke. They went completely under.”
A year ago, can you imagine? In one year, being one of the forty wealthiest people in America, and twelve months later, being either broke, or…
He said, “Actually,” and then, he started to explain stuff about how you can make a bunch of money, and on paper it looks like this, and you have to pay taxes on what is on the paper, but you don’t really get all the money. So, when you go broke, you actually now have to pay taxes on all this theoretical money. I don’t get it, but you business guys probably get it.
He said, “They’re worse than broke.” He said, “Now they have debt there’s no way out of.” I thought, Wow, that’s interesting.
See, we think things are going to be as they are; it’ll be the same. We think life is predictable. It’s subtle.
I came across an article that talks about how unpredictable and how dangerous it is to plan apart from God. It says, “Decca Records controlled the American music industry for decades. Their ear for talent was unmatched.” Now, this is a little nostalgic, historic here. “As a result, they owned the giants of the time – Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly were just a few of the stars in their vast universe of talent. Then they acquired Universal Pictures and MCA. Decca Records was positioned to be absolutely unstoppable.
“But in 1962, after their talent scouts reviewed a group of mop heads from Liverpool named The Beatles, Decca said, ‘We don’t like their sound, and besides, guitar music is on the way out.’ Ten years later, the Decca record label disappeared.”
The article goes on, “Economist Irving Fisher, in October” – this is great – “of 1929” – a leading economist – “said, ‘The stock market has reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’ Just a few months later, a deafening crash was heard throughout America, as Wall Street collapsed.” This guy is the Greenspan of his day. It’s, “Oh, man, it’s going to be great,” right?
The final aspect of this: “In 1942, Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM, said, ‘There is a market for about five computers in the entire world. There is no reason to risk our current success on such a limited venture.’”
False assumption number one of why it’s so dangerous to plan apart from God is that we think life is predictable. Life is not predictable. The only guarantee is change.
False assumption number two is that life is long. Not only is it predictable, it’s going to stay the way it is, but I’m going to live a long time! We unconsciously think other people have car wrecks, plane crashes, and cancer, unexplained tragedy. I’m going to live long, so I have plenty of time to do whatever really is important - later.
Remember the parable Jesus told, in Luke chapter 12, of the man whose prosperity got so big, he said, “You know, the only thing I can figure out to do is, I’m going to tear down all these barns, and I’m going to build bigger and bigger and bigger barns. I’m going to store and store and store, and hoard and hoard and hoard, and I’m going to eat, drink, and be merry! Because, wow, I’ve got it made! I’m going to ‘live forever’ emotionally.” That’s how they think.
And remember how Jesus ends that parable? “You fool. This very night your life will be required of you.”
We plan as though – you know those mortuary tables, and they say, “You’re this old, and you’re going to live to this…”? Those are tables! Those aren’t real people. Okay? That means, there are some percentages, and insurance companies kind of figure those out, but, how many people, you think, before the hurricanes that have happened, and the tsunamis that have happened – what do you think that did to the mortality tables?
Life is short. And when we make job decisions apart from God, and we somehow think that the economy, and things, and people, and structures are going to stay the same, and somehow that we’re this exception, and that our life is going to be whatever the table is, and, “Seventy for most people, eighty for some – I’ll bet I’m an eighty-four. I’m the big exception.” And we never intellectually do that, but we act as though that is true. He says you get in trouble.
Your life is a mist. You should be like Psalm 90: ‘Lord, teach me to number my days. Lord, help me to present before You a heart of wisdom. Lord, show me what Your will is.’”
If life is uncertain, if life is short, how should you go about making decisions with regard to work?” And then in the next few verses, verses 15 to 17 he’s going to give us a clear explanation. Follow along as I read. How do we make good decisions about our work?
He says, “Okay, in contrast, instead,” literally the word is ante. Instead, or anti – over against what you just heard, “You ought to say, ‘if it’s the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or do that.’ As it is, you boast and you brag and all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good,” circle the phrase “the good” because we’ll come back to it. “If anyone knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, he sins.”
And the word good here means morally excellent. That which is praiseworthy, that which is winsome, that which does good things and great things in the lives and the hearts of other people. I think out of this brief three verses, God gives us four very clear axiomatic ways to make good decisions about work. He gave us the prescription. You ought to say, “If it’s the Lord’s will.” He gave us the reproof – don’t be boastful and arrogant about the future. And then he gave us the warning. If you know what’s right to do, it’s good, and don’t do it, it’s sin.
And out of that passage, I see four clear principles. Number one, in making decisions about work, number one – make God’s will the foundation for all decision making. Who knows the future? God does. Who has your best interest in mind? God does. That’s the part I think we don’t believe. Would you jot in your notes Psalm 84:11. This is like one of my most – I love this verse – verses. “The Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
God’s for – he’s not trying to keep you from a good job with lots of money and all the things you think you need to deliver. The Lord God is a sun – unlimited resources. The Lord is a shield – your protector. The Lord gives grace. In other words, stuff you don’t deserve. The Lord gives glory. He wants to expand and multiply and be good to you. He’s your father. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk upright.
When you get that, then you say, “Lord.” I think a lot of us are afraid to pray. You’re going to say, “Lord, do you want me to take this juicy, wonderful opportunity?” And I’m afraid you’re going to say no but sorry I didn’t have time to hear you. Because we think we know what’s best for us. Who knows if things are going to stay the same? Who knows what’s going to change?
Who knows what’s best for us? Who knows what transitions our daughter, our son, our wives are going to go through? Who knows if maybe I’m single, maybe I’m leaving and God has someone in this place instead of that? I don’t know. But God does. “I came that you might have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.” So make God’s will – you say, “God, I want your will more than any of my desires.”
Second, I think, under this is that commit and say to yourself – regardless of the circumstances and the seeming can’t miss opportunity, “I am going to do whatever you say.” There’s got to be a commitment of the heart prior to the decision. I was doing a little research and found out that in the old days, believers would write letters to one another. And at the end of the letter they would just put, in the olden days, “D.V.” Anyone know what that means? It’s a Latin phrase.
Deo Volente – and they didn’t mean it as a cliché. You know what it meant? It meant, “If the Lord wills.” See, they would write a letter and they would talk about, “I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that or I hope to come and see you and hope things are right.” D.V. Deo Volente – if the Lord wills. In other words, it’s with an open hand. I think that’s making God’s will the foundation.
Now let me give you – because I think this is important – some very specific ways, I think, to make God’s will the foundation of all your decision making. Here’s how, when I have to find the will of God. Be willing to do whatever God wants you to do. Underneath that, you might jot John 7:17. “Jesus said to a group of people, ‘if any man is willing to do my will, he’ll know of the teaching, whether it’s of God or whether I speak for myself.’” I think almost 90 percent of the will of God is getting my heart to the point where instead of trying to read into verses or read into counsel, God I will do – no matter what it is – I will do whatever you want me to do.
The second way that – at least for me – to find God’s will is to pray. Matthew 7:7. “Seek and you’ll find. Ask and you’ll receive. Knock and it will be open.” Ask God. “Lord, show me. Show me. Speak to me.” The third is God’s word. Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp into my feet. It’s a light into my path.”
So often for me, just I keep reading where I’m reading. “God, it’s a big decision. Lord, I don’t know what to do. I’m willing to do whatever. I’m asking you. And as I’m reading, speak to your word.” So I’m going to be willing, I’m going to pray, I’m going to get into the Scriptures. And number four, wise counsel. “He who dwells with wise men will be wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.” That’s Proverbs 13:20.
So make God’s will the foundation. And I think that’s how you do it. I’m willing to do it. I’m asking. I’m in your word. And I’m going to ask the people who know me best and who really walk with God, “What do you think of this opportunity?” And I’m not going to do what they say. It’s in the multitude of counselors, their safety. I’m going to weigh that.
The second principle that flows out of this to make good decisions about work is recognize the root cause of planning apart from God. And that’s in verse 16. “As it is, you boast and you brag.” Literally, you take pride in your arrogance. I like the Phillips translation. He says, “You get a certain pride,” as he translates this, “in yourself in planning for the future with such confidence.”
And I think the key here is motive. It’s in pronouncing our plans or our capabilities as a statement of faith. “This is what I believe the Lord wants me to do.” But actually, when you get good at stuff – I mean when you know you’re good – and by the way, it’s okay to be good at stuff. God made you good at stuff. But that’s where you can get tripped up. You’re good at it and, “I’ve done this. Hey, look what happened. I’ve done this, look what happened. I’ve done this, look what happened. Here’s another opportunity. I’m just going to go do this. And I can tell you what’s gonna happen ‘cause I built that, I built that, I built that. And bang, I was manager here, director here, supervisor here, VP here.”
And when that great next juicy opportunity is, there’s something in the human heart. And so I think we just need to be open and sensitive to the Lord. God’s will may be that’s the next step. God’s will may be, “This is a test.” And Jesus has these statements that are so hard to get around. “It’s either me or mammon.” Remember that one? “You can’t worship it and me.”
And so often upwardly mobile opportunities put us to the very test about what’s the core value. I remember when Bill Carter said no to that job. I remember like, coming home and talking to my wife and sort of telling the story and going, “I can’t believe that.” It was so rare. It was so unusual. But really it was his spiritual priorities and relational priorities were higher than making more money. Why would I be shocked that a Christian thinks that way?
Because I don’t meet many Christians that think that way. If Henry would have thought that way, he would have an intact family. If Henry would have thought that way, his kids would be still flourishing. If Henry would have thought that way, he’d be living in his own nice, little house in rural Texas, growing and changing and stopping the abuse and starting a new generation of people. And instead, he’s living in a station wagon.
Every upwardly mobile opportunity may not be God’s will. And that’s the third principle from this passage – don’t buy the lie. Upwardly mobile work opportunities are automatically the will of God. That’s the lie. We just think unconsciously – often we don’t even think – upwardly mobile opportunity, this, this, this. It must be God’s will. And I would say, “Do not buy the lie.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Doesn’t mean not to pray about them. It doesn’t mean that it’s more spiritual to say no to those.
The other test may be that God is stretching you. God’s giving you capacity and you were here and the director here and the manager here and the supervisor here and the VP here. And this is a new platform for ministry. But you go there not because of, “Look at who I am and how much I’ve got and how much I’m going to make.” You go there as a steward of the manifold grace of God.
This is a big responsibility. This will mean major changes if you still have a family. Before I go – I mean, Bill, do you know what he did? He flew out. He visited a half a dozen churches. Said, “I didn’t sense that I would have the kind of fellowship that I need for where I’m at in my life right now.” It doesn’t mean that you don’t take upwardly mobile opportunities, but the lie is believing upwardly mobile opportunities are automatically slam dunk the will of God.
And what James is saying is they’re not. The fourth principle that flows out of this passage in making wise decisions about work is to act on your God-given dreams and impulses. In verse 17, what’s it say? “If anyone knows what the good is, the blessing is, the beautiful thing, the praiseworthy, the morally positive thing to do and knows that he ought to do it but doesn’t do it, he sins.”
In verses 13 to 16, it’s a sin of commission. It’s arrogant planning apart from God. In verse 17, he warns us about the sin of omission. And so I would ask you what is the good that God has prompted you to do? What is the good that you think he might be saying, “Hey.” See, this passage pushes really hard on don’t buy the lie upward mobility about your job. But then not just with regard to the job – this is sort of a summary statement. This verse, I think, is summarizing where we’ve been in terms of the teaching of James.
Is there anything in your life or anything in my life you say, “This is the good I ought to do. I ought to teach that class. I ought to mentor that young woman. My lands, I’ve had a great job and he’s talking about all this stuff, and I got a 401K and a 701K and a 1501K and people had all kind of problems. And in my honest, honest hearts of hearts, I’d have to live about four lifetimes to spend all the money. And I’ve hoarded my security. And I ought to divest.”
In all the research I’ve done, I’ve worked with a group called Generous Giving. They’ve done research with people that are extraordinarily wealthy. And they can’t give you one or two instances of leaving it to their children where it’s worked out well. And they have zero instances where millions and millions of dollars have done anything but totally corrupt and ruin your grandchildren.
And yet people have this stack of money – I remember one guy saying, “Well,” I mean this is how – we all have that little line that says, “Well I’m going to give over and above when sort of this is okay.” Yours was, “When I have a million dollars and I know – in sort of net assets and things, I’ll be okay.” And then it got to be $10 million, and then $100 million. And I actually had an encounter with someone who said, “You know something? I feel real free to give generously but it’s kind of after you have $1 billion set aside.”
And I’m thinking, “Dude, how much steak can you eat in one day?” And what I realize – what is the good that we ought to do? Is it giving wildly and generously? Is it saying that maybe some of us in those middle or more twilight years have more to offer? And instead of figuring out how to lower your golf score quite so well that you invest your wisdom and your life and your gifts in the next generation.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s taking a risk. Maybe it’s stepping out. What is the good? What’s the dream in your heart that God maybe would kind of say, “Hmm.” That you ought to do. And he says – this is an interesting definition of sin, isn’t it? If you know what’s right to do and don’t do it, it’s sin. And sin just means missing the mark.
And why does God not want us to miss the mark? Because he’s a sun and a shield. He gives grace and glory. No good thing does he withhold. His plans for us are great. Why is James reproving these entrepreneurs and business people from planning apart from God? It’s because your plans and my plans and their plans apart from God will never land us in the best place. He’s a loving God.
I think somehow we get this idea that all of God’s rules and all of his commandments, he’s kind of just trying to keep us from something good. His commandments are like the guardrails on a windy road, where that if you go over the edge of the road you drop 1000 feet and die. All those commands and all those guardrails, do you know what they’re for? They’re to keep you on the road so that as you follow the road and get on the highway, you get the highest and the best.
But what I will tell you is that in the world that we live in, you’ll make a lot of tough decisions and you’ll look very different than the average Christian when you make your plans not apart from God, but surrendering them to God. And I would guess a little bit from your faces and just a little bit from experience is there are some people in this room that took some jobs years back.
And you look back now and literally in your mind as I’ve been talking, you thought, “Boy, I wonder why I took that – I didn’t even think about whether to take that job or not.” And then one of your kids went through a rough time. Or that was – let’s see, you took the job, it was three years later. That’s when your divorce hit. The company that looked so rock solid, and you got the big promotion. And then stock options went down. They hired a new CEO and they downsized.
And some of you in this room can think back to a job decision you made that you just think, “Boy, I wish I would have heard this about five years ago or ten.” And I think the danger is thinking there’s no hope. The danger is thinking, “I did. I took a job and I wouldn’t say I was selfish and greedy. I just kinda just did it. It just made sense.” And if you happen to be one of those people with lots of pain, I want to ask you just to jot down two little chapters and I want to tell you a story. ‘Cause I want you to know that you can blow it big time – make terrible decisions – and even make them innocently. And our God is a God of grace, a God of hope and a God of restoration.
And jot down if you would just in the corner Genesis 12 and 13. And you maybe can get a Coke or cup of coffee or tea or whatever you like and put your feet up and if you’re in that situation and read it. And the story is very simple. There is a man who has a very important relationship with God. And God calls him and he obeys him. And he obeys him, but there’s an opportunity.
See, you think about these kind of jobs and there’s some difficulty. And it wasn’t like exactly a job. But the economic conditions caused him to make a decision to go down into Egypt. And then he got in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so then that causes us to compromise our integrity. And then he started telling some lies about his wife to protect his own skin.
And then if you know the story, his wife ends up in Pharaoh’s harem. And just before he becomes one more wife, God disciplines and saves Abraham’s wife out of that situation. And Pharaoh is pretty hot. What you find is he leaves Egypt. And that’s not a pretty time in Abraham’s life. He was a chicken, okay?
He made a decision apart from God. Circumstances led him directly to economically try and handle what was happening instead of saying, “God, you called me to this place. I don’t know how you’re going to provide for me but I’m going to trust you.” Instead, he took a decision economically based. Then he began a whole journey of lies that almost ended up him completely in the ditch. And it’s really interesting that God is gracious to make him aware that it’s a mistake. And maybe that’s what he did for you in this room.
And then in the end of chapter 13 as he moves out, in the beginning of chapter 14, you find him in a new land. And God sets out some new borders. And it says, “And Abraham built an altar to the Lord and he worshipped.” And I think at that altar, Abraham had some, “I’m sorry. That was not a good move.” And I think probably he and Sarah had a conversation. I sure hope so about “I’m sorry.”
And it’s interesting that when you track Abraham’s life, that wasn’t the end. He made a big mistake. But in chapter 15, God actually renews that great covenant and God fulfills his promises, even though he made a major, major, significant, nearly fatal mistake about where to be and where to go based primarily on economics. And I’d just like you to know that’s how God will treat you.