“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not know that 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” (James 4:13-17, NIV).
You may very well hear me say more than once that I have long been amazed at how much difference there can be between one year and the next simply because we turn the page of a calendar. Yet, it always happens, for better or for worse, that one year is remarkably different than another. Who could have ever imagined how different 2020 would be from 2019? Or from any other year we have experienced?
We are moving once again into a new year: 2022 becomes 2023 with another flip of a calendar page. Like any new year, we carry many hopes into it. Not the least for Rochester First Baptist is the prospect of a new pastor and pastor’s family. As God reveals His will to both this fellowship and the person who will be called, continue to pray for the pulpit search committee: wisdom, discernment, patience, and encouragement.
Pray also for our nation and the ongoing seismic cultural shifts happening all around us. Long-held moral principles are being redefined or eliminated altogether. Theologians in some arenas challenge Biblical integrity. The Christian faith is under assault from a variety of cultural sectors for proclaiming <gasp!> values and ethics and moral standards. What is a Christian to do?
There are a lot of overwhelming issues going on. My thought is, “Do the obvious: trust God and obey Him.” The portion of Scripture from James 4 speaks volumes: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This isn’t meant to send us plummeting into the depths of guilt-trip despair. It is a simple sentence of instruction meant to encourage and motivate us to accomplish that which God has empowered us to do. I can think of a lot of disciplines from which to choose an illustration; I’ll pick something from my submariner days. Everyone on the boat had at least one designated job (we really had way more than one). In order for the boat to be operated smoothly and safely, everyone needed to do his designated job(s). But if we stopped at the boundaries our individual jobs alone, we were still likely to run into problems. Each of us also had to know how to do someone else’s job as well. Why? Because if a crisis struck, such as flooding or fire, anyone in the vicinity of the casualty needed to respond immediately. Waiting for just the “right” person to arrive on the scene could be deadly. The crisis could develop into a catastrophe if those at the scene did not respond quickly. Since we always thought that not being able to surface the submarine would be a bad thing, all of us tried not to ignore doing the right thing; i.e., “doing good.”
So here we are in a world filled with conflict, immorality, and poor ethical teaching. What are Christians to do? Do the good that God has taught us. Apply what God has taught us. Jesus welcomed people into the Kingdom of God. When they learned that they were actually welcomed, sinners took some remarkable steps. They repented! They changed! They became Christ-like in their speech and behavior! What a concept – do the good that we know that we ought to do.
In spite of liking to be prepared for the future, I have found that I am not very good at predicting the future. Neither have I found anyone who is. None of us are surprised by that, are we? James 4 indicates that we will not be so fortunate as to find someone who will be able to predict the future. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Is that what matters to James? Not at all. Notice that James has nothing against planning. It just matters whether our plans conform to the Lord’s will or not. And if the Lord requires that our plans change, then so be it. God’s point is that whether He allows us to follow our plans or not, this basic element of obedience is never removed: do the good that God has taught us to do. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Make this year special by applying that which God has taught no matter the circumstances.
Have a Blessed New Year!