What is Your Life?

  1. It’s a vapor.
  2. It’s something that exists by the sheer will of God.
  3. It is a sin, apart from God.

Life Checklist

  1. Think more about investing your life than spending your money. (Matthew 6:33)
  2. Bow to God’s will, not your calendar.
  3. Love God’s plan for you, not the one you have for yourself. (Psalm 40:8)
  4. Count your days, not your years. (Psalm 39:4, Psalm 90:12; Matthew 6:11)

Well good morning, Saylorville! If you brought a copy of Scripture with you this morning, you can find the book of James in the fourth chapter as we continue our series of Keeping It Real.

But I want to start out with a question, if I may, and it’s this. Did you really mean that? I’m talking about what you just sang. If more of You means less of me take all, take everything? I’ll be candid. I worshipped with my wife in the first service, and I struggled singing that song. I mean, I know it’s the right thing to sing, and then I put that up against what the the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15 when he says, “I will sing with understanding.” Have you ever read that? In other words, sometimes we just sort of feign what we sing. Have you ever noticed that? Oh, no… of course, you’ve never done that, right? You know, you’re singing back to God. That was a song of prayer back to God. “If all of you means less of me, take everything.” Did you really sing that from your heart? —because, I’ll be candid, I struggled doing that. I want that, but I struggled doing that. I didn’t even sing one of the refrains. Now you’re thinking, ‘Man… what kind of a pastor are you anyway?’ I’m just being real. I’m keeping it real. That’s all I’m doing, and I do think it has continuity to the message in James, and so I invite you to go James 4, the last paragraph in it. We’ll get to it in a moment.

Marcus Aurelius was the last good emperor of Rome. There were five good ones, so to speak. He was a philosopher, a moral man, to some degree, and he had a sense of his own mortality, so much so, famously, he hired an assistant who, wherever he went, because the Romans would look at their emperors like gods, and so he would constantly be praised as he went, and so he had an assistant every time he was praised, he was right behind him, who would say, “You’re only a man.” That’s pretty cool! Not to be outdone, and maybe a little more sobering, a couple of centuries, maybe a century and half later, in the Roman Empire in Constantinople, (that’s modern-day Istanbul) when the Roman Emperor was, during the coronation, his first order of business was that the royal mason would line up different colored marble slabs before him, and he was to pick out one of those slabs, because that would become his tombstone. How would you like that as your first order of business?

I think that’s kind of what James has in mind. And it’s in essence, they were saying, ‘You’re just mortal.’ James has turned his attention now, not just to our mortality. He has turned our attention to the great philosophical question of life, which is, what is your life? That’s the question he asked. And let’s look at it together in that last paragraph. He says,

James 4:13-17, “Come now you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town, spend a year there, trade and make a profit.”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a… (what?) you are a mist, (you’re a vapor, that word means your steam) that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

So what is your life? What is your… we know what it’s not or we know what it’s not supposed to be, but it, in fact, is in some of your lives. It’s not your stuff, it’s not what you own. Jesus told us that, “One’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses.Luke 12:15b. The Apostle Paul would say later on to Timothy, “You brought nothing into this world. It is certain you can carry nothing out.” [1 Timothy 6:7] So, It’s not the stuff you own. It’s not your possessions. That’s not your life, or it shouldn’t be. It’s not your beauty, your good looks or your health. I know that that’s what it is in some of your lives, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be your beauty. It’s not supposed to be your good looks. It’s not supposed to be your health, though we value all the above. Remember what the writer of Proverbs said? “Charm is (what?) it’s deceitful. Beauty is vain” or it’s fading. [Proverbs 31:30] And as you get older you say, ‘Yep.’ How about family? That hits a little closer to home, doesn’t it? That’s a little more the reality for some of us here. You know, It’s all about my family. It’s all about my spouse, my kids, my grandkids. But what happens when they’re taken away from you?— or when you’re taken away from them? Where’s your life now?

Now James is going to add the personal schedule to the things that make your life in mine. Look what he says again in

James 4:13. “Come now you who say, “Today or tomorrow we’ll go to such and such a town, spend a year there, trade and make a profit.”

I mean James knows who he’s talking to here. He’s talking to Jewish Christians, and nobody… there aren’t better businessmen in the entire world than the Jews, then or now, so he’s playing right into their life right now. And actually that’s true of some of you. Your life is your personal schedule, and again, in a philosophical way, James has a word for us.

Come now, you who say…” [James 4:13]

This is a little bit like Isaiah. Remember what Isaiah says,

Come now, let us reason together [says the Lord:] though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;” [Isaiah 1:18a]

By the way, James’s half-brother, Jesus, (remember James was the brother of Jesus) he had a word for us too. He, in fact, in a parable that Jesus gave us, he enfolds all of the stuff we’re talking about. He enfolds your possessions, your health, your family and your schedule. It’s all folded into this. And I love the way Eugene Peterson’s Message Translation puts it. So here’s how it is in the message translation,

Luke 12. Then he told them this story, (This is Jesus.) “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself. “What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.” Then he said, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods and I’ll say to myself, “Self…”(Cuz that’s what you say to yourself.) ”You’ve done well. You’ve got it made and now you can retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!” Just then, God showed up (which, by the way, He has a habit of doing this) and said, (What?) “[Fool]…” (Moron —that’s the word by the way. That’s the Greek word. You moron! You fool! ) “Tonight you die. And your barn full of goods, who gets it? That’s what happens when you fill your barn with ‘self’ and not with God.” [Luke 12:16b-21]

James recognizes that these messianic Jews, that is these Christian Jews, had surrounded their lives, their plans, their schedule, everything they were doing, their goals— without God. We plan without a thought about God sometimes. His plans, divine disruptions, illnesses… and even death, that might play into those plans. James says in verse 14,

“… You do not know what tomorrow will bring.” [James 4:14]

What is he saying? He said, ‘You’re making plans for next year and you don’t even have a promise for tomorrow or the next day.’ This is called the sin of presumption, by the way. It’s the sin that excludes God but presumes one’s future. Here’s how a C.S. Lewis put it. He said,

“Those who make the most of this life have their minds on the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” And he concludes with this, “Aim at Heaven and you’ll get earth “thrown in.” Aim at earth and you’ll get neither.”

C.S. Lewis

And I want you to notice what James is saying this is when we are secularized in our mind. When we secularize, we take God out of our plans. He’s not just saying you’re short-sighted. No, look at verse 16. He says, ‘You are arrogant and evil.’

[James 4:16, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”]

Do you see those two words there? That’s strong verbiage there. By not contemplating the will of God and the uncertainty of your earthly future, you silently declare a kind of sovereignty over your own life, and then God shows up when you didn’t expect Him to, and you realize you’re not as in control as you thought you were.

I have done countless funerals over my life as a pastor and I’ve been at many, many graveyards. You know, many of you have been there in the graveyard under the tent with the family there, a little smaller than the funeral itself. Most of the intimates are there. I remember one particular one, (If you were at this, tell me what funeral it was, ’cause I don’t remember what it was) but I was … standing by the casket, and it had been raining incessantly for weeks, and the ground was just absolutely soaked! There was flooding and stuff, and the ground was soaked! They dug the hole for the casket. The casket hovered over the hole, and if you’ve been to a committal, you know, they take like green matting and they put it all around, you know, to sort of cover up the dirt. I was standing on the green matting right next to the casket, and the ground gave way! I literally started to go into the hole… before the deceased! I had to… it was everything I could do to pull myself out as I was shrinking into the hole! And I literally instinctively said, “I’m not ready to join you just yet!”

But here’s the deal. James is saying, there’s coming a day you don’t have that choice. You don’t get to make that decision. God comes in, God shows up, and He says, “It’s over.” And if you know Him, you’re coming home. If you don’t know Him, you’re going to your own home, and it’s apart from God. He’s basically saying, ‘You want to live apart from me now? You can live apart from Me forever. That’s not a place you want to be.

So what is your life? This is the question that’s beyond the philosophical. It’s a question we have to answer. This is our question. What is your life? And the answers that James gives are not… He’s just a realist! He’s not going to give you answers that are going to make you say, “Oh, that feels so good.” No, His first answer is, “Your life is a vapor.” (‘Well, that was nice. That’s welcoming’) …He says, “It’s a mist. It’s a vapor.” The word he uses here literally means steam. When I realized that, the dishwasher had just gotten done the other day, so I grabbed my phone. I said, “Honey, open the dishwasher,” and this is what happened. [A video is being shown of steam coming out of the dishwasher] A lot of you have seen that. Did you count? It took five seconds for the steam to dissipate. That’s your life… right there. That’s what James is saying. That’s your life. Isn’t that encouraging? So what are you doing with it?

By the way, James isn’t the only one. The psalmist said in Psalm 144,

Your life is a breath. It’s a passing shadow.”  Psalm 144:4

And Psalm 90 and verse 10, Moses says,

Psalm 90:10, ”Man’s days are 70 years and if by reason of strength 80;”

The average American dies when they’re 77. Some of you need to set your clocks! You’re getting close!

Just the other day, a friend of mine who’s the president of Living Waters, the son-of-law of the evangelist, Ray Comfort, his name is E.Z. Zwayne. He sent me a picture and he told me about his dad. His dad, his name is Francis Zwayne. I met Francis Zwayne when he was a spry 103 years old! And I interact with him. He spoke in Arabic, so I had to be translated, but a very sweet man. 103 years old! And E.Z. took me aside and said, “Please pray for my dad. Francis is not a Christian.” 103 and he wasn’t a Christian yet. When he was 108, he placed his faith in Jesus to be his Savior! Francis Zwayne became the oldest man in America, and the fifth oldest man recorded in the world, and he died the other day at 113 years of age. He knew Jesus for five years of his life. Good thing he lived to be 108! I don’t care if you’re 113, or 13 or 3. Your life is a vapor eternally speaking! And Job said it:

Job 14:5, ”Man’s days are determined. God has decreed the number of his months and put boundaries on them, which he cannot exceed.”

Have you ever read that?

I love our year-end videos, don’t you? Every year at the end of the year, our videographers get together. They put together all the highlights from the year. It’s just so inspiring! But there’s one thing I noticed that we never do. We never add the deceased from that year. Can you imagine, ‘Yeah, yeah. Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…Oh, they’re gone?’ But I think that’s what we should do! That’s reality, not just to honor them, but to remind you and me that we are mortal! There is no guarantee of tomorrow. And that’s what James is saying.

On May 17th of last year, one of the great theologians, pastors and philosophers of our generation, Tim Keller, was waning from pancreatic cancer, and the family gathered around his bed, and this is what he said to them. He said,

“I’m thankful for all the people who’ve prayed for me over the years. I’m thankful for my family that loves me. I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.” Tim Keller

Hours later, he was home. His life was a vapor just like yours. He was 72 years old. So, much like Moses said,

[Psalm 90:10,] “Man’s days are 70 years. If prior reason of strength or 80;”

I know we get these unusual 113-year-olds. How often do we even hear of such a thing? But just as his life was a vapor and dissipated, so will yours one day, and you’re going to go to your home, whatever your home is. You better make your home with God now.

So James asked the question, “What is your life?” He said that “it’s a vapor” and then he says this. It’s something that exists by the sheer will of God. Again, that’s not like, ‘Hoohoo!’ Now, seriously, he’s saying that. Look, he says in verse 15,

James 4:15, ”…You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.

Right? So, live and do. So, James is saying that there are two areas of your life and mine that God has absolute sovereignty over — your physical life and the plans that you make.

Brenda called me several years ago now. She was a brand new Christian and she wanted me to pray for her grandfather who had a heart condition. He was dying, and he was in the hospital. She was gonna go see him. And I said, “Brenda, is your father a Christian?” And she said, “No, he’s not.” I said, “Well, honey, you can’t boast about tomorrow. You don’t know what a day will bring forth. You need to go and bring the Gospel to your grandfather!” And she more or less agreed to do that. But it was the right thing to say. I think I said it compassionately, then hung up the phone, and four hours later, my wife died in my arms… And the very thing I’d been preaching came home to roost! In that moment, God gave me a perspective that has not changed, and I hope it never changes! And what do I mean by that?

Ever since then, I, in all of my correspondence, and if you have corresponded with me at all by texting or by email, or if you get church emails, you know that in every correspondence, I finish it with this… “L.W.”— right? I had someone just the other day say, “What does “LW” mean?” I guess I kind of assume that and shouldn’t — And by the way, I am not asking you to do this. I’m asking you to think like this. Does that make sense? And James is too. His point is simple. He’s saying, ‘Each one of us ought to have the heartfelt attitude that should possess our lives and our plans and it is this… “Lord willing,”’ ‘cause you don’t have any assurance of tomorrow much less this afternoon! We had a man collapse in the second service this morning. He’s okay, but we were wondering. I’m sure he wasn’t planning to collapse when he came into church this morning.

The Puritans saturated all of their correspondence with the Latin phrase “Deo volente.” Deo volente. That’s the word which means “God willing.” Isn’t that what James is saying here? In fact, they would even abbreviate it like “Lord willing,” — like L.W. They would finish their correspondence with D.V.

This was the attitude of the godly saints that have gone before us, the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednegos who stood before the king and said,

[Daniel 3:17-18], ‘Our God is mighty and He can deliver us from your fiery furnace, but if he doesn’t, we’re not bowing.’

And it’s the attitude of submission, of dependence, of surrender and of reality! — that it is only by the sheer will of the living God that you live and you breathe and you have the rest of today much less tomorrow. Do you believe that? — because anything less than that takes us to our third point that James gives us.

Your life is a sin apart from God. The very last verse in this chapter is probably one of the most oft lifted out verses from it’s context, and rightly so. I mean, it stands on its own just fine. “For him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” — right? [James 4:17] That’s what we call the sin of omission. You know you’re supposed to do this, but you don’t do it. That’s a sin just as much as a sin of commission is a sin. That’s when you actually do something. So James says, “The one who knows to do what is right, but doesn’t do it, that’s a sin.” And so here you put it back into its context. The context is when you and I choose to operate our lives apart from God. The good, the right, is the incorporation of the knowledge of, the surrender to, the worship of the living God, and factoring Him into my entire life! That’s what he’s talking about here.

Solomon put it like this in the book of Ecclesiastes. ‘Everything under the sun is vanity’ — right? [Ecclesiastes 1:14] And when you read, if you read the book of Ecclesiastes, and you see that little phrase “under the sun… under the sun… under the sun…write above it, “apart from God,” because that’s what he’s talking about, life apart from God.

The Reformers had a different Latin phrase. The Reformers, in order to express our reliance on God all the time, they would sign off or they would express verbally, “Corem Deo.” Corem Deo… beautiful expression. “Deo” is …the Latin word for God, and “Corem” means “face.” Literally it means “before the face of God.” And so what the Reformers meant was,

Corem Deo —‘May all of your life and mine be lived before the face of God under the authority of God and to the glory of God.’ The Reformers

That’s what that meant. And that’s what James is saying here.

So let’s conclude this message with sort of a life checklist, okay? Here’s a life checklist. Number one, think more about investing your life than spending your money. Think more about investing your life than spending your money. By the way, they’re going to go together. Your money is going to reflect a little bit about what you mean, what you really treasure — right? Your giving — your generosity. And what Jesus said in Matthew 6 is,

[Matthew 6:33,] ”Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (All of your real needs) will be added to you.”

Invest your life in the things of God if you’re a follower of Jesus.

We just spent just the other day with one of our missionaries who left a very lucrative position, an incredibly lucrative position, to give it all up for God and serve Him as a missionary. And I’m not saying all of us ought to do that, but we ought to all have that mindset that … we think more about investing our lives than we are about spending our money on the stuff that’s going to go the way of destruction.

Secondly, bow to God’s will, not your calendar. Now, I want you to think about it, because this is what James is saying — right? [James 4:13,] Come now, you who say, (you know) today or tomorrow, we’re going to … Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda.’ He’s talking about your calendar. He’s talking about your schedule.

We all have calendars, right? Most of us, I have one. I have one on my phone, but we have a physical one. Every year for Christmas, my wife’s favorite Christmas gift, and she’ll get nice things from the kids, but her favorite one and the one everybody looks forward to and I do too, is a calendar, a physical calendar filled with pictures of the families and the kids… There are 58 people in our family, 38 of them are grandkids! And their birthdays are there! (Very good for me!) I like that calendar! And whenever my wife and I are talking, I say, you know, we gotta do something, this is happening. ‘Is it on the calendar? Put it down there.’ That’s important, just like it is in yours. But I’m not bowing to that calendar! I look at that thing and I see my kids and I see my grandkids and they mean so much to me! I love them! So much of my life is wrapped up in them, but I recognize as I flip through those months, they haven’t even come yet. They haven’t even been here. That birthday hasn’t arrived. How do I know it’s going to arrive? And I take that calendar and I give it to God and I say, ‘God, if You will, we will celebrate this birthday or that. We will go to this event or that.’ Can you do that? So think more about investing your life and spending your money. Bow to God’s will, not your calendar.

Love God’s plan for you, not the one you have for yourself. We love to make plans for ourselves, but when we really love God and love His desire, then — guess what? He makes His wishes our wishes. “Delight yourself in the Lord, the writer of Psalm says, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.” [Psalm 37:4; Psalm 40:8] That’s a pretty cool deal there! But love God’s plan for you, not the one you have for yourself.

A lady once walked up to John Wesley and said, “Mr. Wesley, if you knew you were going to die at 12 p.m. tomorrow, how would you spend the intervening time between now and then?”— and his reply was, “How? Why, the same way I plan on spending it now.” I don’t know if I could have said that. What would you say? If you knew you were going to die at noon tomorrow, what would you be doing between now and then? Love God’s plan for you, not the one you have for yourself.

Finally, count your days, not your years. The expressed principle in scripture from beginning to end is “the day,” not the week, not the year. I know that some of you, many of you are business people, and I admire you! You got the one-year plan… you got the five-year plan… you got the ten-year plan. (I do not understand anybody’s ten-year plan!) But God’s all about the day. And so he says in

Psalm 39:4, David writes, “O Lord, make me to know my end and the measure of my days so that I may know how frail I am.”

Moses said…”Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” [Psalm 90:12]

And Jesus, more popularly, said, “Give us this day” — our weekly bread? No, “our daily bread.” [Matthew 6:11]

Is that because we’re supposed to be so in need that we can only live one day? No, He’s saying you don’t have a guarantee about tomorrow! Give yourself to this day and surrender yourself to God in it.

So what is your life? If you’re a Christian (and I know that not all of you are, but if you are) rejoice, because the Bible says

“…your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [Colossians 3:3]

How cool is that? The word life there is the word “zoe.” If you meet somebody named Zoey, that’s literally a Greek word. It means “life.” Your life, your real life, is hidden with Christ in God.

We have a couple of friends, as I speak, that are at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota right now. Both of them have life-threatening situations. One, a dear sister in Christ, is the wife of a pastor friend of mine who has pancreatic cancer and it’s really serious. But she is a fervent follower of Jesus Christ. Her life is hid with Christ in God! That’s where her hope is. She ain’t taking anything on this side with her, because she already has LIFE on this side! The other is a friend, one of my best friends growing up. His name is Bugs, (That was his nickname) and Bugs was a great basketball player. About 15 years ago, maybe 20, he started getting symptoms of MS. Now he is a complete, almost a total invalid in a wheelchair. Some of you may remember… he visited here a few years ago with some of my other friends. He’s tender-hearted because of his condition in life, but not that tender-hearted, at least in my experience with him. I shared Jesus with him quite a bit, and now he’s up at Mayo in a very dire situation. But just a couple of years ago, his wife came to me and privately told me that she had become a Christian, and so we started to interact about how she could share Jesus and her husband’s need to repent and believe the Gospel. And last night she texted me and she said, “Bugs accepted Christ as his Savior!” Have you? You know, the one thing about Bugs… (and it’s a deplorable situation, physically speaking) but the one thing about Bugs is, he knows he doesn’t have that many years. If he lives through this, it won’t be much longer. He’s in a terrible state! That’s an advantage! And God used that advantage to bring him to repentance.

Some of you are, you know, you’re clicking your heels and you’re ready to do a dance. Maybe you’re going to one. I don’t know. Maybe you’re planning on one. You don’t know what a day will bring forth. If you’ve never received Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, NOW is the time! Listen to this, the rest of Colossians 3 says,

When Christ, who is your… (Zoe) who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” [Colossians 3:4]

Do you see that? Look what He’s saying here about Jesus! “When Christ, who is our life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.” See what He’s saying? Look at it…

Christ… is… our… life!

Is He yours? Make Him your life. I got news for you. Jesus isn’t a prude. When He gives you life, He gives it to you abundantly [John 10:10] and you can enjoy the things of life, because you’ve included and incorporated the things of God into your life, into your family, into your plans, into your calendar! It makes ALL the difference! (and you can cheer on the Chiefs and the 49ers this afternoon and have a great time doing it, because you’ve made God over the whole thing!)

So come, let us reason together,” like Isaiah said [Isaiah 1:18], “Though your sins be as scarlet, they can be white as snow.”

If you’ll believe that the God of the universe sent his Son, Jesus, to die for your sins, to rise again from the dead, and to give you life… [Do you] Want to live?

Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, thank you for the message of James. What is your life? We’ve seen this morning that it’s, physically speaking, just steam that dissipates very quickly, whether we live to be a hundred, or fifty or less, and that we live only by your sure will, Lord, and that when we live apart from you, that’s evil, that’s arrogance, that’s sin. So to the Christians, Lord, help us to repent of living our lives separate from you, and for those here who have never become a Christian, who’ve never humbled their hearts, and while they’re not like my friend Bugs, physically speaking, their life isn’t physically hanging in the balance… and yet it is. Eternity is hanging in the balance! If that’s you, my dear friend, like my friend Bugs, would you just humble your heart and believe the good news of Jesus who died and rose for you? Just accept Him into your heart, right now, to be your personal Lord and Savior. And may the rest of us, Lord, take our calendars, whether they’re on our phones or physically hanging at home somewhere, maybe just take them down and hold them in our hands and say, ‘God, there’s so much I’d like to do, so many plans that have … been made, but we surrender to you. I surrender to you and say, ‘Your will be done,’ For it’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


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