Plans and Hope

by Jonathan Whitaker

Last night as Jennifer and I were winding down for the day, her phone started to buzz. We paused the show we were watching, The Good Place on Netflix (funny show, bad theology), to investigate the rapid-fire texts that were blowing-up her phone. The texts were from a good friend and they were dire. The first text was a picture of a huge 6 foot long crack traversing a load-bearing wall of her house. The next text was the expected exclamation of horror. Quickly following was a picture of the doors to her living room that no longer open, because the weight of the wall was resting upon them. Her friend’s house was literally collapsing around her. You should feel much better about your house fix-up projects given this alternative.

The owner of the house our friend is renting has begun, let’s say, an overly ambitious renovation project. At this rate, gravity is taking care of the demolition phase of the renovation at a schedule that far exceeds the plan of the general contractor. Jennifer’s friend was going about her evening business one minute and without warning, her whole life is now in upheaval.

I am amazed how apropos this situation is to James chapter 4, verses 13-17. The basic premise is that we as humans make grand plans about tomorrow and we put our faith in those plans. Verse 14 tells us that faith in our own plans is foolishness, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” No, I’m not calling Jennifer’s friend a fool.

As you read on in James, it is no surprise that the author tells us to place our faith in the Lord, not in our plans. But, there is something that IS shocking, verse 17. If you are a believer in Jesus, verse 17 should run into your conscience with the force of a speeding truck. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” If you know right and you do wrong, you are a sinner.

The story of the crumbling house actually started months ago, when our friend’s landlord decided to dig out the basement of a 150 year old house and build a rental condo. He made his plan, contracted his workers, did not ask for permission from the tenants, did not heed their objections, and most importantly, did not seek the legal approval from the city council. I have kept the parties relatively anonymous, because this landlord acted just as James 4 warns, boastfully.

Many times along the way, Jennifer’s friend and her husband brought to the attention of the landlord the small indicators that his unpermitted work was going awry, but he did not listen. Now with his house collapsing and the authorities contacted, he can no longer avert the disaster he has brought upon himself.

As I meditate upon James 4 and pray over my friends, I am convicted that in many ways throughout my life I have been the landlord in this story. Have you? There are times when we are the author of our own disaster. Knowing the right thing, but choosing wrong. That is sin. Unequivocally, sin. My life and my plans are like a mist; there is no permanence and therefore, no foundation for hope.

Blessedly, Jennifer and I started a new study of the book of 1 Peter. God’s living Word will never let you down. You need to stop reading this and read 1 Peter 1:3-12. Are you back??? Do you see why I said that God’s word is alive? While James 4 is clear that there is no hope in my strength or my plans, I AM NOT WITHOUT HOPE! I have a savior who has given me an indestructible hope. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

The permanence of those verses gives me great hope that though I have been a landlord who has built houses upon the sand with false foundations, I have been forgiven. Now my house is built upon a Rock (Matt 7:24-27). And to my friends: don’t miss verse 4. Your house may be crumbling now, but in heaven awaits a mansion that will not crumble.

When a person knows the right thing but chooses wrong, to him it is sin. I know God will protect Jennifer’s friend through this trial. I know because we have asked God and he is righteous. My hope is that her landlord will be convicted of his wrongdoing in his heart, before it is too late and he is convicted by the government. I hope that, because God spared me when I was as guilty as that man is. Here is the thing: Jesus is Lord, and believing in the resurrection is the only thing that saves men’s souls… that is the right thing. I think you know where I am going with this…