January 1, 2017

I grew up working summers in a lumber mill in my hometown in South Alabama.   Tina’s father put her and her sister to work doing all kinds of jobs.  One summer they helped him tear down old army barracks at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  She is a great nail puller and wood stacker.

So it was important to us that our sons develop values of discipline and hard work.

When our son John was fourteen, I approached a local farmer and asked him if he would put John to work.   The farmer grew hundreds of acres of tomatoes and peppers and had over one hundred greenhouses where his family grew tomato plants.  Their major buyer grew tomatoes for Heinz ketchup.

We believed if John got up every day, went to a job, spent time around men and women in the tomato fields, and had to do some of that work himself, he would understand the value of hard work and the value of money.

Now if we had allowed it, John would have taken his paycheck and he would have likely wasted it.  He was allowed to spend only a portion of it and the rest of it he had to put in the bank.

At the end of the first year that John worked, and each year thereafter, we put his money in a Roth IRA, a retirement account.

That’s right, at age 14, John began investing in his retirement.  Do you think our 14-year-old was happy about that?  No.

But then I showed him what his $1200 would do with compound interest over fifty years.  I showed him that if he added that amount every year for 50 years, which is a very modest amount, at 7% interest he would have almost $600,000 saved for retirement by age 64.

Today John is 28 and in a day when many people his age have no retirement savings, he has a solid base.

He and his brother have become very disciplined in the concept of delayed gratification, knowing that if they spend it all now without thinking about the future, the future will be filled with pain and sorrow.

These men are in the minority.  Millennials are not saving for retirement.   It’s more of a “live-for-today, why plan for tomorrow? attitude.

Generation X’ers, who are older, are doing a better job.  About half have made some significant effort to save for retirement. http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/

It’s very tempting to live for the moment we are in, isn’t it? Why think about years from now?

Many years ago, I had lunch with a physician in a city I was pastoring.  The doctor was a young man in his thirties.  He and his wife had precious children.  They were considering our church among others and I had lunch with him to answer questions he had about our ministries.

Then, just a few weeks later, I received a call that in the middle of the night.  This young doctor had had a heart attack and had died.

My youth pastor and I spent time in their home, ministering to their family.  We attended the funeral in another city.

Then weeks later, word came that his widow and children were leaving our community. The house would have to be sold.  She would have to find a job.  The doctor had failed to purchase any life insurance to cover any of the debt he had incurred.  He had failed to secure the future for his children.  He failed to plan ahead.  This added to his wife’s grief and burden of being left alone to parent their four children.

It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.  In fact, had he waited for the storm clouds to gather before he put God’s plans into action, by then it would have been too late.

When the skies are shinning bright and the times are good, that is the time we should make plans for those days when the storms are going to come, or in the case of Joseph, when the storm clouds never come.

Later in Genesis, we encounter the story of Joseph, a man who helped the Pharaoh of Egypt plan ahead.  Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and in doing so he knew that a seven-year drought was coming.

So, Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of collecting grain for seven consecutive years so that when the famine came, there would be enough grain to feed the people.  Because of Joseph’s planning, which had been divinely inspired, people’s lives were saved.

Noah was instructed to plan for an approaching storm.  He was given specific dimensions of an ark he was to build to house his family and a remnant of animals from this approaching storm.

These rains were coming as a judgment for the sins of the people of the earth because the Bible says, “the Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (v. 5).

God saw the need to reboot the world and start over and he did this with Noah, his family, and a boat load of animals.

However, the story is not written to tell us that that every tragedy that comes our way is God’s judgment for some sin. The book of Job was written to debunk this theory.

Even Jesus is critical of this kind of thinking when his disciples encountered a blind man and they asked if he was born blind because he had sinned or his parents and Jesus said it was neither.

This story reminds us that we are part of a fallen world.   We live in a world where things happen that we do not expect and cannot predict.  However, God does expect us to plan for the unexpected.  God also wants us to be prepared for His judgment.

God does not want us to be people that live in denial.  God wants us to face reality and be people that will follow Him obediently.  He wants us to realize that His judgement is a part of his world.

Perhaps you have noticed a pattern.  We are either going to grow old and then die, or we are going to die young.  Either way, we are going to die, so we ought to make plans.  However, we often act as if we are going to live in this world forever.

However, one day we are going to die and be judged; so, we had better make plans now.

The people of Noah’s day didn’t think they were accountable to God for their lives so they made no plans.

Yet for one hundred years people passed by a man building an ark which served as a constant reminder that God was going to judge the earth with a flood.

They had adequate warnings.  But an ark sitting on dry ground without any water in sight for hundreds of miles must have looked like a strange sight.  Perhaps it was something to laugh at rather than a warning.

That’s what faith in Jesus looks like to people of the world.   It looks strange to a world that sings:

“Imagine there is no heaven/

It’s easy if you try/

No hell below us/

Above us only sky/

Imagine all the people/

Living for today.

(John Lennon)

It’s not hard to imagine people living for today.  That’s been happening since the days of Noah.

But if you are only living for today, then it’s more than your retirement that you are putting in jeopardy.  It’s more than your family that you are putting in jeopardy.

If you are only living for today, it’s your soul, it’s your eternity that’s in jeopardy.

Genesis seven says that God instructed Noah and his family and the animals to enter the ark and the Lord closed the door behind them.

“Water flooded the earth for forty days, and as it rose it lifted the boat off the ground.” (v. 17)

“All living things that moved on the earth died. This included all the birds, tame animals, wild animals, and creatures that swarm on the earth, as well as all human beings.” (v. 21) (NCV)

One of the lasting images I have from my childhood is the image of the ark being lifted from the earth by the rising flood and all the people being tossed by the choppy waters, crying out wanting to get inside.  Of course, by that time it was too late.

For 100 years Noah had labored faithfully, carrying out the plans building the ark just as God instructed, without any evidence that a flood was coming.  Then he was rewarded along with a remnant of animals.

What about you? Are you living only for today?  Have you made a clear decision that despite what others might say, you are going to live a life of faith in Jesus, who the scripture says makes it rain on the just and the unjust?

Jesus came into this world from another world to teach us that we should not think just about ourselves, and that we should not think just about today.

In fact, our plans should have an eternal focus.  If our plans have an eternal focus, then we will be loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  We will be loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Jesus taught us to plan our lives so that the treasure we “store up for ourselves on earth cannot be eaten by moths or destroyed by rust or stolen by thieves.”

He once told a parable about “the ground of a certain rich man (that) yielded an abundant harvest. 17>He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Noah was rich toward God because he was obedient.  He listened to God.  He was faithful.  He planned ahead.

Planning ahead in this life is important, but it’s not enough just to have a great 401K or a great life insurance policy.

While those things will give you some peace of mind and some ease of life as you grow older, this parable is a reminder that the most important life insurance policy is for your soul to be in God’s hand.

When we make the mistake of thinking that this life is all there is and we live that way, judgment will eventually come.  One day the door will be shut and it will not open again.

“Here I am!”, Jesus said.  “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and he or she with me.”  Rev. 3:20

If you are only living for today, I invite you to change that.  Live for Jesus by receiving his gift of his Spirit and eternal life.  Invite Him into your life today.