Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

Among the various other websites I frequent, I commonly visit a forum called Bogleheads, which focuses on investing in index mutual funds.  A couple of things set it apart from the other things I read online.  First, there are many Bogleheads posters who celebrate what we might call old-fashioned virtues:  discipline, hard work, frugality, and patience.  Second, the posters there are much wealthier than the Internet or national norm.  None of them would be so gauche as to brag about their net worth, but they spend a lot of time talking about tax issues that aren’t relevant unless you’ve got a pile.

I don’t think this is coincidence.  Having those old-fashioned values doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to end up with a lot of money.  As the book of Ecclesiastes says, time and chance can overtake anybody. 

However, if you don’t have them, it is nearly certain that you won’t prosper financially, and if you do, you won’t be able to hold on to it.  This is usually what happens to lottery winners.  They have the money, but they don’t have the character.

Of course, laying up treasure on earth is much less important than laying up treasure in heaven.  However, those old-fashioned values that play such a large role in the former are significant in the latter too.  This morning, let’s spend some time considering a Biblical ideal that encapsulates them all, the ideal of perseverance.

If we want to persevere so that we inherit eternal life, there are three things that we must understand.  First, we must KNOW OUR GOAL.  Consider what the Hebrews writer says in Hebrews 12:1-3.  Here, he tells us to run with endurance, a Biblical synonym for perseverance.  In doing this, we should look to Jesus, who endured the cross but received the reward of sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God.  If we want to get what Jesus got, we have to do what Jesus did.

This too is nothing more than financial common sense.  Unless I know about how much money I want to save to ensure a comfortable retirement for my wife and me, I have no way of evaluating my current financial situation.  Have I saved too little?  Have I saved too much?  Who knows? 

However, once I settle on a goal, then I can tell whether I’m making the progress necessary to achieve my goal and what corrections I need to make.  I can also consider other decisions in the light of how they will affect my goal.  Sure, it would be fun to trade in my 12-year-old Toyota Corolla for a bright shiny new King Ranch F-150, but that’s not really the question.  The question is whether that King Ranch F-150 will keep me from achieving what really matters.

The same is true for us spiritually.  We have to fix our eyes on that goal of being with Jesus and make all our other decisions according to that goal.  Let me give you an example.  Because the COVID danger has abated somewhat, last week, the elders returned our congregation to our usual schedule of worship services for the first time in months.  Now, we have a decision to make.  Are we going to fully return to in-person services, or are we going to keep on with pajama church because that couch is so comfy? 

Let me suggest to you this morning, brethren, that if we make our decision about attendance without our goal in mind, we’re going to make the wrong decision.  The only way to make the right decision here is to ask, “Which choice about church attendance will be most likely to get me to heaven?”  If heaven is truly our goal, asking that question will tell us all we need to know about where we need to be when the church-house doors are open.

Second, we must KNOW OUR ENEMY.  James identifies this enemy in James 1:13-15.  That deadly enemy isn’t all the worldly people around us.  It isn’t even the devil.  After all, the devil can’t harm us spiritually at all without our consent and cooperation.  Instead, the worst enemy that every one of us has is ourselves.

This is certainly true in the world of finance.  It’s statistical fact that as a whole, individual investors underperform the market.  They’re not very good at picking which stocks are going to do well.  When they see the stock market at all-time highs, they get greedy and buy in very expensively.  On the other hand, when the market crashes, they get fearful and sell out, often for much less than they paid on the way up.  As a rule, the fewer decisions an investor makes, the better they will do.

In our spiritual lives, we don’t have the luxury of simply going through our days making no decisions of significance.  We call people like that “one-talent servants”.  However, we must be aware that the same fleshly biases that wreck investors are tools that the devil will eagerly use to wreck our souls.  Almost all people who go to hell will do so because they wanted something they shouldn’t have wanted or feared something they shouldn’t have feared.

As a thought exercise this morning, then, let’s pause to do what is sometimes called a pre-mortem.  Imagine that 1000 years from now, you have lost your soul.  You are immersed in an eternity of suffering and regret.  You look back on your life and you say, “If only I hadn’t. . .” 

If only you hadn’t what?  What is the one thing that you know, in the silence of your heart, has the potential to cost you your soul, or, worse yet, is in the process of costing you your soul right now?  Unless you are deceiving yourself, that tells you what your enemy is.  That tells you what you must guard against or change in order to inherit eternal life.

Finally, we must KNOW OUR PLAN.  Paul gives us the outlines of what it has to be in Galatians 6:7-9.  It’s not enough for us to know where we want to spend eternity.  It’s not enough for us to guard against the greatest danger to our souls.  It’s not even enough for us to do good.  We have to continue doing good, even when we’re tired, even when we want to get up.  Then and only then will we reap the harvest of eternal life.

Again, there’s nothing different here than is true in the world of saving for retirement.  They say as a rule of thumb, if you don’t have a pension, you should look to have 10x your annual salary saved up by the time you retire.  Now, I don’t know for sure, but I doubt that most of us have 10x our salary sitting around someplace, waiting to be thrown into a retirement account.  To me, at least, that’s a whole, whole lot of money! 

So how do you get there?  Simple.  One investment at a time.  You put something aside month by month, year by year, decade by decade, and as that money starts to compound, by the time the day comes, you’re ready.

In the same way, I think we’re best off if we take our salvation one day at a time.  If we’ve got some spiritual struggle, if we know we’re not where we need to be, the magnitude of the change we need to make can be overwhelming!  Let me tell you a secret.  None of us are perfect, and none of us are ever going to be perfect, but what every one of us can do, every day, is be better.  We can find five extra minutes to read the Bible or pray a little more.  We can summon up the willpower to fight off that one temptation.  We can send that one encouraging message to a brother, friend, or loved one.  In short, we can grow and be faithful.  If that’s what we do, then by the grace of Christ, it’s going to be enough.