High Risk / High Reward Living

Ecclesiastes 11:1-10

It seems a little absurd to explain the plight of the Jim Crow laws to a community that is so deeply rooted in the civil rights movement. But briefly, many of the southern states enacted Jim Crow laws in the 1870’s as an effort to continue the practice of segregation, claiming that services, housing, education, and transportation should be segregated because these services would be separate but equal. But in 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that while these services were separate, they definitely weren’t equal. And yet even in the face of the Supreme Courts decision, Jim Crow laws still existed and were enforced in the south.

The buses in Montgomery were segregated in December of 1955. The front of the buses were reserved for white citizens, and the seats in the back of the bus were for black citizens. On December 1 our world changed for the better when Mrs. Rosa Parks took a stand for basic human rights. She was sitting in the colored section when a white man bordered the bus who was forced to stand since all the seats in the designated white section were taken. The bus driver, following the Jim Crow laws, told the riders in the four seats of the first row of the colored section to stand. Three of the riders got up and moved farther back but on this afternoon, Mrs. Parks simply scooted towards the window, refusing to give up her seat. After being warned by the bus driver and still refusing to give up her seat, the driver called the police who came and arrested her.

In her memoir, Quiet Strength she writes: I have learned over the years that knowing what must be done does away with fear. When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made, I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. After so many years of being a victim of the mistreatment my people suffered, not giving up my seat, and whatever I had to face afterwards was not important. I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up, or in my case, sit down. So I refused to move. Settle in your mind what is right, and you will find courage in your heart.

Boldness and courage are admirable traits in our society. We admire those who have the courage to take a risk, to do what no one else was willing to do or try. In the military we give medals for courage, on the playground our children look up to those who stand up to the bully or are willing to do a death drop off the monkey bars. Boldness demands our respect.

And yet while we admire courage and boldness, we often find ourselves struggling to show those traits in our own lives. It’s difficult to color outside the lines and refuse to play it safe. Especially as we grow older, we tend to settle for comfortable and predictable lives all the while wishing that we could muster the courage to seize the day. I would like to remind you this morning that a life of faith is anything but tedious. While death may be certain, you and I were called to live an abundant life. Too many Christians accept and even embrace safety and boredom as if somehow that makes them more spiritual. But life is not meant to be monotonous, it is meant to be an adventure! Faith calls you to try things greater than yourself, to undertake activities that you will never be able to complete on your own, knowing that you are not ever alone.

Our text this morning comes from the pen of Solomon. The book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon as he was reflecting on his life. It is a book that encourages us to not only face the realities of living in a broken world but to live a life that is worth living, a life lived through trusting God. Our text this morning comes from the 11th chapter where Solomon describes the risks taken by merchants in his day. It begins: Send off your bread on the surface of the water, because in an abundance of days you will find it.

The original readers would have been familiar with Solomon’s object lesson. In those days they would put their merchandise on boats to be shipped to foreign ports, hoping that they could see a profit in the future. But we seem to miss the point because now a days if you want something you go to the grocery store, or click on Amazon. We only consider how things get to the store or our home when we are driving behind a truck going to slow or stopped at the train tracks. But for just a moment think back to the risks that were involved in shipping your goods before 18 wheelers, planes, trains, or enormous shipping tankers. In Solomon’s day, they didn’t have a GPS or a depth finder to help them see what was below the surface of the water. The result was an awful lot of ships wrecked. And if the ship wrecked you would lose all of your merchandise and maybe suffer a total loss. Pirates were not just the stuff from books and movies, they were real and very often cargo was stolen. Thievery is not a 21st century invention.

Today we have life insurance, fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance. When we lived in Texas we had wind insurance and sidewise rain insurance for the times when the hurricane flooded your house but your windows didn’t break. But in Solomon’s day they couldn’t call that little gecko and have them cover their losses. If you were able to get past the sea, the pirates, and finally to make it to market you still had to wait a long time to see if you were going to make any money. But these merchants would take the risk because the reward was great. Solomon uses the imagery of a merchant shipping out goods to encourage us to not just take a risk, but to take a big risk.

And it’s that idea of taking a risk, really bothers the part of us that longs to be safe and secure. God calls us out on this amazing adventure, over hills and streams, over treacherous roads and alongside amazing cliffs yet we resign ourselves to stay in the cabin. We never get to experience all of the wonder and awe that our magnificent God calls us to experience because we are afraid to follow where He leads. The result is that we live very boring and safe lives, instead of experiencing the abundant life we were created for. We have bought into the idea that safety is a better commodity than feeling the freedom and exhilaration of following a God that is bigger than your imagination and greater than you weaknesses. 

As we continue our series on Trusting in God, I thought we could benefit from listening to Solomon. If we want to fully trust in God then we must be willing to take a big risk and trust that God is telling the truth; He will reward our acts of faith by providing a big reward. 

So let me give you 5 quick principles from the text about living a faith life that is willing to take risks, a life that God desires to reward.  The first high risk/high reward principle is: Give Over and Above Expectations. Give a share to seven or even to eight, because you don’t know what bad thing may happen on the earth. Ecclesiastes 11:2

Because many of us have lived through difficult times like the depression, or the .com fallout or your 401K has bottomed out, we have taken to the belief that Will Rogers was right when he said, the best way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket. While I understand that conventional wisdom teaches us to save for a rainy day, you were called to follow Jesus to a life that is anything but conventional.

Think back to what Jesus taught in The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. A farmer produced a terrific crop. Since his barns were not big enough he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He thought that since he had an abundance built up he would just take it easy and retire to a life of affluence. But do you remember what happened next? God showed up and said, Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods, who gets it? 

If you always hoard what God has blessed you with and don’t share with others you’ve totally missed the point of what being rich toward God is all about. God’s intention, the reason that He pours blessings into your life is so that you have the opportunity bless others.

When Solomon says Give a share to seven or even to eight He is saying give until it hurts and then give a little more. Take the high risk! Go ahead, Send off your bread on the surface of the water. In the upside-down world of Christianity wealth is not found in what you posses, wealth is found in what you give!

The next high risk/high reward spiritual principle: Don’t Make Excuses. If the clouds fill, they will pour down rain on the earth; if a tree falls on the south or on the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will be. Someone who keeps watch on the wind will not sown and someone who sees the clouds will not reap.  Ecclesiastes 11:3-4

There are a few things that you can be absolutely sure of in this life. Job 14:1 says Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. In other words, If your mom was a woman you can be sure that it’s going to rain, trees are going to fall, money is going to get tight, and you are going to experience see bad days. Solomon understands how easy it is for us to look at what is happening in the world around us and then refuse to take a risk because we are afraid. It’s impossible to live an abundant life if you refuse to sow your seed because you are afraid the wind might blow it away.

I understand that it’s difficult to take a risk, I mean the wind could blow you seed away. It might rain while you are trying to harvest your crops. There are sometimes when you go to get something positive done only to have something negative get in your way. That’s why we are bent towards doing what is safe. It’s better to just sit on your hands throughout your entire life just because bad things sometimes happen! I mean there is risk involved in doing anything:

Don’t get married because they might be too selfish for it to work out.

Don’t have kids because they might get hurt.

Don’t buy that house because it might need to be repaired.

Don’t take that job because you might get fired.

But the truth is that we often take risks, big risks because we believe what we want is worth the risk. People get married every day, children are born every day, homes are bought and jobs started every day and they don’t always have that happy ever after ending we log for. The first time that Rylan ever went to church, his dad was fired because the church was growing. We had a 3 year old, and 6 week old, a truck payment, and other bills. It was not the ideal time to get fired and have to look for another job. The conditions were awful, I got out of ministry, started working for Sears, and looking back on that time in our lives I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. During that time in our lives we witnessed God do some pretty remarkable things. You cannot wait for ideal conditions to take a risk and follow God, just follow God and watch how He makes the conditions ideal. There will always be things you have no control over no matter how many precautions you take. That’s why we are called to live by faith. Take the risks and leave the results with God.

Our third high risk/high reward spiritual principle: Expect Things Beyond Your Understanding. As you don’t know the way of the wind, like the limbs in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you don’t know the action of God who does everything. In the morning sow your seed and at evening don’t let your hand relax. Because you don’t know which one will succeed, this one or the other, or if both will be equally good.  Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

Solomon touches on some of life’s great mysteries in this part of the text. He mentions the way of the wind, and while James Span knows a lot about the weather, there is so much that he can never figure out. When and where is a tornado going to start, how strong will a hurricane be when it makes land fall, why does the wind pattern change from day to day? We can see when the the conditions are right, we can see the evidence in hindsight but we still at 0% for being able to explain the why and where. There is still so much that we cannot even begin to comprehend. 

Solomon doesn’t just leave it with the patterns of the wind, if you really want to get deep into life’s great mysteries consider how the human body develops in the womb. We can explain what is happening, but we have no idea why it happens that way, and in that order. The more we learn, the more we understand we have to learn. But not being able to explain the mysteries of nature does not give us an excuse to quit taking risks. Solomon says in verse 6 In the morning sow your seed and at evening don’t let your hand relax. Because you don’t know which one will succeed.

In other words, if God has given you time, talent, and treasure then you need to get busy doing the work of the Kingdom, even if you don’t know exactly how it will turn out! There is no excuse for leading a dull, passionless life! Don’t worry that you may fail if you try. Failure is only certain if you don’t try!

Solomon’s fourth principle for spiritual high risk/high reward: Plan On Dark Days. The light is sweet and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Because if a person lives many years, he should rejoice in all of them. But be mindful of the darkness, because they will be many; everything that will come is hollow. Ecclesiastes 11:7-8

If you have your way, everyday would be gumdrops, lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows. But as we have already discussed, every day is not full of sunshine; there are dark days in everyone’s life. The only difference between sunny days and cloudy days is how you look at them! We could all agree that the story of Job is a story of one bad day after another.  As a matter of fact we have 37 chapters of bad days. But every bad day was met with Job’s faithful longing for God.

I want you to get out of here in time to get a good seat at the restaurant so I am not going to belabor this point.  We all know that we have had dark days in this life.  But the difficulties of this life should never cloud our vision of God. The risk of following God is high but the reward is that we never have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone since God walks with us.

Finally, the fifth spiritual principle for high risk/high reward: Keep Your Eyes On The Big Picture. Rejoice, young man, during your youth; your mind should make you feel good in the days of your youth. Walk about in the ways of your mind and in the sights of your eyes. But acknowledge that for all these things God will bring you to account. So remove vexation from your mind and make what is bad pass from your body Because youth and vigor is hallow. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 

Solomon ends this part of his letter by giving us a wake up call. The big picture here is that eternity is forever! We tend to go from the extreme of not thinking about the consequences of our actions to the other extreme of playing it so safe that we end up living a boring, comfortable, and predictable life.

Too many of us have become so comfortable with God that we forget the power that He possesses.  We understand that at one time He had the power to create man from the dust of the earth, and part the Sea. We even believe that He had the power to raise His Son from the dead and cause a revolution through the work of a small band of people. But when was the last time we saw any of that?

Because the waters haven’t parted, and the storms still rage we tend to look at what we can see and become nothing more that religious dust collectors. We don’t forgive, because we forgot what it was like to be truly forgiven. We don’t evangelize because we forgot what it was like to be on fire for God.

And we don’t give freely of our time, talents, and treasures because we have forgotten what it was like to trust in God for everything. Many of us have walked so long with God that the notion of giving Him everything causes more of a chuckle that a stirring in our souls.

This morning I want you to remember the big picture. Send off your bread on the surface of the water! Don’t let fear, pessimism, and paranoia rule you! Stay spiritually awake! Remain spiritually active! Find that abundant life that Jesus offers. Take the high risks for Him. Any individual or church that will practice these principles will find the rewards to be great! The call this morning is for you to live a life giving your time, talent, and treasure in acts of faith. It is a call for you to Trust God and live a life of faithful obedience.

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