A dendrochronologist can look at a tree stump and tell us the life story of that tree. They can look at the rings and chart the tough years and the good growth years.
Raising a family is not all that different from tending trees – it’s a lot of work, you don’t do it overnight, there are storms and sometimes you have to wade through some pretty deep fertilizer.
The one difference between trees and human families is choice. A tree has no choice in where it is planted by the gardener, and it subsequently grows according to its nature and the conditions it experiences. A family is also “planted” in the sense of our creation – but a family has choices.
The difficulty our culture faces today of instability in marriage and breaking-apart of homes is a direct result of poor choices we make – much more so than the conditions of life we experience.
Making Godly choices (as this morning’s Psalm advises) is an excellent choice for any individual or family. It lays before us the basic choices of life as well as the consequences of those choices.
For those who are contemplating marriage or for a marriage that is still young, it is the best way to set the compass for the decades ahead. For those whose marriage is in a second, third or even greater decade this Psalm is still the compass; it is the place to find your “course correction yardstick”. It is never too late to make good choices!
So, let’s talk about making good choices no matter where you’re planted. These will be stated negatively (as they are in Scripture), but we will end-up in the positive of what good choices does in a life. The negative or poor choices are a progression in Scripture.
Good Choices and Consequences
I. Don’t get advice from wicked people
1Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, Psalm 1:1a (NRSV)
The word “wicked” means those who are morally-wrong. Our society is jammed-full of folks like that. And our churches are also jammed-full of people seeking advice from them. Oprah, Dr. Phil, internet chat rooms…all willing to give advice based upon human thinking rather than God’s Word and the principles found therein!
Sometimes it’s subtle, but the moral wickedness of following any advice but God’s is the first step down the slippery slope of moving away from God and goodness.
A movie premiered this week – X-Men Origins: Wolverine  is based on the Marvel comic book character. The main character is Logan, the “wolverine” who is, a “super-hero”. He is a mutant with supernatural strength and has the ability to regain that strength and vitality after being injured or even killed. In order to get that supernatural strength and incredible set of fingernails he had to give-in to the dark urge of payback, allowing the mad doctor to inject him with Adamantium. Logan lives to avenge the murders of his loved ones; he leaves a wake of destruction and death in his pathway.
The story line paints him as a hero, but what can we say about personal revenge? It does not belong to mortals; vengeance belongs only to God. Logan vets our sense of “payback”, but it is the advice of man, not the wisdom from above; subtle, but off base…away from God.
Now, I know that’s just a movie (and I enjoy a good story too), but we can be guilty of the same decision Logan made to embrace the dark side. Just as Logan rationalized that he was entitled to revenge on his enemies, we can begin with simple rationalization. But no matter how many excuses you come up with for wrong behavior, it is still going against the will of God.
Surprisingly you don’t have to go far and wide to find people who look pretty respectable, but have been following wicked advice so long they’re bound by it. Church rolls are full of people who profess to be disciples of Jesus, yet never darken the doorstep of the house of worship. At first it was simple rationalization that they could just as easily worship God at the ballpark or lake, or even via their favorite televangelist. But wicked advice tends to settle in and grab on.
The next stage in the progression of poor choices happens almost without being noticed.
II. Don’t pattern yourself after worldly people.
…or take the path that sinners tread, Psalms 1:1b (NRSV)
If wickedness is moral wrongness, the term “sinners” applies to the criminal. Criminal in this case is breaking the law when you know full well you are breaking it. I’d call it “first-degree sin”. When you begin to accept the advice of wickedness, you soon don’t see anything wrong with worldliness. When a member of the body of Christ acts this way it is called practical atheism – you acknowledge God has said “x” but you’ll do “y” because it’s what you want to do…and hang the consequences!
I have seen this often in people who will never give any outward sign of being a Christian, yet they will say they believe in God; some will even tell you “I’m saved. I just don’t think you have to go to church, give money, read an old Book, etc…” This is the kind of person who is too sick or nervous to be in a “crowd” at a church service, but you’ll see them with 100,000 other poor sick folk at the races, or a ball game. Worldliness says the worship of Almighty God is not important, and is a very poor choice!
Robert Frost wrote: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry that I could not travel both  Many people think they can travel both roads of being saved, and yet bearing no witness of that salvation by becoming a disciple of Jesus. Humanly speaking, we’d travel six or eight roads if they pleased us, and if we could. Yet the fact remains, you cannot be God’s person and the world’s at the same time. As Joshua told the nation of Israel:
…choose this day whom you will serve,…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 (NRSVA)
III. Don’t leave God out altogether
…or sit in the seat of scoffers; Psalms 1:1c (NRSV)
Scoffers are those who mock God altogether; these are the hard-core atheists, denying that there even IS a God. Now most of us could never imagine that we’d go down that road in a thousand years. However, let me remind you that this is the last stop in a progression.
Lot did not start out that way. He was Abraham’s nephew, a believer, a follower of Yahweh. But the progression got Lot, and it led to the undoing of his whole family. Lot followed some bad advice. He bought into the worldly thinking of choosing material blessings over spiritual wisdom. When given the choice he camped near Sodom. That was morally wrong. When you’re an alcoholic, you don’t hang out near the bar.
Bad moral advice of the wicked was followed by worldly living like the sinners – Lot moved into Sodom. And he became a mocker when he sat in the gate of the city – became a city alderman. He was no longer acting like the wicked and sinners…he was now one of them. I can guarantee you if they’d had a vote on alcohol in Sodom, Alderman Lot would’ve made Jack Daniels proud!
Now…after all the negative side of the choices, we can begin to look at God’s advice to us about good choices:
IV. Let your progression be towards God
2but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. Psalms 1:2 (NRSV)
The birthmark of Christians is faith. The “delight” of blessed people is the law (or Word) of God. In Hebrew the word “delight” is our “bent” or inclination. Are you inclined, or bent towards the things of God. If not, you can begin to move in that direction. Just like Lot began his slide towards Sodom, you can step in the opposite direction. You can move towards faith in God. His Word will lead you there.
V. The result will be fruit
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. Psalms 1:3 (NRSV)
Bearing fruit is under the law of the harvest. One part of that law is that you always reap what you sow, or plant. Shouldn’t we be careful then to plant what we want to harvest?
A church member shared how another church member made a difference in his life. They were both part of a home Bible Study and Prayer group. He said he’d heard this lady pray on many occasions, and somehow you knew that her prayers were not bouncing off the roof – they were going all the way to the Father’s feet at the throne. Then the man became really sick – hospital sick. He was down to the point of having to make some pretty serious decisions. That night he dreamed that lady came to the hospital and prayed for him; the next morning every bit of the heart difficulty he’d been having just faded back into the woodwork!
The connection with the harvest is that the woman planted prayer, but her harvest wasn’t a healing; it was a man who believes strongly in prayer! Biblical living will have its impact.
Bad Choices and Consequences
4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalms 1:4 – 6 (NRSV)
Chaff – the empty shell – what’s left after the wheat is harvested – what emptiness…perishing, blown-away by the wind!
This is a short statement; we’ve all made enough mistakes to recognize that emptiness and separation from God is not a good choice.
Life’s Mission Statement
The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make the good choice to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. In the process of following Jesus we will make disciples, and transform the world.
This is the birthmark of followers of Jesus, impacting lives for good by choosing well to follow Jesus. We impact our world one good choice at a time, one person at a time.
In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series one of the stories has the children returning after a number of years being back in London. Lucy is the first one to encounter Aslan the lion (Aslan represents Jesus). Looking at him Lucy says, “Aslan, you’re bigger now.” Aslan replies, “That’s because you’ve grown.”
When it comes to becoming a disciple of Jesus, following Him, learning Who He is, and how He wants me to serve Him, I find the most surprising impact of all is not on the people to whom I minister. The biggest impact or change is on me. Every choice I make for Jesus changes me – and over the last 35 years of serving Him as a layman and as a pastor I have seen Him become bigger…and I am amazed at how much my thoughts are of pleasing Him and delighting myself in His Word and His way. I am completely in awe of how He has loved me in spite of my own sin and folly. He’s much bigger now; and I have grown.
If there is one thing your (and my) family needs it is the person who is making the choice every day, and deeper each day to follow Jesus, plant the crop of faith and faithfulness.
1] ©Twentieth Century Fox, 2009 Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.
2] “The Road Not Taken”