Opening illustration: Listen to this description of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in northern Ukraine (summary of the report): "There were two electrical engineers in the control room that night, and the best thing that could be said for what they were doing is they were 'playing around' with the machine. They were performing what the Soviets later described as an unauthorized experiment. They were trying to see how long a turbine would 'free wheel' when they took the power off it.
"Now, taking the power off that kind of a nuclear reactor is a difficult, dangerous thing to do, because these reactors are very unstable in their lower ranges. In order to get the reactor down to that kind of power, where they could perform the test they were interested in performing, they had to override manually six separate computer-driven alarm systems.
"One by one the computers would come up and say, 'Stop! Dangerous! Go no further!' And one by one, rather than shutting off the experiment, they shut off the alarms and kept going. You know the results: nuclear fallout that was recorded all around the world, from the largest industrial accident ever to occur in the world." This city, which formerly had 55,000 people, is now largely abandoned.
The instructions and warnings in Scripture are just as clear. We ignore them at our own peril, and tragically, at the peril of innocent others. (Bobby Scobey, Cornerstone Church) Let us turn to Ruth 1 …
Introduction: Decisions determine destiny. Your life tomorrow will be the direct result of the decisions you make today. In the first five verses of Ruth we encounter a man named Elimelech, a man whose destiny was indeed determined by his decisions. The Bible tells us that he was a Hebrew of the tribe of Judah. As such, he was privileged to have extended to him the promises of God. Sadly, Elimelech failed to realize the fullness of those promises. Being a Hebrew, he had been taught the absolute truths of God's revelation of man. Though the Old Testament had not been completed at the time of Elimelech's life, he did have the divine truth of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Elimelech, however, chose to make critical life decisions based on human rationale instead of God's divine leading. We can learn three principles from Elimelech's decision-making.
What happens when you MAKE the WRONG DECISIONS? When you make decisions based on human rationale instead of divine leading …
1. You distance yourself from the blessings and promises of God (vs. 1-2)
Names in the Bible are very significant. We miss a great deal in our Bible study if we fail to note the meanings of names. The name Elimelech means, "My God is king."' It could also mean "God is my king."' What a great name for a man to have! Imagine what it must have been like for Elimelech to go to the marketplace in Bethlehem. As he made his way through the crowds people would say to him in essence, "Hello, Mr. God Is My King.” His name made a personal theological statement. Regretfully, Elimelech did not live up to his name. He chose to rule his own life by leaving Bethlehem of Judah to go to the land of Moab. The children of Israel were to live exclusively in the Promised Land. God had made that clear through Moses (Deuteronomy 6:1). Therefore, Elimelech's sojourning was an act of disobedience.
The word Bethlehem means "house of bread." The word Judah means "praise." In Psalms 108:9, we read of the Lord's evaluation of Moab. God said, "Moab is my washpot" (KJV). In other words, in God's sight, Moab was like a pot that one would use to wash his feet-a pot that was common and filthy. Elimelech left the house of bread and the land of praise to journey about thirty miles away to a filthy wash pot. Though there was a famine in Bethlehem, he would have been far better off to have stayed there, for Bethlehem was the place God had designed for Elimelech and his family. Instead, he sojourned to what he thought was a better place. He disregarded and dismissed the directives of God and set out based on what he himself thought was best. The result was not the best it was the worst. Such is always the case. His journey to Moab was one of disobedience. Subsequently, he put distance between himself and the place of God's blessings and promises. Christians do the same thing when they make decisions based on human rationale instead of divine leading. They leave the house of bread and the place of praise and journey to the wash pot. They put distance between themselves and the blessings and promises of God.
I will never forget the words of an old preacher. He told me once, "Christians are bad about walking past the honey comb to eat out of the slop bucket." Perhaps he was well acquainted with the meaning of the word Moab and had adopted it to his own vocabulary. Marriages, families, careers, and reputations become wash pots (slop buckets if you will) when God's people make their own decisions instead of following God's directions. Have you considered the fact that the Bible is a record of God's directions? Many a times when I counsel people, I often hear people say they need to pray about decisions which God has already made clear in His Word. All they really mean is they have not yet decided to obey. You do not have to pray for wisdom about matters stated in God's Word. Pray all you wish, but God will never give new revelation in addition to the Bible. You need only to obey what He has already said. When you submit to Scripture, you take sides with God and position yourself in the arena of His blessing. When you do as Elimelech did and make decisions which seem right from the human perspective, you distance yourself from God's blessings.
2. You incur tragic consequences (vs. 3, 5a)
Elimelech made his decision and then came the consequence. In Elimelech's case, the consequence was death. If Elimelech could have known the tragic consequence of his detrimental decision, he would never have left Bethlehem. I had the great privilege of being discipled by a man who walked with God. I learned insights from him that I share whenever I have the opportunity. I will never forget something he told me. He said, "Ajai, the will of God is always what you would choose if you knew all the consequences ahead of time." How true this is. God knows all the consequences ahead of time. To save us from the tragedies, He has given us His Word to instruct us. Someone has accurately said, "First you make your decisions and then your decisions make you." The story of Elimelech illustrates this. You can make your decisions, but you cannot choose the consequences. For the child of God who makes decisions based on human rationale, the results always will be tragic, if not immediately, then eventually. To fail to abide by the Word of God is to transgress the Word of God. And, God tells us in Proverbs 13:15, "The way of the transgressor is hard."
Illustration: While making up the batter for bread or cake, I observed something that illustrates the "consequence aspect" of our decisions. Here it is: Once you make the decision to mix the ingredients together, there is no return to the way things were. You cannot put the cornmeal back in the bag, the eggs back in the shells, the milk back in the jug, the corn back in the can, or the oil back in the bottle. Once you put them together, that's it. Those individual ingredients become batter. That is the way it is with our decisions and our consequences. We mix our decisions and the result is our batter of consequences.
A verse that is often used in evangelism is Romans 6:23, which says, "For the wages of sin is death." Certainly this is a great verse to help lost people see their need for Christ. But, we must not neglect to see the broader aspects of this verse.
God says that every sin has a payday. To put it more accurately, for every sin there is a "payment" day. A Christian who makes sinful decisions will orchestrate death somewhere in his life. It could be death to his marriage, death to his reputation, death to a scholarship, death to his freedom, death to a relationship, death to a career, etc.
Illustration: I have seen people experience Romans 6:23 in all of these areas, but there is one particular instance that I would like to share with you. I once worked with a friendly and energetic young man. He had a tremendous personality, was well thought of by all his co-workers, was highly motivated hard-worker and all his coworkers thought well of him. He also professed to be a Christian and was actively involved in a respected local church. As one of his supervisors, I envisioned the young man becoming very successful with the company where we were employed. His future was bright. However, his job responsibilities involved situations where he had opportunities for personal gain through dishonest practices. One day, he did just that. He made a dishonest decision. With that one, dishonest decision, his entire career with the company ended. His promising future was extinguished. Worst of all, his testimony for Christ suffered tremendous reproach. The result of his decision will follow him the rest of his life. He now has to live the remainder of his life on this earth wondering what might have been had he made the right decision. Some decisions carry consequences that are beyond repair this side of heaven. This young man made a decision based on human rationale instead of divine leading, and he suffered tragic consequences.
3. You cause others to endure consequences also (vs. 4, 5b)
Notice the consequences that were incurred by people other than Elimelech: Mahlon and Chilion lost their lives; Ruth and Orpah lost their husbands; and Naomi lost both her husband and her sons. Elimelech's bad decision had consequences that affected not only himself, but also those he loved.
A person does not sin in a vacuum. No one sins outwardly without affecting, to some degree, those around him. Scripture is filled with examples of this truth. David's sin affected Bathsheba, her husband Uriah and an innocent child. Abraham's sin affected Sarah. Jacob's sin affected Isaac, Esau and Rebecca. The sin of the ten spies affected the entire nation of Israel and resulted in forty years of wilderness wandering. Adam underscores this truth as no other, since his sin affected and continues to affect every human being and all of creation.
Because of the decisions of the terrorists on September 11, 2001, not only the rest of America, but the rest of the world has had to deal with the consequences. The same is with sin in the life of a Christian. You make bad decisions, decisions based on human rationale, and others in your family, workplace, church, and community will have to deal with the consequences. Children have to endure the consequences of parents who make bad decisions. Co-workers have to endure consequences of employees who make bad decisions (i.e., executive fraud in the Enron Corporation, postal employee shootings, etc.). Church members have to endure the consequences of ministers who make bad decisions. The list could go on and on.
The words of Jesus during His earthly ministry not only emphasize this truth, they also serve as a sobering reminder to all of us regarding the responsibility we have for the decisions we make. Notice the seriousness of the following words of Jesus: "Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling blocks comes" (Matthew 18:7). Jesus says woe to the one who makes a sinful decision that proves to be detrimental to the spiritual well-being of another. Imagine the accountability to God that Elimelech had by leading his family away from the place of God's promises.
There is one verse of Scripture that I refer to again and again when faced with a decision. It is Isaiah 50:11, which says, "Behold, all of you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with firebrands, Walk in the light of your fire And among the brands you have set ablaze. This is what you have from My hand; and you will lie down in torment." Here is the application. God says that if we, His people, make decisions apart from Him we are kindling our own fire. We are encircling ourselves with the firebrands of our choosing. Such fire-starting will cause us torment. God will see to it. "Why?" you might ask. The answer is because He loves us so much that He will discipline us for our disobedience (see Hebrews 12:6). He wants us to walk the path of obedience. If we stray from it, He will take the necessary disciplinary measures to make us return to it.
The Scriptures do not tell us, but I wonder if Elimelech died because he continually refused to heed the discipline God designed to lead him back to Bethlehem. Decisions determine destiny. Let us not lean on our own understanding, but let us lean on the divine revelation of God. His Word will keep us from making wrong decisions.
Application: Our entire life balances on decision-making. Some are easy and some are difficult. Making effective and sound decisions is an art that is learned through life experience. We learn how to make decisions when we are young child, although we did not realize that we were being taught to make decisions. As we grow older, we feel that the number of decisions that we make seems to be increasing by the say. Decisions become more complex and the ramifications of our decisions are more significant. We have to understand that our instruction is contained in God’s Word, and that as we apply His principles, we find ourselves making wise decisions and judgments in all areas of life.
So how can we make decisions that are most glorifying to God and resulting in His richest blessing of our lives? Reflecting on what we have discussed today, I will briefly run through how we can be better and wiser decision makers –
• Examine and follow God’s Word (don’t turn and twist it to justify your actions/agenda)
• Recognize God in establishing priorities
• Seek wise counsel and advice (from mature godly men and women)
• Evaluate the choices you make with prayer
• Wait on the Lord to reveal His will
• Decision-Making should be made with confidence and by faith
God is not an author of confusion. When you surrender your decision-making process to God, you do what you can do and what you know to be the correct and right decision; God will guide and direct you in your decision-making process. He doesn’t make it hard but easy. The key to decision-making is knowing the heart of God and His will for you. It says in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths."