“Making the Best Decisions”
December 2, 2012
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
As we enter into the Advent Season our thoughts turn to how God put on the form of human flesh and showed us what He was like. You hear the word ‘incarnate’ a lot around Christmas time. It simply means that God left the splendor of heaven, put on human form and was born as baby Jesus in that manger in Bethlehem. That was an awesome event. It is right and good that we should celebrate it. But another awesome event that we don’t celebrate is the reverse of the incarnation of God. It is when God created man to be like God. God created us to be in His image. Our natural state is to be like God. Unfortunately, when we fell; when we rebelled against God’s will; when mankind sinned – we lost that godlikeness estate and degenerated into the fallen creatures we are today- inclined to sin continually (Gen 6:5).
Jesus came to enable us to, once again, become like God. When we accept Him as our Savior and Lord, a process begins that will transform us into His image once again. The Scripture says,
“And we ...are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory...” 2 Corinthians 3:18
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son...”
The Holy Spirit’s job is to empower us for Christlikeness. When He is allowed, He will transform us and produce God-like fruit in our lives. Pastor Bob talked a little bit about that last week. But what I want to talk about this morning is the way we have been created in God’s image. Some people think God must look like us – because we were created in His image. But I don’t think we were created ‘physically’ in His image. I think we were created ‘spiritually’ and ‘creatively’ in His image. We were created from an eternal perspective and with eternity in mind, but we were also given choice making power that no other creature has. We can choose our own destiny. We can make our own choices of who we are and what we are. That is tremendous power. When God created man He gave him ‘dominion’ or power over the whole earth. As a sign of His gift, God brought the animals to Adam and allowed him to name them (Genesis 2:19-20). He put him in charge of the Garden and gave him permission to eat anything in it except for one thing. Choice! God gave man a choice.
Choices are so important aren’t they? Eve saw the fruit and it looked GOOD! Beside that it had the power to make her wise (Gen 3:6) so she made a choice. She enticed Adam and HE made a choice. We have been paying for those unwise choices ever since.
This morning I want to talk about making ‘good’ choices; ‘good’ decisions. In my study of the subject I have come up with four different decision making influences. There are four things the influence what our choices will be. Imagine there are four boxes and we go to each one when we make a decision about something.
The first box is what I call the ‘peer’ box. Everyone else is doing it – so I might as well, too. It is called peer pressure. It’s the “going along with the crowd” box. Aaron, Moses brother knew about that. Listen.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
Do you think the eating and drinking and indulging in revelry may have had something to do with Aaron’s choice? I think so. But the people came to him. There was a LOT of people who came. They could make or break him. They pressured Him. So he went along with the crowd.
Have you ever done that? Everyone else was puffing on a cigarette – and when they encouraged you – maybe called you chicken - you went along with them. Maybe it was alcohol or drugs or something else. Peer pressure works. The marketers count on it. You don’t want to be different! Buy their clothes; buy their perfume; buy their car.
Peer Pressure is very influential in how we make choices. But it is the least effective in helping us make good choices. Oh, there are times when we get in with a good crowd that their goodness and positiveness helps us make good choices – but 75 percent of the time (or more) when we make a choice because of our peers – it is a wrong choice that we will eventually come to regret. In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira are perfect examples of bad peer pressure choices. It cost them their lives. Try to avoid making important choices based on pressure from your peers.
Another way we make choices is emotionally. The marketers know this one, too. They appeal to the eye. It looks good. It smells good. It FEELS good!
Esau’s selling of his inheritance is a good illustration of a bad emotional decision.
“Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.”
When we make emotional choices – we usually come to regret them. Whether it is buying a car or home, choosing a mate, deciding what and when to eat or living our daily lives - the odds are that we will regret that choice. Emotionalism can be sweet as sugar or as bitter as a persimmon. The person who habitually makes choices based on emotion is up and down like a ship in a hurricane. Some are emotionally unstable; one minute laughing hysterically, the other minute crying hysterically. One minute euphorically in love – the other minute bitterly hating that same person.
Even in church we see emotionalism in different forms. It make be seen in that church hopper who never settles down to one fellowship. It may be seen in the pulpit where the pastor or evangelist uses emotion to scare someone down to the alter or who tells a tear jerk story to entice someone to respond. It may be seen in the ‘Amen Corner’ where the loudest and most demonstrative one in the service is the least Christ-like during the week. Not always – but often.
I remember a guy in my church when I first got saved who loudly ‘Amened’ the preacher and weep loudest at alter calls but was carrying on with two affairs at the same time. I came to a place where I said, “Wow! If that is the way Christians are – I don’t want to be one of them!” I almost gave up church because of this guy.
Now, I’m not saying that emotion is always bad. There are many doors to the soul and emotion is one of them. It can be used for good and there are many people who came to Christ because of emotion. But they stay because of something deeper and stronger. Too many, once the emotion dissipates, disappear.
Emotion is not a good way of making important choices. Sometimes they may work out for good – but usually they don’t. Here’s a better way.
The third way we make choices is intellectually. Jesus taught,
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” Luke 14:28-31
Jesus is saying, “Use your head!” Most of our best choices are after careful consideration. We evaluate and consider and ponder our choices. Sometimes Julie and I, when making an important decision will draw a line down a piece of paper and list all the pros on one side and all the cons on the other. We list all the advantages and all the disadvantages. The right choice kind of magically appears when you consider all the facts.
The Bible often appeals to our intellect.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1
Intellectual choices are often the best. Have you ever heard it said, “God gave you a brain – now USE it!” That kind of crude and cruel – but true.
Let me tell you the best way of making choices. The fourth box is marked “Spiritual”. But there are a number of boxes inside this box. Have you ever gotten a present like that? You open one box only to find another inside and then you open that and you find another inside of that. It may go on for a long time. One way to make a spiritual decision is by going directly to God. The Bible is full of stories of God speaking directly to someone and giving them instruction. That has only happened to me a couple of times. Once is when I came to the Lord and another is when God called me to preach. God does speak directly to us at times or uses an angel and tell us what to do. The more common way, thought, is to use His Word. The Bible testifies,
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:19-21
“...from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:15-17
You ignore the Word of God at your own peril. God has given us His Word to instruct us and lead us. It is God-breathed. It is like no other book ever written. And it is so important for us to know it. I estimate I have read the New Testament more than 50 times and the Old Testament more than a dozen times. But guess what? Tomorrow I will begin my day by reading from its pages again. It is that important. My habit through the years has been to read a chapter in the Old Testament and a chapter in the New Testament each and every day.
It is amazing how what I happen to be reading is exactly what I need for that day. Sometimes it is almost miraculous. For instance, when Julie was pregnant and in the hospital with Monica she had toxemia and was on the verge of death. I had visited her all day and was very worried about her. When I got home I prayed and prayed and didn’t seem to get any relief. Then I opened my Bible and the Scripture for the day was this,
“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and may you live to see your children’s children.”
You can imagine how that blessed and comforted me. I am confident that God has given us His Word to help us make correct choices.
The Holy Spirit is another way God speaks to us. Jesus said,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you...” Acts 1:8
But this blessing is conditional. The Bible says,
“We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:32
Who is given the Holy Spirit? Those who obey Him are the ones who receive this blessing. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Jesus told us a few things He will do.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
The Apostles and early day Christians experienced that blessing. The Holy Spirit, Himself, led them and taught them and helped them make decisions. The Scripture says,
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” Acts 16:6-7
It seems that it was a perfectly natural thing for the Early Christians to have the Holy Spirit helping them in their decision making. May we be so close to God that the Holy Spirit’s check or urging becomes easily recognizable. Making choices based on the Spirit is the best way to make them. We probably make the least of our decisions this way – but when they do they are the best choices we make.
As far as I can tell, every choice we make is from one of these four sources – Peers; Emotion; Intellect; or Spirit. I would advise you to examine every decision you make. Test it to determine how you are making it. What is influencing you? The less decisions you make because of peers or emotion – the better you will be. But emotion is feeling. And we so often go with our feelings. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Don’t do what your head says. Go with your heart!”
That is BAD advice. That is SUPER bad advice. The heart is ‘desperately wicked’. The Bible says to ‘control your heart’. Don’t let it control you. Use your head – but even better – use the Spirit in make important choices.
But you have to be led by the Spirit if you want to make those choices. And to be led by the Spirit you need to be filled with the Spirit. Are you? If not – that’s the first choice you need to make.