A Roadblock to Making Wiser and Godlier Decisions

This past Sunday we defined the central hub, or core, of our decision-making process. For believers the central hub of our decision-making was emulated by our great God and King, Jesus, when he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus prayed this prayer as he contemplated taking upon himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Jesus’ decision was the most intense, stressful, troubling decision this world has ever seen, and will ever see. No matter how intense or painful our decisions have been or will be, they will never be like the one Jesus faced in the garden of Gethsemane. Nevertheless, there were five truths we took away from his prayer that can help us define the core of our decision-making. Here they are:

1)   Jesus’ prayer is motivated by a love for the Father. When it comes to our decisions, “What’s the motivation for our decision?” Who do we ultimately want to please in making this decision? For Jesus he wanted to please, honor, and glorify his Father.

2)   Jesus’ prayer reflects the desire to do the will of God. When it comes to our decisions, “What’s the end goal; what do we want to accomplish in making this decision?” For Jesus, in order to please, honor, and glorify the Father he desired to do the will of the Father. The Father’s will became his guide, his directional map, for his decision to take upon himself the wrath of God.

3)   Jesus’ prayer is voiced from a position of glad submission to the Father. When it comes to our decisions, “Who are we gladly, humbly, and joyfully submitting to?” To phrase this question another way, “How’s our attitude in making a decision?” For Jesus, we know that he approached the cross with joy and glad submission to the Father. The author of Hebrews writes, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame….” Paul also writes, that Jesus “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

4)   Jesus’ prayer, honestly uttered and faithfully executed required great sacrifice. When it comes to our decisions, “Have we sacrificed this decision on the altar of God’s glory?” Or you may ask this question, “How high of a price are we willing to pay to make the best, the wisest, the godliest decision?”

5)   Jesus’ prayer, honestly uttered and faithfully executed advanced the mission of God. When it comes to our decisions, “What mission does our decisions advance?” For Jesus, his decision to embrace the cross—absorbing the wrath of God for our sin—advanced the mission of God in the world.

When it comes to making the best, wisest, godliest decisions there are many roadblocks we face. In short, I want to address one roadblock. Here it is: we have a problem with submitting ourselves to making the best decisions with great humility, gladness, and joy. Every decision, no matter how weighty or how difficult, should be enacted with humble, glad, and joyful submission. However, this can only happen when we are intimately connected with the Father and have a great love for him and his will.

To be honest, I wish this would be something my children would learn. If your children are like mine, when we ask them to do something, the decision to do it is wrought with stomping, huffing, puffing, whining, and complaining. They may make the decision to do what we desire, but not in humble, glad, joyful submission. They make it because we have modified their behavior in some way.

Truthfully, the reason why many believers fail to obey and make the better, wiser, godlier decisions in life is because their “Christianity” has been manufactured through behavioral modification rather than developed through an intimate love relationship with the Father.

In other words, modified “Christian” behavior follows through on the easy external decisions like praying, giving, attending church, reading the bible, or being moral and living a good decent life. These decisions are fairly easy for they are external decisions that do not require a lot of sacrifice, but that can be modified and manufactured. However, the hard decisions are not easily modified. Decisions like, loving others (even those not like us), forgiving others (those who have wronged us), telling others about Jesus, being kind and generous, not blowing up, putting effort into a struggling marriage, asking the question does God want me to stay in this marriage, saying no to a very flirtatious relationship that is dangerous, fessing up to an addiction, honestly assessing our taxes, putting the right amount of hours on our time sheet, saying no to a peer-pressure situation, asking God what job he wants us to take, asking God is this the best use of his finances, how do I respond to this email, how do I respond to this disease, etc.

In these more difficult internal, heart-revealing decisions, the only way we will become more consistent in making better, wiser, healthier, and godlier decisions is if we humbly, gladly, and joyfully submit ourselves to the glory and will of God. This does not come by modifying our external behaviors, but by living in a vibrant, grateful, thankful, and intimate relationship with Jesus. This kind of relationship with Jesus leads to a humble, glad, joyful spirit and attitude.

Does this define your attitude, your spirit, when it comes to you making the best, wisest, healthiest, and godliest decision? If not, you may want to check your relationship with Jesus. 

The Foundation of our Decision-Making

This past Easter Sunday we began a series titled, Eenie, Meanie, Miney, Moe, where we are attempting to make sense of our decisions. There are a few reasons why we all need some direction in our decision-making.

First, we all make decisions. In fact, our lives are filled every day, every week, every month, and every year with decisions? Amazingly, we make thousands of decisions every year, some of those are minuscule decisions, while some our monumental and weighty. Second, most of us do not have a consistent pattern for making decisions. If we were honest, there are times we make decisions based upon what our gut and heart is telling us. Other times we make decisions based upon our feelings and emotions—if we are glad or mad. Then there are times we make decisions using the “moral algebra” method where we list all the pros and cons and then arrive at a decision. And finally there are times we make decisions based upon experience, knowledge, and what others have told us.

Truth is, none of these methods are bad in and of themselves for streamlining our decisions. However, because we randomly use these for various situations and decisions in our life our decision making can become like our childhood decision making process when we sang the rhyme, “Eenie, meanie, miney, moe catch a tiger by his toe….”

Second, we have all made bad decisions. No one has been able to escape the grip of a bad decision. The bad news of bad decisions can leave us badly bruised, if not scarred. Our bad decisions lead to our fear of making more, especially when we face other tough, stressful, and daunting decisions. Third, since we all make decisions, and we have all made bad decisions; we all have the desire to make better, more consistent decisions.

In order to make better, more consistent decisions we need to understand the foundation of our decision making. The foundation of humanity’s decision making originated in a garden. After making man in his image, and giving man the mandate to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth, subduing it and exercising stewardship (dominion) over it, God places man in the Garden of Eden to till it and cultivate while fulfilling their God-given purpose. And it was in the Garden that the foundation of man’s decision making for life originated. Every decision man was to ever make—from small to great, from unimportant to important—was to flow from their relationship with God and his purpose for their life.

However, they made one detrimental decision. They chose to disobey and rebel against God and eat from the tree he had commanded them not to eat. This one decision led to the chaotic breakdown and damage of humanity and the created order. It was this one decision that changed humanity’s nature from fully functioning and flourishing as God’s image bearers to damaged, distorted, and broken law-breakers who are in the cross-hairs of God’s wrath. Although man would still have glimmers of being God’s image bearers, the ramifications for all humanity is that they would all make the same fundamental bad decision that their primordial parents made—they would reject God and thus be separated from him. And this rejection of God would lead to other sinful patterns, which would be manifested in bad decisions.

In light of this, God promises and sends Jesus to reconcile man back to God, inviting them back into the Garden. This is vividly seen while Jesus was on the cross and one of the thieves confesses his sin and his due penalty of death and wrath, but at the same time trusts and believes in Jesus—his kingship and grace. Jesus responds to this [guilty] man’s confession by telling him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Many scholars point out that this is a Persian word, which means garden. In addition, they point to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture, and how the word Jesus uses in speaking to the thief is the same word used to describe the garden in Genesis 2 and 3. In the most condensed simplest form, Jesus—in light of his work on the cross (absorbing God’s wrath) and this man’s confession and belief—is inviting this man back into the Garden to enjoy perfect communion and fellowship with God. 

Therefore, if we have followed in the footsteps of this man, this guilty thief turned child of the king, we too have been invited back into the Garden. As a result, every decision we will every make—from small to big, from unimportant to important—should be filtered through our relationship with God and his purpose and plan for our life. If this becomes our foundation we will find that our decision-making will become better, more consistent, and most importantly God glorifying. If you are a believer, is this how you view your decision-making?

A Church’s Capacity to Grow

There are many ingredients that come together to make a church grow. The most important, in my opinion, is the Spirit of God moving in and through a redeemed (saved) people to draw others to Jesus. In addition, there are other ingredients such as a church’s willingness to go, be sent, or live on mission, as well as their submission to Jesus and allowing the Spirit of God and the Word to conform them into his image.

But the one that I want to mention briefly is the ingredient giving. In terms of a church’s capacity to grow, both spiritually and numerically, it is incumbent upon a church to possess the ingredient of giving. If a church fails to give, they are almost destined not to grow.

A church’s giving should reflect the giving of Jesus. How did Jesus give? We see that Jesus gave generously, sacrificially, willingly, and humbly. No one forced Jesus to willingly give his life as a ransom for sinners. In addition a church’s giving should be reflected holistically. In other words, just as Jesus and the early church exemplifies, giving should be expressed in our time, talents, treasures, and in our thanksgiving (attitude, countenance).

Therefore, the giving of our time, talents, treasures, and thanksgiving should be offered generously, sacrificially, willingly, and humbly. Think about it this way: just as a farmer, a church reaps what she sows. Churches (an assembly of believers) should be sowing their time, talents, treasures, and thanksgiving, and they should be sowing in a way that is generous, sacrificial, willing, and humble. If a church is not sowing, they will not be reaping. If a church is not sowing abundantly, they will not reap abundantly.

Just imagine a church filled with the Holy Spirit, mobilized to be sent-out living on mission, and growing in their understanding Jesus and the gospel; and imagine this same church possessing this ingredient (this spirit) of Jesus-like giving. A church that possesses these ingredients becomes positioned and postured for God to maximize their use as his missional people in the world.

My prayer is for our church, Western Oaks, to be a giving church—to be an assembly of believers that reflects the generosity, sacrifice, willingness, and humility of Jesus. I pray that we embody this way of giving in all areas of our life. With our time, I pray that we devote ourselves to corporate worship, a community group, an area of service, and living intentionally on mission. With our talents, I pray that we would use our giftedness and our availability to serve the body, which can be done at our corporate worship gatherings, community group gatherings, or when other needs arise. With our treasures, I pray that we would be generous and feel the weight of our (financial) generosity as we give towards the advancement of the gospel, investing into the kingdom of God. With our thanksgiving, I pray that we would be a church that has an attitude, a countenance, and aura about us that is glad, joyful, praising, gracious, and infectious, which can only originate fully from a life that understands and has embraced the gospel.

Having this kind of giving opens up the floodgates for a church’s capacity to grow.

A Platform for the Gospel

Have you ever thought about how a platform, or stage, commands attention? In every environment I can think of where a stage or platform is present, all the seats point towards the platform. Rather it is a raised or sunken platform, the seats are designed in a way for people to see what is transpiring on the stage. I have been to baseball games, basketball games, football games, school plays, professional theatre, movies, conferences, and church worship gatherings. At every single one of those events when someone mounted the stage or the platform, all the attention became fixated on them. The stage or platform became the tool for the team, the person, or the director to share their mission, their purpose, for being there.

When it comes to gospel message the same is true. God builds a stage, a platform, for his people to share him with the world. In fact, the promise of the Spirit and his coming was to empower Jesus’ disciples for witness. This past Sunday I preached on Acts 2:14-41 where Peter delivers the first sermon of the church in which 3000 people respond in repentance and follow Jesus in baptism. But how was that message prompted? It was prompted by the Spirit building a platform. After the Spirit fell on the disciples they began to speak in tongues. These tongues involved them speaking in their native language, yet their native language fell in the native language of the hearers present. This commotion led people in the crowd to be “amazed and perplexed,” asking the disciples, “What does this mean?” Others in the crowd believed them to be drunk, as if they went to the local Jewish tavern at 8a.m that morning.

Peter using this Spirit built platform stands up, lifts up his voice, and addresses the crowd bringing clarity to what has just taken place. What’s interesting about this Spirit built platform is that it continues to happen throughout the book of Acts. In the following chapters, Acts 3 and 4, the Spirit builds another platform to share the gospel through the healing of the lame beggar. Acts 5 we read, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. . . . And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” Acts 6, Stephen is given a platform after doing great wonders and signs among people and after a dispute arose between him and another group about what was taking place (6:8-9).

In Acts 8, we find Philip preaching Jesus in Samaria. There in Samaria, Philip proclaimed Christ while the crowds “paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did” (Acts 8:6). Philip also mounts a Spirit built platform when he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch frustratingly reading, and not comprehending, Isaiah. Philip explains Isaiah to this eunuch in light of Jesus and the eunuch responds in faith and follows in baptism. After Philip, we encounter the church antagonist turned church apostle, Paul. After Paul ‘s conversion Luke shares that he “immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues…” (Acts 9:20). The synagogue was an Spirit built-in platform that gave immediate opportunity to preach Jesus. Paul throughout his ministry would use this already constructed Spirit-built platform.

I could go on and on throughout the book of Acts pointing to the Spirit built platforms that gave opportunity for the apostles and followers of Jesus to share Jesus with others. Truth is, there is no difference today. As the Spirit built platforms for the believers to share over 2000 years ago, he too, today, builds platforms for believers to share. It is important to note that not only does the Spirit build the platforms; he empowers believers to share on the platforms.

I was reading yesterday in the book, To Transform a City, a quote that Albert Einstein made in Time magazine in the December 23, 1940 issue, which exemplifies this notion of the sharing of the gospel having a Spirit-built platform. Einstein states, “Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. I looked to the great editors of the newspaper, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. . . . Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”

This is a great example of the Spirit of God working in and through the church to build platforms to share the gospel. But this is neither the only example, nor way, that the Spirit builds platforms. Spirit-built platforms can be built through the way Jesus changes our behaviors, our actions, our attitudes, and our patterns of life to the point where others take notice and want to know why we do certain things. Platforms can be built in how we serve others in need; how we give generously and sacrificially; or how we stand against injustices. Platforms can be seen in the situations and circumstances of people around us where they may be looking for meaning, for purpose, for relief, for love, for community, for forgiveness, for a fresh start, for parenting advice, for marital advice, or for hope. Spirit-built platforms can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Here’s my challenge to us, the church: will we be in-tuned to and aware of the Spirit’s work in and through us, as well as around us in building platforms for us to share Jesus with others. I know, sharing Jesus with others can be, and is for many (including myself), a little nerve rattling. However, know that the Spirit is preparing us and building the platform, which becomes a natural opportunity for us to share who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing in our life. In addition, just as the platform is not our responsibility to build, neither is getting one to believe and respond positively to what we are sharing. That too, is the Spirit’s responsibility.

Just think, we have only two responsibilities. First, we must be aware of the Spirit’s work in our life and how he is working in and around us to build platforms for us to share the gospel. And two, we have the responsibility to use the natural platformthat the Spirit providesto share Jesus with others. In other words, we have the responsibility to use the tool the Spirit provides to share with others the mission and purpose of Godto save a people for himself. Has the Spirit built you a platform? Is he building you a platform? Will you use the platform?