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How Do You Make Good Decisions?

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., February 13, 2011.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“Are you going to make a good choice?” This is a question I heard my daughter ask one of her three-year-old twins when we visited for the holidays. It seems Kate was on the verge of getting into trouble and Amy was trying to prevent it. She clearly laid out Kate’s options and then asked her this all-important question. “Kate, are you going to make a good choice? I want you to make a good decision, but I can’t make it for you. You must decide.”

On this occasion, Kate chose the high road and avoided having to sit in the dreaded “time-out” chair. This meant she could continue playing with her new toys while plotting the next way to aggravate Jack.

This morning, let’s think about making good choices, which I think is at the heart of our text. I can almost hear Moses asking the Israelites if they were going to make a good choice after he so succinctly laid out their options. Like a loving and responsible parent, I am confident he did everything he could to help them make the best choice.

Moses voiced these words near the end of his life. The Israelites were preparing to enter the land promised by God to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, he would not accompany them on this final leg of their pilgrimage from Egypt. Joshua, his successor, would be the one to lead them over the river Jordan.  

Before Moses died, though, he left these parting words. Actually, Deuteronomy contains three farewell discourses and this is the last one. Many consider these carefully chosen words to be the most moving and brilliant speech in the Old Testament.

  “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” Deuteronomy 30:15-20.

“Now choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” Moses encouraged the Israelites as they prepared to enter this new land that held so much promise and hope for a better life. He left no doubt in their mind what he wanted them to do, yet the decision was theirs to make. Moses could tell them what he wanted, which he did, but he could not decide for them. Each of them had to do this and renew this decision often, and so must we.

Two questions came to mind as I pondered this text, which I think are related. What kinds of decisions lead to life and how do you make good decisions, the kind that lead to life and prosperity, not death and adversity?

Most people I know want to live a meaningful and abundant life. How that is achieved is what is up for debate.

According to Moses, it begins with character development. When you become the person you need to be, good decisions will follow.

What kind of person does God want us to be? What do the commandments, decrees and ordinances Moses referred to reveal?

God wants us to be honest, trustworthy, responsible, reliable, dependable, loyal and faithful. He wants us to be kind, fair, respectful, compassionate, humble and generous.

He wants us to seek reconciliation when differences occur. If we have harmed someone, God wants us to ask for forgiveness and make restitution. If we have been harmed, He wants us to forgive and do our part to repair the relationship.

He wants us to respect all people at all times, never exploiting or abusing them. At the same time, He wants us to be an advocate for those who are being exploited and abused, responding to their pleas for help.

He wants us to confront the ugly parts of ourselves which seek to harm us and others and do whatever is necessary to overcome them. He does not want the demons inside of us to control our thoughts and behavior.

He wants us to be good neighbors, building bridges of goodwill and understanding to all people, not walls of separation. He wants us to pursue justice and peace, always mindful of those living in deplorable conditions, which breed despair and hopelessness.

He wants us to be faithful mates and loving parents, building strong, healthy, happy and peaceful homes. He wants us to be good role models who help our loved ones and friends see their potential and achieve it.

He wants us to make good choices. When tempted to be selfish, greedy, mean, ugly, self-centered, petty, dishonest, unfaithful, insensitive, uncaring, vindictive or violent, He wants us to resist, choosing instead to take the high road.

Yes, good decisions begin with character development. Moses knew this. This is why he told them twice in this passage to love God, seek His will for their lives and walk in His ways. Doing so would make them the people they needed to be so they could make good choices.

There were times when our children were growing up that they wanted to respond to a person who hurt them or a bad situation in unhealthy ways. Jackie and I advised against it. “Why?” they would ask. “Because you need to respond based upon who you are, not who they are,” we replied. “Their character will let them hurt other people; yours shouldn’t,” we would say.

This is not easy, especially when the stakes are high. How can we be sure this is the path to take and this road will lead to life and not death?

Moses was convinced. So were all the prophets. Jesus bet his life on it. So did the disciples. How about you?

What decision are you wrestling with today? How long have you been struggling with it?

Whose advice have you sought? Who is helping you clarify your options like Moses did for his people? Who is helping you to see the consequences of each decision? 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” Deuteronomy 30:15. I have always been intrigued by Moses’ simplicity and boldness. Who is your Moses?

Who needs you to make a good choice? Who is watching and needs you to be a role model? Whose life will be impacted by your decision?

What if you have made some bad choices? What do you do then? Must you live forever with guilt and shame? Can you move in new directions? Certainly you can.

Linda Lisska McJunkin is a good example of overcoming a bad decision. Her story was told yesterday on the front of the sports page in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Linda was a star athlete and student at Brookwood High School and Georgia Tech. By the way, when she was a little girl, she attended our weekday school.

At the age of twenty-eight, though, she made a decision to drive after having four drinks with some friends. That night, she hit another car and killed two young adults, ages 20 and 24.

She has recently been released from prison and is, at 34, trying to rebuild her life. She has been reunited with her family, resumed her role as a wife and mother, reconciled with the families of her victims and goes around to schools talking to students about the importance of making good decisions. One of her goals is to help teens and young adults to avoid making the same mistake she did by telling her story.

This takes a lot of courage, for which I admire Linda. I am confident her testimony will keep someone from making the same mistake and save lives.

Must we live forever with guilt and shame? Can we move in new directions? Certainly we can and this appears to be one reason Moses voiced these words. He was encouraging his people to renew their vows with humble and repentant hearts.

They had not always made good choices. Neither had he. Asking for forgiveness and renewing their covenant with God made it possible for them to change directions when they needed to in order to get back on track.

Later generations needed to hear this word, too, and were reminded of Moses’ words as the exiles prepared to leave Babylon and head back home to Jerusalem. An accumulation of bad decisions led to their downfall and capture at the turn of the sixth century BC. They did not, however, need to be held hostage to those decisions forever. By God’s grace, they could turn things around and they did. With God’s help, so can we.

What decision do you need to reconsider today? What choice did you make that was contrary to your character that you need to address? What part of your character do you need to change so you can make better decisions? Will you ask for God’s help? I am confident He will respond with grace and mercy.

For you see, as a friend has advised me, “our Christian faith is about seeing the gaps between ourselves and God, between what God wants and what we do, and asking for the courage to narrow the gaps separating us from God.” Perhaps this is what you need to do this morning.

“Are you going to make a good choice?” Amy asked Kate. That time she did. What about you? Will you make a good choice today?