Decisiveness: The Discipline of Radiance
Ever feel uncertain? Ever feel like you’re facing some life-changing decisions with a hundred voices shouting a thousand questions, none of which have clear answers? It’s easy to go for days, locked in step, paralyzed in doubt. How wonderful, when in such a condition to hear the Word of God in Psalm 34:5:
They looked to Him and were radiant; and their faces were not ashamed.
This radiance we’ve been talking about is anything but indecisive. In fact, that verse makes it sound as if the radiant, confident believer has something that many in our world desperately need: clarity! In our world, you might say it like this: Clarity is a rarity. Everyone wants nuanced actions that account for every opinion and lead in circles. Radiant believers, however, do not participate in that struggle. They are clear and they are decisive.
Sound like something you might need? Do you lack decisiveness? What about when it comes to your lifestyle? Do you struggle with what the right thing is? Do you find yourself willing to dump principle for the siren song of situation? Listen! Radiant Christians have clarity! They are decisive. The psalmist, in this passage, tells us what it means to be a decisive believer and just what you must be decisive about, and, if you want to be a truly radiant believer, you really need to hear him. You can become decisive in your lifestyle.
And a radiant Christian is decisive in another area of his life. He is also decisive in His relationships. He doesn’t buy into the relational shortcuts the world tries to sell him. She doesn’t fall for the sucker punch of living together before marriage in order to see if you’re “compatible.” He doesn’t take his moral cues from the good ol’ boys and she doesn’t nuance her moral conduct in the First Church of Oprah. No! A radiant believer is decisive about how they handle their relationships. A confident life is a decisive life.
And those are the two areas about which the psalmist tells us we must be decisive if we are to develop radiance. In verse 14 of chapter 34, he tells us to, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Two very clear commands are given here. The first one is this: If I am to life a confident, decisive life, I must
DIV 1: PURSUE A GODLY LIFESTYLE.
The writer tells us that we are to turn from sin. We are to depart from evil. To David that would have meant to absolutely refrain from any unlawful activity. Anything that violated the Law that God gave to Moses should be avoided. To us it would mean to depart from anything that would violate God’s word. That’s the negative.
Now the positive: The psalmist says to “depart from evil and do good.” You see, it’s not enough to curse the darkness, you must spread the light. We are not to be known for the bad destructive things we’re against but for the wonderful things we’re for. We are to depart from evil and do good.
Now there’s nothing earth-shattering in all of that. When it comes to how we live our lives, I am sure that the same thing has been said many times before. What strikes me about what is said here is the way that it is said. David tells us without equivocation or hedging. Like a drill sergeant, barking out a command, he orders us to make a decision about our lifestyle. He says, in essence, “Be decisive! Stop sinning! Start living right!”
Now we can lay the blame for the moral weakness of God’s people at the doorstep of many things. We can say our society is increasingly decadent, and it is. We can say that television and the internet is corrupting our young people and it is. We can say that our political leaders have let us down and sold us down the river and, in many cases, they have. But the greatest reason we’re in such sad moral shape in our country today is not the decadence of the world but the ambivalence of the church! The greatest roadblock the church faces today is the roadblock of indecision.
Barry Lorch in his San Diego Union column recently told of a debate on the floor of the United States Senate about 130 years ago. The issue was whether alcohol should be sold in the territories seeking statehood. One notoriously anti-alcohol senator, who, according to one description, was so dry he was a known fire hazard, challenged one of his colleagues to state his position on alcohol.
Supposedly his colleague stood up and said this: "You asked me how I feel about whiskey. Well, here's how I stand on the question. If when you say whiskey you mean that Devil's brew, the poison spirit, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yes, literally takes bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man from the pinnacle of righteousness and gracious living and causes him to descend to the pit of degradation, despair, shame, and helplessness, then I am certainly against it with all my heart.
"But if, when you say whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in an old man's footsteps on a frosty morning; if you mean the drink whose sale puts, I'm told, millions of dollars into our treasury which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, or blind or deaf or dumb, our pitifully aged, and our infirm, to build highways and hospitals and schools, then I am certainly in favor of it. This is my stand, and I will not compromise.” Sounds like that guy could have been a baptist deacon in a local church!
I don’t have to tell you that this indecision about right and wrong is prevalent in the church. In a recent survey, George Barna found that faith made little difference in one’s morality.
The director of the research, David Kinnaman, pointed out, "The research shows that people’s moral profile is more likely to resemble that of their peer group than it is to take shape around the tenets of a person’s faith. This research paints a compelling picture that moral values are shifting very quickly and significantly within the Christian community as well as outside of it."
Shifting, I might add, in a decidedly immoral direction. Why is it that we have such a problem with “departing from evil and doing good?” Why is it that believers are so indecisive. Let me suggest 3 reasons: First believers are so indecisive because they misapply scripture. For one thing, few believers personally study the Bible on a regular basis. If I were to take a survey in this room this morning and ask you, “Out of the 168 hours that have passed since we were together last Sunday, how many of them have you spent studying God’s word,” would you be able to talk in terms of hours or in terms of minutes? Would you be able to say anything at all? \
We misapply God’s word because we don’t study it and we also misapply it because we don’t connect it. What I mean is, we fail to see its application in our personal lives. WE leave its principles on the page and don’t let it permeate our living. We read that we are not to commit adultery, for instance, and that if we look on a member of the opposite sex in order to lust after them, we’ve committed adultery with them in our hearts, yet somehow we fail to connect that with the risque commercial we see on television, or the “brief nudity” we encounter in our r-rated video. We read that we are to provide things honest in the sight of all men, but we fail to connect that with the facts we withhold from our potential buyer when we are closing the sales deal. We misapply God’s word because we don’t connect it with our lives and we are indecisive.
There’s another reason we are indecisive, though. It’s not only because we misapply Scripture but also because we misunderstand legalism. Some believers seem to think that self-imposed discipline is legalism. They reason something like this: If the Bible doesn’t absolutely forbid something it must be ok. Then they turn and look at their Christian brother or sister and shake their heads in superiority saying, “I used to not do that too before God set me free from legalism.”
Will you hear me this morning? Legalism is not the limits I place upon myself in order to stay holy. Legalism is when I try to take the extra-biblical limits the Holy Spirit places on me personally and apply them to you and judge you for not doing what the Holy Spirit has led me to do. It’s not legalism to have godly limits in your life. Listen to me, Christian: It’s not legalism to refuse to watch an r-rated movie just because the Bible doesn’t mention it. As far as I know, Jesus never walked by a Carmike Cinema in His life, so He never addressed it. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok. It’s not legalism to refuse to watch that r-rated movie, its wisdom.
It’s not legalism to refuse to drink alcohol, It’s the only logical way to avoid ever committing the sin of drunkenness or the heartbreak of alcoholism. It’s not legalism to sit down every week and write our your tithe check to the Lord, it’s simple obedience to the word of God. It’s not legalism to leave early from your weekend get-a-way to get back to church, it’s not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together. I’m not saying that you should never miss a Sunday, please hear me. I am saying that if missing is the pattern of your life and it’s a surprise when you do come, there’s a problem. You see, we are indecisive in our Christian lives when we misunderstand legalism.
Let me give you one more: God’s people are indecisive when they misapply scripture and misunderstand legalism. But they are also indecisive then they misprioritize their lives. What I simply mean is that if my priority is to gratify my flesh, I will be very indecisive about holiness. Romans 8:5 in the NIV says, They who are after the flesh set their minds on what the flesh desires, and they that are after the Spirit set their minds on what the Spirit desires. When I set my heart on what God wants and on obeying moment by moment what the Spirit is revealing to me through His word, you can be sure that I will become very decisive about holiness.
And it is the decisive Christian who is the radiant Christian. It is the decisive Christian who is most confident in God.
If I am to be a radiant, confident believer, I must pursue a godly lifestyle, but then
DIV 2: I CAN PURSUE GODLY RELATIONSHIPS
The psalmist commands us further in this verse, not only to turn from evil and do good, he also tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” In a world where everyone claims to want peace, isn’t it amazing at how little of it we have. Go to the United Nations and sit in on a session of world leaders and you will hear them all speak of wanting to live in peace, but there are more wars today on this planet than ever before. Why is that?
It’s because war isn’t an outer problem at all, its an inner problem. Wars arise between human beings because we are sinful creatures invariably prone to the kind of evil speech and selfish action that destroys the very peace we claim to desire. That’s why the psalmist is so adamant: If you live a peace-filled life it will not be because you coast into it by accident. Peace only comes who seek and relentlessly pursue it.
You may say to me, “But Rusty, I’m a believer. I am under the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit lives inside of me, peace ought to come naturally to me.” I would say to you, “Whatever.” If you think that, let me take you on a ramble through my childhood that seemed to move from one dysfunctional church to another. Let me take you to the place where one of the church members hated the pastor so much that they would with throughout the service staring him down in angry silence. Let me take you to the church where in the annual church beauty contest, they voted out their pastor for no other reason than the majority who happened to show up that night felt like a change. Let me take you to church members in this congregation who are here and who are afraid to get involved in ministry now because of some hurt they’ve experienced. And when we finish that little tour, you’ll no longer believe that peace just comes naturally. No my friend, peace must be pursued! It is a decisive thing!
The first time the town of Tubingen, Germany, expelled all of its Jewish residents was in 1477. It wasn’t the last. It became a place where anti-Jewish doctrines thrived, especially during World War II. Today, however, the Jerusalem Post reports that not only has a tiny Jewish community returned to the town, but there also exists a church of about 250 members who possess a heartfelt love for both the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. The church meets in a large tent built on top of the same railroad tracks that once deported Jews from Tubingen to concentration camps throughout Germany and Poland. In 2007, TOS organized a March of Life to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Their march, which covered the roughly 350 kilometers from Bisingen to Dachau, followed the route many Jews walked as a death march in early 1945, just months before World War II ended.
They held a special meeting the night before the march began. Four members stood before the assembly and told stories of their own family's participation in the Nazi regime. One woman, who now sings in the church worship group, had recently discovered that her grandfather was an SS guard who beat Jews and other prisoners. She and three others then followed the example of Jesus by humbly washing the feet of several Jewish guests, including some who were Holocaust survivors. The Jewish guests then symbolized their forgiveness by washing the feet of their German hosts. Rose Price, a survivor of six concentration camps, embraced and comforted several Germans who had broken into tears.
A man from Syria witnessed the event and observed longingly that if Germans and Jews could be reconciled, the same model might also be applied between Arabs and Jews. That’s how peace happen. It’s not accidental, its intentional and it is decisive.
You might be saying, “But just how does it look in my life, Rusty? How do I pursue peace?” Let me give you a couple of suggestions. First, if you want to pursue peace in your relationships, you must give up reactions. The problem we often have in our relationships is that they are not intentional, they are accidental. What I mean is they are the sum total of our reactions to one another. I get mad and lash out at you, then you retaliate and then I retaliate against your retaliation.
British shock-radio host Tim Shaw may have finally learned a valuable lesson about the consequences of our words.
While working his usual 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, Shaw told the pin-up girl he was interviewing?on air?that he was willing to leave his wife and two kids for her. Minutes later, his wife, Hayley, created an eBay auction for her husband’s car, a Lotus Espirit Turbo. The auction page was almost completely blank except for a picture of the car and the following words:
“I need to get rid of this car immediately?ideally in the next 2-3 hours before my cheating [jerk] husband gets home to find it gone and all his belongings in the street. I am the registered owner and I have the [registration]. Please only buy if you can pick up tonight.”The car?valued at approximately $45,000?was listed with a “Buy-it-Now” price of 50 pence ($.90), and the auction lasted exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds before an anonymous buyer paid for it and drove away.
In a later interview with reporters, Mrs. Shaw said that she was “sick of [Tim] disrespecting this family for the sake of his act.” When asked about the price of the car, she said: “I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to get him back.”
The Bible warns us of the danger of careless words. When we let our tongues get out of control, the consequences can harm everyone around us.
Well?almost everyone. Four days after the car was sold, the anonymous buyer left the following feedback on Mrs. Shaw’s eBay account:
Thank you, Hayley, the car is excellent. Thank your hubby for me.”
The only way to overcome reactions is to proact through the power of the Holy Spirit. I must be filled with the Spirit if I am to stop reacting and start proacting through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we are to pursue the peace that brings radiance into our lives we must give up reactions and then we must give up expectations. My problem in relationships is what I am expecting. It is our expectations that gets us into problems in our relationships. Husbands expect their wives to cook; Wives expect their husbands to take them out and conflict begins. Church members expect the pastor to serve them and the pastor expects the congregation to serve the community and the conflict begins. Bosses expect their employees to get to work early and employees expect their bosses to be understanding, and the conflict begins. It is our expectations that ruin our relationships.
But the biblical view of relationships is quite different. The biblical view is for me to do all the giving, just like Jesus did, and to expect nothing in return. Do you remember what Jesus said? He said that He came . . . “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Now that, my friend, is impossible without the power of the Spirit. But what kind of relationships would be possible if a husband and a wife approached it that way? What kind of church could we have if the congregation and the staff approached it that way? What kind of work place could you have if the boss and the workers committed themselves to serve one another that way? If I am to pursue peace, I must give up my expectations.\
And when you give up your reactions and your expectations, make sure you also give up your manipulations. Since Satan twisted God’s words in the garden, man has imitated his evil attempt to manipulate relationships. Whenever I do counseling I almost invariably find that, where there is significant conflict, there is one person at least in that conflict trying to control what someone else is saying, doing, or feeling through manipulation. Simply put, manipulation is seeking to contol someone else through the way I act towards them. I have an agenda that I hoist upon them and expect them to live up to. And it doesn’t stop with my desire. No, when I manipulate I take action to make sure that what I want to happen, happens! There’s only one problem. Manipulation doesn’t work. It causes resentment and anger. It ruins relationships and it brings no peace.
What does manipulation look like? Well The movie Waking Ned Divine begins in the cozy living room of an elderly Irish couple. In the background we hear a television announcer informing the audience that the big jackpot lottery numbers are about to be announced. The husband, Jackie, settles into a comfortable brown chair in front of the television. We can see his wife in the background doing paperwork in the kitchen. Once Jackie is happily ensconced in his old brown chair, anticipating the announcement of the lottery numbers, he calls out to Annie, his wife, "Honey, where's me ticket?"
1. "It's in your trousers," she says.
"Annie, bring me me apple tart, will you."
"Get it yourself," responds Annie.
"Annie, the lottery started," he says. "Oh yes, there she goes, number 19. Annie, come in. Bring me me tart. We got the first one." Jackie appears very pleased he has the first of six lottery numbers, but Annie seems unimpressed and still makes no move to bring Jackie his apple tart.
"Jeepers, Annie. Can you believe it, I got the second," says Jackie as he sits up a little straighter in his seat.
The television announcer gives the third number. Jackie checks his ticket and says, "Oh, will you look at that, girl!" Annie is still ignoring him.
A fourth number is announced, and Jackie yells out, "I can't believe it, Annie. I got the first four!" Now Annie pays attention. She gets up, apple tart in hand, and starts into the room. She is visibly stunned. She puts the apple tart into Jackie's hands.
Jackie begins to eat the apple tart and says, "Annie, we've got it!"
"Jackie, that's five," says a slack-jawed Annie.
"God help us, God help us," says Jackie as the television announcer begins to announce the sixth and final number. The room is thick with anticipation, and Jackie continues to consume his apple tart.
"Now here's the sixth number," says the announcer.
When he calls out the number, Jackie yells, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" All the while he is laughing maniacally and tearing up the lottery ticket.
A confused Annie says, "Have we won?"
A wily Jackie responds, "No, but it got me apple tart brought in, didn't it."
Would you just take a minute to examine your relationships? Are you at peace? Is there peace in your home, or is there conflict? Is there peace in your relationships with your children or is there constant war? Is there peace in your marriage or are you wondering if you’re going to end up in separation or divorce?
And as you examine your relationships, will you please examine as well the reason you’re having problems? Is there reaction going on. Are you caught in a cycle of anger and pain that someone needs to be man or woman enough to stop?
What about expectations? Are you really expecting more of your mate than they can really give? Maybe the real question is, Are you expecting anything of your mate? You see as long as I am hanging onto and insisting on my expectations being met, I really am not pursuing peace.
What about manipulating? Are you trying to control your wife or husband through your attitude? Your speech? The silent treatment? Refusal of intimacy? Are you trying to manipulate? As long as you are, you’re not pursuing peace.
And what about your relationship with God? The truth is, horizontal relationships are never going to be at peace until your vertical relationship is at peace. Peace with God is where peace with man begins. You may be here this morning and you know deep down inside that, whenever you think about God, at least the God of this book, you have this deep sense of forboding because you know that your life does not please Him. Maybe you’re reacting to God. He did something that you’re mad at Him over. He allowed a loved one to die, or a parent to abandon you and you’ve walked through your life with this vague sense of resentment.
Maybe you’re expecting from God what He never promised. You’re expecting comfort in this life and you’re not getting it. The house is being foreclosed on and the job is gone and you’re disappointed in the almighty. There’s no peace.
Maybe you’re even trying to manipulate God. You think if you act this way, He’ll act that way. Your presence here this morning may be your attempt to manipulate Him. You got up today and thought, “Well, maybe if I show up at church, God will help my marriage or bring back my wayward daughter,” and your very presence is an attempt to manipulate Him.
Well, I simply must tell you that your relationship with God works much the same way as your relationship with others: If you’re to have peace with God you have to give up reactions, expectations and manipulations. You must come, not with demands, but with surrender.
That’s what Mary Poplin did: She was professor of Education and Dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. She attended a Methodist church as a child, but began searching other spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, even telepathic attempts to bend spoons. She began teaching at Claremont, where a Christian friend encouraged her spiritual journey. Eventually in 1993, she became a Christian. In her own words, here is how it happened:
[I knew] a graduate student who?lived his life differently. First of all, he prayed for me for eight years. And he would say irritating things like, "If you ever want to do anything with your spiritual life, I'd like to help you." That was irritating because I thought I was doing plenty with my spiritual life. You know, I was bending spoons.
And the other, more distressing thing is, he would ask me questions like, "Do you believe in evil?" And I would realize that I couldn't answer the question consistently.
He worked at our university as a professor for a year on a sabbatical, and when he left I had a dream. I still felt empty and confused, and in the dream I was in a long line of people suspended in the air. The line seemed eternal on both ends. Jesus was standing greeting us in line.
When I looked at Jesus, I knew immediately what I was seeing. I couldn't even look at him, but for a second. I fell down to his feet and started weeping, and the only way I can describe the feeling I had in the dream is that I could sense every cell in my body, and I felt total shame in every cell. Then Jesus grabbed my shoulders, and I felt total peace, like I had never felt in my life. I woke up, and I was crying.
So I go to the phone, and I call this gentleman. He had never told me he was a Christian. But I called him and said, "I think I need to talk to you about my spiritual life." And he said, "Let's meet for dinner." At dinner, he said to me, "Why do you think you have to do something with your spiritual life now?" And out of my mouth came something I'd never thought about. I said to him, "I have some black thing in my chest. And I don't know what it is." He just nodded, and I told him the dream. I said, "What do I do?"
And he said, "Do you have a Bible?" He made sure I had one before we split up that night. He said to me, "You could read five Psalms a day and one book of Proverbs." And I thought, Well, okay, I'm going to do it. I mean, I'm really going to do it this time. And then he said, since Jesus was the one in your dream, you might even read the New Testament. And that's how casual he was about that.
I began to read them, and we began to meet in a town between our cities about once a week. That was November to January.
In January my mother wanted to go to North Carolina to where she had grown up. We went to this little Methodist church, not because she was religious; she just wanted to see her friends.
When we got there, I was really moved to just go up to the altar and give my life to the Lord. It wasn't even an altar call. It was a communion call. The guy said, you don't have to be a member of any church to take communion. You just have to believe that Jesus Christ lived, that he died for your sins, and you have to want him in your life. And when he said that, I was so powerfully moved that I actually thought, even if a tornado rips through this building, I'm going to get that communion.
I took the communion, and I didn't even listen to the guy. I knelt down and said, "Please come and get me. Please come and get me. Please come and get me." And when I took the communion and I said that, I felt free. I felt like tons of things had been lifted off of me. And I began to have an insatiable desire to read the Bible.
Romans 1 says that God is obvious to everyone, and the minds of people who deny him become darkened. Though they think themselves wise, they're actually foolish. That was me. But the Scriptures began to heal my mind so I could actually think again.
That’s what must happen in your life if you are to be radiant. There must come that time when you get decisive. There must come that time when you give up what you want and surrender to God. There must come that time when you turn over everything to Him: all your lifestyle choices and all your relationships. Your peace waits just on the farside of your surrender.