Making Good Decisions

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 18/Proper 20
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 1 and James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-10
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
James 3: 17-18 (NIV)

A TREE PLANTED BY A STREAM

We have an important congregational meeting after worship today. At that meeting we will be discussing and voting on two proposals. One is the shared ministry agreement with Wheatley United Church that I outlined for you two weeks ago. The other is the Family Minister position that I presented to you last week. Both of those proposals have been up on our website. Both of them were emailed to everyone on our mailing list. We have also made copies available at the back of the church. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the proposals, you can still pick up a copy. There will probably be about 15 minutes between the end of worship and the beginning of the meeting so there is still time to read through it. It is important that people make their decisions on the best available information and that that information be shared as much as possible with everyone at the same time.

It’s interesting that when I looked at the lectionary readings for today, I discovered that, once again, God is good. The two readings that I chose for today from the lectionary have a lot to say about how we make decisions and how we are to be with each other in the midst of that decision making.

Psalm 1, which Joan read for us this morning, is a beautiful expression of what it means to walk in faith. Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV) says this:

Blessed is the one

    who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

    or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

    which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither –

    whatever they do prospers.

I read those three verses and I think about the sense of peace that they bring. Don’t walk in the ways of the wicked or side with the sinners and mockers but delight in the Lord and meditate on his law day and night. Our daughter, Rebekah, would say something like, “That’s chill.” And it is. Psalm 1 is chill. To delight in the Lord is to be like a tree planted by a stream. Because it has lots of water it yields its fruit in season, its leaves do not wither and it prospers in everything it does. Because it delights in the Lord.

There’s a message for us here today. It is that we too, if we are to live fully and completely before God, must also delight in the Lord. I’m good with that. Or again, as Rebekah would say, “That’s chill.” What that means is that, as followers of Jesus, we make decisions based on godly principles and godly precepts. We make decisions both for our individual lives and for the church based upon our relationship with God and our discernment of what he is asking and expecting us to do.

What that means is that it is not about us. Like I said two weeks ago, it’s all about God. Every decision that we make, every path that we take has to place us – like that tree in Psalm 1 – beside streams of water so that we will yield godly fruit and not wither, where we can put our roots down deeply into the rich soil into which God has planted us so that we will prosper in the Lord.

WISDOM

Then we get to the second Scripture reading that I want to share with you now. It is from James 3:13-18 (NIV) and says this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

And so we move from the world of trees and streams into the realm of wisdom. James is clear. We are called to live wisely and he asks us to examine our hearts to see how we measure up. Verse 13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” He asks a simple question. Okay, which one of you is living wisely? And then he provides the parameters for the answer. If you are living with godly wisdom, it will be demonstrated in your life. You will live a good life, a godly life according to God’s precepts and biblical parameters. If you live wisely, you will live the kind of life that God wants you to live. But most of all, if you are living with godly wisdom, your life must be exemplified by humility. For James wisdom is paired with humility. To live wisely, is to live humbly before God. That is godly wisdom, the kind we’re supposed to live.

But then James goes on to talk about another kind of wisdom, worldly wisdom that is not godly. Here’s how he describes it in James 3:14-16 (NIV): “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Ungodly wisdom or, shall we say, worldly wisdom. This kind of wisdom is not humble. The wisdom of the world results in bitter envy and selfishness. I think what James is saying here is that while godly wisdom is characterized by humility that draws us toward God and each other, worldly wisdom is characterized by selfishness and envy that separates us from one another.

But again, James is encouraging us to engage in godly wisdom. He’s talking about the kind of wisdom that not only speaks but also listens. He’s talking about the kind of wisdom that not only expects to hear the other side of the story but actually relishes it. That’s the kind of conversations we need to have at our congregational meeting later this morning. Almost everyone is going to walk into that meeting with some idea of what they think about the proposals. Maybe you like them. Maybe you don’t. We will certainly have people on both sides. That’s healthy and that’s good.

The reason why we can’t accept proxy votes and the reason we can’t accept mail in ballots is because people need to hear what others have to say. That’s because wisdom is found when we have honest discussions, when you tell me what you think and I tell you what I think and both of us seek God’s will in the midst of those differences. That’s the humility part of wisdom that James is talking about, the humility that opens us up to other views and other possibilities that we had never before considered. And if the Spirit of God is working through all of that then God’s wisdom will emerge and we will discover what it is that God wants us to do.

NEITHER RECKLESS NOR FEARFUL

I love what it says in James 3:17 (NIV): “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” These are the fruit of godly wisdom. Listen to the adjectives that James uses to describes godly wisdom: peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

I could preach an entire message on each of these adjectives because each of them helps us to understand how we, as fellow believers in Christ, can approach and share different sides of an issue in such a way that all of us will come out ahead because in the midst of our conversations we will discover the will and the wisdom of God.

Later today, we are going to have to access that wisdom, that godly wisdom that is humble and peace-loving and considerate and all of those other things. We are going to be called to make wise decisions before the Lord. My earnest prayer is that we will do that as we discuss and seek God’s will for us as the church in this place.

Wise decisions will exhibit all of those characteristics that James lists but I’d like to suggest two things that our decisions should not be. They must not be reckless and they must not be fearful. Let’s just take a few minutes to look at those.

They must not be reckless. God sometimes calls us to risk. But God does not call us to be reckless with that which has been entrusted to us. What has been entrusted to us the ministry of this congregation? God has entrusted many things to us. God has blessed us with property and building. God has blessed us with financial resources. But most importantly, God has blessed us with people. The ministry of this church involves all of that and more. But we must be careful not to be reckless with what he has given us.

Does that mean that we always play it safe? No. I don’t think Jesus ever played it safe. In fact, I can’t think of a single time that Jesus played it safe. Yet at the same time he as not reckless. He looked after those whom the Father had given to him. It’s true that sometimes, he put them at risk. Sometimes he called them to do things that were not the least bit comfortable. Do you recall the stories of Jesus sending out the Apostles to begin their work? That story is found in Luke 9:1-6 (NIV) which begins in verses 1 to 2 like this: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Do you think that was risky? You bet it was. Jesus just sent twelve of his closest friends out into the world to do that which they had never before even attempted. “Hey, you guys, go out there and drive out demons, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God to those whom you meet.” Somehow, I can’t picture the disciples thinking this was a good idea. Sure they’d seen Jesus do it and they knew that he was really good at it but watching someone do something and then actually doing it yourself are two very different things. This was a risky move. 

It gets more risky in verses 3, where it says: “He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.'” So Jesus sends them out to do something that they had never done before and he sends them with very limited resources – literally the clothes on their backs and that’s it. I’m pretty sure the disciples felt more than a little uncomfortable because that was risky.

Yes, it was risky but it wasn’t reckless. The reason why it was not reckless was because Jesus had not really sent them out empty handed. He had prepared them for this ministry by teaching them and mentoring them in what they had to do. It wasn’t reckless because he had spent three years equipping them for this ministry. Could they have failed? Yes, they could have. In fact, we know of at least one incident in Matthew 17 where they could not drive out the demon and wondered why. Jesus explained why and they learned from this experience.

But in this particular incidence, they did not fail. The risk paid off. For as we read in verse 6, “So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” They did exactly what Jesus sent them to do. The risk paid off and they rejoiced because while Jesus’ called them to risk, he was not reckless with those whom the Father had entrusted to him.

So we don’t want to make decisions that are reckless. That’s clear. We need to use what God has given us wisely. But neither should our decisions be fearful. Too often, we as Christians, become fearful of stepping out into the unknown. We become comfortable where we are. And when churches are faced with challenges, they often tend to circle the wagons to protect what they already have. And yet sometimes when faced with challenges, God calls us not to circle the wagons but to reach out with the love of Christ to those who need to experience the abundance of his grace. We can’t do that if we approach life with fear. But we can do it if we trust in God to supply all of our needs.

In Matthew 6:28-30 (NIV) Jesus said this to his followers, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Jesus is not chastising his disciples and I don’t think we should read it that way. What he is doing is encouraging them to reach out beyond themselves to the one who ultimately will supply all of our needs.

We have to trust God to supply our needs to do his work. If that means supplying more volunteers to do the work then so be it. If that means finding the resources to hire someone to lead that ministry, then so be it. I’ve done a lot of soul searching about this and spent much time in prayer these past few weeks and I’ve come to the point where I’m good either way because – I’m chill with it – because I trust God to supply what we need to do his work in this place. I rest on that confidence and I hope you do too. Because God is good… all the time. And all the time… God is good.

Don’t be reckless. Don’t be fearful. Rather be wise. Let us seek the Lord’s path together and more forward together to know Christ and make him known.

James ends this passage on wisdom in James 3:18 (NIV) which says “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” True godly wisdom will result in peace and with that peace we will reap a harvest of righteousness. So let’s move forward with hope to love and serve the Lord.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We have so much, O God, for which to be thankful. There are the birds and the trees. There are the fresh running streams and cool autumn breezes. We have food and shelter, health care and security. We thank you for our families: our spouses and children, parents and grandparents. We give thanks for friends and neighbours who support us and care for us, sharing their gifts and gardens. We praise you for sunlight shining through stained glass windows and stars that guide our way through the night.

We thank you for the worship leaders of our Pastoral Charge who work so hard to make our worship worthwhile. We thank you for Lou-Ann, the Praise Teams and the Choir and the others who have their own special roles. Thank you for creativity and commitment. Bless our efforts and energize our spirits.

We also thank you for the birth of Gwendolyn Elizabeth, daughter of Angie and Steve Toupin. We praise you for a safe birth and growing family. Grant them strength and peace as they welcome this new and amazing gift into their lives.

We give thanks also for the love that brought together Vikki Berry and Devon Demers in marriage yesterday. May their days be filled with hope as they grow together in love as a family. Grant them your blessing we pray.

We also pray your blessings upon us as we enter our congregational meeting this morning. Open our eyes Lord that your way may be know and your will may be done among us.

We pray for the sick at home or in hospital. Our prayers go out for them, especially for Sharon, John, Lyle and Louise, that you would grant your healing and wholeness in times of need.

Finally, O God, help us to remember that there is a purpose and calling for our lives. Help us over the next 40 days to truly appreciate what you call us to do as a family of faith, not only individually but also as a church. Help us to reach out to others and love them into your kingdom. Thank you that you have created us with a unique skills, talents, experiences and abilities. Help us to faithfully fulfill all that you have planned for our lives. Enable us to be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, and especially your voice in this world. May your Gospel be shared that all people may come to saving faith in Jesus Christ that he may live and reign in their hearts and direct their feet upon the path of your making. We pray in Jesus’ name.

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