Unpopular Decision Making

There are some decisions in life that will be unpopular even if they are right. We often put some much emphasis on making a decision based on utilitarianism, (the greatest good for the greatest number of people), majority or which sounds like it will be the easiest. But oftentimes people in the Bible don’t do that.

Take Paul for example. In Acts 21 we read about Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem and the reaction of those closest to him.

“While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10-14)

How could he make such a decision? Wasn’t it clear to him that he would be imprisoned and ultimately die? Didn’t all of his friends urge him to do something else? Paul made his decision based on the Holy Spirit’s leading, not on what was the obvious or popular choice. He had no idea what would become of him. He only knew that God was leading him to Jerusalem at this time and for him not to go would be sinful.

So my question to start us off this week is: Are there any unpopular decisions you need to make this week? Is there an area where God is pointing you one way but people or circumstances are pointing you another? Can you make that unpopular decision? If these questions seem tough to answer you’re not alone. Making a decision in the face of opposition, (especially from those we love most), is never fun. So I want to give a couple ideas that may help us as we endeavor to follow the Lord’s leading in our lives, even when it seems unpopular to those around us.

First and foremost you need to get your priorities straight. I feel like a broken record cause I say this so often, but you will not be able to follow the Lord’s leading in your life if you are preoccupied trying to please man rather than God. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10). Or Jesus says it even more strongly in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Both of these verses are dealing with the same issue. Are you going to follow, love and serve Jesus first and foremost or are you going to follow, love and serve people and then give Jesus your leftovers or whatever is convenient? When Jesus becomes Lord of your life He will not be satisfied with leftovers. He wants your everything and all. Your first and foremost. Your best. So if you wish to be able to follow the Lord’s calling in your life you must not allow the idol of relationships to hinder you from making the unpopular decisions.

Any person who has left their home country to go abroad and proclaim the Gospel can identify with this. Usually there is someone, (family, friends, coworkers, etc…), who urges them not to go. They may have good reasons, (finances, distance from loved ones, difficulty or danger in new country, inconvenience, etc..), but none of these reasons could ever truly outweigh the cost of going to the nations with the Gospel.

In the 19th century a man named John G. Paton decided he would travel to an island known for cannibalism. In fact, two people from the same ministry had been eaten only 19 years ago. So when Paton decided to go it was a very unpopular decision. Here is the exchange between Paton and another man from his ministry:

A Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old.

But to this Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

This is the kind of faith we need to make unpopular decisions as we follow the Lord’s will. Secondly, we must be willing to do what’s right no matter the cost. Paul could have stayed away from Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross. The Bible is full of men who did the right thing even if suffering was before them. This is why Jesus commands us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

We so often aren’t willing to follow our Lord’s leading because some fear prevents us. Jesus, Paul and John Paton all knew that death was not the worst thing that could happen to a person. They were all willing to follow God in the face of suffering and loss. If we are to make unpopular decisions that glorify God then we too must be willing to walk wherever the Holy Spirit would take us, even if that leads into some kind of suffering.

So I hope we can all take away some things that will help us make those unpopular decisions to follow God first. May we stop worrying and trying to please the majority but rather listen and carefully seek which direction God is pointing. May we move forward when the Lord signals rather than being hindered by fear. My challenge to you all is to make that unpopular decision this week.

Don’t allow unpopularity amongst your loved ones to hinder you from following God. Don’t allow potential suffering to keep you from following Jesus. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

A Cry for Urgency

We all know that our time is ultimately limited. Thus, we prioritize certain activities over others. For example, if I really need to go to the bathroom that takes priority over other things like sleeping or eating. While maybe at other times I am so tired I choose to sleep even though I am hungry. Or perhaps I choose to eat even though I am tired, (I’m a guy so I talk about things close to my heart: eating, sleeping and the bathroom).

My point is that with certain activities we can be quite urgent. But there are many other activities we seem to lack this sense of urgency. We have a “I can do it tomorrow” or “It’s not too important right now” attitude about it. And sadly, this idea has become a big hindrance to our ability to actively and effectively share the Gospel.

I will use myself as a perfect example of this. While I know sharing the Gospel and bringing glory to God is my ultimate purpose and mission, I often can find excuses why I shouldn’t do it. Maybe today I am busy with classes. Or maybe I need to rest because of a busy weekend. I even use language as an excuse of why I can’t share with the hundreds or even thousands of people I pass by each day. I and many of you have lost our sense of urgency. We have found so many other things that require our time that sharing the Gospel is not a life or death thing but rather only for Super Christians and Pastors.

So I am here to call, rather cry out, for urgency amongst the saints who believe in Jesus as Lord. That no matter where you are in your walk with God, we are all on an urgent mission. There are millions of people around us who are in their sins and on their way to hell. We have the cure. We have the key to set them free. Now all we need is the urgency to do it.

Just as Paul tells us in Romans 10:14-15: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Here are a few things that I think will help us become more urgent in our desire to share. First, we need to realize this is an urgent situation. I think we often don’t treat sharing the Gospel as urgent because we believe we can do it later. We don’t seem to understand that life can be taken at any moment. Deep down we understand that death is imminent, but we live as if we and those around us are immortal. Realize that each face you see today is hellbound upon death unless they see and receive Jesus.

Second, we need to realize that we are capable and made for this purpose. I think one reason we don’t have an urgency to share is because we feel that someone more qualified should do it. While many of us know the basics of the faith, we can’t answer all those tough questions a non-believer may have. The problem with this is twofold.

First, you may be the only Christian this person has contact with. Thus, God has made you exactly the person you are in order to share His grace with them. Secondly, it doubts the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke 12:12 tells us: “for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” And while this verse is specifically talking about what to say during persecution, the idea is the same when sharing with non-believers.

Finally, we need to step out of our comfort zone and do it. I think the reason a lot of us lack urgency is because we are so worried about what others may think of us. Maybe you get along with your non-Christian colleagues and so you are scared to share the Gospel with them because it may change or ruin that relationship. Or maybe you are so independent you do your own thing and only share when someone approaches you first or at a Bible study. Or maybe you are just shy. Whatever the excuse may be we need to be willing to lay them down for such an eternal conversation. In Mark 8:33 Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because “… you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And while I hope these three points will give you more courage and urgency to share the Gospel, I also realize that we must actually practice this in order to change our routine. So I am going to challenge you all, (myself included), this week. I want all of us to try three things. First, share your testimony with someone. Second, share the Gospel with someone. Third, invite someone to Church or a Bible Study. You can do all three to the same person or the three things to three different people.

My goal is that as we start to step out and share the Gospel with urgency we see it isn’t as scary or hard as we thought it would be. That’s why I want us to do all three, not just one of the three. (I think people often just invite others to Church so they don’t have to share. While inviting others to Church is good we are also commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 to “Go” ourselves).

So may we regain the urgency the early Church Fathers and Apostles had. May we realize that there is nothing more important than the Gospel message we have. May we realize that we hold the cure to save millions from eternal punishment. Let us all go this Easter week and share with the perishing the light of hope and life found in Jesus.

Social Club or Meaningful Community?

The word meaningful has lost some of it’s meaningfulness. In this era of quick thrills, bells and whistles, our definition of meaningful can be summed up in whatever makes me feel good now. We say a sermon we just heard was meaningful, yet we completely forget the speakers message a week or so later. A song that was meaningful for me in college is now a mere afterthought. And sadly, the really meaningful people in my life can change every few years.

With this loss of a deep, long sighted meaningfulness, it is no wonder that our Christian communities are the same. Whether it is Church or a small group, we have traded meaningful community for cheap thrills. We go to get “recharged” or “refueled”. Some of us go to be entertained or because we are lonely. Christian community is now an event, not a lifestyle.

Here’s my problem. Social clubs provide a great chance for people to mingle and feel connected, but they rarely transform lives. True Christian community is so special because of its ability to completely transform. This idea is perfectly portrayed in a line from the classic song “Amazing Grace”: “I once was blind but now I see.” The amazing transformation that Jesus offers is actually fleshed out through a deep, meaningful community of believers.

I want to stop here and read Acts 2:42-47. As you read this, consider if there is any type of community other than Christian community that is like this. Also consider if your current Christian community is like this.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Wow. That is what I want to be a part of. Many don’t like Christian community because they accuse it of being stale and religious. But the above passage does not sound stale or religious at all. The early Christians lived out their faith. They weren’t looking for entertainment or for some weekend refueling. They were looking for deep meaningful community. The kind of community that awakens the dead.

Now what should we do in light of such a verse? Well the absolute last thing you should do is go and complain to your Pastor that he is not doing a good job. Or worse yet, leave your Church and start searching for one that clearly does the above. While some of us may need to reconsider what Church or small group we attend, most of us have a better option.

My advise for those of you looking for this type of community is to start right where you are. “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20). Here Paul is specifically addressing slaves. He encourages them to remain slaves rather than try and free themselves. His point can be taken that the Lord has placed you in a set of certain circumstances in which He has planned for you to make a difference. Yes there are times when the situation isn’t good, the community is unfruitful and we must change. But today I want to focus on how we can help our community right where we are.

There are three quick things I want us to consider in trying to achieve a more meaningful community. The first is service. Just as Jesus pointed out in Mark 10:43-44 “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Of course, Jesus did this himself by dieing on the cross for us, (Mark 10:45). Leaders of Acts 2 communities are people willing to serve. So leaders, let us serve and in doing so set an example for our people to follow.

Second, we must be generous. Generosity is one of those traits we all think we have yet none of us really do. Giving 10% to Church and some money to charities at Christmas time, but then spending more money on yourself and family than the money you gave is not exactly generous. In the community described in Acts 2, you see that they gave to all “who had need.” We Americans do not like to give or share our possessions because we feel we have earned them and that if others haven’t then they are lazy. This attitude is reeking havoc to generosity and meaningful community in America. Let us remember it’s not our stuff anyways, we are just borrowing it from God for 60-80 years, and thus can share it with others.

Last, we need urgency. The early Church leaders believed Jesus would return any day and thus lived a life of study and evangelism. We don’t expect Jesus to come back anytime soon, so we have grown lazy and complacent. Do you feel an urgency to share the Gospel with those around you? With those around the world? Do you feel an urgency to help someone in desperate need? We don’t live with any urgency because our lives have become too comfortable. I once read a quote by a Christian that said, “Once I get too comfortable somewhere I know it is God telling me it’s time to move somewhere else.” Our communities need urgency in sharing the Gospel and proclaiming the Good News to the Nations.

Again, all three of these things can be done right in the community in which you are. Lead by example. Complaining and accusing only destroys community. Rather, take these things to heart and live them this week. May we stop being satisfied with entertainment and recharging and instead seek after meaningful, committed community. May we be willing to serve, give and do so as if the world were about to end. May we be the community of believers that Christ can call His Bride.