Last night Sheila and I watched August: Osago County. It’s a movie based on a play which was based loosely on some members of the scriptwriter's family. It’s about three generations of dysfunction passed along on the Oklahoma plains. Part of the power of the story is that it reminds us how much our families influence us, but you also see moment after moment when a decision is made about how to act or interact, and you can see how moment after moment built this huge wall between people. Our legacies impact us, but our decisions determine our destination.
At one point, the daughters take their drug-addicted mother to the doctor to talk about putting her in a program. On the way home, the mother gets them to stop the car in the middle of a field, and she begins to run. One of the daughters chases her, and when the both finally stop from exhaustion, the script says it’s beneath “an unforgiving sky,” and the daughter says, “There’s no place to run to get away.” I’m grateful that’s not true. As much as we are talking in this series about consequences, I’m grateful that, because of Christ, because of the Holy Spirit, because of the truth in the Bible, and the church, our history is not our destiny.
That movie gave a really honest look at life without Christ. In the end, there’s nowhere to run to get away. But with Christ, we are not trapped inside our family history or inside the cycles we create through our bad decisions. I need to say that before we get into the topic today: the importance of choosing the right path.*
Our text is found in Proverbs 27:12: “The wise see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Let’s be honest: don’t we all at some point see the penalty of something coming up and just decide to keep going? Sometimes it’s a minor thing, but other times it's more significant. We know the penalty. We know where this is going. Last week we talked about this as living disconnected lives, as if today has no relevance for tomorrow. We disconnect the moment from the story of our life.
Obviously, as followers of Christ we believe that God forgives us, heals us, puts us back together, and gives us new life. In the spiritual world, God’s grace relieves us of paying the price we deserve for our sin. But in the practical sense of harvesting what we plant, at some point we won’t be able to sidestep the consequences of our choices.
- Our diet and exercise routine will show up in our weight and/or overall health
- Our hiddenness or dishonesty with our spouse will lead to a blowup or disconnection
- Our callous interaction with our kids will leave us wondering why our kids don’t respect us or want to hang out with us
- Ignoring Biblical boundaries and the nudging of the Holy Spirit will lead us down a road to the heartache and brokenness that sin brings.
God offers to take away the eternal consequence of our sins, but at some point, the inevitable will become the unavoidable. There are two ways to respond.
RESPONSE #1: We can choose to think we are victims when we aren't.
“It’s not fair!” Of course it is. It is entirely fair. We like to say, “I just want what I deserve in life.” Well, here we go. We are harvesting what we planted.
- “Why did I get pregnant now?”
- “I don’t understand why we never have enough money!”
- “Why does everyone else know more about the Bible?”
- “Why won’t my kids respond better to me?”
- “I wish I had a spouse I could talk to!”
- “Why is she so much better at ____ than I am?”
Of course, when other people are involved, some of these questions can reflect what they bring to the relationship (relationships with kids or spouse, for example). And there are truly victims of other people’s decisions - all of us have at some time paid the price for someone else’s sin. There are also times when circumstances out of our control impact us (money or level of talent). But when we make decisions that bring us to destinations we did not want, we are not victims. But if we think we are, we will insist that people forgive us and help us clean up our mess.
Let’s be clear: the Bible calls us to be forgiving people. We are to be generous to those who confess and repent. Holding a grudge is not an option for Christians. But this sermon isn’t about people who need to forgive; it’s about people who need to understand the difference between forgiveness and consequences. Consequences are what happen when you do something. That’s just how God made the world to work. Consequences are what you deserve. Other people wouldn’t have to forgive you if you hadn’t done something worth condemnation. If you suffer the consequences of your actions, no injustice has been done. That’s eminently fair. If you ask someone to forgive you, you need to approach them with the full expectation that consequences will play themselves out.
- If you stole and you repent, you can be forgiven and still have to pay back the money or go to jail.
- If you slept around and repent, you can be forgiven and still have to deal with broken hearts, anger, and maybe kids or STD’s.
- If you spent 18 years creating hostility in your kids and spouse and repent, you can be forgiven and still have to do a lot of hard work rebuilding what you broke.
Forgiveness is amazing – but people have to give it because you did something that was so bad it wouldn’t just go away and be okay. It needed forgiving. You did something that required other people to overcome their selfishness and hurt and betrayal and choose to be selfless and loving instead. When forgiveness happens, you are given a second chance at great cost to the one who gave it to you – but that might mean the practical consequences still unfold. And if they do, that does not mean you have not been forgiven. For those who have given their life to Christ, the eternal spiritual penalty for our sin has been paid by Christ. In that sense, we will never have to suffer what we deserve. But in this life, even forgiven people harvest what they plant.
RESPONSE #2: You can choose to grow up.
“The wise see danger and take refuge.” We have to be thinking ahead!!!
- When our doctor tells us that our health is in the toilet, we know it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
- When our spouse finally drags us into counseling or walks out, we know it’s time to work on our marriage. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
- When we are in the midst of addiction, we know it’s time to start thinking about accountability. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
- When the pregnancy test is positive, we know it’s time to start thinking about our sexual choices, or whether or not we wanted kids. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
Rather than getting caught up in trying to justify or blame, you have the opportunity to take a huge step forward by asking this simple question:“In light of my past experience and my future hope, what is the wise thing to do?”* The wise learn and then plan ahead so they can do something today.
The wise move out from that relationship that dishonors God today. They learned from their past experience (they connect their actions and the consequences), they have a plan for holiness (they aren’t victims), and they act because they know different decisions take them to a different destination.The wise start a budget today, join an accountability group today, begin studying today, call a friend for coffee today, take their spouse out on a date and start the hard conversations today, go out of their way to connect with their kids today… \
In the next couple weeks we are going to talk about the importance of truth, submission to Christ, and the importance of Godly friends. But for this week, pray and seek counsel on this area of focus: am I simple or wise? In light of my past experience and future hope, what is the wise thing to do?
“The wise see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” (Proverbs 27:12)
I am indebted to Andy Stanley's Principles of the Path for the foundational principles in this series. I highly recommend that you buy his book and read it!