2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-54

Decisions, decisions… how many decisions do you guess you have made in your life? Hundreds, thousands, countless? OK, let’s make it easier, how many have you made so far today – like when to get up, what to eat, what to wear, whether to come to church today, what to do after-wards, whether to pay attention or let your mind wander? My guess is at least fifty, and the day is young. They may not seem earth-shattering, but even minor decisions are potentially life-changing because they add up, helping to shape who we are, maybe what we are, what we hope for or plan to do and so on. Yes, circumstances beyond our control like the chances of birth, our upbringing, life experiences and health issues, play a big part, but so do the decisions we are free and capable of making. Take today’s tragic episode in the ongoing saga about David. He paid a terrible price for some dreadful decisions that tore apart his family, fuelling his son’s disastrous rebellion which cost Absalom and thousands of others their lives, yet both these men and their followers who took sides whether out of loyalty, a sense of duty, or hope of personal gain – each chose the course they took.

Decisions, decisions… even without the power of a king, crown prince or prime minister, we can all affect and influence others for good or ill through our day-to-day decisions and interactions. That is why Paul tells us to be truthful, but also gracious, forgiving and tender-hearted, expressing ourselves in ways that encourage folk, rather than be unkind or malicious. We get the message, but maybe it is easier said than done at times when a little white lie could save a lot of heartache, times when the odd snarky comment slips out, or when some juicy information captures our interest like the scandals that sell newspapers. Do we really need any of this, or can we resist, filtering out the rubbish to get our jollies another way – choosing to focus instead on what is good, what is lovely and excellent?

Jesus offered plenty of advice, but seemed to realize that it would be difficult to follow without some absolute guiding principle, something compelling, a decider that would attract us to good over evil – belief – the belief that good will ultimately win, belief about the good in others, the good in ourselves, the good in God to get us over any bad in the past through forgiveness and grace, belief in the love of Christ to point us in the right direction, yet ready to rescue us when we lose our way or get stuck. Jesus said that all our decisions depend on a crucial one – belief in him. When that is at the heart of everything we think about or do, it energizes and sustains us, offering hope and love, the very bread of life. By believing in him, trusting what he said about letting love guide our choices and his love save us from whatever fears and hazards, as well as failures we face, we learn the secret to new life – eternal life.

It’s like sailing – sure, you need to know about safety rules and procedures, navigation, currents, tide tables, and how to handle the boat, but once you get the hang of it, the freedom and beauty is breathtaking. As we practise belief in Christ it can become like an automatic pilot – you still need to set a safe course, steering clear of known dangers, but having made the main decision you can enjoy life and just keep a sharp lookout for any hidden or unexpected hazards. Heaven! Why sailing, why not driving, cooking or anything else? Why not? If Jesus could use a common everyday example, describing belief in him as the bread that satisfies our deepest hunger, we need to choose metaphors that work for us, so why not sailing? It is summertime – a time when many people like being out on the water, if only in a little boat on a lake, or lazy river. Try picturing life as a river with all its fascinating twists and turns, frustrating dead ends, and inevitable junctions where we must make choices, not knowing what dangers or delights lie ahead unless we carry a good guidebook like the Bible with Christ’s teachings, and of course, a compass – the all-important belief in him.
Just imagine the river of life, carrying us along from its source to the limitless ocean of God’s eternal love. It flows swiftly at times, making for an exciting if bumpy ride, but even when it slows down to a sedate pace we still need keep watch for obstacles. Maybe the banks are like mighty arms embracing and helping us onwards, and Christ’s teachings act like the navigation buoys or beacons that mark the safe passage, or point to the preferred channel when we come to a junction. When we can go either way, even if we don’t choose the recommended route, we’ll be fine provided we keep a good lookout and obey the channel markers.

Some of the easiest channel markers to spot, no matter which course through life we take, warn us about the dangers of falsehood, lies, any form of dishonesty, slander or stealing, as Paul describes. We need to give them a wide berth rather than be carried away by gossip or making thoughtless comments. Maybe we do manage to keep away from those but how about any other personal traits or hazards we want to avoid? To clarify the kinds of things I don’t want to be sucked into, I sketched a chart of a river with some rapids, rocks, shipwrecks. That was the fun bit, then I did some serious soul-searching, labelling the main dangers that life has taught me – things I personally need to avoid like perfectionism. We each know what we need to steer clear of, the specific temptations, situations that we can get caught up in, cause major upsets, or wreck our best intentions. Having named them, we can learn from how we handled them in the past, what worked and what didn’t, capturing it in a word or two as a reminder which is the best course to take. Paul said watch out for anger because it’s dangerous and exhausting if it persists – like white water that can be treacherous and destructive. His advice is not to let the sun go down on our anger – calm down, as hard as it is, deliberately decide to calm down before things get out of control. We each have our own challenges and coping strategies, and usually they involve choices.

Decisions, decisions… when Jesus invited people to think for themselves and figure out what they hungered and longed for or missed, what they needed to keep them afloat, give life purpose, meaning, hope and what core values could help them steer a good course, they got grumpy especially when he talked about having faith in him as the decider. Pity, because I’ve found faith alone can satisfy my soul, and belief has been crucial carrying me through uncharted waters like challenges we face for the first time. Yes, faith is a gift, as Christ’s love, but the choice is ours whether to accept it and hang on to it like a lifeline. It’s certainly saved me many times.

Decisions, decisions… as adults, apparently we make an average of about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day – so plenty of scope for change if we want, plenty of scope for belief in Christ to make a difference. Jesus said we are to love God, and love others as ourselves. I think we also need to believe in God, the God of love and mercy that Jesus revealed to us, so that we are free to believe in others as we believe in ourselves. David believed in God, and certainly repented his mistakes. If only David and Absalom could have forgiven each other past mistakes and believed in each other, they could have saved a load of suffering and grief. Sadly, that decision evaded the one, and came too late to save the other. Decisions, decisions…