The Valley of Decision

Read Joel 3: 11-14 to start. 11 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. 12 Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.13 Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.

Let’s talk for a moment about geography. Not about nations and borders, but about land, and topography, the actual surface of the earth. Ever look at a topographical map? It’s a map that shows the land features rather than the political lines, showing the height of hills and mountains, that sort of thing. When you think about valleys, that’s the sort of geography we’re talking about.

We don’t have valleys in this province, not really. It’s far too flat here to really consider some of the low lying areas as valleys. We have some rolling hills, and there are spaces between the hills, but nothing that’s really a valley. In other parts of the world, there are actual large valleys with rivers running through them and high hills or mountains on either side. The San Fernando valley in California, the Jordan valley in Israel, the Okanagan valley in BC. Or closer to home, the Annapolis valley in Nova Scotia or the Saint John River valley in New Brunswick. Those are valleys, and if you need to imagine a visual for the valley of decision, imagine something like that.

The passage is likely referring to a real location, possibly the valley outside Jerusalem where the brook Kidron runs, but today I would suggest that the valley of decision need not be an actual place. The valley of decision isn’t somewhere you visit on a Sunday afternoon drive, you can’t set the coordinates for it on your GPS. It doesn’t have to be somewhere you can point to on a map, but it’s a place that we all have been. We’ve all been faced with decisions in our lives. Some are straightforward, some are challenging. Some almost impossible.

Of course, we all make decisions every day of our lives. Most of them are small and inconsequential, and some of them are downright trivial, almost automatic. Should I have corn flakes for breakfast, or should I go with shredded wheat? Or do I go for it and have a Weetabix biscuit, covered in Shreddies, and then a scoop of homemade granola on top? That last one has been my breakfast of choice the last week, actually, and Nate’s as well. It’s a decision, and while choosing to have a hearty breakfast is a good decision, it’s not really a vital one, and the only consequence of not making that choice would be getting hungry before lunchtime.

Other decisions can have more serious consequences. I can choose to not go into work tomorrow, but unless I’m sick, that would be a bad decision. It would have some repercussions      . I might not lose my job over it, but I would have at the very least some explaining to do. I could decide to drive on the wrong side of the road tomorrow. That would have consequences, potentially very serious ones.

Decisions bring consequences. However good or bad, however major or minor, those consequences might be, decisions always bring consequences. Now, it is true that many of the decisions we are faced with are not especially important, and come with consequences that are largely insignificant. And many of the important decisions we have to make have very obvious answers. Obviously I should go to work tomorrow, and obviously I should drive on the right side of the road to get there.

It’s the more challenging decisions where we end up spending the most time and effort. Sometimes the correct answer is not apparent. Sometimes there is not one correct answer. And other times the right choice may be plain to see, but the cost of choosing it might be high, perhaps higher than we are willing to pay. And thus we find ourselves in the valley of decision.

This world is filled with people who are in the valley of decision. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, Joel 3 verse 14 says as we read to start. Multitudes in the valley of decision. Everyone will pass through the valley of decision at some point in their lives. There is a decision which every person has to make, every man, every woman, and frankly, every child, once they are old enough to understand.

After the conquest of Canaan, Joshua asked the people of Israel to make this decision. Turn to Joshua chapter 24, I’ll read a couple of verses, starting at verse 14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The Israelites had left Egypt, where false gods were plentiful, and had come to Canaan, where there were more false gods, and if anything the ones in Canaan, the gods of the Amorites, were far worse than those in Egypt. Joshua demanded of the people that they make a choice, we read it in verse 15: Choose you this day whom ye will serve.

We all choose to serve someone, or something. The people of Israel, they were confronted with the choice between serving the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of serving false gods, the idols of the neighbouring nations. Nowadays, in this part of the world, at least, we don’t have so many idols of wood, stone, or metal, not that people seek to serve as gods. Mind you, if you drive down to Wood Islands there’s a place where there is a rather impressive Buddhist shrine, with a statue of Buddha, so maybe that isn’t so far removed from us as we might think. But today, more people make the choice to serve other idols. They serve the gods of money, of popularity, of success, of pleasure. They choose to serve themselves, rather than serving the one who made them. Because no matter what, we all serve someone. A decision must be made.

Joshua required the Israelites to make a decision. There had to be a choice, pick one or the other. It should be obvious that you cannot serve more than one master, any more than two people cannot drive the same car at the same time. It simply does not work.

I recall many years ago being on an airline flight between here and Calgary, going out to visit my dad, I was maybe 10 years old. My sister and I were invited to go up and see the flight deck, meet the pilot, which I can’t imagine they let kids do anymore. But this was 30 years ago, it was a simpler, less security paranoid time, so up to the front of the plane we went. The controls were of course very complex and it was interesting to see all the gauges and switches and everything. There were two sets of steering controls, one for the pilot, one for the co-pilot, and I remember asking what happened if the pilot turned one way and the co-pilot tried to turn the other way at the same time. I thought it was a good question, and the pilot had an answer for it–-what happens is that I reach over and smack him. Yeah, ten year old me wanted the real answer as to what would happen, but I think the pilot’s joke proves my point. A plane cannot fly in two directions at once. Even if the pilots disagree, ultimately one of them is going to make the overriding decision, and the plane goes his way. You cannot go left and right at the same time, and if you try to keep going from left to right, you’ll never get anywhere.

Joshua asked the Israelites to choose who they would serve, and they answered, we can read in the next number of verses. 16 And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods; 17 For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: 18 And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God. 19 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. 21 And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD. 22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. 23 Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel. 24 And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.

The people of Israel announced their choice. Unfortunately, we know that they did not really do such a good job of sticking with it. In the book of Judges we see how time and time again they drifted away from following God, and started serving the gods of Canaan, and how that went very badly for them. So many times the people turned their backs on the Lord, and began following idols, and God allowed them to be oppressed, to suffer, until they turned back to Him once again. A tremendous amount of loss, suffering, and death happened because they did not abide by the choice they had made. Even when they finally insisted on having a king, the same cycle happened, only from the top down. As goes the king, so goes the kingdom, and unfortunately not nearly enough of the kings followed Jehovah, and even among those who did, still there was often idolatry practiced elsewhere in the land. We could read through the entire history of the kingdoms of Israel and of Judah, and see how the people vacillated between serving Jehovah and serving idols, but we know how that story ends. Ultimately they were taken into captivity because they did not follow God as they had said they would.

This is not a sermon about the impossibility of serving two masters, which is a worthy topic unto itself. This is a sermon about choices, about making decisions. There are many decisions to be made in life, but this one is of the utmost importance. The choice, the required decision is whom will you serve.

And I do say a required decision; because the valley of decision is not a place you can remain. Not without consequences. In a physical, geographical river valley, there is risk in settling too close to the river. Rivers flood. We’ve gotten better at managing floodwaters then ancient peoples were, but even so, look at what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina came in, look at what happened in Pakistan six years ago when the Indus and Swat valleys flooded. For that matter, look at what happens in the spring along the Saint John River in New Brunswick. If you remain in a valley, sooner or later the high waters will come and wash you away.

Why do people remain in the valley? They stay because it’s easy. Actually going up into the hills is a lot more work. It’s easy to stay where you are, rather than actually making a choice and going somewhere better, somewhere with far more safety. As we see today with spring flooding, and how people get into trouble when they have built their houses too close to the water, on the very floodplain, so likewise we see people who remain in the valley of decision. They ignore the question that is before them, they decline from making a decision about whom they will serve.

Not making a choice is still a choice, and it also has consequences. I won’t ask you to turn to Genesis chapter 6, I’m going to assume that we are all familiar with Noah. God told him to build an ark, because the world was full of wickedness and would be destroyed by a flood, and through the ark Noah and his family would be spared. Noah built the ark as commanded; he presumably spent decades on the project. What else did Noah do during that time? Well, 2 Peter chapter 2, verse 5 gives us a pretty good indication. The verse reads, and we’re jumping into the middle of the passage here, And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.

2 Peter tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Presumably he told the people around him many times why he was building an ark, and of the danger to come. He had no shortage of opportunity to do so, and one can imagine that people came from far and wide to see crazy old Noah building a boat a long way from the sea. He was a preacher of righteousness, no doubt with his words and with his actions, but no one listened. Or maybe they listened, and thought that he had a very good story to tell, and that he was to be commended for his most impressive building project. Maybe they agreed that yes, things were pretty bad in the world, and seemed to be getting worse, and something ought to be done. People should change and behave better before the God that Noah preaches about sends this flood to punish everyone. Noah preached, and no doubt people heard. But they did not listen. Or if they did, they did not listen well enough to do anything about it.  They never made the right decision. They remained where they were, they remained outside, and so they perished outside. The ark was a very large boat, it had space for more people. And if there had been a mass repentance, if the people had turned from their sins, it is reasonable to assume that God would have spared them, as He did with Ninevah when Jonah preached there, and they repented. But this did not happen in Noah’s day. No one repented, no one heeded the warnings, no one did anything. Noah and his immediate family were the only people on the ark when the waters came and washed the old world away.

Christ taught his disciples about this, comparing His return to the coming of the flood. We can read it in Matthew 24, reading from verse 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

People commonly interpret that to say that things will be as bad as they were in Noah’s days before Christ returns. This is usually followed with the admonition that things are bad, and getting worse, and so therefore Christ’s return must be imminent. I would suggest that while all that may be true, that’s not an entirely complete interpretation. In those verses Christ does not talk about how bad things were in Noah’s day, but rather about how people were oblivious. They knew Noah was building an ark, they knew he had warned them of a flood to come, but they went about their business as usual. They got up in the morning and ate breakfast the day before the flood came the same as they had done for a thousand days before. They had been warned, Noah had preached righteousness to them, but they had not chosen to believe. Even if they had thought Noah was right, and that judgement might indeed be coming, they had not chosen to do anything about it. They were content to remain in the valley of decision, oblivious to the urgency of their condition. Just because you turn a blind eye to a problem, that doesn’t make it go away.

There are countless people today who are in the valley of decision. All too many of them will remain there for the rest of their days, blind to the urgency, unaware of the need to make a choice. Whether it is from a conscious effort to avoid and ignore the decision before them, or from a lack of understanding about the nature of life, death, and eternity, there are people who spend their entire lives not making a choice, not ever coming to a conclusion about whom they will serve.

Some may even come so close as to consider their options, and recognize that there is a correct choice, a better path, but decide to put it off. They push the decision further down the road, knowing it is a sensible choice, but not willing or ready to make that choice today. As Felix said to Paul, the decision is put off to a more convenient season.

Here’s the thing – it’s not convenient to follow God. It’s not convenient to serve your creator, to abide by His rules, to live according to His plan. It’s not easy, and it’s not immediately enjoyable. The Christian life is not like a Tim Horton’s drive-through. You don’t get what you want when you want it, with minimal waiting, and no hassle. That’s not how it works. God has something far better for those who would follow Him than what this world has to offer. He offers eternal life, He offers salvation from sins, He offers a Saviour who has already paid the price, who has already done the work. The world has nothing to compare to that. But if you’ve gone down Main Street in Montague recently, you’ve probably seen people waiting in the drive-through lane, or possibly backed all the way out unto the street, to get their double-double. People want the fast, easy, and convenient option. They want that with fast food, and they want it from their belief system as well. There is plenty of haste when it comes to getting what we want, but when it comes to choosing to serve God, there’s no rush, there’s no urgency there.

There should be urgency, though, there should not be delay. Christ warned the people of this in Luke chapter 12, starting from verse 16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

Now, there is nothing wrong with barn construction. While I’m all in favour of being wise with what you have, and not being wasteful, the man in this parable had lost the big picture. He was focused on his immediate concerns, on his comfort and his convenience for this life. He thought he was on easy street, but he did not know that he had come to the end of the road. He did not realize that he was in the valley of decision, and he had chosen poorly. There are two words in verse 20 that are most striking – this night. That is not some more convenient season. That is not kicked further down the road. That is not put off to tomorrow. This night. Not too many people go to bed thinking that this night might be their last, not unless they are of great age or of terrible health, but the truth is that none of us knows how much time we have left.

When I was younger, from about when I was ten to fifteen or so, we lived down the street from a family with three daughters. They were fairly close to us in age, the oldest girl was in the grade ahead of me, the second was the grade behind me. We were not the best of friends by any stretch, but we knew them well enough. The dad hired me to cut their grass one summer.

Not three months ago the oldest daughter died. This was unexpected. She got sick, went to the hospital, and she never got better. She died about a week later. So far as I know, she had been otherwise healthy. She was only a few months older than I am, and she has passed into eternity. I hadn’t seen her in years, I don’t know her spiritual condition, but I know that her soul was required of her. It can happen that quickly, that unexpectedly. As we read to start from Joel chapter 3, the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.

Today, multitudes are in the valley of decision. Tomorrow, if the Lord does not return, and it is distinctly possible that He could, His return may be at any moment. But if not, there will still be multitudes in the valley of decision. But not everyone who today is faced with the choice of whom they will serve will have that choice tomorrow. There are people who this morning find themselves with a choice to make, a choice between following God, of following His path, or of going their own way, who will not need to, who will not be able to make that choice tomorrow. I pray that there would be some who leave the valley of decision because they have chosen wisely. I fear that there will be more who leave the valley of decision in another way.

You can leave the valley of decision through death. There are no more choices to make at that point. It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgement. There are no second chances, no repeat performances, no do-overs. That is one way to leave the valley of decision.

There is another way to leave the valley of decision. I’ll read one verse from Jeremiah chapter 8 to illustrate this. It says in verse 20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

We live in an agricultural province. I’m fairly certain that everyone who is here this morning had to pass a field of some sort to get here. We’re not into the harvest season so much yet, but give it a few weeks, and that will be going on full tilt. And it will continue until it is complete. The harvest will end, autumn will settle in with winter on its heels. That which has not been harvested will probably never be harvested, it will most likely end up plowed under next spring.

The time comes when the harvest is past, and the summer is ended. This morning, Christ calls those who would come to Him. Take up your cross and follow me, He says. Whosoever will, He says. I stand at the door and knock, He says. There are those who choose to listen, those who choose to answer the call, and there are those who refuse it. There are those who have refused it, and have done so time and time again, and have turned their back on the Saviour. They have left the valley of decision, not through death, nor through making the right choice, but through rejection of the Gospel. They have made their decision, and it is to refuse God, to ignore his invitation, and to discard and dismiss His Son.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

This morning, Christ calls those who would listen. He will not call forever. If you do not know Him, consider that there may never be a more convenient time then today. There may be multitudes are in the valley of decision, but the decision is individual. No one else can make it for you. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, your classmates, and society at large can influence and direct you, but no one else can decide for you. The choice is yours, but remember the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.

If you already know the Saviour, I ask you to consider how you have served Him this far. It is one thing to put your trust in Christ for salvation, but actually serving Him is a lot more work, it is an on-going effort. There are those who follow Christ, but find themselves wandering from the path, turning from right to left, and not really getting very far. Are you trying to serve two masters, and if so, how well is that going? Like the joke from the story I told earlier, has the pilot had to reach over and smack you? Sometimes that’s what it takes when those who follow God wander back to the valley of decision.