Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Overcoming Moral Dilemmas

Sunday July 31, 2011

Daniel 1

In your life you will face moral dilemmas in which you are called on by God to obey. What those challenges will be are in a large part the character development of who you are- or more likely who you used to be before coming to Christ by faith.

When we come to Christ something begins to change in our life. A character development begins to happen that shapes who we really are in Christ Jesus. Without Christ how can we be expected to do otherwise? Satan is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And if you do not have Christ in your life, you in danger of making choices that will not honor God.

Daniel and his three companions had been carried from the royal palace of Jerusalem by an enemy country. Can you imagine if you were captured and taken to Iran to serve in the government there? How would you respond to the moral implications that would certainly arise?

Dr. Shlamo Sher of the University of Southern California and the Levin Institute for Humanities and Ethics wrote an interesting article from which I have drawn a few thoughts to aid in this message today. He says that the process that leads to effective moral action and decision making can be roughly divided into three components:

  1. Moral awareness. This is the process of identifying the ethical issues involved, the parties who have a stake in the action, what is at stake, and what the action options are.
  2. Moral judgment. This is the process of weighing out the ethical considerations that bear on the situation and determining the moral course of action.
  3. Acting in accordance with that judgment. This is deciding that the right thing to do is not enough. One still needs to form the intention to do the moral thing and deal with the practical obstacles in order to act effectively.

Realize that just as God's people such as Daniel and the other three Hebrew boys were facing a moral dilemma that they needed to overcome, so do God's people in the 21st century.

Overcoming Obstacles of Self.

Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. (NKJV) Daniel resolved not to defile himself (NIV)

Before any of us can truly live a life of good conscience before God and humanity, we must be willing to settle certain moral aspects in our own heart and life. It's not good enough to say, "Well, when the time comes I'll stand for what's right." No, you have to be willing to purpose in your heart as Daniel did to stand for what's right now.

This is not always easy. But if you overcome the hurdle of self-interest before God you are on your way.

The idea that is set forth in verse 8 is very important for us to understand. Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. What was the problem?

The Babylonians thought very highly of their royal workers of which these young men were captured to be a part. This meant that they would be fed the best of food that this pagan nation had. Nothing wrong with that. They had these young men's best interests in mind. The problem was that the food of the Babylonians included items that were against the dietary laws of the Jews. To indulge in these foods was not only to eat something that was forbidden but also food that had been offered to idols and to participate in this would be to honor these pagan deities. Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not compromise his values by being untrue to God's call of commitment.

Now I have to admit, not being a Jew, I have a hard time understanding exactly what's going on here. If I'm in a prison starving to death I'll eat just about anything- I've heard enough stories about starvation and the extent people will go to survive. However, these guys were not going to participate.

So how do you develop an inner character that honors God with outer actions?

First, understand the magnitude of consequences. If "borrowing" money from your company with the intent to pay it back (at least you tell yourself that) and you know it's wrong (because this is called embezzlement), understand that there will be consequences for your deceit if it is discovered. You may be reprimanded at best, fired at the least or arrested at the worst- depending on the severity of the issue. People go to prison all the for something that should have been easily avoided.

Second, understand the concentrated effect of your actions. Most sin always affects other people and not just the sinner. But so often a person cannot think of a whole lot more than themselves. Think about those that will be disturbed by your sin.

Third, understand that there is no victimless sin. Someone becomes a victim of your behavior. If I lie to my wife to cover up where I have been then she becomes a victim of my deceit.

And then understand that your relationship with God is on the line. What does the Bible consistently teach about our relationship with him? That God is a holy God and that he desires his people to be holy and obedient to him. Not out of fearful fear but out of loving respect.

Overcoming Obstacles of Authority.

He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

I've told the story but it's worth telling again: When I worked for Long John Silver during my college days in Florida, we needed a water hose to do our clean up outside. The other one burst and was of no use. Well, a water hose was not purchased in a timely manner. Then one day I came to work and what do you know? A water hose was hooked up and ready to be used. In conversing with other employees though, I discovered that this water hose had been stolen from the nearby pizza joint.

I was suddenly confronted with a moral dilemma. Do I continue to use the water hose at work knowing that it was a stolen water hose? After all, I didn't steal it. But my conscience wouldn't hear of it. Finally I confronted the crew one day and told them I would not use the water hose- period. And if someone didn't do something about it then I would take the water hose back over to the pizza joint and apologize for our company. Of course, there were some murmurs but nobody objected. They knew what was right.

What happened? The next day I came to work the water hose was back over to the pizza joint and we had a new one.

Nazi Germany engaged in willful behavior that sent millions of Jews to gas chambers. The atrocities against other human beings was horrible. After the war, countless German leaders and followers were convicted and hanged for their crimes against humanity. Many of them attempted to use the authority defense- I was only following orders. Nobody got off the hook (unless they escaped or committed suicide).

Daniel was respectful to his authority. We must do the same. However, he was firm about his conviction. This allowed him the room to carry out a deal whereby they would take ten days and prove that by eating fruits and vegetables instead of McDonald's there would be a difference.

And they were proved correct.

Sometimes we just simple need to stand up for what's right and allow the Holy Spirit to take over. If you get fired so what? Your relationship with God is intact. Besides there are other jobs out there. If you don't get that promotion, big deal. Better to be promoted in the kingdom of God than to be demoted.

Overcoming Obstacles of Conscience.

Please test your servants for ten days.

There is particular dilemma that faces so many in our time that is referred to in common psychology as "moral disengagement." Moral disengagement is when you see a particular moral question set before you and decide that you want something that you should not have. What do you do? You justify your actions and participate in something you should not.

For example, a man may find himself involved with pornography. You know that pornography is wrong and yet you will find ways to disengage your conscience from the action. You may feel that your wife is ignoring your needs or that the stress of life needs a stress relief and so you deliberately choose to take on a temptation that otherwise remains just that- a temptation.

What are the obstacles to having a clear conscience?

Justifying your actions. A person may feel as though what they are doing is not wrong. For example, a worker may take pens from work that they know are not theirs to take. They may justify their actions by simply saying, "Well it's not like they pay me enough." Or "It's not like I'm stealing a car!"

Some will shift the blame to others. They will see others do that same thing and think that it's alright because others are doing it. They see themselves as part of a team that is not really doing anything that wrong.

They may trivialize their actions and move on.

They may dehumanize the target. "Well, my boss is such a jerk. He won't give me the raise I deserve so I'll give away free food instead of charging for it." "Look at how much money they make? They won't miss it a bit."

Rewarding your sacrifice. A leader- yepper, including pastors, sadly- may feel as though they deserve a little reward for all the sacrifice they are making for their family or their company or their church. And so a little porn flick isn't hurting anyone. What they don't realize is that the consequences of sin have far-reaching affects whether anybody ever knows or not. God knows and it does bring harm to the relationship.

Social dominance orientation. Huh? This is the idea that certain individuals will embrace myths and ideals in order to carry out their actions against others. For example, whites will blame Mexicans for the lack of jobs; Mexicans will blame blacks for the problems of the inner city; blacks will blame whites for the problems of poverty and racism. Throw in the Oriental immigrants and the newcomers from Europe and elsewhere and you have a hotbed of racial tension. We then use the myths and ideals in order to discriminate against others or even commit crimes against others.

So where do we go from here?

Overcoming Obstacles with Action.

The king talked to them and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

These young men were willing to back up their beliefs with action. What about you? Are you willing to back up what you truly believe to be true in your heart with the outward action of doing the right thing for the right reason?

We've probably have all heard the story of the little boy who is put into the corner as a punishment but he tells his mother that in his mind he's pretending to be playing in spite of being in the corner. This is called cognitive dissonance and too many people practice this all of the time.

Jesus taught us that where your heart is there your treasure will be also. He taught us as well that if a man looks on a woman with lust he has committed adultery with her or if a man hates his brother in his heart he has murdered him.

We might argue that this is crazy talk or we might recognize that Jesus was wanting to get right to the heart of the matter: for us to have a right relationship with God calls for us to be absolute in our obedience and following of him. After all, Jesus shows us exactly what it means to be truly human.

So how do you overcome any obstacle you face in doing the right thing whether it be self-interest, authority or conscience?

First, confess your sins to God.

Second, resolve to be changed by God.

Third, face the consequences honestly.

Fourth, walk forward in the power of the Spirit.


 

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