Illustration: When I was in seventh grade, the school tried to scare us to death about using alcohol. We saw a film about a party where students dance and listen to music. One guy invites his friends to the back room for drinks, and another guy passes out. They can't revive him, so they call the ambulance. He is rushed to the hospital where someone calls the parents. Mom's crying. Dad's crying. The doctors stick needles in his veins and tubes up his nose. The moral of the movie is "Don't drink alcohol or they'll stick needles in your veins, tubes up your nose, and your parents will cry."
We were convinced that none of us would ever drink alcohol if that's what they were going to do to us. We even stayed clear of the water fountain, I think, the rest of that particular day.
Then they brought in another film, whose plot was basically the same, but the moral this time was "Don't take drugs."
Another time, we got to look at and touch the lung of some poor soul who had smoked all his life. The object was, "If you smoke, your lung will look like this, and kids will touch it." We were convinced there in the seventh grade that none of us would ever smoke cigarettes.
Another movie is still shown today in courses. This movie makes slasher films look like a PG or G rating. Photographers have filmed the scenes of car wrecks before the paramedics get there. From accident after accident, there are shots of cars and bodies and people who are mangled and dead. I thought the moral of that movie was "Don't ever get in a car."
But we seventh graders were convinced that under no circumstances would we drink, smoke, take drugs, or drive recklessly, if at all. Yet, soon after we entered high school, most of my friends were smoking. Just about everybody was drinking, and I lost several of my friends to drug overdoses.
Why could we be convinced that something was deadly, unhealthy, and unwise yet our actions not bear witness to what we believed? Today many of you are involved in things that a year or two ago you would never have dreamed you would do.
Someone can stand up here week after week and talk about how fathers need to spend time with their kids. I can say that the only way to have healthy and emotionally successful kids is to spend time with them. The fathers shake the preacher's hand and say, "Fine sermon, Pastor." Yet we walk out of here and don't change what we actually do about it.
We hear sermons on prayer, and we're convinced that prayer is the key to revival in our land. We walk out of here and don't change our prayer habits.
What happened to my friends in the seventh grade is the same thing that happens to us. We have preferences. We have very few convictions. We know what is right and what we're taught. We look around at society, and we're sure we can tell the difference between right and wrong. But we develop few real convictions, and consequently our walk does not match our talk. Many of us are people of preference. Not enough of us are men and women of conviction. That's the topic this morning.
Have you made up your mind not to compromise, so God can use you?
The Book of Daniel tells about King Nebuchadnezzar. As his armies conquered countries, he would take the wisest, the most intelligent, the most skilled men of that nation to his capital city, Babylon. These men would not be treated as slaves. These men would be brought into the royal home to eat the best food and wear the best clothes. They would hang out with the king. When the king needed advice, he would gather these wise men around him.
Four of the men captured in Jerusalem were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Our Scripture tells how Daniel is forced to make a decision. He's being offered the king's wine and food, which he knows has been offered to idols. In his mind this is an area of conviction, and he's forced to decide whether to compromise on what he eats and drinks or to stand by his conviction, knowing that may end his life. The eighth verse of chapter one reads, "But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank."
Let me ask you a question. Have you made up your mind about anything? Have you made up your mind in moral and ethical issues that are gray areas? In any area of your life, have you made up your mind that regardless of the consequences you will not compromise?
God is not out looking for influential people he can make faithful. God is looking for faithful men and women whom he can elevate to positions of influence. Do you see the difference?
We're tempted to think God's looking for athletes, rock stars, television stars, and wealthy people to make into Christians so he can have influential people of faith. But this passage teaches us the opposite. As God looked down at those Hebrew captives, he was looking for the man who would say, "Here I stand. I have made up my mind." God took Daniel, a man who exhibited faith, conscience, and consistency and raised him to a level of influence.
Later in the story, Nebuchadnezzar has a problem. He has so many new people in his kingdom, he doesn't know what to do with all of them. He's got some over here worshipping Jehovah. He's got some over here worshiping this god and that god. It's an amazing mixture of religions and beliefs.
So he says, "Okay, we have a new rule. The new rule is this. You can worship anybody you want. You can believe anything you want. But you must recognize me as the supreme authority in your life."
On the plain of Dura, he builds a large tower. His decree directs that at the sound of music, everyone must drop to their knees and worship the tower.
Everybody thought that was a good rule except for the Hebrews. When the music began to play, everybody dropped to their knees except the Hebrews. They stood there all alone. In Daniel 3:16 is the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to King Nebuchadnezzar when he questioned them: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
They weighed the odds. They realized that eternally speaking they had far more to lose by compromising than they had to gain.
Here's what's significant. Here were men right up there next to the king. They had everything they needed to live a comfortable life, and God didn't use that. God used their willingness to stand by their conviction to rock the entire climate of the capital city of the most important and powerful nation in the world. Daniel was a slave. The others were men of influence. God went with the ones who stood by their convictions.
There were a lot of others guys who marched out of Israel and into Babylon, but we don't know any of their names. Do you know why? Because they missed an opportunity to stand by their convictions, and God overlooked them and chose the men who stood by their convictions.
Until you and I allow God to move us out of the convenience of having preferences into the mode of sacrifice, where we have convictions, we miss out on ever being used by God, because he's looking for that kind of man and woman.
I can hear you saying, "Andy, those are neat Bible stories. You have a point there. But let's be practical. How in the world does this kind of thing fit in with my life? I have this job and this family going, and so I compromise a few convictions. What's the big negative outcome of that? What do you mean, I'm going to miss out on the kingdom of God? What do you mean, God can't use me? How do I know I'm even missing out on anything anyway? What am I missing out on?"
The answer to that question is this: I don't know. Daniel didn't know. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't know. They didn't know the rest of the story. All they knew was they had to make a decision. They chose to go with their convictions rather than compromise. They had no idea how God was going to use them.
My friend, you have no idea what God wants to do with you. But I can assure you that the moment I compromise, as soon as I begin to rationalize, and as soon as I step over the line to become a man of preference rather than conviction, I everything God may have planned to do with my life.
You need to develop convictions in the area of moral purity.
I want to give you three areas in which I believe you need to develop convictions. There are more, but here are three things to think about.
Number one is moral purity in two categories: physical and mental. Let's talk about moral purity. We're not talking about sex. We're talking about purity. You who are single are dating. You need to decide once and for all how far is too far. Quit giving God all this jazz about, "But I'm in love, and this time it's different, and I'm older, and I have my needs, and on and on."
You need to decide once and for all what is God's will for you in that area. Make up your mind. Realize that what you have to gain by compromising isn't worth it. Period. That's a conviction. Every girl I've ever talked to who's in trouble morally believed what she did was wrong. I've never met one who said, "I didn't see anything wrong with it." They all say, "I knew it was wrong; I did it anyway." Preference, not conviction.
The same is true in other areas of our lives. We Christians believe it's wrong to put filth in our mind. We know the verses: "Set your mind on things above and not on the things that are on earth. For we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:23)."
It's there, and it's clear enough that we need to set our minds on what is good and excellent. We all believe that, but week after week after week we are guilty of paying people to pour garbage in our minds. How can you and I justify thanking God on Sunday for dying for our sins and then go out and pay people to entertain us with the sin he had to die for?
You know why? We have a preference. Nobody's going to argue that I'm wrong. Why aren't we more consistent? We haven't made up our minds. We haven't decided that it's worth what we lose.
Parents, you cannot expect your kids to exercise discernment in their choice of entertainment if you do not model that for them. You can tell them over and over the evils of rock music and the lifestyles of rock stars. How can you justify watching people on the screen do what your kids only listen to on the radio? It's time you established some convictions in the area of just how pure God wants you to be.
You need to develop convictions in the area of ethics.
Second area: convictions about ethics. Here's the pattern of politics in today's world: it's okay to be dishonest, rip people off, and break the law until you're caught. Once you're caught, you're supposed to admit everything already known and lie about what they don't know. It's time that men and women in this country decide that yes is yes and no is no: "If I'm caught, I look at my accuser right in the eye, and I say, 'I was wrong.' No excuses."
Students, if you do that, your parents will pass out. When was the last time you looked your parents in the eye and said, "You're right. I did that, and I'm wrong"?
We're in this mode of excuse and excuse. It's time we established some convictions: "If I'm caught doing wrong, I admit it. No more excuses. No more lying. No more . I tell the truth."
I want you to know something else. Preference is oriented toward convenience. Conviction is oriented toward sacrifice. The challenge is being willing to acknowledge that what you lose by sacrificing is far less than what you lose by compromise.
You say, "Man, you don't know anything." I don't know much about business, but I do know this: there are godly men and women out there who've sorted it out, and they are making it work. It will cost you. You'll have to get up from some deals and just walk away. No one there will understand, and you won't even be able to explain it, but you know you've got to walk away. There are new partners to be found. There's money to be lost. God's called us as Christians not to be men and women of preference but men and women of conviction. Those are the ones he elevates to positions of influence for his kingdom.
You need to develop convictions in the area of spirituality.
There's a third area where we need to have convictions spiritually. All of these things are spiritual. But just for the sake of a category title, we'll call this spiritual. I'm talking about spiritual disciplines. I imagine every Christian would agree we need to spend time alone with God every day. If you don't, it's because it's a preference not a conviction.
I've had the privilege of being around some incredibly busy people who would not miss a morning alone with God if that meant getting up at 4:30 or 3:30 in the morning. It's a conviction, and nothing comes before that. Do you have a conviction about how much time you spend alone with God? Do you want to do something about it? Otherwise it's just a preference.
What about your giving? Has God shown you how much? Are you doing it?
Parents, if your kids missed as much school as they do Sunday school and church, they would all be in the first grade forever. It's true, isn't it? I know it's true. I have the rolls. I'm not getting on you; I love you, and I love your kids. But you know what you've chosen? You've chosen academic literacy and Bible illiteracy. You've never thought of it like that, but isn't that what you've chosen?
Are you willing to say this to the Lord this morning? "Lord Jesus, in many areas of my life, I'm a man (or woman) of preference. Lord Jesus, just help me take a baby step this morning."
I'm not talking about commitment for God. You may not be ready for that, but you can say, "Lord, I want make up my mind about these issues. I want to sincerely understand that I lose more by compromising than I do by sticking with my convictions. Even though it may cost me money or influence or position, I realize that I would rather lose that than what I lose once I compromise."
Illustration: On my first date with Sandra, my wife, I ran out of things to say after five minutes. I was grasping for straws, and I turned to her and used a great line. (Guys, if you date, this is a great line, unless your girlfriend's here. Then, I'm about to ruin it.)
I said, "Sandra, do you ever do any modeling?" (It's a great line. She's thinking, Oh, he thinks I model. That's for free.)
I said, "Do you ever do any modeling?"
She said, "Well, I used to."
I could tell it was a touchy subject, but being more inquisitive than I am sensitive, I said, "Tell me about it." She told me this story.
When she first went to Georgia Tech as a student, she got some opportunities to do some modeling. That was good because she made some extra money to help pay for school. Then she got an invitation to model for a costume company. She and three other girls were to model costumes for people choosing outfits for an upcoming costume ball.
When she got to the dressing room, Sandra found that each person was to model four costumes. Sandra went out on the runway in the first costume and came back. In the dressing room, Sandra looked at the second costume she was to model and decided, I can't wear that.
She looked behind it at the third one: that was just as bad. By that time, it was her turn to go out again. Instead, she put on her own clothes and went to tell her employer she couldn't model the others.
"Why? We're doing a show. I'm paying you. You'll ruin the show." Sandra said, "I'm sorry. I don't expect to be paid for this, and I understand that I've made things difficult for you." The other girls looked at her as if to say, "You're just modeling. This isn't any statement about your morality."
Sandra said, "I'm sorry. I can't model this. I'm through."
That was the end of her modeling career. I want you to know something, young ladies. When she told me that, my estimation of her and the way I valued her as a person went sky high because I'd found a woman who cared more about what God thought than what the world thought. I knew that's the kind of woman I wanted to marry. And that's the kind of man I want to be.
That's the kind of man and woman God wants every single one of you to be: men and women of conviction, not preference.
Andy Stanley is Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. He has a journalism degree from Georgia State University and a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary.