Tag Archives: decisions

Choices

Readings:  Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18     Psalm 34:15-22     Ephesians 6:10-20     John 6:56-59

 

In an election year, we are bombarded daily with our need to make choices. Election years are really not that different from our everyday life, although the stridency of those promoting our choices is considerably higher in the political realm. Sometimes we feel overwhelemed with all the decisions we need to make.

In today’s reading, Joshua, with a mere foothold in the Promised Land, told the people he had led across Jordan that they needed to make a choice. Likewise, Jesus, having fed five thousand people with a pitiful little lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish asked people to make a choice, too.  

According to the book that bears his name, Joshua gathered “all the tribes of Israel, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel” to Schechem.  Joshua took them all the way back in their history to Abraham, and reminded them of all that God had done for them. He particularly pointed out that they had always waffled in their loyalties. No matter how faithful some ancestors like Isaac and Jacob had been, some of them always worshiped other gods.  Then Joshua reminded them what God Most High had done after they crossed the Jordan River: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.” (Joshua 24:13) Despite the fact that some did not serve God, God had blessed them, but Joshua said that it was time to get real. It was time to choose whom they would serve. Would they serve the gods of Abraham’s ancient home, gods Abraham himself had discarded? Would they serve the gods of Egypt whom God had humiliated as Moses led the Israelites away? Would they serve the gods of this new land, gods who had been defeated time and again as the Israelites began to take possession of what God had promised? The people had a choice. They could serve gods that were no gods, or they could serve God Most High, who had brought them through the wilderness. 

Jesus offered people the same kind of choice. The people wanted bread on the table every day. They had observed as thousands in a crowd around Jesus went away with bread. It was a miracle they could get their arms around. They knew what daily bread was. Unfortunately, like the ancient Israelites at Schechem, they could not see the eternal God at work in that miracle. They simply saw food for that day.

When the people chased Jesus down afterwards, they asked him to do the miracle again. Jesus loved them, and Jesus wanted them to understand that the bread they had eaten the day before was a sign, not a plan or a political promise. He reminded them that people who ate that bread, just like the people who ate miraculous manna in the wilderness, would eventually die despite having bread to eat. Jesus told them that they really needed to eat eternal bread. They needed his body and blood, the food of eternal life. The people who thought they wanted something that would stave off hunger till tomorrow needed something that would satisfy them eternally. It was a hard choice, and like those people in Capernaum, we, too, have trouble with it.

 The choice in the coming election is about the same sort of things. Some campaign promises are shaped by secular standards which assume that this world is all there is. They do that, because the election won’t put anyone in office for eternity, but only for some finite period. However, as the Bible makes very clear when describing the kings that ancient Israelites dealt with, finite leaders can impact some things that touch eternity. One king in ancient Israel put up idols in Bethel under the guise of making it easier for people to worship. They didn’t need to go to Jerusalem any more. The leader pretended to power and authority he did not have, and people who knew better let him have it, because it made their lives easier. They thought God should not have made it so hard to serve him, anyway.

The same thing can happen in a democratic election. If people vote for someone based on his allegations that he will give them what they want, they may for a time be very happy that their wishes came true. Christian organizations rejoice when the government grants come through with much more money than their donors provide. It is awfully scary to rely on God to call donors to support the work. It is easier to write grants and be assured of funds for the coming year. The grant is like bread for today, but God’s provision comes whenever it comes, not so predictable. To be sure the grants continue, they vote for the person most likely to give them more bread for the day. Yet their decision to vote for the person who supports grants to do the social services that serve a political agenda may come back to bite them if the grants arrive with regulations that require behavior they consider to be sinful or with regulations that forbid them to act in missional ways. As soon as Christians buy into the idea that there can be some elements of their mission where it is okay to shut God out, it gets a lot easier for the culture and the government to shut God out of more and more places.  If Christians choose a culture that squeezes God out of daily life in the US, it is very likely that the day will come when they will wish that once again there were churches on every corner. The fortress that used to be the USSR crumbled under the weight of a godless society, and it could happen to the USA as well. 

We make choices every day. We choose every day if we will live for Christ, or not. Every decision we make is part of our testimony to those who reject Christ. Every time we collaborate in the rejection, we shrink our freedom to serve him. Choices matter. Elections matter. Pray. Vote. Serve the Lord with your whole life. It’s your choice.

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Temptation — You Can’t Win By Yourself

In her novel, The Gathering author Anne Enright’s central character muses over her practice of drinking a bottle of wine every night, just before dawn. The character says, “I have all my regrets between pouring the wine and reaching for the glass.” That statement sums up the battle against temptation for most of us.

It doesn’t matter what the temptation is.

 The temptation could be adultery. Somewhere between sensing the attraction and making a move there is a moment when the decision hangs in the balance. The image of your spouse recedes as you tell yourself that this feeling isn’t what it purely is, and you tilt your head just so before you say, “Do you always sneak up on people that way?” For a moment, you see where the threads of your life are woven into the fabric of your marriage, but as you turn to examine them, something – light, darkness, glare, or sand in your eye – obscures the image and you turn away. Your momentum shifts, and the decision is no longer possible, because the first teasing word has already been already spoken.

The temptation could be a few potato chips with a sandwich. You know you don’t need potato chips. Your sandwich is fine without them. You promised yourself yesterday that you would take action to reduce unnecessary fat in order to maintain your weight after working so hard to lose ten pounds before your birthday. But the birthday was yesterday. Today the chips are right there on the counter, and there aren’t many left in the bag anyway and you just want a taste. As you lift the first one to your lips, you remember that “nobody can eat just one.” And then they are gone.

Satan lives and dwells in the interim between choosing and not choosing. Eve had a moment like that. Satan, that snake, whispered, “Did God say …?” She paused, stating the obvious. Then Satan said, “God lies.” Caught by the attractive prospect that she could dismiss God and judge his motives and do anything she darn well pleased, she contemplated the choice, and forgot to choose at all, and took a bite of the forbidden fruit.

That is the way it usually feels. Most of us don’t really recall the decision to do what we know we ought not to do. We remember our good intentions, but we simply cannot recall when we took the first step forward. We even comfort ourselves by saying that we do not recall making this choice. It just happened.

Nothing just happens. We do make choices, even when we refuse to watch ourselves doing it. Satan is so good at whispering the words we want to hear that we simply tune out the other words. It feels so good to say, “I deserve this one little taste.” In fact, Satan is pretty good at taking God’s own teachings and reshaping them to serve ourselves. He likes to quote the Golden Rule. He can whisssssper in your heart, “Remember, God said to love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. Don’t you deserve some of the good stuff?” SSsssoooon what was just a passing thought – “Nobody will ever know if I simply borrow $50 from petty cash” — becomes “What’s $50 to this rich tycoon? I’ll put it back on payday.” At first you are steering through the muddy swamp of regret, but soon you find the path of self-justification. There was a moment when you might have chosen otherwise, but you no longer remember that moment.

The apostle Paul documented this experience in Romans 7, when he wrote, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) This is how we feel. Paul described his battle as something that happened over and over. He could never vanquish temptation and put it behind him.

I remember trying to do that very thing – stop sinning. I had a good reason for trying. I had heard a sermon in which the pastor said that there is no need to ask God for help in overcoming sin if you aren’t serious about it. In those days, I thought pastors did not make mistakes, so I was completely undone by that statement. I wanted to ask God for help with my problems, but since I continued to have more and more problems and to fail more and more miserably to overcome them, I felt that God would not want to hear from me. I had to improve my track record. Satan used that simple statement to completely steal the joy of my salvation from me.

Thank goodness the day came that I understood the truth. God wasn’t trying to put me through some marathon test. Jesus died so I could run to God for help every single time I needed it. And when I failed, because I forgot to notice the moment when I made the wrong choice, I could go to God and ask forgiveness, all because Jesus died for me. No conditions. No limit. No test. The memory of that moment is quite vivid in my mind. We were all holding hands during prayer. The pastor prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for forgiving us all our sins, not because we deserve forgiveness, but entirely for Jesus’ sake, because he died in our place.” I burst into tears as the truth came clear to me. I have never been the same since. Every time I get lost in the minefield of temptation, I know I have a safe haven to run to. God isn’t going to ask me for the final, final, final time to get my act straight. Instead, the Slaughtered Lamb will be standing beside the throne of my Heavenly Father, speaking my name and saying, “This is one of Mine.”