Summary: The power of choice is considerable...so are the consequences. How can we make responsible choices that honor God?
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
Psalm 111:10 (NRSVA)
Croft Pentz is quoted as saying: Of all creation, only man can say yes or no to God. This message is all about our freedom and the choices we can make as free persons.
Freedom from ritual and tradition is a wonderful and dangerous blessing. With it, our souls are liberated to experience Christ, and His power is loosed to work through us; we are also tempted to think we have no responsibility to put it to better use than just exhilaration and joy. In First Corinthians 8, Paul says that we are free from rituals, but not from our responsibility.
My generation was the 60’s. We were going to change everything. All the rituals of the establishment had to go! The one thing my generation misunderstood – just as today’s anti-establishment groups miss the point – is that, while we hated the establishment’s rituals and were trying to change it all, we had our own rituals developing.
If you don’t believe you’re steeped in ritual, try this exercise: name one aspect of your day (today) that is not part of a ritual you’ve developed.
For instance, which leg did you put in your pants first when you were dressing this morning?
On which side of the bed did you roll out today?
Do you brush first, or floss?
How about those shoe laces…did you loop over or under…or did you opt for Velcro because you don’t like laces?
And for you teenagers – just the thought that an adult might have something here – are you rolling your eyes up and to the left, or is it up and to the right? We all have our rituals!
Several years ago there was a campaign pointed at Washington D.C. to Throw the bums OUT! They wanted to elect everyone new to both houses. Even Thomas Jefferson, our founding father/author of the Declaration of Independence advocated regular revolutions of change. He said we should throw out all bills passed by Congress every 20 years and start over.
All those ideas sound radical and, perhaps, make us feel uncomfortable. The reason is because our rituals are tied to our routine – those things which make our lives easier, simpler. We do them habitually, and without too much thought.
We don’t like to change our familiar patterns; we get uncomfortable, irritable and resistant. But, if the routine itself is uncomfortable to us, it is because someone else is comfortable with it, and we’d rather change it! Routines and rituals are no-wins!
Our choices affect more than ourselves. That is why I call our freedom to make individual choices my loaded gun! Whatever I change will affect someone else. Whether it affects them negatively or positively, depends (largely) on which side of the barrel they stand!
Paul pointed to our freedom and responsibility all at once; and he repeated it twice in his letters to the Corinthian church:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; 1 Corinthians 6.12a, 10.23a
Not all choices are evil or good; some are good, some better. The trick is to not let the good become the enemy of the best. I can, for instance, study my Bible – that is good! I could also put down my Bible and rescue a child from drowning in the lake – that would be best!
When making our choices in life, we must consider others; we must consider God’s will, and the lives of other people. We can do that if we do as a Bishop once said to a friend who was weighing a [life] call: "If you are uncertain of which of the two paths to take, choose the one on which the shadow of the cross falls."
Making Good or Poor Choices
The Case of Abraham Genesis 13
A man really wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices, obeying, and doing right. So, if his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he’d give him a nail, send him to a post out in the back yard, and have him take a hammer and put the nail in the post. And every day that he went through the whole day making good decisions, he’d let him go out and remove one of those nails.
As the boy grew up from the age of about eight years until about fourteen or fifteen, there were always 2 or 3 nails in the post, and he’d be nailing them in and pulling them out. But he got better, until finally, as he grew and matured, all the nails were removed.
When all the nails were removed, he felt pretty good. Then his dad took him out and said, Son, I want you to take a good look at that post you’ve been nailing and un-nailing all these years. The boy looked at it for a moment and saw all the holes where all those nails had been hammered-in over the years; the nail scars were many, and they pretty well dominated the appearance of that post.