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Choosing Life

In yesterday's sermon, I spoke about getting ourselves back on the rails in life.  It was a subject much on my mind, as I had spent most of the break between Christmas and New Year's enjoying lots of great, sweet, and rich food, mostly while watching way too much television.  For the first few days, it felt nourishing and wonderful.  But, for whatever reason, a steady diet of fudge and leftover potato casserole weren't providing much spark and energy for the long haul.  Then, thrown into the mix were the relentless messages about getting back on the right track for the new year:  article after article on NPR.org about better ways to hold to those resolutions, and non-too subtle reminders on Facebook about all the other great changes friends, families and strangers were planning for 2016.

So, the time had come.  I knew now was the time to start getting myself back in shape.

But, as we explored yesterday, I knew in my heart of hearts that true reform was going to have to come from a place deeper than my own New Year's resolutions.  I knew true change was going to require God's help and God's strength.

That's why I landed on the main point in my sermon as this:  the basis for all of our resolutions should begin with a firm understanding of God's own resolve for us.  God desires what is best for us, at every point, at every moment in our life, and in every way.  This is what Jesus was trying to communicate to the Samaritan woman when he spoke about giving her life abundantly.

For whatever reason, my sermon yesterday led to a good conversation with my son, Wyatt, on the way home from church.  He normally doesn't have much to say about Sunday mornings, but something struck him yesterday.  He wanted to know why God doesn't seem to give us the opportunity to choose what is best for us.

It took me a second to realize what he was referring to.  He was thinking of the story I mentioned about Abram, when God commands Abram to "go" in the twelfth chapter of Genesis.  Based on how I described the situation, I began to see what Wyatt was getting at.  He didn't think Abram had a choice in the whole matter.

Wyatt raises a very important question, especially as we step into this new year:  How much freedom do we have in choosing new directions for our life?

Is it all up to God to really make new, significant and lasting change in my life?

Or is it all up to me?

The reality, of course, is that the answer is mysteriously and wonderfully somewhere in between.

God's will for our life is what is most important.

But, God also gives us the opportunity to find our way into that new life.  God commands Abram to go forward in faith, but Abram's response is also required.

This is a very helpful lesson to keep in mind as we do start this new year.  Many of you may have desires to make positive steps in a new direction with your life.  Those positive steps could come down to choices you make about food or your money.  It could also come down to how you spend your time and trying to carve out more space in your life to connect with God through prayer or through new spiritual practices.

Whatever we are choosing, though, we can know this.  God's desire is for us to find our way towards health, towards freedom, towards a deeper and fuller sense of our God-given identity.  God's desire is also for us to move out and become more connected in a healthy way with those around us:  to grow in our love and commitment to our spouse, to become a more engaged and loving parent, to seek in new ways to be a neighbor to others this year.

In other words, God's overall desires for our lives never change.  God's longing is for us to experience love, peace, joy, hope, and all the other fruits of the spirit.

It's how we get there where our own choices come into play.  I'm quite certain the weight of choosing and moving forward still rested squarely upon Abram's shoulders after he received the initial push from the Lord.  It was still up to him to decide what to take with him and what to leave behind.  It was still up to him to determine how to walk forward in this journey called faith:  what habits would truly allow him to move closer to God and what habits he knew would drain him of life.

And, of course, we know that Abram didn't always make the right choices.  He moved along by fits and starts.  Sometimes he walked forward in confidence and trust in the Lord, and experienced a greater freedom.  Other times, he found it hard to move beyond certain attachments from this world that he felt were necessary.  So he stumbled and bruised his soul, not to mention the fact that he did damage to those around him as a result of poor choices.

The same will be true for us as we move into this new year.  There will be times when we continue to make poor choices, when we somehow and for some reason continue to move towards those things we know are not enhancing or building up our life:  that indulgence that has begun to take us over again, that rabbit-hole that we know doesn't do us any good to go down mentally.  I was reminded this morning that one of the first and most important steps in the 12 Step movement is to admit that we are not capable of managing our own lives.  We simply cannot do it right all the time, and if we truly take the reality of our brokenness seriously, we will realize that we are unfortunately hardwired to keep choosing that which only kills us.  As much as we want to stay away from that potato casserole, for some reason I'm going to keep returning to it.

We are also not left helpless.  This is where we return to God's desires for our lives and to the fact that God will actively be working to teach us and show us a new way.  This is what it means to turn our lives over to Jesus Christ and to receive help from the Holy Spirit.  Our first choice, then, becomes not trying to change our behavior by ourselves, but by seeking God's strength and aid in choosing new ways of living ... indeed, a new life.

From this place, we begin to ask ourselves what things will truly lead to our greater freedom, our greater ability to love, and our greater ability to sacrifice.  Will this activity?  Or this television show?  Or that extra few minutes on social media?  Or, is there some other way I can approach my afternoon that will help me feel free and more fully able to love and serve others?

In other words, we can ask ourselves, "If I choose this, will it lead to life?"

We know that's what God wants for us.  Life.  Abundant and rich life.  And with God's help we can begin to take steps in that direction this year.  Not all the time.  We'll still bump our spiritual knees over and over again, but God's goal for you this year is life.

Choose life, however or in whatever way that is true.

Wes


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