CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”—Romans 14:13 NIV

There’s a saying floating around the internet, I’m not sure where it originated but it speaks truth in volumes for so few words, it goes something like:

“We have the freedom to choose, but not the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.”

Growing up I wasn’t allowed to make many choices, it was just a matter of doing what my parents told me to do because either “The Bible says so” or “I’m your parent and I say so”. Neither of those answers pleased me much, nevertheless, I complied. I was afraid of the consequences of not complying. I was afraid of the belt, afraid of my parent’s disapproval. So, out of fear (not freedom) I obeyed. However, once I turned sixteen, I began to realize my parents had less control over my choices, and I could get away with a lot of things without them knowing (I had my own job and car, and with that came some added “freedoms”). Of course, as a sixteen year old with raging hormones, not many, if any, of my choices were well thought out.

It didn’t take more than a few “bad” choices before I became overwhelmed with shame, a real “failure” as a Christian. No longer was I the compliant, obedient “good girl”, but the rebellious, self-centered “prodigal”. Instead of repentance, my shame led me farther into the pit of stupidity, until nearly a decade later when I found myself pregnant, living in a shack of a home (no running water, windows broken out, roof falling apart…etc.) with my boyfriend. When sharing my testimony I often start with this scene because that is what God used to catapult a major life change in me.

Did I want my daughter to grow up with an eating disorder? Did I want her having sex with whomever she pleased on any given day? Did I want her contracting STDs? Did I want her growing up so insecure she felt the only answer was to take a blade and cut her body? Did I want her to decide one day that suicide was the only reasonable choice? Did I want her to turn to drugs to ease her pain? Did I want her turning out like me? Did I want her spending an eternity separated from God because I never taught her the truth about Him? The answer to those questions was a resounding, NO!

I knew if there was any hope for my daughter, I was in fact the one who needed to change. I knew she would follow my example, and that is the last thing I wanted. So, over the years following, God changed my heart one issue at a time. However, despite having a change of heart and re-committing my life to following God, I still continued to make dumb choices (and still do). Some of these choices have had catastrophic consequences (more on that will be discussed in later posts). It really is a miracle that, despite my ignorance, my husband is now a Christian, and our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. It very easily could have ended much differently.

One of the things I struggle with is an eating disorder (began 16 years ago) and intense insecurity. Understanding who I am in Christ has gone a long way in helping with those issues, nevertheless, I still struggle. One of the things that triggers anxiety and temptation to revert back to the eating disorder is wearing revealing or tight clothes. The insecurity is so intense, that despite living in Arizona where the summers often reach 120 degrees, I wear pants all the time (unless I am swimming, which I will only do in the presence of good, trusted friends, and even then, I wear shorts). I usually wear baggy t-shirts as well. I hate the feeling of clothes on my skin. (It’s hard to explain or understand unless you’ve had an eating disorder).

I’ve prayed about this issue repeatedly, as it gets to be quite tiresome dealing with such emotions and anxiety (even something as simple as eating a meal can turn into an emotional ordeal if I let my focus shift from the truth of God’s word). The Holy Spirit produced and answer that, after careful contemplation (asking the questions near the end of this post), I decided to implement. Dress differently. Novel concept, I know. For me, that meant wearing long, modest skirts instead of jeans, shorts, or pants.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Great, another ultra conservative nut-job who thinks it’s a sin to wear pants”. Actually, no, that is not the case. I don’t believe God is too concerned with what we are wearing, other than it needs to be modest (not causing a “brother” to stumble). Pants, shorts, whatever, I don’t really care what you wear, that’s between you and God. But for me, the long skirts are a personal conviction that has nothing to do with whether or not is a “sin” for a female to wear pants. So please, no comments about that. (And no, I am not forcing my daughter to wear skirts. I explained why I was chose to do so, and told her she could decide for herself what she wanted to do. My only requirement for her clothing is that it be modest.)

When it comes to making choices, from the clothing we wear, the food we eat, or the type of activities we engage in, we must recognize our freedom to choose while also understanding we do not have the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”—1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love…For I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”—Galatians 5:13, 16

In a nutshell, we all have free will. God gives us His word to protect us, but it is our choice whether or not to read it and follow it. For many years I chose to ignore it, and for the rest of my life I will have to experience the consequences of my “free will”. I can’t undo the consequences, some of which have deeply affected my family. Our consequences will affect others, either positively or negatively. These days I am erring on the side of caution. For some this may come across as being too “uptight”. But, I know that I am making these choices because of my freedom, not to obtain freedom or acceptance from God or others.

Will we use our freedom to choose to encourage others, help others, love others, and serve others, or will we use it to serve and please ourselves? Coming back to the example of clothing, by choosing to dress modestly, I am accomplishing a few things: first and foremost I am no longer dealing with the anxieties and temptations I dealt with wearing other types of clothing. I am more comfortable and more relaxed. As an added bonus, I am protecting others from “stumbling” by doing my best in covering what needs to be covered and leaving everything to the imagination (as opposed to leaving nothing to the imagination, as it seems the majority of women, even Christians, are doing these days). My body is for my husband, not for anyone else. But again, this is a personal conviction, not a “rule” for everyone to follow. I have peace knowing I am doing all that I can to protect myself from temptation and others as well. I am also setting a good example for my daughter, showing her that she is more than a pretty face or a good body; she should be noticed and appreciated for her character, not her appearance.

While this is just one example, the principles that led to this choice apply to any choice we can make. My dad used to tell me, “When in doubt, do without”. That little phrase has come in handy, especially now that I am committed to following God’s plan for my life. From major choices to seemingly insignificant ones, we can be assured of making the right choice if we:

1) Seek God’s word on the issue first and commit to following his Word (after all, He wants to protect us from the consequences of bad choices, which is why He gave us His word!)
2) Pray about what God would have us do (if this is not already made clear in his word)
3) Ask and answer honestly a few questions about the choice:

●Will it hurt me or anyone else?
●Is there any possibility this choice could be a “stumbling block” to someone else?
●Does this choice encourage me and those around me to think on what is good, lovely, pure, and acceptable (Phil. 4:8)?
●Do I have peace about this choice?
●Am I shining God’s light, love, and truth to the world through this choice?
●Am I making a choice I would want my child (or loved one) to make?

If you have any doubts about your decision, “do without”. In other words, say “no” and trust God has something better in mind for you. Pray for patience and wisdom to make the right choices, the ones that will reap consequences of joy, not sorrow.

 

 

**NOTE: This was not intended to be a post about modesty or clothing; that is simply a recent example from my life I chose to use as an illustration. Please do not feel the need to defend your choice of clothing to me. Truthfully, I don’t care what you choose to wear or do. It really is between you and God. My choice is a personal one, and that’s the extent of it. I am merely sharing my journey and experience as I stumble through life attempting to walk in grace the best I know how.**

 

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I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

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Egg-White Fury

Suggested Reading: Job 6:1-10

“This, at least, gives me comfort despite all the pain-that I have not denied the words of the Holy God.” Job 6:10 (The Living Bible)

 

The more things pile up the easier it is to react poorly in an insignificant situation. When my bank account is empty, my loved one is sick and the doors I wanted to go through have been slammed in my face-all at the same time-I get cranky. All of a sudden I’m irritated when my cats look at me funny.

The casualty of this inner war is unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and receives the blunt force trauma of my egg-white fury.

I think of all the times I snap at my spouse (poor guy), curse at a jar I can’t open, or fly into a rage over a glass of spilled water. These are gross over-reactions to minor inconveniences. And through the lens of Job I see what went wrong. I allowed the greater surrounding circumstances in my life to dictate my behavior in the smaller situations.

So what do I take away from Job’s gag reflex? As much as he complained, as distraught as he was, as horrific his circumstances were, he was still able to say he did not deny the words of God. He remained faithful to his convictions despite insurmountable opposition.

I’d like to be able to say the same thing. I’d like to be able to experience difficulty without needing to release my anger on other people. I’d like to say the worst reaction I ever had was gagging over an egg-white. I’m not there yet, but God hasn’t given up on me.

Celebrate Sorrow

Suggested Reading: Nehemiah 8:7-12

“It is a time to celebrate with a hearty meal, and to send presents to those in need; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (The Living Bible)

It was a momentous day for Judah. For the first time in their generation, they read the laws of God as given to Moses. In an instant their spiritual eyes were opened to the truth-and how far they had strayed from it.

They wept incessantly. The Israelites were sorry for their sins and the sins of their ancestors and desperately wanted to make it right. Ezra and Nehemiah reassured the people that while it was ok to be sad over their sin, they shouldn’t live in that state of mind.

The truth of God’s word should bring repentance, but that repentance should give great joy as God’s mercy is celebrated. Celebrating the goodness of God should cause worship, and worship should create an outward focus on the needs of the world.

When I look back on my life, it’s tempting to live in a state of despair and regret. However, God is not glorified in my incessant weeping. Jesus doesn’t tell me to live in sorrow, he tells me to, “Go, and sin no more₁”. Ezra puts it well, “What hope could we have if [God] gave us justice₂?”

I rejoice that I have not been given the justice I deserve. That joy strengthens me to share the redemptive, transforming message of the Gospel with others.  I may weep for a moment but I’ll rejoice for eternity.

  1. John 8:11
  2. Ezra 9:15

Inward

Inward

“I pondered the direction of my life and I turned to follow your laws.” Psalm 119:59 NLT

Any type of conversion or repentant experience has to start with something. A person doesn’t just decide one day to change; there is usually some motivating factor. What leads a person to desire change for themselves? The Psalmist said, “I pondered the direction of my life.” He thought about it. Where was his life going, how was his attitude, what was the end result of his life going along the current path he was on? He pondered it and decided something had to change. This change required a decision to move or turn from his current course, and go along a new course, the course of God’s word.

The beginning of change within us starts with a time of self-examination. We ask God to search us, but we also look within ourselves to see if there is something wrong. If I keep going on the path I am on, where will that lead me? Is there anything about my choices that needs to change?

Is self-examination biblical? God designed us with a free will, and within that free will is the ability to choose our direction. It’s up to us to make the choice of whether or not to maintain our current heading or put in a new route.

“When you are on your beds search your hearts and be silent.” Psalm 4:4

Before we go to bed is the perfect time to reflect on the day. Take a good look inward and see if there was anything that didn’t line up with the person of Jesus that we seek to represent. Anything less than a perfect representation means turning from that action/thought/attitude and getting back on his path. It is most certainly biblical to examine ourselves.

Do we feel regret over the short-comings we committed? Is there remorse? This remorse is necessary to lead us into a genuine repentance that alters our current actions. Does this mean we won’t ever commit that “sin” again? Of course not! We are human and we fail, but the genuine repentance will put us on a new path moving closer to the character of Jesus. Ups and downs are sure, but a consistent pattern upward will be evident of the repentant heart.

There is a counterfeit remorse, however, and its name is “self-pity”. This destructive behavior appears to be regretful, sorrowful over sin, yet it dwells on the wrongs and the failures rather than moving on and up in Christ.  Self-pity will always distance us from the voice of God. We must not allow self-pity to destroy our fellowship with him. Confess, repent (turn), be restored and move on!

 Unless we are looking in the direction of Jesus (through his word), we cannot know what light and life even look like. The joyful life is the holy life. Anything less will lead to a false sense of “happiness”. This false “joy” is the type of feeling that is easily tossed about whenever circumstances are uncertain. A lasting deep abiding joy comes in the life that is on the path to holiness. Those who appear to be happy in their “sin” will fall at some point, and deep down they will always be searching for the next “thing” to satisfy when all along Jesus has already given the answer to fulfillment!

“These people have stubborn hearts; they have turned aside and gone away.” Jeremiah 5:23

In order to know true joy I must be walking upward in my relationship with Jesus, moving closer to becoming like him. The only way I can see him and know him to be transformed into his likeness is to spend time with him in his word and prayer.

“The Spirit searches all things.” 1 Corinthians 2:10

We ask the Spirit to turn us to the light of his face through his word. We cannot see him unless we turn to look at him!

We look inward then we turn and look upward.

Prayer

Jesus, help me to take an honest look into my heart. Lead me into a time of self-examination and speak to me through your Spirit. Open my eyes to the truth of what lies within me that I need to turn from. You are truth, and your word is truth, so I ask that your Spirit guide me into the truth no matter how much it hurts. I want to press on towards a life of holiness in becoming more like you, and I don’t want anything to hinder that.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Affliction in the Silence

 “When will you comfort me?” Psalm 119:82 (NLT)

“My eyes strain to see your rescue.” Psalm 119:123 (NLT)

Affliction in the Silence

“John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’” Matthew 11:2-3

Even greats like John the Baptist experienced the painful affliction of silence, when left to fester in our minds this affliction often leads us to doubt. John the Baptist had been sitting in prison, awaiting his death, and I am sure during this time he expected Jesus to come to his rescue. But as time went by he started to wonder if everything he preached, everything he believed, everything he based his life on was even true at all. Had he made one colossal mistake when he invested his life in Jesus? Reading these words of John is almost a reassurance; yes, doubt is normal!  If we continue reading through Matthew 11 we would also see that John’s doubts were calmed by Jesus’ message delivered through the disciples, which reignited his passion and devotion to Jesus. God often allows us to wait in silence and the appearance of unanswered prayers to build our faith and endurance. When we are experiencing the silence that leads us to doubt we need to go back to God’s word for our reassurance; this is where God gives us the comfort of confirmation that he is still at work, and very much caring for our every discomfort.

Streams in the Desert

Streams in the Desert

 “Restore our fortunes, Lord,

as streams renew the desert.

Those who plant in tears

will harvest with shouts of joy.

They weep as they go to plant their seed,

but they sing as they return with the harvest.”

Psalm 126:4-6 (NLT)

This passage is a beautiful word picture of glory restored where sorrow once reigned. We are given an array of scenes to describe the spiritual restoration. Sparkling streams in a barren desert; laboring with bitter tears in contrast to harvesting with dances of pure joy; heavy grief followed by melodious singing. What a magnificent imagery!

If there is to be beautiful streams of cool flowing water, we must be given a picture of something seemingly opposing to make this stream even more glorious in appearance. What could be more opposing to a crystal clear stream of water than a dry, brown, wasteland of a desert?

Restoration involves opposition. How can we truly experience all there is to know of joy unless we have wept those bitter tears of agony? Would the singing be as sweet without the somber sorrow? Would the dancing be as jubilant without the perilous pain? Would the harvest really be as sweet without the perseverance, faith, and cries to our Father?

We are being called to a restoration of the glory we were created for. The image-bearers of our very God-made for Him, by Him. If we want to be that glorious reflecting stream of water, fully alive, flowing throughout a dry land, bringing life to all we touch, we must accept our surrounding deserts. For He made the sparkling streams and the barren deserts alike.