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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When “ONE” Really Does Matter

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

 

Earlier this year I felt led to start a life group at New Life Community Church—a life group that focused on spiritual freedom, spiritual healing, spiritual warfare, and the icky issues that often get overlooked in favor of more traditional studies by famous authors. You know, the studies about Grace, How to Pray, How to Disciple, How to do this and that and the other. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of studies too, but sometimes people walk into church a little “messy” on the inside, and sometimes those people need something a little different than another “Five Steps to Being a Better Christian.”

I was excited as it got under way. There were four of us ladies, which would be perfect when it came to discussing the more sensitive issues we were likely to explore. (It’s easier to share in a small small group then in a room with twenty people.) But after just a few weeks our small group was reduced to microscopic proportions as just I and one other woman remained. Not surprisingly I struggled with the doubt of whether or not I had really “heard” God’s voice in this endeavor. Apparently I had some unmet expectations regarding the “success” of this group. (Don’t you love how God kicks us off our platform of pride rather bluntly?) But in the end I knew I had followed His leading, and I committed myself to sticking it out, even if it was only so “ONE” little life could possibly be affected in a positive way (and even if that “ONE” just happened to be ME!).

Surrendering my expectations to God lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I could walk into the “group” (I mean, if two people can be called a group) excited about the study and what God had revealed to my friend during her week. We probably learned more from each other’s insights and experiences then either of us thought possible.

A few months into the group I had the opportunity to share a testimony at a Life Group Leaders meeting our church held. I had “ONE” little testimony to read, but God had more in store as a result.

After the meeting a woman approached me and asked if there was room for “ONE” more (Oh nope, sorry, three is a crowd—NOT). So she started attending the group even though the study was ending soon. She shared some of her struggles and asked us to pray for some of her family members who were struggling with some specific “icky” issues we often addressed in our study. The three of us developed quite a bond through this “doing life” together thing. We now pray for each other on a regular basis and know we can depend on each other for a listening, non-critical/judgmental ear. We have a “safe” place to share what many people may find “taboo” in a Christian environment (after all, Christians shouldn’t be depressed or have anxiety, right?!).

A few weeks after this woman joined our group, one of the Pastors referred another woman to me who needed a listening, non-judgmental ear regarding her “issues”. She ended up coming to the group, even though she was only able to make it to a couple meetings before it ended.  (I’ll share more about her amazing spiritual transformation in a later post, but you won’t want to miss it! It’s powerful!) So, by the end of the semester, our little life group was up to four. Then the summer came and I found out God had some major plans!

Now, we weren’t even meeting in the summer, nor was this group specifically advertised at church—but the church happens to have a website where people can browse through the life groups and read a little paragraph about it to see if it’s something they are interested in. Through this website, a few more ladies contacted me and a few others were referred to the group via word of mouth. I like to think of it as a carefully God-selected group of women called to come together in this special way.

In a matter of two months I went from prayers of, “Lord, only one? Ok, I’ll trust that this “ONE” is exactly what you have planned,” to, “Ok Lord, where am I going to find room for all of these people?!” You see, the Unexpected God came through again with His awe-inspiring blessings.

In just a few weeks our group begins again, this time we have two different meeting dates because there isn’t enough room for all of us in the room we had been using! So we’ve expanded to two days of meeting, and TEN women searching for the same thing: a dynamic and intimate relationship with Christ. Woo! God is GOOOOOD!

So I said all of that to say this: if you’re leading or mentoring just “ONE”, or maybe you write a blog and only “ONE” person reads it, or maybe you work hard to serve but not “ONE” person notices your efforts, then take heart! Maybe God will grow your ministry and maybe not, but either way, the “ONE” He gave to you is the perfect one because He chose it. So embrace it! Every “ONE” is important in God’s kingdom and we really CAN change the world one person at a time. It starts with our own spiritual freedom, and then through building relationships—one at a time—and trusting God with the results. You never know how your influence, testimony, or freedom in Christ could be used to affect the life of another…and another…and another…

…Or, as it was in my case, maybe that “ONE” God wants to transform is actually YOU.

Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest)

I recently received this song to accompany in an upcoming worship set. I had never heard it before, but it just blew me away. It’s one of those  songs I can play at home and I don’t consider it “practice” because the “practice” is worship for me. What a blessing to my heart–I know it will bless yours too. My favorite line:

When change and tears are past. All safe and blessed, We shall meet at last.

He’s coming soon, friends. Soon! We will meet at last, the Lover of our souls! All of this pain…will…be…over!

(Click to watch the video>>>)  Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest) as performed by Kari Jobe

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Be still my soul,

The Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently,

The cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide.

In ev’ry change,

He faithful will remain.

Be still my soul,

Thy best, thy heav’nly friend.

Through stormy ways leads to a joyful end.

***

Be still my soul,

Thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence,

Let nothing shake.

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul,

The waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

***

In You I rest,

In You I found my hope.

In You I trust,

You never let me go,

I place my life

Within Your hands alone.

Be still, my soul.

***

Be still my soul,

The hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be

Forever with the Lord.

When disappointment,

Grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot

Love’s purest joys restored.

Be still my soul,

When change and tears are past.

All safe and blessed,

We shall meet at last.

***

In You I rest,

In You I found my hope.

In You I trust,

You never let me go,

I place my life

Within Your hands alone.

Be still, my soul.

***

Be still my soul.

Be still my soul.

So, what is YOUR word?

psalm143“What will you do?”

As I’ve heard sermons, read books, and sat through lectures throughout the year, I’ve heard the voice of the Spirit resounding loud and clear, “So, what will you do about it?” God has strategically batted that ball back to my side of the net over and over—spurning me to embrace an active faith, and it makes me uncomfortable. But then I remember a prayer I uttered, albeit not well-thought through at the time, for God to make me uncomfortable. Really, that prayer should be right at the top of the list of “things you don’t ask God”, right behind praying for patience or a spirit of forgiveness. Well, I’ve learned my lesson—God answers prayers for sure, especially the character building ones.

At the start of 2012 a friend of mine posted a blog about a challenge (read it here: MY One Word), a challenge to ask God about what “word” to focus on for the following year. That sounded neat, so I gave it a go. I cheerfully got on my knees and asked God what my special word for the coming 2012 year would be, I anxiously listened, hoping to hear prosperity, success, purpose, or anything along those lines. Instead, after a few moments of silence, I heard “perseverance”.

“Um, Lord, really? I mean…really?” Some of my friends were getting words like “go” and “action” and I got perseverance? I didn’t like it; I wanted to take back the prayer. What was God thinking, anyways? I had always been somewhat known for starting things and losing interest over time, eventually abandoning the project or idea. But looking back on 2012, I can see how God used the trials of one of the most difficult years I have faced to break my pride, provide me with ultimate spiritual freedom, as well as teaching me self-discipline and yes, perseverance.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to start a new year, because even though it’s just another day on the calendar, somehow turning the page and writing a new number (2013) just feels like a fresh start. I’m looking towards 2013 with great expectation—expectation in God’s revealed will (HIS Word) and not my own clever ideas. I still haven’t prayed about the new word for next year, but I’m not as scared about it as I was last year. Looking back I know that no matter what, God knows what He is doing and I can really, in fact, trust Him in all things, even the hard, painful, and uncomfortable things. That no matter what the situation, His character is constant, even if I’m not feeling like it is.

His character is constant, yes, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year. My character? Not so much. Which is why the prayer, “Lord, change me” has been cried out more times than I can accurately recall.

So, mingled in with words like illness, death, betrayal, loneliness, slander, hatred, consequences, loss, depression, despair, relapse, and uncertainty have been the words of truth—healing, restoration, freedom, hope, peace, purpose, fulfillment, grace, mercy, understanding, and love. All of the awfulness has actually taught me how to be an optimist of sorts. An optimist in God, not in myself. An optimist in His character, not in my ability.

I’ve asked, He has answered, and none of His responses were as expected. Through all of this I am learning that maybe, just maybe, He really does know better than I do.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Palm 143:10

What theme has God brought to your year? What “lesson” have you learned through trials or blessings? Post your comment here or join the discussion on facebook.

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profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is an author and freelance writer. She is also a health columnist for The Christian Online Magazine, a contributing writer for Encourage 365, creater of S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Sisters women’s ministry (online), and has written devotionals/studies/articles for a variety of publications. She just released a new Bible Study The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119 which is available as a free download on her website or in print form from Amazon. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Arizona with her husband Chris and 5 year old, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by subscribing to her blog (it’s free) and following her on twitter and facebook.