Choices

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom

 

 Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves.  1 Peter 2:16

 

How can we live as free people and God’s slaves at the same time? By not using our freedom as an excuse for evil, according to the above quote. It’s easy to see how, in the name of freedom, we can claim the right to do whatever we feel like doing—including those things that might harm ourselves or others.

 

“If it feels good, do it,” as the saying goes. Unfortunately, so many things that initially seem to “feel good” lead to problems, pain, and suffering. Lashing out in anger might release pent up emotion but hurt others and damage relationships irreparably. Excessive self-indulgence—whether with substances like alcohol, unhealthy romantic relationships, or a host of other behaviors—can trap and victimize us and hurt those we care about. Of course these activities are appealing initially—that’s why they’re called temptations. Those temptations can be subtle and patient. Who would be tempted if the pain were evident right off the bat?

 

In serving God’s plan for the greater good we become truly free—free from being bullied by whims, addictive behaviors, or out-of-control emotions. Every time we make the hard right choice instead of following the path of least resistance we’re exercising our free will. One hallmark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice short-term pay-offs for a greater good. As we grow in our ability to choose and act on what’s good in the long run, we’re increasingly freed from pressures that do not have our best interest in heart.

 

Prayer:  Lord, free me from the tyranny of self-will.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What is the best thing you can do with your freedom today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Meddling

  If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people’s affairs. 1 Peter 4: 15

 

St. Peter ranks meddling right up there with criminal activity. The Revised Standard Version translates the line as, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.” While it might not be a criminal offense, meddling can cause mischief, havoc, and sometimes real harm.

 

“But I meant well.” “I was only trying to help.” Our motives may be sincere, but they can still cause harm.

 

The difference between meddling and being a Good Samaritan isn’t always clear. Assisting someone who clearly needs or asks for help is not the same as interfering, which is how the Oxford American Dictionary defines meddling. That same dictionary says to interfere is “to take part in dealing with other people’s affairs without right or invitation.”  If our minor child is engaging in risky behavior, we have a right to intervene. If those we’re responsible for are being harmed in some way, we have the right to take protective action. If someone is unconscious and can’t ask for help, we can and should administer first aid or call 911. And of course, if someone asks for help and we can help him or her, of course we should.

 

However, unwanted interference in the affairs of other adults when we are not directly involved can do more harm than good—especially if our goal is to manipulate people into doing what we think they should. It’s tempting to try and straighten out someone else’s problem instead of focusing on our own but it can cause confusion, conflict, and complications. It disrespects the other person’s free will. It sends a message that they are incapable of handling their own lives and that we are superior in some way. It may encourage unhealthy dependency. It can cause us to neglect our own responsibilities. Maybe that’s why Jesus advised us to take the beam out of our own eye before trying to take the splinter out of another’s.

 

Prayer:  Lord, teach me to entrust other adults to Your care.

 

Reflection for sharing: What can help me determine if I’m offering genuine help or meddling? In what situations am I tempted to meddle? What are healthier options?

Wednesday’s Word: Patience

“Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.”  Ecclesiastes 3: 1

 

Patience is not one of my strong suits.  On the plus side, I’m efficient.  Efficiency is good, but when I demand split-second timing, I put pressure on myself.  That usually happens when I’m too focused on my own agenda.  I forget that all time is God’s. I have the same amount of time everyone else does: 24 hours per day.  I have all the time I need to do what God has in mind for me to do on any given day.  It’s just that sometimes I want to accomplish more than is appropriate – or even realistic.

 

Taking time to pray can seem counter-productive, but if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy.  By connecting with God we open ourselves to His plan for us. We gain perspective. We may come to realize some things can wait until tomorrow and others can wait indefinitely.  We won’t rush around frantically trying to squeeze in everything on our ‘to do’ list. We can trust that we’ll be given all the time we need to do what truly needs doing.

 

Of course we need to make plans, but sometimes plans change.  The unexpected comes up.  If we pause to listen to God before we start our day, we’ll be better able to go with the flow. It’s safe to trust that what needs to happen will happen in His time.

 

Prayer:  Lord, slow me down.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What are your priorities today?  How might they differ from God’s priorities for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Turning Points

 

No one could distinguish between the joyful shouts and the crying, because the noise they made was so loud that it could be heard for miles. Ezra 3:13

 

When the rebuilding of the Temple began in Jerusalem, some people shouted for joy. Others wept. Perhaps they remembered the lost glory of the original Temple or the hardships endured in exile before being allowed to return and rebuild.

 

Turning points can be bittersweet. First time parents joyfully welcome their newborns while missing the freedom of less responsibility. Accepting a new job—even if it’s a great opportunity—means leaving behind the security of the familiar. A graduation ceremony is also called a commencement ceremony, marking the completion of one phase of life and the start of a new one.

 

Every new beginning can be traced back to an ending of some sort. Every ending has the potential to lead to a new beginning.

 

In times of transition we can trust God—no matter what we’re feeling. The Last Supper became the First Eucharist.

 

Prayer: In joy and sorrow, blessed be the Lord.

 

Reflection: What endings have you experienced in your life? How have they become opportunities for new beginnings?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Service


 

Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.”  Mark 1:1b-3

 

Who returned the colt? Jesus gave his word that he would send the colt back at once. Who got the job of bringing it back? The people in Jerusalem gave Jesus a red carpet welcome, the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade. Jesus’ followers got to enjoy the enthusiastic reception—all except for the disciple who had to take the colt back to its owner.

 

Somebody had to leave the festivities and make his way, donkey in tow, back to the little hick town where nothing was happening. I wonder how that disciple felt. Did anybody notice he was gone? Did he get any credit? Did he realize that his service was a sermon? It demonstrated that Jesus keeps his word and that God is to be trusted.

 

We all have opportunities to serve. Often, those opportunities are behind the scenes. We don’t have to be religious leaders, eloquent speakers, or charismatic personalities to carry God’s message. How we do our daily tasks speak volumes about what it means to follow Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Respect and consideration for others silently carry the message of God’s love. Service, no matter how lackluster, helps spread the Good News, whether or not we get credit.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant us willingness to do your will, whether or not we’re in the spotlight.

 

Reflection: Who is working behind the scenes in your life today? Why not thank them for their service.

 

Wednesday’s Word: Praise

 

Praise him—he is your God, and you have seen with your own eyes the great and astounding things that he has done for you. Deuteronomy 10: 21

 

 

Ever been helpless? Ever made a foolish mistake or take a deliberate risk? Ever gotten yourself into a situation that you couldn’t get out of on your own steam? If you’re like me, you have. What got you through it?

 

What good things have we been blessed with that we didn’t bring to pass? Do we have happy memories? That’s a blessing. Do we have painful memories? We survived. Our joys and are challenges have all shaped us and brought us to the place we’re in today.

 

If we count our blessings, including the hardships we’ve faced and survived, we’ll see with our own eyes the great and astounding things that God has done for us, and we’ll have reasons to praise him.

 

We can even praise him that he loves us whether or not we praise him, whether or not we even think of him. God’s unconditional love is a great and astounding thing.

 

Prayer: Praise to you, loving Creator.

 

Reflection: What great and astounding things has God done for you that brought you to where you are today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Self-serving Sacrifice

 Samuel said, “Which does the Lord prefer: obedience or offerings and sacrifices? It is better to obey him than to sacrifice the best sheep to him.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

 

During Lent, we focus on prayer, fasting, and acts of charity to grow closer to God. It’s self-defeating if these acts become a set of spiritual hoops we jump through, congratulating ourselves on our spiritual gymnastics. We might end up so absorbed in our own goodness that there’s little room for God’s love.

 

The prophet Samuel corrected King Saul when Saul kept the plunder God had ordered him to destroy. Instead, Saul kept the best sheep, then “sacrificed” them to God. It’s no accident that on his way to the place of sacrifice, Saul stopped in the town of Carmel, where he’d built a monument to himself. (Samuel 15:12) As Samuel told Saul, God was not pleased.

 

We miss the point when we decide how we want to please God while ignoring the sacrifice wants from us: a humble heart. (Psalm 51:17) God wants hearts open to his will, not insisting on our own.

 

Choosing Lenten sacrifices to build up our spiritual bank accounts is ironic. We grow closer to God when we recognize our weakness and dependence on his love.

 

Wherever we are in our Lenten journey today, we can ask God to show us how to surrender our wills to his as we move forward.

 

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by saying following him involved denying ourselves as well as picking up our crosses. Sacrifice might mean accepting the crosses life brings our way rather than choosing our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me accept the challenges life brings today and offer them to you.

 

Reflection: How are you being called to let go of self-will today?

Wednesday’s Word: Self-will


There was no king in Israel at that time. Everyone did whatever they pleased. Judges 21: 25

 

Ever read the book of Judges? It describes a time in Israel’s history when “everyone did whatever they pleased.” Many of these stories about Israel’s national heroes don’t represent their finer moments.

 

Israel stopped worshiping the Lord who brought them out of slavery.

  • Gideon, chosen by God to lead the Israelites against their oppressors, defeated the enemy against all odds. Gideon then created an idol out of the loot collected and worshipped it.
  • Jephthah, also victorious, thanks to God, promised to sacrifice the first person that met him on his return home. That person happened to be his daughter. Nowhere in the Law of Moses had God demanded human sacrifice.
  • Samson’s arrogance and willingness to put his love affairs before his better judgment led to his destruction, even though he took his Philistine enemies with him.
  • When Micah created idols, the priest he convinced to be his personal priest betrayed him for a better offer, taking Micah’s idols with him.
  • A Levite surrendered his concubine to sexual perverts to save his own skin, then, when she died as a result, he used her death to start a war.

 

Chances are, none of these people woke up one day and decided to get themselves in trouble. They were just doing “whatever they pleased.”

 

While the results of our willful choices may not be as devastating as those listed here, self-centered choices are rarely a good idea and often self-defeating. Thwarted self-will leads to frustration, conflict, and retaliation. We end up not being “pleased” at all. Whether it seems like it or not,  it’s wiser to follow God’s will rather than our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart to trust you and choose your will over mine.

 

Reflection: When have you done whatever you pleased? What happened in the long run?

Wednesday’s Word: Temptation


“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9

 

God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering  Jesus something that already belonged to him?

 

That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.

 

It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.

 

A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?

 

What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is,  we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?

 

Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.

 

Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?

Wednesday’s Words: Gifts of the Heart

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  As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich people dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.” Mark 12: 41-44

 

While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! …She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me…She did what she could…” Mark 14: 3-6

 

One way or the other, money really is no object. At least, that’s how it seems according to these gospel stories. The widow gave what she had. Her gift of a penny was more than enough, and valued by Jesus. The woman who anointed Jesus gave what she had, too. Her expensive gift was not rejected as extravagant, but also valued by Jesus.

 

In God’s economy, it’s not about how much or how little we have to give, but the love and sincerity behind the gift that counts. This applies to more than material gifts. What about the abilities and talents we’ve been gifted with? We don’t need to worry that what we have to share isn’t good enough. We don’t need to worry that we’d be showing off by putting our talents to use. When we are offering ourselves and our abilities to God, we don’t need to worry about other people’s opinions or comments. We don’t even have to worry about the results. Neither the widow’s penny nor the lavish perfume made a huge difference in the worldly scheme of things, but both were precious and appreciated by the Lord.

 

Every time we overcome shyness, or feelings of inadequacy, or fear that people will think we’re trying to show off in order to share what we’ve been given, we are doing “a fine and beautiful thing.”

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize my gifts and share them.

 

Reflection: What are your gifts? Who can you share them with today?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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