Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

Making Choices

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NIV)

There are decisions in life which can be difficult to make. The choices which are before us may need to be weighed by the impact upon others. On the surface we may determine that one option carries no negative influence for us personally but as we examine the choice deeper, we see there will be a negative impact on others. If we move forward with the choice, we will personally experience no consequences yet this may result in consequences for someone else. The decision creates a dilemma for us.

Paul writes about such a situation. He presents the scenario involving food. He indicates that he does not view any food as unclean. Having this opinion means that he can eat anything he chooses without having it negatively impact him. However, if someone who has an opposite view witnesses him eating perceived unclean food items and it causes the person spiritual distress then he should abstain from eating the food. Paul tells us that we are to always make choices that will be mutually edifying for ourselves and others. These choices should never cause someone else to stumble in their spiritual journey even if the choice is alright for us personally.

The best example of how this might apply to our lives has to do with alcohol. Many of us can consume an alcoholic beverage without a negative consequence. We are able to drink in moderation and responsibly. We do not drink amounts of alcohol which will impair our judgment or cause us to become ill. After consuming alcohol we do not drive until we can do so safely. There is nothing which should prevent us from choosing to drink alcohol. However, a person who has a disease and is unable to control how much alcohol is consumed, an alcoholic, cannot drink even a little. Drinking in front of such a person can lead to the alcoholic assuming it is alright for them to follow your example. The responsible person will have a conversation in advance to confirm if the alcoholic would be placed in a compromising position if you drink. A lot of this has to do with where the person is on the addiction journey. Each person is different. Just because you can, does not mean you should. 

We have been given many freedoms. God has made all things possible for us. Our responsibility is to make sure in the exercise of our freedoms and God’s gifts, we do not cause anyone to stumble. If choosing to refrain from something will help build another individual up, we should choose to refrain.

The Sacrifice

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:23-26

There is a scene in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones tries to save Elsa from falling to her death in a large crevice. In order to save her, she must quit her attempt at recovering the Holy Grail from a ledge in the crevice and give her other hand to Indiana. She chooses to continue her attempt and falls. Then Indiana is faced with the same dilemma and his dad, who is trying to save him, tells him to let the grail go and give his dad the other hand. Indiana listens to his dad and is pulled to safety but the Holy Grail is lost. A tough decision faced both characters. Do they do whatever it takes to retrieve the grail and the fame and riches which will accompany it, or save their life by letting the grail go?

Jesus places a choice before the people of his time and us. Jesus says that to be his disciple one must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. Only by being willing to lose one’s life can one be saved. The life which Jesus offers requires sacrificing self interest for the interest of others as Jesus does.  A disciple follows in the footsteps of the one they follow and proudly proclaims that in their lives.

Jesus’s choices are a bit reversed from the scene in the movie but the underlying condition is the same. We are faced with a choice. Do we cling to the lives we have constructed or are we willing to sacrifice those lives for the one Jesus offers? Our lives often are based on achieving goals which benefits us. These benefits may include financial excess, notoriety, or status. The focus in this situation is ourselves and our desires. Jesus indicates we must be willing to give these up if necessary, acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives, and follow his example of making choices which are not self-centered but focused on the benefit of others. Will we be willing to place our self desires on the cross to follow him?

Use Caution

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Matthew 14:1-12 (NIV)

When I was a youth and found myself in a difficult situation because of choices which I had made, my mother was fond of saying to me, “Well, I guess you have found yourself between a rock and a hard place.” I thought the saying was rather odd but seemed somewhat accurate. A warning she would often give to me was, “be careful you do not paint yourself into a corner.” Again, as a youth, I found her sayings a bit weird. Maturing, I realized they were not as weird as I had thought. In fact, they many times illustrated the challenges which can accompany choices and actions.

Herod is fearful that Jesus is the resurrected John, the Baptist, who he had beheaded after he found himself between a rock and a hard place when he painted himself into a corner. Herod had made a series of bad choices. He had been having an affair with the brother’s wife, Herodias. During a dinner party, he makes another bad choice by offering Herodias’s daughter anything she wanted up to half his kingdom since her dance had pleased him and his guests. Then when the girl asks for John’s head on a platter because her mom hated him for passing judgment on her affair Herod is stuck. When the request comes, Herod realizes he was forced to grant it or look like a fool to his guests.

Unfortunately, there are times in our lives that a choice, or a series of choices, can put us in difficult situations. Herod’s pride would not let him remove himself from the difficult situation so he makes another horrible choice by having John beheaded. We can learn from Herod. Be cautious not to let your choices, words, or actions paint you into a corner. When you make a bad choice, do not let your pride lead you to making an even worse one. Avoid putting yourself between a rock and a hard place.

I guess Mom’s sayings were not weird but wise.

Persuasion

And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)

To King Artaxerxes,

From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[a] 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

17 The king sent this reply:

To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:

Greetings.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:7, 11-24 (NIV)

While in college, I participated in a debate club for a few years. The goal of our form of debate was to persuade those listening that your stance on the assigned topic was the correct stance. As the debater, you used collected evidence and persuasive speaking to prevail in the debate. Sometimes the persuasive speaking was more important than the evidence. Persuasion can be used in positive and negative ways depending on one’s point of view.

The act of persuasion is used in the situation recorded here in the Book of Ezra. The Jews had been allowed to return to Judah from their captivity in Babylon, now known as Persia. King Cyrus had directed them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the Persian leaders felt this was a good idea. When Artaxerxes became king, three of these leaders convinced him to search the archives to discover what rebellious people the Jews had been. Their persuasive argument that if he allowed the Jews to finish rebuilding Jerusalem  it would lead to them rebelling and no longer paying him taxes won out. He found the evidence of previous Jewish rebellions and listened to the leaders. The king ordered them to stop the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem. The persuasion to protect his treasury was convincing for the king even if it was not the bet for the Jews.

In life we are faced with having to make many choices. Television, social media, and flyers in our mailboxes all contain persuasive arguments attempting to sway our choices. Everything from which aging cream is best for us to which dentist is the best for us can be covered. The key is to look at the source of these persuasive arguments. We need to examine what evidence exists, if any, that supports the words. Take time to determine the motives of the one making the claims. Then determine the potential impact of the choice you make.  From this you can hopefully make the right choice.  Prayer during this process is always helpful.