Making Decisions

Read Luke 6:12-16

Life is filled with opportunities to make decisions. Some of the decisions which we make are not as life altering as others. Deciding what to eat for dinner, or what to wear for the day, or which television show to watch are generally not decisions which will impact the future direction of our lives. There are decisions which do shape and direct the future course of our lives. Choosing what institution of higher learning to attend, or who we might marry, or where we may live can impact the trajectory of our existence in profound ways. The process and steps which we use to make our decisions can influence the outcome.

The passage from Luke’s gospel account presents to us a time when Jesus is faced with an important decision. He is choosing which ones of all his disciples he will closely mentor and teach. The individuals chosen would represent Jesus and minister on his behalf when he is not physically present. They would later be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the good news with people throughout the known areas of civilization. Some of their words and actions would be shared with generations to come, even to our present one.

The passage starts by giving us insight into an important part of Jesus’s decision making process. We hear that Jesus went away to be alone. While he was absent from the cities, crowds and disciples, he prayed for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he shared his decision in regard to which of the disciples would personally be mentored by the Lord and be given special authority on his behalf.

How do you go about making major decisions in your life? Are you a lone ranger who relies solely on yourself to make these types of decisions? Does praying to God enter into your process at all? Clearly the writer of Luke’s gospel included this brief passage to emphasize to us the great importance of prayer in the decision process. As followers of Christ, our daily pursuit is to follow the example which Jesus placed before us. One such example is this one. Jesus came to the Father to consult prior to making a vital ministry decision. Should we not do the same with all of our vital decisions?

Give It All

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:36-38 (NIV)

This is the day of the year when we pause to remember those women and men who have died while serving their nation. Memorial Day has changed a lot since it first began. There have been various dates and times which nations have set aside to honor the deceased military. Our current holiday came out of some local practices within communities. The former confederate states set aside a day to honor those who had died during the Civil War. Northern states soon followed suit. In 1868, General John A Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic which was a northern Civil War Veterans organization, issued a general order setting May 30 as Decoration Day which was “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” This became the starting seed of what was declared a national holiday in 1971. Today the holiday has been moved to the last Monday of May and has become a day when all who have died are remembered and graves decorated. However, the original purpose of setting aside such a date must be remembered. This day is meant to recall those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863) by giving their lives for their country.

Our passage from John comes in the midst of whatwereferto as the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a meal with his disciples. The ones who are closest to Jesus are beside him at the table. Judas has just left after Jesus identified him as soon becoming the betrayer. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to leave soon. Simon Peter asks Jesus where he is going and Jesus tells him that Peter cannot follow him now but will later. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow now and declares his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus questions Peter’s true willingness since he knows Peter will soon deny knowing him.

It is easy for us to identify with Peter. Peter’s love for Jesus is strong, so strong that he declares his willingness to give his very life for Jesus. He is eager to give his all. However, Jesus knows the weakness in Peter. When the time came for Peter to risk his own life by acknowledging being a follower of Jesus, Peter was unable to follow through. Few of us have ever been put in such a situation so we are unable to say if we would choose as Peter did or not.

In the brave men and women who we honor on this day, we are given an example to follow and a challenge to accept. These military women and men loved their country and its ideals so much that they were not only willing but did give their lives in defense of them. This is an example for us to admire and emulate in our lives. The challenge set before it is to not only be willing to do this for our nation but also for our Lord. Are you willing to physically and/or metaphorically give your life because of your love for the Lord and the ideals which the Kingdom of God sets forth?

Love Demonstrated

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

There are behaviors and skills which are second nature in life. Then there are behaviors and skills which must be taught. Breathing, sleeping, and walking are examples of second nature skills; albeit, walking is a progression and requires self-teaching. Riding a bicycle, swimming, and placing others’ needs first are all examples of skills and behaviors which must be taught to us. Certain forms of love, or at least demonstrations of love, fall in the latter category. We need examples placed before us so we are able to understand how to appropriately demonstrate our love for others.

In the portion of the letter which we have read today, we are made aware of the love of God as demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave an example of how to express a deep level of love for others. Humanity had the need to overcome sin and the result of sin, death. Because of God’s deep love for all of humanity, in Christ the need was met through the actions on the cross. This was a profound action taken to demonstrate the level of love God has for each one of us. The writer here then gives the example of one of us witnessing someone who has a material need. If the witness has the means to meet that need but does not, she/he is not demonstrating God’s love within them. We are to look to Christ’s example to teach us how to express God’s love. This expression is not in words but in actions.

The passage from today is convicting to many of us. We easily say that we love each other, including strangers, in Christ’s love but our actions often fall short. Christ gives us the example to learn from which teaches us that God’s love is not about words but is found in the actions of God. If we claim that we love one another because God has loved us, yet when given opportunities to exhibit that love through our choices and actions, the truth is not in us. Love as defined and shown by God is a love of action. May we learn and follow this truth.

A Leader’s Example

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

An important responsibility of a good leader is to set an example for others to follow. Some leaders attempt to lead by force and a controlling hand. These leaders have a fearful following who either attempt to adopt an authoritarian approach or they see a decrease in followers who respond negatively to this leadership style. A leader who models the behaviors and the type of work which they expect from their followers tend to experience an increase in the number who follow and a positive outcome in regard to what they are trying to accomplish.

The writer of 1 Peter indicates that we have been called to follow the example of our leader, Christ. Christ is described as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” The example which Christ places before us is that even though he was blameless, he placed his trust not in human judgment but in God’s judgment. Even though Christ suffered he did not threaten or speak evil. While he retained all the power in creation he did not retaliate in any fashion.

The example which we are called upon to follow is one that few humans have successfully followed. Leaders who we admire this day which came close to Christ’s example include Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, among others. They did not retaliate with violence when they faced injustice and oppression. We must strive to follow their examples. By doing so we live as ones whose sins died on a cross which held our leader. We allow our wounds which are inflicted upon is to be healed by the wounds of Christ.

An Example

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NIV)

Often we have no idea how many people are watching us. Whether we are in positions which give us a public spotlight or not, there is always someone who watches what we do, how we respond to people and events, and how we communicate. Those watching maybe co-workers, neighbors, people in the community, and/or members of our household. We are examples whether we intend to be or not. The question is what type of example we are being.

The passage for today is the beginning of a letter written by Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the believers living in Thessaloniki. The first verse of this passage is the traditional form of greeting for a letter written in this time period. Then the letter shifts to assurances of being thankful for the believers and remembering them in prayer. Another shift occurs and the writer declares that the believers accepted the good news with great power and adopted the ways of Christ as demonstrated by Paul, Silas and Timothy when they lived in Thessaloniki. The believers have become examples for others in the surrounding areas.

Being an example to others is the expectation which the Lord has of all who choose to follow Christ. The Son came to earth to be a living example of God’s love and to demonstrate how that love is to be lived out. With this example set before us, it only makes sense we are to do likewise if we claim to be followers. This is an important, and somewhat daunting, responsibility given to us.

How are you doing with this responsibility? I challenge you to ask yourself each night before going to sleep how you were an example that day. Were you a good or bad example? Should you do something differently to improve your example? The great thing is that when the Lord gives us a new day, we are given a chance to be an even better example of God’s love, the good news.

Shining

I am sure that every generation feels like they are living in dark times. We even named a whole era in human history as the Dark Ages. Right now we can feel like there is a lot of dark around us with all the changes in our lives which have accompanied the Corona-19 virus. The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise. In addition, we have been living in a very volatile political environment for years as human decency has left most civic discussions and legislative debate. Truly feels like a dark time in so many ways.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have wondered how to respond to the surrounding events during this dark time. I have followed all the practical advice of the medical community regarding the virus. I have listened to the conversations in the political spectrum and attempted to avoid engaging in hostile debates. But there seems to be something more which I can, must, do. Then I am reminded of a song which I sang in Sunday School in my small church while growing up, This Little Light of Mine. The song is a reminder of Jesus’ words, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV) Jesus tells us that we are to be lights in the world. The question this begs is how do we go about being lights?

Clearly for me, being an example is the way I can be a light in the world. I can wear a mask when I am in an indoor public setting or one where social distancing is a challenge. I can listen to others who have a point of view which is different from my own and not judge that viewpoint. Taking the time to educate myself on the experiences of other individuals will be an example.

Another important way for me to be a light in the world is by sharing compassion and hope with others. Jesus showed compassion even to those who were engaged in his crucifixion. Compassion is not attempting to better others. Using words that build up and not tear down another’s self is compassion. Being present with others even when you do not understand what they are experiencing is compassion.

Sharing hope is reminding each other that we do not walk alone but together and with the Lord. Identifying the positive of each day shares hope. Putting the events of our lives in perspective with the history of humanity and God’s children can produce hope. Sharing the promises of God as identified in Scripture leads to hope.

We are called to share our light with a world experiencing darkness. How are you choosing to shine your light? Let your light shine and do not let anything blow it out!