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.

Shocking News

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

With the introduction of streaming news sources, experts tell us that we are becoming numb in regard to news which would have shocked us in the past. There is no longer a barrier to obtaining all types of news. We hear of violence and disaster from every corner of the world in very visual and graphic detail. This has even entered mainstream television shows such as all the CSI series, the FBI drama shows, and case file shows like Dateline or 20/20. The bizarre and brutal seems commonplace to many of us. Being shocked by news of the world around us is now a rare occurrence. The only time when we are shocked and tempted to call something impossible is when it seems to not fit our scientific and world understanding.

At the time in which Mary and Joseph from the Bible would have existed there was more of a shock factor. Their shock factor was different than ours because it was not based on scientific knowledge but on observation. They understood their world based on what they had observed. Spiritual understanding and acceptance was more common then than in our time period. Aspects which they observed but could not explain often were credited to God’s work, or in other cultures the work of many gods. Even with this acceptance though, Gabriel’s words to Mary were initially shocking. The angel announced to her that she would conceive a baby, not just any baby but the Son of God. The English word used in Mary’s initial response may be misleading. Mary asks Gabriel how this can be since she is still a “virgin.” When we hear the word today, we associate it with not having sexual intercourse yet in a person’s life. However, the Greek word translated here can mean “young woman”. Either understanding still lends itself to seeing that Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s news. If the second translation is preferred, the shock may be caused by Mary’s view that she was too young and immature to be the mother of the Son of God. This was going to be a huge responsibility which she may have felt was more than she was prepared to assume. Though initially shocked, she accepts this duty as a servant of God.

When the Lord calls on us to do something, the news may be shocking. We easily can come up with many reasons why we are the wrong candidate, just like Moses did (see Exodus 3). The responsibility can seem to us to be too great for our abilities. We may not see how whatever God’s request could ever work out. Fear and a sense of inadequacy may lead us to attempt to decline. But we need to remember Mary’s story. Remember the promise that “the Holy Spirit will come upon (us) and the power of the Most High will overshadow (us).” We must recall Gabriel’s words, “no word from God will fail.” Then, like Mary, we should respond as the Lord’s servant, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Sing Praises

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 (NIV)

There are people throughout history whose stories are passed from one generation to the next. Julius Caesar’s actions and details of his life have been passed on through over twenty-one hundred years. Other historical figures who have had their achievements and thoughts told in stories from one generation to the next include: King Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Nero, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Stalin, Hitler, Harriet Tubman, and the list goes on. This list does not begin to include individuals recorded in the Bible or other religious figures such as Buddha or Muhammad. Some of these people have songs written about them and their lives. These songs can shed a positive or negative light upon them.

The song which is our reading today is a song of praise. There is  commitment to praise the Lord daily. The greatness of the Lord is declared unfathomable. Generation after generation will tell the accounts of the Lord’s mighty acts. Each generation celebrates the goodness and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord shows grace and compassion instead of anger. All receive goodness from the Lord. The kingdom of the Lord endures forever in splendor. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. For anyone in need, the Lord is there. Anyone who cries out will be saved. All of this creates a beautiful image of the Lord.

Each day we are given  the opportunity to sing the praises of the Lord. We can create our own list of reasons to sing praises, just as the psalmist did here. We also have a responsibility to tell the next generation of the Lord’s work in our lives and in the lives of others. Our stories and songs should communicate to the next generation the character and nature of the Lord. May we speak the praises of the Lord for ever and ever.

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.