It is the beginning of a new year, and we all know what that means… New Year’s resolutions! But here we are, already a full two months into 2021, and life experience tells me that most of us have already given up on any resolution that we might have made. My daughter worked at the local gym for several years - the staff and regulars of any gym cannot help but notice the number of eager people who buy a membership every January, only to stop coming well before February 1.
We make all kinds of fun resolutions - to learn a new language, watch less tv, save more money, read more books, and so many more. One of the most common is the resolution to make better choices when eating. This is a good one to make with all of the wonderful options of healthy food most of us have access to. The problem comes, of course, in that there are also so many other delicious things to choose from. When faced with the choice between broccoli and brownies, very few people actually want to reach for the broccoli. When given the option of ice cream or iceberg lettuce, hardly anyone wants that watery green stuff. Choices in life are plentiful, and good choices are often really hard to make. We give up on tough choices too easily.
One of the first things that we teach young Christians is a new definition of love. We do not subscribe to the modern definition of love - it is a feeling, it is fleeting, it is conditional, it depends…
Instead, we like to say that love is not a feeling, it is actually a choice.
In fact, love is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of God and His kingdom.
This sounds great, doesn’t it? We all believe this, and not one of us who claim to be Christian would say that this was not true. However, this is like our choice between broccoli and brownies - good intentions can only take us so far when the choices get real.
We always like to give a few real-world examples of what we mean when we teach that love is an unselfish choice. For instance, we tell the story of our friend who was a campus minister, and who spent his twenties pastoring university students. One particular year he had a young man in his discipleship small group who became like a brother to him. Time went on and our friend, who was still single at the time, began to have his heart grabbed by one of the young ladies in the college ministry. He thought she was beautiful and godly, and he could really picture himself spending the rest of his life with her. So imagine his surprise when one day his small group guy, his little brother in Christ, came to him and said, “Big brother, I need your advice. You see, there’s this girl. She is beautiful, she is godly, I really think I would like to get to know her better. What do you think I should do? “
At this point in the retelling of this story, all of the oxygen has been sucked from the room, and all of the students are leaning forward in suspense and anguish. This is getting real now! Of course, it was the same girl. What do you think our friend did?
If we were honest, almost everyone would have to admit that in a similar situation, we would choose the thing that is best for me. "Nobody would even know," we could rationalize to ourselves. "It is not going to hurt my friend to not date that particular person - there are plenty of other great people out there," we would think to comfort ourselves. But in reality, how is this kind of selfishness any different from any other kind of selfishness?
As Christians, we know that real love which brings real power is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of God and His kingdom. That is the kind of love that will actually change a piece of the world from selfish and broken to lovely and whole. I am glad to say that our friend made the very difficult decision to encourage his little brother to date the girl. Now, many years later, they are both happily married to their own beautiful, godly wives and living wonderful lives.
Another real example of rightly choosing is the time that one of our friends said something about another friend in front of a large audience. It was not said in a malicious spirit, but was nonetheless quite embarrassing and hurtful, and caused great duress to the one it was said about. That friend suddenly had a very real choice to make. They could become justifiably angry with the other, and bear a burden in their heart towards them that would make a rift between them forever. They could entertain many conversations with others about how they were wronged, and how they could not believe anyone would do such a thing. They could hold onto that hurt for years, and feel justified in doing so the entire time. Sadly, situations like this happen all the time.
But Jesus teaches something altogether different than this. One of his disciples asked Him how often he had to forgive his brother, and thought he was being very generous when guessed the number to be seven times. Jesus was kind, but blew his answer out of the water by saying, "Not seven times, but 70×7 - when you get to 490 times of forgiving that same person come and talk to me, but until then keep forgiving." (my paraphrase of Matthew 18: 21-22)
Much of what is wrong in our world stems from this very real choice that all of us have to make at one time or another. Whether we mean to or not, all of us hurt other people with our words or with our actions. So much strife, from within one household to between nations, comes from the fact that people will not choose to forgive or to act unselfishly towards one another.
Why do marriages implode, why do families break apart, why do churches split? Because when faced with the choice of broccoli or brownies, most of us go for the brownie every single time. It is easy, it tastes and feels good, and it just seems right. But it is not what is best.
I am so glad to say that our friend who was wronged was able to forgive his brother by the help of the Holy Spirit. He was able to recognize that in front of him was a very real choice, which could lead directly to life or death - for himself and for many others watching him and his reaction. He chose life, and forgiveness, and to walk the path that Jesus Himself walked for all of us. "While we were still sinners, He died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Christianity is not a trend, or just another self-help lifestyle. It is a very real and very powerful relationship with Jesus Christ, who changes our hearts and helps us to make a difference in our hurting world. Sometimes the power of God plays out in a large geopolitical way, and that is what we always hope for. But much more often, the power of God in the world is made manifest through our everyday choices.
May we never grow tired in our resolve to choose rightly!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)