Choose Your Own Adventure

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Isaiah 41:1-16, Ephesians 2:1-10, Mark 1:29-45


According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’s ministry quickly took off in a big way. In Capernaum he healed many people and drove out many demons, and word of his power spread quickly. Soon the entire city was at his front door. (Or more precisely, the door of Simon and Andrew’s place where he was staying.)  As he traveled with his disciples to spread his message to the neighboring towns in Galilee, “A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’”  And Jesus, moved with pity, said, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Did Jesus ever choose not to heal? Did he ever choose to turn anyone away?

Some people may say yes. They may point to the rich young ruler who went away heartbroken when Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. They remind us of the many people who abandoned Jesus after he presented them with a particularly difficult teaching. And they trot out the man who wanted to bury his father but was told to “let the dead bury the dead.”

Except Jesus didn’t turn any of those people away. They walked away. They chose to walk away.

Some preachers warn we soften the harsher truths of discipleship when we say Jesus accepted everyone. Maybe that’s so, but that doesn’t mean we should start deciding for ourselves whom Christ would reject, because we don’t know. A primary controversy of his ministry was based on fraternizing with “unclean” people the “righteous” people shunned. Once we decide we’re in the camp of the righteous, our view is skewed. Saul counted himself righteous and literally hunted Christians before he became the apostle Paul who wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Rather than worry about other people’s choices, let’s direct our energies towards modeling our own choices after Christ. Without compromising our values, we can always find ways to choose mercy. Choose forgiveness. Choose to give the benefit of the doubt. Choose generosity. Choose to recognize dignity. Choose humility. Choose love.

Even when these choices are unattractive or difficult, they are still ours to make. The cost of making the right choices is a burden we voluntarily bear ourselves, not one we should force onto others.

Comfort: Jesus does not reject you.

Challenge: But that doesn’t mean you can’t reject Jesus.

Prayer: Loving God, help me make choices that reflect your love and righteousness. Amen.

Discussion: Have you made choices that other people have had to pay for?

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Hard Choices

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Numbers 22:1-21, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 21:12-22


According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first thing Jesus did after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem was drive merchants and customers out of the temple, and turn over the tables of the money changers. Matthew tells this story quickly and makes it clear Jesus is upset because: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” Once the temple was cleared, blind and lame people came to Jesus there, and he healed them.

Notice that Jesus didn’t kick out just the sellers, but also the buyers. The sellers and money changers may have been exploiting religious pilgrims, but the buyers were also participating in the corruption of the temple. Surely many of the customers, if asked, would have said they had no choice; without offerings they could not enter the temple. But when their practices finally caught up with them, they were driven from the temple anyway.

Often when we say we don’t have a choice, what we really mean is we don’t have an attractive choice. “If I say something about this unethical practice, I’ll lose my job.” That’s a choice. “I know this business treats its employees more fairly, but their prices are too high so I shop elsewhere.” Also a choice. “I know this song-sharing site is illegal, but money is tight right now.” Choice (and theft). Principles are  not cheap. They can cost us money, respect, and friendships. If we aren’t willing to risk these things, we don’t have principles, we have preferences – and not even strong ones.

Of course these are examples of choices available to the reasonably comfortable. Sometimes our choices actually are restricted by circumstances such as poverty and ability.  Many of us are crowded out by the “buyers and sellers” going about their daily, unexamined business. It is on the shoulders of people who have many options to consider how they are impacting those with fewer options. Luke 12:48 tells us: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

When a system is corrupt or unjust, we have the choice to opt out, even if it causes us inconvenience or harm. Jesus opted out all the way to the cross.

It’s never too late to start behaving more ethically. We might need to jump-start that change with a purging of our inner temple, a ruthless examination of our own participation in evils small and large. Clearing them out makes room for the healing spirit of God. There is nothing more valuable in the world.

Comfort: You will always have a choice.

Challenge: You won’t always like the choices you have.

Prayer: God of wisdom, grant me the discernment to make good choices, and the courage to follow through on them. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a choice? Was that really the case?

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What We’ve Chosen

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, 2 Samuel 24:1-2, 10-25, Galatians 3:23-4:7, John 8:12-20


“What you want is irrelevant. What you’ve chosen is at hand.”
– Captain Spock, to Lieutenant Valeris
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

In the sixth Star Trek film (from 1991, so don’t expect spoiler warnings), Spock discovers his protégé, a young Vulcan woman named Valeris, has conspired with representatives from other worlds to murder the chancellor of the Klingon empire – all in the name of keeping the peace. When Spock insists that logic dictates she must kill him to cover her tracks, she says she doesn’t want to and the conspiracy unravels. Peace unfolds anyway.

When we commit immoral acts in the service of a greater good, real or imagined, the eventual consequences are unavoidable. Unfortunately, we aren’t always the one to pay the price.

King David decided to take a census of all the men in Judah and Israel who were fit for military service. His counselors advised against it. The text is not specific about why this was a sinful decision, but common theories speculate he put his trust in military might instead of God, that it was an issue of pride, or that it was a precursor to taxation and military conscription. David regretted it almost immediately, but that did not stop God’s punishment. David had to choose between three years of famine, three months of being pursued by foes, or three days of pestilence (plague). He begged God not to let other people suffer for his sins, but 70,000 people died of plague.

Are we likely to make decisions resulting in the unintended deaths of tens of thousands? Not most of us. But no decision is made in a vacuum. Every day we have the opportunity to make multiple decisions – from what we buy to how we speak to who we include – which affect people’s lives for better or worse. When we come face to face with the results our poor choices in the form of violence, discord, neglect, or harm, regret can’t change anything.

The choices we make now determine the choices available to us – and others – in the future. When making them, will we trust ourselves or God?

Further Reading:
For more on today’s passage from John, see You Don’t Know Me.


Comfort: Making good choices now helps us make better ones in the future.

Challenge: Don’t choose what is hard, or what is easy; choose what is right.

Prayer: Lord of truth and life, guide my thoughts, guide my words, guide my deeds, guide my choices. Amen.

Discussion: When have you had to face unintended consequences?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Sons of the Father

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Joshua 23:1-16, Romans 15:25-33, Matthew 27:11-23


The character Barabbas is found in all four Gospels. During the Passover, Pilate had a tradition of pardoning one Jewish prisoner condemned to death. He gives the crowd a choice: they can free either Jesus the Messiah or a notorious prisoner. The crowd infamously chooses the prisoner.

Do you know the translation of the Greek name Barabbas is “son of the father?” The crowd literally chose between one Son and another. Because it seems we should condemn their choice, this story has been wrongly used to blame the Jewish people for Christ’s crucifixion. Had they chosen to free Jesus, the whole salvation story of the cross might never have happened. Whatever one’s theology regarding the cross and atonement, the story of Barabbas illustrates how God’s plan for salvation does not depend on the goodness of people, but unfolds despite our flawed nature.

Jesus (or more accurately, the Hebrew “Yeshua”) was not an uncommon name at the time, and some of the earliest versions of Matthew give the notorious prisoner’s full name as Jesus Barabbas. This makes the choice sound even more poignant. How many times, rather than choosing to let Jesus freely roam our minds and hearts, have we settled for a less-perfect substitute? In the 1961 film, Barabbas commits arson because he mistakenly believes it’s the end of the world and someone tells him Christians set Rome ablaze. How often do we mistakenly embrace a Christianity that would rather burn the world than die for it? We do it when we rationalize choosing the Jesus who allows us to value comfort over mercy, common sense over charity, or fear over faith, instead of the Jesus who sacrificed himself on a cross.

Yet these choices do not cause God to abandon us. We follow a risen Christ who seeks us; a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to redeem a lost one. The gospels don’t tell us the fate of the Biblical Barabbas, but Christ’s sacrifice was for him as much as for any of us. Like Barabbas, we live because Christ loved us unto death. May our choices reflect that love.

Comfort: Salvation unfolds regardless of our mistakes.

Challenge: Watch and discuss either the 1961 or 2012 version of Barabbas with friends.

Prayer: Merciful and Loving God, I will seek you above all things. Amen.

Discussion: The crowd thought it was making the right choice. When have you had to break from the crowd – especially a Christian crowd – to do the right thing?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!