Decisions. Every day we make them by the dozens. Most do not amount to much. What to wear. Where to have lunch. How to spend leisure moments. But there are some that affect our entire lives. What profession to pursue. Who to date and marry. Where to live. And most importantly, what will I do with the Lord? That is the most important choice we will ever make, and no one can make it for us.
As Joshua prepared for his home stretch, he challenged the Jews to make up their minds (Joshua 24:15). They were going to serve someone. That was not an option. The only question was: who? They could choose to serve the same god their daddy served. The habit of hand-me-down religion has survived throughout the ages, but it is never the best way to make such a profound decision. What if the family had made the wrong choice?
Another option was to adopt the religious practices of the culture. New and different is always exciting, and we often seek a shot of spiritual adrenalin. They were entering a time of transition, and it was decision time. Our society offers just about any type of worship that we could want. We get to choose anything from acapella to rowdy rock and roll. If an accelerated heartbeat is what we seek, we can find it. Following the lead of our neighbors will take us in the wrong direction more often than not.
Procrastination is always an option. Side-stepping those hard decisions gives us one more day to stay comfortable where we are. Joshua put a sense of urgency in his message. That choice must be made today. No more delay. It is dangerous to put it off. Satan and sin work relentlessly. Each passing day gives them more time to do their deceptive and destructive work (Hebrews 3:13). This moment is the only one we have.
There is a perpetual tug-o-war going on over our souls. We all have a religious heritage inherited from our parents. That’s what we’ve always done. Our friends and neighbors offer their version, and we are free to join in with them. Surely, so many people can’t be wrong. It can be very confusing, and each of us must make our own decision. Joshua made his, “As for me and my house…”
Everyone has a guiding light and we all get to choose what or who it is. For Joshua, it was the Lord. What is ours? When the pressure builds, where do we look? Life has a way of taking unexpected turns, and we need a north star to regain our direction. Our questions grow with maturity. Surely, there is more to my existence than just one more paycheck. We seek answers. Something guides us somewhere. Who and to where? “As for me and my house…” What about you and your house?
There is great power in hope. It keeps us going through the toughest of times and brightens heavy hearts with the knowledge that better days are ahead. Our God is One of great hope. He wants His children to be a family of hope and has provided all that is needed to bring that about. An empty tomb stamps the certainty that hope is alive.
The two men trudged the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). Recent events provided plenty of conversation for the pair when a stranger approached wanting to know what they were talking about. Sadness was written all over their face. We all know the look of despondency at the death of a dream. It is evident. It starts way down inside and colors everything about us; the way we stand, walk, talk and look. Their hope had been nailed to a cross. It was dead.
They misunderstood. Their concept was faulty. They anticipated a redemption of Israel that measured up to their thinking. They thought wrong, and it was devastating. The basis for their hope had been snatched out from under them. What about us? Do we have a firm foundation for ours? It will crumble if it is not based on all the facts. They were bewildered by what had happened to the Lord. Disillusionment and discouragement set in. What they would soon learn proved to be much better than anything they ever imagined.
Jesus confronted them with their hesitation to believe all that their Scriptures had taught about Him. They had the right information in their hands, but it never quite made it into their heads and hearts. That can be true of us, too. Knowledge left on the pages of the Bible serves no purpose until it becomes part of us. All of it essential in nourishing our hope (Romans 15:4).
Biblical hope combines desire with expectation and fuels the engine of an optimism that draws attention. Our neighbors notice a difference which opens a door for conversation. Christians react differently, and people want to know why. Even death is seen from an eternal perspective. Grief does not cease to exist. It just isn’t the same because we see beyond the temporary horizon of a heartbeat.
Jesus came to draw back the curtain of limitations that accompanies this world. We see flesh and blood. He showed that we are more than that. He commanded demons, healed sicknesses and raised the dead to demonstrate His authoritative power over every realm of creation. His dealings with the visible revealed His power over the invisible. He forgives sins, the great hope destroyer. He and the devil have faced off. Death ruled for a weekend. Resurrection reigns forever.
That tomb makes all the difference. As long as it is empty, hope lives for all time. The two on the road lost hope because they only had a partial picture. Let’s not make the same mistake.
It was the kind of area that was best avoided (John 4:5-42). Some did. Others went straight through with as little interaction as possible. This was Samaria and the last place that we might expect a significant exchange between the locals and the righteous. It was the most direct route between Judea and Galilee which led the Son of God into an unexpected encounter. He did that often. Stepping out of heaven and into the world saturated by sin was a dramatic move. One that He made in search of the needy.
This woman certainly fit that bill. It was a day like any other. She made the trek out to the well to fetch water, not in search of a life changing meeting. He offered no evidence that He was anything other than a thirsty man, and He made the unusual gesture of approaching her for a drink. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan, and those two simply did not mix. Didn’t He know that? Besides, she was a…well…a she. He was talking with a woman? And a Samaritan woman, at that! Two strikes, and the conversation has just begun.
The chat exposed more. His prompting to call her husband revealed more objectionable information. She had had a string of unsuccessful marriages. Her track record of failed relationships was so dismal that she had given up on weddings and had simply moved in with the latest man. Why would Jesus pause in the middle of His journey to talk to such a person of poor pedigree and terrible history? He came to seek the lost, remember? She certainly needed what He offered.
Slowly, her eyes opened until she cautiously brought up the topic of the Messiah. She first saw a Jew. Then she figured out that He was more than that. He was a prophet. Finally, it dawned on her: Is this the One? That prospect drove her away from her water pot and into town. Her story started a ruckus that led to the Savior of the world.
The Lord seldom works in conventional ways. He washed away a wicked world. He began the family of promise through an old man and woman. The chosen people through whom He would bring His Son were slaves for four centuries. The Savior was born to a virgin. Sin-driven men nailed that Savior to a cross. God raised Him from the dead. Predictable? Hardly. “…Nor are your ways my ways,” Declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).
He walked where others chose not to. He talked with the sinful, crossed boundaries that challenged the norms and was in the face of the self-righteous religious. He rubbed elbows with the least likely and brought salvation to the undesirable. That was His mission. Seek the lost. Shock the establishment. Break down barriers, and open heaven’s doors to commoners. He was what no one expected and everyone needed.
Christians have been born again. That is a remarkable reality that has gotten lost in the current marginalizing of religion. “Church” has been reduced to little more than a place we go on Sunday if we can squeeze it into our schedule. Rather than defining who we are, it is simply seen as a building. That is just one of the symptoms of a much deeper problem.
What is the real issue? The word of God speaks in terms of Christians being new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). That does not indicate that we are the same old people who just happen to come together on Sunday. It is more than an external makeover. It is not cosmetic, it is a transformation deep within the heart of a person. Christians do not merely look different. Their essence is changed, and that controls their behavior.
The Lord deals with people at their deepest level. Jesus turned the religious world upside down with His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. His audience knew the Law and its prohibition on such practices as adultery and murder (Matthew 5:21-29). His exposition of those principles took them far beyond the visible actions to their roots in anger and lust. Deal with them, and the actions will take care of themselves.
God wants our hearts. That is more than what we do. It is who we are. Change our identity, and behavior follows. Long before Jesus presented His revolutionary teachings, the prophets told of a coming day in which God would do His work within people (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The time would arrive when He would engrave His words inside of His children (Jeremiah 31:33). Commands etched on hearts are much more meaningful than those written on stones.
The word of God is the best cardiologist in the world. It will probe us way beneath the skin and expose what is within. We can cover our lives with the holiest veneer money can buy, but we cannot fool Him. We see actions. He examines motives and desires, and His word will reveal them to us as well. It is a look worth taking. He is fully aware of our condition. We better be, too.
Becoming a Christian changes a person’s perspective. They are united with Christ in baptism, and their lives reflect it. Goals and strategies are altered. There is a fresh outlook. Their focus is less on self and more on the Lord and their fellow man. Love is the underlying principle in their interaction with others, serving instead of being served. Giving replaces taking, as they start to understand what constitutes a genuinely blessed life.
The journey begins with something as simple as hearing the message of one who loved us enough to die for us. Convinced of that, we begin an investigation which brings us face-to-face with the Savior. He came to give us a fresh start. It shows. We are new creations.
We live in a sea of uncertainty. Lives are invested in that which is not trustworthy. Endless hours, weeks, months, years, decades are dedicated to accumulating material wealth and possessions. People buildup big bank accounts, nice cars and expensive houses only to see a hurricane wash them all away. We long for stability, and there is none. At least, none that will hold up to the storms of life. We can know with total certainty that everything and everyone in this world is destined to perish. Then what?
Jesus warned against placing too much value on the things of this world. There is no doubt that something will take them away from us (Matthew 6:19-21). It might be something as unnoticeable as insects or as powerful and frightening as Florence’s recent visit to our coast. Stock market crashes and scam artists have robbed Americans of untold fortunes. It seemed so safe and secure. It was not.
The Lord is completely, eternally trustworthy. He does not change (Hebrews 13:8). As fortunes ebb and flow in this world, security is elusive. Wisdom dictates that resources be invested in a way that guarantees a yield that cannot be lost. No financial institution on earth can promise that, but God can and does. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a properly placed cup of cold water is not irrelevant in the eternal scheme of things. God notices and rewards the smallest actions.
Children of God are born again into a family with an extraordinary inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5). The past decade has exposed the fragile nature of our economy. The Dow Jones is on a roller coaster. Retirement accounts can evaporate in the twinkling of an eye. Investments soar then tumble. Fortunes are made and lost overnight. Such volatility yields a return of high stress and sleepless nights. The Lord’s inheritance is not that way. It will never lose its value, and it is stashed safely away in heaven. Eternal security awaits His family on the other side of the grave.
Jesus promised His disciples that He had gone to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-3). Their future was secure and assured by the no less than the Son of God. It is a guarantee that they could trust. In a world of trials and tribulations, it is a remarkable possibility. A beautiful house excites the senses but cannot compare with what awaits us. There will be no payments (It’s already paid for!) and no foreclosures. Talk about a forever home, that is it.
The Lord had a place prepared for the Israelites, too. They marched right up to the water’s edge and saw an exceedingly great land, but few experienced life in that glorious new home. Why? Too much opposition and not enough faith (Numbers 13, Hebrews 3:19). That will stand between us and our eternal home, too, if we let it.