Can I tell you something really neat about this service? This is the first Sunday of 2018, right now. So, if your New Year’s resolution was going to church every week, you are batting a thousand! I’m proud of you. I want to talk today about choices. Do you guys know that it is important to choose the right words when we talk, right? Anybody that’s married knows you’ve got to choose the right words to explain exactly what you’re feeling. It’s important to choose the right words. I want to read to you some church bulletin bloopers. Different churches, of course, not ours, we never get anything wrong. Church bulletin bloopers that could’ve used some better choices in their words:
Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.
Don’t let worry kill you off. Let the church help.
Better choice of words would help that, wouldn’t it?
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
I think they meant “in”, right? “in our church and community”.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7pm. Please use the large, double doors at the side entrance.
Someone got fired for that.
Ushers will eat late comers.
I imagine they meant “seat” late-comers. But if you don’t pay attention and you take off that s… All I’m saying is when you come to this church, don’t be late.
Choices matter. The choices of the words we use, the choices matter a lot. I’m talking about the power of a choice today. I’m going to start with this one sentence, that choices are one of the most powerful things that you possess. Think about it. It is one of the greatest things that you possess; the power of a choice. Choices are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. In fact, I want to look at when God gave us the first choice, when He gave us the first choice that matters. It was one of the greatest gifts that He gave to us, and He did it in Genesis 2:16-17. I want to really look at this, because I read this verse wrong for years and years and years. I paid attention to the wrong detail for years and years, and I want to show you guys what I found.
The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
And I used to read that, and I used to say “God, why put the tree there? Why give them the chance to sin? Why place the temptation in front of them? Wasn’t everything going good? Why put that block right there?” And the real reason why I would ask that question is probably for the same reason a lot of us would ask it; it’s because sometimes it maybe feels a little bit like how my life is. Why did the temptations have to be there? Why did they have to be so big? Why do these circumstances seem to always come up? While I was asking God that question, I realized something. That kind of a question is the wrong type of Christianity. It’s the kind of Christianity that I don’t want. That’s called Christian defeatism, isn’t it?
Our Christianity, our faith in the Lord should be more than a list of “don’t do’s”, right? You see, you can live the Christian life focusing on that tree. Why did God place that there? Focusing your life, paying attention to “I’m not going to sin, I’m not going to eat from that tree, I’m not going to pay attention to that tree”. By the way, I don’t know if you know, but we found out what the fruit on that tree was. It was the tomato. Or an onion, either one works perfect for that tree. Not looking at the tomato, not looking at the onion, not looking at that tree. That is a way to live a very weak Christian life. “I’m not going to sin. I’m not going to sin. I’m not going to eat that. I’m not going to eat that. I’m not going to pay attention to it.” Because the truth is, I kept saying, “God, why did you put that there?” Because sometimes, when you place something in front of someone and tell them not to do it, you actually empower them to do the very thing. With my kids, if my wife bakes them cookies and puts them in front of them and says, “Guys, don’t eat these”… Yeah, that is being mean to your kids unless they’re oatmeal -raisin cookies, then you could leave them out all day long, it won’t matter. But I’m talking about chocolate chip cookies, right? “God, why did you put that there?” And God revealed something to me. Why put the tree there to tempt them in the first place? Why does it seem like I go through life just focusing on all the things that I shouldn’t do, I shouldn’t do, is there more? God revealed something to me. It’s that, the question “Was God putting the tree there to test if they would do wrong?”… that’s the question we have to answer. Because that was how I’m looking at the situation of this tree. Did God put the tree there to see “Ok, Adam and Eve, don’t do wrong, here’s a tree, let’s see what happens.” God doesn’t really work like that, does He? I think there was something greater. A greater gift that God gave that day when He gave the tree. The tree was not a temptation, it was one of the greatest gifts that Adam and Eve had received. It was better, actually better, than the garden. Listen to this. By placing that tree in front of Adam and Eve, for the first time ever, God gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose righteousness. Do you guys see that? Before, they couldn’t choose righteousness, because they didn’t have anything there that God placed that He said, “Don’t do this”, did He? When God placed that tree, God did something profound. He said, “Adam, Eve, you’re going to love Me for this. I’m going to place this tree, and now you get to choose righteousness.” He does the same thing with us.
You know, most of the time, my life is not about not sinning. I can make my life be about not sinning. That would be an exhausting life, wouldn’t it? That would be an exhausting life. Just going through life, trying to not sin. But got gave me something, and you something, way better than that. He gave us more than the chance to not sin and not look at the tree. He gave us the opportunity to walk way over here, and choose righteousness. The more you choose righteousness, the less you even notice that the tree is there, is that right? When God put the tree, He said, “Neil, I’m not putting it here to tempt you. I placed it here to give you a greater opportunity.” Let me give you an example. Let’s say, lust. I’ve got the tree of lust here. I can say, “Don’t lust, don’t lust, don’t lust, don’t lust.” Am I going to have a lot of power out of that? Or I could just say, “I make the choice of what happens when you live a pure life.” The blessings of purity. What gives you more power to overcome? Choosing the blessings of purity, isn’t it? I could stand over here and I could say, “Don’t get angry, Neil, don’t get angry, don’t get angry.” This is my tree, the tree of anger. Don’t get angry, don’t focus on the anger. Or, don’t yell at your spouse, don’t yell at your spouse, or whatever it is. Don’t lie, don’t manipulate, stop doing that, whatever you want to put right here. You can focus on that thing; try to not sin. Or, you could take the real gift of choice, walk over here and say “No, I choose the blessing of truthfulness. I choose the blessing of obedience.” And then, you are no longer held on by the tree. This is something that I want to talk about. I think that the most important thing, and one of the most powerful things God has given us is the power to make a choice. Because, the more you choose righteousness, the less you notice the tree.
I think about Adam and Eve. They had all of these fruit trees ahead of them, didn’t they? You guys ever think about what the fruit trees were? Probably trees we don’t have, like maybe a beef tree? That’d be awesome. You grab it and it’s warm, perfectly pink on the inside. I don’t know what they had, but I’m sure it was amazing. They had all of these trees to choose from, and they kept getting tied up with this one. And this is what I mean. First off, the snake talked to Eve, right? That’s her first problem. Because what if you were at Sea World, and Shamu was like, “Psst, come over here real quick.” You’d know, right? But she was close enough to this tree, kind of maybe flirting a little bit with the tree. Adam knew the tree very well, looking at what they’d been told they shouldn’t have. That’s a hard way to live a Christian life. The best way is to say, “Ok, that’s not what I’m supposed to do, which means I have an opportunity to choose something to do and to live over here.” Choice is one of the most powerful things that we possess. We make hundreds of choices a day, don’t we? Some are insignificant. McDonald’s or Jack in the Box? You’re like, “Neil, I choose neither.” Yeah, right. We all go to McDonalds hoping we don’t see anybody we know. We know that. Insignificant. Coke or Pepsi? Play Pokemon Go or be a contributing part of our society? We make choices that really don’t matter all that much, all the time. But then, there are the significant choices. There are the profound choices that God places in front of us. We’re going to look at this scripture. He says this about the profound choices.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So, choose life in order that you may live.
This scripture is great. Now, it’s important, what is the subject matter of this scripture? It’s not the life and the death or the blessing and the curse. The subject matter is the verb there, what’s the verb? Choose. God is saying, “I’ve placed before you a wonderful, amazing, powerful gift, and it is the gift of choice.” Here’s another thing that we see in that scripture. God doesn’t say, “I’ve placed before you death and a curse so don’t choose those.” See how He doesn’t say that? He doesn’t say, “Focus on not doing the bad thing.” He doesn’t say, “I’ve placed before you death and a curse so don’t choose those”, He adds something else into that, which is the power of being a Christian. He says, “I’ve placed before you life and a blessing in every circumstance that you’ll ever find yourself”. This is important. In every situation that ever comes your way, in every struggle that you’ll ever have, there is more than choosing not to sin. There is choosing life and the blessing within it. In every circumstance. Now I’m telling you, sometimes, some of these situations are hard, and you’re like, “I don’t know where it is.” Sometimes the choice is just simply to choose hope. Do you guys know that? There is never a time in a Christian’s life where hope is not on the table. We can choose fear instead of hope. We can choose hopelessness, but there’s never a time in any of our lives where hope is not available to us if we choose it. Choosing life is literally choosing wholeness. It’s choosing closeness to God. It’s choosing His help. It’s choosing His provision. It’s choosing Him. He has always made Himself readily available for us to call on Him. The question for us today is, how close to this tree do we make our choices? The gift of choice is the gift of being able to choose the quality of our own life, the look of our own future. Choices make habits, don’t they? Habits make character. And character sets up our destiny. Where is your destiny this morning? And do you need to go back to the choices if you want to change it? We get to choose the hurt and the baggage that we will hold onto or let go of. We get to choose the rejection or the loneliness that will overtake us. We get to choose freedom or slavery, because 10,000 years ago God put a tree in the garden and said, “You get to choose Me now.” Choices can be our best friends. Choices can be our worst enemies. They either keep us close to God’s blessings or they send us further away. It’s all in the power of a choice. Can I tell you something amazing about a choice? The choice is yours. Every single one of us has a choice. Every single one of us are the keepers of our own choices and nobody can touch my choice. Nobody can take my choice away from me. No one can screw it up. It is mine, and it is yours. The power of a choice lives inside of our own grasp.
I want to talk about two truths about choices right now. Two things that we need to absolutely live off of to go over into the land of victory. There’s a scripture that I’d like to read first, it’s Malachi 3:10. I love this scripture, because I’m going to set up this stage right now, of what I’m talking about. The tree is over there. Malachi 3:10 says this:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
Who wants to stand under those floodgates? Those floodgates are over here, okay? The windows of Heaven open where people are doing more than choosing not to sin. They’re choosing righteousness. You guys see this? Where do I want to camp my life? Over in Blessingville. I want to live over there. And the way I get there is by choices that create habits that get me closer to Him. You know, truthfully, in my life, I don’t worry about not lying. I don’t worry about not stealing. I don’t worry about doing bad things; drugs or all this stuff. You want to know why? It’s not a temptation because I’m too far away from the tree. I don’t even see the tree. What if Adam and Eve just stayed at the beef tree? The beef tree is over here, I’m just letting you guys know that right now. What if they stayed there, they never would’ve smelled the rotten tomato. Two truths about choices: The first one is:
Right choices bring about righteous blessings.
I’ll tell you a story about my son real quick. My son Landon, he’s my middle child. Up until Landon was like three years old, his favorite food was toothpaste. I don’t know if you guys had any of those kids. Favorite food was toothpaste. He’d walk around, we’re like “Where’s Landon?” He’d walk by smiling with toothpaste residue everywhere. We’d find toothpaste bottles with these three-year old clinch, claw marks in them. We used to have to hide it. Why did he like toothpaste? Because he didn’t realize that there was something better. He hadn’t eaten candy or pizza or mouthwash, you know what I mean? He loved only what he knew. Now let’s talk about that right now. Sometimes, we choose what we know. We choose what we may think is best. I don’t remember who coined this, but the saying is, “Good things are always the enemy of God things.” What do you choose in life because it’s all you know, and what are you missing out of because it’s what God knows. Right choices bring about righteous blessings. Just because we become a Christian does not mean that we get the fullness of His promises, do we? Look through the Bible. Read any promise He gives us. They’re conditional. They are conditional promises based on what we’re going to do. You may look at and read the Bible and say, “How come I don’t see those promises in my life?” Well, let me challenge you this. Are you following the condition that that promise brings? For most of us, sitting where Eve did, at the tree, you’re not going to get the blessings of the floodgates opening up over our lives. We’re going to read some of these conditional blessings. They’re so powerful.
Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.
How many of you guys want the desires of your heart? You don’t get them unless you follow the first part. Do you guys see this? See, if I’m over here saying, “I want the desires of my heart”, but I am not delighting myself in the Lord because I’m too focused on what I shouldn’t do, I won’t ever get those desires. I will be tired of this tree. You want the desires of your heart? It’s when we delight ourselves in Him and His ways. Two things happen. One, we obey Him and we get the blessing of obedience. But two, our desires are way better, aren’t they? They’re way better than what they were when we stood over there. We could spend the next 7 years reading conditional promises but we’re going to read a couple of them.
You do not have because you do not ask.
I love this condition. This is great. Heather and I have learned this one so well, that we literally, any decision, anything coming up, we’re like, “God, what do You want us to do?” You do not have because you do not ask. My wife tells me a story. She used to live with her grandma and she said, “It was great. My grandma always talked to God.” She had lived through the Great Depression so she didn’t throw anything away. Heather had made a sandwich and there was a little piece of lettuce sitting on the table. She said she watched her grandma walk up to it, pick it up and go, “Lord, what do you want me to do with this?” Just a raw piece of lettuce. Then she just started eating it. I thought that was great. Choices. You do not have because you do not ask. Let’s look at another one.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
Do you want God to guide you? He says, “I will guide you. I will take you along your way.” I just wonder, in front of us today, how many of us have a question of God to guide us? Should I take this job or that job? Should I quit this job? Should I marry this girl or guy? Should I, whatever. There’s this path that we’re asking God. God will guide you as long… the condition… as long as you acknowledge Him in all your ways. Isn’t that great? God says, “I’ll help your path. I’ll guide your path. Acknowledge Me in your ways.” It’s living under the floodgates of Heaven. It’s living under the power and the gift of the choice. With every promise God gives, there’s a condition and there’s an opportunity for us to choose righteousness. I want to talk about that last part about choices. This is our second point.
Choices are far more important than circumstances.
Choices are far more important than the circumstances we find ourselves in. When we read the Bible, do we ever see any saints say, “Oh, problems! Run for the hills! Problems everywhere, run away!” We can’t find that anywhere. You know what you can find? Let’s read it.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Listen, nowhere in the Bible do we ever see scripture call trials, circumstances or hardships “bad”. It always says have joy, exult. Because, it understood them correctly. Because, my circumstance is the blessing of a tree being placed in my life so that I can choose the righteous opposite of that tree. You know some circumstances are really hard. Some circumstances are horrible. I’m not saying that every circumstance will work its way out for everything to be perfect. That’s not the truth, is it? Because sometimes, people die. Sometimes, situations are so hard and heavy that even when we choose joy and hope and all of God’s provision, the death that entered the world still has to move, doesn’t it? And I’m not saying that if you’re in a heavy situation, all you do is choose joy and everything will be perfect. That’s not what I’m saying. But I am saying that hope will enter every single circumstance. And choosing faith will change to some degree every circumstance, especially you inside of it. The real question about the circumstances we’re in are not about the circumstances themselves. They’re about the opportunity that is waiting for us under those floodgates.
Sometimes bad things happen to us that are completely out of our control. You know, my son Josiah, he’s my second oldest, we were teaching him to potty train. I don’t remember, however old you are when you potty train, two, three, I don’t remember. And I remember him saying, “Daddy, potty” so I took him to the bathroom. This is going to get rated R, just so you’re forewarned, okay? And we were doing potty training. And I stand him up, and I’m standing behind him and I’m holding his hands up because that’s really important if you’re going to start potty training, hold their hands. And I’m saying, “Ok potty, go pee-pee into the potty” and he’s not doing it. And I’m like, “Son, do you have to go pee-pee?” and he says, “Yes.” I’m like, “Go pee-pee.” And nothing. And I was like, “Son, push.” And I hear him push. And then I feel two things hit my shoes. And I realized, oh yeah, that’s right, Josiah gets pee-pee and poo-poo mixed up. I died a little bit that day. Sometimes the situations that come into our life, they are out of our control. And before we know it, someone figuratively is doo-dooing on us. You know what I mean? They’re not even due to poor choices. We’re in a problem because of someone else’s poor choices. We feel like victims in it. But I want to say something right now. For every Christian, there is no such thing as being a victim. You cannot. When God put that tree there and He gave us the power and the blessing of a choice, He stripped away the right for us to claim being victims. Because He says, “In every situation, you have a choice.” I don’t know what the situation is; a dysfunctional family, a fatherless situation. Maybe it’s marrying into a bunch of debt. Whatever it is, I’ll tell you this; you always, always have a choice. Choices make victors out of victims. You may not have a say over what happens to you, but you always have a choice on how you respond to what happens. Because nobody gets to touch your choice. Because no one owns your choice. That is for you to walk from that tree, to over there. Choices invite you to overcome your situation because you are a product of your choices, not a product of your circumstances. There’s many things that we are not in control of, but choices are not one of them. I don’t know if you feel like you’re a victim today, a victim of other people’s bad choices. But, you can’t claim victimhood in Christianity. There’s always hope. There’s always faith. And there is always God’s strong hand of support. It never leaves us.
I’ll tell you a situation that we came up to, it’s just such a profound move of God. About a year ago, we were having a baby, and we found out about the stem cells and the umbilical cord. We were having another baby, and they could take his umbilical cord once he was born and take the stem cells out and put it into my son Ryden. It has pretty profound help with Cerebral Palsy. And so, we wanted to do this. But as we were finding out and we started getting into this, we felt the Lord taking us this way the entire time. Walking us in faith to get us this thing but we found out, you know how much it was going to cost? $20,000. But, we felt the Lord pushing us the whole way, so we kept walking. I’m going to skip forward, months and months and months of emails and everything. All of a sudden they call us. Insurance had said, “We won’t cover that procedure.” They call us and they say, “Good news, everything went through, all the tests are done, we want you out here in two weeks.” Thanks for the heads up, right? North Carolina. I mean, I had to get three flights, I had to get hotels out there, a rental car, food. Oh yeah, and $20,000. But it was okay because I had it readily available. Ha! Not! So, you can imagine how we wanted to go out there, but here is this giant circumstance saying, “You can’t go out there. You can’t follow what you think God is doing. You can’t do it.” So, Heather and I decided that we were just going to go out in faith, that I believed God is taking us out there for a reason. So, we decide, all right. And we start making the plans. My buddy calls me. He just calls me up. We’re not telling people how much anything costs. My buddy calls me, he says, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of Hilton points that are expiring, when do you guys go out there? Let me put you up in a hotel.” Boom. Another family friend finds out that we’re leaving in two weeks and she calls and she says, “Hey, I want to cover all the airfare. I want to cover your vehicle out there and the food out there.” Boom. It’s amazing what happens when you stop looking at the circumstance and you start looking up to the Heavens, isn’t it? When you stop choosing the circumstance and you start choosing to see what faith can do. Boom, we do that. Now we’re out in North Carolina, we still have this daunting $20,000 bill. We’re expecting it. We get a call from the lady that does the billing. She says, “Hey, I know that your insurance isn’t going to cover it. So, we changed the bill from $20,000 to $6,100.” It gets better. Listen to this, this is how God works. And I’m not saying that every circumstance works this way, but some can and do! We go home with a $6,100 bill, and we get mail from the insurance company saying “Hey, we re-evaluated everything and we’re going to cover it 100%.” Because that’s what insurance companies do. We could’ve stopped all of it because of the problem of the tree, but God gave us the promise of a choice. Not to not choose the circumstance, but instead the choice to choose righteousness in its stead. You may have a series of bad choices that have made you feel trapped. A series of things that have made you feel trapped and pulled in. I’m going to give you a scripture. This scripture you can take to any circumstance, any situation, any sin that you’re dealing with, any hardship, anything, is this scripture. I think every Christian should memorize this.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This is my message right now. This is what I want to leave you. Seek first His kingdom. Seek first His righteousness and forget about the tree. Because you will watch Him change your life, and change your path, and guide you better than simply not choosing to sin. I don’t want to live a life of choosing not to sin. I want to not sin because I choose righteousness.