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It's Your Choice
February 11, 1990


The lesson this morning is simple, so simple it often eludes us. Life is a composite of choices. Who you are is whom you have chosen to be. Life is a continual choice among options, some good, some bad; some right, some wrong. It's your choice.

Later in the service this morning, you will be asked to choose what kind of ministry our church will do. Before we make critical financial decisions, we are asking you to reconsider your financial commitment. It may be of some comfort to know that we are not alone in this financial crunch. Many churches are facing financial crises. Charitable giving in the Bay Area is down 25%. The California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is in crisis because churches like ours cannot pay their conference apportionments in full. One program staff position has already been cut. The Conference Board of Discipleship, of which I am chairperson, which provides a camping program and resources in stewardship, evangelism, education, worship, now has a budget of $16,000. Two years ago it was $70,000; now it is $16,000. Stanford University is cutting $22,000,000 from its operating budget! No, we are not alone, but the choice of what kind of church we will be is still ours. We can't blame anyone else, it's our choice.

Life is a choice. We are whom we choose to be. Moses said it dramatically in the last words of Deuteronomy, a book of codes, rules, procedures, and laws for his people, 30:19-20, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him.

Sometimes the choices are complex, sometimes they are unclear, but fundamentally, day by day, hour by hour, we choose between life and death, blessing and curse.

Choose life, not death. Choose blessing, not curse. Choose that which is life-giving, life-affirming, life-producing. Mark Twain said, "Let us choose so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." Cissy Neff chose life. Cissy, the daughter of Ed and Erletta, died last week. She had diabetes and lived beyond the expectations of her doctors because she repeatedly chose life. She was a remarkable woman, loved, respected, admired. When she faced the amputation of an arm, her attitude was, "Oh, well, I've got another one!" She also had her legs amputated and two fingers from her one hand, but they couldn't cut her spirit.

One of her granddaughters is deaf. Refusing to give up, undaunted, Cissy learned to sign. Actually, she made up her own way, but she and her seven-year-old granddaughter communicated. With one hand and only three fingers, she signed and talked with her deaf granddaughter. Cissy chose life. She never complained, she never asked, "Why me, Lord?" When you are tempted to complain, gripe, whine, feel sorry for yourself, or ask, "Why me, Lord?", you are choosing death. Those attitudes kill. They suck the life right out of your soul.

Choose life! When a pious Christian commented that the Lord is on our side, Abraham Lincoln replied, "I am not at all concerned about that, for we know that the Lord is always on the side of right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and the nation should choose to be on the Lord's side." We spend a great deal of precious effort trying to convince the Lord and ourselves that we are on the right side, and the Lord should join us and bless our cause. Instead, choose to be on the Lord's side.

When Moses challenged his people with the admonition to choose life, Moses was speaking within the context of God's law. God's way of living is summarized in the Ten Commandments which Jesus summarized even further into two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. Loving God, loving neighbor, choosing life means, at the very least, to choose to live according to the Ten Commandments.

Most Americans do not even know the Ten Commandments, much less live by them. Do I dare to ask you to recite them? Choosing life means to put God first, have no other gods before God, to ask in all decisions, "What would Jesus have me do? What glorifies God in this situation."

Choosing life means to worship God, to at least give God Sunday morning worship, to make weekly worship a habit, to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

Choosing life means to respect parents and to respect children.

Choosing life means not to kill, to choose compassion over violence.

Choosing life means to respect the property of others, not to steal it.

Choosing life means to be loyal, loyal to your spouse, loyal to your allegiances, loyal to your commitments.

Choosing life means to be loyal to accepted ethical standards. Senator Montoya chose death, and now he has resigned from the State senate, and is facing a prison term. He has lost everything he has worked for.

Choosing life means to keep your word, not to bear false witness, not to lie. A newspaper article the other day warned us about being conned by salesmen who make promises. "Get it in writing," the article urged, "because his word is worth the paper it's not written on." Isn't that a commentary on our times? We can't trust one another's words. What is your word worth? When you give your word, when you make promises, when you make commitments, when you choose to put your life in something you believe in, does your word mean anything? Is there integrity? Is there trust?

I have set before you this day, life and death, blessing and curse. It's your choice!

© 1990 Douglas I. Norris