Sister Joe brought an incredibly powerful word this week. Her focus was on the choices we make as free moral agents, and how these affect our lives and our relationship with God. She began her message with Daniel 3: 16-17,
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.”
Here we have three young Hebrew men, who have been taken from Israel and given positions within the Babylonian Empire. They are housed, fed, and even renamed by the king, but they go along with it. To a point.
They are then faced with a challenge. The king has made a decree that all must bow to a golden image. They choose to say no.
This idea of human choice, often called free moral agency was in two gardens: Eden and Gethsemane. In the first case, God’s simple command to avoid a single fruit was ignored by choice, leading to the fall of human kind. In the second, Jesus faced the decision as to whether to follow God’s plan and face His own death, or to refuse. In the end, he chose to obey, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).”
This example of Jesus as a choice maker is consistent throughout the New Testament. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, He three times had to decide between His physical needs, His ego needs, and His ultimate mission, and God’s plan for the same. In each case He responded with scripture, and yielded to the Father’s plan. The choice, however, was always His own.
This brings us back to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They too had to make a choice of ultimate destiny. They could obey the edict of the king, or follow the first two commandments. Look closely at their words. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up (verses 17-18).”
They would not comply, and they trusted in God to deliver. And even if not delivered physically, they could rest assured in God’s promise to keep His promise of the covenant, so they were going to keep their side.
The three were indeed punished by the king. But in furnace, they were preserved. They had chosen obedience to God. It would have been easy to make a token gesture to appease the king, but they chose integrity! Much as Polycarp would centuries later.
How then do we choose? Sister Joe gave four really great tips on this!
Choose Companions that will encourage and support you in keeping to a positive path. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).” If we are to choose wisely, let us surround ourselves with those who do likewise. The inverse of this is also true, “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character (I Corinthians 15:33).” Be an example of integrity and yo will strengthen others. Resist and avid that which corrupts. These are choices.
Choose Your Battles wisely. Don’t wear yourself out on things that don’t matter. The three Hebrew youths of Daniel 3 accepted exile from Israel, new names, positions, and more. But only when it came to things that would truly corrupt their relationship with God, did they make a stand. Let that be a standard we can hold onto. Does it glorify God? Does is help or hurt our relationship? These are the battles to choose.
Choose to Pray. Rather simple, but profound. We need to choose relationship with the central power in the universe. You cannot have relationship without communication. We need to choose to keep this avenue open.
Choose Eternity. Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego chose to follow God’s plan, even at the risk of this life. They saw God’s promise as sufficient. In fact, the El Shaddai, all sufficient God was enough. How about for us? Do we cling to the here and now, or for a better hope?
The choices are ours, but in the end, neither Sister Joe, nor I cannot make your decisions. You are a free moral agent. The choices are yours to make. How will you choose?
Thank you Sister Joe for such an amazing message. It was truly inspiring, and powerful.