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Summer Sunday series: “Real-Life Christianity”

We’re exited to launch a new teaching series during the months of July and August we’re calling “Real-Life Christianity”–a series of studies through the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, led by Pastors Steve Eng and Jim Black and Nancy Masters–including controversial and relevant topics as God’s mysterious ways, the crazy people God chooses, conflicts in the church, what the Bible has to say about sex, homosexual practice, marriage, divorce and remarriage, how everybody’s watching what we do, how our freedom in Christ relates to our eating, drinking and spending habits, the role of men and women, and much more. Bring friends for some great Sundays on living the Christian life in a messed-up world.  Each week we also offer all-hour child care for our youngest kids up to age four, and special Catalyst Kids times for our PreKs-through-second graders during the second half of each worship service.

Stop Talking Yourself Out of Evangelism

Easter is the time when pastors’ thoughts turn to outreach and evangelism.  Maybe it’s because the sun is shining, and after a brutally-long winter in Minnesota, we’re actually crawling out of our houses and offices, blinking in the sunlight like groundhogs after a long winter’s nap, and actually seeing neighbors and people in the streets again.

Easter is one of those seasons when people are open to checking out church again, and there’s just a hopefulness and an openness to life again.

But Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and a church planter, asks in a recent article the question I’ve been thinking about lately, too:  “Why is it that Christians are always looking for ways to talk themselves out of doing evangelism?”

I was dismayed a few months ago to share a cup of coffee with “seasoned Christians” who informed me they didn’t feel God was calling them to work with non-believers and newer Christians.  And I’m like, “What Bible are you reading?”  But the truth is, of course, that I am just as guilty as they are of wanting to hang out with Christians and finding ways to avoid sharing the Good News of Jesus.

Yet it cannot be more clear that God sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  And Jesus, with the full authority of God, commissioned us to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).  And Jesus has sent us into the world just as Jesus himself was sent (John 17:18, 20-21).

Yet, as Stetzer points out, it seems that a whole lot of people are talking themselves out of their calling to do evangelism for a lot of reasons.  He tackles just two in his article.  Simply put, he says, “Christians need to stop thinking evangelism is a spiritual gift and stop thinking you can preach the gospel without words.”

There’s No Such Thing as the Gift of Evangelism

Stetzer argues that “it’s an unbiblical and unhelpful idea to think we should not share the gospel because we lack the spiritual gift of evangelism.  Some think if a person doesn’t possess the gift of evangelism, then they are often relieved of this burden; they no longer have the responsibility to do evangelism.  That’s bunk.”

It’s unhelpful to refer to evangelism as a spiritual gift reserved for the few, he says, because “It removes the responsibility of all believers to share their faith. Many think if they don’t have the gift, then it is not their job.”

But he reminds us that in the Bible,

Evangelism is not a “gift.”  Instead, all believers are called to share Christ.  Somewhere along the way, people confused the “role” of evangelist (Ephesians 4:11) with the “gift” of evangelism.  The church is gifted with evangelists, and their job is to equip all of God’s people to evangelize.  We should not wait for the gift to evangelism before we assume the task of evangelism.

God has given every believer the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).  This means God calls all Christians to be agents of reconciliation, and to share how men and women are to be reconciled and redeemed—charged with the power of the proclaimed gospel.

Preach the Gospel—Use Words, Since It’s Necessary

Everywhere you turn around, it seems, you hear that Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

Now it’s always good to live such good lives that we point to the person and work of Jesus.  Yet there are basic problems with this quote: 1) Francis never said it, and 2) the quote is just not biblical.

It’s tempting to advocate serving others without words, Stetzer points out.  “Words are cheap,” we like to say. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Yet the Bible is full of exhortations to share the gospel with words (emphasis added):

“This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world” (Matt. 24:14).

“They continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them” (Acts 8:5).

“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3).

Christians are quick to encourage each other to “live out the gospel,” and to “be the gospel´ to our neighbors. We’re encouraging you to do this same in the weeks before and after Easter.  But this will be really unhelpful if it just gives you and me another reason not to share Christ.

Says Stetzer:

Saying ‘preach the gospel; when necessary, use words’ is a lot like saying, ‘feed the hungry, when necessary, use food.’  Both are silly when people need bread—and the bread of life.  So proclaim it.  Out loud. To people without Christ.

The communication of the gospel is part of the process—and the only means—by which people are brought into a right relationship with God.

The apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said, ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him unless they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:13-14 NLT).

So if we are to make disciples, we must use words.  So pray for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus with others—the story and implications of his life, and death, and resurrection for all people—and use words, since it’s necessary.  You don’t need a gift to do it.

We all seem to love the idea of evangelism.  Let’s pray for each other and encourage each other to live out the gospel—as well as telling people next door, and in our communities, and around the world—about the Good News of Christ.  Let’s tell somebody about the One who changes everything.

–Steve Eng, lead pastor

Jim Black Arriving January 1 as Pastor of Worship and Next Generation Ministries

Jim Black will be arriving January 1 to serve as Catalyst’s pastor of worship and next generation ministries.  Jim is an experienced pastor and church planter who has a passion for helping people experience new life in Christ and becoming devoted followers of Jesus.  Jim is a remarkable singer and songwriter who loves to use the creative arts and humor to engage kids and youth and to touch people’s hearts.  He and his wife Laurie have been involved in the planting of several Covenant churches over the years and have a special heart for those that “God misses the most.”  Jim will equip all of us at Catalyst do an even better job of helping people in our community who want to know what it means to have a relationship with God, and to build into the lives of kids, youth, adults and families.

We encourage you to come out Sundays in January to welcome Jim and Laurie to Catalyst and to our area!  We will also have a special installation service for Jim at 10 a.m., Sunday, January 12 at our Woodland School worship service.

Not Individually, but Together

I was reflecting recently on how fragmented our culture has become, and on how from the beginning God intended us to live out our lives with others–doing life together through communities of believers in local churches. 

Jesus modeled this right off the bat, calling not one, but twelve to become a community of disciples.  At Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit descended, not on an individual believer, but “all the believers” who were “meeting together in one place.”  Peter’s first sermon was preached as “he stepped forward with the eleven other apostles” (Acts 2:14).  And in Acts 2:42 we read that “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer.”  Acts 4 tells us the believers were “united in heart and mind”—so much so that they shared everything they had with each other.  Most of Paul’s letters were written to churches, not individuals (and when Paul talks to “you” in his letters, the Greek is almost always the plural “you”).   

Read through the New Testament, and you find that Paul’s primary mission was not just to save individual souls, but to plant churches—communities of believers.  Paul and Peter both talk about believers as the “people [plural] of God,” and Paul basically argues that our maturity in Christ is measured, not by individual progress, but by our maturity as a whole as we “speak the truth in love” to each other, “growing in every way more and more like Christ who is the head of his body, the church.”  And that the job of each individual believer is to help other believers grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (see Ephesians 4:15-16).

As Rick Warren says in The Purpose-Driven Life  (p. 134), “Over fifty times in the New Testament the phrase ‘one another’ or ‘each other’ is used.  We are commanded to love each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, greet each other, serve each other, teach each other, accept each other, honor each other, bear each other’s burdens, forgive each other, submit to each other, be devoted to each other, and many other mutual tasks….These are your ‘family responsibilities’ that God expects you to fulfill through a local fellowship.  Who are you doing these with?” 

As we begin this New Year, this new life with God starts with turning from your sins, and receiving the forgiveness Jesus offers through his death on the cross, and receiving his resurrected life for yourself.  But you and I work out this new life with others, in community, as we commit to worship, pray, serve, give and share together.  If you do not have a church home, we welcome you to live out this kind of a life with us at Catalyst–on Sunday mornings as well as in new smaller groups we call “Journey Groups” that meets in homes and restaurants during the week throughout the Alexandria Lakes area.

–Steve Eng, lead pastor

Receiving the Gift of Peace

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (Jesus, in John 14:27)

We live trouble-filled lives in a trouble-filled world. And anxiety is a frequent by-product. Yet in this Christmas season of gifts and giving, Jesus assures us in John14:27 that he wants to gift us with his peace. “So don’t be troubled or afraid,” Jesus says. Older Bible versions say, “let not your heart be troubled.” Because anxiety is something within your control.

Remember when Jesus was walking on a stormy sea? And then invited Peter to walk to him on these same troubled waters? (See Matthew 14:22-33). For a brief time, Peter managed to stay on top of the waves—as long as he kept his focus on Jesus. But when he started thinking about his circumstances (the wind and waves), he began to sink.

In that “Anxiety Relief Scriptures Devotional Reading Plan” at Bible.com, Kimberly Taylor reminds us that when we start dwelling on our circumstances more than on our God, you and I will feel like we’re sinking too. But when we focus on Jesus and bring our troubles to him, our faith becomes stronger and His peace becomes our peace!

To access this seven-day “Anxiety Relief” devotional Bible reading plan, go to: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/684-the-anxiety-relief-scriptures.

True Christianity is a Fight

Back in the 1800s, the Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle observed that “True Christianity is a fight.”

It’s a good reminder for each of us today–for ourselves as we seek to follow Jesus, and for those we encourage and mentor in the Christian life. “Following Jesus is an amazing and gracious privilege,” note Francis Chan and David Platt, “but it isn’t the easy road. Sin, Satan, the world, and our flesh are warring against us.”

There’s a sense in American church today that the Christian life ought to be fun and entertaining. And while it’s true that God’s presence in our life brings great joy, presenting a life with Christ as carefree and fun is not only unrealistic, it’s also inaccurate and unbiblical. It may seem backwards, but reminding each other and teaching others that following Jesus can be quite difficult can actually be freeing.

An accurate, biblical picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, Chan and Platt remind us, prepares us for difficult times. Jesus reminded his followers over and over that they would face persecution and be tempted to desert Him. Not only was he preparing them for the road ahead, but he was teaching them not to get discouraged. Because even when life seems things seem to be unraveling. God is still in control.

Following Jesus means a daily dying to ourselves. And while turning our lives over to the care and control of Jesus, or “getting saved,” can be a one-time event, the Bible is also clear that our salvation involves enduring to the end. Just because we’ve experienced a conversion or new life in Christ does not mean we never need to repent again, for instance. We are continually in need of God’s forgiveness.

So we fight these battles in our prayers. We fight when we open our Bibles and find our place in God’s great Story. When we claim God’s promises that remind us how great He is, and how loved and secure we are in Christ. And we engage the battle every time we remember that Christ has conquered our sin an death through his death and resurrection, and that God’s grace is sufficient to carry us to the end. Because by the constant presence of His Holy Spirit at work in the life of every believer, God completes the good work he began in us (Philippians 1:6).

Join us this or Sunday at Woodland School at 10 a.m. or in any of our weekly Multiply/Journey Groups this fall to equip yourself for the battle that leads to life and victory!

–Steve Eng, Catalyst pastor

What We Do and Where We Go: Does It Matter?

Just read a thoughtful article in Christianity Today on spiritual formation.  With an insight that God wants to shape us–not only by changing thinking as we spend time in God’s Word–but also by how we act, and where we go.

This past week I’ve gone to the mall with my daughter, to Arrowwood for brunch with our parents, and to look at collector cars with my Dad and son in Alex by Big Ole.  I’ve shared a meal and an awesome evening around our supper table with our leaders to pray and share God’s work in our lives and dream about God’s future for us.  I’ve struggled with temptation while alone or in the middle of the night.  I’ve also shared life in a church building with people in recovery, and I’ve worshiped God with our church family in a public school.

In the article, an Christianity Today interview with Calvin College philosopher James Smith, he suggests that “the spaces we inhabit do something to us.”  And it’s true:  each action I take and each place I go, brings me either closer to God or draws me farther away from Him.

Starting tomorrow (Sunday, May 26), Catalyst is going on a three week “road trip” to new digs at the Alex-Area Y (May 26, June 2 and June 9 – in part because they’re fixing the floors at Woodland School, where we usually meet).  But this journey across town is also a great reason for us to live into our vision to be a church that meets at various community crossroads where people  in our community live, work, learn, and play.

But mostly I need to show up at the Y so I can prayer with other believers, and worship, and catch up on life over lunch, and play together, so I can know again that God loves me, and so I can love God, and share God’s love with others.

Where will you show up this weekend, next week, next Sunday, and how will that shape your soul?

–Steve Eng, Catalyst pastor

Just Light: Thoughts on the Suicide of Matthew Warren; by Lauren Bergstrom

Your son commits suicide. What do you do? Is there anything to do? Rick and Kay Warren were recently faced with these questions at the death of their son, Matthew Warren, who took his own life after a battle with mental illness. The tendency is to blame God, to recede from His presence and deal with it yourself. But that’s the worst thing to do. God wants us to go to him with our suffering. Suffering, although painful, turns us to God, it makes us desperate for Him. When we suffer deeply, we need Him for joy, for comfort, for the will to keep going. I’m not saying that suffering is a good thing. It will be much better in Heaven when suffering no longer exists. I’m just saying that maybe we should see the times that we suffer on Earth as less of a hindrance and more of a blessing. I don’t know about you but often the times that I suffer the most are the times that I’m closest to God.

It’s clear that the human race is just messed up. We want the wrong things, we do the wrong things, and a lot of the time we don’t even know it. Sin is so entangled into our lives that we often don’t even recognize its presence. We need to accept this and allow God to fix us. We can no longer make excuses and move on. Instead we should look the issue in the eye and ask God for forgiveness. We need to better learn to watch for sin so that God can relieve us of it. Some sin is out of our control though, like mental illness. It is a result of this fallen world, which seems pretty unfair. But every human being has some kind of sin that cleaves to them and we just have to deal with it. God wants to relieve us of that sin, and He will, but that doesn’t mean it will be in this lifetime. We are never going to be completely free of sin while we’re on Earth but we can look forward to the day when the Lamb of God washes us completely.

I struggle with mental illness myself. I was born with a thyroid disease that causes severe depression and fatigue. After a two year search for a diagnosis starting when I was only 15 years old, finally, by the grace of God, I received a diagnosis. And I have been feeling better ever since. But I’ve found over the years that I am definitely not healed. I can still feel my depression in the background, and it resurfaces at, usually, the most inconvenient times. My symptoms have been treated but the disease is still there. The result of this sinful world is still there. To cope, I hold onto the verse in Revelation about life in Heaven: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT). I look forward to the day when I will be completely healed and with our Lord, basking in His glory. A day free of sickness, of sadness, of any kind of sin.

But this life is still worth living! Yes, we look forward to the future when we will be with God but we are also called to minister to those on Earth. Who is that hurting person on your mind that needs to hear the message of Christ? Who needs to see that God loves them no matter what they have done or what has been done against them? Who needs to realize that God hates even the sin that is out of their control and will take it all away in the afterlife? A year before her son’s tragic suicide, Kay Warren stated that “we need to tell people that they are the beloved of God. In doing so we remove the shame, it removes the guilt over sins I can’t conquer. We are called to be messy with people and be with people in tremendous need.” Be messy. Be honest. Other people have probably just as much sin in their life as you do. It is wrong for us to judge others for any sin because chances are, we’ve at least thought about doing the same thing ourselves! If you aren’t suffering right now, be there to comfort those who are, and if you are suffering, realize that God is there and He will use whatever happens in this life for His glory if you let Him. The verse in Romans is true: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT). This place is beautiful. And God made it. We should enjoy our time here as much as we can and do as much good as we can but still remember that there is a place that we as Christians are invited for rest after we’re gone. A place where there will be no tears, no disease, just light.

-Lauren Bergstrom, Office Administrator

Obstacles or Opportunities

Will challenges bring failure or success?  It depends on how we view them. 

God has been teaching me a lot in recent weeks at Catalyst as we’ve been exploring stories from the Bible during worship and in our Journey Groups.  And the common theme running through each story has been people’s radical ability to trust God. Abraham, Rahab, David, Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego–with every person there’s this resolve to factor God and his greatness into the enormous challenges they face.

John Ortberg, in a recent article, “The Growth Mindset,” in Leadership Journal, talks about a friend of his, an hugely successful business leader.  He notes that when this man takes the reins of leadership somewhere, the first thing he does is get rid of the people who are negative. “I can’t afford the energy that will get siphoned off by whiners and victims and blamers and drainers,’” he told Ortberg.  So the first step he takes in building a team is to create a family of positive, visionary, excited, and basically happy people.

This made me think.  Would this guy get rid of me?  Or keep me?

“So what makes some people energy-bringers and others energy-drainers?” Ortberg asks.  He cites a study by Carol Dweck,  a world-renowned Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset, which is a book about a fundamental difference in human thinking.  And what Dweck found, he notes, is that raw talent and aptitude have little to do with how far children will journey in life when they become adults.  Instead, what she found in a series of studies is that there are certain children who not only tolerate failure–they seem to relish it.

One 10-year-old boy, working on a nearly impossible puzzle, looked up with a smile on his face and said, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative.” Another rubbed his hands, and cried out “I love a challenge!”

Twenty years of research produced a remarkable finding: “how people respond to challenges and failure depends, not on their failure, but on their mindset.”

She found that some people find obstacles and challenges horrible, because if they fail, they’re not made of the right stuff.  Others, however, have what she calls a “growth mindset.”  They believe their basic qualities can be grown through effort and learning.  So while other people may have higher IQs or coordination than you, through some effort and experience, you can grow.

The key, Dweck found over and over again, is believing, not that your qualities are carved in stone, but that growth is possible and desirable.  If you believe that, you will face your days with a fundamentally different set of thoughts and emotions.

So Orberg asks the question, which got me thinking too:  What does this have to do with faith?  With a belief in God?

If there is no belief in God, if we don’t factor God into the challenges we face, then our fate really is fixed.  We really are finite and fallible.  We will die and fail.  Everything will fall apart.

But with God, everything changes.  With God, says Ortberg, “the lid is off the terrarium.”  Or as Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.”

  • So it is this mindset that made Abraham believe that, even if he had to sacrifice his son, God could raise Isaac from the dead.
  • It is this mindset that made Joshua and Caleb see possibilities where 10 other spies saw only giant roadblocks.
  • It is this mindset that caused David see in Goliath “an opponent too big to miss, while everyone else saw one too big to hit.”
  • It is this mindset that led Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to defy the king’s orders to worship a statue he’d made of himself, even if it meant being thrown into a blazing furnace.
  • And it is this mindset, as Ortberg points out, “that allowed Jesus to go to a cross knowing that stones and death can’t block the God of the resurrection.”

Perhaps, Ortberg says, “you could call it a “Resurrection Mindset.”

Every day, in my life and yours, we face challenges too big for our abilities.  Without God, every day at work or at school or at home depends on my little store of resources, and only serves to highlight my own inadequacies, inabilities and insecurities.

But factor God in, and it’s a whole other story.  “Maybe, just maybe,” Ortberg suggests, “God keeps throwing us in over our heads in the hopes that we will realize that our souls, like our bodies, are buoyant when his breath fills them.”

When life seems to overwhelm, when we’re drowning, God can bring us back to the surface.  Even raise us from the dead.  It’s something worth thinking about as we approach Easter this year.

–Steve Eng, Catalyst pastor

“Keeping My Options Open”

An intriguing article just came out in this week’s edition of Christianity Today.  Entitled “Are You Worshiping the Idol of ‘Open Options’?” the English author Barry Cooper talks about how the false god of limitless choices, like those at a coffeehouse, is enslaving modern Americans.  And how to resist this god.

He talks about how, for many of us today, making choices and moving on with our lives seems increasingly difficult.  How we find ourselves paralyzed, he notes: “unable to make choices about relationships, dating, marriage, money, family, and career.”

He refers to the story in the Bible, in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, chapter 18, of the prophet Elijah summoning the people of Israel to make a final choice between the God of Israel and a false god named Baal.  “Elijah calls God’s people,” Cooper reminds us, “to choose once and for all between the living God who delivered them, and this false god who has captured their affections: “‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.’”

Like many of us today, they seem unwilling or unable to make a choice.  “They want to hedge their bets, sit on the fence, and keep their options open.”  Sound familiar?  “How different are we Christians in the 21st century?” Cooper asks.  “Would you prefer to make an ironclad, no-turning-back choice, or one you could back out of if need be? Do you ever find that you’re afraid to commit? Do you reply to party invitations with a ‘maybe’ rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Do you like to keep your smartphone switched on at all times, even in meetings, so that you are never fully present at any given moment? Will you focus on the person you’re talking to after a church service, or will you look over her shoulder for a better conversation partner?

“If so,” he says, “you may be worshiping the god of open options.”

Whether it’s declaring a college major or waiting years until getting married, we want to reserve the right to keep our options open.  We think more options mean more freedom.

But the irony in all this is, he says, is that “this apparently limitless choice doesn’t actually make us happy. The number of choices available to us becomes overwhelming, and actually makes it difficult for us to ever have the joy of fully committing to anything or anyone. Even if we do commit, our culture then makes us feel dissatisfied with the choice we’ve made.

Like the person standing at a Caribou Coffee counter agonizing every choice–caf or decaf? chocolate or vanilla? skinny or regular?  regular or extra foam? –we agonize over the small and even bigger questions: where we should work, where we should study, where we should live, whom we should marry, or whom we should worship? “It seems that the more options we have,” notes Cooper, “the more afraid we are of choosing. We become enslaved to being noncommittal.”

Even though the Israelites had seen themselves delivered from slavery—repeatedly, spectacularly and miraculously—by the living God, they struggled in 1 Kings 18 with whom to serve.   As hard as that is to believe, Cooper asks, “…as God’s people today, how different are we? We have been delivered from slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection, spectacularly and miraculously.

“Yet here we are, many of us, worshiping the very gods that Christ has triumphed over, when we know they are defeated gods, and will only drag us to our deaths if we cling to them.”

So while we worship the god of open options,” Cooper argues, “he is killing us. He kills our relationships, because he tells us it’s better not to become too involved. He kills our service to others because he tells us it might be better to keep our weekends to ourselves. He kills our giving because he tells us these are uncertain financial times and you never know when you might need that money. He kills our joy in Christ because he tells us it’s better not to be thought of as too spiritual.

“What is most frightening of all about the god of open options is that you may not even know that you are worshiping him. Because he pretends not to be a god at all.

“In fact, he promises you freedom from all gods, all responsibilities. ‘Keep your options open,’ he says. ‘Worship me, and you don’t have to serve anything or anyone. No commitment necessary. Total freedom.’

Similarly, the Israelites thought that by saying nothing (1 Kings 18:21) they were not committing idolatry. But when they chose not to decide, they made a choice. By refusing to act, they were actually turning away from the living God who rescued them, and committing an obscene act of spiritual adultery by worshiping the god of open options….

The loving God who redeems choices.  “The living God, the loving, triune God, did not create us to keep our options open. He didn’t create us to live in fear of making a choice….God created us to commit. To him, and to others. He created us to choose. It’s right to be careful in our decision making, of course: to pray, to seek counsel from Scripture and from wise Christians.

“But there comes a point when pausing becomes procrastination, when waiting is no longer wise. There comes a point when not to choose becomes idolatry. It becomes a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make, gathers up the frayed ends, and works all things for our good and his glory.

“Be wise, but then rest in God’s total sovereignty and goodness, and choose. Commit. Make a decision. Be wholehearted and single-minded.

“James 1:6-8 puts it like this: “[B]elieve and [do] not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind… . Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

“Trust that God is good and sovereign, and redeems every choice we make. If even the choices of those who murdered his own Son were ordained for our own infinite good (Acts 4:27-28), then how can we doubt that he intends good to come from our choices, however ill-advised they may be?

“So let me ask you, in what area of your life are you still flirting with the god of open options? Where are you refusing to choose? Maybe you’re refusing to commit to a particular relationship—perhaps even your marriage? Maybe you’re not truly committed at work—you have Facebook open in one of your browser tabs, half hoping to be interrupted. Maybe your restless eyes are on constant alert for something or someone better.

“Maybe you’re keeping your options open with God himself, not allowing yourself to become too committed. Elijah is speaking to you in 1 Kings, and he is saying, ‘Make a choice.’ You have all the information about God you need. Enough of this noncommittal, risk-averse, weak-willed, God-forgetting immaturity. Or, as it probably says in some of the more modern translations, ‘Grow up.’”

Cooper concludes his article admitting he has served this god of open options many times.  I have sometimes served this god as well.   But not choosing betrays a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make and works all things for our good and his glory.

This god of open options will break your heart, Cooper notes.  “He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp.

“The god of open options is also a liar,” he says.  “He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.”

Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” At any given moment, you must choose whom you will follow. And if you choose the god of open options, you cannot at that moment choose the triune God, the one who deliberately closed off his options in order to save your life. Nothing narrows your options more than allowing your hands and feet to be nailed to a wooden cross.

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deut. 30:19-20).

“Choose the God of infinite possibility who chose to limit himself to a particular time, a particular place, and a particular people. Choose the God who closed off all other alternatives so that he could pursue for himself one bride. Choose the God who chose not to come down from the cross until she was won. Choose the narrow way. Stop worshiping the god of open options.”

A good word for me–and for all of us–today.     –Steve Eng, Catalyst pastor

Barry Cooper is an author and speaker. He is director of product development at Christianity Explored Ministries, blogs at Future Perfect, Present Tense, and is planting Trinity West Church in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

January/February 2013, Vol. 57, No. 1, Pg 52, “Imprisoned by Choice”