032010peacefulbathRecently my wife and I began a new parenting tactic - which is more like hostage negotiation sometimes, but oh well - with our daughter. The phrase is simple: You need to make the better choice. What is the better choice?

If you want to whine and cry about taking a bath you'll waste time and won't be able to play later. What is the better choice?

If you do your homework now, you won't have to miss playing with your friends later. What is the better choice?

If you do your homework now, you won't have to miss playing with your friends later. What is the better choice?

Granted, it doesn't always go well but I think there's great insight for her to figure out that her choices affect long-range changes later down the road.

I know this will shock you, but this logic also works for spiritual transformation into Christlikeness. Our choices have long term consequences.

When I'm counseling with people who are in crisis, many times if the crisis came from within (something they did) there is a clear, clean line you can draw to a destructive and misaligned choice. The long term challenges are clear, but they all started at one choice.

Jesus knew this, and knew it well, so He went right at the heart of the issue - literally:

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV)

I chose the adultery passage but you can use most any text from Jesus' teaching as an example. Jesus went for the heart because that's where the motivations come from, that's where the active life of a human being begins to take shape. The heart is what moves us from knowing to doing, and it works according to the boundaries of what matters most to us.

The mind gets information and ideas.

The heart is informed by the mind and channels it into motivation.

The hands follow the heart and we work out the fruit of our hearts and minds, in line with our priorities.

Making the better choice comes between the head and the heart. When my daughter chooses to whine about a bath, wasting precious play time, she's giving in to a motivation to have what she wants WHEN she wants it because she can't see how good it could be to harness the goodness of obedience to those who can see the next step more clearly (most of the time).

Jesus is trying to refocus us on how we get into the mess we get into, namely, that we don't realize the better choice has to do with what is most important to us.

That's why Jesus uses the "You have heard that it was said...but I say..." device. The law is good at keeping people in line, at maintaining boundaries and structures, but the law doesn't transform. It doesn't reset priorities that inform our hearts and minds.

People look for loopholes. They wait for other people to turn their heads and go forward with the desired action thinking, "If I don't get caught, all is well." Or worse, they become uber-prideful at how well they keep the law that their heart sours in reverse, drowning in it's own perceived superiority. Translation - Pharisees.

This is not the better choice. Not at all.

Transformation happens when we get our hearts set on becoming the kind of people who can easily, routinely, and consistently do what Jesus asks us to do, trusting that it will be the better choice in the long run.

This is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 6:33 - "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." 

What is the better choice for you today - in your decisions, in your actions, in your attitudes towards others? Do you believe that making the better - and oftentimes harder - choice today has goodness to share later? How can seeking the Kingdom first today create ripples of simple obedience for you that will bring fresh life into some dying situations?

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