15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God[a] that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. ~Deuteronomy 30:15-19
From 1963 to 1977 Monty Hall hosted a popular game show, Let’s Make a Deal,
One of the gimmicks of which was so inventive that it became a meme of its own:
The choice is yours. Do you choose door number one, door number two, or door number three?
Behind any of these doors could be something really cool, like a BMW, or something stupid called a “zonk.” A “zonk” might be a used tricycle.
The meme of door number one sticks because a door represents mystery and possibility, a new future to be entered into.
Like Christ speaking in Revelation:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Doors represent choice.
We make hundreds of choices every day
And we open hundreds of doors every day.
To get up and go to work or school, you have to open a whole series of doors.
You open the bedroom door, the bathroom door, the shower door, the refrigerator door, the kitchen cabinet door, the front door, the garage door, the car door, the office door, and finally you have to choose whether or not to open your laptop, open a window and actually work.
Each of these is a little choice.
Many of these choices are very simple and don’t seem to have lasting consequences.
But sometimes the doors we choose to open or walk away from can dramatically alter our lives.
Opening the refrigerator door could up your pants size.
Opening the door for a lover could cost you your marriage.
Knocking on the door of a drug dealer could take your life.
In Deuteronomy God sets before the people of Israel two doors:
Door Number One:
If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
Door Number Two:
If your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
God makes it ridiculously clear:
I set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
These doors are not blank white mysteries.
On the first door is painted the promised land.
On the second door is skull and crossbones.
If God were Monty Hall, he would announce: “OK Israel, here’s a hint. Behind door number one is an all-you-can-eat milk and honey buffet. And behind door number two is a very fierce looking army. What’ll it be?”
There’s a drumroll as the audience weighs in.
“Door number one! Door number one!”
Nodding helpfully in his pinstriped polyester suit and polka dot tie, God hints: “Choose life!”
And yet, how often do we walk over and open the door with the skull and crossbones?
You know that five minutes after you eat the stale birthday cake in the refrigerator you’ll regret it.
You know that trading in your forty year old wife for two twenty year olds will only be fun until each of those twenty year olds demands child support.
You know that the temporary euphoria of intoxication quickly leads to a crash—and that it takes more and more and more to get that high, and less and less and less of you will be left at the end.
You know which of the doors placed before you will lead you to joy and which will result in sorrow.
For Christians it’s tempting to spiritualize this passage of Deuteronomy.
Door number one is heaven, door number two is the other place.
It’s true that Christians believe that the choices we make in this life have consequences in the hereafter.
Yet the people of Israel who stand before Moses are making a choice about here and now, about the life of the community in this world.
What God is offering them is a very real, physical, immediate consequence: a plentiful land of their own.
This is something for Christians to pay attention to.
Heaven is not only something we are looking forward to.
This life is not a trial meant to be endured.
We are meant to experience a foretaste of heaven here on earth.
The joys of health, prosperity, love, and service
Are gifts that we are meant to enjoy.
And, in the same way, when we stop listening to God,
When we follow idols of romance or sex, comfort or pleasure, getting high,
When we choose actions which result in only temporary and illusory happiness,
We experience, over time, the slow slide
Into loneliness, frustration, and despair,
Getting high eventually gets you pretty low.
It’s not that God condemns us to hell.
It’s that our choices can result in what feels like a living hell.
Sometimes our temptations are not as clear-cut as treats or twenty-year-olds or tequila.
Sometimes our temptations are much more insidious.
I have a temptation to negative thinking.
For instance, I start thinking about my to-do list, and as I run over and over through the things I have to do, I start to feel overwhelmed,
And then thinking, “I feel overwhelmed,” causes me to feel more overwhelmed.
Or I think about every bad thing that has to me happened recently, and I think, “I have the worst luck. Nothing good ever happens to me.”
Or as I’m driving home at 10mph up I-75, praying I won’t spin out, I think “Winter will never end. Winter will never end. Winter will never end.”
It’s very simple, but it took me a long time to realize that I had a choice in what I thought.
That I could take a thought like “winter will never end,” and evaluate whether it was really rational or helpful.
To get into the habit of choosing the good,
Of choosing life,
Of daily choosing the path that will lead me to joy,
For me means relying on the Holy Spirit.
For me means listening to God:
I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.
For me listening to God means remembering what God has shown me in the past:
Don’t make decisions when you’re hungry, lonely, or tired.
Turn to those saints in your life who sit, maybe not on my shoulder, but on the other end of my phone,
people I trust who will call me on my stuff.
And finally, ask, is this me talking, or the demons that haunt me?
This ubiquitous pop song by Imagine Dragons is just running through my head:
“I wanna hide the truth, I wanna shelter you
But with the beast inside, There’s nowhere we can hide
When you feel my heat, Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide.”
That song sticks with people because
Whether we believe there are literal demons or not, we each have our metaphorical demons, our lifelong temptations, those habits and thoughts that lead each of us to that door marked death.
Our Oakland University group is reading CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which is the collected letters of the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, tutoring him on how to tempt his assigned human patient, a young man choosing between door number one and door number two.
Lewis is a great student of human nature.
He writes, “when two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face that are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that.”
And, “When he gets to his pew (in the church) and looks round him he will see…his neighbors. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somewhat ridiculous.”
Temptations are not necessarily obvious and rarely have a supernatural quality.
Temptations are all around us in the smallest and most ordinary aspects of everyday life.
How do we resist?
Deuteronomy repeats the refrain it began back in Chaper 6, proclaiming, “Hear, O Israel.”
Recognize which voice is the voice of God and which is telling lies.
Hear God’s voice and listen.
The voice of God is the voice of your true self,
It is the voice of the angels that you can call at any time,
Your friends who you trust to love you no matter what.
The voice of God is the voice calling you to life, health, and joy.
The voice of God makes you laugh and smile.
You know what that voice sounds like.
You know what door number one looks like for you.
And the best way to stay away from door number two is to open door number one.
It’s the door to the gym.
It’s the door to the therapist.
It’s the door to the church.
It’s the door behind which Jesus stands and knocks.
And the good news is, he really wants to get in.
Look at the people of Israel.
In Deuteronomy, these characters the Israelites have already failed.
They already picked door number two over and over again.
Moses leads them out of Egypt, they ask to go back.
God parts the waters of the Red Sea, they say, hey, let’s worship a golden calf!
God tells them, Choose life! after they have already chosen death.
God gives them this choice after for-giving them all the wrong choices they made in the past.
God could choose door number two for us. God has every reason to condemn and punish us.
But God keeps choosing to forgive and forget and say, OK, let’s try this again.
If God has to, God will open the door himself, God will unclasp our locked hearts,
God will break down every door, every wall, every idol that separates us from him, and enter in our hearts.
Jesus is dying for us to choose life.
God wants us to choose life because life is a gift God wants us to unwrap.
God wants us to really live.
Saturday was a rough day in the Grano household.
Diana broke her foot on Wednesday jumping on the stairs
(I did not encourage this activity. I was unloading the dishwasher.)
And she’s too little for crutches, so we have to carry her everywhere.
And she’s heavy.
And Rosie is barking because she’s been cooped up all winter,
And we’ve been staring at the walls for months and months,
Which by the way, I am thinking, are really dirty,
When Dan crosses his arms and announces,
“We are going to Belle Isle and we are going on a nature walk.”
“Are you crazy?” I respond.
“Our daughter can’t walk.
And we don’t have time.
Have you noticed how dirty our walls are?
We have to clean. And unload the dishwasher. And put away the laundry. And I have to preach tomorrow. I have to think of something to say. I have so much to do!
Winter will never end.
Winter will never end.
Winter will NEVER END!”
And Dan says, “I’m gonna pull the car up.”
So, we drive to Belle Isle.
We put the invalid on a sled and I pull her along for two miles.
And halfway through, I discover she’s been reaching over the side of the sled, grabbing the snow (full, I’m sure, of microbes) and eating it.
She looks up at me with her face totally red from eating snow, and she’s smiling.
And Rosie is following the tracks of some small animal deep into the woods, panting with joy, and she looks back at us with this big doggy smile.
And Dan says, “Look!”
There’s an ice formation left by the barges that came through to create a shipping channel in the Detroit River,
Crags of ice jutting up from the water,
And nearby two tufted ducks sit together, gazing over to Canada,
And we are smiling, really alive,
Unwrapping the gift of this day.
Unwrap the gift of today.
Choose to really live.
See the door? Open it.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.