Our minister writes a weekly column for our local newspaper, the Roanoke Beacon. Here is one of the latest columns.

A year ago someone posted this comment to Facebook: “The most wasted $$ of 2019 were spent buying a planning calendar for 2020.”  They hit that nail on the head.  When the COVID pandemic began, everyone’s plans went out the window.  Governors told people they were “safer at home” or ordered them to “stay at home.”  Employers laid off workers, or made arrangements for them to work from home. Schools moved to online learning and faces moved behind masks.  Vacation plans got cancelled and family gatherings for the holidays were modified or abandoned.  Church services went online and even when in-person services resumed, many congregations noted a significant drop in their attendance.  Over just a few days in March 2020, life on earth changed and choices became very limited.                

But the freedom to make the most important choices in life can’t be taken away.

For example, one always has the freedom to let go of the past.  No one has to be forever defined by their mistakes and weaknesses. Folks may remind of past sins or gossip about past mistakes, but even one’s critics must acknowledge the changes as an alcoholic refuses to imbibe or a thief makes restitution. Lifeless marriages can be revived, powerful addictions can be overcome and negative baggage can be left behind.  Romans 6:17-18 (NIV) reads, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Bob Stith, a counselor who helps homosexuals struggling with their temptation, was frustrated when he explained his ministry to a pastor and the pastor’s response was simply, “It’s a choice.”  While the pastor’s comment may not sound as compassionate as Stith would desire, it is accurate.  Sin is always a choice.  Someone who struggles with homosexual temptation (or heterosexual temptation!) may not have chosen their weakness or desire, but they choose whether to act on it.

More socially accepted sins are no different.  Some people lose their temper and excuse that by saying, “I can’t help it; I’ve always had a short fuse.”  Others make unkind remarks and defend their bluntness with, “What you see is what you get. I have no filter.”  But everything one thinks doesn’t have to be said and everything one knows doesn’t have to be shared and every emotion one feels doesn’t have to be put on display.  Sin is a choice; it’s always a choice!  The mature folks among us are those who accept responsibility for their words and actions without trying to excuse themselves or blame others.

We also choose how we react to the sins of others.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:10-12, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”  Instead of condemning others or rejecting them because of their failures, we can choose to forgive and help, remembering that we have our own weaknesses and failures, too.  Condemnation is a choice; so is love.

As Thanksgiving arrives this year, we should be thankful that we once again have the opportunity to sit around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends without masks and fear.  We can be grateful that pandemic restrictions have eased and that life feels more normal. We can thank God that, as bad as the pandemic was, it wasn’t worse; less people died than the numbers originally projected.  But while thanking God for the positive changes this year, don’t forget to be thankful for what never changes.  The most important aspects of life have never been limited by pandemic or politics, illness or inflation and they never will be! No matter what happens around us, we enjoy the freedom to choose what happens in us.

We can resist temptation. We can let go of the past and not be forever defined by failure. We choose how we treat others; we can select love and acceptance over criticism and rejection. We can grant forgiveness and restore relationships.

We have freedom.  We can choose Jesus for life and Heaven for eternity.