What if I told you that the Key to Life was just one word? Would you believe it? Could you guess the word?
I believe most, if not all, of humanity has often wondered what that Key is. The fact is most who have searched for the Key have never found it because they have gone down the wrong path looking for it. Without the Truth to instruct them, they invariably realize the key they’ve pursued has failed to open the door to Life.
So just what is that Key? I believe we can find it over and over in God’s Word, but perhaps the following verses are as plain as it can be made:
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and committing yourself firmly to Him. This is the key to your life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Did you catch that? The Key to Life is a Choice. And that Choice is a deliberate decision: “…loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and committing yourself firmly to Him.”
It’s really that simple. A Choice.
But to be honest, while simple, it is quite hard, as far as I’ve discovered — hard because we live in a difficult, broken world.
This “Hard” is realized each day because, while we may make this Choice in the morning, by noon, or even earlier, the enemy (Satan) has likely tempted us to forget that Choice. And because we are frail, and our “spirit is willing but our flesh is weak” we may fall, again and again.
But God recognized this trait of humanity. He understood that “the godly may trip seven times, but he will get up again.” (Prov. 24:16) To be clear, this is not because the godly are good, or better or stronger than others, but rather because God promised that “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
In my own life, I have found myself failing and falling way more often than succeeding. Why is this? I believe it’s because we are truly engaged in the war of the ages. It has been going on since the beginning of time “for we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
I have often met to discuss God, the Bible and spiritual matters with friends who question, scoff at, or even reject God. My heart is often heavy for them. But I believe if they are honest with themselves, they too will admit that they are engaged in an inner struggle — one which they most likely cannot understand or explain. Yet God did not desire us to be ignorant concerning Life or these deep personal struggles. Because God “is not willing that any should perish…” (2 Peter 3:9)
But God is also not one to demand or force someone to do something they do not want to do. And so we come back to that simple truth:
🔑 The Key to Life is a Choice.
And it’s our decision. No one else’s. But even though we choose God once and for all for our eternal destination (heaven), we must also continuously choose God moment by moment in order to have the “rich and satisfying life” that Jesus promised (John 10:10).
So Choose God… and Live!
For over a decade, my life revolved around politics. I ate, drank and slept all things political. Throughout those years, I often saw the worst of men and women which led me to suspect our government’s involvement in a host conspiracies. And invariably the suspicions that I developed led to fears: Who would win elections? Who would govern? What would the opposition do if they gained control? What about our nation’s future? What about my family’s future?
I found over those years though that I was not alone. In fact millions of Americans shared these same questions which led them to fear these same “what if” scenarios as well.
But as I began to extricate my life from all things political, and to focus my time and attention away from short-term issues, with a hunger instead for the eternal, I began to realize that when I feared something, it meant I had given up trusting God.
But recently, I ran across the following verse, that encapsulates the sentiments I’ve attempted to describe. Note what the prophet Isaiah had to say:
💡 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.” (Isaiah 8:12-13)
And it hit me. It’s natural to fear that which we don’t control — particularly when those in control are not honorable people. But a follower of Christ should literally have “No Fear” when it comes to man, and the myriad of institutions that man creates. When we fall under the spell of fearing man-made agencies and ideologies, we are simply affirming our lack of trust in God Almighty. We are failing to realize that the Sovereign God over all, is in control of all. There is nothing that catches Him by surprise.
Isaiah instructed us to fear nothing or no one, except God. And he also advised us to make God holy in our lives. Holiness and fear are closely related, and they are truths I’m still struggling to consistently affirm in my life. But if we can begin to gain a glimpse of God’s holiness, it will lead us to fear Him. And yes, I’m talking about fear, the kind that makes us “tremble” as Isaiah cautioned. Too many in our pulpits interpret the word “fear” as simply respect. But I believe that is an inaccurate or incomplete interpretation of the word, as a thorough reading of the Bible from cover to cover amply affirms.
More often than not, we fear everything but God. Our actions reflect such. We vote out of fear. We fear the same things that unbelievers fear. We dread the stuff that others dread. We see conspiracies in everything. And those conspiracies simply deepen our fears. And the cycle continues.
And while we’re busy fearing all these things, our behavior affirms that we do not fear the One we should fear: the Holy God. We don’t pursue Him. We don’t seek to please Him. We consistently ignore His commands. We seldom open the Book He gave us to teach us what He values. But we have plenty of time for everything else.
So let’s begin to heed Isaiah’s admonition: Have No Fear… except the Fear of God. If we will truly follow this course, our behavior will change, worry will diminish, and peace will consume us.
Live Free… with No Fear!
Rasha was beyond excited as she skipped out of her house. She’d been dating Nazir for several months now and the more she was away from him, the more she longed to be with him.
She accelerated her pace as she saw the bus approaching the corner. From there it was just a short 15 minute ride to the shop where her beloved Nazir worked.
Ever since she and Nazir had met she had been praying for him. As a former Muslim who had found Jesus to be “the way, the truth and the life,” Rasha believed that Jesus would reveal Himself to Nazir just as He had to her. She thought back to how much her life had changed since accepting Jesus as the Son of God, who forgave her of her sins. Things were not easy, with her family shunning her and threatening to disown her now that she was a Christian. But she had a peace that she could not explain.
The bus came to an abrupt and startling stop, jolting Rasha from her thoughts. Sirens were going off again, signaling the potential of falling bombs or mortars. She had grown accustomed to the sirens, but she knew there was always a real threat. The bus remained stopped for another several minutes before they began moving again.
As they rounded the corner, Rasha could see Nazir’s little shop. She jumped off the bus and jogged towards the spot where she would see the love of her life. She hoped she could talk again with him about Jesus.
As Rasha approached the large glass picture window at the front of the shop, she could see Nazir inside. Her pulse quickened. Their eyes met. Smiles spread across their faces. And…
Boom!! Boom!! Boom!!
The concussion from the bombs threw Nazir across the room as the glass from the front window exploded into the shop. Rasha was gone. Those dark beautiful eyes that had always penetrated his soul were there just a moment before. But now a huge fireball marked the spot where she had stood.
Nazir screamed. Tears poured down his cheeks as he yelled Rasha’s name over and over. Shuffling through the shards of glass and debris that now littered his shop, he crawled out through the gaping hole that was just moments earlier a window, through which he and Rasha had smiled.
Rasha was nowhere to be seen. It was as if she had vanished into thin air. But then he noticed a strange smell. A burning smell. One that brought a sickening feeling to his stomach. And then he saw them. Black charred bodies that had been burned beyond recognition. He collapsed. The sense of loss was too great to bear. How could someone he loved so much be gone forever?
How could humans hate humans this much?
How could Muslims kill Muslims?
Nothing made sense…
The above story is based on a real incident which happened to Nazir (name changed to protect his identity) in Damascus, Syria. The name “Rasha” and the moments leading up to her death are my imagination, but the explosion, her relationship with Nazir, his love for her, and the remaining facts are as reported to us by Nazir.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Greece by way of Albania. I was joined there with several other men who live in that part of the world, and we were engaged in what was to become a series of life altering meetings.
We had the opportunity and privilege to interview a number of refugees, including Nazir, who had fled from cities in Syria, Iran and Iraq, mostly because of the wars and conflicts there. Many of these former Muslims are now living in crowded refugee camps throughout Greece.
In addition to Nazir’s story above, below is a sampling of some of the comments of these refugees that will give you just a small glimpse into the catastrophes they fled that led to their new life in Christ:
- As I made the decision to accept Christ, I realized that my Christian girlfriend gave her life so that I would know Jesus.
- I heard a voice say, “I’m with you” while I was in the hospital but I knew the voice was not from the god of Islam because Allah does not speak with people.
- After fleeing Aleppo, I began questioning Islam’s teachings. If God created me, how could he tell me to kill people?
- If you want to be a Muslim you must close your mind.
- When ISIS came to Mosul they killed my brother, and Christians, and did awful things to girls, destroying everything.
- ISIS put me in jail twice: once for failing to pray and the second time for smoking. The second time they placed a loaded and cocked gun to my head.
- ISIS is still looking for me and would kill me if they found me.
- As I was going home from work one day in Aleppo, a bomb exploded near me and I suffered injuries in my arms and legs.
- Because of the war in Aleppo I fled to Turkey. While there, I met a Christian who I fell in love with, even though I was a Muslim. When I told my family that he wanted to marry me, they told me they would disown me and I would never be welcome to come home again.
- While living in my home country of Iran, I met some Christians there and I became a Christian. But because of my conversion, my life was threatened so I had to flee from Iran to Turkey. While there I met a Muslim girl who I was attracted to. But she was from Syria and spoke Kurdish so I had to use a translator. After several months I asked her to marry me, but I could still not speak Kurdish with her. I needed to be able to communicate with her so I had been praying about this. One night I went to bed, unable to speak Kurdish. The next morning I woke up and could speak Kurdish fluently. When I met my girlfriend the next time, she thought I had been lying to her about my inability to speak Kurdish but I explained to her that it was Jesus who had given me the ability to speak her language. I can still speak it fluently to this day.
- We got married and 5 months later left Turkey, ending up in a refugee camp in Greece. My wife miscarried our first baby and became deathly ill in the camp. One night, I was praying for my wife to be healed and a dark smoke filled our tent (which I believe was demonic). As I continued to pray to God I saw a bright white light outside our tent and I heard a voice telling me that my wife was going to be fine in the morning. The next morning two women I had never seen before came to our tent and they said, “We have come from the hospital and are here to help. Where is Amanda?” They prayed over my wife and took her to the hospital.
- While I was crying in the hospital I saw visions of Jesus smiling at me and He told me I would be ok. I cried out to Jesus and asked Him to help me and I trusted Him. Later, as I was sleeping, I saw Jesus in white clothes and He touched my forehead and healed me. When I woke up I walked out of the hospital fully healed and my life has changed forever now that Jesus is my Savior.
The Bible is full of stories of our miracle working God, many as dramatic as the ones above. Of course, in America, we see evidence of His miraculous work every time we look in the mirror, look out our window, look into the sky or see a new baby. But how often do we see God working in ways like those experienced by these Muslim refugees? In my case, never. But that does not mean that God is silent. To the contrary.
God promises to be found to those who earnestly seek Him. The more than half-dozen individuals that we interviewed are all powerful testimonies of individuals who were calling out to God in their time of dire distress. They were diligently seeking God. And God in miraculous ways showed Himself through Jesus. Their lives have been transformed for eternity. And these new believers are now reproducing themselves in the lives of dozens of other refugees within the camps scattered around Greece and beyond.
As I was reading through Scripture this week, I came across this verse:
“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other. He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it.” (Deuteronomy 4:35-36)
Many of these refugees heard God’s voice in Jesus. They witnessed “these things” in order that they would distinguish between Allah, the god of Islam, and the one true God, who not only created the universe, but also sent His Son Jesus to die for them (and you, and me). When God showed Himself to be real to these refugees, they embraced Him completely. And every one of these refugees were promptly baptized, to present a public testimony of the fact that they left Islam and embraced Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
My good friend Nathan has aptly described what is occurring as a result of the war-torn conflicts throughout the middle east in this manner: “From Catastrophe to Christ.” He is planning a book by that name, as a sequel to his more recent book, that he co-authored with Joel Richardson: The Mystery of Catastrophe.
While wars and violence are horrendous, and any person would seek to avoid, we can clearly see God’s sovereignty at work in a mighty way through these ongoing catastrophes. And each one of these refugees is eternally grateful for the catastrophe they experienced, for without it, they would likely have never met Christ.
The book of Daniel in the Bible contains many examples of how a follower of God should comport himself in the midst of a culture or nation that is at odds with God’s values. Here are a few lessons we can learn.
Of course there’s the familiar story of the three young Hebrew men, who were also government officials. When they were commanded to bow to a statue of the king, they refused to do so, even though it would result in a fiery furnace, from which they were miraculously rescued.
Speak Truth Always
And then there’s the story of Daniel who, as one of the highest government officials in the land, was asked to interpret a dream for the king. Recall that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the king’s haughty and prideful spirit and predicted his downfall. Although there was tremendous risk on the part of Daniel in rebuking the king, Daniel did not falter in speaking truth to power, and Daniel challenged King Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways (which the king ignored).
God’s Laws Trump Man’s
Several years later, various government officials sought to persecute Daniel, who reported directly to the king. Daniel was equivalent to the Prime Minister of the nation. The only way these scoundrels could achieve Daniel’s demise was to attack his religion directly. Note what they concluded:
“Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” (Daniel 6:5)
And so they made sure that laws were passed that would be in direct violation to the religious values by which they knew Daniel lived. Sound familiar?
So they outlawed prayer, to any god except the king.
But notice how Daniel responded:
“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10
Daniel not only ignored the law, but he did so publicly, with his window open so that there would be no doubt about whom Daniel would obey. You’ll recall that the rest of this story involved a lions den, God’s miraculous deliverance, the defeat and death of Daniel’s adversaries, and a proclamation from the king affirming Daniel’s God as the one true living and eternal God.
So, you may say, “Yeah, I know all those stories but what do they have to do with me?”
And I say, “A lot!”
The book of Daniel is not just full of a lot of cute bed time stories. Rather it is a book with deep, powerful truths, with principles that apply to the very era in which we a living.
Our culture and government is no longer friendly to Biblical values. In fact, whether it’s a school board, or a city, state or federal government, or agency, the antagonism and animosity towards Christians and the values taught by Jesus are under vicious attack… and it will only grow worse.
If you are a government official or employee who claims to follow Jesus, you have been or will be called to make a choice, when man’s laws and regulations conflict with God’s laws and values. (Remember Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses?)
But most of you are private citizens so you may say, “I’m exempt” from having to make such a choice. But don’t be deceived. Your day is coming… or is already here.
If you own a business, and attempt to abide by biblical values, there is a bullseye on you and your business. (Remember the cake maker, photographer and florist who were singled out and attacked for their Biblical beliefs?)
If you’re not a business owner, you have been (or will be) confronted with a myriad of choices, whether it’s your kids’ education, how your tax dollars are used, your selection of political candidates that may not affirm biblical values, and a host of other choices. (Remember the coach who was recently attacked for his decision to pray with his team?)
But first, will you and I even recognize it when we are confronted with these choices? And secondly, will we cave under pressure, or will we follow the examples from Daniel?
In the final moments of the life of Joshua, we see this great warrior for God and hero of our faith presenting his nation and fellow citizens with this choice:
“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
Who will you and I choose? The god of our culture or our government? Or the God of the Ages, whose values and truths never change?
If you’ve read the Bible much, and you’ve been engaged in politics at all, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the encounter Jesus had with a group of Pharisees. These religious elite hated Jesus and they were constantly looking for a way to trap the Son of God. So they posed the following question to Jesus:
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, understanding the evil in their hearts, responded:
“Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money.”
As soon as they brought Jesus the money, He responded, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
And the Pharisees said, “Caesar’s.”
Then Jesus instructed them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
I’ve always marveled at the response from Jesus and have heard this passage used frequently regarding a citizen’s responsibility to be engaged in the political process. While that’s certainly a possible conclusion, if we stop there, we are missing the greatest message that Jesus was communicating.
I’ve read this verse dozens of times, but it dawned on me recently what the greater message was that Jesus was no doubt communicating. To understand that message, we must go back to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: “Whose image is on the money?” That was an easy response because they could look at it and see that Caesar’s image was emblazoned on the coin.
But have you ever wondered, what was left unsaid? What was the greater message?
In the very first chapter of the Bible, we read this truth: “Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image…”
God’s image is emblazoned on every human that has ever lived, including you and me. We were created with the image of God stamped upon us.
So if a coin bearing the image of Caesar was to be given to Caesar, what should should be done with a life that bears the image of God?
Uncle Sam demands and always receives what is due him. You and I don’t hesitate to honor that obligation.
But what about the obligation that Jesus informed us of, when He affirmed that we are to “Render to God the things that are God’s?” If His image is stamped upon us, do we take our obligation to completely give our life back to Him, as seriously as we do “rendering unto the tax man” that which is due him?
So next time you hear this passage, I hope you’ll remember the greater message Jesus was communicating. It wasn’t mainly about taxes, or even politics. No, it was about offering back to God the life He gave to you, without reservation and with complete abandon.