The Key to Life

The Key to Life

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!

Lessons From Jonah.  Are You & I Like Him?

Lessons From Jonah. Are You & I Like Him?

Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well. 

God Calls

In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself. 

Running from God

Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)

Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God?  We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe. 

Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world.  Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish.  Futile is how we might describe such an effort. 

When Storms Roar

When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God. 

Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life.  But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?

Falling Asleep

Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates. 

What about you and me?  Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens?  If so, note what happened next to Jonah. 

Pagans Begging for Prayer

When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet. 

There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually. 

Getting Thrown Overboard

When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard. 

And the Storm Stopped  

When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm.  Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death. 

The Big Fish

As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights. 

If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior. 

When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus. 

Mission Impossible

Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained. 

But God…

Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands. 

When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan.  Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory. 

So, are you Jonah?  Or have you been?  If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you. 

Are you ready?  

You, a Prostitute’s Son, & Overcoming Life’s Shameful Pasts

You, a Prostitute’s Son, & Overcoming Life’s Shameful Pasts

“Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute.”  Judges 11:1

Jephthah was an ancient warrior whose mother was a prostitute.  Even though his mother was a woman of the night, Jephthah still grew up with his father and half brothers.  His brothers, like so many kids, would jeer and bully Jephthah over his shameful past, eventually chasing him away from home.  

Shortly after Jephthah was driven from home by his hateful brothers, he rebelled and hung out with a lot of other low-lifes.  Apparently Jephthah was under the mistaken impression that because he had a shameful past, he needed to hang out with other shameful characters.  But others saw something in Jephthah that he didn’t even see in himself.  The elders of his community approached him about leading their army into battle against their enemies, and in exchange they would make Jephthah their ruler.

Jephthah was likely conflicted and distrusting of the very community that had caused him so many emotional wounds, but he agreed to the offer.  And in spite of his shameful past, Jephthah became a national hero by defeating the enemies of Israel.  

But if you read the entire story of Jephthah, you find out that there was a reason for his success.  It wasn’t simply that Jephthah pulled himself up by his bootstraps, or he became a “self-made” man, or he went to classes on how to overcome low self-esteem.  Rather, Jephthah was empowered by the “Spirit of the Lord” and through God’s direct intervention and guidance, Jephthah accomplished great things for God, and others were rescued and blessed. And because Jephthah turned and yielded himself to God, he overcame his shameful past.

You and I may not directly identify with Jephthah’s past, but if we’re honest, we may struggle with our own shameful pasts, some that were thrust upon us, and others that were of our own making. 

Like Jephthah, too many choose a life of rebellion.  They try to run from their past.  They even engage in destructive behaviors, thinking that such activity will soothe or remove the shame they carry.  But none of those choices will lead to freedom from the guilt that we chose to carry and embrace.  Rather, only through the “Spirit of the Lord” indwelling us, as He did with Jephthah, will we ever truly be free from our guilt and our pasts.  

While you and I may never be a national hero, we can chose to embrace the same God that transformed Jephthah’s life, and in so doing, we can be a blessing to others who may be struggling with their own shameful pasts.  

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14

“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:36  

Do Your Failures Haunt You? Two Strategies to Overcome Them

Do Your Failures Haunt You? Two Strategies to Overcome Them

Do Your Failures Haunt You

If you’re alive, then you’ve failed.  And if you’re honest, you’ve failed a lot.  I know I have.  In fact, I’m confident that my failures outnumber my successes by a multiple of many.  

But the truth is that you and I are not alone.  In fact, we are in great company.  The greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, and even religious leaders will all admit, if they’re honest, that their failures are numerous.

Of course, there are many types of failures.  There are athletic failures, such as missing the winning shot in the NBA finals.  And there are business failures, such as filing bankruptcy when the entrepreneur can no longer satisfy his creditors.  There are parental failures, where we may find we have dropped the ball in the raising of our children.  And there are personal defeats, where we fail to live up to a standard we set for ourselves.  There are moral failures, where one may violate a professional or personal relationship.  And there are spiritual failures, where our behavior or choices fall short of the standard established by God Himself.

The first step in overcoming a failure is to acknowledge it, seek forgiveness from those you have wronged, and then put the mechanisms in place to avoid repeating those same failures again, and again, and again.

But when you’ve done this, it’s possible and perhaps even likely that the failures in your life occasionally or even frequently raise their ugly heads to remind you of your shortcomings.  It’s human nature for us to replay them over and over in our minds.

It hurts to fail just as it hurts to get thrown from a horse.  But if you are going to learn to ride that bucking bronco, there’s only one way to do so and that is to climb back on and try again.

In Psalm 40:12 we read this from King David, “For troubles surround me, too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage.” That’s a lot of failures, and we see what happened when David was focused on his sins.  He couldn’t see his way out and he lost all courage.

Bottom line, he was remembering and rehearsing his failures and the more he did, the weaker and more discouraged he became.

We also see there were those who were more than willing to remind David of his failures in the following verse, “May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame.  May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace.  Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, ‘Aha! We’ve got him now!’”

Note that if we’re not reminding ourselves of our failures, there is usually someone in our life who is more than willing to do so.  And their intent is generally malicious and destructive.

But thankfully, we also read that David found his strength in God when he said, “Please Lord, rescue me!  Come quickly, Lord, and help me.

Like David, we must recognize that when our failures seem to overwhelm us, whether business, personal, moral or spiritual, there is One to whom we can turn.  Doing so requires humility, dependence, and repentance, particularly if the failure is a violation of God’s law.  But when we humble ourselves, and seek God’s forgiveness, strength and deliverance, it is then that we can regain the courage that was lost by focusing on our failures.  

There is another step to be taken in overcoming your failures which we learn from another great historical figure, the Apostle Paul, when he shares, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…

We must bury the past and turn our focus to the future, knowing that what is done is done.  The only chapter of our lives that you and I can still affect is the one yet unwritten.  So forget those past failures and turn your focus to the future.

So if your failures have haunted you and your courage has been waning, practice the strategies that David and Paul both used: seek God’s deliverance and strength, and forget the past while focusing on the future.  Doing so will unleash a new sense of optimism and hope as you fulfill the purpose that God has for your life.

Mark

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