The Choice of Life
(This message is the second message in a four-part series. Be sure to see the first message: The Choice, Is It Real? Scroll to the bottom for the next message.)
As a kid, I always loved the summer time. I still remember many summers traveling around the United States, from Washington State to Louisiana to California and back again. Driving up the grades in that old Dodge station wagon, strapped in to the backseat with my two younger brothers, constantly asking “Are we there yet?” On those trips I soon became the official navigator. I loved poring over the map, looking for parks or interesting places to visit, things to see, or where we should stop for the night.
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As you travel from west to east across the rocky mountains, you come to a point at the very top of the pass marked by a sign that says “Continental Divide.” I can’t tell you how many times we crossed over the continental divide through the years, but I can tell you that I was always intrigued by it. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much of an attraction. Just a hill—a mountain pass, like so many others we’ve been through, but maybe a bit higher. But there is a sign, right at the peak of the pass. One side of the sign says “Pacific Ocean,” and the other says “Atlantic Ocean.”
And I remember standing there, and thinking about those little raindrops that fell, right there around that sign. They may have fallen right next to each other. But as they hit the ground, and began to trickle down into little streams, they ran in opposite directions. One stream ran west, and the other ran east. Day by day the water would flow further and further, until eventually one stream reached the Pacific ocean, and the other reached the Atlantic ocean. And that’s when it hit me—the importance of this place. Because this humble looking place was truly the dividing line between west and east, and even a small movement here could totally reverse the outcome of destiny.
Several weeks ago, I began this series on choices. I asked this one question: “The Choice: Is It Real?” Do we have the ability to choose, or are our choices only an illusion—an outworking of a fate predetermined from the beginning of time, whether by chance or providence? Is our life more like a train-car, following an unchanging track, or do we hold a steering wheel in our hands?
Reasoning from the revelation of the God’s word, I argued that the universe is NOT deterministic—that although God knows the future, He has given to His created beings a bit of his own sovereign power—the power to choose—and that in His own sovereign wisdom, He still honors and respects the choices of his creatures. Why? We may never fully know all the reasons He took such a risk, yet I argued that at the heart of His choice lies God’s desire to experience love from His creation that springs from our own choice—a true love that is not forced upon us, but drawn from a reflection of His own heart of love.
But how do we exercise this incredible responsibility—this freedom of choice that God has given us? What values guide our choices? How can our choices determine the destiny of our lives? How can our choices impact the lives of those around us? These are some of the questions I hope to explore in this series.The title of my message today is simply: The Choice of Life
Every day, we make choices. Lots of them. Every one of these is important, but perhaps most of them are small. Yet there come times in each of our lives that we come to exceptionally important choices. We may not always recognize them at the time, but looking back we do. We refer to such times as “Watershed Moments,” because, like the continental divide, the choice of one moment has affected the outcome of the rest of our lives.
I think of moments in my life, like the time I sent off an application to Adventist Frontier Missions to become a student missionary. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it, until I got a phone call, telling me I was invited to come and serve for a year in Africa! I almost hung up the phone. I wanted to say “No way—I can’t take a year off school. What would happen to my education? My career?” But I didn’t. Instead I heard myself saying “Yes, I’ll go. When do I come to training?”
I knew it would be a change in my school schedule—perhaps delay the start of my career for a year or so. But not big deal. It would, no doubt, be an adventure! But looking back, I had no idea how God was preparing me for even bigger changes that would follow—changes that would eventually lead to where I am now, working in full-time ministry!
Sometimes, the small choice can change our lives forever. Johann Rall was a lesser-known German Colonel who commanded the Hessian troops that aided the British in the Revolutionary War. Rall is most notable for being the victim of George Washington’s near-mythic crossing of the Delaware, but he needn’t have been. Rall was handed intelligence about Washington’s crossing the night before it happened, but the note was in English, which he didn’t read, and he was busy playing chess, or poker, according to some accounts. Rall decided to stuff the note in his pocket and leave it for later, but there was no later for him, as he was shot in the fighting to come.
The Bible tells us that our choices can mean the difference between life and death:
Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
The Bible tells the story of a great and mighty judge in Israel—a man destined to do a mighty and special work. God had given him supernatural strength, and with his strength he was to defeat the armies of the Philistines that continually plagued Israel. But, sadly, Samson didn’t always honor God in his choices. God did use him mightily. God did bring deliverance to Israel. But Samson’s story is infamous because of his poor choices in the area of relationships.
Samson’s story begins in Judges 14 when, instead of beginning to wage war against the Philistines, he meets an attractive Philistine girl and decides to marry her. But things turn sour at the wedding. When his Philistine wedding party are about to lose a bet over a riddle, they use the girl to dig the answer out of Samson. Samson got so angry over their treachery and losing the bet, that he went down to the next Philistine town, killed 30 men and stole their clothes to make good on his lost bet. Then he stormed back home.
After a few months, Samson’s anger cooled down and he went back, only to find that his Philistine father-in-law had given his new wife away to his best man. Samson became angry again and torched the Philistine’s grain fields. They, in turn, killed his wife and father-in-law, at which point Samson, with his incredible strength, took the jaw-bone of a donkey and killed a thousand Philistine men.
Such became the story of Samson’s life. And through the sordid tail, God’s purpose began to be accomplished in defeating the Philistine. But still it is a story of tragedy—because of a man chosen by God, who repeatedly failed to live up to the expectations God placed upon him. Time after time, Samson chose to go against God’s principles. Time after time he succumbs to lust, until in the final chapter of his life he is seduced by another Philistine woman to tell the secret of his great strength. He is captured, his eyes put out and he is forced to grind grain in the prison. Yet in perhaps the grandest finale of his life, his strength returns once more in answer to his prayer, and he dies by pulling down the great Philistine temple, crowded with heathen worshipers. It falls with a tremendous crash, killing him and about 3,000 Philistines.
Samson’s story is a sobering lesson about the life choices that we all make. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:14:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
The children of Israel were expressly forbidden to intermarry with the heathen tribes. In fact, since the time of Cain, Abel, and Seth—the children of Adam and Eve—God’s followers were not to intermarry with unbelievers.
Genesis 4 and 5 give the history and geology of two lines of people that descended from Adam and Eve—the descendants of Cain, who chose to disobey God, and the descendants of Seth, who, by and large, continued to be worshipers of God. But there is a sad remark in chapter 6:1-2:
“Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.”
Just to be clear, this isn’t talking about angels or aliens or anything like that. This is talking about the two genealogies that were just traced out in chapters 4 and 5—one family who were followers of God, and another who were not. But the sad commentary that precedes the great flood is this: The worshipers of God chose to marry women who weren’t worshipers of God, and the results were disastrous. Rather than winning the unbeliever to God, most often the unbelieving spouse would undermine the morals and principles of the family, until in verse 5 we read that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
I’m taking time to talk about this, because I see it happening so often even today. So many good Christian young people get in relationships, it seems, without thinking about the outcome.
“Is he a Christian?”
“No, but he’s such a nice guy!” [or girl—it goes both ways.]
But what happens when you have kids, and Mr. “Nice Guy” has no interest in taking the kids to church, or reading the Bible, or having family worship together? How will Mr. “Nice Guy” ever understand the fact that you have another relationship in your life that comes before him—a relationship with Jesus Christ? And sadly I’ve seen too many relationships broken, and families ruined, and people who have slipped out of the church and out of relationship with God, because they’ve chosen to link their lives with an unbeliever.
It’s not that I’m advocating tribalism and closed-mindedness. I’m not. But the fact remains that, if you’re truly a follower of Christ, you’re going to have such a different worldview that your life would be hopelessly incompatible with someone who doesn’t share your Christian worldview. In order to be compatible with such a partner, you would have to make compromises that no Christian should make. I would even go so far as to say, as a Seventh-day Adventist, that the Adventist worldview and perspective is so far removed from that of most other Christian denominations, that it would be detrimental to be in an inter-faith relationship with someone who is not.
Now if you’re in a relationship like this, and you’re married, don’t think for a minute that I’m trying to criticize your relationship. No, Paul has many encouraging words for believers who find themselves in this situation, and you can know that your church family is here to support you in every way possible. And we as a church family need to be here to support our brothers and sisters especially who are in this difficult situation, without being critical or judgmental.
But I am talking right now to the young people—those who are getting into relationship and thinking about their life partner: Learn a lesson from those who’ve gone before. Don’t be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. Make a commitment with yourself even before you get in a relationship, that you will not consider someone who isn’t first a believer in God. Look for someone who has a similar understanding of God’s word that you do. Someone who looks at life from the perspective of heaven. Because it will make such a difference for the future of your life life, and could very well determine your eternal destiny.
Speaking of marriage, let me say this, as well—because it goes back to the principle we’ve been talking about. Many single Christians have the idea that God has already pre-selected their life mate. Somewhere out there, lies your perfect soul-mate, and your job in dating (or courtship or whatever you call it) is to find that perfect one. Find the one God’s already picked for you—sort of like a global game of “find Waldo.” And if you can manage to find that perfect one, then you’ll have the perfect relationship and the perfect marriage.
I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. I believe God is preparing Christian men and women for beautiful relationships. Yes, He does know the future, and perhaps in ways we don’t fully understand He prepares the future spouses for each other. But I fully believe that God has put it upon us—human beings—to choose. He has given us guidelines to guide our choices. He gives us wisdom and insight. And yes, through His Holy Spirit, and through those He has placed in our lives, He guides our choice. But it us up to us to choose. And in the case of marriage, once we have made that choice, and come to the marriage alter, we must be willing to commit to the choice we have made. We don’t have to wonder if we’ve found “Mr. Right,” because when our choice is guided by God, we can know that that person becomes “Mr. Right” or “Mrs. Right” for us, because of the commitment that we’ve made.
The same principle applies to the other life choices that you make. Choices like our choice of career.
I’ll be a bit vulnerable and share with you a struggle I’ve had for many years in my career. My training, as you know, is in computer technology. Now, in this field, there are really a lot of jobs, but the job market is very competitive. Often, jobs require you to work, or at least be on call, around the clock and on weekends.
When I had my own business, I worked in a number of different environments, including an oil refinery, medical offices, and law enforcement. Then I started working for the health department, which was great because they’re closed on weekends, and I never did have a problem with Sabbath. I loved working for the health department, too, because I believed in the cause and mission of the agency—to promote public health, and providing services for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
But even there, I started looking and praying about where my career might go from there. Even though I enjoyed the work, I wanted to do more in my life than just maintain “status quo” of a government agency. But every job I considered, I didn’t feel totally comfortable with. Many were salaried positions that would require me to work on Sabbath—and when you’re the only one in an area that’s capable of fixing a problem to keep production going, it would be hard to justify a religious exemption for Sabbath.
For anyone in the tech field, a “dream job” would be to work for a huge tech company like Google, Apple, Amazon, or Facebook. And although I considered applying, there was a part of my that questioned: even if I could qualify for a job, and even if I could work out the Sabbath issues, would I want to use my talents to help a massive corporation bolster it’s stock-price on Wall Street? Sure, maybe I would make a lot of money doing it, but is that the right thing to do?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s morally wrong to work for a big company, but for me, and for the type of work I might likely be doing for the companies, I just didn’t feel right about it. I didn’t feel right about using my talents to design computer systems that would make rich people richer. I didn’t want to become a cog in a huge machine designed to oppress the poor.
So I kept praying, and kept working where I was, until God made it absolutely clear that He was leading my life a different direction. He opened up a door to full-time ministry, and as Kristina and I sought His will through prayer, He made it clear that this was the direction He was leading.
So I chose. I wasn’t forced to. I chose to quite my job, and become a full-time pastor. It’s not a choice I could make for someone else. No one else could make the choice for me.
Choices. There are so many choices that young people have to make. Will I get married, and if so, when, and to whom? What education and career should I pursue? Where should I go to school? Where should I work? Where will I live? What mission does God have for my life?
Only YOU can make these choices. How do you make these decisions? What factors do you consider? Your own pleasure and security? How much money you might make? Your reputation? Or do you consider how it may impact you spiritually, and the lives of your family? Do you consider even more, how you can have a positive impact on the lives of others?
I want to submit to you that there are three things that we should consider when we make an important decision. Really, I guess there are four, but the first one is obvious so I hardly even count it. That’s circumstances. A lot of times that’s the only thing we consider when we have a decision to make. “Well, considering the circumstances I chose to do this rather than that.” And that’s a good start because at least you thought about it, but I want to suggest three considerations that will help to guide us in our important life decisions:
1. Canon. By that I mean the Canon of Scripture – the principles embodied in the word of God that are given to us to guide our lives. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, if a decision would violate the clear principles of the Bible, don’t go with it! If Samson had considered this, he would never have considered a marriage to a Philistine girl, and would have saved himself so much heartache and misery. He would never have been trapped in the city of Gaza, where he went looking for a prostitute. He would never have let down his guard with Delilah, to tell her the secret of his great strength—if only he had chosen to follow the principles of the Bible.
2. Commitments. A lot of times we can help ourselves to make wise choices by thinking ahead, and making commitments to ourselves, to do or not to do certain things that we would later regret. Just like the commitment I suggested earlier—if you’re unmarried, to make a commitment never to have a relationship with an unbeliever. Make commitments before the decision time comes, so that in the moment, your decision will already be partially or completely made for you. If you know you have a weakness for a certain thing, make commitments to yourself so that in the moment, you will have the strength to make the wisest decision.
When Daniel was taken from his home, to live in the palace of a heathen king in Babylon, he knew he would be faced by many temptations to compromise his faith in God. But Daniel made a commitment before he was ever faced with the temptation. It says in Daniel 1:8 “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” He made a commitment in anticipation of the temptation, and when he was faced with the choice, his mind was already made up.
This also goes for the commitments we make to others. Do I have a wife and family? Then I have made commitments to them, and my commitments to them impact my decisions for the future—because I will not be a promise-breaker. Of course I still must consider my first commitment is to God, and He can lead in mysterious ways, but God doesn’t usually not lead us to break these important commitments to those He has entrusted us to provide for.
3. Call. This is perhaps the most important, which is why I’ve saved it for last. But it can also sometimes be the most difficult to know. God’s call for our life isn’t always written out in black-and-white, like the words of the Bible. It’s not always spoken as a thunderbolt from heaven—“Thou shalt become a fireman.” or whatever. Sometimes he gives us a clear vision. Sometimes it may come through the words of a friend, a teacher, or a pastor. Sometimes it may come from a passage in God’s word, or through the circumstances of our lives we recognize a need that God has enabled us to fill. But I believe that God has created each and every one of us for a special purpose. And God, in His own way, will use us to fulfill His purpose.
We can know God’s purpose for our lives by spending time with Him, in His word, in prayer, and in fellowship with other believers. He may never reveal His whole purpose to us, but He will reveal to us enough that we can follow Him. He reveals Himself enough that every one of us can follow God’s specific call on our lives.
This, I believe, is the roll of the comforter – the Holy Spirit. Through prayer, we make our request to God, and through His Holy Spirit He can guide our minds, to know His will. He will not guide us contrary to the principles of His word, but if we are in tune to His voice, we will hear His call.
If we, through our choices, submit to God’s call, He will accomplish His purposes through us. If, on the other hand, we refuse to follow His call, like Samson, God may have to accomplish His purposes rather in spite of us. As God reveals to you His call and purpose for your life, only YOU can make the choice, whether you will follow Him, or not.
The Bible tells the story of a great man named Abraham, who, early in his life, made the decision to follow God’s call and leave his native land, to go to a foreign country, based only on the promises of God.
Geneses 12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”
Geneses 12:4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.
It was a watershed moment for Abraham. Would he follow God and abandon everything familiar to him? Or would he stay with his family, in relative easy and prosperity? He could likely think of a thousand reasons not to go, but Abraham went. And God blessed him. Abraham would not know, except through the promise of God, what would become of his family and posterity in future generations as a result of his faithful obedience.
Contrast this with the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew who went with him. Lot was also a follower of God, and it would seem that he, too, had a great deal of faith, in order to follow Abraham to this strange land of promise.
God blessed Lot, along with Abraham, until their flocks and herds grew so large they had to separate. Abraham generously offered Lot the first choice of which land to take, and lot selfishly chose to take the most fertile land of the plains, near the great city of Sodom. This one fateful choice ultimately led to the ruin of Lot and his family.
Abraham chose to remain in the hill-country, and God blessed him and his descendants with an unfailing inheritance. What about us? Do we choose a place to live and raise our families, only for its economic advantages? Or do we consider the mission God has given us—our own spiritual life, our mission to our families, and the mission to the world?
You know, I often wonder: why is it that so many people in ancient times made such poor decisions? Why do so many of us today find ourselves making poor choices? Is it because we don’t know? Do we have no idea where these poor choices can lead? Perhaps so, but I think more often than not, we find ourselves making poor choices in spite of ourselves. It is as though our power of choice is stunted. I doubt that Samson was ignorant of God’s purpose for his life. I doubt that he was clueless when he fell in love with the Philistine girl. But I think that sin has dwarfed our power of choice, to the point that we find ourselves powerless to choose good consistently.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:18-19: “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
This thought brings me to the most important choice that you, or I, could ever make. It is the choice to recognize the frailty of our own strength—a choice to admit that we cannot choose, and to surrender what’s left of our choices to One Who can. To surrender to Christ, the One and Only one who can both inform and empower our choices to do right.
Today, we are faced with choices big and small, but the most important choice of all—the first choice that sets the course for all others—is our choice to serve God. Our most important choice is our choice to accept Jesus Christ; our choice to believe in Him; our choice to receive His forgiveness; our choice to allow Him to guide our lives. Then, these important choices won’t be dictated by circumstances. Then, our choices won’t be determined by our feelings and emotions—the draw of our natural heart. Then all our choices will be surrendered to and led by Christ. Then and only then will our choices be determined solely by the canon of God’s word, by our commitment to Him, and by His call upon our lives.
We’ve talked about the big choices. In my next message, we will be looking at a different kind of choice, as well—choices that are perhaps even more important to us than what we’ve talked about today.
Yes, in our lives we are faced with big decisions. Like the continental divide, these decisions become a watershed that will impact the rest of our lives. No one can make the decision for you. Only YOU can make these decisions.
Where will your life lead? We cannot know the future. And yet, by our choices, we can shape our future. How will you choose? Who will guide your choices?
You may not feel that you are able to guide your ship, but you CAN choose to surrender. To allow God to empower your choices. What choice will you make? Will you decide, today, to let Him guide your choices?
In the words of Joshua 24:15: “Choose YOU this day whom ye will serve.”
This was the second message in a 4-part series. Be sure to see the next message: The Choice of the Moment: