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Deuteronomy 30:15-20  15 See, I set before you today (A CHOICE FOR) life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to (CHOOSE TO) love the Lord your God, (TO CHOOSE) to walk in obedience to him, (TO CHOOSE) to keep his commands, decrees and laws; THEN you will live and increase, and (THEN) the Lord your God WILL BLESS YOU in the land you are entering to possess.

17 BUT if (YOU CHOOSE DIFFERENTLY)your heart turns away and you are not obedient, (BY CHOICE) and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods (BY CHOICE) and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly BE DESTROYED. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.(YOU WILL HAVE MADE A CHOICE THAT HAS CAUSED YOU TO LOSE YOUR PROMISED LAND EXISTENCE.)

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land (MANY PROMISED LAND YEARS) he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So, we have two big trees in our yard.  One in the front and one in the back.  When I say big, I mean enormous.  Ok, I mean massive.  No, I mean “mahusive.” The leaves are beyond belief in number.  A few months back, after we could not put off dealing with them any longer, Thom, Josh and I started to work.  I went to the back yard, and it wasn’t long before I was muttering to myself, “This is ridiculous.  This is overwhelming.  This is way too much work to do in one day.  Why do we put this off and then have so much at one time to deal with?  My back is going to hurt tomorrow. I wish we had better rakes.  I’m going to have blisters on my hands for sure.”  It wasn’t pretty.

Well, as I was moaning and groaning to myself, I looked over and saw my neighbor in her backyard.  She was raking her leaves.  She is 99 years old.  99.  That is one year shy of 100, a century, and she was raking her leaves.  Conviction ran through my soul, through my veins, washed over my mind, and correction came to my spirit.  I took my rake over to her yard and started to help her.  “Oh, you don’t have to help me,” she said.  “You are so busy, and you have so many more leaves than I do.  I am fine.”  Well, of course I stayed, and we did three bags instead of the one she had set her mind to do. I raked and she held the bag, but it was all she could stand up for.

This same woman, a precious Christ-follower, pulls her weeds in the summer.  She takes a chair outside and sits in it, bends over and pulls some weeds.  Then she moves her chair to another location and pulls some more.  She does it as long as she can. When the weather is nice, I see her sitting in her garage, reading.  She likes to be outside but can’t stay in direct sunlight for very long.

Now, I have to tell you that she is in constant pain every day.  She has terrible arthritis and walks kind of hunched over, but she always has a smile on her face.  She is so pleasant, and she always talks about how good God has been to her.  She chooses life every day. She chooses to love and serve the Lord and to stay focused on Him.  She chooses to do what she can to exercise responsibility for what God has entrusted to her.  She chooses not to allow pain to have the last word. 

God created us in love with free will and the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and bad, blessing and cursing, to live for God or self and to live as victims or as conquerors. In our text this morning, Moses had taken the Israelites through 40 years in the wilderness. They were getting ready to enter the Promised Land without him because he would be passing soon.  Here, in some of Moses’ final words, he highlighted the opportunity, responsibility and power that each person has to make choices that bless them or curse them, that enable them to have what I will call a Promised Land life or a Wasteland Life. The Promised Land wasn’t going to be absent of conflict or the presence of enemies.  There would be battles to fight, but the Promised Land would be a place where the Israelites could be established and be blessed by God to conquer those enemies and prosper. But if they chose life apart from God, it wouldn’t matter where they were physically located, they wouldn’t experience the benefits of being in the Promised Land, and at some point they would forfeit the opportunity to be there altogether.

Today we will hear from two people who have chosen life, life in Christ.  The first person has chosen to walk away from things that were stealing her life. Say, “Walk away.” The second has walked through some things that had potential to destroy his life, but he made strategic and courageous choices to keep walking by faith. Say, “Walk through.

Allow me to tell you Amanda Fernandez’s story.  I was aware of Amanda and her need for deliverance before I met her.  Her mom, Valerie Lucas, started attending our church maybe nine months before Covid began.  Valerie reached out to me last Spring and asked me to pray for Amanda.  At some point after I was agreeing with Valerie in prayer, Amanda reached out to me, and we met.  I heard her story and we had prayer together.  She became a regular online viewer, and when I asked her if she would allow me to share her story with you, she didn’t hesitate.  Here it is:

Choose life. Two small words with such powerful meaning. On October 13, 2020, I chose life. I thought I had chosen my life. I thought I had it all figured out. Every move I made, along with every choice I made. I was choosing my life, but it wasn’t the life I wanted. Over the past two years I have struggled with alcohol addiction. My family has been through many hurdles over the past several years, and instead of turning to God like I knew I needed to, I ran to something to numb the pain. I didn’t want to feel any emotion.

The occasional drink turned into drinking every evening, and eventually turned into every-day day-drinking. I wholeheartedly believed I could not function without a drink. I didn’t think that I would have a good time unless drinks were involved. I felt like I couldn’t be social unless I had a drink prior. I was frustrated and angry constantly. I was agitated over the smallest of things. I wasn’t eating or sleeping well. My marriage and children were deteriorating due to my addiction. My life was deteriorating.

I would stop drinking for several days or even a few weeks to prove to myself that I didn’t have a problem. When the day drinking began, I would intentionally wait until noon just so I could say, “It’s afternoon, I’m not an alcoholic.” There would be times my mom would want to come to my house, and I would tell her “No” simply because I knew I wanted to drink that day. I knew she would be disappointed. Addiction runs deep in our family. I didn’t want to be a disappointment. I didn’t need that as another stress factor. I would intentionally try to hide how much I was drinking. The only person who actually knew how much I was drinking was my husband, but even then, I would still try to hide how much I was actually consuming.

On October 13, 2020 I was scrolling through Facebook (with a drink in hand) and saw one of my friends from high school had posted her struggle with addiction and how she overcame it. She, like me, grew up here in Scott Depot. We both had pretty much everything growing up. I felt an immediate connection with her story and knew I needed to reach out. We hadn’t spoken in years, but that didn’t matter. I needed help. She stopped what she was doing and prayed fervently with me. At this point I felt God calling on me. I rededicated my life to Him. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. God connected us for a reason. She helped me get sober. She didn’t sugar coat anything and held me accountable. To this day she still does.

About a week later I reached out to Pastor Melissa for help and support. She met with me and my kids as soon as I reached out to her. I poured my story out to her, she and has been by my side ever since.  I began a regular member of TVCOG online.

Originally, I told myself that I would wean off of alcohol, but I knew I could never pick up a drink again. I never wanted to feel that way again. I’m proud to say that I have not picked up a drink in 96 days. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. Is it possible? Yes. Am I ashamed? No, my story has a purpose. God gave me purpose.

Little did I know, so many people (including family members) had been praying for me in the months prior. God works in mysterious ways. On October 13, 2020 I chose life with God. You truly don’t know real life and what you are capable of until you walk with Him. God has opened so many doors I didn’t even know existed, and in just a few months has shown me how to truly live. (End testimony)

Please join me in celebrating that Amanda Fernandez chose life and walked away from alcohol.

Another individual, Gary Bohm, Pastor Mandy’s husband and leader of our men’s ministry for many years, has had a lot to overcome, a lot to walk through.  At strategic points in his life, he chose the path that led to life.  Gary, come and share your story with us.

I’m thankful to have the opportunity to share a piece of my testimony with all of you.  There are markers in our lives that internally “give us permission” to be mad, hold grudges, stop trusting others, be self-destructive.  These are shackles that take away our freedom.

Despite these markers that take place in our life and the resulting shackles that accompany them, God lays out an important choice for us in Deuteronomy 30:19. 

We can choose life, or we can choose death.

I grew up in a typical middle-class family on Long Island, NY.  We lived on the south shore in a town called Massapequa Park, 2 blocks from the ocean.

I am the middle child of 3, the only boy.  We didn’t go to church, and I did not know Jesus personally.  My mother stayed home and cared us, and my father worked in the furniture store business with my grandfather, the same business my grandfather started just a few years after immigrating here to the United States through Ellis Island in 1939.

My grandparents settled in Queens, and the business was in Brooklyn, well over an hour’s drive time each way from my home in Massapequa.  Dad battled the Long Island traffic and worked long hrs.  We very rarely saw him.

One of those markers I was talking about earlier occurred on May 18th, 1983 when I was 11 years old.  I remember it was lunchtime during the school day and I was playing ball on the side of elementary school with some friends. From that spot you can see the block I grew up on. While playing ball I saw fire trucks, police cars and other emergency vehicles race to my block.  Less than hour later I was taken out of school early, along with a friend and we were taken to his house.  While playing there a friend of my mother’s picked me up and took me home.

When I got home there were cars everywhere and lots of people inside.  I walked in the door and my mother took my 2 sisters (ages 13 and 6) and myself (age 11) to her bedroom.  The 4 of us were huddled in a circle.  It was then I learned the news that would change my life forever.  My mother had to tell her children: “Your father is dead, he committed suicide.”  I was in shock, disbelief, I had questions.  What, how, when, why, what about us?

After I learned the particulars of that day and days turned into weeks, the reality of what occurred turned from shock to the full spectrum of emotions that you would expect any child to go through.  I was sad, angry, frustrated, mad, and so much more.  My world was turned upside down.  It felt like I was a survivor of nuclear bomb blast.  I felt like a stranger to all I knew.  No one could understand me and what I was experiencing.  No one could help me.  I just wanted my “normal life” back.  I just wanted my dad back.  But none of that was going to happen.

The ensuing years brought me pain, some of it self-inflicted, recurring nightmares for more than a decade and other types of trauma.  The feelings I endured and encountered took over me and put me in shackles.  I was no longer free but beholden to the pain and anguish I was experiencing.  This marker in my life changed my life and not for the better.

I needed to be freed.  I needed truth to be spoken over me and into me.  I needed to choose life.  In 1995, at the age of 23, I met my wife, Mandy, and during our dating I was exposed to Jesus Christ, in relationship form, for the 1st time.

In 1998, at the age of 26, I moved to WV, and in December of that year I gave my heart to Christ and began the race that was set before me. I chose the one who had the key to free from those shackles I was under. I chose life. I chose freedom. You see when the SON sets you free you are free indeed. Jesus says in John 10:10 I am the way, the truth and life.  I was on a hunt for truth and freedom and found both in Jesus.  Hallelujah. 

While I was set free, it was still a journey, my blood was getting cleaned  by spiritual dialysis.  It takes years…a lifetime…I am human and from time to time I experience those old shackles that want to enslave me.  My father’s death left a void in my heart and life.  But God filled that void. 

I’ve chosen life, and I know there is nothing that can ever separate me from the love of Christ in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).

That marker in my life-my dad’s suicide-that overtook me and put me in shackles and drove my feelings and behaviors was smashed by the blood of the Lamb. I still miss my dad and there are things I wish were different. He never met Mandy or my children, his grandchildren. That brings me sadness when I think about it, however those thoughts don’t control me like they did years ago, because —WHEN THE SON SETS YOU FREE, YOU ARE FREE INDEED-NO MORE SHACKLES- MARKER DESTROYED! 

As God has laid out in Deuteronomy, I’ve chosen life instead of death, freedom instead shackles.  Despite my father committing suicide.  I’ve chosen life.  And there is only one explanation, God’s grace and mercy. By choosing life and receiving the gift of salvation by grace, there is nothing that can separate me from the love of Christ, the truth of Christ and the freedom of Christ.  No matter your circumstances, choose life. (End testimony)

Thank you, Gary for that awesome testimony.  While everyone doesn’t have the same life story, we all have the same opportunity to choose life.  When we are faced with a decision, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Does this lead to life or does this have the potential to take life from me, from my family, from my walk with God?” 

Because Amanda chose life and left addiction behind, she is in a better place to give life to her family, to be present in her marriage, to pour into her children and to faithfully follow God. Because Gary chose a path that led to life even though he had examples that could have pointed him in a different direction, he is able to be a life giver to others, an example of what God can enable a person to overcome when they choose life. 

Here is what I know.  The choices you make today will determine who and what you will become tomorrow.  You don’t have to live addicted and chained to things that are robbing you of life.  You don’t have to live as a victim of your circumstances.  You can choose the road that leads to life and freedom.

John 10:10 tells us that we have an enemy who doesn’t want life for us.  Satan will do everything in his power to steal life from us. He will tempt us and try us.  He will trick us and trouble us.  Satan wants you in the wasteland where it is barren and void of the presence and power of God.  But if we choose what Moses said could be chosen, we will gain abundant life, Promised Land life.

Moses said you choose life when you love God, when you walk in obedience to God and when you keep His commands. (Deuteronomy 30:16) That may not sound amazing to people who have never placed their lives completely in Jesus’ hands, but to us who have truly taken the plunge in and through the blood of Jesus, we understand all of this.  I John 5:3 says this: In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.  It isn’t drudgery to follow Jesus.  It isn’t a buzz kill.  It isn’t a dreary, weary existence. It is completely the opposite. It is light.  It is life.  It is joy.  It is peace.  It is freeing. It is the best and blessed life.

What I want you to take away from these testimonies and this Scripture is that you have the power to choose the best and blessed life.  Choose a life in the spiritual “Promised Land” where God can bless you.  Choose a life that future generations will be blessed to follow.  Choose a life that makes you a conqueror and not a victim of your circumstances. 

God gets a bad rap for a lot of the happenings in our lives when often what happens is the result of poor choices we have made.  “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).  God is not to blame for the consequences that come when we don’t choose life.

Are you who you want to be?  Are you who God wants you to be?  God says when you choose life you choose a life of fruitfulness instead of a life of futility.  Isn’t the choice clear?  There really are only two options.  There is an option for either life or death. 

I fear at times that we have become a culture of death instead of life.  The adoption of abortion on demand by the masses, the openness to euthanasia, the suicide rate that is climbing at an alarming rate every day, especially during this pandemic, I fear that many turn to death.  Perhaps it seems to be the easiest and most convenient way. Perhaps they don’t know another way is possible.

I have seen many in my lifetime, choose the death and destruction that comes when we are not committed to the Lord.  It happens when we choose our own way.  Proverbs 16:25 tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it is the way of death.”

Death occurs when you forfeit God’s protection, His provision, His plans.  Many times in Israel’s history, they chose death and when they did, they forfeited their right to dwell in the Promised Land and were taken into captivity. 

Where do you find yourself today?  Bound by something that is sucking the life from you?  Whether you are bound to your past, bound in addiction, bound to the approval of others or bound by some toxic relationship or twisted pursuit?  Today, you can choose life.  Are you confined by circumstances that have labeled and limited you to life as a victim or have you chosen the path that leads to victory and abundant life?  You can walk away.  You can walk through to the place of life that is yours in Jesus Christ today.

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