The Man in the Mirror


I’ve always really liked the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror”. I guess you could say it is my theme song for my oldest son, Ryan. We have spent many summer evenings driving in the car with the sunroof open, windows down and wind blowing as we sang along to the classic by the King of Pop. It’s one of our favorites so whenever it comes on the radio I think of Ryan and smile. He and I went to South Africa on our first mission trip together when he was just 12 years old. It was a great trip and we met many amazing people. He experienced something extraordinary that had a great impact on his young life. But it was two years ago when we returned to Africa that changed him in a way I could never have imagined. We went to Kenya, again as members of a mission team, to minister to children living at an orphanage near Nairobi. We also visited Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums where we spent time with children who lived there. Afterwards we took a walking tour through Kibera and witnessed the most deplorable and shocking living conditions anyone could imagine. Ryan captured the experience on film and the images are some of the most disturbing yet oddly beautiful pictures he’s ever taken.

Tomorrow Ryan will graduate from high school. While he has been an exceptional student and has made many friends in school, he is not your typical teenager. It was the final day in Kenya and we returned to the orphanage to say goodbye to the children we had spent the prior week with when we held a vacation bible school for them. We knew it would be difficult saying goodbye because we had grown so close to them in such a short time and many of them were very attached to certain members of the team. There was one little girl in particular who had not left Ryan’s side the entire week. Her name was Grace. It was obvious that Grace was not as strong as the other kids and we assumed it was due to some health problems. But when we went back to say goodbye we were told exactly what was wrong with her. Grace had a severe heart condition and was not expected to live much longer. Ryan was devastated. In a short time he had come to love this little girl and was saddened to know that her life would be so short-lived. In the moments he took to say his goodbye to Grace, I stood nearby and saw my 16 year old son become a man. I watched him hug this small child, place his hand upon her head as he prayed for her, then shed tears as she gave him the only thing of value she owned – a black and white bracelet made of string. In an instance my son went from a privileged boy living in a country blessed with an abundance of wealth, to a young man who would never receive anything more valuable than the gift from a small child in one of the most impoverished areas in the world. His life would never be the same. In an instance he understood what truly mattered in life.

This morning as I stood behind my son as he did a final check of himself in the mirror before heading off to graduation practice, I saw the man in the mirror who God created to make a change in this world. A man who dares to boldly follow Jesus in a world that tempts him and pulls him from every dark corner. A man who has chosen to listen to His Father in heaven instead of the thousands of negative influences he has faced over the years. A man who many said “you just wait until he becomes a teenager” assuming that like many his age, he would end up compromising his faith yet has remained faithful and steadfast in his walk with Christ. A man whose gift of compassion has drawn the hopeless to him for encouragement and hope, and made him a true friend to friendless. A man whose commitment to his church and pastors has made him a reliable and dedicated servant and  leader. A man who has lead by example to those who have looked up to him. A man who has been a light in the darkness of all that surrounds our children today. A man who has been asked many times “why are you always so happy?” because he is filled with the joy of the Lord. A man who makes a positive difference in the lives of those around him. A man who has been the most protective and loving brother anyone could hope for. A man who has been an incredible son and makes us feel honored to be his parents. A man who will some day make an amazing husband and father. A man whose future is filled with endless possibility and whose life God has destined for greatness. A man who will make the world a better place.

Thank you God for the privilege of being Ryan’s mother. Thank you for your grace and protection over his life. Thank you to our friends and family who have covered him with their prayers over the years. Thank you to all those who have influenced his life by being an example of what it means to be a passionate follower of Christ. Thank you to the Godly men who have demonstrated to him how to honor God with his life. Thank you to his pastors and leaders who have led him to become the man of God he is today.

We are blessed with amazing people in our lives that we know love our children and have stood with us in prayer for them. There is no greater gift as a parent than knowing your child knows and loves Jesus. But the second greatest gift is having friends who know and love Jesus and love your child as their own. It takes us as parents laying spiritual foundations, an abundance of God’s grace and a loving spiritual family to do this parenting thing right and we are blessed to have all three. Thank you to all who have played a part in raising our Ryan. We can say with great confidence “Mission Accomplished”.

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Sticks and Stones


Just the title alone conjures up memories for many of us. I remember my parents telling me when I was very young and someone had said something cruel to me that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Even now I can picture myself reciting it to the person with a sassiness that let them know I didn’t care what they said to me – it was just gonna roll right off my back and have no effect any more. But the truth of the matter was, it did still hurt. I didn’t realize until many, many years later how much an impact not just those words, but all of the negative and hurtful words that had been spoken over me had shaped who I was.

There is power in our words – power to speak life into someone by encouraging them and building them up or power to speak death when we criticize and tear down. As I think back over my own life and especially in the beginning years of my marriage, words have played a huge role in determining the direction of my life. Early in life hurtful and discouraging words caused self doubt and insecurity in me. The words that others spoke to me were played over and over in my thoughts until they were no longer just words to me, they became truths that I believed about myself. It didn’t matter if they were true or not, they wielded the power to change my thoughts about myself which in turn affected my actions. I allowed those words to consume my thoughts. I was beaten down and defeated simply by the words that I had given power to. And in turn I used words to tear down and hurt everyone around me.

The bible says in Proverbs 18:21 that life and death are in the power of the tongue. And the Message version says it like this “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” God’s Word makes it very clear. Words are extremely powerful. They have the ability to completely transform how people see themselves, how they react to you, how they respond in a situation and how they treat others.

Think of the impact that these words have had in the history of our country:

“President Kennedy has been shot”.

“A second plane has hit the building.”

“I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

“Challenger, go with throttle up.”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!”

Most of us see those words and know exactly where we were when we first heard them. We can remember the emotion we felt and how those words changed the world we live in.

Now think about the words that are personal to just you. The words that someone may have said to you years ago that you still remember exactly how you felt the moment they were spoken. Words of criticism, words of judgement, words of gossip or hate. Words that had the power to destroy.  Words that may have shaken your confidence, caused deep, unhealed wounds or even changed the course of your life.

“You’re fired.”

“I hate you.”

“You can’t do anything right.”

“I want a divorce.”

“You didn’t make the team.”

“Why are your ears so big?! You look like Dumbo!”

You may be someone that words have torn you down and caused you to doubt yourself. But just as there are words that can cause damage, there are words that can repair and build you back up. Later in my life when I began to follow Jesus and study the Word, I began to understand how words spoken over me may have affected me in very negative ways. But I also learned that what God’s Word says about me is truth. And that when I began to play those negative words in my mind, I needed to stop and begin to play the words of affirmation my Father in heaven has spoken over me. When I found myself replaying damaging words that had been spoken to me, I began to pray and ask God to renew my mind. I quit being defined by what others said I was and began to believe the words that described who I really was – child of God, forgiven, highly favored, an overcomer, blessed, chosen, accepted and loved.  And just like when I was younger, when I thought about these words they had the power to change my thoughts about myself which in turn affected my actions. I allowed God’s words to consume my thoughts.  I was built up, reaffirmed and confident simply by the words that I had given power to.

Although words have power, we have the control over what words we speak to others and how we respond to the words that they speak to us. We must choose our words wisely. I recently challenged my friends on Facebook to join me as I made every effort to use my mouth to build up, not tear down, to bless and not to curse and to not judge, gossip, criticize or give my opinion when I hadn’t been asked to. The response was remarkable. People want to be positive with their words but they are also extrememly aware of how difficult it is to refrain from speaking negatively. It has become so prevalent in our world that it takes great effort to keep our words and our thoughts upbeat and encouraging. The best way to ensure this is by spending time each day reading God’s word. God instructs us to fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. To think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8). And when our hearts and minds are transformed by our thoughts the bible says “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34). We will use our words to bring healing and nourishment to the broken and thirsty souls we encounter. The words we speak will have the power to encourage, build up, cheer up and inspire others. Think about the impact each of these simple words have on you when someone you love says them to you:

“Please forgive me.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Can I help?”

“I believe in you.”

“Don’t give up.”

“I love you.”

So each day think about the words you are using – are you speaking life into others or do your words speak death? What are the words that consume your thoughts – are they words that build up or words that tear down? If the words your thoughts are fixed on are causing damage ask God to renew your mind and remember who you are in Christ.  And if words have been used to bring you down and you feel defeated, think of the greatest words ever spoken: “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matt. 28:6). You have a Lord and Savior who is alive and right by your side whispering words of love and affirmation to you. Let His words be the ones that define who you are.

Fear of Commitment


When I hear the term “fear of commitment” I immediately think of a runaway bride. Others may think of a stereotypical ladies man who is afraid to commit to a relationship. But I want to share my thoughts on another fear of commitment I see in our culture today. Let me begin with the many worthwhile things that we regularly commit to. Some people are committed to their workout routine. They faithfully show up to the gym each day to ensure they fit their workout in before they begin the rigors of their busy day. This is a worthy choice because those who are committed to a healthy lifestyle are typically more concious of the foods they eat and are in overall better health than the occasional exerciser. Then there are those who are committed to their favorite TV shows. I admittedly fall into this category (don’t judge). Their DVR is set up and ready to record with the priority order set. Their personal plans revolve around their TV viewing routine. They will turn down offers to join friends for other events if it means they would miss an episode of their show. They even plan parties for season finales complete with a theme, food and decorations. There are also those who are committed to their children’s athletic activities. They sign their children up for a different sport each season and endure a grueling schedule of practices and early Saturday morning games all in the name of commitment. And under the same category of sports enthusiasts are those committed to their favorite team. They (we) clear their schedules to make sure they’re parked in front of the TV whenever their team (Jacksonville Jaguars) is playing a game that will air on national TV. And if they happen to live in city that is home to a college or professional team, they are sure to have season tickets and game day is an all day event of pre-game festivities and post-game celebration after a big win.

But there’s a different kind of commitment that is lacking in people’s lives today. Many people today find it very easy to commit to workouts, TV shows, sporting events and teams but can’t seem to commit to faithfully following God. Many easily find time in their schedules to ensure they never miss a day at the gym or a moment of their TV show but can’t find the time to attend a bible study or to show up to church on Sunday. Others are commited to ensuring they have much deserved time for themselves and what they want to do, but they can’t find any time in their day to spend a moment talking with God through prayer. Still others show up to the weekly pick up game with the guys or the Bunko game with the girls but for some reason have no room to fit some bible reading or prayer into their busy day. And even if you remove the Christian faith from the equation, there are many non-believers today who are more committed to their career, their hobby, their “cause” they support, or pretty much anything more than they are committed to their own marriage or family. We live in a world that will enthusiastically dedicate their time and energy to almost anything but fears committing to the very things that deserve their devotion.

But then it happens. There comes a moment in our lives when we need God. It may be a financial or health crisis. Or our marriage may be headed toward divorce and suddenly our priorities completely change. We begin to pray for God to move in our situation and make everything better. We cry out for God to heal our disease or restore our marriage. And while it’s a good thing for us to seek God in our times of need, He must be a priortiy in our lives during both good times and bad. We want God during those times when we need Him to move upon our situation but many are unwilling for Him to permantly move into their lives. Many times we run to God when we want Him to fix our problem but once it’s over we return to our own ways of doing things because it’s too hard to be committed to surrending our lives and completely trusting that God knows what is best for us. We want God to come into our lives like a fairy godmother and wave a magic wand to make everything better. We want Him to fix everything without any long term commitment on our part. It is during our times of desperation that God becomes our priority. But many times the commitment ends when the crisis is over.

As Christians we have become lazy in our faith, unwilling to put in the time and obedience that is required of us in order to experience victory this side of heaven. We agree that Jesus died on the cross for our sins – and because we believe, He is our Savior. But for Him to be Lord of our lives, we are required to submit our lives to God and obey His commands. To be a disciple of Christ requires commitment on our part. And commitment like that isn’t easy. It requires a lifestyle change. It means we have to rethink our priorities and make adjustments where our commitments are concerned. We need to be less committed to the things of this world – even the good things like exercise, children’s activities and entertainment – and be more committed to the things that have eternal value like connecting to spiritual family through the local church, reaching the lost, obedience to God’s word, devotion to our marriages, giving of our time and resources and our own spiritual growth.

Maybe it’s time to do a personal evaluation to see how you spend your time. What are you faithfully committed to? Do you rarely miss a day at the gym but consistently have excuses for why you can’t make it to the bible study you signed up for? Do you religiously attend every one of your child’s sporting events but regularly miss Sunday church services? Do you take pride in the fact that you’ve seen every episode of your favorite TV show without fail but you can’t seem to find time in your busy schedule to pray or read your bible. It’s time for Christians to get over our fear of commitment to our faith. It’s time we reevaluate how we spend our time and understand that for real transformation to take place in our marriages, our finances and our lives it’s going to take real commitment on our part – commitment to lay down our lives to the One who laid down His life for us. Once you experience the love of Christ and the indescribable peace and joy that comes from being a committed follower of Christ, you’ll never be the same. So why wait, it’s time to fearlessly commit to the One who committed His life to you. And when you do – you’ll never be the same, that’s a promise.

What’s Your Story?


A testimony is a statement or declaration by a witness which typically provides supporting evidence to a fact or statement. In the context of religion a testimony is when someone openly declares or professes their faith in God by sharing supporting evidence of His existence based on their personal experience and relationship with Him. Many Christians have overcome incredible situations, not because of anything they did by their own strength, but because they trusted God to release them from a particular area of their lives that held them captive. I have known people who have been freed from the bondage of addiction, who have been able to forgive those who have done unspeakable things to them when they were children, or who now have an incredibly healthy and fully restored marriage after suffering though the hurt of adultery. I’ve known those who have been miraculously healed from a disease and those who have conceived a child after having been told they would never be able to do so. All of them have one thing in common – they trusted God to overcome the impossible in their lives and because of it they share their story with others who face the same circumstances in order to encourage them that God is more than able to do it in their lives too. Sharing your testimony is a powerful tool to bring hope and faith to those in hopeless circumstances.

I used to watch the cartoon “Kim Possible” with my children when they were younger. Kim would always get a message on her communications device from her friend, Wade, when a situation arose that needed her attention. Her first response was always “What’s the sitch, Wade?” and her friend would fill her in on the details that required her to respond with her superhero abilities. There was a never-ending array of “situations” for Kim Possible to battle. And like Kim Possible, most Christians I know face a seemingly endless amount of situations in their lives with the difference being we need God to prevail on our behalf, not a super hero. But what if you’ve never been through some major “sitch” in your life? What if you chose to follow Jesus from a very young age and have never encountered a major storm of life? Does that mean you do not have a testimony?

The truth is that no matter what you have been through or whether you’ve been through nothing at all, we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. The bible says we are born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5). Because we are born human we are capable of sin and have a propensity toward it. And when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, “sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” (Romans 5:12). Sin levels the playing field for us all. No matter how “good” you think you’ve lived your life or how “bad” you think you are because of your past, we are all sinners who need the forgiveness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in order to become redeemed and return to right standing with God. And we all have a story that needs to be shared.

If you are someone who has followed Christ for as long as you can remember and have been spared from having made choices that lead to grievous moral failures, then be grateful to God for having His hand upon you as protection throughout your life and know that it is only by the grace of God that you did not follow a different path. But know also that you should never feel “less than” anyone else because your testimony isn’t filled with regretful choices that led to major problems. You have a powerful testimony that you were born into sin and in need of a Savior. But by the grace of God you were spared from difficulties that many others have faced but you are nonetheless redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. You are proof that you don’t have to go through horrible circumstances to have a testimony and that you can follow Christ for life without succumbing to damaging temptations. You are proof it can be done, don’t ever underestimate the power of that message.

Wisdom from a boy and the dog who loves him


As I was going to bed my oldest son texted me from downstairs. We had just said goodnight and he had headed down to his room with his faithful companion, Winston. In the text he said that he was looking at Winston and thought of how much his dog knows him.

Winston loves him and spends a lot of time with him. He knows my son’s voice, he knows the sound of his car when he drives in the driveway. And he knows what my son is saying to him and obeys his commands.

But what Ryan realized is that even though Winston knows him very well, he really has no clue what’s going on in Ryan’s life. Winston’s brain cannot begin to comprehend everything we as humans can and he’ll never know the vastness of Ryan’s life and all that is going on in it.

And his conclusion was that much in the same way, our minds cannot begin to understand the vastness of God and His love for us that He would send His only son to this earth so that He may die for us.

Through tears I read the final words of the text that said “God is like me and I’m like Winston. I know Him, I love Him, but until I join Him in heaven I will never fully understand the extent of who He is and how very much He loves me.”

As we celebrate this season and the joy that it is to give to others and to receive let us not forget that the long awaited Savior was born on that divine night so long ago. Born so that you may know Him, love Him, spend time with Him, recognize His voice and obey His commands. And in return He will love you more than you can ever fully wrap your mind around.

“Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. Oh, night divine. Oh, night when Christ was born.”