Is It Live or Is It Memorex?

memorexWith all the recent media attention given to Beyonce’s singing (or not) of the National Anthem at the Presidential Inaugaration I thought it may be a good time to share some thoughts on authenticity. There was a commercial from the early 1970’s – yes I’m dating myself but let’s suffice it to say I was very young and barely remember the commerical ūüôā The commerical was for Memorex tapes which were used for recording purposes. They featured Ella Fitzgerald ¬†singing a note that shattered a glass while being recorded to a Memorex audiotape. The tape was then played back and the recording also broke the glass as the announcer voice¬†asked “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” The point was that the recording was so close to the real thing that you couldn’t tell the difference between the two.¬†People have always been fascinated with the real versus fake stories in which¬†something we thought to be real was revealed a fake¬†– think “Lance Armstrong doping scandal”, “Manti Te’o fake girlfriend”, “runaway bride from Georgia”,¬†and the heartbreaking story of Susan Smith¬†of South Carolina. These stories make for headlines that we just can’t seem to get enough of.

memorex 2I think the fascination comes from our instinctive desire for authenticity. We want people to be real and we want to believe them when they appeal to our emotions in an effort to make us buy into their story. We want a happy ending for them, we cheer on the¬†apparent victim and our hearts ache for¬†those in seemingly impossible situations who display incredible strength and hope. We want desperately for their story to have a¬†positive outcome. And then there’s the letdown – the moment we turn on the news and confirm our doubts and suspicions that it was all a big fake. Dozens of these stories over the years have created a cynicism among us that causes us to question every story and every person as we wonder “are they for real?” Whether a person’s behavior is good or bad, we just want them to be real and authentic. That’s why many celebrities with less than stellar reputations have such a following of supporters. They may behave horribly but in people’s minds “at least they’re being who they really are and not pretending to be something they’re not.”

memorex 4We long for authenticy because it’s part of our design. We were created to seek what is real and what is true. In a perfect world that longing would lead us to Jesus. But for many of us we are drawn to what seems real only to find ourselves fooled by imposters. The enemy of our souls is a master deceiver and he uses his abilities to draw us into believing in something or someone other than Christ. Many times the fakes are packaged so well it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

Because we instinctively seek that which is authentic, we can be incredibly scarred when we believe something to be real only to find out it never was. People who are seemingly real wield great power to influence those desperately seeking something or someone who is genuine. Sometimes that is used to bring great harm to those who believe the lie. Jim Jones and David Koresh are just two of many such individuals who took advantage of people who were seeking the truth only to later to be revealed as masters of deception.

The impact that such deception, whether intentional or simply by the succeptibility to failure of the human nature, ranges from mild letdown to devastating hurt. Many have put their trust and faith in a person, a job, an organization, a church or an ideology only to be forever damaged by broken trust and crushed faith when they found that what they believed to have been true and real was not.

memorex 5There is only One in whom we can securely put our trust and faith in. And with great confidence we can believe everything He says to be true because He has never failed, never been anything other than who He says He is. His love for us displayed in the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, is proof that His love is real. For those willing to say they believe, He reveals Himself fully as the Truth. But many find it hard to believe and hard to trust because their previous misplaced trust and faith has brought them great pain in the past. So they respond with disbelief and doubt.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we are charged with sharing His truth with those who doubt. And if we are to be successful in influencing them to share in what we already know to be real, we must first be authentic ourselves. People must see Christ through us so that we are not setting them up for letdown. If we are solely depending on our own abilities to influence others we are risking failure and loss of trust. But when they see Christ in us, we cannot fail because He never fails to be anything but authentic.

memorex 6The way we do this is by spending time with God through prayer, reading His Word,¬†and spending time with other believers who seek the same. In doing so we are molded more and more into God’s image and that becomes what is reflected to others when they encounter us in the workplace, in school, in our neighborhoods or in the community. And we must always guard our hearts against the deception and temptation of the enemy. There are many people in the world today seeking something real and we have the opportunity to show them God by being authentic ourselves. We must take our responsibility seriously and refrain from actions and behaviors that would compromise that opportunity for influence.

As humans we were made to seek that which is truth. If you are a believer, make sure you do¬†everything you can to ensure that when they meet you they’ll see the authenticy of Christ in you. Unlike Memorex, being a real good copy will never have the same impact as being 100% real. Make sure when someone asks “are they for real?” the answer is a resounding yes!

Back in the Saddle After Falling Off the Wagon

new years2It’s that time again – time for New Year’s Resolutions. Time to get back in gear and do all those things we know we should be doing but don’t. Even if we do fairly well on a regular basis, there is something about the holidays that seems to make it easier to fall off the wagon.

Personally I didn’t just fall off the wagon – I took a flying leap! I ate way too many of those little Christmas Hershey kisses that I kept buying to fill the¬†empty Santa candy dish. Exercise wasn’t an afterthought – I just didnt’ think about it at all and my drink of choice was Dr. Pepper without even a glance toward a glass of water. Oh, and did someone say blog? What blog?

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my backslide but now that the holiday season is¬†over it’s time to get back in the saddle. Time to get back on track. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

It’s certainly one thing to get back to eating right, exercising or drinking more water. But what about getting back to making Godly choices after a “season” of sin? That is not always so easy. There are those of us who believe that if we perform a certain way (read our bible, pray, go to church, attend a small group) then God will approve of and love us.

But if we make a mistake, a wrong choice and commit a sin – and I’m talking about a grievous sin like adultery, giving into an addiction,¬†alcohol or drug use or continuing to choose to live an immoral life – these are not so easy to just turn away from and get back on track. ¬†We all have a very real enemy of our souls who lives to see us fail. His desire is to tempt us into wrong choices and then provide a constant reminder of those choices in order that we may be consumed with guilt and condemnation.

It’s in those moments when we’ve fallen off the “Christian” wagon that we begin to believe the lie that we cannot get back on. That God will not accept us back because we’ve done something so bad that He will forever disapprove of us.

crazy cycle5So we continue in what I call the crazy cycle – the perpetual cycle of sin that keeps us isolated from God. We keep thinking that we’ve fallen too far, we can’t go back to the way things were, everybody will know if we walk in church, there’s no way God will forgive us. But that way of thinking is exactly what keeps people from the peace and joy that God intended for them. We are our own worst enemy aside from the devil. We make things so easy for him every time we believe those lies – and that’s exactly what they are – lies.

We keep being deceived by the enemy and find ourselves agreeing with every negative thought he puts in our heads. And the result is we stay in the crazy cycle where nothing changes, we have no peace, the same old sins keep finding a way back into our lives, we remain in bondage to the same old habits and choices and we sit around wondering why everything is the way it is. You’ve read the quote – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Crazy! Yet we all do it.

back in the saddle 6So what’s the answer? How do we get off the crazy train and make changes that will produce different results? It’s the same way you lost weight after you gained it back from the last time you lost it, the same way you quit smoking for the 11th time, got back into exercising after a “little break” of 2 years, starting eating healthy again after that epic holiday binge you just participated in, same way you got back on budget after you maxed out the credit cards – you just get back in the saddle after you’ve fallen off the wagon.Why is it¬†so easy for us to tell our kids or even our friends¬†“You can do it! Don’t give up! You have to keep trying and you’ll get it!” but yet it’s so hard for us to do it ourselves?

For goodness sakes, just do it!¬†Determine right now¬†to quit listening to the lies being fed into your mind that there’s no turning things around and then¬†start turning them around. Quit avoiding church because you think everybody knows what a horrible person you are – they’re all sitting in their seats thinking the same thing about themselves so you might as well join them.¬†Sign up for a small group. Call your church, a church, any church and ask if there’s anyone who could “disciple” you. You may not know what that means but they will and you need it if you’ve fallen off the wagon so just ask, it won’t kill you.

Turn off the junk you’ve been listening to in your car and change the station to a Christian station. Put down 50 shades of something and pick up a bible. Get over the fact that you don’t feel like – I don’t either but here I am. Quit telling everyone on Facebook every detail of your life and start telling God that you want and need Him more in your life. Stop belly-aching about how bad you’ve got it and start thanking God for how good He is.

Thank Him that even when you’d given up on yourself He didn’t and that He’s been waiting there with open arms for you the whole time you’ve been doing your own thing. The time is now so saddle up buckaroo and let’s do this thing together!

Seriously, Is It Worth It?

More often than I would care to admit this very question enters into my mind. Sometimes it actually makes its way out of my mind as I utter the words aloud in disbelief. Why, you ask, does this question frequent my thoughts? Blame it on Pride and her ugly, little step-sister, Stubbornness. All too often I encounter people who allow pride and stubbornness to keep them from something or someone they really wish they had if the truth be known.

So many of us allow our own pride to keep us from the very thing we want. Our pride and stubbornness becomes the barrier to our blessing. And more often than not we find every other possible person or thing to blame other than ourselves. If only we could be willing to act in humility and to take the step to break down the barriers, we could experience the blessing of whatever it is our pride and stubbornness has kept us from. And from my own experiences, it normally takes far too long before we reach that point of surrender. Then we find ourselves wondering “why did I allow that to go on for so long?” Standing your ground for the sake of your pride will never be worth whatever momentary embarassment, shame or humiliation – real or imagined – that you may feel. I promise.

What is your pride and stubbornness keeping you from? Is it the reconciliation of a relationship you once valued but one “offense” is keeping you from each other because neither is willing to take the first step toward an apology? Is it peace within your household because you and your spouse have decided to keep a scorecard on each other (“he did that so I’m going to do this”)? Is it freedom from the bondage of sin because you are unwilling to admit that your friends and family are right and that you really do have a problem and need help? Are you missing out on all the ways that God wants to bless your life because you are unwilling to surrender control to Him? Are you in a perpetual cycle of financial struggle because you think you know better than God how best to manage your money? Do you have years of anger and resentment built up toward someone because you’re unwilling to forgive them for something that happened a lifetime ago? Do you refuse to stop rolling your eyes every time someone mentions your coworker’s name because you think she got the promotion that¬†you deserved? Have you been giving your spouse the “cold shoulder” for three days because you absolutely WILL NOT be the first to say I’m sorry this time? Are you willing to risk your eternal salvation because you have taken the stand that it will be your decision when you’re good and ready and not because your wife keeps nagging you about the whole church thing?

Whatever you are missing out on because of pride and stubbornness, seriously, is it worth it? Let me answer that question for you, no! It’s not worth it! It never will be! So what are you waiting for? Get over yourself and humbly take the first step toward conquering Pride and Stubbornness in your life. Only you know what action you need to take but whatever it is, don’t waste another minute.

And for the record, a funny thing always happens when I release a tirade upon the shortcomings I see in others. God gently put his finger on an area of pride in my life and lovingly whispers “seriously, Ren√©e, is it worth it?” And in that moment, humbled by His overwhelming grace and mercy that I will never deserve, I find myself once again crying out “Father, forgive me.” Won’t you do the same? It’s so worth it!

Talk Is Cheap

I watched the Presidential Debates last night like many Americans. And according to Twitter, my go to “authority” on people’s reaction – I was not alone in my thoughts that both candidates can say things that sound right and good, but until they back it up with action, then their words are nothing but more empty promises. Both spent countless hours preparing for the opportunity to tell the American people what they believe will bring about change and both shared their action plan for backing up what they said. The problem is that much of what they say does not line up with what they have done or will do in the future. Sometimes there are unforseen obstacles that prevent them from keeping their campaign promises. Sometimes it’s other people not doing their part in the process. Sometimes they run out of time before they can accomplish what they set out to do. And other times they simply don’t believe what they say is even possible but they say it anyway because they think it’s what we want to hear.

As Christians, we are often like politicians – we talk a good talk but our words don’t line up with our actions. We too face challenges and timelines¬†that we use as excuses to prohibit us from acting on what we say. Many times we choose not to act when we should be choosing to persevere in trusting God, like we say we do. We may say we trust God to fix our situation but then we do things in our own abilities to bring about the outcome that we believe is best. We tell God we trust Him with our finances but the first time we’re short on cash for the monthly bills the first thing we do is skip tithing to our church. We tell our co-workers we believe in and trust God but when the rumors of lay-offs surface we are among the first to display panic and worry. When our marriage begins to fall apart we pray to God proclaiming our trust that He can restore it. But when our spouse tells us they don’t want to try to work things out, we cry out to God and ask how He could let this happen and question whether He really cares or not. We attend church and read our bible saying all along we believe in the promises of God and we trust Him when He says all things are made new in Christ (2Cor. 5:17), that is until the moment the enemy whispers in our ear that nothing has changed and that we’re the same old person we’ve always been and our doubts and insecurities begin to once again consume our thoughts. Just like the candidates in the debate last night, we may believe 100% that what we say is the truth in the moment that we say it. But as soon as we come up against an obstacle or our circumstances change, we may find ourselves no longer having trust in the words we spoke when everything appeared to be going our way. We can suddenly find ourselves doubting the very truth we previously spoke with such certainty.

I read a quote recently that I can’t get out of my mind. It said “Believing God exists doesn’t make you a Christian, acting like God exists does.” It really make me think – when I say I trust God in a particular situation, do my actions show it? Do my thoughts align with the promises of God that I say I believe in? Is my life proof that I believe God is who He says He is, and that He can and will do what He promises in His word? When you say you believe in God and trust Him in all areas of your life, you can bet that there are people watching to see if the way you live your life reflects what you say you believe. Whether it’s your children, co-workers, family, friends or neighbors, they are watching and they see how you respond the moment something goes wrong. Our spiritual maturity is most effectively demonstrated to others when we act in accordance to God’s promises and not according to how we feel or what we think.

Non-believers, the lost and lonely are looking to those of us who shout out our beliefs to back them up with action. When we tell others they just need to trust God with their situation, we must show them what that looks like by staying the course and remaining faithful to our walk when the going gets tough in our own lives. When our paychecks are short our children must see our trust in God through our obedience to tithe even when the numbers don’t add up on paper. Our co-workers need to see authenticity in our lives so that they know that when we say we’ll do something, we mean it. Our closest friends and family must witness consistency in our lives by our being the same person around them as we are in public to others. Our neighbors don’t need to see our boyfriend leave our home on Sunday morning to head back to his own home just before they watch us drive off to church. The stranger in the store who recognizes us from their first-time visit to our church on Sunday should not overhear us gossiping about someone to our friend on the other end of our cellphone. If what we say we believe doesn’t line up with how we act, we are nothing more than a talking head to the lost.

How do your actions line up with the words you speak? Do people know you’re a Christian because you say so or does the way you live point others to Christ? As Christians it’s time for us to stop being all talk and no action. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is because if we can learn anything from the presidential debates it’s this – talk is cheap, people want to see that you’re for real. They want to see some action. It’s time to show our trust in Jesus by our complete surrender to Him as Lord¬†in all areas of our lives. It’s time we let people see who Jesus is by living a life that glorifies Him and demonstrates that He is worthy to be praised. The advice is the same whether you are a Christian or you’re a candidate for the office of President of the United States – the time for talk is over, it’s time for action.

High Expectations

Have you ever had a moment with your children when you realized that they had no clue how to do something that you had assumed they knew. Or maybe it was a co-worker and you saw them struggling to do something that you figured everyone knew how to do. Have you asked your child to hand you the pliers and they stare at you with a look that says “what you talking ’bout Willis?”¬†Sometimes we just assume that someone knows something just because we do – but obviously that’s not always the case.

Recently I took my son to open a bank account. We sat down with the new account person and got everything set up. She explained that Ryan would need to make a deposit of at least $5.00 to finish the process so she escorted us over to the teller and informed her that he would be depositing a check to open his new account. Ryan had a paycheck that would serve as his first deposit. Although Ryan had another bank account, all the deposits made to it had been direct deposit. This was the first time he had actually made a deposit in person. As we all stood there waiting for him to complete the deposit slip, sign the check and hand it to the teller, he just looked at me and said “I don’t know what’s going on. What am I supposed to do?”

In that moment I realized that the teller, the account manager and myself had expected him to know how to do the deposit simply because it was a common thing that we had all done so many times. What I failed to consider was that making a deposit is not something automatic that everyone knows how to do without some instruction first. Ryan felt confused, unsure and embarassed. This was something completely new to him and he needed someone to guide him through the process and explain each step before he could be expected to do it on his own.

Ryan’s experience at the¬†bank made me think about how I had felt as a new Christian. I remember how it felt being in a bible study and being asked to look up and read a particular scripture and everyone expected me to instinctively know exactly where to turn to in my bible. I remember feeling completely panicked as I looked for the verse for what seemed like forever. I remember hearing religious terms and phrases and having no idea what they meant and how afraid I was to ask because everyone else seemed to already know their meaning. I remember thinking that because I was born again I had to be perfect. If I made one mistake I felt so ashamed that I didn’t even want to be around anyone from church because I thought they were all perfect and never made mistakes. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I just knew I wanted my life to be different and I wanted to do things right in the eyes of God but I didn’t know how to do it or even where to begin.

Years later I am now by definition the “mature” Christian, although most days I still feel like I have so much to learn and so much further to go in my faith walk. But there are many things about the Christian faith that are now second nature to me. At least now I know exactly where to turn to in the bible when asked to read a scripture. But it has taken a very long time to get to that place and I didn’t get there on my own. There were other Christians along the way who understood that they could not expect me to know everything there is to know about how to be a follower of Christ just because I had been saved. Some things needed to be taught. And with grace, compassion and patience they discipled me in the foundations of our faith.

As believers it is our responsibility to teach new believers how to follow Christ beyond just Sunday mornings. We are to teach them foundational truths like lordship, repentance and forgiveness. We must guide them through spiritual disciplines like reading and studying their bible, serving their local church and spending time in worship. We must show patience and understanding as we help them learn to pray and we must be compassionate when they fail in their walk so they never feel condemnation. We must model for them how to be obedient to God’s commands. But as the church are we truly¬†busy making disciples or are we just too busy and they are left to make it on their own? When new believers perceive that¬†we think they should know how to do everything without being taught then they are made to feel inferior, ashamed and embarassed.

Many new believers simply stop attending church and disconnect from other believers because they don’t understand how to follow Christ and the first time they make a mistake or make a wrong choice they feel like they’ve failed and that they don’t fit in. They feel that way because they’ve never been taught grace, mercy and forgiveness. It’s not intentional on our part but we must remember how it was for us as new believers. What we do have to be intentional about is making disciples. If we consider ourselves Christ followers then we must follow in His ways and teach those who are new disciples. Jesus never expected that His disciples would just know what to do after they made the decision to follow Him. He knew they were like toddlers just learning to walk so He helped them by lifting them up when they fell and walking with them as he showed them what it meant to be His disciple. Jesus had high expectations for His followers but He never expected them to meet those expectations on their own. He walked alongside of them every step of the way. Is there a new believer you know who needs you to walk alongside of them? Ask God to help you fulfill His great commission:¬†“therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy¬†Spirit,¬†¬†and teaching¬†them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you¬†always, to the very end of the age.‚ÄĚ (Matt. 28:19-20). Let Him guide you as you help guide others in obedience.

A Change of Fate

In Disney’s latest animated blockbuster, “Brave”, the movie’s heroine Merida is described as “impetuous” and “determined to carve her own path in life.” She defies her parents and the custom of her day in order to determine her future’s course. Because it had been promoted relentlessly, my whole family could quote lines from the movie before it was ever released. And my son has a knack for imitating other people’s voices and accents so every time the movie trailer comes on TV, Scott says in a thick Scottish accent, “If ya had the chance to change your fate, wud ya?” I’m laughing now as I write this because I just had him come say it for me and it cracks me up every time.

There was a time in my life when I was very much like Merida. I was free-spirited, independant and believed I was in control of my destiny. And just as the impulsive red-headed Merida, I would make rash decisions based on my emotions. Although I believed I was in charge of my destiny, I spent little time considering the consequences that the choices I was making would have on that destiny. And many times, just like Merida, my hasty, emotional decisions unleashed chaos in my life.

Today the idea of trusting in myself and attempting to control my own fate is something I want no part of. The old “been there, done that” comes to mind and believe me, where I was going and what I was doing was was not working. Back then, the way I figured it, the outcome of my life was inevitable and I didn’t hold much hope that is would be a favorable one. But I thought that I, alone, could change that fate – I honestly believed I had the power to change the course of my life. But what I didn’t know then was that as long as I continued to live in sin, the course my life was taking would never change and I lacked the ability to change it no matter how hard I tried.

The other problem with thinking I had the power to change fate was that I didn’t take into account my impulsive nature and my emotions that always got in the way. So even though I tried hard, things seemed to be headed toward the fate I thought I had the ability to alter. I had put all my trust in myself to overcome the hand that I had been dealt. But after several poor choices and their negative consequences, I began to believe that I really didn’t have any control over my fate and my life was spiraling toward the end result I had once believed I had the power to change.

It was fifteen years ago when I reached my rock bottom and I decided it was time to quit trying to run my own life. I had messed it up to the point that I had almost lost my marriage, I was in debt, and I had no hope for the future. It was in those darkest moments I realized that I really was in control of my fate – only it was definitely not in the way that I had imagined. I finally understood that in my attempt to control and thus change the course of my life, I was actually steering it in the exact direction I wanted to avoid. And I can now see that if I had continued, my life would have turned out just like I had come to expect it to. But thankfully God had a different plan for my life. He had created me with a destiny and a hope. But until I surrendered control to Him and sought His will for my life instead of my own, I would never reach the pre-ordained, perfect destiny He created me for.

What I learned in that difficult and challenging season of my life was that my fate was still dependant upon my choices. But at that point, I made a choice that would put my destiny in God’s hands, not my own. My future would no longer be dependant upon a predetermined outcome influenced by my choices, my circumstances, my family history, or what someone else negatively spoke over my life. It would be based on my faith and trusting in God’s promises for my life. In the spring of 1998 I chose to surrendered my life to Christ and began to put my trust and my faith in Him to determine the course of my life.

Fate implies an inevitable, usually unfavorable outcome. I learned the hard way that when you believe in fate you are saying that your life course cannot be changed and there is no hope to overcome your wrong choices, your mistakes or your misfortunes. The course has been set and you’re living each day moving toward an unavoidable conclusion. You may believe you can change your fate but as young Merida and I both discovered, taking your fate into your own hands only produces chaos. While there are those who are able to temporarily alter their fate by the choices they make, they will never be able to change the final outcome when they choose to live in sin. The bible says the wages of sin is death. If we choose sin over God our fate will always be eternal death (Romans 6:23). Our fate is ultimately determined by our unwillingness to surrender control of our lives. But God alone determines our destiny.

But when you live by faith, you are not affected by circumstances, past mistakes and wrong decisions. Faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not based on our negative thoughts or how things appear to be going in our lives. Faith means we are trusting that God is in control even we we cannot see the evidence of it. And when your faith is in Him you have hope in a destiny He predetermined for you, one that will have a great and noble end.

If ya had the chance to change your fate, wud ya? Your answer should be a resounding YES! The first step is coming to the realization that you are not in control, God is, and that you are in desperate need for Him to be both Lord and Savior of your life. And while He does give us free will to make our own choices for our lives, our choices will never lead us to the destiny we were created for. We will simply become overwhelmed and frustrated as we hurdle toward a fate we were never intended to encounter. The next step is to surrender your life to Christ and to put your faith and your trust in the One who determined your destiny long before He ever created you. No outcome you can imagine in your wildest dreams will ever compare to His good and perfect will for your life. So break free from the burden of trying to determine your own fate and let God lead you into your destiny – your life will never be the same!

Going In the Basement

One of my favorite radio hosts of all time is Jim Rome. He’s the host of a¬†syndicated sports talk radio program and¬†has also hosted a sports TV show on ESPN. He is probably best known for the quirky phrases he uses regularly on his show. One of the funniest is when he says he’s “going in the basement ” in place of saying¬†he is going to be on vacation. Going in the basement simply means he wants to get away from everyone and will be unavailable until he reemerges from the so-called¬†“basement”.

One thing I’ve noticed in people is their tendency to “go in the basement” whenever they believe they’ve disappointed God. They believe they cannot return to church, their small group or communicate with other believers because they’ll be judged. So they respond by isolating themselves from the very place and people who they should be running to, not from. The bible says “for all have sinned¬†and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The word used is all, not some, but all. But when we sin the enemy wants us to believe that we are the only one who is not living a holy and perfect life. We shy away from the fellowship of other believers because we wrongly think that they will know what we’ve done and will judge us. We also falsely believe that we must perform a certain way for God and that if we don’t measure up He will not love us anymore and we will no longer be close to¬†Him. Once you are born again you are never separated from God. You may feel separated because of sin in your life but you are never really separated from Him. But so many people believe the lie of the enemy that says “if¬†you don’t behave the way¬†God expects you to then¬†God will disown you”¬†so they isolate themselves,¬†hide from God and won’t come back to church out of fear of being judged. There are no guarantees that there will not be those who may pass judgement because believers are called to judge fellow believers (not unbelievers)¬†by their fruit and to hold them accountable in love and grace (Matt. 7:16-20, John 7:24, 1Cor. 5:12-13). But the response to that form of judgement¬†is not to run from¬†everyone. It’s a good thing that there are those who want only God’s very best for your life and who¬†will help you to return to rightstanding with God.¬†The church is filled with Godly men and women who understand they are not in a position to judge as they¬†themselves are¬†sinners too but are willing to share their wisdom and experience with new believers.

The “basement” is a dark and lonely place where we isolate ourselves from the encouragement, accountability and life-giving prayer and support of fellow believers. And this is exactly where the enemy wants you to be. If you ever watch animal shows on National Geographic you’ll notice that the animals travel in herds or packs. They do so because there is safety in numbers. The same is true for us. There is safety in the accountability and support of the local church and spiritual family. But when the predators attack an animal herd, their strategy is to isolate an individual from the group. They do so because the individual that is separated from the group is a much easier target to take down than when they are connected to the rest of the herd. Typically it is a weaker, younger animal that tends to separate from the group because they lack the experience and knowledge on how to safely stay with the rest of the herd. The enemy of our souls seeks to isolate us from our spiritual family because he knows we become an easy target when we are on our own without the support and help of a group of believers. And he targets the newer believers who have not yet had the opportunity to firmly lay the spiritual foundations in their lives that will give them the knowledge and experience they need to know how to call on others and to use the¬†tools God provides for us¬†during a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:11-18). Because they are a target of the enemy, it is even more vital for newer believers to run to God and their spiritual family when they battle sin and to firmly resist the temptation to remain isolated and alone.

If you feel separated from God the first thing you must realize it that you are not, you only feel that way because of sin in your life. You will never be perfect and you will continue to make mistakes along the way. You must accept that. But you don’t have to stay that way.¬†And you can be assured that God’s love for you is not performance based. You do not have the ability¬†to make God not love you. And you can never do anything so great that¬†God will love you more than he does now. Likewise,¬†you can never do anything so bad that He will love you less. His love for you is immeasurable and it will endure forever so stop trying to make Him love you more and stop believing the lie that He loves you less because of something you’ve done. When you sin your response must be to repent and turn away from that sin. Then you have to get out of the darkness of the “basement” and back into the light of God’s house and fellowship with other believers.¬†You will find protection, encouragement and support when you are firmly connected to other believers through the local church. In spiritual family you will find people willing to stand alongside¬†you and to battle the enemy on your behalf through prayer as they help you bear the weight through¬†difficult seasons. It’s time to emerge from the basement and reconnect with the¬†God who never left your side by returning to church and the fellowship and support of other believers. You weren’t created to battle alone so now’s the time to stop trying and rejoin your herd where¬†you’ll find there truly is¬†safety in numbers.

Why Commitments Don’t Cut It Anymore

The word commitment is so overrated today. I hear it and I cringe. It’s overused to the point that it no longer holds any value. Think about it. Our President is committed to fixing the economy but the economic outlook is worse than it was when he first made that commitment 4 years ago. Brad Pitt is committed to Angelina Jolie yet 7 years and 6 kids later we barely have a ring and no date is set according to the committed couple. Others are committed to ending the war that has no end in site or fighting obesity as they introduce bacon sundaes as their new summer treat and others offer up single portions that could feed a family of four. How many of us have committed to weight loss as we head out to the movie and eat a 5 gallon bucket of buttered popcorn and wash it down with a 200 ounce soda? Is anybody really committed to anything these days?

Today so many people are too quick to give up. They start a new excercise plan in January and by March they’re done. They quit their jobs before they find another one and then don’t have the money to pay the bills. They quit school, sports, clubs and organizations that they were once eager to begin. They try going to church when things aren’t going right in their lives and then quit going when God doesn’t change things fast enough for them. They quit their marriages when things get a little tough and their spouse doesn’t do everything exactly like they want them to.

Committment means that a loyalty and dedication exists through an emotional obligation to someone or something, it is being bound to something or someone emotionally. The problem¬†is that our emotions change and when they do we think it must mean it’s time to end our commitment. We view commitments as something that is¬†non-binding and holds little weight, especially when it comes to relationships. Divorce has become far too common an option among troubled marriages. In many cases one party wants to fight for the marriage and to seek help through counseling to work out the problems. But the other party simply wants out. The collateral damage can be far reaching and long term.

What is needed in marriages today is not for the couples to be more committed to their relationship.¬†What is really needed is for couples¬†to understand fully what they entered into when they said “I do”. Marriage is much more than a commitment – it is a covenant between two people. By definition a covenant is a promise or pledge between two parties to do something specific. It is binding and it is guaranteed. When two people stand before God and recite their marriage vows they are entering into a covenant relationship that is not intended to be broken.

I recently read this quote and thought it speaks to the seriousness of the covenant between a husband and wife. “Jesus had VERY strict standards for marriage. Why? Because marriage represents the covenant relationship between Himself and His church. The husband is meant to be a picture of Christ, His leadership and His sacrificial love for His bride. The wife is meant to be a picture of the church, responding in reverence and adoration to her Groom ‚Äď following Him with total faith, joy and abandon.” – Peacefulwife’s Blog (www.peacefulwife.com)

If we, as Christians, are to model Christ-like behavior to others, it must begin in our marriages. When we have strong, healthy marriages, not perfect marriages but marriages that fight through the tough times, we become an inspiration to a lost and hurting world. Married couples are like two canoes in a river. Unless you paddle toward one another the current will cause you to drift apart. You must purposely paddle toward each other in order to stay together. How do we do that? We must honor the covenant we made before God and not be so quick to throw in the towel. In humility we must seek help when things begin to unravel. We need to have Godly counsel in our lives to hold us accountable to our vows. We need to stop thinking that it’s all about me and what I want and seek to better understand our spouse and what their needs are. We need to make sure our priorities are right and that God and our spouse come before ourselves. We need to purposely work on our marriages no matter how long we’ve been married by having date nights, communicating with our spouse when things are going well instead of just shutting down, and¬†attending conferences and seminars on how to have a better marriage. We need to pray with and for each other. It takes work but it’s worth every bit of effort you put into it. God designed it that way.

God created marriage to be a blessing and many people act like it’s a curse on their lives. They think that the way they felt when they first fell in love is supposed to last forever and when life sets in and the honeymoon is over then they decide to bail because it’s just too hard and the feelings aren’t there anymore. The enemy wants nothing more than to destroy marriages because he knows that an attack on marriages is a single shot that has many casualities. He begins with causing cracks in the foundation through unrealistic expectations, unforgiveness, mistrust, and insecurities.

If your marriage has cracks in the foundations instead of giving up it’s time to start filling in the cracks and then building on the foundation to ensure your marriage will last. Your marriage is a covenant relationship, a binding promise made before God. It is not a frivolous commitment that can be broken on a whim of emotional disatisfaction. Begin with repenting to God for your sinful attitudes and actions that have been damaging to your marriage. Then seek Godly counsel to begin to restore and repair the cracks in your foundation. Pray to God to bring restoration to what the enemy has try to ruin and then release your marriage to Him. It’s not up to you to fix it. It is up to you to put your faith in God and to trust in His promises. Don’t just recommit to your marriage, make the decision to honor the covenant you entered into with your spouse. God is faithful in his covenant promises, the least we can do to honor Him is to be faithful in ours.

A Few Too Many Hats

The Kentucky Derby is known in the sports world as “the fastest two minutes in sports”.¬† Many also call it “The Run for the Roses” after the blanket of roses that is draped over the winning horse. But when I think of the Kentucky Derby I think HATS! Not just any old hats but¬†elaborately adorned, lavishly ornate, ridiculously large, extravagantly outlandish, over-the-top¬†hats. Many women go so far as to have a hat specifically designed for them to ensure their hat will be a one of a kind. Some day I would love to attend the Derby and wear an incredibly large hat just for fun.

Most women I know have many hats – the mommy hat, the wife hat, the friend hat, the volunteer hat, the employee hat, the sister hat, the caretaker hat, the daughter hat, the student hat and the leader hat. They may have one of these hats, all of them, or some combination of hats they wear in their every day lives. Each day we¬†don our many hats in our attempt to be¬†everything to everybody. We place unobtainable expectations on ourselves that we have to juggle all the roles the hats represent and there is no room for mistakes or weakness. The entire juggling act leaves us feeling overwhelmed and on the inside we’re screaming “I can’t take it anymore!!”. But some how most of the time we end up managing the vast array of hats we’ve accumulated and by the grace of God we pull it together just prior to a meltdown, check the mirror to make sure we’re sporting the right hat at the right time, then go about our day as if we’ve never missed a beat.

There are times though that we cannot seem to keep it together. The hat juggling act is just too much and we drop the ball in one area or another.¬† So many women today live¬†with the burden of feeling as if they’ve failed when they can’t seem to manage it all. For many this leads to depression, exhaustion, insecurity, stress, addiction and other unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating. The pressure for women to do it all is astounding and the truth is you can do it all – but in doing so something is going to suffer. There will be some area of your life that will pay the price for your attempt to do it all and be it all. Most of that time that area is the one that we give the least attention to – ourselves.

I spent many years working in Corporate America trying to balance a stressful job with being a wife, mom, volunteer, daughter and friend. The toll it took on my children, my marriage and myself was never worth the tradeoff of a big paycheck, big house and big vacations.¬†I was a people pleaser who never said no until I found myself spiraling out of control. I reached an explosive point in my life where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was trying to do it all on my own and it just wasn’t working. It was during that time that out of His incredible love for me, God pursued me until I relented.¬†I gave my life to Christ and surrendered it all to Him. I quit trying to run my life and made the decision once and for all to hand it over to God. An inexplicable amount of weight was lifted off my shoulders and I felt a peace I had never¬†felt before.¬†I felt like a high school graduate tossing all my hats into the air.¬†I learned¬†during that season of my life that when God says His yoke is easy and His¬†burden is light, He¬†isn’t kidding (Matt. 11:30). We are not meant to do it all on our own. God stands at the door knocking with the solution to the craziness of our lives. All we have to do is open the door.

The more I put God first in my life the¬†easier I found it¬†to juggle all the hats I still had in my closet. My roles didn’t change but my ability to manage them with peace and joy did. There were and still are many stressful moments trying to keep it all going at once but what I learned over time is that God will give me the grace to wear any and all hats He has given to me to wear. Where I run into trouble is when I try wearing hats that were never intended for me in the first place. When I begin to get that sense of being overwhelmed and things are beginning to spin a little too out of control I have to check the mirror and see what hat I’m wearing and if it belongs to me.

Sometimes I find myself in a hat that looks good on but it just doesn’t feel right. This is when I’ve said yes to something that I didn’t take the time to pray about first. It may be a good thing but sometimes we have to say no to good things simply because it would be too much for us or it’s not the right time. Usually when I’m wearing this hat it means I fell back into people pleasing mode and eagerly raised my hand when asked if there was anyone who wanted to help before I considered if I had the time or how it would affect my other responsibilities.

Then there’s the hat I put on thinking it’s mine but it really belongs to someone else. This tends to happen when I hang on to something for too long instead of enabling someone else to rise up into the role I need to lay down. Out of insecurity we cling to roles many times that we are supposed to hand over to someone else so that they may have the opportunity and blessing of wearing that hat for a season. Some of our hats are simply on loan and when it’s time to give them up we need to do so without delay.

Other hats don’t even look good on but we look in the mirror and think it looks great. I find myself in these hats when I’ve attempted to step into a role that I’m not skilled or gifted for. And as I reflect now on why I put those hats on in the first place it’s usually because I wanted to be like someone else who wears that same hat. Out of admiration or worse, envy, I grab a hat and throw it on and tell myself it looks good while usally making a spectacle of myself for sporting a hat that clearing I have no business wearing. I remember a time when I told a lady I hardly knew that I would babysit her children for her while she attended evening classes. I wanted to be that person that could help someone in need but in trying to be a heroine, I forgot that I’m not very good with multiple small children all in my care at the same time. It was not fun for me or the kids and only added stress to the mom. That was one time that I was grateful for a dear friend who was willing to tell me that although I thought the hat looked good on me, it didn’t and I just needed to get it off my head and save face while there was still time.

Just because a hat is available to be worn it doesn’t mean that you are the one who’s meant to wear it. If it looks good but doesn’t feel right, it’s on loan to you and now it’s starting to not fit right or if it looks pretty ridiculous on because it’s not your kind of hat maybe it’s time to clean out the closet and get rid of some of them. Remember, God will give you the grace to wear any hat that He’s given to you to wear. But if it’s not from God, it wasn’t your hat in the first place and it’s time to take it off. It’s never easy as a woman juggling all our hats but it’s impossible when you have a few too many hats to juggle.¬†You may have a lot of hats you have to wear but none will ever be as important as the crown that marks you as a daughter of the King. Start each day putting on the first hat God ever gave you, the crown of a princess then let Him decide which other hats you’re meant to wear. You’ll never go wrong when you entrust your hat collection to God.

Sky Diving and Rocky Mountain Climbing

Several years ago Tim McGraw released a song called “Live Like You Were Dying” from his album by the same name. The song reached number one on the charts and earned McGraw a Grammy. ¬†The message of the song was simple – live each day as if it were your last. Do the things that you always wanted to do, make amends with anyone you still hold a grudge against, show love to those who you hold most dear, and spend more time with God. Each of these suggestions are definitely things we all should be doing whether we¬†are dying or not. But what if, instead of living like we’re dying, we chose to simply live¬†like we really believed that when Jesus died on the cross He didn’t¬†just die for¬†our sins, He overcame the power of sin in our life?

Many people today say they believe in God and they believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. But the worry, fear, doubt¬†and¬†perpetual cycle of ¬†sin in their life says they believe something very different. Still others are filled with guilt and condemnation because they don’t believe they are good enough for God to love them even though they have received the gift of salvation. The problem for both is that they haven’t reached a point of¬†understanding the full extent of what Jesus did the day He died on the cross. They believe¬†He died for their sins,¬†which is¬†vital for salvation. They also believe that all their past sins have been forgiven. But what they fail to understand is that when¬†Jesus died on the cross, He not only died for all of their¬†sins, He overcame¬†sin.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we know it is not up to us pay the price for our sins. The price has already been paid and it¬†only needed to be paid¬†once. There is no need for¬†anyone to keep paying the price.¬†It is finished. When we accept God’s forgiveness of¬†sin, it is erased from our life along with the power it has over us.¬†We are set free from the bondage of sin and the power it weilds over us. But for many, they¬†live their life as if sin still reigns over them. They walk down the aisle of the church to the altar,¬†respond¬†to the gospel and¬†receive the forgiveness for their past sins. Then they attempt in their own¬†strength to make changes in how they act so they won’t sin anymore. At that point they are¬†simply practicing behavior modification when they should instead be surrendering their lives to Christ and trusting in His power to overcome sin in their life. Once we are saved, we are never separated from God. But those still trapped by the guilt and condemnation of past sin feel the separation that sin causes and for this reason many end up turning away from the church. They believe that as long as they behave a certain way they will be close to God but when they don’t behave “right” they feel as if they are separated from God, even though that’s not true. They believe God and other believers will no longer accept them because they have failed. They wrongly believe that they are the only ones who have done anything wrong and that everybody else has it all together so they choose to isolate themselves. And it’s in their isolation they become an easy target for the enemy.¬†The message of the gospel is not about doing all the right things and being a good person so God will accept us. It is accepting God’s promise that we are forgiven once and for all and trusting in Him and the power of the Holy Spirit to change our sinful nature and transform us into His image.

However, knowing our sins are forgiven – past, present and future – does not give us free reign to go sin because we won’t have to pay the price for that sin. What it does do is give us confidence in knowing that no sin – past, present or future – has any power over us. We are free from the control that sin once had in our life and from¬†the guilt and condemnation it made us feel. We do not have to live in fear that we will disappoint God. In His eyes, we are white as snow because our sins have been washed away by the blood¬†of Jesus. We do not have to isolate ourselves when we do fall short because there is nothing that can separate us from God once we are born again. We do not have to feel the pressure to be a “perfect” Christian because we accept that we are sinful by nature and know¬†we will be forgiven when we repent and turn from our sins – past, present and future. We don’t have to perform for God to love us, but out of our love for Him we choose a life of obedience to His commands. We do not have to fear death and eternal separation from our Father because the Word promises that through our salvation we will spend eternity with Him in heaven. We don’t have to live like a prisoner bound by the power of sin because we are free through the power of God.¬†Tim McGraw sang we should live like we’re dying but I say it’s much better to live like Jesus lived, glorifying the Father by living victoriously over sin.¬†How much better would our lives be if we all lived¬†like we really believed that Jesus¬†not only died for¬†our sin, He overcame it!