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!

The Fixer

scandal 2One of my favorite shows on TV is “Scandal”. The show’s main character, Olivia Pope, is known as a “fixer”. Or more appropriately, she is The Fixer in Washington, DC. When someone finds themselves in the midst of a major problem or scandal that needs fixing, Olivia is the go-to girl. She has an uncanny ability to know exactly how things will play out in each situation and she has a response plan in place before her client hardly knows what has hit them. She is cool under pressure and a brilliant communicator.¬†She is a strong woman who can handle most anything thrown her way and she¬†never reveals her hand¬†before it’s time. Even her own team many times has no idea what she is thinking because she is¬†unbelievably difficult to read.¬†The show’s characters are complicated, Olivia being the most complex by far. Her life revolves¬†around her repairing the damage of one scandal after another. But like everyone, even the seemingly unbreakable Olivia Pope has a weakness. And while she is the Queen of fixing everyone else’s problems, the one thing Olivia cannot fix is herself.

mr fix itLike Olivia, many of us live our lives as fixers. We are constantly attempting to fix things like our marriages, our finances, our family drama, our job situations, our kids, our loneliness, our sadness, our addictions, our hurts and our brokenness. Some of us accept the help of others by receiving their advice, counseling, methods or resources. Others simply say “I got it” and attempt the needed repairs all alone because they have all the tools they think they need at their disposal. Olivia Pope has a team that works with her but she is undoubtedly in charge and what she says goes. And each team member is forever indebted to Olivia¬†because they too have been “rescued” from impending disaster by the one and only Olivia Pope. Although she is surrounded by others she is completely in control and very unwilling to relinquish one bit of that control.

You may be like Olivia Pope and you may be a really good fixer. In fact, you may be the best fixer among those you know. You may have fixed long-standing family feuds, you may have fixed your marriage or your finances, you may have even fixed a personal addiction, a problem with your child or a major job issue. But like Olivia Pope, you too have an area you cannot fix, yourself. No matter how hard we try we will never be able to fix certain things. There will always be areas of hurt, unforgiveness, anger or other wounds to our hearts for which there is only one fix.

God healsGod is the original fixer and He alone can fix the areas that you and no other person or thing can fix.¬†I was a fixer and I always found a way to fix that one thing that I just knew would make my life complete. The problem was that I never really fixed what was really wrong. Each thing that I thought would bring me happiness was only a temporary “fix” and I found myself right back where I started, feeling empty and looking for my next¬†fix.

Finally someone told me I didn’t have a happiness problem, I had a joy problem. I based my happiness on my circumstances. I thought that if everything was fixed in my life then I’d be happy. What I didn’t realize was that there would always be something that needed fixing. But that if I would surrender my life to The Fixer, Jesus, then I could still have joy even when there was some area of my life in need of repair. I didn’t need a better husband, a bigger house or more stuff. I desperately needed a Savior. I needed to admit I couldn’t fix everything and that I needed Him to fix me.

nativity 2I needed to stop living a life of sin where all I thought about was myself. I needed to surrender my life to Jesus¬†and seek His will for my life and not my own. I needed to stop trying to pretend like some things I couldn’t fix would simply fix themselves with time. I needed to trust God to¬†heal those areas I’d never be able to fix or the areas I didn’t want to face. I needed the love of Christ and the peace that surpasses all understanding to fill the voids of my life. I needed the strength I have in Christ alone to overcome the things I’d never be able to in my own strength. I needed the promise of eternal life that I received the moment I said “I believe”. I needed His comfort in times of sorrow and His guidance in the times I felt lost and confused. I needed to believe that things could get better and they did when I placed my hope in Christ alone and¬†no one else, including myself. I needed¬†that precious baby born in a manger so long ago who came from heaven to earth to die the death that you and I deserve so we don’t have to. I needed his forgiveness of my sins so that I would be able to forgive others.¬†I needed His unconditional love and acceptance more than I ever realized. I needed fixed. I needed Jesus.

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!

Who Am I?

In the show “Hannah Montana” Miley Cyrus played a young girl who had “the best of both worlds”. She was a normal kid by day and a superstar by night. Each episode revolved around Miley’s constant struggle to keep her secret double life under wraps. After four seasons the series wrapped up with Miley finally finding peace as she revealed to the world who she really was.¬†In the end she no longer had the daunting task of “keeping up an appearance” and bearing the¬†burden of trying to be someone other than her true self.

People project a certain image of themselves for many reasons. A person may want to showcase certain qualities they possess for a job interview by projecting¬†¬†an image of confidence and professionalism. So they may carefully choose what they will wear in order to best communicate those characteristics that they want the employer to notice. Unfortunately, there are those who project a false image of themselves in order to gain something they desire. A person may project an image of trustworthiness and sincerity in order to gain the confidence of another, only to use that trust later to harm the individual.¬†The¬†horrific testimony of those victimized by Jerry Sandusky are an example of how he projected this type of false image¬†throughout his life while in reality he was found guilty of committing the most evil¬†crimes.¬†While Jerry Sandusky¬†is an extreme example of hidden secrets and leading a double life, there are some of us who regularly project an image that may be something other than the “real” us.

Many times we exert so much enery trying to project an image to the people around us because we fear that if they knew who we really were they would judge us, ridicule us or reject us. Although our motive for projecting a certain image may not be driven by selfish desires, those driven by fear and insecurity are no less damaging.

I clearly remember a time in my life when I lived my own double life. I had two sets of “friends”, two different physical appearances, two very different attitudes that drove two very different behaviors. There was a certain image I projected to my parents, employer and certain friends in school and a completely opposite image I projected to my other set of so-called¬†“friends”.¬† It was¬†an exhaustive juggling act attempting to ensure the lines didn’t get crossed and I ended up exposed. Trying to keep my darker side secret was more than I could handle. What I allowed people to see on the outside – the image that I was happy, had it all together – was in complete opposition to what was really happening on the inside of me that was visible to no one. I was lost, full of shame and regret, and completely falling apart. I worked very hard keeping that part of me sealed away from the outside world.

But God saw the very part of me that I thought was hidden from view from everyone. When I reached my lowest point God revealed Himself to me when I turned to Him in desperation. And through the overwhelming love I felt from Him through my prayers of hopelessness and through believers who reached out to me, I was able to bring into the light my darkest places.  I repented of the things I had been doing and experienced the freedom from the burden of having to keep such destructive secrets and behaviors in the dark. And what I thought would happen when I imagined being exposed was nowhere nearly as bad as my worst imagination. While there were those who did turn away from me, it was for my best that they were no longer part of my life. Those who really cared for me were overwhelmingly supportive.

I began to spend time working on a new image Рan image in Christ. Through discipleship with strong, Godly women, reading my bible and prayers of newfound hope, I began to understand my true identity, my identity in Christ. The more time I spent in His presence the more my life was transformed into His image. I began to believe who He says I am in His word and not who others said I was or how I saw myself. I no longer had the desires to do the things I once had. My desire was to do the things that would be pleasing in His sight. I no longer was insecure about who I was, I gained confidence in who I am in Christ. I no longer feared someone finding out about the real me, I rejoiced in the fact that I was fearfully and wonderfully made by my Father in Heaven (Psalm 139:14). I was no longer bound by guilt, shame and regret. I was captured by freedom, victory and His unconditional love for me.

In Christ I am fully redeemed and I am the righteousness of Christ. But I still live in a sin-filled world and although my soul (my mind, will and emotions)¬†desires to do what is right, it doesn’t have the ability to do so (Romans 7:18).¬†So, my journey is not over and I am still daily seeking God’s presence until the time when both my soul and my spirit are aligned.¬†It’s not until I stand in His presence in heaven and out of the presence of sin on earth that I will be fully glorified (Romans 8:18, 1Cor. 15:53). But until that time I have the assurance of who I am in Christ.¬†I know that as a believer, if I am projecting any image other than that of Christ then I’m projecting a false image. My identity in Christ is the only legitimate image I was created to project. Anything else is an illegitimate, false persona that He never intended for me.

Are you struggling to find your identity? Have you allowed others to tell you who you are? As a believer, have you lost sight of the promises of God that say you are forgiven, blessed,¬†a new creation set free from the bondage of sin, accepted and redeemed. Or are you someone who has never known that it was even possible to be forgiven and set free from the shame and guilt of the darkest areas of your life? It is possible for those who believe in Jesus, who died for your sins so that you could have a new identity in Him. If you’re in an identity crisis in your life, seek God and surrender your life to Him. He will give you a new life and a new identity, one set free from the weight of trying to be something other than who He created you to be. No matter who you might think you are, you are loved and chosen by God and your true identity is in Him.

Do Unto Others

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Remember that one? Anyone over the age of twenty-five has surely heard their parents utter those words to them at some time or another. I know I did – not so sure I lived by them but it’s not because nobody ever said them to me. I’ve always heard that saying referred to as The Golden Rule so I figured it was just some nifty saying that a parent made up to try to make their kids play nice with other kids. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I found out that it actually comes from the bible (Matt. 7:12). Surely I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that…….was I?

Today I overheard a conversation that was quite different from the Golden Rule while¬†picking up some things in¬†the local super center. A lady was on her phone telling who I’m guessing was her friend that she is “tired of always giving and getting nothing in return.” She went on to say that he, whoever he was,¬†“is never going to change” and she’s “done being the only one who gives in this marriage- it’s over.” As I looked up at the woman on the phone I was saddened to see two small children in her cart. This conversation has become so common that it could have taken place anywhere, anytime in any town.

It’s become our culture’s way of thinking – What’s in it for me? Why should I bother when I’m not getting anything out of it? Nobody’s doing anything for me so why should I bend over backwards for them? I don’t care what you want –¬†if you’re not going to give me what I want, then we’re done. You may never have heard the Golden Rule, but I can bet the farm you’ve heard someone you know or maybe even you yourself have said something similar to those comments. Many relationships today are based around this new rule that says “if I’m going to give of myself then I sure as heck better get something in return.” Oh, we want others to “do unto us” and we’re even willing to “do unto them” as long as it’s working both ways.¬†But for many people today, the minute someone stops doing for¬†us is the minute we stop doing for them and start planning our exit strategy. If you are married and you stand any chance of staying that way, you will have to do for your spouse during times when they are doing absolutely nothing for you. It’s a fact and it is guaranteed to happen to us all, married or not. There will come a time in your life that you will have to make a choice to continue to do for someone else who¬†is doing absolutely nothing for you or you will choose to walk away. And it’s in that moment your choice reveals the motive of your heart. If your sole purpose for giving to and serving others is to see what you can get out of it for yourself, then you’ve missed the whole point. It’s not about you.

Jesus hung on a cross for you and me. He was beaten, spit upon and condemned of a crime for which He was completely innocent. He gave His life. And He did it all knowing that He would get nothing in return. The best we can ever offer Him in return for His selfless example of how to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us, is to love Him with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind. And, to do unto others as we truly would like for them to do unto us. Deep down we want others to love us unconditionally. We want them to be willing to give of themselves to us without expecting something in return. We want them to put us above all else in their lives. We want them to not just tell us but to show us how much we mean to them.  We want them to sacrifice things that are important to them in order to spend time with us. We want them to show their love for us by protecting us both physically and emotionally. We want them to have our back and to stand up for us when we come under attack. We want them to lead our homes and our families with honor and strength. We want them to be an example of strong values to our children. We want them to model to our children how to love your spouse sacrificially and unconditionally. We want them to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. We want them to be just like Jesus.

And yet. Why are we not willing to be like Jesus? Why are we so unwilling to love them like Jesus loves them? Why do we see every fault and point out every mistake when we should be seeing their God-given potential and calling out the greatness in them that God created them for? Why are we so quick to accuse and slow to forgive? Why are we so unwilling to give and so willing to take? Why are we so focused on our needs and so incapable of meeting the needs of others when there’s no reward for us? Why do we look to our relationships to meet our needs when we should be looking to Jesus as the example of sacrificial giving. Why do we keep score and ask “what have you done for me lately” instead of doing everything we can to point others to Christ by serving them without expectation of reciprocation? Why are we so quick to remember every wrong of those who hurt us and so quick to forget¬†all Jesus did for us when He gave His life on the cross? Why do we ask God to change our spouses instead of crying out to Him “Lord! Change me!!”?¬†You may never get what you want from whoever you are giving to. But when you serve them with the motive of showing them the same love that Christ has shown you, you will find the strength to continue and your life will be forever changed because of it.

It’s time to stop making a list in your mind of all the things you want changed about the person in your life who you think owes you something.¬†Start asking God to show you His list of all the things in your life that need changing so that you can be more like Him. The Golden Rule is not just a nifty saying made up by parents – it’s God’s wisdom He shared with us through His word because He knew there would be times we’d forgot, times we’d become resentful, times we’d want to give up. And He knew in those times we’d need a reminder – if you want someone to do unto you, the key is to do unto them without expectation and with the motive of simply serving them. And God knew that when we do, just like¬†when Jesus did on the cross, lives will be changed – starting with our own.

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

On June 12th, 1987 Ronald Reagan stood behind a podium in front of the Berlin Wall and issued a challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union. President Reagan, in referring to the wall that had become known as the symbol of Soviet oppression, said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”. Those words are known as the most famous words of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Twenty-nine months later on November 9th, 1989 East Germany finally opened the Berlin Wall and by the end of that year work began to dismantle it completely. Although there is much debate over the amount of influence President Reagan’s words had on the destruction of the wall, it was an important moment in Cold War history.

During that time period there was an “invisible” wall of¬†mistrust between the Soviet Union and the United States. Secretary Gorbachev had openly expressed his desire to increase freedom among the people living in the Eastern Bloc countries through glasnost meaning “transparency” and perestroika meaning “restructuring”. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall ushered in a change among the political climate of the time which eventually led to the dissolvement of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War by the early 1990’s.

The invisible wall between these two superpowers is very similar to the invisible walls that exist in our own lives Рwalls created by things that have become a stronghold that keep us imprisoned in the bondage of sin and unforgiveness. Many times these walls of strongholds are built by unforgiveness we have toward someone, by a feeling of rejection or betrayal from broken trust, unhealed wounds caused by hurtful words and actions of others and guilt from our own actions we deem too shameful to ever be forgiven.

Over the years I’ve come to know many women with such great potential to experience freedom,¬†peace, joy, financial breakthrough, and fulfilling,¬†loving relationships with their spouse and families. Many have come so close to seeing the sledgehammer swing to begin¬†demolishing the walls that hold them captive. But each time they get close to demolition day the same lies, doubts and insecurities upon which their walls were built¬†begin to consume them once again and all bets are off. God stands by waiting to shower us with His love, forgiveness and freedom from strongholds but many times our walls are so fortified that even a Navy Seal couldn’t break through them. And every time¬†we turn away from God’s wrecking ball of freedom before our walls are shattered, the walls become even higher, stronger and more fortified.

During the Cold War the relationship between the former Soviet Union and the United States could not move forward until the invisible wall that separated and divided the two was torn down. It was not a physical barrier that kept the US out but a symbol of the guarded, protective and fearful nature of the communist government.

After we have been hurt, rejected or betrayed by someone, it is our nature to react the same way. Much like Mr. Gorbachev, our desire to be transparent and allow others to see what we are really hiding behind and our desire to bring into the light all that we have covered in darkness, must be stronger than our desire to continue to hide behind our walls.

Mr. Gorbachev spoke of being transparent but until his actions backed up his words, the Soviets remained veiled behind deception. We too must take action in order for the process of eliminating the barriers to our freedom in Christ can take place. We must not simply say we are forgiven, we must believe that when Jesus died on the cross and we confessed with our mouths that we believe in Him, then our sins were forgiven. Period. Until you truly believe that, you cannot begin to walk in the victory that freedom in Christ offers.¬†You will remain in a perpetual cycle of discontent marked by an inability to find fulfillment no matter how hard you try. When you try to repair your problems on your own, you will find yourself continually striving to breakthrough what only God is able to tear down. You may come close to breakthrough when you try on your own but you’ll find yourself giving up every time just before it happens.¬†True breakthrough happens when you surrender to Jesus Christ and allow Him to heal the broken places of your heart. You were never meant to do this life on your own. You were created to be in relationship with your Creator.

Are you tired of laying more bricks in an attempt to further fortify the walls around your heart? It’s time for the walls to come down so true and lasting healing can begin to take place. Stop trying to fix everything on your own and stop believing that over time things will get better. The truth is¬†that the innermost hurts and insecurities that hold us captive¬†from the freedom we long for can only be healed by the love and forgiveness found in Christ. Just as President Reagan in 1987 spoke to the oppression against the people of the former Soviet Union, my challenge to you today is to Tear Down This Wall! Your willingness to respond allows for your relationship with God to begin to move forward and for perestroika to take place. Let today mark the¬†start to the restructuring process of your life being built on the foundation of the Rock.

Off the Beaten Path

Recently while on vacation I decided to get some exercise by going on a hike at a nearby state park. I love to hike at home so I figured it would be a great way to get in some exercise while enjoying the local area. When I got to the park I asked the ranger if the trail was shaded. She confirmed that it was because the trail went straight into the forest and there were plenty of trees. She gave me a map and showed me exactly where the first trailhead began off the main bike and walking path. I headed out on the main trail after double checking the map. The trail I intended to take was a little over 2 miles. I knew I’d be done in about an hour so I left my water bottle in the car. And since the ranger told me the trail was shaded I didn’t bother with putting on sunscreen or my hat and left both in the car. I stopped at the big color-coded map at the beginning of the bike and walking trail to make sure one final time that I took a look at where the trail began. I took off thinking “this is gonna be great!” – you can see where this headed but keep reading, it gets better.

I came to the point where the trails began and they were marked just like the ranger had told me they would be. The problem was that they were marked by color, not name. I had memorized the name of the trail I was going to take. But it was ok, I was sure the color was green (wasn’t it?). Green was the first trail off the main path just like the one I wanted to take so it had to be right. So off I headed into the woods. About 10 minutes in it struck me that there was an awful lot of sun beaming down on me. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking but Florida doesn’t really have woods, at least not like woods we have in Tennessee. Their idea of woods is a gathering of tall, stick pine trees with little tuffs of greenery on top. Yes, there were various points of shade along the path where a really big pine tree offered a sprinkling of shade but for the most part my very pale, unsuncreened self was walking directly under the intense Florida sun. “That’s no big deal” I thought, it’s only going to take about an hour so I should be fine.

I started to notice some of the wildlife in the area as I passed a small pond filled with water lillies. There were many birds gathering there and it was¬†a really beautiful spot. I kept walking on the my green path and felt confident it was the right one each time I came across a tree with a mark of green paint on it that assured me I was still on the green trail. I reached a point where I had to choose to go right or left. Both were marked with a sign showing a green arrow pointing in each direction. I was a little confused because I didn’t remember there being a fork in the path I had chosen. It was just a big circle that would have brought me right back where I started. Oh well, I was sure it was the right trail so I picked a direction and kept trekking along.

As I kept on walking…and walking…and walking I began to check my clock. I was 45 minutes into the hike and it was really, really hot. I thought “I sure could use some water about now” but figured that it was only about 15 minutes until I finished my hike and was safely back to the car so I would be fine.¬†I kept on going still feeling confident by those trees marked with a green stripe. I continued on for what seemed quite awhile only now I wasn’t thinking about how lovely the sunny, Florida forest was. I began to think things like “wow, I haven’t seen another soul on this trail. Am I the only one out here?” and “I wonder if the ranger took mental note of me and knows that I haven’t returned yet” and “what did Bear Grylls say to eat if you ever get lost in the woods?” I stopped under a little piece of shade to check the time. I was now an hour and twenty minutes into the hike. “Ok, surely I’m almost to the end” I thought. I surmised that the information was wrong and the trail was¬†longer than 2 miles. So I kept walking.

I looked ahead¬†thinking that the parking lot would be in site as soon as I rounded the approaching corner. But suprisingly it was not the parking lot I came upon. It was a huge lake. I could see that the path went all the way around the lake, the really big lake. I felt a little twinge of panic come over me. I found a tiny piece of shade and sat down to take a look at the state park website from my phone. Surely they had a map on the website so I could see where I was and quickly get back on track. Nope, no map. So I searched other sites, blogs, topical maps, wikipedia, anything that might have a map. Nothing. I checked the time again. I was now 1 hour and 45 minutes into my hike. I started wondering “why in the world has my family not called, texted, sent out a rescue team or something?” Don’t they know I should’ve been back by now!?”

Finally I came across a blog from an avid hiker who described in detail each trail at this state park down to the most minute description like “the trail turns left by a bush that’s 2 feet tall next to 3 pine trees on your right”. I read the entire thing before it hit me – I took the wrong trail! I was supposed to follow the blue trail, not the green. I read in detail how to get out of the mess I was in until I noticed that she wrote the blog 4 years ago. Who knows that could’ve changed since then? I sat there completely miserable, hot, thirsty and wondering “do I go the entire way around this huge lake which will take me back to my car after a 9.8 mile trek or do I go back the way I came after I’ve already walked close to 4 miles?” I decided the only sure way to get back to where I started was to go back exactly the way I came. So, there I was. Lost, hot, thirsty, a little worried and a lot frustrated. I got up, made an about-face and headed back the way I had came. About an hour and 45 minutes later I arrived back at my car. I sat there for another 20 minutes drinking every drop from the now hot water bottle I had brought with me as I tried to cool down. I looked over at the map, sunscreen and hat sitting in the passenger seat and thought about the lessons I’ve learned, as a Christian, through my mistakes. Here’s a few I want to share:

  • In your walk with Christ be prepared for anything. You cannot assume that just because life¬†has been good and you’ve never faced any major difficulties that it won’t happen to you. Take everything with you along the way – your bible, prayer and friends who will hold you accountable. You never know when you may need them.
  • Know what you’re getting into when you choose to follow Christ. Make sure you’re always headed in the right direction as you follow Him.
  • Stay on the path no matter what. And if for some reason you get off the path, figure out how you got to where you are, where you made a wrong turn and make sure you never do it again.
  • Even when things get challenging in your walk and you face difficult circumstances always take time to notice the good things along the way. There are always positive things to give thanks for even in the middle of the negatives.
  • Know that things are always what they seem. You may think you’re out of the woods but you may not be. Don’t get too self assured. About the time you start to think “I got this” is the time you realize you don’t.
  • No two situations are the same so what worked for someone else may not work for you.
  • You’re not helpless and neither is your situation so don’t even let those thoughts enter into your mind.
  • Don’t expect others to come to your rescue. It may be just you out there so don’t rely on others to save you. God is the only one you should be relying on.
  • Don’t go so far into it that you think it’s too late to turn around. It’s never, ever to late to go back to where you started.
  • When you do go back, go back EXACTLY the way you came. Don’t try to look for a short cut but follow the path you took as you return to what you know is assured.
  • Pay attention to the inner feeling that you may be headed in the wrong direction. Stop and evaluate the situation instead of just pridefully plowing ahead assuming that you cannot make a mistake.
  • When you get back on track stop and give thanks that you’re headed back in the right direction.
  • Search for the lesson in your mistakes, seek forgiveness for the choices you made that took you off the right path and then forge ahead toward the end goal with renewed strength.
  • And next time, stick to a nice walk on the beach.

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!