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!

Advertisements

Fear of Commitment


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

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

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

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

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

Going Dark


One of my all-time favorite TV shows was “24” – to this day I’m still holding out hope that a “24” movie is forthcoming. When the lead character, Jack Bauer, was entering into a situation where he would no longer be in communication with his command point, he would always say “I’m going dark”. That meant they would not be able to reach him and there would be no contact whatsoever until it was safe to do so. When Jack was in his “stealth mode” the object was for him to not be exposed. He was to be unseen and unheard. If the mission became about him, it would all be over and the mission would fail.

I see many Christians who serve the church, their family and friends, their community, and even complete strangers with the same “stealth-mode” mentality. They understand that if their ministry to others becomes about them and not about God’s mission to reach the lost, then the mission will fail. They essentially go dark in order to remain unseen so that God may be seen through them as they selflessly serve others.

I’ve had the honor and privilege to visit Kenya, Africa where I met a couple, who quietly and with no fanfare at all, have served the orphaned children of their community for over 20 years. They have an incredible testimony and a story worth telling. But many years ago when they first arrived in Kenya, they felt God told them that if their ministry ever became about them, it would cease to exist. Because of their incredible love for the children they serve and their abounding humility, they have fiercly guarded themselves against pride. Their ministry has grown beyond anything they could have ever imagined. And they know that if they were to share their story in the United States, they could greatly increase their financial support and further the ministry to reach farther than they ever could with their meager support. But what would be lost is the ability to transform lives through the power of God. Because the ministry is not about them, the impact is far more reaching because God is able to show Himself mighty by meeting their needs time after time when they put their trust in Him. For that reason, they do everything they can to ensure they remain camouflaged and unseen so that God may receive the glory for the hearts that are transformed through they tireless and humble work.

Their story is so extraordinary because humility is the most difficult thing to possess and very few of us have it. And just about the time you think you got it, you’ve lost it. Everything in our culture screams “it’s all about me”. We are programmed to think about ourselves first before thinking of others and that we deserve to have it all so why not look out for number one? No one else is looking out for you, right? But humility says to put others first by giving up what we think we deserve. It means we treat others as if they are more important than us. How often, outside of God’s Word, do you hear that message in our world today? Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s just thinking of yourself less often. We cannot consume our own thoughts. We have to re-train our minds against what we are bombarded with on a daily basis and we must learn to think of others first. And because this goes against everything in our human nature, when it occurs God is glorified because there is no way other than by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can put others first. We just don’t have it in us. And when we do people will be drawn to Him and not us.

Are there areas of your life that need some camouflage? If you think you don’t have a problem with pride, there’s red flag number one. Trust me on this one, you do not want to get so full of yourself that it will take a humiliating moment to bring about more humility in your life. I know from my own experience, just about the time I thought I didn’t have a pride issue, God showed me just how much of one I did have. (Matt. 23:12, Prov. 16:18). We all need a reminder sometimes that it’s not all about us. Ask God to show you the areas of pride in your life and then when He does, repent and go dark.

Blind Obedience


Have you ever heard the term “blind ambition”? Most people have, but could you define it if someone asked you to? My son recently asked me what it meant and like most parents faced with a difficult question, I picked up my laptop and googled it. There is not an exact definition for the term but here’s the best explanation I found: “Blind Ambition is simply that.  You do not have a particular ‘focus’ as to where you are going, or what you want to do.  You just KNOW you want to do something, but where exactly you are headed is uncertain.  You can’t make up your mind, yet you’d do anything to anyone to get there as quickly as you can.  Make sense?  I thought not..but it’s true.”

It’s kind of like having a goal, having the ambition to reach the goal, going full speed ahead toward it but having no specific plan on how you will achieve the goal. It’s when you just “go for it” without really thinking it through first. Like the definition above states – it doesn’t make sense and you don’t know what the results will be but you do it anyway.

So that got me thinking. What if all followers of Jesus Christ practiced blind obedience – the kind of obedience that doesn’t always make sense but you do it anyway. As believers we don’t obey a set of rules, but as an act of love we are called to obey God’s commands not because we have to but because we want to. We shouldn’t need to know all the details and know how everything will turn out. All we have to do is to trust God and obey what He calls us to do. He is certainly not required nor should we expect Him to explain the “why” behind every opportunity He gives us to obey Him. God doesn’t need us to fully understand all that He asks of us. But He does want us to completely obey. Besides, we would be beyond overwhelmed if God showed us the “big picture” of every aspect of our lives.

So why do we feel such a need to know what’s coming next? Why do we find it so hard to just obey the step that God has placed before us? Pride and fear are two obstacles that get in the way of blind obedience. We believe we know better than God what the best plan of action would be or we’re too afraid to step out in faith and do what He has called us to do. What is it that you know that God has told you to do that you’re waiting for the full picture to develop before acting on it? Could it be that God is giving you the opportunity to practice blind obedience and to trust Him even though it may not all make sense right now? In John 14:15 Jesus says “If you love me, keep my commands.” It’s not complicated or difficult to understand. Do you love Jesus? Then just obey Him, even if it means you can’t see beyond the first step. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Prison Break


I confess – I watch too much television. One of my favorite new shows is Alcatraz, a drama that revolves around the prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco and the efforts of a team of investigators to track a group of missing prisoners who mysteriously reappear decades after they disappeared from the prison. On a recent episode an inmate appeared at the home of a friend who thought he had died while being held prisoner at Alcatraz. When the friend saw him he said “I thought you were dead! When did you get out of prison?” The inmate answered, “When you’re in prison, you never really get out. You just move from one cell to another.” Many people today are being held in captivity. They are a prisoner to some form of bondage, desperately seeking the key to freedom. They believe the key lies in the “ifs” of their lives. If I had more money. If I was with someone who really loved me the way I deserve to be loved. If I could forgive them for what they did to me. If I could just find a way to overcome this addiction. If I could lose 50 pounds. If I could get a better ____________ (fill in the blank…….job, car, house). If only I were prettier, smarter, funnier, more confident. They keep wandering from one cell to another searching for their elusive freedom.

What I found in my own life is all of your “ifs” can be overcome. You can conquer every perceived obstacle and still be a prisoner. The freedom most find is only a temporary freedom and after the initial break from captivity they find themselves right back in bondage. They may have found short term liberty in a new relationship, new job or a move to a new geographic location, only to find that what they thought was freedom was simply a move from one prison cell to another. There is only one true key to freedom and it is found in Jesus Christ. He alone is the lasting key to a life of liberty. It was never God’s plan for you to be captive. His desire for you is to live a life without limits, an open and expansive life. (2Cor. 6:11-13 MSG).

If you are prisoner to the bondage of addiction, lonliness, insecurity, depression, unforgiveness or anger it is time to be set free. It’s time to break away from that which holds you captive and seek the only One who can truly set you free. All you have to do is ask. Jesus stands waiting to open the door to the wide open, spacious life. (Matt. 7:7). Isn’t it time you break free? You have nothing to lose and your freedom to gain.

Make ‘Em Pay


Forgiving someone means accepting their apology, right? Well, yes. But there’s a second part to forgiveness that many of us leave out, especially us ladies. We tend to forgive but we also tend to make sure that the one we’ve forgiven doesn’t soon forget their wrong against us. We are quick to forgive because we don’t want to carry the guilt of withholding forgiveness from them. But we want to ensure that there is still a price to pay – that they have to earn that forgiveness in some way.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it doesn’t fit the definition of forgiveness, true forgiveness – the kind of forgiveness that Jesus died on the cross for. Forgiveness means to release a person from punishment, to exempt them from penalty. When you truly forgive someone then you do not expect anything in return. It’s over. It is finished.

You see, we are often too quick to forget what Jesus did for us on the cross. Oh, we remember the part about how He forgave our sins and so we in return are willing to forgive others. But we leave out the part of what He did before He died on that cross, the part where He paid the penalty for our sins. He received the brutal beating and punishment that our sin deserved. He never said “I’ll forgive you, but it’s gonna cost you”. Not only does He forgive us but He also paid the cost for us. (Isaiah 53:5)

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to forget the wrong that was done to you. But it does mean that you do not expect them to earn your forgiveness. If you forgive someone you forfeit your right to impose a penalty on them. When you forgive them you relinquish the need to make them pay for what they did to you by withholding affection or constantly reminding them of just how bad they hurt you. Many times as women when we forgive someone we falsely believe that we have the “right” to do what we want, spend what we want or act like we want without consequence because after all, we earned it because of what they did to us. In true forgiveness there is no penalty phase. There is no set time period that we get to treat the one who hurt us with an attitude of revenge while we practically dare them to react negatively because we’ve decided they deserve the harsh treatment as payment for their wrong.

What we all deserve is everything that Jesus endured on the cross on our behalf. But when we seek His forgiveness we receive it – no strings attached. We can’t earn it, we can’t buy it with flowers or gifts and there’s no certain time period that He gives us the cold shoulder until He decides we’ve finally earned full forgiveness. He forgives our sins the moment we repent. The moment we seek His forgiveness with an attitude of Godly sorrow, it’s done. There’s no penalty phase because the penalty was paid in full for our sins.

In response to the cross, the very least we can do is to fully forgive others who sincerely seek our forgiveness with Godly sorrow. We owe them forgiveness with no expectations of them earning that forgiveness. Those who ask for our forgiveness deserve the same forgiveness we receive from God when they do so not because they were caught doing wrong, but because they know they caused us to hurt and they never want to do it again.  Is there anyone in your life you need to forgive? Is there anyone you need to completely forgive?

Christmas is like a magnifying glass


For most of us our Christmas memories as children are good ones. I’m not sure if that’s because Christmas was really better back then or if we were just oblivious to what was really going on around us because we were so excited for Santa to come.

But as we get older it seems like Christmas becomes a time of stress, sadness and disappointment for many of us. The reason holidays can be such a difficult time is because Christmas is like a huge magnifying glass that magnifies everything that is wrong in our lives, especially when it comes to relationships. Christmas seems to cause us to be so much more aware of the enormity of the fact that all the expectations we had of Christmas as a child are now mostly unmet in our adult life.

It’s the time of year when it’s never more obvious to the divorced parent that they had a failed marriage when they have to put their child on a plane and send them off to the other parent for the holidays. It’s more evident to those whose families are estranged when every commercial on TV seems to show happy families all gathering together and everyone is enjoying each other’s company. It’s never more lonely on Christmas day for the soldier who is deployed away from family as they sit alone a million miles from home. Or for the single person who has no one special to share the holiday with, Christmas is the longest day of the year.

For those who have lost loved ones the loss is magnified when the realization hits that they will never again celebrate the holiday with the one they miss so much. For the families whose marriage is in crisis, Christmas magnifies the brokenness in the home and ushers in a new level of hopelessness when everyone else seems to have it all together – or so it seems when you’re the one who’s marriage is falling apart. For the child who is on the Angel Tree because his single mom cannot afford to buy gifts, his situation is magnified as all the other kids in class talk about what they’re getting for Christmas this year. He just hopes he gets picked so he’ll get something and won’t be embarassed when everyone asks what he got when they return to school.

Christmas is not easy for everyone. If you are one of the fortunate ones whose family has strong, healthly relationships and the get togethers are special moments where memories are made, please take time to give thanks that you are richly blessed. If you are like so many others whose situation is magnified this time of year and you are accutely aware of the failures, hurts, losses and disappointments in your life please take time to give thanks. No matter what your situation is and no matter how hopeless the holidays make you feel, you can still find hope in the one who’s birth is magnified in the songs you hear over and over every where you go. In the words of “O Holy Night” – long lay the world in sin and error pining, til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees. O hear the angel voices, O night divine, O night when Christ was born.

You see, this is the time of year that we long for in our souls. We have long been in sin and error but Jesus was born and finally our souls felt worthy. We should feel the thrill of hope, we should be rejoicing and falling on our knees because our Savior was born. We no longer have to live feeling hopeless and in despair because, through His birth, everything is new and glorious. We don’t have to live consumed by our circumstances and the enormity of our failures, shortcomings and mistakes. We can seek the One who came to save us and in Him find the peace that we so long for. Don’t spend another Christmas feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of this life and all it’s shortcomings. The things of this world will never bring us the joy our soul seeks. It’s only in the Savior, the Christ who was born on that holy night so long ago that we will truly find the peace and joy we so deeply long for. Let this Christmas be the one that you fall on your knees and receive His forgiveness and salvation. You can awaken tomorrow to a new and glorious morning where the only thing magnified in your life is His love for you.

Defying the Odds


For the past 4 years I have been the primary caretaker for my 99-year old grandmother who lives with my family. As those closest to me know, it has been a challenge.

The challenge has not been the physical needs of my grandmother. At 99 she defys the odds. She is in good health – the only medication she takes is blood pressure medicine. She has never suffered from any diseases. Her mind, other than short term memory loss, is sharp. She reads the entire newspaper every day, watches Days of Our Lives religiously and her favorite primetime show is Dancing with the Stars.

Besides preparing her meals, doing her laundry and shopping, and helping with bathing, hair washing and getting dressed, her physical needs are pretty minimal.

The difficulty lies in the emotional realm. It is not easy to see someone you love be so troubled in their soul. On the outside she displays an attitude and demeanor that everything is ok. But when you care for her day in and day out you know there is great fear and worry that occupy her thoughts. Her consuming fears revolve around the “what ifs” in her life – “what if I fall?”, “what if I end up in the hospital?”, “what if someone breaks into the house when no one is here but me?”, “what if I can no longer do things for myself?”

Over time the subtle doubts and fears that enter into our minds when we are young begin to take root. Their grip becomes tighter and tighter until those doubts and fears begin to consume your every thought. Your focus settles on the negatives and peace eludes your soul.

Because of what I’ve seen in my grandmother I began to take notice of the same strongholds in the lives of others. I noticed that so many people are absorbed by disappointments, failures and hurts of their past or they focus on the fears of not knowing what the future holds. And what they miss is the present moment. They miss the beauty of this season of their life. They miss the opportunity to have peace because they have convinced themselves that the turmoil of their past or the unknown of the future won’t allow them to ever be at peace. They “make it” through the present in order to “survive” to the end. And like my grandmother, they are not the exception to the rule. They are the majority.

But what if……what if you decided to really defy the odds? What if you chose to believe in that baby in the manger who defyed the odds? What if you became the exception to the rule and lived a life full of peace and joy? What if you had a strong, loving marriage that defyed the odds in a time when divorce is so prevalent. What if you found healing for the past hurts you’ve experienced and forgave those who hurt you? What if you didn’t worry about the future because even though you do not know what the future holds, you know the One who holds the future in His hands? What if you stopped trusting in your own abilities to make everything wrong in your life right and began to trust in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. He defyed the odds that the people of the world placed on Him and came to the world as a baby in the manger in order that you may defy the odds too and find rest for your weary soul simply by believing in Him.