Does Anyone Really Live Happily Ever After?


marriage5Recently my husband and I have had several people comment on what a great marriage we have and how we seem so happy with each other. This has prompted me to share a few things that we’ve learned along the way and to dispel some myths regarding our marriage.

The truth is, sixteen years ago (after being married only 5 years) we were not happily married. We were on the verge of divorce and were miserable and without hope in our relationship. We were headed straight toward the 50% of couples whose marriage ends in divorce. But at our lowest point we made a decision to do 3 things that changed our marriage, our lives and our situation.

First, we eliminated the option for divorce. We decided to work on our marriage and do so with the intention that we would never, ever divorce. We decided that we would not threaten divorce in the heat of arguments, we would not include it as an option for our future, we would no longer assume that if things weren’t working out that we would end our marriage and we would not think about it in our mind. It was simply removed from our lives and our vocabulary, period. And we didn’t do so just so we could be two people who didn’t divorce but were still miserable together. We did it with the intention that we were going to be happy in our marriage, no matter what it took.

marriage6Secondly, we knew it was going to be work and we committed to be lifelong students of marriage. We were at our rock bottom and it was not going to magically change overnight with the wave of a wand. We were going to have to work and work hard for a very long time to repair the damage that had been done and to build the marriage that we both wanted and needed. It’s been 16 years now and we are still working toward that goal. We read books, we get emails in our inboxes about marriage, we go to conferences, we pray together and for each other, we watch DVD’s, we go on date nights, we lead marriage small groups so we’re forced to study the topic of marriage, we put into practice the tools and information we have learned and are still learning. And guess what, it’s not easy and it’s still work but we know now that it has been worth every bit of effort we’ve put into it. We had to decide what our priority was going to be – our own selfish desires and our own unrealistic expectations or putting in the hard work it would require to make our marriage strong and healthy. We made our marriage the priority and it’s paying off.

Finally, and most importantly, we made God the Lord of our lives and the center of our marriage. We realized that everything we were doing was failing and that we couldn’t fix the relationship on our own. We surrendered our marriage to God and asked Him to do what we had been unable to do our own – restore our marriage and renew our love for each other. And as God always does and with the grace and mercy that only He can give, He came through and answered our prayers in a big way. We promised God that if He would restore our marriage then we would spend the rest of our married lives telling others what He had done in our marriage and encourage them to trust Him to do the same in theirs.

marriage7God transformed our lives and changed our marriage. And He placed in us a desire and determination to do everything within our abilities to continue to work on becoming the husband and wife He created us to be for each other. Our marriage isn’t perfect and we never want people to look at us and think so. Our marriage has the same struggles, the same disagreements, the same challenges as every other marriage. The thing that is different in our marriage that is lacking in the marriages of many young couples today is that we removed divorce as an option, we committed to work on it for the rest of our lives and we surrendered it over to God.

We have people tell us “you don’t understand how bad things are, we don’t love each other anymore and we don’t want to be married.” Trust me, you might be surprised just how much we can relate and how much we do understand. The point is, we do not have the perfect marriage. And we don’t for two reasons, #1 – it doesn’t exist so quit thinking it does and #2 – just because we’re in a good place now doesn’t mean we have never been in a bad place and we still don’t have bad moments. We do not have it all together, never have and probably never will. We simply chose a long time ago to not stay there and decided to do something about it.

marriage4So the question is “does anyone really live happily ever after?” The answer is yes but…..it won’t be easy and it’s going to take hard work and commitment on your part. Just like in the fairytales you have a very real enemy that you will have to battle for your marriage and that enemy IS NOT your spouse. And it will take time, commitment and a willingness to trust God to change you (not change your spouse, to change YOU) into the best husband or wife you can be and to study what His word says marriage is supposed to look like and be like. Then you will have to practice – you will fail many times but with practice you will find that over time you fail a whole lot less often. And you must remove divorce from your thoughts, your vocabulary and your options.

If you do these things I promise your marriage will succeed. It’s God’s will for you to live happily ever after (Jer. 29:11). Start doing your part and start trusting God to do His – you deserve the fairytale He has planned for you.

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.

In a Fog


I’m not really sure what causes fog. I know there are certain conditions that must occur in the atmosphere for fog to be present, but what they are doesn’t really matter. Some days it’s just there and today was one of those days. What I do know tabout fog is that there are some times that it’s thicker than at other times. I also know it makes it difficult to see both the things that I know are there even though I can’t see them and the unknown things that I will only be able to see once I get through the fog. This morning when we turned the corner and headed straight toward my son’s school it looked at though the school was gone. We joked that we might as well go back home because he couldn’t go to school if the building had disappeared. Even though we knew it was there, we could no longer see it through the thick fog.

After I dropped him off and headed home I noticed the sun shining through the fog. The heavy fog had completely hidden the school building but the brightness of the sun could not be masked. It was not completely clear but there was no doubt that it was there. I thought about the years I lived my life in a fog. I spent many years unable to see that God was right there with me because I was living in sin that obscured Him from my view. I was unable to see what was right in front of me because I chose to focus my sight on my circumstances and not on Him.

This morning’s dense fog made me curious so I looked it up to find out more. Because of its characteristics, the term “in a fog” came to be used as a term for something that obscures and confuses a situation or someone’s thought processes. Looking back on my life I can definitely see that the way I chose to live my life obscured the way I saw things. And when you aren’t seeing things clearly you can easily become confused and misguided. Because of my immoral behavior and poor choices my view of what was true and what was real had become distorted. Somewhere along the way I had lost site of the truth of the gospel. I had forgotten about the redemptive power of my faith in Jesus Christ. I lived as though I was powerless to overcome the temptation of sin. I failed to see the way out that God had provided for me. (1Cor. 10:13). My life had spiraled so far down that the fog of my sins had completely blinded me to the love and forgiveness of my Savior. Not only was I blinded to what was right in front of me, but I had no hope for what the future held. The road ahead was hidden and I couldn’t see where I was headed. I just knew I was going in the wrong direction.

But God is faithful and He will never leave us nor forsake us. (Deut. 31:6, Heb. 13:5, Matt. 28:20). He had never left me. I had turned away from Him. When I was in 7th grade I believed that Jesus died for my sins and that He forgave me. But over time I believed the lies of the enemy that said God wasn’t pleased with me because I had failed to live up to a false standard I had placed on myself. I wrongly believed that if I wasn’t perfect then God wouldn’t love me any more. I never understood that I would continue to miss the mark throughout my life because I was and still am a sinner. So when I did fail, the guilt and shame of my sin caused separation and distance between me and God. But God’s grace allowed me to see that His forgiveness is still available to me today just as it was when I first received it in 7th grade. His forgiveness by no means gives me a license to sin. However, I know if I do sin and I’m truly repentant in my heart, He will forgive me now just as He did then. Now my obedience to God’s commands is not SO He will love me but it’s BECAUSE He loves me that I want to obey His word. There is no longer a pattern of blatant sin in my life because I have been set free from the control that sin had over me through Jesus. Now sin doesn’t have any power over me – through the power of the Holy Spirit in me, I can now overcome the temptation to sin. And I no longer carry the false burden of having to earn God’s love – I’ve come to understand that He gives it freely and all I have to do is receive it.

Just like the sun is what burns off the fog that covers everything on a foggy morning like today, it was the Son that made the fog in my life completely disappear. And like the sun today, God’s light cannot be covered up no matter how thick the sin is in your life. He’s always there shining through the darkness if we’ll just look up to see. As I look out the window now the fog has lifted and there are clear skies ahead. Where I couldn’t see my future before because the fog of my sin obscured what lie ahead, now my future is filled with hope. I’m no longer confused by what I see around me. I now clearly see God’s direction in my life because I spend time with Him in prayer and reading His word. The veil that kept me from seeing the truth has been lifted and I see the direction I want to be going in. I still make wrong turns sometimes but I never allow the fog to become so dense I can’t see my way back to the Son.

If you’re living in the fog of sin, first of all know that fog was never intended to be lasting and permanent and neither was the sin in your life. God never meant for you to remain in the bondage of sin. That’s why Jesus died on the cross – so you can be set free from the prison that sin holds you in. Secondly, you must look up to the Son. Look to the forgiveness that Jesus offers when we believe. The light of His love is right there shining through the fog in your life. Look to Him and believe – when you do the fog will disappear and you can begin to see clearly the love and peace of the One who has been right there waiting for you all along. Isn’t it time for you to stop living in a fog?

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.” (Matt. 28:19-20). Let Him guide you as you help guide others in obedience.

Who Do You Say I Am?


Last week my son graduated from high school. In the picture he’s the one in red 😉 I always thought it would be pretty cool when your children grow up and leave the house to enter into adulthood. Now that it’s actually happening to me I realize it’s soooo not cool. It’s really very emotional, exciting, sad and inspiring all at the same time. It was 7 minutes into the ceremony when they played the graduation march and the graduates began to file in. And it was around 7 minutes and 2 seconds into the ceremony that my typically unemotional self lost it. In that moment I became fully aware that this single event marked a finality to his childhood. It was really over. There would be no do-overs for the mistakes I had made, the opportunities I had let slip by, the lessons I had failed to teach or the moments I had missed because I was simply too busy. That season was now over and it was time to enter into a new one. I couldn’t help but wonder what Ryan was thinking as he sat there with his 310 fellow graduates. I wondered if he was thinking, as I was, that the time had come for him to be a man and that whatever had taken place during childhood was now just memories mixed with the occasional regret.

As with all graduations there are the speeches filled with inspiration and encouragement and I listened intently to each one for nuggets of wisdom. One of the most profound to me was a simple statement from the principal. He said “Everyone will be remembered for something in their life. What will you be remembered for?” I thought about Ryan and wondered – 25 years from now when he’s my age, who will the world say he is? What will people think of when his name is mentioned? What will he be known for? It’s such a simple yet significant question for us all – when my name is spoken, who do people say I am?

Jesus asked this question to his disciples in Matthew 16:13. The answers were as varied then as they are now. People thought he was a prophet, a teacher, a dead prophet returned to life, John the Baptist and even a demon-possessed lunatic. His own family even thought he was a little crazy. Today people say he was a good man, an inspirational teacher, a leader or even a fictional character in a make-believe story. But after Jesus asked his disciples who others said he was, he asked them “who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15).

As Christians the question Jesus asked is just as important to us today as it was to his disciples in the moment that he asked them over 2,000 years ago. We all need to ask ourselves:

  • What do I say when someone asks me who Jesus is?
  • Am I prepared to answer that question?
  • Do I know in my heart who He really is?
  • Does my life reflect who Jesus is to me? And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

When asked by Jesus “who do you say I am” Simon Peter responded “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus was and still is the promised Messiah. He is the substitute for our sins, the Lamb of God. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator of the Universe. He is the Great Physician and by His stripes we are healed. He is the sacrificial Lamb and the Savior of the world. He is the Great I AM and is Lord of all. He came to fulfill the law and He is the new covenant. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the One I adore and He is my Strong Tower. He is my Rock and my Comfort.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the King of Glory, the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Lion and the Lamb, the Prince of Peace and the Lion of Judah. He was, and is, and is to come and He is God with us. He is my Lord and Savior. He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Who is He to you? Only you can answer that question. But I do know that you are the world to Him. He loves you more than you can ever imagine. When you reach the end of your life it won’t really matter who others say you are. It won’t really make a difference what you are remembered for because eventually it will probably be forgotten. The only thing that will matter is how you respond in the moment Jesus says to you “who do you say I am?” Are you prepared to answer that question?

He Did It! ……No, He Did It!


If you’ve spent any time around children you’ve heard this line. It starts with a broken lamp, a crayon-inspired work of art on the bedroom wall or a knock on the door from the neighbor who has come to report someone ran through her flowers and trampled every one of her precious tulips. The “event” is usually followed by that look from mom that strikes fear in any and all children within it’s range and almost simultaneously the arms go up, the fingers point and the first terrified little voice shouts the accusation, “he did it!” followed by “nuh uhn! he did it.” What is it that is in us from a very young age that causes us to want to place blame elsewhere?

There is no doubt that we are all born with an unwillingness, or at very least, a reluctance to take responsibility when we are at fault. Even in the garden of Eden Eve blamed the serpant and Adam blamed Eve. For most of us our knee jerk reaction when faced with accusation is to point the finger at someone or something that made us choose to do wrong. Who hasn’t uttered the words “the devil made me do it”? Recent news stories filled with finger pointing, transferring the blame and complete unwillingness of people to accept responsibility for their actions has me thinking – why are we so unwilling to humbly say “I messed up. I made a mistake. I was wrong and I’m sorry”?

Due to ridiculously large sums of money awarded in court cases and a culture that glorifies and sensationalizes bad behavior, we live in a time when even those caught red-handed claim innocence by some reason or another or they label themselves a victim of a grand scheme by others to bring them down. We celebrate those who continue to break the law and offend and disrespect everyone on the planet yet never utter the words “I’m sorry.” (think Linsay Lohan, Kanye West, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, need I go on?) No matter how obvious it is where the blame lies, everyone seems to make choices with no thought toward consequences because they’ve learned to defer responsibility onto someone or something else. Most mornings I hear a news story on TV that begins with “Who’s to blame for _______?” (fill in the blank….high gas prices, growing unemployment rates, high levels of obesity in America, increases in government spending, etc.). I think one of the most unbelievable examples I’ve seen recently is a group of college students who sued their college because they couldn’t find a job upon graduation. Nine graduates of a New York law school filed a $225 million dollar lawsuit on the basis that the school they attended should have anticipated the current recession. No seriously, they did. Fortunately a judge dismissed the case stating that “although we all sympathize with those who are having difficulty finding work, their anger and angst are misdirected.” Other lawyers unsympathetic to the new graduates said “The people who are applying to law schools are highly educated, they know how to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.” And the fear of litigation has caused many doctors, hospitals, school systems and companies to put in place preposterous policies to protect themselves. Extreme insurance costs have driven many small companies out of business and as consumers we pay the price through sky high insurance rates resulting from frivolous lawsuits. But all of that doesn’t seem to stop the mentality of “deny all, admit nothing and blame somebody else” which is prevalent in today’s society.

So again, why such an unwillingness to admit fault? I think the answer is really not  as difficult as it may at first seem. We are sinners, sinners who are filled with pride.  Pride is one of the most common things the devil uses to entice us into sin because pride is the opposite of the humility that, when present in our lives, points others to Jesus. Pride wants to take credit for favorable outcomes and place blame on others for the unfavorable ones. Pride blinds us to the reality of our situation by obscuring the truth. It causes us to overestimate our own righteousness and self worth which prevents us from repenting. Pride causes us to rationalize and justify our own wrong behavior. Pride masks our selfish attitudes which causes us to come to the conclusion “I don’t deserve punishment because I didn’t do anything wrong.” Pride has kept many from accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior because to admit our sins and acknowledge that in our own strength we can do nothing to receive eternal life requires humility and a reliance on someone other than ourselves. In his book Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis said, There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine they are guilty themselves.” We are all guilty of the sin of pride yet our pride keeps us from wanting to admit it.

I’ve thought too as to why the blame game bothers me so much beyond the obvious frustration we all experience when we see people pointing fingers when they have absolutely no basis for doing so. One reason is that I’m guilty of it and even though I repent I still sometimes find myself falling into the trap of blaming others instead of taking responsibility myself. But the reason that stirs a righteous anger within me is that there was never a more appropriate and justified moment in the history of our world for someone to point the finger and to say “they did it” as when God sent Jesus to die for our sins. He had every right to say “But I didn’t do anything wrong, why do I have to take the punishment?” Instead he chose to receive the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He took the blame for every wrong that we’ve ever done. He endured the beating and excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross when it should have been us. He took our place when He said “I am he” as the guards approached him while searching for the one they had already presumed guilty. He willingly gave His life for ours so that we don’t have to die an eternal death as penalty for our sins. He traded His perfect life for our imperfect one. My prayer for myself is that the next time I’m tempted to join in the blame game I will remember the humility of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when He selflessly took the blame on my behalf and I will say, with a humble spirit, “I messed up. I made a mistake. I was wrong and I’m sorry”.

Sticks and Stones


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

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

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

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

“President Kennedy has been shot”.

“A second plane has hit the building.”

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

“Challenger, go with throttle up.”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!”

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

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

“You’re fired.”

“I hate you.”

“You can’t do anything right.”

“I want a divorce.”

“You didn’t make the team.”

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

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

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

“Please forgive me.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Can I help?”

“I believe in you.”

“Don’t give up.”

“I love you.”

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

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!

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.