Have you done things you regret? As I asked that question, did some upsetting, embarrassing, or sinful moment pop into your head? If so, I get it completely. I’ve made many mistakes.
Sometimes, people ask, “Who are you?” You may feel differently, but to me, it’s a weird and somewhat sad question. It implies that I am my past and I must do careful math to add up who I have mostly been.
Immediately, I’m thinking about my mistakes, the times I yelled, and everything else I regret. I think it’s a depressing question. Who has always been the person they want to be?
I don’t like that question. I would rather be my future. I would like to start over each day and try to be my best self. Happily, in Christ, I can do exactly that. And so can you. In this way, each of us can choose to be our best self with the remaining moments of our lives.
Everybody’s life is a series of moments. Eventually, these moments add up. When we run out of time and new moments, and it’s all over, then we have to say, “Well, that was who I was.”
Until then, with Jesus, in His forgiveness, regardless of who we’ve been or what we’ve done, in the coming moments of our lives, we can keep writing a new and better story about whoever we want to be. It’s because of grace, the undeserved gift of God through our belief in Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
In Christ, by faith alone, it’s what we do next that counts. This means that we can redefine ourselves by every future “moment.”
Here’s the funny thing about “moments.” As they occur, these life-defining moments, sometimes you’ll know that it’s “a moment,” and often, it will just be life and an event which you’ll have the opportunity to turn into “a moment.” I’ll give you an example.
A couple months before my son graduated from high school, I asked him about his plans after graduation. He didn’t want to tell me because, as I later found out, he wanted to join the Air Force. Since I was a Colonel in the Marines, he decided to clam up.
The next day, to reassure him that I didn’t mind what he did, I went down to the combined recruiting office to see the Air Force recruiters about some swag. You know, the hats, the T-shirts, and the stickers. I figured if I dumped a load of that stuff on his bed, he’d get the point.
Anyway, because I’m a Colonel, when I walked in, the recruiters jumped to attention. The kids sitting in chairs along the wall waiting to see a recruiter didn’t know what was happening. They just stared at me, trying to look invisible. You know the look, right? Like when someone is asking for a volunteer and everyone tries to look really small but they can’t help staring.
As I stood there, with all of those eyes on me, I realized that this was “a moment” and I knew exactly who I wanted to be. I wanted to be John Wayne.
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Don’t laugh. As a little kid growing up in South Africa, watching war movies, the United States always won and John Wayne was always the hero. I wanted to be John Wayne.
Everyone has a notion of a Marine Corps Colonel. We’ve seen Jack Nicholson play an angry Colonel in the movie, “A Few Good Men.” Many of us may be old enough to have seen Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North dressed in his olive drab service uniform testifying before Congress under President Reagan. Well, there I stood, in the recruiter’s office, wearing the same uniform, not feeling like John Wayne, but sensing an opportunity to act like him.
And so, I walked around shaking hands and asking questions; “Hello, son, how are you? What are your plans? You’ll do great! Carry on.”
You know why I did that? Because that’s who they needed me to be in that moment.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of “a moment.” I was twenty-two years old. A Second Lieutenant in the Marines. It was June in South Texas. I was just beginning my career as a carrier pilot. And I threw up.
I threw up on my first flight in a military trainer. Seriously. I felt like an idiot and a failure. I was sure I would never succeed as an aviator.
What did my instructor do? He bought me an ice-cold Coke and we talked about everything except my throwing up.
It was a small “moment,” right? But here I am, a retired Colonel, talking about it almost 40 years later. And it had a huge impact on what kind of Colonel I was. So, it’s been with me a long time and it’s had a huge impact on a lot of people…a Coke and a kindness!
I believe that all “moments” have that kind of potential. We just have to see them and not be so focused on what we did last that we miss the amazing opportunity of what we can do next.
Always, in every situation, it’s what we do next that counts! Jesus did that for us. That’s why He is called, “The Author and Perfecter of our faith.” In Him, we can write a new story.
To me, what makes “a moment” is when you take a piece of time, an event, or a situation, and you get outside yourself, outside your worries, outside your thoughts and fears and needs, and you take advantage of an opportunity to put someone ahead of yourself. It’s a choice to help them in what you suspect might be their moment.
For me, in “a moment,” I have a sudden sense of opportunity. And it seems like “the opportunity” derives its significance, in what is otherwise me just trying to get along in this world, from a belief that in a certain place, for a small piece of time, I can be who someone needs me to be. And when I make the choice to be that person, I am at my best.
That’s who I want to be when I grow up.
The world is lost. People are struggling in the darkness of self; ego, entitlement, narcissism, greed, self-righteousness, and immediate self-gratification. And we’re miserable.
Families are broken. Fathers are few and far between. Husbands are a dying breed. Business leaders, guided by the Bible and a sense of righteousness are fewer and fewer. And don’t get me started on the media or politicians. Virtue is a choice, and few people seem to be making the choice. But WE can.
In the moments of our lives, as Christians, we can focus outward, on being who people need us to be as we make the choice to become our best selves.
Sadly, I believe that as Christians, we’re missing “these moments” of life where we get to be who Jesus wants us to be and who the world needs. Don’t get me wrong, I love John Wayne, but now I’m talking about getting to be like Jesus.
I think we’re missing these moments because we’re focused on ourselves and our past and on what the devil whispers in our ears. Maybe we don’t feel worthy of being the people Jesus needs us to be. Maybe we’re concerned with ourselves and being who people want us to be. Either way, there’s a disconnect. There’s a huge difference between being who people want us to be and being who they need us to be.
Right now, in this country, people are not behaving as they should. These same people are telling us who they want us to be. And we’re letting them.
It makes no sense. First, why would I ask directions from a man who’s obviously lost. Second, since the only behavior I control is my own, the only question that matters is, “Who does Jesus need me to be?” I’m not going to show up in heaven and say, “Well, that’s who they wanted me to be.” Being the man that Jesus says I should be wins in every moment, every time.
I get it. It’s hard. First, you have to get over feeling small and flawed. Then, sometimes, you have to get over fear about telling people things they may not want to hear.
To me, it’s like telling my Marines that they will be working over the weekend to prepare for a combat deployment. It might not be what they want, but it’s what they need if they want to survive on the battlefield.
It’s the difference between being who people need you to be and being who people want you to be. Being who people need you to be as a Christian can change lives. Being who people in the world want you to be does nothing. In fact, if you look around, we’ve been telling people what they want to hear and they’re just deeper in sin. Now, they’re proud of it and they celebrate it.
It’s the difference between “love” and “like.” Love gives people what they need. Like feeds whatever they are at the moment, whether or not that’s good.
As Jesus showed us, love is serious business. People struggling in darkness need us to be light. People starving for truth need us to speak truth. Women need men to be husbands who are worthy of respect. Men need their wives to respect them. Children raised by cell phones, iPads, Disney, Facebook, and TikTok need us to be fathers who are present and engaged. And all of that begins with us getting outside of ourselves, casting off the wants of the world, and becoming the men and women who Jesus needs us to be in the moments of our lives.
It’s not about religion. Or politics. Or race. Or gender. It has nothing to do with economics. Everyone has the potential to be who people need them to be. We just have to be ready for the moment, and to see the moment when it arises, and then in that moment, to care more about what people need than we what we want.
If we do that right, then we get to be who people need us to be. And that’s the best we can do.
Remember the story of The Good Samaritan? A traveler was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. A Rabbi and a Priest crossed to the other side of the road to avoid him, worrying, “If I stop, what might happen to me?” The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, though despised as an impure racial mix between a Jew and an Assyrian, tended to the man, worrying, “If I don’t stop, what will happen to him?” (Luke 10:25-37)
Whoever we’ve been, whatever the world thinks of us, when we focus on others, worrying about their welfare first, we can redefine ourselves in the best moments of our lives. Imagine a world where in all of our moments, good and bad, we’re there for each other with love, truth, charity, and compassion. In other words, imagine being the men and women who God wants us to be?
You may not have a chance to lead Marines in combat. Your moment probably won’t be at a recruiter’s office with forty pairs of eyes staring at you. But you will have other moments and they will be equally important.
In your moments and in the times you make into moments, I’m counting on you. In the same way those men were counting on me in my moments, so many others are counting on each of us in millions of moments yet to unfold. And in that, we can choose to be our best. Alexander the Great put it like this, “Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
Friends, our moments probably won’t happen in the Super Bowl. They probably won’t happen on live TV and they probably won’t be in front of a Senate hearing or with 10 million followers on Instagram.
More than likely, they’ll happen in an everyday place, where nobody’s watching, where we choose to see things through Jesus’ eyes and we change a life or at least a perspective. Maybe we’ll give hope where there is none, or patience where there’s only been aggravation, or a hug where somebody just needs a hug. Maybe not one single word will be said. Whatever it is, that’s who I want to be and for all our sake, I hope that’s who you want to be.
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Colonel Richard Mendelow (Ret) is the host of “Courageous Christianity with Richard Mendelow,” a radio show on 100.7 FM in Houston, Texas, live streamed at KKHT.com, and podcasted on any podcast app. When he’s not flying Boeing 777s for a major airline, he leads the Courageous Christianity Ministry which equips Christian warriors for the spiritual battlefield; helping men stand firm at the intersection of their faith and the secular world.