Last night Norma Jean and I were privileged to attend the annual Florida College Leadership dinner and hear J. C. Watts.
Watts was a quarterback for the University of Oklahoma Sooners in the late 1970’s and led his team to two consecutive Big Eight Championships. After receiving his B.A. degree in journalism, he played in the Canadian Football League for several years.
In 1994 Watts ran and won a seat in the United States House of Representatives and served until 2002. Today he is involved in business. Serves on several boards. Is involved in ministry. Is a frequent speaker. And the author of “Dig Deep: 7 Truths to Finding the Strength Within.”
Last night Mr. Watts spoke to us about the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. The value of our relationships with others. And how to develop trust.
I had to smile with a nodding agreement when he warned us to avoid these dreaded and dangerous words: “That’s just the way I am.”
As preacher, I have heard those words more than once through the years. They come from folks who seek to justify their behavior. Who are dodging responsibility for their attitudes. Who deflect accountability for their actions. And who evade their obligations.
Anger, envy, and jealousy are to often justified with “That’s just the way I am.” I once encountered a brother where I preached years ago who hurled hurtful words and unfounded accusations my way. When I visited him (as per Matt 18:15) to find out what I’d done to deserve his vitriolic assault, he assured me that I had done nothing wrong, nor had I personally offended him.
Puzzled, and having the gift of perception, I said, “Well, I got the impression that you don’t like me!” “That’s right,” he agreed. When I asked why, he told that when he meets people for the first time, he either likes them or he doesn’t. And the first time he met me, he didn’t like me. Then he casually added, “That’s just the way I am.
Through the years, I heard him excuse other kinds of improper and ungodly behavior with the same response, “That’s just the way I am.”
The tone and tenor of Watts message last night was that we can change. We can rise above our carnal inclinations. We can improve. We can be better. And become the best version of ourselves.
Obviously, a deeply religious man, Watt appealed to the example of Jesus and the need to “be born again” in order to move away from our dysfunctional, flawed and faulty tendencies.
This is also the message of Scripture. Paul implored, “Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Meekness, kindness, and compassion were traits that He modeled. He exemplified forgiveness, humility, and surrender to His Father’s will. He showed us the way of righteousness. Taught us how to treat our fellow man. And pointed us to a higher level of living. A spiritual, godly and divine life.
The challenge, however, in “putting off the old man” of sin, and “putting on the new man” of holiness centers around our choices (Eph 4:17-32). George Elliott was right, “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”
William Jennings Bryant expressed it this way, “Destiny is not a matter of chance. “it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
We are not slaves of our past. We can change. Psychologist and author, Dr. J. Martin Kohe, did not overstate the case when he wrote, “The greatest power a person possesses is his power to choose.”
Thanks to J. C. Watts for his motivating and inspiring words. And for reminding us that we can change. Grow. And be better. We can discard and destroy the futile and evasive excuse “That’s just the way I am.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman