Fast and Furious

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In 1963, Craig Breedlove became the first man to break the 400 mph land-speed barrier, driving a turbo-jet vehicle. It was the first of 11 records set over the next two years. Then, in 1965, the legendary Breedlove thrilled the crowd when he broke the 600 mph barrier—on four wheels.

For the next 30 years, only three new records were set. But in 1997, former RAF fighter pilot Andy Green notched the current record of 760 mph. Breedlove tried repeatedly to break Green’s record, but came up short every time because of accidents and engine trouble.

Breedlove refused to give up. In 2014, the 77-year-old tried to make yet another comeback. He spearheaded an effort to return the land-speed record to the United States—but not as the driver. Instead, he helped design a new jet-powered vehicle. But Breedlove came up short again.

That’s what most people would call risky, revved-up racing.

Wise King Solomon took risks and acted foolishly—when he ran from God, and abandoned the ways of wisdom so he could frolic on the paths of sin. In fact, “the LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away …” (1 Kings 11:9).

Solomon probably didn’t race his fastest horse and chariot through the streets of Jerusalem—but he did behave foolishly every time he left his God-given wisdom on the roadside and ran after forbidden pleasures and untold treasures.

Rather stupidly, Solomon lusted after many foreign women. He collected 700 royal wives and 300 concubines, as if they were trophies—and committed adultery with them. In turn, they influenced him to worship false gods, dabble with the occult and perform pagan rituals.

He gathered exotic keepsakes, and amassed great riches. He lived in an ornate palace, and ate fine foods. He paraded his possessions, and showed off his things, just so he could impress his harem—and his family, friends, and guests.

Although Solomon was an exceptionally wise and influential leader, he was also a foolish man because he rebelled and compromised. For years, he lived like a reckless, self-centered playboy.

Even so, experts say Solomon wrote many of the wise sayings collected in the Book of Proverbs. He probably penned them toward the end of his life—after learning life-changing lessons the hard way and after reflecting on his foolish, reckless living.

That’s why Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Undoubtedly, reckless people chase after folly—but wise people consult caring and trustworthy confidants.

Friend, do you live wisely more often than you live foolishly? Do you listen to the wisdom of others more often than you listen to the stupidity of some?

I encourage you to reflect on these probing questions—and ask your family and friends for their honest insights. It may be awkward and painful, but that’s often what it takes for us to grow.

Need a Do-over?

Truth Anchors

Marbles

Like most grade-school boys, I played marbles with my buddies at recess and after lunch almost every day.

With marble bags in hand, we’d run for the playground, drop to our knees and draw a big circle in the dirt. Then—opening our bags, we’d look for just the right marble to start our shooting match.

I had a home-made red cloth bag with a drawstring that my mother stitched for me. Inside it, I kept my treasured marbles. I still have that worn-out bag—but somewhere along the way, I lost my marbles!

Like savvy marble shooters, we played for keeps when we felt gutsy and confident—but we played just for fun when we felt like hanging onto all our marbles. That’s how we scored big, came up short or kept our bags full to shoot another day.

When my daughters Aly and Kylie were little, I taught them how to…

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Nothing Is Too Hard

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God had a staggering goal for an engaged couple from the town of Nazareth about 65 miles north of Bethlehem—long before anyone understood the significance of Christmas.

Joseph was a blue-collar worker with strong, calloused hands. He made hand-crafted furniture and other things out of olive wood inside a small woodshop behind his parents’ house, where he learned the trade of carpentry from his father.

Mary was a gracious woman with a kind and gentle heart. She grew up working alongside her mother—cooking meals, making clothes and helping neighbors. She enjoyed working at home, where she learned to care for her family and others.

Joseph and Mary loved each other—and were excitedly preparing for their wedding day. But one day, an angel surprised and told Mary that she’d miraculously give birth to a son while still a virgin—and that her son would be the Savior of the world. When she asked about this seemingly impossible feat, the angel simply said, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Imagine the overwhelming assignment that confronted them. Mary was a young virgin—and she was going to have a baby without ever being with Joseph or any other man. Joseph was a respected carpenter—and his fiancée was going to be mysteriously pregnant soon. That’s why Mary was scared and reflective—and Joseph was confused and angry. But God didn’t leave them to handle this bigger-than-life situation alone. He strengthened and guided them.

In the same way, God doesn’t assign tasks or goals to us today that we can’t achieve. God’s goals for us are possible, certain and achievable—because he empowers and helps us. That’s why we can trust God when his will for us seems impossible—and say with Mary, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

So, let me ask you:  if God wants something done, can it be done? In other words, if God has a goal for your life, can it be blocked? Can it be anything but certain and possible?

I’m convinced that no goal God has for my life is impossible or uncertain, nor can it be blocked. Imagine God saying, “I’ve called you into existence, I’ve made you my son or daughter and I’ve got something for you to do. I know you won’t be able to do it, but give it your best shot.”

That’d be like saying to your youngest child, “I want you to mow the yards today. Unfortunately, the grass is extra tall and full of rocks. The mower doesn’t work, and there’s no gas. But give it your best shot.” That’d be a crazy expectation!

Our heavenly Father is far more gracious, powerful and wiser than the best parent in the world.

I like the prophet’s perspective and prayer:  “Ah Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17). That’s why we can always rely on our awesome Father for strength and help.

That’s also why we—like Joseph and Mary—can trust our all-powerful Father and dare to believe that nothing is too hard or impossible for him!

No More Baby Food

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I enjoy eating great food—and lots of it.

I like grilled Santa Maria tri-tip and wild Alaskan salmon. Beef tacos and pork tamales. Double cheeseburgers and strawberry shakes. Spicy chicken sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

But let me assure you, I don’t like eating Gerber’s baby food. Drinking milk from a warm bottle. Sitting in a high chair. Wearing a bib. Getting spoon-fed. Settling for mashed peas, yellow squash and apple sauce.

Sure, I drank and ate like a baby—60 years ago. But I stopped eating tasty paste out of a jar, and started enjoying all kinds of good food. I grew adult teeth and got a hearty appetite. I grew into the frame of a 6-foot, 3-inch athlete and ate ravenously—four times a day!

How’s your spiritual appetite?

When we come to faith, we start out on the Christian adventure as spiritual infants, desiring and drinking the milk of the Word. But as we grow in Christ, we should eventually drop our bottles and ditch our spoons—and start devouring the Scriptures.

That’s why Peter wrote, “Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2 Peter 2:2). From the get-go, God’s goal for us is to grow in Christ, and live as spiritually mature adults.

If we want to grow spiritually strong, we must learn how to feast on the Scriptures. We must stop spooning pureed pork chops, and start chewing Biblical beef steaks.

That’s why God invites us to devour his Word. Explore it. Study it. Memorize and meditate on it. Figure it out. Feast on it. That’s also why God expects us to start feeding ourselves—and stop relying on others.

The apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy—and all of us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). That’s why we should diligently study the Scriptures.

In a nutshell—as Bible students—we look, listen and learn. We explore the Word of God. We look for treasures. We study and share what it says. We bulk up as believers, and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18).

One of my mentors taught me this principle of priority:  “No Bible, no breakfast.” That’s a good rule of thumb for all of us.

More than ever, I believe the Scriptures nourish and strengthen our souls, fuel us to think and live Biblically, and equip us to serve our Savior and love people in a spiritually starved world.

That’s why I read and study God’s Word. That’s why I feast on the Scriptures. That’s why I’m growing stronger in Christ.

Facing Life’s Disasters

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On the morning of April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake shook the city of San Francisco.

The quake lasted less than a minute, but its swift and powerful impact was disastrous. Buildings collapsed. People were trapped, injured and killed. Fires ignited around the city and burned for days, destroying nearly 500 city blocks.

First responders jumped into action, but their task was daunting. The city was in chaos—and its people were in shock. They shuddered again when authorities reported that the quake and fires killed an estimated 3,000 people and left half of the city’s 400,000 residents homeless.

Aid poured into San Francisco from around the country and the world, but the grieving survivors ached inside and faced weeks of hardship. They slept inside tents in city parks and the Presidio, stood in long food lines and cooked in the streets to lessen the threat of more fires.

Without doubt, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Thousands died. Families grieved. Suffering was everywhere, just like the rubble.

When’s the last time you were surprised and slammed by the stuff of life?

Perhaps you’re struggling today because something awful has rocked your world. Maybe you’re grieving after burying a child or spouse. Aching inside after receiving divorce papers. Trying to survive after losing your job. Waiting for a prodigal son or daughter to come home.

When we hear the roar, feel the rumble and see the rubble of life’s disasters—we often feel anything but confident, hopeful and strong. It’s as if we can’t see, hear or feel God—and we doubt if he’s there and wonder if he cares.

Maybe things look bleak and you feel weak today. Perhaps you’re discouraged. You can’t make sense of anything—and feel abandoned and confused. You’re on the verge of giving up and losing hope. You’re broken, alone and exhausted—and going down for the count.

If that’s a snapshot of your shattered world, take a moment to reflect on this Biblical principle:  there’s no problem too big that God can’t solve it.

David believed and understood this amazing principle. But sometimes, especially when life was coming apart at the seams, he ignored it—and tried to handle things on his own.

In those misguided moments, David trusted his abilities and focused on his circumstances. Wrestled with his emotions and stiff-armed God’s provision of strength, perspective and hope. Questioned God’s timing and doubted his goodness and grace.

Eventually, David would look up from his pit of despair, cry to God for help and then sing:

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise …” (Psalm 40:1-3).

If you’re trapped in a pit of discouragement today—now is the time to cry to God for help, wait for him to lift you and trust him to turn your feeling of hopelessness into a testimony of praise!

Finding Hope

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Do you talk to yourself?

Sometimes—when I’m working on a project or problem—I’ll think things through by talking out loud to myself. I find it helpful, but it can be a little embarrassing if someone catches me—even though talking to ourselves is something we do every day.

The Jewish psalmists did the same thing and more. They wrote down their “conversations”. One psalmist challenged himself to experience inner peace by remembering God’s goodness:  “Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7). He knew God’s goodness in the past can be a comfort and help in the present.

King David remembered things from the past that renewed his courage and confidence in the present. He recalled how God provided:  (1) strength to protect his father’s sheep, (2) courage to oppose Goliath when no Israeli warrior would fight him, (3) savvy to rout and defeat his many enemies, and (4) conviction to admit his sin and make things right. And a lot more.

When David struggled, he often wrote and sang about what he was thinking and feeling. Three times he penned the same words, and challenged himself, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5).

Another time, David tells himself, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.” (Psalm 42:5-6).

In those moments, David came to grips with his difficult circumstances and erratic emotions by talking to himself, remembering God’s greatness and goodness and putting his hope in God

In our moments, we can follow David’s example of hopeful thinking and living.

We may feel like the bottom is dropping out. The roof is caving in. The walls are collapsing. Things are falling apart—and we can’t do anything about it. We may feel insecure, vulnerable and defeated. We may think we’re outnumbered.

That’s why when life clobbers us with extra-giant-sized problems, it’s easy to lose perspective on what’s true about God—and hard to trust him. It’s easy to get discouraged—and hard to stay encouraged. It’s easy to lose hope—and hard to find it.

But always remember:  when things look hopeless, and you feel helpless, you can trust and ask God for strength, hope and joy in the midst of your adversity.

So, next time you feel like giving up, refuse to take the easy road. Instead, recall the greatness and goodness of God. Remember him. Anchor your hope to him—and praise him. He’ll refresh your perspective, refuel your strength and recharge your hope!

Called to Follow Jesus

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One day, Jesus was walking along the shore of a lake, where he saw two burly fishermen. He watched, as Simon and Andrew stood inside their battered boat, working a big net in the water.

They were fishing—doing what they knew best and loved most. The brothers were sweaty and smelly, tired and tenacious—doing what they’d learned from their hard-working father.

Every day, they’d drop a net into the lake. After a while, they’d pull it out of the water and into their boat, hoping it’d be full of fish. All day long, they’d do it again—and again. They were determined men, intent on catching fish. It’s what they did for a living.

But Jesus was “fishing” for men who’d drop everything to follow him. He was looking for ordinary men who’d impact the world forever. Far from perfect, but pliable and teachable. Twelve men with dirty feet and broken hearts, just like you and me.

Our Savior was searching for men who’d answer his extraordinary call. Abandon what was safe and familiar. Risk sailing into uncharted waters. Commit to a cause bigger than life.

Jesus called Simon and Andrew first—and then called two more fishermen, James and his brother John. Mark 1:18 says, “At once they left their nets and followed him.”

Before long, Jesus hand-picked eight more men:  Phillip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot.

This band of rag-tag ruffians followed their rabbi for three years. As he taught, they listened and learned. Soared and struggled. Compromised and panicked. Resisted and ran away.

They were short on faith and patience. Long on pride. Quick to jockey for position and power. Rough around the edges. Puzzled by what they saw and heard. Confused and distracted.

But Jesus never gave up on his wayward followers. He patiently taught and explained the Scriptures. He gently encouraged and cared for them. He loved them.

That’s why Jesus pursued and stayed with his disciples, not long after he died and came back to life. That’s why he encouraged and empowered them.

Matthew 28:17-18 says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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 …”

Jesus called and commissioned them (and us!) to go and share the good news with everyone—and to baptize and teach believers everywhere to follow and obey Jesus. They did that—and turned the world upside down.

Will you answer Jesus’ call, obey his command and share the good news today?

Feeling Cranky or Content?

Sloth two toed

A man once visited a camp, where he was surprised to see an incredible menagerie of snakes, fish, birds … and a two-toed sloth.

He watched the odd-looking sloth for a while, observing how it barely moved. He noticed it was strangely content to hang upside down from a branch. When the sloth eventually moved across his critter room, he’d swing or walk in slow motion. He was seldom in a hurry.

As wide-eyed young campers petted the sloth’s crazy hairdo, staff fed him. They kept him preoccupied and comfortable so he’d be less likely to feel threatened—and more likely to be content with “hanging out” with a bunch of curious youngsters.

When someone pampers and serves me like that, I like it—and tend to cooperate as well. When my needs are met, I can be a really nice guy. I’m content.

But when things stop going my way, I may broadcast disappointment and discontentment with my circumstances. I may bad-mouth, belly-ache and blame. I may get obstinate and out-of-sorts. Ornery. Grumpy. Annoyed.

How do you react when things aren’t going your way? Shrug it off and keep going. Gripe and complain. Get critical and cranky. Rant and rave.

2 Corinthians 11 details how often the apostle Paul faced hard times. He was “hard-pressed on every side …” (verse 8). He endured hostility and hurt. He had his share of lousy days—and was dealt a bad hand more than once. He was beaten, dragged out of town, stoned and left for dead. He was chained inside a cold, dark and rat-infested prison.

And yet Paul learned to live above his circumstances. He lived what he wrote:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).

That’s an “above the clouds” perspective on the stuff of life—and the secret of contentment.

Paul struggled with adverse circumstances and yo-yo emotions, just like us—but he discovered how to rise above them. He learned how to experience true contentment during adversity.

Paul was able to live confidently and contentedly because he believed God would care for his daily needs. He trusted God to guide and provide for him in any and every circumstance.

That kind of contentment is rare. It’s bigger and stronger than our worst circumstances. It’s better and brighter than our best moments.

It’s not easy to live contentedly during adversity—but God encourages and strengthens us so we can endure whatever comes our way.

God empowers us to live out the secret of contentment!

When We’re Hurt or Offended

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Jesus reached out to people everywhere he went because he cared about everyone he met.

Every time Jesus encountered and connected with people, he demonstrated grace, forgiveness and love. He didn’t manufacture or fake it. He didn’t hold back or give up. Jesus was authentic, compassionate and relentless.

Our Savior opened his heart and extended his hands to others. He cared—and people knew it.  He touched—and people felt it. Jesus was gracious, kind and loving.

He greeted, accepted and helped people. He acknowledged and affirmed them. That’s why so many people were attracted to him—and that’s why they followed him.

They knew Jesus cared with no strings attached. They saw him serve with grace and humility. They watched him heal miraculously. They heard him speak boldly and gently.

And yet, Jesus was misunderstood and maligned. Clergymen criticized him. Friends deserted him. Leaders hated him. Sinners accused him. Soldiers hit him.

The religious Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trick and trap him. They hated and rejected him. That’s why they plotted to capture and kill him.

Our sinless Savior was betrayed by a fickle friend and arrested by Roman soldiers. Falsely accused and condemned. Bullied and mocked. Disrobed and whipped. Speared and crucified.

Our gentle Shepherd was condemned by an agitated mob. And yet he endured everything without getting angry or lashing out. He refused to strike back, choosing instead to forgive.

But often when you and I are hurt or offended by others, we say and do things we shouldn’t. We give in to that ugly urge to get even. We plot revenge. Attack and retaliate. Spit venom and say hurtful words. Go after a pound of flesh.

But not Jesus. He did nothing of the sort. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly …” (1 Peter 2:23). He didn’t say a word when the crowd harassed and hurt him. He didn’t summon holy warrior angels when the soldiers shoved and struck him.

Our Savior did something radical and unexpected. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t seek revenge. Not once. Instead, he endured awful abuse and intense suffering with unusual dignity, joy and strength. He extended undeserved grace—and forgave freely.

That’s what Jesus taught and did—and that’s why Paul taught, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). Our Savior endured extreme suffering—and demonstrated how to respond to the hurts and wrongs of life.

Will you follow our Savior’s example and walk in his footsteps?

Alert and Armor-clad

soldiers on guard duty

Several years ago, Geraldo reported how armored four-legged critters from Texas were roaming the streets of Washington D.C.

If you saw them, you weren’t hallucinating—and Geraldo wasn’t sensationalizing. Not at all. You really saw a wandering “army” of armor-clad armadillos.

Sometime ago, biologists started tracking the armadillos marching through Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and beyond. Believe it or not, these nomadic critters are traveling northeast toward the Atlantic Coast.

So, if you’re in that neck of the woods, stay alert and watch out for invading armadillos!

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re commanded to stay alert and stand firm—just like soldiers on guard duty, standing watch at their posts.

The Scriptures communicate the orders of our Commander-in-Chief to his followers: Stay alert. Stand firm. Stand your ground.

The apostle Paul exhorts us to stand strong in Christ, recognize our position and identity in him and wear God’s armor. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

When we put on God’s armor, we’re putting on Christ (Romans 13:14). Paul also declares, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). When we rely on Christ’s strength and strap on God’s armor, we’re equipped to defeat the adversary.

The first three pieces of armor are riveted to our position in Christ.

The “belt of truth” is God’s Word, the source of all truth. We stand firm in the truth by squaring things with the Word. The “breastplate of righteousness” is our justified position in Christ. We’re declared righteous in Christ; but it’s his righteousness—not ours. The “shoes of peace” picture the peace of Christ that must umpire our hearts in Christ if we’re going to live victoriously in him (Ephesians 6:14-15).

The final three pieces of armor are riveted to our victory in Christ.

The “shield of faith” is what we believe about God and his Word. It equips us to deflect the enemy’s assaults, as we trust and declare it. The “helmet of salvation” guarantees our eternal victory, even when the enemy disrupts our daily victory. The “sword of the Spirit” is God’s Word, our sure defense—and when we declare it, the enemy hears and runs (Ephesians 6:16-17).

So—as soldiers in God’s army, let’s suit up, stay alert and stand firm in Christ!