Surrounded

Mountain Climbing

One winter, we left Timberline Lodge at midnight and started climbing an icy ridge toward the summit of Mt. Hood, a mountain standing at 11,249 feet—about an hour east of Portland.

It’s the highest peak in Oregon and the fourth highest in the Cascade Range—and home to 12 named glaciers and snowfields.

Led by an expert mountain guide and roped together, we took off for the distant peak. It’s a long climb—and we had to reach the peak and get back to the lodge within eight hours—before the snow and ice on the ridge started melting in the sun.

After a few hours of climbing, the weather suddenly changed—as often happens in the mountains. Light winds and snow flurries turned into a full-blown mountain storm.

The snow started blowing sideways—and within moments, we were caught in a white-out. That’s when a snow storm becomes so intense that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You can’t see anything but white. You’re blinded.

Trusting our experienced guide, we sat down in the snow to wait out the storm—for what felt like an eternity. After the storm subsided, our guide decided we couldn’t safely continue climbing. So, we started an early descent to the lodge—disappointed but alive.

God is the most trustworthy guide to follow through the storms of life.

God won’t ever let you down. He’s reliable and vigilant. He’ll never abandon or forget you. He’s the only one in whom you can put all of your trust.

David wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going …” (Psalm 121:1-3, 7-8).

David faced a lot of storms. He was outnumbered and attacked. Harassed and hassled. Bruised and badgered. Afraid and anxious. But repeatedly, he trusted God.

God is far wiser and stronger than the most expert mountain climber. He guides and protects us. That’s why we can confidently trust and follow him through every storm.

Psalm 123:1-2 says, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

God surrounds you. He’s all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present at once.

Will you trust and follow him?

 

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Overwhelmed

Surfer Dog

I grew up as a Southern California beach bum with shaggy hair and cheap sunglasses. Flip flops and OP trunks. Waxed surfboards and gnarly waves. Beach blankets and bikini babes.

All summer long—I’d hang out with my buddies at the beach and cruise the California coast—from Mission Beach to Huntington Beach and back.

Sometimes, we’d bodysurf at The Wedge—a stretch of dangerous surf along Newport Beach, where monster waves slammed us onto an unforgiving sandbar.

I got scared in that unpredictable surf—because of a dangerous and deadly undertow.

One day at The Wedge, as I struggled against crazy riptides and got pounded by rough surf, an unusually strong undertow caught and pulled me down and out to sea. It held me under water for what felt like an eternity.

After a minute or so, my lungs were screaming. I was almost out of air. But I stayed focused on relaxing and riding it out.

I felt helpless, as the ocean tossed me around like a rag doll—and I wondered if I’d make it back to shore. Finally, I surfaced and gasped for air.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the stuff of life—and barely hanging on?

The strong warrior-king David got slammed by the tough stuff of life. He often struggled with anxiety, discouragement and fear—and unashamedly cried out for help:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me” (Psalm 69:1-2).

Like David, we struggle to keep our heads above water—and wrestle with our circumstances and emotions—when life overwhelms us.

But our mighty Savior doesn’t struggle like us. He’s our strong lifeguard.

He rescues us from the waves that submerge us. Stops the tsunamis that threaten us. Quiets the earthquakes that rattle us. Silences the storms that terrify us.

One day, Jesus took a nap in a fishing boat, as he sailed across a lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a big storm hit—and as the gale-force winds started howling, Jesus kept snoring.

But the terrified disciples couldn’t sleep. They woke Jesus—and then watched, as he silenced the storm with a single command, “Be still” (Mark 4:39).

Our Savior is never overwhelmed. That’s why we can trust Jesus, call for his help and expect his rescue. That’s why we can rely on his presence, experience his power and anticipate his peace.

 

God Is Sovereign

Above Clouds

Most of us like doing whatever floats our boat.

We like calling the shots, getting our own way and doing our own thing. That’s why we don’t like it when someone blocks our goal or stops us from doing what we want. It ruffles our feathers and rattles our cage.

Nobody has to teach us how to feel or act that way. It’s comes naturally—and jump-starts easily inside us. It’s our natural bent—or second nature. It’s how we’re wired.

Almighty God does what he wants, too. But unlike us—God is righteous and purposeful in everything he does. He’s working his master plan and accomplishing what he mapped out in eternity past—long before Adam and Eve walked in the garden.

He’s all-powerful and sovereign over all. He never compromises his character—and never conflicts with his Word. He never forfeits his plans—and never forgets his promises.

What God does always squares with who he is.

No one can sneak up behind God and shove him off his throne. No one can tweak his plans or thwart his ways. Nobody.

Did you know God allows or causes the stuff of life to happen? It’s true. What God does happens according to his will—which is always “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son …” (Romans 8:28-29).

God is our loving Father—and we’re his little children. He’s wisely working his perfect plan to make us more like his Son, Jesus—even when it seems bad or crazy from our puny perspective.

The topsy-turvy life of Joseph spotlights the sovereignty of God. After being thrown in a pit by his brothers, Joseph was sold into slavery, wrongly accused and put into prison—where he was left to rot. But God didn’t abandon or forget about him.

God purposefully moved Joseph from a pit into a prison to a palace—and orchestrated things and prepared Joseph to serve as Pharaoh’s second-in-command in Egypt. That’s how God empowered Joseph to eventually rescue and feed a lot of starving people, including his family.

On the day Joseph forgave and fed his brothers, he said, “… you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

That’s why God allowed circumstances and relationships to develop in Joseph’s life—as they did.

God is working his sovereign plan in your life—right now. Will you trust him?

 

Hooks and Lures

fishing lure 2

I’ve always enjoyed hiking alpine trails, climbing granite ridges and rappelling craggy cliffs—but I’ve never liked fishing.

Years ago, when I backpacked in the Sierras, I’d pack a borrowed fishing pole—knowing I should take it along but probably wouldn’t use it much.

I’m not like my buddies who love to fish. Fred wades offshore and fishes near Padre Island in east Texas. Mike hikes trails and fly-fishes along the mountain streams near his Colorado home. Brian takes barnacled boats out of Monterey Bay and reels large fish from the Pacific Ocean.

Why do these guys like fishing? They’re avid fishermen who understand how to “fool” and catch fish—and they enjoy it. They love to bait the hook, toss the line and drag the lure!

Once, I went fly-fishing in the Sierras. I stood there, casting my line with a side arm motion and watching the flashy lure reflect sunlight, as I snapped it back and forth.

Strangely, I enjoyed fishing that day—but I know the fish who chased my lure didn’t like it when they got caught by the barbed hook.

How often are you enticed by the lures of the world, the flesh and the enemy of your soul? Probably every day—and more than once. How often are you hooked and caught?

Honestly, all of us have lunged after what was luring us. We’ve chased what was tempting us. We’ve been deceived, hooked and caught by the tempting lure.

That was the moment when we did what we wanted. We said yes to the temptation—and sinned.

So, let me ask you: can we do anything to avoid the deceptive lure of temptation? Frankly, it’s difficult to resist an attractive lure, but we must turn and run if we want to escape it.

Furthermore, you’d think after a few “mishaps”, we’d avoid those lures—but we get deceived. Easily and repeatedly. Worse yet, we deliberately bite the bait and get snagged. That’s crazy!

Like foolish fish, we overlook the barb and chase the lure. As it darts before our eyes, we see and go after the tempting gleam. Suddenly, we’ve been tricked and caught by whatever is enticing us to pursue and satisfy our wrong appetite. That’s the danger of deception.

Fortunately, God has promised to provide an escape route—a way out. But we must turn and take it—if we want to escape the temptations that lure us to sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out.” That’s the path to purity.

Remember, you must resist the lure and take God’s way out—if you want avoid getting snagged!

 

Full of Compassion

Compassion

One day, I loaded my pellet gun and took off down a dirt road to shoot unsuspecting birds.

I was a young “wanna-be” hunter who’d never tracked or shot an animal before—but I wanted to shoot birds that day. Not tin cans. Not cardboard targets. Not old toys.

So, without hesitating, I shot a small bird out of a tree. As I ran over to retrieve my trophy, I was thrilled. But when I saw the bird was still alive—and lying wounded and helpless on the ground—I suddenly felt empty inside.

Instead of being excited about my shot, I regretted my stupidity—and got sick to my stomach. I was repulsed by what I’d done. For no good reason, I’d hurt an animal.

Now, all I wanted to do was bandage the bird’s wound so it could heal and fly again. But after talking with Dad, I knew that wouldn’t happen. The bird was dying. So, with tears in my eyes and sadness in my heart, I put the little bird out of its misery and buried it in our backyard.

Before I shot that bird out of the tree, I felt no need for compassion. But when I saw the injured bird on the ground, my heart softened—and I felt compassion.

Years ago—when Jesus walked on our planet, he felt and demonstrated compassion for everyone. He always cared about the other guy—and looked for ways to help and show mercy.

He listened attentively, wept openly and spoke gently. He exuded kindness. He felt compassion for people—whether he was talking to an immoral woman by an old well—or teaching a large crowd on a country hill.

One day, a crooked tax agent named Matthew—who cheated and robbed people—hosted a large banquet for Jesus.

During that encounter, Jesus demonstrated compassion and grace—and callous Matthew changed. After he paid back the people he’d cheated four times over, Matthew left his lousy lifestyle and followed Jesus.

Years later—after watching and traveling with Jesus for a long time—Matthew wrote this about his Savior: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

That’s true compassion—an intense emotion inside your gut that prompts you to feel and care about what someone is feeling and experiencing—and propels you to do something about it. It’s where mercy starts—and why love reaches.

That kind of compassion is what our Savior and Shepherd feels for you and me—and everyone else in the world. That’s also why he’ll never stop caring for smelly, struggling sheep like us.

Will you follow Jesus’ example and demonstrate compassion to others?

 

Talking with God

praying

We make a lot of choices—all day long. We wake early or sleep late. Cut corners or go the extra mile. Speed up or slow down. Pack a lunch or eat out. Watch a movie or read a book.

Life is full of choices. There’s just no way around it.

Will you choose to hang out and talk with God today?

Talking with God is essential to the spiritual growth and vitality of every follower of Jesus. In contrast, it really doesn’t matter what we wear or how we comb our hair. It doesn’t matter how much we exercise or how long we sleep.

Honestly, nothing else is more important than hanging out and talking with God. That’s what really matters.

Other things in life may be necessary—but they’re not as significant as enjoying a vibrant, interactive relationship with God today.

But remember—hanging out and talking with God isn’t automatic or effortless. Not by a long shot. It takes energy and commitment to talk, listen and interact with God.

The Bible calls it prayer—and it’s one way to develop and enjoy a close relationship with God.

Simply put, prayer is listening and talking with God about anything—anywhere—at any time.

It’s being able to immediately connect with God. No phone number required. It’s being able to continuously interact with God. No busy signal heard.

It makes the newest iPhone obsolete, the latest iPad archaic, and the best MacBook no good. It’s easier than tweeting, faster than texting and better than skyping.

It’s sharing your heart with God—just like you talk with your best friend—as often as you’d like throughout the day. Honestly. Simply. Excitedly.

Prayer is an open-ended conversation with Almighty God that allows you to pick it up where you last left off.

It’s an exhilarating dialogue, not a boring monologue. It’s a two-way street, not a dead-end alley. It’s an open door, not a locked window.

When we interact (talking and listening) with God, it should be a lively conversation—not an empty ritual. It should be relaxed—not forced. It should be spontaneous—not repetitious.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continually.” That’s a command and an invitation from God. He’s urging and inviting us to talk with him around the clock—and he’s promising to listen.

Have you talked with God today?

 

Out of Control

Hamburger 6x6 Filthy Cat

Sometimes—we go bonkers, fly off the handle and lose self-control.

We pig out on ice cream and blow off our diet. We procrastinate and get lazy. We hit the snooze button and skip our morning run. We blurt unkind words and curse angrily. We kick the dog and slam the door. And that’s just the short list!

When we lack self-control, we’re a lot like the broken walls of a captured city that’s soon-to-be destroyed by the enemy. We’re overrun by something that weakens the walls of our hearts.

When we lack self-control—whether it’s momentary or prolonged —that implosion or explosion causes an awful disaster that probably could’ve been avoided.

Rather foolishly and insensitively, we scatter rubble—and hurt people.

Frankly, we lose the battle for self-control and get leveled to the ground—just like a city whose walls have collapsed—when we stop living “under the influence” of the Holy Spirit.

Refusing to surrender to the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous condition that may have disastrous consequences. But fortunately, we can surrender and submit to the Holy Spirit at any time.

Although we can’t produce an ounce of self-control on our own—no matter how hard we try—the Holy Spirit can supernaturally cultivate self-control inside us. But we must yield to him.

Ephesians 5:22-23 says, “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” They’re supernatural virtues.

As we yield to the Spirit’s influence, he plants and waters the seed of self-control inside our hearts. He nurtures it—not us. That’s why we must wholeheartedly yield to the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit and allow him to grow the fruit of self-control inside us.

Are you resisting or yielding to God? Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine … instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Are you resisting or walking with God? Galatians 5:25-26 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Clearly, staying under the influence of the Holy Spirit is the key to self-control—and staying in step with the Holy Spirit is the cadence of self-control.

Will you allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate self-control inside your heart today?

 

On God’s Team

Ethier Hanley Rivera

I grew up in Fallbrook about 60 miles south of Los Angeles, watching and listening to Dodger games with my grandparents. We stayed glued to the TV or radio—and cheered like crazy!

When we went to the ballpark, I really got excited. After zigzagging our way through traffic to the famous Chavez Ravine—we’d buy our tickets and bolt to our seats. We’d devour Dodger dogs, gulp Cokes and munch peanuts—and holler and clap, until the very last out.

Now I live near Fresno, where a lot of people like the San Francisco Giants.

I can’t stand ‘em because I’m a die-hard Dodger fan. Cut me, and I bleed blue. I go crazy when the Dodgers hit homers and win games. I love the Los Angeles Dodgers!

In the game of life, God is our Coach—and we’re his players.

He wrote our playbook, drafted our team and bought our equipment. He makes the signals, works his strategy and improves our skills.

God encourages us to study and follow our playbook—the Bible. Are you reading it daily?

That’s the best way to get God’s signals for life.

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do you 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.”

God expects us to wear and use our equipment. It’s spiritually powerful. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand.” Have you suited up?

God equips us with supernaturally-powered skills—or spiritual gifts. He entrusts these gifts to us and empowers us to develop them. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others …” Are you using your gifts to serve God and people?

In the game of life, God wants us to swing and hit the ball. Run the bases with humility and strength. Serve each other without being arrogant or self-centered.

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Are you honoring God, encouraging your team and serving others?

Teammate, let’s watch for God’s signals and do what he says!

 

Tossing Your Troubles

Up-ended Tackled

When’s the last time you ran a fast mile? Sprinted down the street after your dog? Chased your daughter or son across the park? Raced through an airport to catch a flight?

Just thinking about it may tire you.

Five days a week, I lift weights and do cardio at the gym. After an intense workout, I’m breathing hard. My heart is pounding. I need to stop for a minute, rest and catch my breath.

Sooner or later—everyone has to call a time-out, catch a second wind and take another run at life.

Running backs get oxygen on the sidelines. Trauma patients stay alive on ventilators. Injured motorists wear oxygen masks. Premature babies breathe through tiny air hoses. Why? They need help because they can’t get enough oxygen on their own.

When life kicks us in the gut and shoves us to the ground, we’re left gasping for air. We’re surprised and traumatized.

In those upside-down moments—adversity knocks the wind out of us. Conflict slams us. Failure yanks our chain. Stress knots our stomachs. Fear strangles us. Anxiety pins us to the mat.

Peter—a rugged Galilean fisherman turned follower of Jesus Christ—wrestled with the stuff of life. He gasped for air, just like us. He felt the heavy weight of fear and anxiety, just like us.

But he came out stronger on the other side because he learned to entrust his cares—everything that bothered and burdened him—to Jesus.

Peter learned to get rid of his angst—and urged believers everywhere to follow his example. That’s why he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

We can toss every trouble onto our Savior’s strong shoulders. Throw every anxiety to him. Trade every worry to him. Turn over every fear to him.

When we do that, God takes our troubles—and overwhelms our hearts with an unexplainable peace that “transcends all understanding” and “guards our hearts and minds” (Philippians 4:7).

God inflates our hearts with his supernatural “oxygen”—an amazing peace from above.

But we must first entrust to God what we desperately need to release. Then, we can receive from him what we continually need.

Are you ready to toss all your troubles to God?

 

Running to Win

Running

Brooks Road was no run-in-the-park jaunt, not even for high school track stars.

Not only was it 11 miles of arduous running over grueling asphalt and gut-wrenching hills, Brooks Road went straight up near the half-way mark—with no end in sight for what felt like an eternity. That’s where some guys walked—but not Mark and me.

We ran the whole way—without stopping.

We set a steady pace. Stayed on course. Played mind games. We ran like crazy knuckleheads, refusing to wimp out and give up—even when we felt like walking. We just kept on running.

Mark and I ran with focus, purpose and endurance.

We ran like Apaches in the desert, pushing ourselves through thirst, pain and fatigue. We kept our focus on climbing the hill, finishing the race and taking the prize. We ran to win.

Years ago, the apostle Paul ran the race of life like an ancient Olympic marathoner.

Determined to win the prize, Paul ran with his eyes focused on pleasing God—and nobody else. He refused to be distracted or detoured. He refused to be discouraged or disqualified. That’s why he wrote:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Paul ran with amazing focus and self-control. Down every path. Around every bend.

Like the apostle, I’m running the race of life with my eyes fixed on Jesus, my Savior. I’m resolved to honor him, as I run strong and long.

I’m running the marathon of life with my heart focused on Jesus, my King. I’m resolved to honor him, as I persevere to the end.

One day, I’ll receive the prize of enjoying life with God and his people for all of eternity. Until then, I’ll keep running for Jesus because I want to hear him say, “Well done, son.”

Want to run with Jesus and me? Let’s go the distance, side by side. On your mark—get set—go!