When We Stumble

Falling

Have you tripped over a tree root, slipped on a wet rock, fallen off a tall ladder or misjudged the street curb? I have—and I’m usually not a clumsy guy.

I’ve also landed flat on my face on the hard asphalt, collided with a stone wall and hit my head on the bottom of the pool—more times than I can remember.

It’s embarrassing when you fall in front of people—because they see everything. Some laugh and tease you. Others gawk and point at you. No matter their response, it’s humiliating.

When I was a boy, I pedaled my tricycle into a big wooden toy box, flipped over the handlebars and landed inside—right in front of everybody on the back patio. In grade school, I fell off the steps of a stagecoach at Knott’s Berry Farm—right in front of a long line of waiting people.

In college, I lost control of a big Kawasaki and slid across wet pavement—right in front of my buddies. As a young husband, I crashed my ten-speed on Pacific Coast Highway and took a big nose-dive onto the blacktop—right in front of rush hour traffic.

Everybody stumbles. We trip, slip and fall down. We make mistakes, do foolish stuff and mess things up. Sometimes, we deliberately do what we know is wrong. We disobey and rebel against God and his teachings.

Maybe you blew it yesterday. Yelled at your wife. Sassed your mother. Criticized your pastor. Hurt your friend. Bad-mouthed your boss. Gossiped about your neighbor. Kicked your dog.

The Bible tells the stories of Godly men and women who blew it—and knew it. They zigged when they should’ve zagged. They went left when they should’ve gone right. They went south when they should’ve gone north. They wandered and strayed from God.

Like them, we stumble—and face the awful consequences of our sin. But thankfully, after we repent and confess our sin, God lavishes his amazing grace on us, and forgives and restores us. The Bible says, “…though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).

That’s not a blank check or a green light for us to say and do what we know is sinful and wrong.  Instead, it’s a sure guarantee of God’s restoring grace and transforming power.

Know this, if what we say and do doesn’t square with the Scriptures, we’re off in the weeds—and God doesn’t want us to stay there. That’s why God opens his arms, cups his mouth and calls out:  “Son, get back on track! Daughter, get right with me!”

God wants us to change our course—and make a 180-turn back to him. He invites us to run to his side, take his hand and walk with him. He longs to forgive, cleanse and restore us.

Always remember, our forgiving Father patiently waits for us to repent and reach out to him. He’s ready to pick us up and dust us off—and eager to extend grace and forgiveness!

 

Riding Point

Bicyling Team

It was a hot summer afternoon—and we were enjoying a family bicycle ride.

My four-year-old daughter Kylie—who was still somewhat wobbly on her new bicycle—was chomping at the bit to make a move and change things up. I knew she was tired of following behind her big sister, but I didn’t anticipate her sudden decision to swing out and pass Aly.

Kylie saw an opportunity to get by Aly, and she took it. Abruptly, she pulled out of our single-file riding formation, pedaled faster and made her big break for the front. When she swung out, I was out front, riding point. Aly was behind me; Mom was bringing up the rear; and Kylie was sandwiched in-between—and Kylie didn’t like it.

Within seconds, Kylie zipped past her sister, a bit too close for Aly’s liking. With a big grin on her face, Kylie looked back and yelled, “Aly, I’m ahead of you. Now you’ve got to follow me!”

As we zip through the streets of life, we’re either following or leading someone. Frankly, we’re usually doing both at the same time. We’re leading someone while another is following us.

I wonder who’s riding point in your life today. Perhaps you’re out front, mapping your own route and relying on yourself to find the way. Or maybe you’ve dropped back, hoping someone will come along and guide you.

I hope God is riding point in your life today—and someone you trust is influencing, encouraging and challenging you. It could be your spouse or significant other. Parent. Teacher. Pastor. Best friend. Accountability partner. No matter who it is, that person should be committed to you—and should care about you.

Honestly, I think it’s exhilarating to ride point—to lead and influence others. But many prefer to stay in the middle of the pack. Others like to bring up the rear. Still others ride alone.

Know this, it’s foolish to lead others if you don’t know where you’re going or how to get there—and it’s risky to follow someone who isn’t qualified or equipped to lead well.

Jesus wisely taught, “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). More than anyone else, our Savior knows what it takes to lead and influence others.

I believe good leaders know and see where they’re going. That doesn’t require perfect eyesight, but it does take an all-out commitment to developing certain qualities. Integrity. Humility. Trust. Insight. Vision. Discernment. Courage.

When Moses sent scouts to spy out the Promised Land, ten men returned and advised him to retreat. They only saw giants and obstacles. But Joshua and Caleb came back and encouraged Moses to attack and conquer. They trusted God and welcomed new opportunities because “they followed the LORD wholeheartedly” (Numbers 32:12).

Is God riding point in your life? I encourage you to trust and follow him wholeheartedly!

 

Missing the Mark

Target

Nobody likes to blow it, but everyone does—sooner or later. It happens to the best of us. We strike out, miss the shot or drop the ball. We turn left when we should’ve gone right.

Nobody throws a no-hitter every day. Nobody bats .500 every year. Nobody scores a touchdown every quarter. We pitch wildly, strike out and fumble when it really counts.

Sometimes, a lot of people know it when we blow it. There’s no getting around it. Other times, we get away with stuff for a while. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t hide our failures and flaws forever. Eventually, we’ll slip up, get caught or confess.

At times, we act foolishly and impulsively. We speak rashly and hurtfully. We entertain bad thoughts, tolerate lousy attitudes and feed wrong appetites. We go south and sideways. Students cheat. Executives swindle. Politicians lie. Spouses deceive. Parents yell. Kids disobey. Ex-addicts relapse. And the list of offenses goes on.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That’s why we can’t hit the bulls-eye of perfection. Instead, we miss the mark and come short of God’s holiness.

It doesn’t matter who we are—or what we do. CEOs and custodians. Plumbers and policemen. Waitresses and warehousemen. We go our own way, and do our own thing.

But friend, there are no excuses for sinning—and there is only one right response. We must get right with God. To do that, we admit our sin, receive God’s forgiveness and accept his cleansing. We turn from sin and run to God. That’s the only road to forgiveness.

After deliberately sinning and trying to cover it up, King David was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Not long after that, David humbly confessed his sin to God.

He remembered what he said and did—and later wrote, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

He also prayed, “Keep your servant from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgressions” (Psalm 19:13).

First, the arrogant king willingly acknowledged his lust, adultery, deception, murder and cover up. He confessed—or agreed with God about his sin—and received God’s forgiveness. Next, the repentant king prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:10, 12).

God restored their broken fellowship—and David rediscovered his lost joy. But he still had to face the consequences of his sin. His baby died, Prince Absalom rebelled and the kingdom split.

Friend, let’s learn from David’s mistakes and misery. Let’s say no to temptation and turn from sin—and say yes to righteousness and run to God!

 

Fully Committed

Navy SEALs

Former Navy SEAL James “Hoot” Andrews was approached by a young neighbor boy who asked, “Mr. Andrews, were you really a SEAL?” When Andrews nodded yes, the boy just stared at him with a puzzled look and then blurted, “You sure don’t look like one!” The old warrior just chuckled, and then asked with a grin, “Son, what’s a Navy SEAL supposed to look like?”

The boy probably had a snapshot of Rambo in his mind—and old “Hoot” didn’t seem to fit the bill. He wasn’t wearing blood-stained camos, muddy boots and a crumpled hat. He didn’t have black grease smeared on his face. He wasn’t toting a machine gun or a long knife.

To the young boy, old “Hoot” didn’t look much like a tough guy.

I’ve talked with men like Chief Andrews, and here’s why I respect and admire them. Beneath the sophisticated gear and extraordinary endurance of every SEAL lies the heart of a dedicated warrior. He gets his mission, stays on target and cares about his team. He knows exactly what to do, and why he’s doing it. He shoves aside fear and selfishness—and refuses to give up.

That gung-ho attitude and “hooah” commitment is demonstrated by every Navy SEAL, from the highest ranking officer to the most junior seaman. Whatever the mission demands or situation requires, a SEAL will do it. He’s committed to the core—no matter what.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to go wherever and do whatever our Commander-in-Chief says. We’re called to live with commitment to his eternal cause. No excuses. No exceptions.

Long ago, a Jewish boy was captured and taken to modern-day Iraq. Young Daniel didn’t like his situation, but he trusted God. Captive in a strange city far from his home, Daniel worshiped and obeyed God. He refused to compromise or quit. He lived with integrity and humility.

Along the way, Daniel explained Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dreams and Darius’ wild visions. Early on, he was tossed into a fiery furnace and a lions’ den because of what he believed, said and did. But God guided, rescued and strengthened him.

For many years, Daniel served these powerful kings with integrity and influenced their pagan kingdoms with righteousness. He stayed fully committed to God and did what was right.

He refused to eat the king’s gourmet food that was offered to idols—and refused to worship the king’s golden image because it was an idol. He refused to stop praying because it was his daily habit to talk often with God. He refused to distrust God in the hot furnace—and refused to fear death in the lion’s den because he knew God hadn’t abandoned him.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” I wonder what God sees when he looks inside your heart.

Regardless of your past or present story, you can stay fully committed and live confidently and courageously. You can rely on God for strength. You can trust God and live like Daniel did.

 

God is Unstoppable

Wall

One day after church, we started playing a game of touch football in the parking lot. I didn’t know it then, but I was going experience a bone-bruising collision that day—but not with a parked car or a hard-hitting buddy. I was going to crash into a stone wall.

Just like I’d been doing, I got into my stance and took off like a shot when the ball was snapped to our quarterback. I ran a quick button-hook toward the rock-slab stairs leading up to the old parsonage, just above the parking lot.

Pivoting quickly, I came back two steps to catch the ball and then turned and bolted for the end zone. But as I high-stepped into the end zone, I misjudged the rock wall and slammed into it.

Startled by a sudden shot of pain and feeling queasy, I looked down at my bleeding leg—and then everything went black. I passed out and collapsed to the ground.

Similarly, you and I get blind-sided by hard-hitting circumstances. We get side-swiped by ornery people and surprised by the stuff of life—and sometimes we hit the wall.

But God is never caught off-guard. He never gets buffaloed, overwhelmed or out-matched.

God is absolutely unstoppable. Always. Nothing can detour God from accomplishing what he desires. Nobody can keep God from doing what he purposes.

Did you know Superman was stoppable? Clark Kent had to ditch his hat, suit and specs inside a phone booth before he could leap into the air as Superman and fly after Gotham City’s bad guys. He had to avoid and run from kryptonite whenever the villains tried to use it against him.

Our awesome God is far more powerful than Superman and every superhero put together. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere present at once. He’s unstoppable.

Proverbs 22:30 says, “There is no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” And yet, we often talk and live as if God is puny, insignificant and stoppable.

Job wrote, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Isaiah wrote, “This is the plan determined … for the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).

Long ago, God punked Egypt and parted the Red Sea to clear a path for Moses and the Hebrews when they got trapped by Pharaoh’s army. God also empowered a young shepherd boy named David to slay Goliath with just a slingshot when no Israeli warrior dared to fight the giant.

God is just as powerful today as he was in the days of Moses and David. He’s still working and accomplishing his eternal and sovereign plan for his glory and our good—in his way and timing.

God is just as unstoppable, too. That’s why we can trust him about anything and everything—and follow him anywhere and everywhere. One moment at a time. One step at a time.

 

 

God Never Changes

Mountain Rock

Someone once said, “Few things never change—and most things always change.”

As humans, we experience the mystery of change all day long. We flex and adjust. We hurry up and slow down. Smile and frown. Get mad and feel sad. Celebrate and agitate.

Thoughts rattle through our minds like a revolving Gatlin gun. Emotions lift and drop our hearts like a run-away rollercoaster. Circumstances twist our guts like a salty circus pretzel.

That’s just the way life is for us. We’re riding a fast-track train that’s hurtling through a world of constant change—and we can’t do much of anything to slow the ride.

But unlike us, God never changes. He’s absolutely unchangeable. Some use the fifty-dollar word “immutable” that means one can’t change or evolve. You see, God can’t alter who he is. He’s unchanging in his essence and character. He’s the same—yesterday, today and forever.

God’s immutability dizzies my finite mind. I don’t understand it because it’s incomprehensible and I can’t explain it because it’s unexplainable—but I believe it. God is unchangeable.

Long ago, God declared to the prophet Malachi, “I the LORD do not change …” (Malachi 3:6).

The apostle James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Humans change but God doesn’t. Shadows shift but God doesn’t. Lights flicker but God doesn’t.  God is unchanging. He’s unlike everyone and everything else—anywhere and everywhere.

The Bible says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain … they will be changed. But you remain the same” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

God is constant and unchanging. Now and forever. That’s why we can always rely on him.

Our frantic, fast-paced world is full of changes—and life on this planet gets crazy and chaotic. It’s like riding a rickety rollercoaster through its twists and turns and ups and down—knowing the unpredictable stuff of life can knock us down and take us out without warning.

So, next time you’re dizzy and can’t see straight, and it feels like you’re going off the track and over the cliff, think about God’s immutability. He can’t change—and he doesn’t struggle.

Next time you’re going south and sideways, remember you can rely on the certainty of God’s immutability in the midst of your insecurity and uncertainty.

Our awesome God is unchanging. He’s the same—yesterday, today and forever. That’s why he’s absolutely and always reliable. That’s why he’s completely and unequivocally believable. Will you trust him?

 

Going the Distance

Running

Young Lopez Lomong was abducted from his home by rebel soldiers and then beaten and forced to become a “boy soldier” in his war-torn homeland.

One night, he escaped from his captors and ran for his life through the “killing fields” of Sudan for three days. He ran until he stumbled across a refugee camp in Kenya, where gracious and kind people cared for him. As he struggled to survive, he felt alone and afraid.

Lomong grew up there as a “lost boy” with a broken heart, far away from his family and friends.  He was hungry, barefoot and dirt poor with rags for clothes. He never owned a pair of shoes—until he left Africa and made his way to the United States, where he was adopted, wore his first pair of shoes, graduated from college and became a U.S. citizen.

Today, Lomong is still running, but not from the rebels in Sudan—and not as a barefoot boy. Now he runs as a world-class athlete, proudly representing the United States and his sponsor Nike and wearing their name-brand clothing and shoes.

In 2012, Lopez Lomong had the honor of carrying the American flag in the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in London. With a look of determination on his face and joy in his heart, he ran with eyes riveted on winning a gold medal for his new homeland.

Are you running like an Olympian athlete—or just barely hanging on?

Maybe you’re struggling to survive and stay in the race. Getting tired and lagging behind. Growing discouraged and disillusioned. Going south instead of north. Perhaps you’re running stronger and longer. Going faster and farther. Persevering in spite of the pain. Staying on course. Going the distance.

No matter what—we can run with confidence and hope, knowing God is running with us. We can face obstacles head-on and see beyond setbacks, trusting God for strength and help. We can hear God encouraging and cheering for us.

The warrior David trusted God. He knew how to run victoriously. He experienced tough times. He was pursued by his enemies. He lived like a fugitive on the dodge.

David often ran for his life—and he knew God always ran with him. Wherever David went, God ran alongside him. He encouraged David—and supported and stayed with him.

That’s why David joyfully sang, “My God turns my darkness into light … with your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:28, 29).

That’s why David confidently wrote, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:18-19).

That’s why we can run with hope and endurance—and how we can go the distance with God!

 

Character Counts

Character Trials

The prestigious Harry S. Truman Library made good on a decades-old bill, owed to a long since retired paperboy in Kansas City.

President Truman—who once famously said, “The buck stops here”—somehow didn’t pay his paperboy for receiving the Independent Examiner at his Missouri home in 1947. But when the presidential library found it, they paid the “final buck” on the deceased president’s overdue bill.

Apparently, 80-year-old George Lund was stiffed on his paper route about 65 years ago. But after all these years, he received a check for $7.50, plus more than six decades of interest. That’s taking responsibility for something most people would shrug off and ignore. That’s doing what’s right and fair regardless of the cost. That’s going the second mile.

The Scriptures teach us to live with integrity, take responsibility and stay accountable for what we say and do—or don’t say and do. We’re exhorted to make things right when we mess up. We’re expected to think and live right. No exceptions. No excuses.

We’re called by Almighty God to be men and women who live out the virtues he values. In a word, that’s character. It’s important to God. That’s why character counts.

Joseph refused to compromise with his boss’ wife when she tried to seduce him. He ran when he could’ve stayed. Ruth cared for her mother-in-law Naomi after their husbands died. She stayed put when she could’ve walked away. Daniel kept talking with God after being ordered to stop. He prayed publicly when he could’ve knelt privately.

Character isn’t built overnight. It can’t be microwaved, prefabricated or rushed. It takes time, resolve and grace, mixed with some struggles and mistakes and a lot of commitment.

Character is shaped slowly and deliberately over the course of a lifetime—but it can be lost suddenly and destroyed in a moment for a long time.

Peter wrote, “Make every effort to add to your faith … goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

The followers of Jesus who received Peter’s letter had left Jerusalem and scattered because they were being persecuted for what they believed. Peter reminds them (and us!) that God develops character through tough times—with the goal of making us more useful and fruitful.

Chained to a prison guard and condemned to die for his faith, Paul wrote to struggling believers everywhere, “Suffering produces perseverance and character …” (Romans 5:4).

The wrongly accused apostle believed and taught that God often uses difficult circumstances to develop our character and expand our ministry to others for his honor and glory.

So then, let’s get ready, stay alert and respond well to whatever comes our way!

 

 

Called to Testify

Greg Laurie preaching Harvest America Angel Stadium 2012

A getaway car parked along the curb outside a bank in Houston was put to good use, but not by the surprised robbers.

Blanca was cashing a check at the counter when the robbers walked inside the bank. As they approached, she panicked and ran out the door—and jumped inside the first car she saw. It was the robbers’ getaway car, which they’d left unlocked and unattended with the engine running.

She sped away, drove a few miles from the bank, pulled over and ran inside a store. Eventually, the Houston police caught up with Blanca and arrested her for stealing the car—but the FBI later exonerated and named her a witness to the attempted bank robbery.

If you’ve trusted Christ as your Savior, your guilty charges have been dropped and your sins have been forgiven—and that makes you a witness of his saving grace and transforming power.

You’re no longer guilty, condemned or lost. God has forgiven you, declared you righteous and adopted you into his family. You’re his daughter or son. You’re a witness of his unconditional love and eternal salvation. You’re called to testify and share how Jesus rescued you.

The first-century disciples were “eye-witnesses” of what Jesus said and did near Jerusalem. They saw Jesus heal, heard him teach and watched him serve. But they ran when he was arrested, condemned and killed. They avoided his burial and doubted his resurrection.

But after Jesus came back to life, he pursued and met with his disciples to encourage, affirm and teach them. He ate and talked with them for a number of days before he went back to heaven.

Years later, Paul testified, “he [Jesus] appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

Before Jesus returned to his Father in heaven, he made a promise to all his followers: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses” (Act 1:8). That’s for every follower of Jesus. Everyone—including you and me.

We may not be actual “eye-witnesses” of our risen Savior, but we know and can share how he changed us from the inside out. We can testify as confident, credible witnesses who’ve helped others trust Christ as their Savior and then watched as he transformed them.

Like the first disciples, we’re called by our Savior to testify for him and empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the good news of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life. That’s what bold, credible Christian witnesses say and do—everywhere they go.

So then, let’s boldly and eagerly share the good news of our risen Savior and coming King with family, friends and strangers!

 

Dropped Balls

Balls Juggling

Joe Salter eventually got bored with competing in “normal” triathlons. So, he decided to try something different—something that’s never been done before—and sort of over the top. He set out to juggle three balls without stopping, as he swam a quarter-mile, ran four miles and cycled a 16-mile sprint.

Swimming and juggling at the same time was the hardest leg of his never-been-done-before triathlon because Salter had to do a slow backstroke through ocean water. Cycling and juggling was challenging when he had to shift gears. Running and juggling was almost easy.

Amazingly, Salter completed the entire triathlon with a final time of 1 hour and 57 minutes—and only dropped three balls.

Have you dropped the ball recently? Bugged out your responsibilities. Overlooked a deadline.  Disappointed family or friends. Broken a promise. Injured a relationship. Made a big mistake.

God juggles a gazillion balls at once. On top of that, God has never dropped a ball—and he never will. Not once. Not ever.

But unlike God, we struggle as we juggle the stuff of life. We drop a lot of balls—and get embarrassed when we fumble. We make mistakes every day. It’s part of being human.

Sometimes, we accidentally fumble the ball. Other times, we deliberately drop it. We rebel and disobey God. Do our own thing. Go our own way.

How should you and I respond when we blow it? For starters, we can choose to:

Admit our mistake. Confess our sin. Do a 180 turn. Make things right with God and others. Accept God’s grace and forgiveness. Ask him for strength to go the right way and do the right thing. That’s what David and Paul did.

After going down a dangerous path littered with lust, adultery, murder, cover up and deceit, David returned to being a man with a heart for God. He repented and prayed, “Search me … and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23-24). David got right with God.

After murdering Christians everywhere, the apostle Paul confessed his sin and rebellion against God, turned and started running well. He wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on …” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul focused his eyes on Jesus.

No matter how far we stray, God won’t walk away from us. No matter what we do, God won’t let us go. No matter what we say, God won’t leave us. That’s good news for “ball-droppers”.

When David and Paul struggled and stumbled, they didn’t stay down. They got right with God, stood back up and ran again. They received and relied on God’s grace, forgiveness and strength. They pressed on for the eternal prize. Do you?