Bolder than Before

Boldness

One morning, curious 5-year-old David Schroeder asked his father, “Daddy, why is that man sleeping on our kitchen floor?”

Mr. Schroeder replied, “Son, this man is lost, and needs Jesus. I’m brewing coffee so when he sobers up, I can share the gospel with him. I want to tell him about our Savior.”

The man snoring on their kitchen floor was just one of many lost souls who came to their small home. The Schroeders were missionaries, reaching out to the rugged lumbermen, fishermen and indigenous people who made their living in a remote lumber mill town on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Mr. Schroeder was a “tentmaker” evangelist-pastor (like the Apostle Paul), working full-time at the lumber mill and shepherding a small church on the side. After work, he’d walk to the bunk houses and talk with the men about Jesus.

Schroeder’s father had a simple, straight-forward mission in life—to love people and tell them about the Savior. As young Schroeder grew up, what he saw and heard from his father changed him. It stayed in his heart, and shaped how he sees and talks with people today.

Dr. Luke tells the amazing story of how Jesus called and changed an arrogant, boisterous fisherman named Peter into a humble but bold leader. For three years, Peter followed Jesus everywhere. He watched and listened to the Savior. He admired and respected him.

But, on the night Jesus was falsely arrested and accused, Peter was asked repeatedly by others if he knew Jesus—and in three moments of rare cowardice, Peter disowned and denied knowing him. Ashamed and heartbroken, he walked away and wept bitterly.

Fast forward after Jesus’ resurrection to the day of Pentecost, where we see the fearful disciple turned bold apostle preaching persuasively and powerfully to thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem. He’s no longer afraid to talk about Jesus. He’s a changed man.

Empowered and prompted by the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly and confidently proclaims the good news of his risen Savior. He’s a different man.

Then, after being told to stop preaching, Peter and his friend John were arrested and threatened by the religious leaders, to which they replied:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

They confidently and courageously refused to stop talking about Jesus.

I wonder if you’re afraid to share the good news of Jesus. Uncertain of what to say. Reluctant to get branded as a Jesus “freak”. Hesitant to take a stand. Averse to being rejected.

Friend, next time you’re hesitant to talk about Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you. Recall the fear of a tough fisherman. Reflect on the courage of a humble apostle.

Then, ask God to remove your fear and replace it with boldness so you can stand and share the good news.

 

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No More Giants

Jamie Moyer

Left-handed pitcher Jamie Moyer took the mound on June 16, 1986, wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform—and made his Major League Baseball debut against veteran pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton.

Nine innings later, the 23-year-old rookie got his first win.

More than a quarter-century later, 49-year-old Moyer is still pitching. Now he’s playing with the Colorado Rockies—and on April 17, 2013, he earned his 268th career win, becoming the oldest pitcher in MLB history to win a game.

Today, despite having Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm after the 2010 season, Moyer is a strong and steady starter for the Rockies. His earned run average is among the best in baseball, but his velocity is the worst.

Moyer has never been known for hurling a blazing fastball, and his age and surgery have reduced his top speed. So how does he get the job done?

The veteran southpaw throws five distinct pitches with precision, using a variety of speeds—slow, slower, and slowest. He stays one step ahead of the hitters, knowing a 78-mph fastball feels like pure heat after seeing a 60-mph change-up. He’s still got what it takes to fool batters!

After Joshua and his troops captured the Promised Land, 80-year-old Caleb went to his old commander and friend, and asked for his blessing to battle and subdue the enemy again.

Caleb said, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but the LORD helping me, I will drive them out …” (Joshua 14:11-12).

So Joshua blessed Caleb, and gave him the hill country of Hebron to attack, conquer and occupy.

Caleb didn’t let gnarly giants keep him from taking “his” mountain. Instead, he charged up the hill, and wiped out the bad guys. He didn’t give up, or go away. He didn’t let up, or limp away.

Faithfully and fearlessly, Caleb had served alongside Moses and Joshua, scouted Canaan, fought battles and defeated enemies. He wasn’t ready to retire and live comfortably on Easy Street. Instead, he wanted to capture another enemy-held mountain, and settle there.

Caleb didn’t let anything stop or side-line him. Why? He was resolutely committed to living out the encouraging words of his long-time friend:  “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6).

Furthermore, the old warrior trusted God for guidance and strength. He faced life head-on with confidence and purpose. He stayed true to his commitments and values.

Can others say the same thing of you?

 

Lost and Found

lost and found

There’s no doubt that your grass is unusually long and desperately in need of a mowing when it’s so high, you can lose a car in it.

That’s what happened to a 78-year-old widow in Georgia. She lost her car in the front yard. Apparently, the elderly woman phoned the police to report that her late husband’s big Chevy van had been stolen. But then, just a few hours later, she placed another call to the police.

After looking more closely in her front yard, she discovered the inoperable vehicle parked there—in the last place anyone had seen it—obscured and overgrown by grass that hadn’t been mowed for a long time.

I wonder what that lady’s neighbors said behind her back. I wonder why they didn’t mow her tall grass. I wonder why they didn’t look for her “lost” vehicle.

Long ago, the leaders of Judah lost the Book of the Law somewhere inside the temple. That means they couldn’t find the first five books of the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I wonder what happened to the Book. I wonder how they lost it.

Maybe the priests put it up on a backroom shelf, and forgot about it. Maybe it got buried under junk inside a closet, pushed under a pile in the corner or covered by dusty cobwebs.

We don’t know where they lost it, or why they left it there. But apparently, the leaders were okay with abandoning the Scriptures. Somebody put the Book down, nobody went back for it and everybody stopped reading it. They just kept on living, as if the Book wasn’t missing.

But one day, the high priest Hilkiah found the Book inside the temple, and gave it to Shaphan who took and read it to young King Josiah. After hearing the Scriptures, Josiah wept and tore his robes, and ordered five leaders to go and pray for God’s guidance.

Josiah repented on behalf of the nation, assembled everyone at the temple and then read the entire Book to them. The people of Judah came to their senses and got right with God—and an incredible revival broke out and swept across the land (2 Kings 22-23). 

I wonder if you’ve ever lost your Bible. Left it on a church pew or an office desk. Misplaced it somewhere inside your house. Tossed it into the car trunk. It sounds crazy, but some people often lose their Bible—just like they misplace a jacket, a watch or a set of keys.

I wonder where you usually put your Bible. On the coffee table. Inside a desk drawer. On a bookshelf. In the back seat. On a nightstand.

Friend, I hope you’ve got a special place for your Bible—inside your home and your heart. I hope you see it as a rare treasure, and enjoy exploring it. I hope you’re reading God’s Word—and “hiding” it inside you heart.

David sang, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” and “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:11, 97). Is that the cry of your heart?

 

Frantic and Frazzled

frantic

Have you struggled with the stuff of life to the point that you felt weary and teary?

I’ve hit the wall and collapsed twice because I mismanaged stress, kept a crazy schedule and got burnt out. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I had no choice but to rest and sleep for days.

I ignored the warning signs, disregarded what others advised and refused to get the help I desperately needed. I jeopardized my health and the well-being of my family. I allowed the tyranny of the urgent to sap my energy and scuttle my strength.

Frazzled to the core, I finally just wore out. I had nothing left to give. I felt empty and lost.

Eventually, I learned to set my pace so I could run long and finish strong. I discovered how to recharge my batteries, renew my mind and rebalance my emotions. I decided to slow down, rest up and look around.

Oh, I still struggle. It’s part of life. That’s why I ask and rely on God to rejuvenate me.

The tough warrior-king David struggled, too. He wrote, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow …” (Psalm 6:6-7). He fought exhaustion, sadness and stress.

David had fierce enemies who wanted to kill him. Trusted advisors who tried to betray him. Close friends who plotted to ruin him. A rebellious son who conspired to dethrone him.

The stressed-out warrior-king got tired of struggling and fighting. He wanted to give up and go away—but he didn’t. Instead, he asked God to rescue and strengthen him.

David prayed, “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. I am worn out calling for help” (Psalm 69:1-3).

He also declared, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help … he heard my voice. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters … he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16-19).

David desperately cried out to God—and experienced God’s strong hand and sustaining help.

Know this, my friend—no matter what’s threatening to slam you down and take you out, it’s no match for our mighty God. He’s all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present at once.

God sees what you’re going through—knows what you’re feeling—and hears what you’re saying. He’s focused on you. He cares about you.

That’s why you can trust God with everything—and talk with him about anything at any time.

God is waiting and listening for you. Will you trust and talk with him today?

 

Trash Talking

Trash

Town administrator Dean Shankle was infuriated and flabbergasted, as he tried to understand why someone would deliberately, mysteriously and systematically scatter litter along Route 3A near Hooksett, New Hampshire.

Once a week, an unidentified person or company apparently dumped hundreds of blank lottery slips along the roadside of Route 3A—without being seen or getting caught.

I don’t know if Shankle and the local authorities ever identified and detained the guilty party—and I don’t know if they ever discovered why someone intentionally littered this stretch of road every Sunday, week after week.

Recently, I saw a motorist roll down his window, toss trash into the street and speed away, as if there’s nothing wrong with littering. I saw a pedestrian throw garbage into the gutter as he walked down the sidewalk, as if there’s nothing hazardous about littering.

Everywhere I walk, I see litter on the ground. Everywhere I drive, I see litter blowing down city streets, cluttering back alleys and trashing front yards. I see litter almost anywhere—and I can’t stand it.

Litter blows down the street and around the corner because someone tossed it on the ground instead of stuffing it inside a trash can.

I wonder why people litter.

Maybe they’re irresponsible, indifferent or untaught. Perhaps they’re selfish, rude or careless. Frankly, there’s no excuse for deliberate littering. It’s wrong and illegal. It’s inappropriate and inconsiderate. Simply put, it’s recklessly “trashing” what belongs to others.

Sadly, we do the same wretched thing with our mouths. We spit out filth and junk. We cuss and swear. We hassle and harass. We criticize and condemn. That’s what I call “trash talking”.

That kind of talking is rancid and rotten. It’s putrid and foul like a spoiled egg. It scoffs at what God values, scowls at what God teaches and scorns the people God loves.

That kind of talking is useless, discouraging and unwholesome.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit them.”

Clearly, God expects us to encourage others with our words. To build up, not belittle. To heal, not hurt. To affirm, not antagonize. To help, not hassle.

Certainly, wholesome talking requires holy thinking.

That’s why we must think before we speak and corral our thoughts before they get loose. That’s why we must evaluate our thoughts and guard our words. There’s no other helpful way!

 

Running Strong

Running

English runner Roger Bannister finished out-of-the-medals in fourth place in the 1500-meter race at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Hugely disappointed, he almost quit running. Instead, after thinking it through, the 23-year-old refocused his determination.

He decided to keep running with the goal of becoming the first man ever to run a mile in less than four minutes. About a year later, Bannister clocked a time of 4:03.6, a new British record. That’s when he realized running a four-minute mile was within his reach.

Then, one year later in 1954, Bannister thrilled 3,000 spectators with a mile run clocked at 3:59.4, and opened the door for focused competitors to run faster than that.

Just 46 days after Bannister’s historic run, Australian John Landy ran the mile in 3:57.9. Since then, others have joined the sub-four-minute mile club. In 1999, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj ran the mile in 3:43.13 and set the current men’s world record.

Friend, I hope you’re running strong in the greatest and longest race.

Our gracious heavenly Father is the greatest Coach ever—and he invites us to run alongside him with purpose and endurance. He encourages us to stay on course and imitate his Son Jesus. He cheers when we live as humble, Christ-like champions.

Young Saul was an angry Christian-killer before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But with Ananias’ help, he discovered God’s purpose for his life. Rough around the edges at first, Saul grew spiritually—and gradually became a radically different man because he ran with Jesus.

Somewhere along the way, Saul changed his name to Paul—and recognized he had a long way to go. But he was committed to growing in Christ—even in the face of adversity. For years, the young apostle was flogged, arrested and jailed for sharing the good news of Jesus.

That’s when Paul wrote, “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. Brothers, 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 has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14).

That’s running with purpose—keeping an eye on eternity.

Another tenacious first-century leader challenged and encouraged us when he wrote, “Let us run with perseverance …” (Hebrews 12:1).

That’s running with endurance—keeping an eye on eternity.

So, if we want to run long for our Savior, we must stay in the race and keep a steady pace. If we want to run strong for our Savior, we must rest in his presence and rely on his power. If we want to run well for our Savior, we must reflect him, not ourselves. Let’s go for it!

 

Different But Not Bizarre

Stand Out

Amazingly, it took five long decades and 8,020 consecutive ballgames for the New York Mets to log a no-hitter in the MLB record books.

On June 1, 2012, left-handed pitcher Johan Santana threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, ending the longest active stretch of a major league baseball team without a no-hitter.

The Mets finally got that “monkey off their back”—but actually, that monkey wasn’t anything more than a little chimp. Do you know why?

No-hitters are extremely rare in the world of baseball.

Since 1962, Major League Baseball fans have watched only 132 no-hitter games. That’s why it’s a really big deal and an exhilarating feat for a pitcher to go the distance and throw a no-hitter. It’s not a strange or bizarre thing. It’s just rare and unusual.

The Scriptures are jam-packed with real-life stories of ordinary men and women who trusted and followed God through extraordinary situations. Not surprisingly, they were often perceived as peculiar people doing strange things.

Noah built an ark when he’d never heard of rain. Moses parted the Red Sea and the people walked across on dry land. Joshua led the people, as they circled Jericho once for seven straight days—and then on the seventh day, the walls collapsed after they circled it seven times.

The first-century Church was birthed after Peter preached his first sermon and thousands came to faith in Jesus Christ. Stephen was stoned to death because he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. Paul got bit by a poisonous snake, shook it off and kept traveling and teaching.

Today, as followers of Jesus, we may be perceived as strange—but we shouldn’t live bizarrely. Instead, we should live distinctively, set apart from the way non-believers live. We’re not perfect—not by a long shot. We’re transformed people, becoming more like Jesus.

The apostle Peter exhorted every follower of Jesus to live distinctively when he wrote, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

That’s holy and wholesome living, prompted and powered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works …” (Ephesians 2:10). Simply put, God crafted us as living poems to reflect and honor him.

Friend, I wonder if people will see anything that’s distinctively different about the way we talk and live today. I wonder if they’ll be able to gather enough evidence to convict us of being radically different followers of Jesus.

If that’s the case, then we’re living distinctively—and pointing others to Jesus!

 

Toothpick Bandit

bandit

Six cases of ordinary wooden toothpicks were stolen in May 2012 from a warehouse owned by Armond’s Manufacturing Company in Athens, Georgia.

The not-so-clever thief broke into the building, triggered the alarm and ran after grabbing the boxes—containing 400,000 toothpicks, worth $3,000. The police arrested the man, after he was spotted trying to sell the toothpicks in bulk at a flea market.

When I was a boy, I shoplifted for several years, taking candy and small items from a corner drug store. Sadly, I kept doing it as an adolescent—sometimes just for the rush that comes from taking risks and avoiding apprehension.

But when I came to faith and trusted Jesus as my Savior, I confessed my stealing to God and told my father. Not long after that, I went to the store with Dad to try and make things right.

I admitted my stealing to the manager and asked for his forgiveness. Then, I handed him an envelope of cash to pay for what I’d stolen, and promised I’d never steal again. Fortunately, he didn’t press charges, and I didn’t get a rap sheet. We shook hands, and I stopped stealing.

After paying my “debt” to the store manager, there were more consequences to face. Dad revoked a number of privileges I enjoyed. He lectured, disciplined and whupped me with a big belt—and then grounded me for several months. It could’ve been a lot worse.

Long ago, God told Joshua and the Israelites to circle the city of Jericho for seven days. Everyone watched as God collapsed the walls on the seventh day. Then, following God’s instructions, Joshua told the Israelites to burn everything (Joshua 6).

But foolish Achan took and hid some plunder in his tent. When confronted, he admitted his sin, but couldn’t avoid the consequences. The Israelites stoned Achan, his family, livestock, tent—everything he had—and then burned and buried them and everything else (Joshua 7).

The temptation to sin is alluring, deceptive and deadly. It stalks us—and can strike at any time.

Achan saw some stuff he wanted and stole it, right after experiencing a huge spiritual victory at Jericho. Instead of obeying God, Achan deliberately sinned. Sound familiar?

Sin has consequences because God is holy and just—and can’t look the other way when we sin. We may confess before getting caught, or wait until we’re exposed. Either way, we can’t escape the consequences of our sin. It’s no different than when we disobeyed our parents.

But 1 John 1:9 promises, “… if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God instantaneously forgives our sin when we confess it to him—but without stopping the consequences. He graciously restores our rebellious hearts—when we confess and come to him as repentant sinners and saints.

So then, let’s choose today to turn and run from the clutches of temptation—and avoid the consequences of stumbling headlong into sin!

 

 

 

Live to Give

Hands giving

When the congregation of St. Michael’s Catholic Church of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was overwhelmed by four-million dollars in damages caused by a huge flood in 1997, parishioners at St. Michael’s in Long Beach, New Jersey, rallied and raised money to help with the repairs.

Now fast-forward 15 years to 2012—when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey’s coast. The horrific storm demolished the Long Beach church building.

When the parishioners of the North Dakota congregation heard about it, they pulled together and raised money to help their struggling friends rebuild. They enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to encourage and help the congregation that’d graciously assisted them.

Both congregations put compassion into action, helped each other recover and rebuild and demonstrated generosity and gratitude.

Do you give joyfully and generously to God and his work? Do you help others? Does your congregation come alongside and serve needy people?

Years ago, the Apostle Paul encouraged a struggling congregation in Corinth to give eagerly and sacrificially to help others—like some poor believers scattered across Macedonia were doing.

Despite their extreme poverty, these Macedonian believers gave generously—above and beyond their ability—as God prompted and provided for them. That’s why the apostle could urge the Corinthian believers to imitate the Macedonians’ example of generous giving.

Paul wrote, “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). They gave joyfully.

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4). They gave sacrificially.

Out of their poverty, the Macedonian believers gave purposefully—responded eagerly to opportunities to help and bless others. Can others say the same of you and your congregation?

I encourage you to follow the Macedonian’s example and look for ways to honor God, help others and give generously—as God prompts and provides.

Together, as purposeful believers and gracious congregations who care about others, let’s demonstrate humility, generosity and sacrifice. Let’s honor and reflect God by how we give.

Let’s remember God’s example:  “For God so loved the world that he gave …” (John 3:16).

Then, let’s partner with God—and live to give!

 

Once Lost, Forever Found

lost person 2

A veteran shrimp-boat captain plying his trade off the coast of Crab Island near Florida made an unsettling and surprising catch. After hoisting his predawn haul onto the deck of his boat, Matt Willingham discovered that he’d also pulled up a prosthetic leg.

Fortunately, he didn’t find a dead body, but Willingham did notice that the prosthetic limb was emblazoned with a University of Kentucky logo. So, when he got back on shore, Willingham tracked down the manufacturer to help him identify the leg’s owner.

Because of some irregular markings on the rather expensive prosthetic, it wasn’t difficult for the manufacturer to locate the owner.

Long story cut short—Fred Robinson, a former Kentucky Wildcats running back from the 1980’s, lost his leg in a workplace accident. Then, just a few years later, he lost his prosthetic while swimming in the nearby ocean on Memorial Day weekend.

When Robinson got the phone call, he was shocked at first. Then, he just started laughing, and hollered:  “They found my leg!”

Long ago, while teaching his early followers, Jesus told three stories about finding something or someone that was lost.

A poor woman lost one of her ten coins, but found it after looking everywhere. A compassionate shepherd lost one of his 99 sheep, but found it after searching everywhere. A forgiving father lost his youngest son to wild living, but one day saw him walking in the distance, ran quickly and hugged him and welcomed him home with a big party.

In the same way—but infinitely more so—Jesus never stops looking for lost people. His heart is compassionate. His eyes are alert. His legs are strong. His arms are open wide.

Do you know why Jesus pursues lost people?

The Bible says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Our Savior is looking for lost people to rescue for all of eternity.

Friend, is Jesus looking for you?

Maybe you’re lost and wandering. Perhaps you’re confused and disoriented. Maybe you’re rebellious and unruly. Perhaps you’re dirty and vagrant.

If so, it’s time for you to stop, turn and run to the Savior. He’s looking for you.

I like how David pictured God’s amazing rescue, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me …” (Psalm 18:16-17).

Friend, it’s time for you stop being lost and homeless like the prodigal son. It’s time for you to come home and celebrate with your forgiving Father!