Awestruck and Starry-Eyed

Universe

For decades, we’ve searched the skies—looking for planets and stars inside and beyond our solar system. We’ve launched bold astronauts and multi-million dollar space crafts into orbit—and used high-tech equipment—to explore and map out outer space, our “final frontier”.

NASA built the amazing Kepler spacecraft, in an attempt to locate and identify extrasolar planets as they orbit stars by measuring regular, subtle dips in starlight. So far, it has discovered at least 21 planets and found evidence for hundreds more.

Recently, Kepler’s high-powered telescope revealed and confirmed the existence of an “unknown” planet orbiting two stars. That planet is roughly the size of Saturn with a radius of 36,184 miles.

Saturn is known for its spectacular ring system and 53 moons. As the 2nd largest planet in our solar system and the 6th planet from our sun—at a distance of about 886 million miles—it orbits our sun, a star.But the two stars orbiting the previously unknown planet—both smaller than our sun—light up outer space about 200 light-years from Earth—and as this planet orbits both stars, they also revolve around each other.

God flung every star into its socket. He hung every planet in its pocket. He spun every universe and galaxy into its docket.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for created is bara, which means “to make something radically new out of nothing”. That’s what God did. He caused the heavens and earth to suddenly appear—as his galactic masterpieces.

God powerfully shaped everything out of nothing. He spoke it into existence. Seven times, God said, “Let there be …” and it appeared instantly (Genesis 1).

God masterfully created everything—and he liked his handiwork. The Bible says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in their vast array” (Genesis 1:31-2:1).

Awestruck by God and his amazing handiwork, David exclaimed: “The heavens declare the glory of God” … “O LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him …” (Psalm 19:1; 8:1,3-4).

Friend, that’s why we humbly worship and exuberantly exalt God for who he is and what he has done. He’s our majestic Creator and awesome Savior!

Determined and Thankful

JR Martinez

J.R. Martinez lit up the dance floor on Dancing with the Stars, wowing the audience and judges—as he and his partner Karina Smirnoff cha-cha-ed, samba-ed and waltzed on the hardwood floor.

So where did the former soldier find the slick moves to beat out the other contestants and win the 2011 DWTS mirror ball trophy? It wasn’t from years of practice. Not by a long shot.

The only dancing experience J.R. had was with his mother when he was a little boy!

Ms. Martinez may not have taught a lot of dance moves to her young son—but as a hard-working single mother, she modeled the virtue of determination. Growing up, Martinez watched and learned, as his mother struggled and persevered—and hurdled one obstacle after another.

The perseverance of J.R.’s mother influenced him to live with endurance and character. Her strong example motivated him to win at life—long before he danced his way to a shiny trophy.

About 10 years ago—while Martinez was serving in Iraq, his Humvee hit a land mine and exploded into flames. Trapped inside the damaged tank with no way to escape, Martinez was burned over 40 percent of his body.

When J.R. first saw his scars in a mirror, he was devastated. But with unusual determination—just like his mother had modeled—the tough 19-year-old soldier transformed his “reflection” of his scars into a reservoir of strength.

The scarred soldier courageously thanked God for life. He knew God protected him. That’s why he didn’t curse or complain. He didn’t sulk or sour. He didn’t blubber or blame.

Instead—Martinez stepped up, worked hard and persevered. He kept going. He refused to allow life’s challenges to distract or detour him. He stayed determined and thankful.

Centuries ago—King David got slammed and scarred by the stuff of life, just like Martinez. But he also learned to walk through challenges with thankful determination. That’s why he could sing and shout, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (Psalm 107:1).

The apostle Paul was arrested for proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Alone and stuck in prison, he practiced what he preached: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians. 4:6).

Simply put, we can thank God during a tough time—but we don’t need to thank him for the tough time. There’s a big difference.

Friend, let’s stay determined and thankful. Let’s catch a right perspective on our challenges—and cultivate a right attitude of gratitude for God’s goodness. Let’s dance with joy!

Texas Lemonade

lemonade stand

On hot summer days, we can usually find a makeshift lemonade stand somewhere, run by children who want to make a few bucks.

They’re simple set-ups where folks can buy a cup or two of lemonade, wet their whistle and encourage some kids.

Most youngsters are content to collect some quarters in an old coffee can for two hours of work—but not 6-year-old Drew Cox.

The young Texan didn’t just set up a lemonade stand in his front yard to snag ten bucks. He didn’t just serve lemonade to quench the thirst of a few kind neighbors and strangers.

Drew erected his stand with hopes of raising a lot of money to help his father pay off the medical bills that had piled up, after Randy Cox had been diagnosed with cancer and started taking chemotherapy.

As word traveled across the east Texas town that Drew was selling lemonade to help pay for his father’s medical expenses, good-willed Texans flocked to his stand.

Drew charged the customary 25 cents per cup. Some bought cups of lemonade, while others wrote checks and made donations—including one check for $5,000.

Amazingly, young Drew Cox raised over $10,000 in one day.

That’s compassion and generosity in action—roped together in the Lone Star state—to help a struggling father and his family!

Our Savior felt and demonstrated compassion for people everywhere. Children. Parents. Lepers. Adulterers. Soldiers. Rebels. Everyone.

The Bible says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). First, our amazing Savior felt compassion, deep inside. Then, he jumped into action, on behalf of others.

Jesus never got stuck in the quagmire of passivity and inactivity. Instead, he dared to care—and decided to act. He got involved.

Our Savior’s heart of compassion always moved him to take action. He saw and felt something, and then he did something. Every time.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

I wonder how we’ll respond today to what we see and feel.

 

What You Do Matters

manners

Mayor Julian Atienza of La Toba, Spain—a small village located 70 miles northeast of Madrid—made himself very unpopular with residents.

With the support of the city council, the mayor posted and promoted 65 “good conduct” guidelines—a new code prohibiting rude and insensitive behavior, such as slurping food, nose picking, belching, breaking wind and failing to visit grandparents.

The unofficial code was published in the village newsletter with the hope of getting more people to mind their manners in public. Although the mayor couldn’t penalize or embarrass anyone for ignoring his guidelines, breaking the “rules” was definitely frowned upon.

That angered local residents and incited them to call for the mayor’s resignation.

I wonder what people think about our community etiquette—how we behave and interact with others.

“Oh yeah, she’s polite. Kind. Gracious. Courteous. Respectful. Thoughtful. But he’s rude. Mean. Selfish. Oblivious. Defiant. Uncaring.”

Certainly, what we say and do is important to God.

It’s always appropriate for us to demonstrate kindness, speak politely and mind our manners—but there’s something that’s far more important than choosing not to burp and slurp, keeping our elbows off the table, sitting up straight in a chair and opening the door for someone.

It’s living in a way that honors and reflects God. It’s imitating and pleasing him with what we think, say and do. It’s being a positive, wholesome example of what’s right and true before family, friends, neighbors, associates and strangers.

That’s why Paul wrote, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … and over all these virtues put on love” (Colossians 4:12-14).

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus … whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 4:17,23).

“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received …” (Ephesians 4:1).

Sure, it’s always appropriate to practice good manners, speak politely, and act kindly—but it’s far more important to live in a way that reflects the character of our gracious Father.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s purposeful daily living that honors God.

That’s also why we must evaluate what we think, filter what we say, and guard what we do.

 

Heart Healthy

Hamburger

People who eat at the Heart Attack Grill can’t say they weren’t “pre-warned”—by the unique name of the restaurant—that the food served there is probably ultra-high in unhealthy calories.

In February 2012, a man had a heart attack while eating a “triple-bypass burger” at the Grill. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

In April 2012, a woman collapsed at the Las Vegas diner. She was eating a “double bypass burger” lathered with cheese and bacon, and smoking cigarettes. She was also taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

I wonder if they got well and came back for another burger.

The Grill’s tasty but “unhealthy” menu also includes “flat-liner fries” cooked in pure lard, butterfat milkshakes and no-filter cigarettes—served by waitresses dressed as nurses.

On top of all that, the Heart Attack Grill offers its super-high calorie meals for free to hungry customers who weigh more than 350 pounds. That’s good marketing but lousy dieting!

How’s your appetite for the Scriptures? Unnoticeable. Slight. Increasing. Ravenous.

How’s your intake of “spiritual” calories? Not enough. Too much. Balanced. Heart healthy.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It has 176 short but insightful verses. Every verse spotlights the importance of the Scriptures—and presents a nugget to mine, a principle to explore, a truth to believe or a challenge to tackle.

Friend, I challenge you to set aside an hour today to study and reflect on Psalm 119—or at least take 15 minutes to read and chew on a few verses. You’ll discover the value and importance of trusting and exploring the Scriptures.

The warrior-king David memorized the Scriptures to galvanize his commitment to being a man of integrity. He prayed, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

David meditated on the Scriptures to rivet his mind on what God values. He prayed, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times … your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors” (119:15-16, 20, 24).

David mined the Scriptures for nuggets of wisdom and insight. He prayed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (119:97-100).

Simply put, we memorize, mine and mediate on the Scriptures because that’s the only sure way we can receive the right amount of “spiritual calories” and stay “heart healthy” every day.

Foolish Choices

Samson Delilah

A high-ranking Taliban commander named Mohammad Ashan walked into a police checkpoint in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, holding a wanted poster—and demanded the advertised $100 reward. But here’s the catch:  the man on the poster was Ashan.

Local authorities and U.S. military officials were puzzled by the audacity of Ashan to turn himself in and then try collecting the reward. After confirming his identity and refusing his request, they arrested Ashan, and moved him as a prisoner-of-war to a jail cell.

Remember the hilarious movie Home Alone? I think Ashan may be the Taliban equivalent of the two bungling burglars. It seems he was one brick short of a full load!

Have you done something foolish and regretted it?

Samson did that a lot. Ignoring how God blessed and empowered him, he lived recklessly and foolishly. He chased women, acted arrogantly and shirked his responsibilities. He dishonored God, disgraced his family and ditched his solemn vow (Judges 13-16).

Samson could’ve been an influential leader in Israel—but he played the fool, and sank deeper into the mud of compromise.

After exploiting his strength to wreak havoc and kill his Philistine enemies, Samson allowed a woman named Delilah to repeatedly seduce him. Secretly, she made a pact with his enemies and had ulterior motives:  to manipulate Samson and discover the secret of his strength.

Having continually lied to Delilah, Samson finally weakened and revealed the secret:  keeping the vow he’d made before God to never cut his hair. “He told her everything … and his strength left him” (Judges 16:17, 19). That rash disclosure also led to his gruesome death.

While Samson slept, Delilah cut his hair, and helped the Philistines capture him. Then, they tied and tortured weak Samson between two pillars inside their pagan temple, and gouged out his eyes. Blind and desperate, Samson asked God for strength for one final exploit.

God honored Samson’s prayer and empowered him to push over the massive pillars, collapsing the temple and killing everyone. Just before he died, Samson trusted and honored God.

Can you identify with Samson? I can.

Perhaps our shortcomings aren’t the same as the strong man’s sins. But our weak willpower, frequent compromise and brash disobedience are identical matches with Samson’s struggles.

Like Samson, we have a perverted propensity to go our own way, and do our own thing.

That’s why we must deliberately turn from our foolish, rebellious ways—and choose today to obey and honor God in what we think, say and do.

 

Caught in the Act

siphoning gas

A 20-year-old man admitted to siphoning gas out of a police cruiser. But the not-so-bright thief really didn’t have much of a choice.

Michael Baker confessed to his foolish misdeed—after authorities showed him the picture that his “very blonde” girlfriend posted on Facebook, freeze-framing him in the act of stealing gas from a police officer’s car.

The photo went viral across the social networking platform, tipping off police in Letcher County of eastern Kentucky and helping them identify and catch the thief.

Once arrested, Baker admitted to the act, but told a news reporter that it was just a joke. He said, “Yeah, I got a little bit of gas. I‘m not going to lie, but I didn’t get much. I tried, but the tank was almost empty.”

Baker and his girlfriend thought it was funny, but the police didn’t. They charged Baker with petty theft, and held him overnight in jail.

Growing up, I usually denied doing something wrong when my parents confronted me.

That’s when they often said:  “Son, be sure your sin will find you out.” I didn’t like hearing that reminder, and I wished they’d stop saying it. I knew when I was guilty, and should’ve confessed my disobedience. I also knew I’d eventually get caught and pay the consequences.

While confronting the rebellious Israelites, Moses said very similar words:  “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

When I read that Bible verse for the first time, I suddenly saw my parents’ “worn out” words differently. I saw them as a clear warning from God:  Be sure your sin will find you out!

King David discovered the same truth, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and trying to cover it up by deceiving and killing her husband Uriah.

After ignoring God’s convicting promptings—and trying to conceal his sins and avoid getting caught by others—David grew weary of the misery that comes with refusing to confess our wrong-doings. He finally came to his senses, confessed his sins to God and later recalled:

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 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 32:3-5).

David also rejoiced, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven …” (Psalm 32:1).

In the same way, we should acknowledge and confess our sins to God, receive his amazing grace and forgiveness and ask him to change us—from the inside out.