Alert and Armor-clad

soldiers on guard duty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sovereign Over All

Lincoln Memorial

I remember seeing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. for the first time.

I stood there, as a 12-year-old boy—awestruck by a bigger-than-life president chiseled in white stone, sitting on a huge chair.  Totally mesmerized by the immensity of what I saw, I gazed at that famous monument and wondered what I’d do if President Lincoln suddenly stood up!

Every President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces.  But God is the sovereign Ruler over all.  He’s all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present at once.

Only Almighty God is exalted over all things—and sovereign at all times.

He’s never surprised, never overwhelmed and never caught off guard.  Nobody can sneak up behind him.  Nobody can remove him from his throne.  Nobody can stop him from accomplishing his plans.

King David declared, “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11).  Because God is eternal—without beginning and without end—his plans and purposes are also eternal.  They’re anchored forever to him.

God is bigger than time and space.  He travels beyond the galaxies, and yet he’s never late.  He’s always punctual.  Right on time.  He’s always on schedule.  Down to the second.  He’s unfolding and accomplishing his sovereign will, which is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

God is skillfully working his eternal plans—even when it doesn’t look or feel like it to us.

Long ago, Joseph’s jealous brothers plotted how to kill him.  Long story cut short, they threw him into an empty pit and left him there to die.  Later on, they sold him to a band of ruffians who took him to Egypt and sold him as a slave.

Today, we know God is the One who lifted Joseph out of that dusty pit and moved him into Potiphar’s house—and later freed him from a forgotten prison and escorted him into Pharaoh’s palace.  We know God coordinated it.  Deliberately—and purposefully.

But at the time—only God knew the real reason why those terrible things happened.

With exact precision, God positioned young Joseph so he could later rescue and feed Egypt and the surrounding nations during seven years of awful famine.  With perfect timing, God revealed his plans and purposes for Joseph.

The Bible says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Not some things.  All things.

That truth is so mind-boggling and yet so reassuring.  God is accomplishing his eternal plans and purposes through us.  That’s why we can trust God’s perspective—and yield to his plans!

Learning to Wait God’s Way

Waiting in Line

I’m a fairly patient man—but I don’t like waiting in line.

For that matter, nobody I know enjoys waiting. But we wait anyway—because we can’t avoid it. We often find ourselves sitting or standing somewhere, waiting for someone or something.

We wait at grocery stores and drive-thru windows. Stop lights and crosswalks. Busy airports and crowded subways. Italian restaurants and taco trucks.

Waiting isn’t easy. It’s hard for us to slow down and wait in our fast-moving world.

It can be aggravating if you’re in a hurry, exasperating if you’re running late and frustrating when you can’t do anything about it. But God doesn’t look at waiting like that.

God sees waiting as something more than just a worrisome thing we have to do every day. Believe it or not, God says waiting is a good thing. He views it from a different perspective.

Waiting requires us to stop when we’d rather go faster. It refocuses us to see interruptions as significant pieces of God’s plan for our day. It reminds us to enjoy God’s presence, receive his peace and discover his purposes.

Long ago, the wise prophet Isaiah wrote to some people who were tired of waiting for their circumstances to change:

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope [wait] in the LORD will renew their strength … they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Slowly but surely, we can learn how to wait God’s way—just as the warrior-king David did. He didn’t like waiting any more than you and I do, but he discovered how to do it.

As a man, David learned to wait patiently. He wrote, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

As a shepherd, David learned to wait confidently. He testified, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2).

As a warrior, David learned to wait expectantly. He believed, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock …” (Psalm 62:5-7).

As a king, David learned to wait continually. He encouraged, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8).

Friend, no matter your circumstances, you can rely on God for strength and stamina as you discover how to wait God’s way—patiently, confidently, expectantly and continually!

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!

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.

 

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?

 

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!

 

God’s Feat with Your Feet

Feet

Former Marine Keith Levasseur ran the 2012 Baltimore Marathon, finishing 29th with a time of 1.46.58. At first glance, his time doesn’t seem all that impressive.

But before you judge the marathoner’s feat, consider what he put on his feet. Levasseur wore flimsy flip-flops instead of expensive running shoes, and ran as fast and hard as he could.

The 34-year-old athlete—whose feet and quads were extra sore after finishing the marathon—ran the race wearing sandals in order to earn a spot in the amazing Guinness World Records for an unique entry entitled, “fastest marathon completed in flip-flops”.

If you raced through the streets in a big marathon, which popular brand of running shoes would you choose to wear? Nike. Puma. Saucony. Rebok.

If you attempted something wild like Levassor’s world-record feat, what would be your crazy alternative to running shoes? Slippers. Moccasins. Boots. Socks.

No matter what you pulled out of your closet that morning, folks would focus on your unusual running feat because of what you put on your feet.

Did you know God focuses on your feet?

Romans 10:14-15 says, “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

So, if you’re a Christ-follower who’s sharing the good news of Jesus with people around you, God sees your feet—and says they’re winsome, attractive and beautiful.

In other words, God sees and values your decision to go and share the good news of Jesus with the people you encounter every day.

When God sees your heart and feet taking you from one person and one place to another so you can share the good news of our Savior, he smiles and approves. It’s as if he stops and says, “That’s awesome. Keep going and sharing!”

Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” That’s why you and I must love people and talk about our Savior. Otherwise, they may never have an opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus.

So then, let’s entrust our “average” feet to God for the “amazing” feat of lifestyle evangelism—going and sharing the good news with people everywhere!

 

Warning Signs

Mavericks

Maverick’s is a legendary rocky beach—located about 25 miles south of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay—where usually only veteran big-wave surfers dare to surf.

That’s because it features some of the craziest and largest waves in the world.

Maverick’s notoriously “renegade” waves gain momentum thousands of miles out to sea and cause powerful swells to slam into Pillar Point, a reef off a small peninsula, where the ocean floor rises abruptly from a depth of over 100-feet to only a few feet.

To the sheer amazement of onlookers, the geology and geography of Maverick’s shoot the swells to the height of eight-story buildings. So, if the waves don’t kill you, the rocks will probably hurt you. That’s why only courageous or crazy surfers take on Maverick’s!

In March 2011, a big-wave surfer from Hawaii wiped out just before dark. They say 35-year-old Sion Milosky was thrown into the ocean by a huge wave. Then, a second wave hit and held him under water for a long time. Sadly, he drowned, leaving behind a wife and young children.

Why would surfers defy such a dangerous stretch of ocean—and risk so much when the hazards of Mavericks are well known? They ignore the warning signs posted on the beach.

The Bible is chock-full of God-inspired warnings that caution and challenge us to live wisely and righteously in a world that’s overwhelmed by deceived people and dangerous forces.

Looking ahead, Timothy warns us about what we can expect during the “last days,” as the final curtain starts to close on Planet Earth. His first-century warning is rather timely:

“But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

That’s a graphic and accurate description of our twisted world today!

Timothy also urges us to avoid such unruly and unrighteous people:  “Have nothing to do with them.” (1Timothy 3:5). Matthew says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matthew 24:4). In a nutshell, don’t allow anyone to deceive, disrupt or destroy you.

But at the same time, God tells us to love and influence unrighteous people, while proclaiming the gospel—and he urges us to live distinctly and righteously, while reflecting our Savior. Truly, it’s a high calling with life-changing opportunities and eternal consequences.

That’s why we must heed God’s warnings, reflect our Savior and love people with authenticity—as we live righteously in a dark, deceived and depraved world.