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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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!

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?

 

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?

 

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!

 

Winners and Losers

Dave McNally Orioles Pitcher

During the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, left-handed starting pitcher Dave McNally of the Baltimore Orioles gave up five walks and a homerun in the first three innings of Game 1. He was pulled from the game—after getting just seven outs.

The good news for McNally is that his team went on to win the ballgame. But there was no denying that McNally had blown it. He’d failed big-time as the Orioles’ star pitcher before over a million baseball fans.

But just a few days later, Dave McNally pitched a shut-out in Game 4 to clinch the win and sweep the World Series for the Orioles!

Two things impress me as I think about his amazing comeback—even as a die-hard Dodger’s fan!

First, McNally refused to make excuses or feel sorry for himself. He could’ve moped around after his poor performance, or “asked out” of his next start. Instead, he dug down deep, and got ready for Game 4.

Second, McNally’s manager and teammates didn’t give up on him. Convinced he’d bounce back, they trusted him to go back out on the mound—and win the World Series. They knew he could do it, and he did. He came back and pitched a shut-out to win the Series.

And four years later, McNally—who hit a grand slam in Game 3 of the 1970 World Series—became the first and only pitcher in Major League history to hit a grand slam in a World Series game. That’s what I call a comeback!

Indeed, “failure is the back door to success.” Just ask Dave McNally.

Nobody wants to fail. Nobody likes to lose. Nobody wants to drop the ball or come up short. Most people enjoy wining, getting ahead and succeeding.

But honestly, success isn’t what it’s cracked up to be—and winning isn’t all there is to living.

What’s really important is how we play the game of life. It’s who we are in Christ and what we do for him that really counts. It’s what we say and do to introduce others to Christ that matters for eternity. It’s how we live that makes a difference now and later.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

With clarity and conviction, Paul challenges every follower of Jesus to (1) discover his purpose, (2) arrange her priorities, (3) run with focus, determination and strength, and (4) win the prize.

So, whether we win or lose today’s foot race, let’s give it our best shot—and run like champions who reflect and honor our Savior!

 

Caught by an Avalanche

French Alps Mount Maudit

Twenty-eight experienced mountaineers were climbing in the French Alps, attempting one of the most dangerous ascents in all of Europe, when they were caught off-guard by an avalanche.

They were surprised and hit by a fast-moving wall of snow that was 60-feet high and 500-feet wide, as they traversed the icy 14,649-foot ridge of Mont Maudit (meaning “cursed peak”) on their way to the summit.

Eight of the climbers were killed that day, after being buried and swept more than 600 feet by a towering wall of snow. They died on the mountain.

Nine were airlifted to a hospital with cracked ribs and broken bones. Two others were missing and presumed dead, but later hiked down the mountain and walked into town. By nightfall, local authorities had accounted for every climber.

I wonder what it’d be like to get buried by an avalanche and survive to tell your story.

Experts say an avalanche is a cascading mass of at least 100,000 tons of snow sliding down a mountain that can reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. That’s a lot of fast-moving snow!

Maybe you’re feeling like an avalanche is chasing you downhill today. Perhaps you’re freaked out and frantic because of your awful predicament. Somersaulting out of control and gasping for air. Trying to hang on and ride things out.

When life shoves us to the ground and knocks the wind out of us—we often get angry, confused and disoriented. Sometimes, we get overwhelmed by anxiety, discouragement and fear. Other times, we imagine and assume the worst, and give up.

Sometimes, David reacted that way, as he struggled with challenges and circumstances. But he also confidently declared, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength” (Psalm 18:30-32).

As David wrestled with the stuff of life, he learned to trust God.

Do you trust God when life slams and surrounds you with an avalanche of lousy circumstances, topsy-turvy emotions or ornery people? If you struggle with that kind of a response, try this:

Expectantly cry out to God. Trust his unchanging Word. Anchor your hope in his grace and care. Rely on him for peace and perspective. Experience his constant presence, power and protection.

Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” That’s why we can always trust God—no matter what’s happening around us. He’ll never let us down.

Just Passing Through

Marshal Matt Dillon

I grew up watching westerns on a black-and-white television, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, High Chaparral, Rawhide and Big Valley—to name just a few.

Often, the good guys were passing through some place when the bad guys would cause trouble, pick a fight, set an ambush or shoot someone. The good guys weren’t looking for trouble, but if it came their way, they’d face it head-on.

Trouble clobbered the good guys while they were herding cattle on long drives. Chasing stallions through narrow canyons. Riding shotgun on top of stagecoaches. Leading wagon trains across the open prairie. Mending fences on sprawling ranches.

As followers of Jesus, we’re “just passing through”, too. This earth isn’t our home. We’re headed elsewhere. We’re on a journey. One day, we’ll leave this planet for a better place.

That’s why Paul urges us to stay focused on our eternal home. He writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). With great anticipation, we’re watching and waiting for Jesus’ return.

Until that day, we’re pilgrims sailing to a new land. Nomads caravanning through a parched desert. Sojourners traveling on a long trip. Citizens belonging to another kingdom.

That’s why Peter exhorts us to think differently and live distinctly in a world of dark depravity. He writes, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

We’re called to live as holy people who speak what’s true—when nobody else does. We’re called as holy people to stand for what’s right—when it’s unpopular, risky and inconvenient.

The martyred missionary C.T. Studd wrote, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” He believed that what we say and do for Christ has enduring value forever.

That’s the essence of living with an eternal perspective and focusing on what really matters—and that’s why we live to exalt our King and influence others.

So, why is it so difficult to think and live that way?

In a nutshell, we think far too much of this life and far too little about eternity. We get distracted by lesser things and grow indifferent to more important things.

That’s why we must tweak our perspective, reset our priorities and focus our eyes to see and follow Jesus, our Savior and King. That’s why we must think like pilgrims and live like nomads, being confident that we’re just passing through to our eternal home.

That’s also how more of today’s minutes will count for eternity!

Going Home

Above Clouds

One Saturday morning, our telephone rang. It was my friend Ruben—and I wasn’t surprised to get his urgent call because I knew what was happening in the life of his family. His ten-year-old daughter Sabryna was dying.

I left immediately for their home, crying and praying as I drove. I knew young Sabryna would probably step through the doorway of death and enter the halls of heaven today.

Sabryna had battled leukemia for two years—and recently moved from her pink princess room into her parents’ master bedroom, where she slept comfortably in a hospice bed.

As I entered the room, I hugged Ruben, Venus, little Ruben and a few relatives and friends. Then I walked over to the hospice bed and knelt next to Sabryna. I held her small hand, stroked her dark hair and whispered words of encouragement and comfort into her ear.

Sabryna was weak, and barely able to whisper—but her eyes sparkled, as she tried to smile. She’d bravely endured the final stages of her leukemia—and now, she looked death straight in the eyes. She was joyful and sad, but eager and ready to see Jesus!

A lot of the Torres’ relatives and friends had squeezed into the room that morning. I turned and invited everyone to move closer. We gathered around Sabryna. Together, we sang and prayed. Cried and rejoiced. Read Scripture and shared memories.

After a while, I ushered everyone out—except for Ruben, his wife and son—and closed the door behind me. Not long after that, Sabryna was promoted to heaven.

From the get-go, Sabryna demonstrated amazing courage and talked excitedly about heaven. She understood dying was part of living. Sabryna wasn’t afraid because she trusted her Savior and knew her destination. She was going home—and couldn’t wait to drop her worn-out earth-suit and hug her Savior!

Why was this young girl so joyful and confident on the threshold of death?

Sabryna knew and believed what Jesus said to two grieving sisters after their brother Lazarus had died. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Because Sabryna had trusted Jesus as her Savior, she had the sure hope of heaven and the rock-solid assurance of eternal life. She had confirmed reservations and a first-class ticket to heaven. Do you?

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” God treasures his children like rare jewels—and puts great value on our living and dying.

I hope you’re ready to see Jesus!