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!

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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!

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.

 

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?

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

Looking Up

Clouds 2

One moment, Jesus was standing on a hill called the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, talking with eleven of his disciples—and the next, he was in the air, and then gone!

Surprised by Jesus’ spectacular lift-off, the disciples stood there, flabbergasted. With jaws wide open and eyes big like saucers, they stared into the clouds, looking for their Savior. “They were looking intently into the sky …” (Acts 1:10).

Then suddenly, two angels came out of nowhere and stood next to them, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go” (Acts 1:11).

About then, the confused disciples probably scratched their heads and wondered, “What just happened? Jesus took off and then vanished into thin air! Next, they probably panicked and thought, “Why are these bigger-than-life angels here? What’s going on?”

For about three years, the disciples had walked and talked with Jesus. He hand-picked and called them. Taught and encouraged them. Led and fed them. Then one day, Jesus was suddenly arrested, falsely accused, secretly tried and cruelly nailed on a cross, where he died.

But then, Jesus came back to life, just three days later. He taught and stayed with his disciples for forty days—and then suddenly, he was gone again!

The stunned disciples were alone again. They probably felt abandoned, but eventually remembered how Jesus had encouraged them with a promise:  I will come back and get you!

Jesus promised, “Do not let your hearts be troubled … in my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:1-3).

Honestly, we don’t know what the disciples thought that day, but we do know they saw Jesus vanish. They went back to Jerusalem and preached the good news, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thousands believed—and God launched the Church—and we’re still going and growing!

Today, we’re also watching for our Savior’s return, and remembering what Paul wrote:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).

On that great day, our Lord Jesus is coming back for all his disciples. That’s every disciple—every man, woman, boy and girl who has come to faith by trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Is Jesus coming back for you? It could happen today—in the blink of an eye. Are you ready?