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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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.

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!

 

God Never Changes

Mountain Rock

Someone once said, “Few things never change—and most things always change.”

As humans, we experience the mystery of change all day long. We flex and adjust. We hurry up and slow down. Smile and frown. Get mad and feel sad. Celebrate and agitate.

Thoughts rattle through our minds like a revolving Gatlin gun. Emotions lift and drop our hearts like a run-away rollercoaster. Circumstances twist our guts like a salty circus pretzel.

That’s just the way life is for us. We’re riding a fast-track train that’s hurtling through a world of constant change—and we can’t do much of anything to slow the ride.

But unlike us, God never changes. He’s absolutely unchangeable. Some use the fifty-dollar word “immutable” that means one can’t change or evolve. You see, God can’t alter who he is. He’s unchanging in his essence and character. He’s the same—yesterday, today and forever.

God’s immutability dizzies my finite mind. I don’t understand it because it’s incomprehensible and I can’t explain it because it’s unexplainable—but I believe it. God is unchangeable.

Long ago, God declared to the prophet Malachi, “I the LORD do not change …” (Malachi 3:6).

The apostle James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Humans change but God doesn’t. Shadows shift but God doesn’t. Lights flicker but God doesn’t.  God is unchanging. He’s unlike everyone and everything else—anywhere and everywhere.

The Bible says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain … they will be changed. But you remain the same” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

God is constant and unchanging. Now and forever. That’s why we can always rely on him.

Our frantic, fast-paced world is full of changes—and life on this planet gets crazy and chaotic. It’s like riding a rickety rollercoaster through its twists and turns and ups and down—knowing the unpredictable stuff of life can knock us down and take us out without warning.

So, next time you’re dizzy and can’t see straight, and it feels like you’re going off the track and over the cliff, think about God’s immutability. He can’t change—and he doesn’t struggle.

Next time you’re going south and sideways, remember you can rely on the certainty of God’s immutability in the midst of your insecurity and uncertainty.

Our awesome God is unchanging. He’s the same—yesterday, today and forever. That’s why he’s absolutely and always reliable. That’s why he’s completely and unequivocally believable. Will you trust him?

 

Sealed Forever

boysenberry jam

Grammy made awesome blackberry jam.

For hours, she’d work in her kitchen, boiling berries on the stove and adding sugar—until the syrupy mixture was just right.  While she waited for the jam to cool, she’d rinse and dry her glass jars and tin lids.  Then, she’d pour jam into them.

Finally, she’d seal a lid on each jar with hot paraffin wax.  Then, she’d put all but one of the jars inside her small pantry for our family and neighbors.  Grammy deliberately placed a single jar of jam on the kitchen counter, next to some butter and a knife.

Then, we’d watch for Grammy’s wink, which gave us the greenlight to spread her delicious blackberry jam on a thick slice of fresh homemade bread—and enjoy every bite!

Unlike Grammy’s jam preserves, food sometimes spoils at my house—and because I’m a frugal man, I don’t like having to throw it away.

But know this—God will never toss or lose any of his beloved children.

The Bible says, “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:  Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:1).

God has promised that none of his children will be spoiled or lost.  Not one.  Not now.  Not ever.

God has eternally sealed us in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  That’s God’s double guarantee that he’ll preserve and keep us secure—and guard us against loss and spoiling.

Our eternal security in Christ will never lessen or loosen.  It will never shift or shake.  It will never be at stake.  In Christ, we’re secure always and forever.

We can’t lose our salvation or forfeit our reservation in heaven.  We can’t be spoiled by anyone or anything.  Our strong Father is the keeper of our soul and salvation.

The Bible says, “My sheep listen to my voice … and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-30).

That’s double protection—being gripped by the Savior’s hand and guarded by the Father’s hand—at the same time!

“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore” (Jude 1:24-25).

That’s why we can believe and teach the certainty of eternal security for every follower of Jesus!

 

Learning How to Wait God’s Way

Waiting in Line

I’m a fairly patient man—but I don’t like waiting in line. It doesn’t matter where, why, or how long I’m waiting. I just don’t like it.

Frankly, I don’t think anybody enjoys waiting. But we wait anyway—because we can’t avoid it. Often, we 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 for the faint of heart because it isn’t easy or stress-free. It’s very difficult for us.

Having to wait for someone or something can be aggravating if we’re in a hurry, exasperating if we’re running late, and frustrating when we can’t do anything about it.

But I don’t think God looks at waiting like that. I think God sees it as something more than just something we have to do throughout the day. Could it be that waiting is a good thing?

God sees waiting from a different perspective: It requires us to slow down when we’d rather go faster. It refocuses us to consider interruptions as significant pieces of God’s plan for our day. It reminds us to trust and experience God’s presence, enjoy his peace, and discover his purposes.

Long ago, the wise but worn out prophet Isaiah wrote to 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, just as the shepherd-boy turned warrior-king did. David didn’t like to wait any more than you and I do, but he discovered how to do it, God’s way.

David learned to wait confidently. He wrote, “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).

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).

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

So, next time you’re stuck waiting, remember: God urges us to rely on him for strength and stamina—and encourages us to learn how to wait confidently, expectantly, and continually!

Shelter in the Storm

God is My Refuge Ps. 91

Most of us look for shelter from the storms of life. Some find it. Others don’t. But one thing’s for sure: everybody struggles against life’s storms—and nobody sidesteps them.

But God isn’t alarmed. He knows everything. He sees our struggles and feels our emotions. He knows our name and understands our story. On top of all that, God cares!

People everywhere are struggling with the stuff of life. They’re confused and hurting on the inside. They’re wondering if anyone sees and cares.

They live inside our home. Next door. Down the street. Around the corner. In your church. At work. Across your city.

We may know little or nothing about their circumstances, but they’re struggling nonetheless—just like us.

All of us need encouragement. Hope and perspective. A buffer zone from the harsh realities of life. A safe place to rest. Someone to stand up for us. Someone to sit and cry with us.

At times—we’re vulnerable and weak. Just barely hanging on. Tired and run down. Alone and afraid. Overwhelmed. Desperate and discouraged. Ready to quit.

So, where can we turn for shelter—and to whom can we run for strength?

David declared, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty … he is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1).

God is our shelter. No matter how long the storm rages, we can trust God. He won’t abandon us. He won’t jump ship. He won’t leave us in a lurch.

God stays with us through thick and thin. He offers shade, protection and rest. He’s our strong fortress. We can count on him—and run to him. He’s our unmovable rock.

Remember, God may not change our circumstances. He may not tweak anything. He may not lift us out right away. He may not respond or rescue, as we’d like.

But no matter what happens—we can trust God’s wise perspective, experience his mighty power and enjoy his constant presence.

David prayed, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:4). That’s what we need to pray and do. Every day. All day long. No matter what.

Are you caught in a storm today? Do feel like you’re going under? Are you getting slammed by the stuff of life? If not, now is the time for you to get ready because a storm is on its way!

Friend, we can choose to stay in God’s shadow—and take shelter beneath his strong wings. We can enjoy his presence, rely on his protection and experience his power!

 

 

Trusting God’s Harness

Oxen yoke

At Hume Lake Christian Camp—I wore a safety climbing harness when I climbed their famous Pamper Poles about 20 years ago.

Got any idea why they’re nicknamed Pamper Poles? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

These tall poles are part of Hume’s challenging outdoor survival course. They’re old telephone poles, anchored in the ground—with climbing holds securely fastened into the wood, all the way to the top. Both poles are intimidating—and especially so, just before you start climbing.

But hundreds of campers climb these poles every summer. Some climbers are confident. Others are fearful. Many attempt the climb but don’t make it. Still others refuse to even try.

If you’re gutsy enough, you strap on a safety climbing harness with the help of a mountaineering expert. Then, you start climbing your first pole.

If you’re able to step up and stand on top of the first Pamper Pole, you’re supposed to get your balance—as the 40-foot pole sways—and then jump out and grab hold of a trapeze bar—before you’re safely belayed to the ground.

The second pole is a lot more challenging—partly because it stands and sways about 15 feet higher than the first.

I climbed and stood on top of both poles—and grabbed and held onto both trapeze bars. The secret is to stay focused, climb confidently and step up quickly. Then—get your balance, jump as far you can and trust your safety harness!

Our great Savior provides an amazing harness for us to wear. It’s called a yoke.

Before the tractor was invented, farmers used a wooden yoke with leather straps to join two animals (usually oxen or horses) so they could work side by side—and pull a plough through the farmer’s field. Today, many farmers around the world still plough with yoked animals.

Farmers usually yoke an older ox with a younger ox. Do you know why? The more experienced ox knows what to do and pulls most of the plough’s weight. That allows the younger ox to learn while pulling less weight. In a way, he’s also able to rest because he’s pulling a lighter load.

Long ago, Jesus promised, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Like the younger animal, we’re yoked to our strong Savior. We’re walking through life with him.

He shoulders and pulls our heavy burdens and overwhelming loads—but only if we stay at his side. He teaches us—but only if we listen. He gives us rest—but only if we walk with him.

Are you exhausted, fearful or anxious? Remember, Jesus walks with you. Will you trust him, wear his harness and stay by his side? That’s the only way you’ll enjoy the rest he promises!

Stop Fights Before They Start

Fire Storm

Today, I enjoy barbecuing on our gas grill—but I used to like firing up my old Weber. I’d get some hickory-chip briquettes, pile them up just right, douse them with lighter fluid and strike a match. Suddenly, I had a fire going. Then, after a few minutes—I’d fan the coals.

Gradually, the burning charcoal went from black to gray—and eventually I had a layer of red-hot embers. I was finally ready to barbecue!

Proverbs 26:21 says, “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

Quarreling is a lot like igniting charcoal with lighter fluid or stoking a fire with kindling—and then walking away, leaving it to burn on its own.

Left unattended, a small fire can get out of control in a hurry. It can escalate and erupt into a big firestorm that causes a lot of hurt and heartache—and before long, the firefighters are battling a full-scale disaster that probably could’ve been avoided.

That’s also what happens when we choose to quarrel or argue. We disrupt and damage our relationships. We cause disunity and discord. We start fires that hurt people.

Quarreling ignites the embers of anger that fuel the flames of hurt, bitterness and resentment.

If those flames are left unchecked, an emotional inferno can erupt and rage out of control. That disastrous decision to do nothing can cause a number of very painful consequences: rejection, hurt, loss, grief, distrust, broken relationships, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness and more.

Awful stuff happens when angry people attack and argue with others.

So, what can we do to prevent a verbal fire from breaking out? Stop blowing on the embers. Stop fanning the flames. Stop pouring kerosene on the fire.

If we stop saying words and doing things that fuel an emotional fire, we won’t need to grab a fire hose and run like crazy to try and save a burning relationship.

Long ago, David prayed: “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). That’s a great prayer—and the secret to capturing angry thoughts before they become hurtful words.

We can also make peace, not war—just as the Bible says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). That’s an awesome commitment.

Do you want to live peacefully with others—even when they attack and antagonize you?

Then, stop thinking like a crazy arsonist who ignites fires—and start living like a compassionate firefighter who extinguishes fires!

 

Caught in a Storm

perfect storm

In October 1991, a horrific sea storm—stronger than any in recorded history at that time—hit off the coast of Massachusetts.

Actually, this “perfect storm” was three storms converging into one, causing sailors and boats to encounter enormous waves—some taller than 100 feet. For even the most experienced crews, it was terrifying.

A few years later, I sat on the edge of my seat, watching “The Perfect Storm” movie, based on the true story and starring actor George Clooney. The epic storm was intense on the big screen, but it wasn’t real—because I experienced it inside a theater, not at sea.

Like everybody else, I’ve been slammed hard by the awful storms of life—and discovered my “boat” was badly broken—and I was bruised.

I’ve struggled with frayed nerves, frazzled emotions and frantic thoughts. I’ve also experienced anxiety and fear that I exchanged for God’s peace.

Paul taught, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Isaiah declared, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

God promises perfect peace to anyone who trusts him and asks for it. That’s how we can eject our anxiety and enjoy God’s peace—in the midst of the fiercest storm.

We can trust our awesome Father—no matter how long or loud the storm rages—because he’s trustworthy. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-wise. Everywhere present at once.

That’s why we can confidently toss our anxiety and fear to him. Share what we’re thinking and feeling. Experience his peace. Relax in his presence. Rely on his protection. Sense his power.

Long ago, a wealthy rancher discovered God’s peace, after he’d lost almost everything—including his family, health, employees, possessions and livestock. At first, Job angrily questioned God and bitterly complained.

God listened patiently to Job—and then responded persuasively. Job 38:1 says, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.”

As Job listened to God, he caught a new perspective—and decided to trust God. That’s why he could declare, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:2, 5).

God met Job eyeball to eyeball in the storm—and used that encounter to quiet, comfort and transform his aching heart. Job learned to trust and rely on God—no matter what!