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!

Determined and Thankful

JR Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Lemonade

lemonade stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Heart Healthy

Hamburger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

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.

 

 

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!