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!

Sovereign Over All

Lincoln Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Wait God’s Way

Waiting in Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awestruck and Starry-Eyed

Universe

For decades, we’ve searched the skies—looking for planets and stars inside and beyond our solar system. We’ve launched bold astronauts and multi-million dollar space crafts into orbit—and used high-tech equipment—to explore and map out outer space, our “final frontier”.

NASA built the amazing Kepler spacecraft, in an attempt to locate and identify extrasolar planets as they orbit stars by measuring regular, subtle dips in starlight. So far, it has discovered at least 21 planets and found evidence for hundreds more.

Recently, Kepler’s high-powered telescope revealed and confirmed the existence of an “unknown” planet orbiting two stars. That planet is roughly the size of Saturn with a radius of 36,184 miles.

Saturn is known for its spectacular ring system and 53 moons. As the 2nd largest planet in our solar system and the 6th planet from our sun—at a distance of about 886 million miles—it orbits our sun, a star.But the two stars orbiting the previously unknown planet—both smaller than our sun—light up outer space about 200 light-years from Earth—and as this planet orbits both stars, they also revolve around each other.

God flung every star into its socket. He hung every planet in its pocket. He spun every universe and galaxy into its docket.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for created is bara, which means “to make something radically new out of nothing”. That’s what God did. He caused the heavens and earth to suddenly appear—as his galactic masterpieces.

God powerfully shaped everything out of nothing. He spoke it into existence. Seven times, God said, “Let there be …” and it appeared instantly (Genesis 1).

God masterfully created everything—and he liked his handiwork. The Bible says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in their vast array” (Genesis 1:31-2:1).

Awestruck by God and his amazing handiwork, David exclaimed: “The heavens declare the glory of God” … “O LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him …” (Psalm 19:1; 8:1,3-4).

Friend, that’s why we humbly worship and exuberantly exalt God for who he is and what he has done. He’s our majestic Creator and awesome Savior!

Determined and Thankful

JR Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolder than Before

Boldness

One morning, curious 5-year-old David Schroeder asked his father, “Daddy, why is that man sleeping on our kitchen floor?”

Mr. Schroeder replied, “Son, this man is lost, and needs Jesus. I’m brewing coffee so when he sobers up, I can share the gospel with him. I want to tell him about our Savior.”

The man snoring on their kitchen floor was just one of many lost souls who came to their small home. The Schroeders were missionaries, reaching out to the rugged lumbermen, fishermen and indigenous people who made their living in a remote lumber mill town on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Mr. Schroeder was a “tentmaker” evangelist-pastor (like the Apostle Paul), working full-time at the lumber mill and shepherding a small church on the side. After work, he’d walk to the bunk houses and talk with the men about Jesus.

Schroeder’s father had a simple, straight-forward mission in life—to love people and tell them about the Savior. As young Schroeder grew up, what he saw and heard from his father changed him. It stayed in his heart, and shaped how he sees and talks with people today.

Dr. Luke tells the amazing story of how Jesus called and changed an arrogant, boisterous fisherman named Peter into a humble but bold leader. For three years, Peter followed Jesus everywhere. He watched and listened to the Savior. He admired and respected him.

But, on the night Jesus was falsely arrested and accused, Peter was asked repeatedly by others if he knew Jesus—and in three moments of rare cowardice, Peter disowned and denied knowing him. Ashamed and heartbroken, he walked away and wept bitterly.

Fast forward after Jesus’ resurrection to the day of Pentecost, where we see the fearful disciple turned bold apostle preaching persuasively and powerfully to thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem. He’s no longer afraid to talk about Jesus. He’s a changed man.

Empowered and prompted by the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly and confidently proclaims the good news of his risen Savior. He’s a different man.

Then, after being told to stop preaching, Peter and his friend John were arrested and threatened by the religious leaders, to which they replied:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

They confidently and courageously refused to stop talking about Jesus.

I wonder if you’re afraid to share the good news of Jesus. Uncertain of what to say. Reluctant to get branded as a Jesus “freak”. Hesitant to take a stand. Averse to being rejected.

Friend, next time you’re hesitant to talk about Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you. Recall the fear of a tough fisherman. Reflect on the courage of a humble apostle.

Then, ask God to remove your fear and replace it with boldness so you can stand and share the good news.

 

No More Giants

Jamie Moyer

Left-handed pitcher Jamie Moyer took the mound on June 16, 1986, wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform—and made his Major League Baseball debut against veteran pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton.

Nine innings later, the 23-year-old rookie got his first win.

More than a quarter-century later, 49-year-old Moyer is still pitching. Now he’s playing with the Colorado Rockies—and on April 17, 2013, he earned his 268th career win, becoming the oldest pitcher in MLB history to win a game.

Today, despite having Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm after the 2010 season, Moyer is a strong and steady starter for the Rockies. His earned run average is among the best in baseball, but his velocity is the worst.

Moyer has never been known for hurling a blazing fastball, and his age and surgery have reduced his top speed. So how does he get the job done?

The veteran southpaw throws five distinct pitches with precision, using a variety of speeds—slow, slower, and slowest. He stays one step ahead of the hitters, knowing a 78-mph fastball feels like pure heat after seeing a 60-mph change-up. He’s still got what it takes to fool batters!

After Joshua and his troops captured the Promised Land, 80-year-old Caleb went to his old commander and friend, and asked for his blessing to battle and subdue the enemy again.

Caleb said, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but the LORD helping me, I will drive them out …” (Joshua 14:11-12).

So Joshua blessed Caleb, and gave him the hill country of Hebron to attack, conquer and occupy.

Caleb didn’t let gnarly giants keep him from taking “his” mountain. Instead, he charged up the hill, and wiped out the bad guys. He didn’t give up, or go away. He didn’t let up, or limp away.

Faithfully and fearlessly, Caleb had served alongside Moses and Joshua, scouted Canaan, fought battles and defeated enemies. He wasn’t ready to retire and live comfortably on Easy Street. Instead, he wanted to capture another enemy-held mountain, and settle there.

Caleb didn’t let anything stop or side-line him. Why? He was resolutely committed to living out the encouraging words of his long-time friend:  “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6).

Furthermore, the old warrior trusted God for guidance and strength. He faced life head-on with confidence and purpose. He stayed true to his commitments and values.

Can others say the same thing of you?

 

Different But Not Bizarre

Stand Out

Amazingly, it took five long decades and 8,020 consecutive ballgames for the New York Mets to log a no-hitter in the MLB record books.

On June 1, 2012, left-handed pitcher Johan Santana threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, ending the longest active stretch of a major league baseball team without a no-hitter.

The Mets finally got that “monkey off their back”—but actually, that monkey wasn’t anything more than a little chimp. Do you know why?

No-hitters are extremely rare in the world of baseball.

Since 1962, Major League Baseball fans have watched only 132 no-hitter games. That’s why it’s a really big deal and an exhilarating feat for a pitcher to go the distance and throw a no-hitter. It’s not a strange or bizarre thing. It’s just rare and unusual.

The Scriptures are jam-packed with real-life stories of ordinary men and women who trusted and followed God through extraordinary situations. Not surprisingly, they were often perceived as peculiar people doing strange things.

Noah built an ark when he’d never heard of rain. Moses parted the Red Sea and the people walked across on dry land. Joshua led the people, as they circled Jericho once for seven straight days—and then on the seventh day, the walls collapsed after they circled it seven times.

The first-century Church was birthed after Peter preached his first sermon and thousands came to faith in Jesus Christ. Stephen was stoned to death because he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. Paul got bit by a poisonous snake, shook it off and kept traveling and teaching.

Today, as followers of Jesus, we may be perceived as strange—but we shouldn’t live bizarrely. Instead, we should live distinctively, set apart from the way non-believers live. We’re not perfect—not by a long shot. We’re transformed people, becoming more like Jesus.

The apostle Peter exhorted every follower of Jesus to live distinctively when he wrote, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

That’s holy and wholesome living, prompted and powered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works …” (Ephesians 2:10). Simply put, God crafted us as living poems to reflect and honor him.

Friend, I wonder if people will see anything that’s distinctively different about the way we talk and live today. I wonder if they’ll be able to gather enough evidence to convict us of being radically different followers of Jesus.

If that’s the case, then we’re living distinctively—and pointing others to Jesus!

 

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!