Military leaders, coaches, and teachers know the power of the spoken word. One statement, one command, one word can reverberate through a platoon or a team or a class and be the difference between success and failure. “The Word who became flesh” often spoke a message He wants all believers to take to heart: ‘Watch out’… ‘Be alert’… ‘Keep your eyes open’… ‘‘Be vigilant!’

There are two main contexts for such words of warning:

  1. ‘Beware of the enemy.’ Guards are posted at night to prevent surprise attacks; coaches scout and watch film to learn tendencies of the opponent; teachers warn of common mistakes… vigilance is critical. Jesus says we have an enemy that plots, tempts, and attacks His followers.Though we have a Good Shepherd who will not let His sheep be snatched from His hand, the sheep must listen to His voice and heed His warnings. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32) Thank God, Jesus also intercedes for us! (see Hebrews 7:25)

    “Be careful,” Jesus warned, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15) Today He might say: ‘Watch out for the subtle dangers of religion and politics.’ “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Today He might ask if we are laying up treasure on earth or in heaven… Jesus knows every weapon the devil throws against God’s children and He tells us to be vigilant.

  2. ‘Keep watch for Me.’ “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on your guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-37)

The enemy is as active today as ever… We are now nearer to the return of Jesus than ever… ‘Vigilance!’

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom He may devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I Peter 5:8-9

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be strong. Do everything in love.” I Corinthians 16:13

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The two oldest sons of Rex and Barbara Davis were born in Houston, Texas. We moved to Chattanooga when I was four years old where my sister and youngest brother were born. I’ve always felt connected to Texas, and my dad tells me the family roots go back over a century.

img_1745This is a black-and-white picture of my great-grandmother, Viola Gray. Living on a farm in Arkansas, her husband left her so Viola accepted a relative’s invitation to join a homesteading effort in West Texas. Pregnant, she traveled in a horse-drawn wagon with her only child, six-year-old Gracie. In Denton, Texas she paused to have baby Nola, my grandmother, on April 30, 1900. Gracie was born in 1894 and Viola was born in the early 1870’s, as the Comanches and settlers were fighting in the wild West.

Gracie lived in three different centuries, dying in the year 2000 at the age of 106. She was a witty, vibrant woman and I have fond memories of visits to her home in Arkansas. Nola died in 2003 at the age of 103. We took great family trips to my grandparents’ home in Rockford, Illinois when we were growing up. img_1746Once Susan and I took Taylor, Kinsey, and Karlyn to visit their great-grandmother. As Grandma told of life in West Texas on the Pecos River, it made me wonder how the two oldest daughters of Viola lived a decade, much less a century.

There were places on the Pecos River where patches of quicksand earned it the nickname, ‘graveyard of cattlemen’s hopes.’ My grandmother and her older sister recalled jumping from skeleton to skeleton of unfortunate cows and horses across the quicksand to get from one side of the narrow river to the other. I’m not sure they had permission from Viola to do this, but they thought it was fun.

Each of us probably have stories of ‘narrow escapes’ in our past. Most definitely, there are stories from each of our family histories where one misstep or one different turn would have canceled our existence. If young Nola had slipped and drowned in the Pecos River, my dad would never have been born… and I would not be writing this.

Luck… happenstance… coincidence… fate… destiny… different words are used for the mysterious turns of life, but God understands perfectly: “Before you were born, I knew you and had a plan for your life. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you can’t understand… just know you’re not an accident. The devil tried to destroy My Son shortly after He was born, but I prevented it. Because He lives, you live and I want you to find your entire identity, purpose, and joy in Him. You are loved more than you can imagine.”

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” John 3:1

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5

“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her Child the moment He was born. She gave birth to a Son, a male Child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.’ And her Child was snatched up to God and to His throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God…” Revelation 12:4-6

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repentance and rest

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’” Isaiah 30:15

It does not matter who wins the White House, the message of the Sovereign Lord to our nation will be the same: “Repent.” It does not matter the color of an individual’s skin, if he or she is not walking with Christ, the One through whom all were created says: “Repent.”

We can be confident this is the Word of God for today because this was the message of Christ as He walked the earth many years ago. “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 4:17) Love tells us what we need to do.

“Now there were some present at the time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5)

There is no true rest in darkness. Pretending to be what we’re not; justifying wrongdoing; blaming others; denying the truth… we’re not created to live this way. Jesus invites us to come into the light, to receive forgiveness, and to find rest.

‘Get right with God! Quit focusing on others and examine your own heart. Look at your own actions and confess your own sin. Be honest. Come to Me for healing and freedom. My blood has already covered your debt, but you cannot continue to live in darkness. I am the Light! I am the Way; I speak Truth with perfect love; I give Life filled with joy and hope.’

A merciful Father wants all to believe that His loving Son stands with open arms to receive any person who comes humbly to Him. May all hear His invitation.

“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 your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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One of the great things about teaching Bible to middle school students is the chance to dispel the myth that God-followers are ‘wimps’ or ‘soft’ individuals. There is no way to read the stories of Abraham, David, Samson, Deborah, Esther, and a host of others without noticing the extraordinary courage in people of faith.

In the New Testament, ‘common’ individuals determined it was worth everything to live for His Majesty. Mary Magdalene, Paul, Peter, and Mary the mother of Jesus are four well-known followers. Though we live in different times with different challenges, we can learn from those who went before us.

In praising Jesus, I think Mary Magdalene and Paul would highlight their deliverance from powerful forces. Mary was possessed by demons. She could not control the evil that owned her. She was a hopeless case… apart from a miracle. Then Jesus of Nazareth appeared and cast out all seven of the evil spirits and brought true freedom to a daughter of Israel. From that moment forward, Mary loved her Teacher and was totally loyal to her Master. Of all people, God chose to let His Son appear first to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection. God makes the best choices…

Paul was delivered from the powerful force of ‘religion.’ With a brilliant mind, the young man Saul was unmatched in his zeal for the God of Israel. The problem was he had rejected Jesus as the One God sent to rescue the world. On the road to Damascus, the Light appeared and spoke directly to a determined Pharisee and changed his life forever. Through hardships of every kind, Paul ran his race like few others. He knew nothing of this world compared to what God has prepared for those who love and serve Him.

While also rescued and delivered from his sin, Peter would praise God that Jesus ‘chose’ him. “Who am I to be called by a King? What does Jesus see in me?” With all his flaws, Peter always remembered he was chosen, though he did not deserve the Lord’s mercy and grace. The same God has chosen to love us… though we don’t deserve such blessing. May we better understand this gift and may we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.

Mary from Nazareth also knew the blessing of being chosen. Only one mother in the history of mankind would give birth to the Messiah. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (Luke 1:46-48) From beginning to end, Mary loved, protected, and followed the One who also saved her soul. Her reply to God’s angel teaches us a proper response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Let our voices join those who have known the goodness of God. He is the faithful One and He beckons us to live in His love.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” I John 4:9-10,15-16

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I’ve always been pretty good at sneaking into buildings, such as churches and especially gyms. Of course, it helped while growing up that my dad was the keeper of many keys as the head of a school, but even without a key, there’s usually a way.

img_1706Not long ago, I found the one weakness in a huge house not too far from where we live. It sits by itself a quarter of a mile off a main road and is quite beautiful. Inside, I counted five fireplaces, three huge rooms with domed ceilings, and thirteen potential bedrooms.

The problem is, the mansion is unfinished. I think construction may have started eight years ago and there has been no activity the past couple of years. I am no builder, but I’d guess the house could be ready for occupancy if a hard-working crew dedicated three solid weeks to paint, finish the floors, and complete the extravagant bathrooms and kitchen. It might cost a million dollars, but I’m sure millions have already been invested.

The backstory of this house is a mystery, but it reminds me of a teaching of Jesus: “Who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.” Jesus was discussing the cost of discipleship: “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple. Don’t begin until you count the cost.” (see Luke 14:27-29)

This instruction is not about salvation… which is a gift of God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

We will never deserve the great salvation we’ve received, but if I want to be like Peter or Paul or Mary Magdalene, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, I need to calculate a bit. The volunteer who says, “I want to follow you Jesus, but first let me take care of this and that…” might be told: “You’re not ready to follow Me quite yet… you see, I’m the King and everything is on My terms…” (see Luke 9:57-62)

“But Lord,” I say, “I’m not sure I have what it takes. I do come empty-handed and I think I love You now more than ever, yet my faith sometimes falters. I want to be brave, but I’m sometimes fearful. Is there any hope?” I think Jesus would smile and answer: “Yes! Come to Me for what you don’t have. I’m the Author and Perfector of your faith. I know how to make you brave. You won’t be carrying your cross alone. I have given you the Holy Spirit! He is your Helper, your Comforter, and your Teacher. Take courage and follow Me.”

“If you love Me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” John 14:15-17

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