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!

Bungling Brothers

covert crossing bridge

Two disreputable brothers—Benjamin and Alexander Jones—concocted a grandiose plan as small-time thieves to steal some big-time loot.

They used blowtorches to dismantle Covert’s Crossing Bridge in western Pennsylvania. Before they took it apart, the bridge measured 50 feet long and 20 feet wide. After they dismantled it, they tried to sell 15.5 tons of scrap metal for more than $5,000 to some unsuspecting buyers.

Neighbors scratched their heads in disbelief. They were flabbergasted at how the brothers apparently thought they could get away with demolishing a bridge and selling its scrap parts.

The bridge demolition and heist backfired on the foolish men when they were spotted by an alert bystander and arrested by the local police. They were caught red-handed, trying to sell pieces of the missing bridge.

At times, we’re a lot like the two bungling brothers. We think, act and speak foolishly.

But the Bible exposes a different folly. Unlike the wise man, a fool is an unrighteous rebel who opposes and rejects God. He connives and enjoys evil schemes. He ponders and does what’s evil.

Fools arrogantly deny God’s existence. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” … (Psalm 14:1). Instead of worshiping the only true and living God, he erects and exalts man-made gods.

Fools deliberately lie, hate and slander others. “He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). Instead of telling the truth, he deceives and maligns others.

Fools unashamedly enjoy doing evil and living irresponsibly. “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct” … “A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (Proverbs 10:23; 14:16). Instead of doing what’s right, he does what’s evil and wrong.

Fools recklessly maneuver through life. “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Instead of seeking wisdom and help from others, he stumbles and fumbles.

Fools wildly react without any restraint. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11). Instead of demonstrating self-control, he explodes and hurts others.

I wonder if you’re thinking and living wisely—or foolishly.

Friend, let’s refuse to go down the roads that fools walk!

Got a Short Fuse?

bomb

While 22-year-old British professional mover Sam Curry was clearing furniture from an old garage near Coventry and loading it into his moving van, he uncovered a mysterious thing wrapped inside a black bag.

The odd-looking object turned out to be a German incendiary bomb from the World War II era—but at first, Curry didn’t know what it is was. Curious about its identity, he started shaking it.

Then—thinking it could be a bomb, Curry put it down and “Googled” it on his smart phone. Sure enough, he found an image of a bomb—identical to the object sitting on the garage floor.

Immediately, he ran out of the garage and called the police. Minutes later, the bomb squad arrived, examined the explosive device and safely removed it. The police questioned the family—but they had no idea how the bomb got inside their garage.

Fortunately, it never exploded—and nobody was injured.

Unlike the old bomb that never detonated, an angry person with a short fuse can erupt anywhere at any time. When anger-fueled explosions occur, people often get hurt.

So, what fuels wrong anger? Circumstances twist. Emotions churn. Tempers flare. Voices get loud. Words attack. People go berserk.

The Bible exposes and warns against the dangers of wrong anger:

“A quick-tempered man does foolish things. A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:17, 29). Angry people act foolishly and carelessly.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A hot-tempered man stirs ups dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:1,18). Angry people act rudely and divisively.

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Angry people act impulsively and recklessly.

Do you have a short fuse—and get ticked off in a hurry? If so, consider taking seven steps:

Next time you want to fly off the handle, stop yourself. Check your anger fuse. Refuse to slam out and hurt others. Speak calmly, patiently and gently. Respond graciously. If necessary, call a time out and walk away. Reconnect later when you can talk calmly.

Nobody can take those steps—or make those choices for you. It’s up to you to think wisely, choose quickly and do whatever it takes to avoid another angry outburst!

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!

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!

What You Do Matters

manners

Mayor Julian Atienza of La Toba, Spain—a small village located 70 miles northeast of Madrid—made himself very unpopular with residents.

With the support of the city council, the mayor posted and promoted 65 “good conduct” guidelines—a new code prohibiting rude and insensitive behavior, such as slurping food, nose picking, belching, breaking wind and failing to visit grandparents.

The unofficial code was published in the village newsletter with the hope of getting more people to mind their manners in public. Although the mayor couldn’t penalize or embarrass anyone for ignoring his guidelines, breaking the “rules” was definitely frowned upon.

That angered local residents and incited them to call for the mayor’s resignation.

I wonder what people think about our community etiquette—how we behave and interact with others.

“Oh yeah, she’s polite. Kind. Gracious. Courteous. Respectful. Thoughtful. But he’s rude. Mean. Selfish. Oblivious. Defiant. Uncaring.”

Certainly, what we say and do is important to God.

It’s always appropriate for us to demonstrate kindness, speak politely and mind our manners—but there’s something that’s far more important than choosing not to burp and slurp, keeping our elbows off the table, sitting up straight in a chair and opening the door for someone.

It’s living in a way that honors and reflects God. It’s imitating and pleasing him with what we think, say and do. It’s being a positive, wholesome example of what’s right and true before family, friends, neighbors, associates and strangers.

That’s why Paul wrote, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … and over all these virtues put on love” (Colossians 4:12-14).

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus … whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 4:17,23).

“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received …” (Ephesians 4:1).

Sure, it’s always appropriate to practice good manners, speak politely, and act kindly—but it’s far more important to live in a way that reflects the character of our gracious Father.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s purposeful daily living that honors God.

That’s also why we must evaluate what we think, filter what we say, and guard what we do.

 

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.

Foolish Choices

Samson Delilah

A high-ranking Taliban commander named Mohammad Ashan walked into a police checkpoint in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, holding a wanted poster—and demanded the advertised $100 reward. But here’s the catch:  the man on the poster was Ashan.

Local authorities and U.S. military officials were puzzled by the audacity of Ashan to turn himself in and then try collecting the reward. After confirming his identity and refusing his request, they arrested Ashan, and moved him as a prisoner-of-war to a jail cell.

Remember the hilarious movie Home Alone? I think Ashan may be the Taliban equivalent of the two bungling burglars. It seems he was one brick short of a full load!

Have you done something foolish and regretted it?

Samson did that a lot. Ignoring how God blessed and empowered him, he lived recklessly and foolishly. He chased women, acted arrogantly and shirked his responsibilities. He dishonored God, disgraced his family and ditched his solemn vow (Judges 13-16).

Samson could’ve been an influential leader in Israel—but he played the fool, and sank deeper into the mud of compromise.

After exploiting his strength to wreak havoc and kill his Philistine enemies, Samson allowed a woman named Delilah to repeatedly seduce him. Secretly, she made a pact with his enemies and had ulterior motives:  to manipulate Samson and discover the secret of his strength.

Having continually lied to Delilah, Samson finally weakened and revealed the secret:  keeping the vow he’d made before God to never cut his hair. “He told her everything … and his strength left him” (Judges 16:17, 19). That rash disclosure also led to his gruesome death.

While Samson slept, Delilah cut his hair, and helped the Philistines capture him. Then, they tied and tortured weak Samson between two pillars inside their pagan temple, and gouged out his eyes. Blind and desperate, Samson asked God for strength for one final exploit.

God honored Samson’s prayer and empowered him to push over the massive pillars, collapsing the temple and killing everyone. Just before he died, Samson trusted and honored God.

Can you identify with Samson? I can.

Perhaps our shortcomings aren’t the same as the strong man’s sins. But our weak willpower, frequent compromise and brash disobedience are identical matches with Samson’s struggles.

Like Samson, we have a perverted propensity to go our own way, and do our own thing.

That’s why we must deliberately turn from our foolish, rebellious ways—and choose today to obey and honor God in what we think, say and do.

 

Caught in the Act

siphoning gas

A 20-year-old man admitted to siphoning gas out of a police cruiser. But the not-so-bright thief really didn’t have much of a choice.

Michael Baker confessed to his foolish misdeed—after authorities showed him the picture that his “very blonde” girlfriend posted on Facebook, freeze-framing him in the act of stealing gas from a police officer’s car.

The photo went viral across the social networking platform, tipping off police in Letcher County of eastern Kentucky and helping them identify and catch the thief.

Once arrested, Baker admitted to the act, but told a news reporter that it was just a joke. He said, “Yeah, I got a little bit of gas. I‘m not going to lie, but I didn’t get much. I tried, but the tank was almost empty.”

Baker and his girlfriend thought it was funny, but the police didn’t. They charged Baker with petty theft, and held him overnight in jail.

Growing up, I usually denied doing something wrong when my parents confronted me.

That’s when they often said:  “Son, be sure your sin will find you out.” I didn’t like hearing that reminder, and I wished they’d stop saying it. I knew when I was guilty, and should’ve confessed my disobedience. I also knew I’d eventually get caught and pay the consequences.

While confronting the rebellious Israelites, Moses said very similar words:  “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

When I read that Bible verse for the first time, I suddenly saw my parents’ “worn out” words differently. I saw them as a clear warning from God:  Be sure your sin will find you out!

King David discovered the same truth, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and trying to cover it up by deceiving and killing her husband Uriah.

After ignoring God’s convicting promptings—and trying to conceal his sins and avoid getting caught by others—David grew weary of the misery that comes with refusing to confess our wrong-doings. He finally came to his senses, confessed his sins to God and later recalled:

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD—and you forgave the guilt of my sin’” (Psalm 32:3-5).

David also rejoiced, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven …” (Psalm 32:1).

In the same way, we should acknowledge and confess our sins to God, receive his amazing grace and forgiveness and ask him to change us—from the inside out.

 

 

Lost and Found

lost and found

There’s no doubt that your grass is unusually long and desperately in need of a mowing when it’s so high, you can lose a car in it.

That’s what happened to a 78-year-old widow in Georgia. She lost her car in the front yard. Apparently, the elderly woman phoned the police to report that her late husband’s big Chevy van had been stolen. But then, just a few hours later, she placed another call to the police.

After looking more closely in her front yard, she discovered the inoperable vehicle parked there—in the last place anyone had seen it—obscured and overgrown by grass that hadn’t been mowed for a long time.

I wonder what that lady’s neighbors said behind her back. I wonder why they didn’t mow her tall grass. I wonder why they didn’t look for her “lost” vehicle.

Long ago, the leaders of Judah lost the Book of the Law somewhere inside the temple. That means they couldn’t find the first five books of the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I wonder what happened to the Book. I wonder how they lost it.

Maybe the priests put it up on a backroom shelf, and forgot about it. Maybe it got buried under junk inside a closet, pushed under a pile in the corner or covered by dusty cobwebs.

We don’t know where they lost it, or why they left it there. But apparently, the leaders were okay with abandoning the Scriptures. Somebody put the Book down, nobody went back for it and everybody stopped reading it. They just kept on living, as if the Book wasn’t missing.

But one day, the high priest Hilkiah found the Book inside the temple, and gave it to Shaphan who took and read it to young King Josiah. After hearing the Scriptures, Josiah wept and tore his robes, and ordered five leaders to go and pray for God’s guidance.

Josiah repented on behalf of the nation, assembled everyone at the temple and then read the entire Book to them. The people of Judah came to their senses and got right with God—and an incredible revival broke out and swept across the land (2 Kings 22-23). 

I wonder if you’ve ever lost your Bible. Left it on a church pew or an office desk. Misplaced it somewhere inside your house. Tossed it into the car trunk. It sounds crazy, but some people often lose their Bible—just like they misplace a jacket, a watch or a set of keys.

I wonder where you usually put your Bible. On the coffee table. Inside a desk drawer. On a bookshelf. In the back seat. On a nightstand.

Friend, I hope you’ve got a special place for your Bible—inside your home and your heart. I hope you see it as a rare treasure, and enjoy exploring it. I hope you’re reading God’s Word—and “hiding” it inside you heart.

David sang, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” and “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:11, 97). Is that the cry of your heart?