Alert and Armor-clad

soldiers on guard duty

Several years ago, Geraldo reported how armored four-legged critters from Texas were roaming the streets of Washington D.C.

If you saw them, you weren’t hallucinating—and Geraldo wasn’t sensationalizing. Not at all. You really saw a wandering “army” of armor-clad armadillos.

Sometime ago, biologists started tracking the armadillos marching through Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and beyond. Believe it or not, these nomadic critters are traveling northeast toward the Atlantic Coast.

So, if you’re in that neck of the woods, stay alert and watch out for invading armadillos!

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re commanded to stay alert and stand firm—just like soldiers on guard duty, standing watch at their posts.

The Scriptures communicate the orders of our Commander-in-Chief to his followers: Stay alert. Stand firm. Stand your ground.

The apostle Paul exhorts us to stand strong in Christ, recognize our position and identity in him and wear God’s armor. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

When we put on God’s armor, we’re putting on Christ (Romans 13:14). Paul also declares, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). When we rely on Christ’s strength and strap on God’s armor, we’re equipped to defeat the adversary.

The first three pieces of armor are riveted to our position in Christ.

The “belt of truth” is God’s Word, the source of all truth. We stand firm in the truth by squaring things with the Word. The “breastplate of righteousness” is our justified position in Christ. We’re declared righteous in Christ; but it’s his righteousness—not ours. The “shoes of peace” picture the peace of Christ that must umpire our hearts in Christ if we’re going to live victoriously in him (Ephesians 6:14-15).

The final three pieces of armor are riveted to our victory in Christ.

The “shield of faith” is what we believe about God and his Word. It equips us to deflect the enemy’s assaults, as we trust and declare it. The “helmet of salvation” guarantees our eternal victory, even when the enemy disrupts our daily victory. The “sword of the Spirit” is God’s Word, our sure defense—and when we declare it, the enemy hears and runs (Ephesians 6:16-17).

So—as soldiers in God’s army, let’s suit up, stay alert and stand firm in Christ!

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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!

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.

 

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.

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?

 

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?

 

Trash Talking

Trash

Town administrator Dean Shankle was infuriated and flabbergasted, as he tried to understand why someone would deliberately, mysteriously and systematically scatter litter along Route 3A near Hooksett, New Hampshire.

Once a week, an unidentified person or company apparently dumped hundreds of blank lottery slips along the roadside of Route 3A—without being seen or getting caught.

I don’t know if Shankle and the local authorities ever identified and detained the guilty party—and I don’t know if they ever discovered why someone intentionally littered this stretch of road every Sunday, week after week.

Recently, I saw a motorist roll down his window, toss trash into the street and speed away, as if there’s nothing wrong with littering. I saw a pedestrian throw garbage into the gutter as he walked down the sidewalk, as if there’s nothing hazardous about littering.

Everywhere I walk, I see litter on the ground. Everywhere I drive, I see litter blowing down city streets, cluttering back alleys and trashing front yards. I see litter almost anywhere—and I can’t stand it.

Litter blows down the street and around the corner because someone tossed it on the ground instead of stuffing it inside a trash can.

I wonder why people litter.

Maybe they’re irresponsible, indifferent or untaught. Perhaps they’re selfish, rude or careless. Frankly, there’s no excuse for deliberate littering. It’s wrong and illegal. It’s inappropriate and inconsiderate. Simply put, it’s recklessly “trashing” what belongs to others.

Sadly, we do the same wretched thing with our mouths. We spit out filth and junk. We cuss and swear. We hassle and harass. We criticize and condemn. That’s what I call “trash talking”.

That kind of talking is rancid and rotten. It’s putrid and foul like a spoiled egg. It scoffs at what God values, scowls at what God teaches and scorns the people God loves.

That kind of talking is useless, discouraging and unwholesome.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit them.”

Clearly, God expects us to encourage others with our words. To build up, not belittle. To heal, not hurt. To affirm, not antagonize. To help, not hassle.

Certainly, wholesome talking requires holy thinking.

That’s why we must think before we speak and corral our thoughts before they get loose. That’s why we must evaluate our thoughts and guard our words. There’s no other helpful way!