If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.

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Front entry at Glen Eyrie Castle - Colorado Springs, CO

Swords

I have a thing for castles. There’s something about castles that just really fascinates me. I love the architecture. I love the history. I love the sheer size of them. They just conjure up images of a world that we’ve lost, probably for the better honestly. Because castles were really in vogue in a very dark time of our history. In the times when castles were big, people still fought with swords.

Today, people don’t fight with swords anymore. We shoot each other, if we’re actually fighting. Swordsmanship was a personal and intimate form of warfare. You couldn’t stand in the background and be an observer if you fought with a sword. You had to know what you were doing, and you had to know who you were fighting.

Front entry at Glen Eyrie Castle - Colorado Springs, CO

Front entry at Glen Eyrie Castle – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:17.

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6 has always been one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, mainly because I love the entire concept of the Armor of God. I love the symbolism of it, and if you haven’t had a chance to study it, I really recommend that you do. Because these are the weapons that God has given us to fight our enemies.

And who is our enemy?

Certainly not other people. That’s also what Ephesians 6 explains, that the people around us aren’t the ones we’re supposed to be fighting, that there’s a war going on that supersedes this world. It’s so easy to get caught up in the thinking that this world is all there is, but there is another life that is more real than this one on the other side. And Satan, our true enemy, will do anything he can to prevent us from reaching it.

We don’t fight other people. We fight spiritual battles against spiritual forces. And if we’re going to win, we have to have spiritual weapons. That’s the meaning of the Armor of God. Because we need the belt of Truth and the breastplate of Righteousness and the shield of Faith to stand up against the attacks that Satan throws at us, lies and wickedness and doubt. And there are some days when we need to stay behind the shield, but there are other days when we need to go on the offensive.

That’s when we need a sword. According to this passage, part of the Armor of God is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” What does that mean? It’s the Bible.

Other passages of Scripture identify God’s Word as a sword, but in some instances it’s difficult to think about it like that. Because it’s just a book. Right? How can you use a book like a sword?

Well, when the book you’re talking about contains truth it’s easier than you might think, especially if you’re fighting a spiritual battle. But before you can use the Bible like a sword, you have to believe that the Bible really is effective, that it’s real, and that it’s true. If you don’t believe the Bible, you can’t use it.

One of the best examples of how to use Scripture as a weapon comes straight out of Scripture itself, Matthew 4:1-11. This set of verses recalls the time when Jesus was tempted to sin by Satan. Satan threw all sorts of sneaky curve balls at Christ, but Jesus didn’t once give in. How? … He used Scripture. Every time Satan tried to convince Him to sin (using Bible verses taken out of context, if you’ll notice), Jesus quoted Scripture to him.

That’s how you use the Bible as a sword. You know it. You know what’s in it. You know what God says. You know what’s right and what’s wrong, and you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to obey it. And when Satan comes at you, telling you to do something you know is wrong, you can toss Scripture at him and tell him you choose to do what God says.

But there’s a trick to it. Because you can sit in a pew and learn all the Scripture in the world and know every verse in the Bible, but if you never apply it, you’ve just wasted your time. If you never take what you learn and use it, what’s the point? It’s like standing on the front lines of a battle with your sword ready but not moving, even as your enemy shoots at you. You’re neither attacking nor defending; you’re just standing there. What sense does that make? None.

But that’s where a lot of Christians are. We have tons of Bible knowledge. We wear Christian t-shirts with truth all over them. We listen to Christian radio that teaches us the ins and outs of living a Christian life. We know everything we need to know, but we still bury our heads in the sand and let Satan take ground on a daily basis.

It has to stop. We haven’t got that much time left. So pick up your sword, Christian. Get to know it, and get to know your real enemy — not the culture and not the unbelievers but Satan and his army of spiritual forces. And once you learn how to use God’s Word, don’t just stand on the sidelines. Attack. You’ve got armor; use it.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Staying alert so we know how to pray

Wichita is an interesting city. In the past, thanks to the multitude of aircraft manufacturing facilities here, we have all enjoyed something of an economic bubble. So when the rest of the country is scraping the bottom of the barrel financially speaking, we aren’t usually as bad off. Granted, the terrible economy still affects us but it doesn’t seem to be as bad as the rest of the country.

And we’re centrally located in the heart of the Heartland, where wholesome old-fashioned values are still worth something. Some have called Kansas the buckle of the Bible belt. And cost of living is probably the lowest of most other states. Life is harder here, though, than in other states; you have to be tough to deal with the climate and other aspects of living in a state that’s 90% sky. But overall, Kansas is pretty much bubble. And Wichita, though it has its moments, is the kind of place you can live and shut out the rest of the world pretty easily.

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:18.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Being alert is an exhausting task. It’s difficult to accomplish in simple communities, but if you try to stay alert in our world today? With governments and the threats that are active today? Yeah, not so easy.

But I find it ironic that in the Age of Information, where even toddlers know how to operate an iPhone, we are less informed about life in general than ever. It seems to me that the more we have the ability to know, the less we actually learn. Maybe it’s because we take it for granted that the information will always be available to us at the click of a mouse. I don’t know.

But I do know that if we are lazy and don’t take the initiative to be aware of what is going on around us, we’re going to be in a world of hurt, especially as believers. As followers of Christ, we are called to know what is happening in our life, in our family, in our country, and in the world as a whole. Why? So that we can participate the best way we know how, so that we can help people who need help, and so that we can pray specifically for the needs of others. And if we don’t know what others need, how can we pray?

I’m guilty of the generic “God be with so-and-so” types of prayers, sometimes because I’m too emotional to pray out loud what I’m really feeling. But mostly because I’ve been too indolent to find out what’s really happening in the situation.

And I’ll admit that I don’t pay as close attention to local or world news as I should. I don’t watch television. I don’t read the paper. As a journalist, I can hardly bear to listen or read anything that’s out there, mainly because I know the way it’s supposed to be done. Unbiased and true. Reporting the news instead of manipulating it. But every news organization in the world has become a marketing organization. There’s no truth reported anymore. It’s all spin. But even in all the spin, there is a grain of truth. And it’s my responsibility to know what’s happening.

I need to be alert so I know how to pray. Specific prayer is better than generic prayer for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates how much you care about what you’re asking for.

Ephesians 6 is one of those iconic chapters that has been quoted in just about every topic and subject in study, and if you have the chance the read the whole thing, you should. Actually, I recommend reading the whole Book of Ephesians. it’s not long. But Ephesians 6 is where you find the text about the Armor of God, though in the Message version it doesn’t actually reference it as armor.

It’s easy in the types of lives that we all live right now to forget that we’re in a war. Living in the bubble of the Midwest where we still have plenty to eat and cars to drive and clothes to wear and entertainment to distract us, it’s easy to forget that the world is in chaos.

As believers, it’s our responsibility to be aware. Because even if we can’t do anything about it, we can ask God to take care of it. And God has proven that He responds to the prayers of His people.

Ephesians 6:13-18 (The Message)

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Wake up. Open your eyes. And get ready.

There’s a reason General Patton has never been a cartoon character.

Sometimes I forget that we’re fighting a war.

Life is pretty good, really. I have enough to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, a car to drive. That’s more than most people in the world can say. All in all, I live an incredible life. I have everything I need and most everything I want too. And I’m so very thankful. But living so comfortably makes it very easy to forget about the war that we’re fighting.

No, not in Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya. I’m talking about the invisible war between good and evil, God and Satan. It’s a strange war because it’s already won; it’s already over. But we’re still stuck in the middle dealing with an enemy who won’t quit even when he’s been defeated. It’s easy to forget about this war when you’re comfortable and when you’re not struggling. And then sometimes its hard to remember it even when troubles come your way and we blame God for our pain.

Fighting a war isn’t something that we should forget, especially when we have an enemy dead set on destroying us. And if he can’t destroy us, he’ll do what he can to wreck our lives and our testimonies. And if we’re not ready for his attacks, he’ll catch us unsuspecting and we’ll fall.

I don’t feel like I’m really communicating well this morning, so I’ll just go ahead and let the Bible speak for me:

Ephesians 6:10-11

 10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

I’ve read this verse over and over and over again all my life, but today the phrase all strategies of the devil really stood out to me.

Satan is a student of us. He’s a student of me. He knows my weaknesses and my insecurities. He knows exactly what to throw in my path to make me doubt God, to make me doubt God’s plan, to make me doubt what God has for me. Satan knows exactly how to get to me. And if I’m not ready for him, if I’m not prepared for his attacks, there’s a danger that I might start believing him.

This verse reminds me that Satan is a strategist. He has a playbook on each of us and knows exactly how we’ll react in most situations. He knows how to manipulate us. And if we don’t know the Scriptures well enough, we’ll end up following him, even if we don’t realize it.

Please don’t think though that because he’s a defeated enemy that we don’t have to take him seriously. That’s ridiculous. Defeated enemies are ten times more dangerous than ones who are winning.

We also need to remember something very important. Culture has taught us that Satan is a cute little creature with horns and a tail and a pitchfork. Comics make light of him. Cartoon shows joke about him. No one takes him seriously. And I think that’s one of his manipulations. Why should we be concerned about a cute little cartoon character in a costume?

No. Satan is an angel. One of the most powerful angels ever created. Beautiful. Awesome. Raw power. Intelligent. And so very very dangerous.

If you read Scripture, you know that even the archangel Michael wouldn’t rebuke Satan; I think that’s in the Revelation. Do we even have any concept of what that means? In the book of 2 Kings, chapters 18-19, one angel completely annihilated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. 185,000! And, of course, there’s the story of the angel of death who crossed over Egypt and killed every firstborn. Angels are creatures we don’t want to mess with. And Satan was the most powerful of all of them. And just because his pride got him kicked out of heaven doesn’t mean he lost any of his power.

Satan is a brilliant warrior, an incredible strategist, and a forceful leader of an army of demons. Not taking him seriously is foolish.

So what can we do?

If Satan really is as powerful as Scripture says, how do we deal with him when he comes after us? Fortunately, this is a question that God has provided an answer for. Not once. Not twice. But three separate accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Satan came after Jesus when He was on Earth, tempting Him to do things He knew He shouldn’t do. Satan tempted Christ to turn stones to bread when He was fasting. Satan tempted Christ to throw Himself off a building to demonstrate His power and control over the angels. Satan tempted Him to worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. And every time, do you know what Jesus did?

Did He call down fire from heaven? He could have. But He didn’t. Did he wave His hand and make Satan disappear? He could have. But He didn’t. Did He punch Satan in the face? He could have. But He didn’t.

Jesus quoted Scripture.

For every thing Satan tried to convince Him to do, Jesus had a Scripture verse ready that told Him why He shouldn’t do it.

Why did Jesus allow Himself to be tempted? Why did Jesus let Satan do this to Him? Well, I think it was to give us an example of how to handle temptation when it comes.

Satan is a strategist. He’s hell bent (pun intended) on taking as many of us down with him as possible, and he’s going to throw everything at us that he can to get us to turn our backs on God. And even if our eternal souls go to heaven, Satan can pester us and bother us until we turn our lives on Earth into unproductive, miserable messes. But if we know Scripture, if we take the time to immerse ourselves in what God has said, when those times of temptation come, we’ll have a weapon that both protects and defends us. Why do you think the Bible is called a Sword?

So how is Satan tempting you today? Is he tempting you to worry? God says don’t be anxious for anything. Is Satan tempting you to stress out about things you can’t control? God says that even if a situation is bad, He can make it beautiful if we trust Him. Is Satan tempting you to make a foolish decision because you feel lonely? God says that He never leaves us.

God is truth. The Bible speaks God’s truth. And it’s the only weapon that can tune Satan out. It’s the only force that can stop him.

So get in it. Read the Bible. Memorize it. Learn it cover to cover. And be ready. Because if Satan hasn’t come after you yet, he will, especially if you want to do great things for God. And when he comes after you, remember the verses that you’ve learned, remember the promises that God has made, and believe them. Don’t just say them. Don’t just memorize them. Believe them.

Then Satan has nothing to say, and he can’t hurt you. Not because of your own power but because you’re putting your faith and trust in the power of God. And compared to God, Satan really is little more than just a cartoon character.