Don’t forget to put your armor on

armor-fighting-spiritual-warfare_1170x350

Samurai were scary people. Many of the popular movies about them have been toned down to make them sympathetic characters, but in reality, they were a brutal, unyielding segment of a society. They had no pity and no mercy, and while I’m sure they had some concept of love, it wasn’t the same as a Westerner like an American would comprehend.

That being said, the samurai fascinate me. They always have. Japanese culture in general is one of my favorite topics, but samurai in particular captivated my interest from the time I was a child. And if you want a really interesting read, there’s a book called Code of the Samurai, which is actually a fast, in-depth read about samurai culture (for any of you culture nerds out there).

A samurai was always ready for battle, always ready to take up arms against an enemy. They were ever-vigilant. And they were obsessed with honor and respect. And nothing is more samurai than the samurai armor, but how long did it take to actually get into one of those rigs? Hours probably. But would a samurai go into battle without his armor? Very unlikely. A samurai’s armor was the symbol of his family, his heritage, his honor, and, honestly, it was just common sense. Who goes into battle without armor?

Unfortunately, I do it every day, and I’m not supposed to.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you have access to armor. And not just any armor—God’s armor. The Bible says in Ephesians 6:12-13, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

There’s a war raging around us every minute of every day, and we can’t see any of it with our eyes. It’s a struggle for our attention, our faith, our belief. Demons and angels. God and Satan. Granted, God already dealt Satan a fatal blow when Jesus saved us on the cross, but Satan hasn’t backed down yet. He still thinks he can win, so he’s throwing everything he has at us.

So God has given us everything we need to fight back. We just have to choose to accept it.

Truth. God’s righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word. God has given these things to us to fight against what Satan throws at us. If we use them, nothing can hurt us. So why don’t we use them?

Honestly? I forget I have it. I get into the groove of living and think that I’m on my own. I think I have to do it all myself, and that’s a lie.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]We are fighting the remnants of a war that God has already won for us.[/su_pullquote]

Christians, remember that every day is a battle, and we’re not fighting against what we can see. We don’t fight against our coworkers (no matter if they annoy us) or our family (even if they frustrate us) or our government (even though The Man is getting a little big for his britches). We are fighting the remnants of a war that God has already won for us.

Don’t forget to put your armor on. Cling to truth. Hold tight to what God says is right. Seek peace and faith. Trust God’s salvation and His Word. And don’t listen to what the devil whispers in your ears. The devil has already lost this war, and when we draw on the power of God’s armor, we’ll win the battle too.

Advertisements

A lifestyle that’s for the birds

Yesterday, a friend and I went hopping all around Wichita scouting locations for some photoshoots that will be featured on the next year’s catalog of books from Crosshair Press, and we found ourselves in the renovated jungle exhibit at the Zoo. Seriously, if you’re in the Wichita area, you must go to the Zoo. It’s amazing.

But as we were walking around, I kept hearing this one particular bird. Now, the jungle exhibit is packed full of birds. There are always birds singing. But this one bird? My goodness. That sucker had a set of lungs. And I had no idea where it was until it landed on the post right in front of me, and I snapped this photo.

Imagine. Being a bird. You eat. You sing. You hop around and look pretty. And that’s about all you’re responsible for. No wonder birds sing all the time. That’s got to be the greatest life! No worries at all!

Know what? That’s the kind of life you can have too.

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:26-27.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

I always think of this verse when I hear birds singing. Birds are carefree because they don’t have to worry about anything. But it’s not that birds have nothing to worry about. They just know they don’t need to.

People are a different story. We have the ability to worry, so we take advantage of it. We think about what we’re going to eat. We think about what we’re going to wear. We think about what we’re going to drive. We think, think, think all the time, and when we discover that most of the things we think about are out of our control, we worry.

Stop right there. That’s not the life we were designed for. I’m talking to myself here, because worry is one of my besetting sins. I don’t talk about it out loud, but inside I’m usually a mess of anxiety and nerves about something. And in my brain I know that worrying is silly, but I can’t seem to help myself.

So it was a joy yesterday to run into this little fellow singing his little birdy head off. A great reminder that birds don’t worry about tomorrow because they’re trusting God to take care of it. God is trustworthy. He’s never let them down, and He never will. So why stress?

That should be our lives. That should be my life.

I belong to Jesus, but it’s a daily choice to follow Him and live the way He would. Sometimes is less of a choice and more of a battle. But regardless, God has promised to take care of me and provide for me and help me. He’s made the same promise to the birds, and He’s never let them down. He’s never let me down either. And He won’t let you down.

So that think you keep worrying about? Let it go. And when you start worrying about it again? Let it go again. Sing a song instead of worrying. Turn your praise music up as high as it will go and sing at the top of your lungs. Tell God how great He is and get on with your day.

It works for the birds. It’ll probably work for us too.

Demanding God’s power to do your own thing

Jesus was a rebel. The culture of His time was to revere the religious elite, and Jesus openly opposed them. In our current culture, the expectation is to defy authority, to live for yourself, to do what feels right, so following Jesus in our present-day culture is a form of rebellion.

So I guess the line we need to draw is who you’re rebelling against, because when you rebel against God, you’re asking for trouble. But what does rebelling against God even look like?

C3DC4DAA3EToday’s verse is Isaiah 53:6.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

Each one of us has walked away from God’s best in our lives at least once. Some of us more than once. Some of us have made a lifestyle of abandoning the roads God says are the ones to travel on, and we’ve had to live with our consequences.

But what about the Christians who don’t want to walk away? What about those of us to seek God with everything we have and everything we are? Surely if we’re willing to sacrifice our comfort and our easy lifestyles, we couldn’t ever be rebellious, right?

The spirit of rebellion is tricky, because it stems from pride. And pride can be hard to recognize sometimes.

I like doing things my own way. I don’t like to wait for God to show me which path I’m supposed to take. Instead, I prefer to just rush ahead and deal with the consequences as they come. So many times in my life, if I had just waited for God to work, maybe things would have been different. But no. I’m not good at waiting. So I have to rush forward and do everything in my power to provide for myself.

I’m independent. I’m strong. I’m capable. That’s the way God made me, so if I don’t act independently, capably, and strongly then I’m not living up to my potential as a Christ-follower. Right? That’s what my brain tells me. But is that the truth?

Rebellion isn’t just doing the things God says are wrong. And it isn’t just not doing the things God says are right. Rebellion is a heart attitude that says it’s my way or the highway. Rebellion is demanding God’s resources so that you can do what you want. It’s issuing an ultimatum to the Lord so that you can accomplish your goals instead of His.

Just because you read your Bible every day doesn’t mean you’re on the same page as God. Just because you can quote Scripture and know the Bible forwards and backwards and can spout random trivia about left-handed judges and mysterious priests with unpronounceable names doesn’t mean that your goals and dreams are instantly God’s will for your life.

No. You have to ask.

Have you taken your dreams and goals to God? Have you asked Him about doing what you want to do? Have you taken the time to wait and listen for His answer to make sure that the path you’re on is the right one? If you haven’t, if you’re just blundering through life doing what you want, how do you know you’re not doing more harm than good?

We’ve all wandered away. Every last one of us. But if you know Jesus, you don’t have to pay the price for that foolish choice. Jesus already did. You just have to accept it. But that doesn’t mean you can keep wandering off without consequence.

God will save you if you ask. Freely. Just as you are. No strings attached.

But don’t expect that you can demand His power and His resources and His strength and then just run off and do whatever you want. No, friends, it doesn’t work that way. If you want God’s power in your life, you’ve got to live your life on His terms. That means you do what He says. That means you take the positions He provides. That means you treat people the way He treats people. That means you see yourself the way He sees you.

If you’re living life on God’s terms, I can guarantee that your life won’t look like what you expect it should. But you’ll have everything you need. God will provide it. And if you make Him the center of your life, one day you’ll wake up and find that all your dreams have come true.

God belongs in every area of our lives

Pants are important. Nearly everyone wears them. But what would happen if one day you encountered someone at your office who wasn’t wearing any. No slacks or jeans or shorts. Not a skirt even. Nothing.

And when you ask why they’re running around with no pants on, they tell you that they just don’t think wearing pants at work is a good idea. Now, pants at home are good. Pants at church are fine. But pants at work? Not so much.

You’d probably think they were nuts, right? I would.

That’s a silly illustration, but if you think about it, it’s not much sillier than how we behave when we compartmentalize our lives as Christ-followers.

compartmentalizeToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy is a book of repetition. God says a lot of the same things over and over again, and it’s a good thing to. I mean we get tired of reading them over and over again, but the more you hear them, the less likely you are to forget them.

I didn’t used to understand this passage. What did it mean to wear God’s commands on your hands and on your foreheads? I mean, I understand the Jewish tradition, but what does it mean for a Christ-follower?

I mean, if you want to write God’s commands on your hands and on your foreheads, that’s fine. It won’t hurt anything. But practically speaking, how do you apply this passage to your life?

It’s actually really simple. Not easy. But it’s simple.

It means to be fully committed to God in every single thing you do every day. When you go to work, you should be focused on what God has for you. When you are at home, you should be doing what God has told you to do. When you go to church, to the voting booth, to school, on vacation, to the grocery store–whatever you do, wherever you go, if you are a Christ-follower, you should be doing what God has told you to do. You should be keeping His commandments.

Compartmentalizing life is an essential skill in many ways. You have to be able to leave work at work. You have to be able to segment your life in ways that allow you to organize it.

But God should never be compartmentalized. Don’t ever try to put God in a box. He doesn’t fit.

If you try to follow God in part of your life and then live the rest of your life however you want it, you aren’t going to have peace. Having a relationship with God was never intended to be part-time. You shouldn’t just keep God housed in your church or just in your home. God should be an integral part of every decision you make, from the big decisions about where to live and what to do with your life to the small decisions about what classes to take or whether or not to go see a movie on Friday night.

Just like there’s no question too big for Him, there’s no question too small either. Don’t cut God out of a part of your life because you think He doesn’t care. That’s not the case. Don’t ignore Him in a part of your life because you’d rather do it your own way. Believe me, it won’t work out.

It’s a strange habit to get into, asking God about what decision to make or comparing the choices you’re making to what the Bible says, but it works. We just have to take God at His word.

So bring down the walls that are keeping God out of the corners of your life. Open the shutters on the dark spots and let God’s light shine through you completely. It won’t be comfortable. He’ll definitely illuminate some things that need to change, but He’ll also give you the strength to do what you need to do.

Are you following a hero who will let you down?

Who’s your hero? That was a question I got asked as a kid frequently, and usually the answer was my parents. That’s not a bad answer. Not at all. It’s not even an untrue answer. I just can’t exactly tell you I thought about it very seriously. It was an answer people liked, so I went with it.

There were people I loved and admired, sure. My parents were among them. And I had an army of role models who have continued to be guiding lights in my life, even now. But a hero?

I caught part of the tribute to Stevie Wonder on TV last night. Lots of famous musical artists from around the world had  gathered to honor this man who had changed their lives. To many of them, Stevie Wonder was their hero. And that’s great. I’m sure he’s a great person. I don’t know him personally. I don’t know his life. I do know he’s been a major influence on music in my lifetime, and I do appreciate that.

But what is a hero?

Maybe Stevie Wonder is a great guy, but do you want to live your life exactly the way he has? Maybe that movie star you admire is really successful, but do you want to make the same choices? Even in your life now. That person who you look up to and spend so much time with, do you really want to pattern your life after theirs?

I guess what I getting at is that any hero you place your faith in on this Earth is going to let you down. Any hero you follow without question is going to give you bad advice at some point. Or they’re going to do something foolish that will make you lose faith in them.

There’s only ever been One Person who could truly live up to the expectations of a true hero.

heroToday’s verses are Hebrews 4:14-16.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Does it sound uber-churchy to say your hero is Jesus? That’s what I was always afraid of, so I would make up other answers of people who I thought were cool. But my real hero has always been Jesus. Why?

He’s never let me down. He’s never broken a promise. He’s never led me wrong. His life was perfect, even though He faced all the same things I have. His death was for me, and with His resurrection I have new life.

In our world, we glorify and glamorize sports teams or musicians. We set actors and politicians up on pedestals. We applaud their humanitarian giving and their generous spirits, and if one of them happens to mention God in a speech, we get all excited. Because you have to be really bold to talk about God in Hollywood.

And I’m sure you do. I’ve never been to Hollywood, so I don’t know. I imagine it’s really intimidating to thank God for the prestigious award you’ve won in front of lights and cameras and everyone. But what’s more important? Thanking God for what He’s done for you or living a life that demonstrates that thankfulness?

We criticize church people for hypocrisy all the time, but we rejoice when somebody famous thanks God for something and then turns around and lives a lifestyle devoid of any sort of conviction or faith.

I don’t want to pick on anyone. Let me tell you, I’ve read a lot of books by a lot of really awesome writers, and if I had the opportunity to pick their brains, I’d love it. But I’m not going to say they’re my hero because they did something I admire.

I’ve seen lots of amazingly talented movie stars and musicians, and maybe I stand in awe of what they are capable of doing. But I would never call one of them my hero just because they can do something I can’t do.

No. To me, a hero is someone you pattern your life after. It’s someone you follow. It’s someone whose footsteps you seek out and walk in. You do what they do, because they’re your hero, and you want to be just like them.

So think seriously before you start claiming people as your heroes. It’s a big deal. Because you will become like whoever you’re following. Pattern your life after another person who’s just as lost as you are, and you’ll end your life without hope, regardless of whether the world calls you successful or not.

Don’t be ashamed to call Jesus your hero. Don’t be afraid that you’ll sound like a crazy person. You might sound nuts, but people thought Jesus was nuts too. So it comes with the territory.

There’s only one hero in our world, and that’s Jesus. He gave His life for us. He gave up everything He had for our sake. He lived a perfect life, and He conquered death. He came to our world and did the impossible, and He made a way for us to do the impossible too.

Who wouldn’t want a hero like that?

Is it confrontation or just plain criticism?

Has someone ever confronted you? If you’re a Christ-follower and you’ve made some really unChristlike decisions on purpose, has anyone ever come up to you and challenged you?

I know people who have experienced that, and I can’t imagine it’s pleasant for either person. And I think it’s important, especially if that person is a Christ-follower. If you’ve given your life to Christ, you shouldn’t look like everyone else. You should look like Jesus. And we may never get there, but that’s our goal. Or at least it should be. And that’s why we have each other–to help keep us accountable.

But what about for other issues? Has another Christ-follower ever confronted you about your lack of one-on-one time with God? Or about how little time you spend reading the Bible? Or about how often you volunteer to help others? Has anyone ever confronted you about those things?

If so, what did it do to your heart? Did it make you want to go sign up to volunteer right then because you love God so much? Or did it just make you really, really angry?

pedicure2Today’s verses are Romans 14:1-4.

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

Confrontation is essential in our lives. We have to know how to do it, otherwise we’ll constantly be stepped on and undervalued. We’ll never stand up for the things that matter, because believe it or not, the world doesn’t much care for the things Jesus does.

But more often than not, I really think Christians take confrontation to the extreme. Granted, I know Christ-followers who have confronted believers with their sins, and it’s turned them around completely. But it isn’t the confrontation that did it. And it isn’t the person who spoke up. It’s the Holy Spirit in that believer’s life Who made the difference.

But what about those Christians who are trying to get the basics down? Do they need to be confronted? Or does your confrontation look and sound like criticism?

We mean well. I think we truly want to help other believers, because we have found such amazing joy in our own walks with Christ that we want others to share it too. But I think we forget that God made us unique, and that means we all serve Him differently.

It’s you know they’re sleeping around or abusing people or living a life that God says is wrong, that’s different, of course. But for a Christ-follower who is doing the best they can with what they have, please, just remember who you are and who their Father is.

It’s like the thumb criticizing the big toe because it isn’t doing a good enough job. But if you work an office job, of course your thumb gets more use than your toe does. You sit down all day. What matters is that when you stand up, your big toe holds its weight.

We’re all a part of God’s body. Some of us have been here longer than others, but we’re all one body. And criticizing each other discourages and demoralizes the members who are doing the best they can with the time and opportunity they have.

If someone wants to get closer to God, they’ll look for a way. If they want to know the Bible better, they’ll ask. If they want to serve, they’ll step up. God works in different people’s hearts in different ways, and that is between that person and God.

Don’t be afraid to invite people. Don’t be afraid to include others in what you’re doing. If you’ve got a great Bible study, ask others to come with you so they can hear what you’re learning. If you work in a ministry, invite others to come with you so they can see what you’re doing. But don’t tell them they aren’t working hard enough for God. That’s not your judgment call to make, and all you’ll do is hurt them.

Keep yourself in line. Be willing to share what God is doing in your life. And, honestly? Just chill out. God is responsible for helping people grow. Not you. If you get to be involved, it’s because God has invited you.

Standards

I work for a plumbing, heating and pipe-joining systems manufacturer. It’s actually a really great company, and I really enjoy my work (even though it does tend to stress me out a lot of the time, but most of that is just my failing to deal with it properly). My company, Viega (pronounced VEE-guh), is honestly a pretty unique place. Once of their claims to fame is that they hold themselves to a high standard of quality in manufacturing. And, although I’ve never visited the manufacturing plants in Germany, I have seen the one in McPherson, KS, and it really is pretty incredible. Everything has a place, and everyone knows what they’re doing. And it’s so clean most of the time you could eat off the floors.

The are passionate about plumbing, which sounds really strange, but it’s true. They are devoted to quality assurance and making sure that customers get the very best products possible. I know, I know. I sound like I work in their marketing department . . . well . . . I do.  =)

But when I read the verse of the day this morning, I actually thought about Viega and their high standards of quality.

Now, maybe this is a stretch, but hear me out.

As a followers of Christ, we are supposed to live a life above reproach. We are supposed to hold ourselves to a different standard than other people who don’t believe the same way. Now, does that make us better than them? Absolutely not. All people are 100 percent equal in God’s eyes. None of us are good enough to get into heaven without Jesus’ help. But those of us who have chosen to follow Christ — who claim to be Christians — we know right from wrong, we have the power of God in our lives, and we are expected to live life the way Jesus did.

So what happens when we screw up?

It does happen, you know. A good example? If you read this blog with any consistency, you know I truly struggle with my temper against bad drivers. I just have no patience for them. Well, I don’t know what happened yesterday, but I was turning right on Maize road at Kellogg (it was near 5pm; that was my first mistake). And I waited until all the traffic turning off Kellogg had gone past, and I didn’t see anybody coming so I went. But apparently the light had turned green and the traffic from Maize on the other side of Kellogg was closing in. There was a black truck heading straight for me. So I stayed in the merge lane until he passed and jumped in right after him, flooring the gas pedal. Unfortunately, it was a little closer than I like to push it, and I might have caused the driver of the white car behind me a slight bit of distress. . . .which he gestured quite abundantly in my rearview mirror, though he didn’t even need to hit his brakes. (I felt bad about it . . . and then he swerved around me and tailgated other people in the left-hand lane until he turned off on 21st and then I didn’t feel so bad because he was obviously an impatient driver anyway . . . but that’s probably rationalizing).

So even I, who have a terrible attitude about bad drivers in Wichita, can accidentally pull out in front of somebody sometime.Everybody screws up.

What do we do? 

Colossians 3:13

13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

As believers, we are held to a higher standard of life. We are expected to live a life that is as blameless as possible so that we can bring glory to God, but God knows we’re not perfect. And God knows that at the moment, every believer has two natures — the redeemed nature and the old black sin nature that drags us down and tempts us to sin.

We have to recognize that people sin. And we have to realize that other Christians sin. And while we are never to condone it, we also need to expect it to a certain extent. Not expect it as in, “eagerly anticipate the day when So-And-So will make a terrible mistake and commit some kind of attrocity.” No. Just understand that everyone sins. And when a Christian makes a mistake, don’t hold it against them. Forgive them. I guarantee that whatever they’ve done isn’t as bad as what you’ve done.

And half the time, you don’t even know what’s going on. You may perceive something as a sin, and it might not be. After all, we’re not the ones to judge sin. The Bible is.

It’s our job to love. That means forgiving people. That means understanding that although we believers ought to live a life above reproach, there are moments in every Christian’s life when we will be less than perfect.

However, there’s a big difference between sinning once and repenting (which is just a fancy religious word for being truly sorry and purposing never to do it again) and sinning repeatedly. Repeated sin is rebellion, especially when it’s coming from a Christian who knows better. And that’s a different topic altogether.

But, Christians, we all need to get along. We’re family, after all. And we’re going to spend eternity together. So when your brother or sister makes a mistake, don’t be so hard on them. Don’t lecture them on what they’ve done wrong. Don’t keep bringing it up time and time again. Don’t hold it over their head, and don’t put them on guilt trips about it. Just forgive them. Then do your best to forget it and keep loving them. Encourage them. Help them. Hold them up. Build them up.

I guarantee that sort of response will be more beneficial than a lecture anyway.