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8554_Hold_on_

“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

 17202_Sweet_Hour_of_Prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

A dust cloud thundering with hooves approaches from the horizon. Screams erupt as the grey shadow roars through the towns just ahead of us. The war razes our land. And we stand in its path.

Helmets glimmer with our Kingdom crest, announcing our identity and preserving our minds. Shoulder to shoulder, our formation aligns reliable breastplates to guard our line against infiltration. We dig our heels into the position set for us. Magnificent swords ring out as soldiers draw and flash them into the sun’s brilliance. Shields high, we hold onto hope as the first legion arrives.

One shield quivers–mine. I feel the oncoming stampede rattling through my boots and into my knees. The beastly snorts fall within earshot, and I imagine the heat of their breath on my neck. There must be something more I can do than watch them pillage the countryside. Something more than waiting in fear like this.

I have a weapon to fend off the evils near enough to grab my throat. I tighten my sweaty grip on the hilt. The Word gleams, ready for hand-to-hand combat. Yet, like any other moment on this battlefront, this is no time to worry. I must engage my long range weapon. My armor-piercing javelin of prayer whooshes through impossible miles of darkness. In the village alley, a howl ends with a whimper as prayer strikes the enemy’s heart.

Ephesians lists all other elements of Roman armor by name, but leaves the obvious last piece of the analogy to assumption. Readers could easily follow the list and draw the final correlation. Soldiers wore one set of protective gear, carried one shield, and brought one sword to the battle. The final element stood out in memory as their exclusive long range weapon. Most soldiers carried at least two javelins. The armor-piercing spearhead broke through enemy formations and set up a victorious momentum before the onset of battle.

Like the ancient warrior, repeated use of long range artillery grants me an advantage. My arsenal carries as many javelins as I choose to throw. The limitations of prayer’s impact lie within my field of awareness. Focus, Tina, and remember to keep hurling those spears. I must identify areas of potential attack and pray for other victims of war.

I also need to resist distractions which hijack my focus. Lifting up  concerns that enter my mind while praying can add to my conversation with God. The risky mental detours occur when I’m not praying and serve to prevent or shorten my intimate moments with the Lord. These can include things like hurry, anxiety, or selfish attitudes. Complacency ranks high among focus-derailers, as do those less obvious forms of idolatry we modern folks fail to recognize.

As Paul warned the early Christians, we share the same need to “be alert.” A self-check habit can help identify distractions curtailing prayer. Once a week, reflect on prayer habits and note any trends. Keep track of attitudes or priorities encroaching upon quiet time with Jesus.

War rages, both in our personal space and beyond us. The world stands in desperate need of armor-piercing prayers. I need yours, you need mine, and the shrill cries of victims roil in the dark clouds across the earth. Let’s not neglect our greatest advantage. We can take up these final weapons together, encouraging one another to remain focused and engaged.

 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel . . . came to me in swift flight” (Daniel 19:21).

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

“Jesus . . .  rebuked the impure spirit . . . He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9:25-29).

“The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God'” (Acts 10:4).

“prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:15-16).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

I hit the snooze. Again. Before I know it, those red digits glare alarming numbers. I have fifteen minutes to get out of the house. After a quick prayer, I hack my frizzy locks into submission. Mascara rebels against the hurry with an eye-gouge. Ten minutes left to spackle my prize-fighter appearance, jump into a pant suit, and choke down some vitamins. As I back out of the garage, a breakfast bar dangles from my teeth. It crumbles into my lap by the first stoplight.

In my hurry, I’m at risk of facing battles ill-equipped. It isn’t the first time. And the neediness isn’t related to the two-hundred calories littering my seat. I left more significant nourishment behind. Without it, stressors and needs will overtake me. Thankfully, there’s backup. I keep a Bible in my car so I’ll never go a day without my sword.

Unlike wearable armor components like belts and breastplates, a sword must be taken up and used. My mind, heart, and soul hunger for a daily meal of living scripture. Whether I memorize or study the verses, their power comes from intimate relationship with the Spirit while I ingest and apply scripture. Satan knows the Bible, but it remains a mere recitation for him. Because I know the Word Himself, scripture becomes my sword of the Spirit and pierces the enemy. The Word of God stands out as a short-range weapon to cut down spiritual opposition.

Jesus modeled successful fencing skills when He wielded Scripture to vanquish temptation (Luke 4:1-13). As the Incarnate Word, Christ could have said anything and made it so. He quoted verses to teach us how to pierce the heart of darkness with His Word. He spoke from scripture at certain times to highlight his example, but at all times He lived out God’s perfect truth.

The power of the Word surpasses human imagination, but John’s gospel offers us a glimpse. “The Word was God . . . Through him all things were made . . . In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5). Christ is the logos, the creative force through which all things came into existence. In God’s perfect symmetry, Christ is also the power through which all things are redeemed and renewed. Jesus spoke to exorcise demons, heal, and exhibit miraculous provision, but that remains the tip of the iceberg. By definition, there is nothing the Word cannot do or undo.

Not something I want to leave behind for the day, let me tell you.

Many herald breakfast as the day’s most important meal, but nothing rivals the significance of nourishing my soul. No discipline proves more vital than making time to take up the Word. I must learn it and make it a part of who I am. Wielding the sword requires putting Christ’s truth into practice. In following Jesus’ example, I must speak the Word at times and live it out at all times.

Come join me on the battle front. Let’s make sure we have left no sword behind.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me” (Isaiah 49:2).

“In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:16).

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. . . . Take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:13,17).

I enjoy a solitary day at the mall, unless I’m searching for one item. Without friends, the fun-potential drains out of hat shopping. A sophisticated cloche or a wide-brimmed style might elevate my image, while a fez or wizard’s hat double us over in giggles. Regardless of sun protection or insulation features, the simple accessory I choose to top my cranium will speak volumes about my identity.

First century helmets offered double benefits to the wearers. With a bronze alloy to withstand crushing blows, armor craftsmen extended the forehead piece to block downward weapon strokes. The headgear extended to cover the neck and cheeks. With such thorough armor, distinguishing one soldier from another could present a challenge. Plumage served tactical and individuation purposes. While the crest added height to intimidate the enemy, it also expressed the soldier’s individuality. The style identified him as a Roman and as an individual.

As soon as we become Christians, the Lord crowns us with salvation. Our spiritual helmet distinguishes us as members of a glorious Kingdom while optimizing our individuality to its full potential. Marching alongside those with equal but unique headgear makes the journey more fun. Unless we take the protective features for granted and tuck that head-topper under one arm for a while.

Whoosh. Incoming doubt arrow. Jab of envy. Then, ooph, comes the axe hammer of fear. Resentment and selfishness poison the wounds. Before you know it, you’ve lost your head.

The helmet offers vital protection to one of the enemy’s favorite targets–our minds. We expose ourselves to unnecessary and serious risk if we fail to guard our thoughts with Christ’s gifts of redemption and abundant grace. Bible study, prayer, and guidance from seasoned soldiers can help us realign our focus. If we take time to meditate on the King suffering an excruciating death penalty in our place, we can no longer imagine a limit to His devotion. Since Jesus would take our place on death row, what do we think He won’t do for us? Mindfulness of our position in Jesus thwarts temptations to doubt, envy, or resent. Selfishness and fear cannot cut through the impenetrable alloy of Christ’s loving sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation secures who and Whose we are.

You have a unique purpose in our Kingdom. Your crest holds a special pattern, and I love how it becomes you. So, hold onto your hat, my friend. Others will need you. Your reminder might keep them from losing their heads.

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

As we visited Busch Gardens’ one day, I observed a toddler patting the glass of a wildlife enclosure. A lioness sprang toward him from the other side. Massive canines flashing, she pounced again and again. Huge paws engulfed the outline of the child’s hand. He grinned over his shoulder into the camera’s flash, as if playing pat-a-cake with the alpha predator.

If not for the glass shield, the lion would have devoured him like a cupcake.

With the exception of sunscreen, we tend to give little thought to shields these days. Few of us encounter large predators outside the zoo. Battles rage in distant lands, where armored vehicles and fortified bases matter far more to others than to us.

First century military officials knew the importance of defense equipment all too well. An effective shield could win or lose the war. If a soldier lost his scutum, as they were called, he became a walking target. Warriors often chained or strapped their ultimate means of protection onto their forearm, lest they lose their grip.

Roman shields remain legendary icons in military equipment design. Curved to deflect arrows and layered for strength, the scutum was large enough to cover a man and overlap the next shield in reptilian shell formation. Centurions also used shields as an offensive weapon to charge enemy lines.

With faith, we can break through enemy strongholds. Matthew 8 records examples of faith breaking through to the disenfranchised and excluded. The next chapter reveals how the faith of our friends can bring us out of hopelessness into the presence of Christ.

Faith deflects enemy arrows hurtling toward our souls each day. Lies, toxic attitudes, and insecurities glance off the surface when we hold up our faith against them. The King advises us to huddle together in formation so the enemy cannot find any spaces open for attack. Christ’s victory seals our triumph in the protection of our unified and mutually fortified trust in Him.

We must not let our guards slip and get caught playing pat-a-cake with this lion. So let’s strap on our trusty shields and snuggle in close, fellow soldiers. We’ll keep our faith out front and charge onward.

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .” (Ephesians 6:14)

Aim small, miss small. The tactical advice to aim for the chest cavity resounds across historical millenia like an ancient battle chant. Though a head injury ensures devastating results, an abundance of vital organs dwell in the soldier’s larger target–his core.

Experts in exacting fatal or torturous wounds, centurions knew the importance of guarding the chest and abdomen. Enemies could debilitate the heart’s life-sustaining flow or the liver’s toxin removal. Ancient Roman armor provided substantial protection with a breastplate of up to a thousand metal scales. Unlike full-body suits worn in later periods, this article only covered the torso’s front because a Roman soldier never turned his back on the enemy.

We all face constant attack from a strategic enemy. He aims to debilitate the vital areas of our spirits. An exposed heart leaves us vulnerable to devastation. The center of love, peace, hope, and joy  cannot stop its flow throughout our lives. We must also protect the ongoing confession of our soul to remove toxins from our lives.

“No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2).

Scripture underscores the importance of covering ourselves with righteousness, while illuminating how we remain devoid of it on our own. No matter how hard we strive for good behavior and perfect attitudes, we’ll never achieve holiness sufficient to protect our core. Jesus offers us what we cannot achieve–a perfect covering of His righteousness fit to protect us against all enemy attacks. We only need to accept this gracious gift and put it on each day.

Christian warriors wear Christ’s righteousness over the front of our spirits. Like the ancient Romans, we are called to stand firm and never turn our backs on the enemy for a moment. Yet, we have an additional level of protection for our backs–an army of breastplates. No Christian should face the daily attacks of the enemy alone. Our King designed us to stand together as a Kingdom of brothers and sisters, bearing one another’s burdens and covering one another’s backs. Scripture resonates across both Old and New Testaments with declarations of strength for those who unite in Him (See Ephesians 4, for one example).

Will you accept Christ’s breastplate and stand at the battlefront with me? Let the enemy find no more gaps between us than he can find in the scales of Jesus’ righteousness. Together with Jesus and one another, we are stronger.

 

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

“We have already charged that all . . . are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one'” (Romans 3:9-10).

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes\” (Nehemiah 4:13-14).

But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12).

 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth . . .”

As we prepare to face evil himself, the first element revealed for our defense is truth. And it’s a belt. Ho hum. Belts live in a neglected rack at the back of the department store–a fashion afterthought at best. Shouldn’t we have started with a magnificent sword and something like faith or salvation? Perhaps one of Paul’s editors should have reminded him to start his message with an attention grabber.

A little further investigation into the soldier’s outfit suggests more significance in the ancient article than our modern hip huggers. Not only did the centurion’s belt secure the rest of his uniform in place, but it also carried his food rations, coins, and weapons.The placement of this wide strap could also serve as an extra layer to cover vital organs. The warrior’s sustenance, livelihood, and survival rested in the leather girding his waist. His life depended on reaching for these vital items with confidence in the unchanged position of each one. A soldier must keep his eyes on the battle at hand, and cannot afford to search for his weapons.

In our battle with the ultimate deceiver, we Christian soldiers cannot begin to wonder where the truth lies. If we begin darting our eyes to the right and left, the enemy takes advantage of our vulnerable state. Thankfully, the Lord can teach us how to reach for His Truth with confidence. It never shifts position. We must buckle this essential tool in place as the nourishment and defense of our souls hang upon it. We also cannot understand true worth or experience prosperity in the absence of Truth.

Without the belt, nothing else can stay put. Armor shifts and tangles us into a stumbling knot. We must have truth to maintain unhindered motivation to combat evil. Paul listed Truth first to help us get a grip on the divine reality. Awareness of the Who clarifies our view of every other what. Such a vision transforms flesh into armored warrior core.

Let’s thank the King for our magnificent armor, and remain mindful of what truly holds us together.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:17-18).

“For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:10-11).

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

“The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (Psalm 119:160).

“For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:10-11).

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and kind in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:17-19).

Trillions of subatomic energy particles streak across space and dive into the atmosphere. Their scintillating wake revitalizes the air, illuminates my window, and massages vital warmth into cell tissues as they pass through my body. I cannot sense this process any more than I can discern which gases comprise my breath-concoction or count the microorganisms between my fingertips and keyboard. Invisible dimensions surround, fill, and impact my life at all times.

The symbiotic and causal effects of unseen physical things upon human life remains a matter of confidence among scientists and common folk alike. No one disputes the wind’s power or a mold spore’s destructive potential. The most plausible explanation for doubts regarding unseen spiritual occurrences is their existence. The evidence of supernatural activity stacks stretches far beyond records held in Tornado Alley.

The spiritual dimension surrounds, permeates, and exceeds the physical realm. Our interaction with unseen forces will affect us before, during, and long after mortal life. The symbiotic relationship between humans and the unseen remains true, whether we accept or deny its existence. Like the wind or an ion, the unseen forces of God and His enemies impact us at all levels. God can comfort a lonely widow or work a miraculous healing that goes viral on YouTube. Demons annoy some folks with mechanical failures while inspiring murder among others. The battle rages within our minutiae and throughout world events at every moment. God wields sovereign authority with ultimate power, but Satan fights on despite a guaranteed defeat. The enemy purports to devour or wound the highest possible number of people, causing grief to the Lord.

Though supernatural beings work outside the limitations of tangibility, our spiritual activities affect the battle’s tide. Ephesians 6:10-18 lists tactical measures which protect us and further the cause of God’s Kingdom. Join me in the coming weeks to explore each of these in greater depth. Let’s stand firm together as we face this new year and the future glory of God’s Kingdom far beyond it.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

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