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“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).

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).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

–John 10:10

I played soccer worse than any kid in junior high–not an exaggeration. No one passed the ball to me on purpose, but one deflected kick sent it right to my toes. Overwhelmed by the opportunity to do something, I managed a sort of dribble. I grinned at those yelling to me, but the excitement had deafened me. Validation for my first athletic action propelled me forward. The rush of air and pride electrified my pores. I ran halfway down the field before the words got through to me…You’re going the wrong way, you idiot! I was heading toward the opponent’s goal. It seems matter how fast you run, helping the other team score makes you the worst player.

I wish that were the last time I helped an enemy win. With far higher stakes on the line than a P.E. game, I’ve assisted a treacherous opponent to score against us. I have helped my foe swing a grave battle in his favor. Not just once, but on a regular basis. I sprint dozens of yards in the wrong direction before recognizing my mistake. Why? Because I choose to believe his lies instead of the truth shouted from the One on my side.

The enemy of my soul tricked me into helping him steal, kill, and destroy in many subtle kicks. He lured me as a joy-thieving accomplice. I’ve slain love to purchase fear, destroyed time intended to serve God, believing these pursuits served my goal. With every toxic belief and insecure step, I diverged from my true goal of Christ’s abundant life in His love.

Time to retrain my mind and stop assisting the opponent. No more steps in the wrong direction. Let me counter each negative thought with a double portion of love and praise before I act upon it. I will fight the enemy’s strategies  sabotage my teammates or me.

Our team has the ball. What will you do to help keep it moving toward the right goal?

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