“P UT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD,” Paul wrote to the early Christian church in Ephesus during the last half of the first century.
The people of Ephesus can see, lived out, Paul’s metaphor — helmets, breastplates, shields, and swords as the Roman Legionnaires patrol the city streets, demonstrating authority and keeping public order.
Paul thinks the church, representing the truth of the gospel, is in a war with hostile, cosmic forces, “spiritual forces of evil.” Forces that are opposed to the reign of God.
We are to take the war seriously. We are to prepare for battle with an arsenal. This arsenal is truth, righteousness, peace, faith. The sword — the word of God — is the only offensive weapon. It is a skillful metaphor.
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THE HEART of Christianity is the radical, counterintuitive suggestion that the most powerful force in the world is vulnerable, sacrificial love — love that looks weak and helpless but which, finally, as Paul promised in 1 Corinthians 13, “still stands when all else has fallen.”
God’s love is expressed most eloquently in vulnerability and weakness — the cross of Jesus Christ. From that love, Paul wrote, nothing in all of creation can separate us, not even death.
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BE STRONG in the Lord.
When the government of South Africa canceled a political rally against apartheid, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu moved the rally into St. George’s Cathedral and turned it into a worship service. Soldiers and riot police followed and lined the walls of the cathedral with weapons and bayonets drawn.
Bishop Tutu spoke about the evils of apartheid and how rulers who supported it were doomed to fail. He pointed at the soldiers and police:
“You may be powerful, but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost.”
It was a moment of unbelievable tension. Tutu came out from behind his pulpit and flashed a radiant smile:
“Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side.”
The crowd roared. The police and soldiers put their weapons away and left the cathedral. (a Jim Wallis story quoted by John Ortberg in Living by the Word, p. 121)
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ON THE AFTERNOON of April 30, 1977, 14 courageous women set aside fear — and their families’ warnings — and left their homes to confront the dictatorship that had stolen their children.
That day marked the first weekly march by the mothers of Argentina’s “disappeared” — a name referencing the disappearance of as many as 30,000 young people. These mothers marched against the military commanders who had planned the systematic murders.
Forty years ago, they couldn’t even get their neighbors to listen to their anguish. The press was silent, and a large segment of the country sympathized with the dictatorship. The women gathered in small groups to avoid arrest. They marched two by two, in front of the presidential palace every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. They still march today, many in wheelchairs and are recognized around the world for their peaceful perseverance for truth.
When asked how the authorities reacted when they first showed up on the Plaza de Mayo, they responded:
“At first they made fun of us and called us mad … . And then one day a truck pulled up, troops got out and surrounded us and said they would shoot us if we didn’t disperse. One of the women fell to her knees, then another, and then we all did, fell to our knees and began to pray, ‘Our Father who art in heaven … .’
“The soldiers lowered their weapons, got back in the truck and drove away.”
Be strong in the Lord.
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NOT MANY OF US will find ourselves in a situation like Bishop Tutu or the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. But we do, every one of us, have our battles to fight.
Most of us know what our battles are about, the small wars we wage: the daily struggle with the hurried, frantic busyness of our lives; our captivity to our possessions; slavery to success and winning at all costs.
Some battle crushing poverty, and some contend with crushing affluence. Some battle addiction, real addiction. Some battle demons of self-doubt and guilt; some battle memories of broken relationships; some battle depression.
And some are in a life-and-death struggle with disease, mustering the courage to get out of bed and go to the radiation lab and do battle another day.
Be strong in the Lord.
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WE CAN’T, most of us can’t, choose our circumstances in life. But we can choose how to live, what resources to employ, which arsenal to engage.
We can choose to trust and lean on and hold as tightly as we can to the love of God in Jesus Christ, who invites us to be part of a victory he has already won.