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The Armor of God. Stand Your Ground

THE ARMOR OF GOD: STAND YOUR GROUND

By Ted Schroder

"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." (Eph.6:13)

"When the evil day comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand!" The evil day is that day of challenge, the day of crisis, the day of temptation, the day of despair and discouragement. In that day, when you feel under spiritual attack, put on the full armor of God so that you can stand, and survive no matter what is thrown at you. Be ready for the battle; be alert; realize that you are on duty at all times. Do not let your guard down, or relax your vigilance; so that you can survive, and live to see another day. In writing to Timothy, Paul says:

"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.... Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer." (2 Tim.2:4)

Paul is writing to encourage Timothy to stand firm in his faith. Others around him are defecting when the going gets tough. People who were strong believers and followers of Christ in their younger days can gradually fall away until they question everything they believe. Children that you raised in the faith can surrender to evil influences, and abandon ship when they are tempted. Even ministers of the Gospel, friends and colleagues have become less convinced of the truths of the scriptures and have compromised their message. Some have even left the ministry in later life because they no longer believe in what they are doing. Someone the other day said to me that she was no longer participating in worship because she did not think she believed in it anymore.

That is why Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. His strength has got to come from the Lord, not from his popularity, or personality, or his congenial environment. It is as if Paul says to him: "Never mind what other people may be thinking, or saying, or doing, or suggesting to you; never mind how weak and shy you yourself may feel; as for you, Timothy, be strong in Christ's grace!"

Indeed, we have to be prepared to endure hardship, to be willing to suffer for the Gospel of Christ, in the normal run of things. Life will never be smooth. Events will occur that will shake your confidence in Christ and his Gospel. Jesus warned his disciples that they would have to face all kinds of trouble. Sickness and tragedy may strike. Friends may let you down. Enemies of your soul may attack. Therefore you have to stay focused in your faith.

St. Paul uses the analogy of the soldier. Soldiers on active service do not expect a safe or easy time. They take hardship, risk, and suffering as a matter of course. These things are part and parcel of a soldier's calling. We have seen the danger that our troops have to face in Iraq. Yet all too often we civilian Christians expect our lives to go smoothly. When we hit a rough patch, and we experience hardship, we start complaining. The Christian who is engaged in a spiritual battle should not expect an easy time. Too many of us are afraid of conflict, and avoid the difficulties of fighting for what we believe, because we don't want to feel uncomfortable, or make others feel uncomfortable. Being a soldier demands the ability to face up to difficult and dangerous situations. Paul is reminding us that we are all soldiers of Christ. We have signed up for service in his army. If we are loyal to the Gospel we are sure to experience opposition and even face danger and injury.

The soldier must be willing to concentrate as well as to suffer. If there is a war on, we must be prepared for inconveniences. We have to check in with the commanding officer, and get our orders for the day from him in our Bible Reading and prayer time so that we don't get confused or muddled in our priorities. If we are to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we must be dedicated to the battle, committing ourselves to a life of discipline, and be willing to endure suffering. We cannot afford to be distracted from our mission in life by other activities. Our mission is to follow the orders of Christ our commanding officer. Many a battle has been lost by indiscipline and dissipation in an army.

After the battle of the Alamo, in February 1836, in which 600 Mexican soldiers had been killed or wounded (one third of the assault force), Santa Anna divided his troops into three contingents. He set out at the head of 700 troops intent on capturing the Texian cabinet at Harrisburg. On April 18 he burned Harrisburg and hurried to New Washington. President Burnet and the other Texian officials barely managed to escape. But Santa Anna was pleased with what he had accomplished. He had driven the rebel government off the Texas mainland, severed its communications with its army, and now had only to block Houston's line of retreat. The rebellion was all but crushed. However Sam Houston and his force was following Santa Anna. It was raining. His army covered 55 miles in two and a half days, much of it on empty stomachs and little sleep. They crossed two bayous by raft, swimming, and bridge to gain the sea-level plain known as San Jacinto. Houston's army nestled into the northern tip of a virtual island. To one side stretched Buffalo Bayou, to the other side the San Jacinto River blocked retreat. Just opposite the army lay a placid marshy arroyo called Peggy Lake. Surrounded on three sides by a full-scale swamp, Houston hid his men in a forest of live oaks, dripping gray Spanish moss. A few hours later the Mexican vanguard arrived. Houston was on Santa Anna's front buried among the live oaks, giant magnolias, rhododendrons, and hyacinths, so that it was impossible to read their numbers. With no apparent plan, the Mexican general halfheartedly probed the rebel position. There was an artillery duel between the Twin Sisters and El Volcan, and a skirmish between portions of their cavalry.

The Mexicans set up their camp with their back to Peggy Lake. They spent the rest of the afternoon and all night fashioning a five-foot- high breastwork and braced themselves for an attack before dawn the next morning, April 21. They were ready for Houston's onslaught. Nothing happened. At nine o'clock, General Cos arrived with four hundred reinforcements of green recruits. The sun curled up and through its zenith, and still the rebels didn't make a sound from their forest fortress. Santa Anna ordered his troops to stack their arms and go to sleep. His troops were exhausted from a long night of defensive preparations. With their midday meal over, they retired for a siesta. Santa Anna slept, and his army slept around him. Three quarters of a mile of prairie separated the two armies.

A slave appeared before Houston at three p.m. informing him that General Santa Anna was sleeping and that his camp had delivered itself over to a feeling of confidence and great abandon. Houston hurried to take advantage of the opportunity that presented itself to him, despite the Mexicans' greater numbers. It is not difficult to overcome an enemy that slept and was unprepared to resist. At 3.30 in the afternoon the rebel army assembled and at four o'clock they advanced. The Mexicans had failed to set out pickets. Not a single scout or sentry were positioned to sound the alarm. Most were asleep in camp. The cavalry horses were unsaddled. As if ghosts, the rebels walked upright and invisible through the open field. Within two hundred yards of the Mexican camp Houston ordered the Twin Sisters to be fired at the breastworks. From the first shot to the capture of the Mexican camp, the battle lasted 18 minutes.

General Santa Anna had under his command forces superior in both number and discipline. The defeat was all the more humiliating in the way it was won, the numbers lost, and the defeatist spirit shown by the rest of the Mexican leadership. The next day Santa Anna was captured, and exchanged his life for agreeing to order the rest of his armies out of Texas. His 4,000 troops retreated in the face of less than 1,000 Texians. Santa Anna dissipated his energy, and lost his strength, and Texas. (Texan Iliad by Stephen L. Hardin, Duel of the Eagles by Jeff Long, With Santa Anna in Texas by Jose Enrique De La Pena)

Many a life is lost by indiscipline, spiritual laziness, complacency and indifference. We can dissipate our spiritual energy in getting involved in activities that distract us from following our commander- in-chief's orders. They can cause us to lose our strength and be defeated in the battle of life.

We can dissipate our energy by trying to do too much; taking on too many responsibilities, trying to please too many people, over- estimating our capacities, working too hard. Our strength needs to be conserved for the important things in life, our main task, what Christ is calling us to do. We must remain in charge of ourselves rather than giving control over our lives to others who will use us for their own purposes.

We can lose our strength, and be distracted from our primary calling in life by wasting our time. The old adage that "the devil makes mischief with idle hands" contains a lot of truth. We can fill up our time on earth by one leisure activity after another: sports, hobbies, watching one television show after another, watching one video after another, surfing the Internet, and finding that our mind is being filled with someone else's values and vices.

We can lose our strength in the Lord by spending too much time in company that is not positively healthy in the spiritual sense. "Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Cor.15:33) It is not a matter of cutting ourselves off from people whom we may be called upon to help; but there is the danger that we spend too much of our time talking about superficial things that do not matter very much. You can tell by examining yourself to see whether your spiritual strength is increasing or decreasing. If you find that you are lacking spiritually, that you have lost your edge, that you are not enjoying Christian things as you once did, you should ask where and with whom you are spending your time.

We are to stand at our post; at the position in life that God has given us. We must not desert, or be half-hearted, or uncertain. We must remember why we are fighting - we believe in Christ and his cause of the kingdom of God. We hate evil, and all spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. We fight against the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the people of God. We stand and fight against all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.

We cannot retreat from this stand. There are no backdoors in the spiritual life. We must not look back. We are facing an enemy. We can never entertain even the possible thought of failure. Defeat is not an option for us. We must be self-controlled and disciplined when under attack. We are to fight the good fight of the faith (1 Tim.6:12).

Jose Enrique de la Pena, who served under Santa Anna in Texas, wrote in his personal journal of the defeat of San Jacinto: He quoted the famous French General Turenne: "Beware of underestimating your adversary, for surely this is one of the greatest risks in war." He then went on to write: "But General Santa Anna greatly deprecated an enemy whom heretofore he had vanquished in every encounter when he had dared to show his face. He was over-confident and he communicated this feeling to those under him, giving the enemy an advantage that he could not have had otherwise."

We cannot under-estimate our adversary and be over-confident if we are to stand our ground.

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you." (Philippians 1:27,28)

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of the Interdenominational Amelia Island Plantation Chapel. He is an ordained Episcopal priest.

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