July/August 2011 - Vol. 51

Defenders of the Bulwark

How secure is your family and community from the destructive forces that seek to destroy?

by Don Schwager

When a great earthquake and tidal wave was spotted off the northeast coast of Japan on the afternoon of March 11 2011, a warning went out across the land. A few heard and fled to high ground. But within minutes after the tsunami hit the coast, more than 15,000 people perished. The destructive tsunami waves of up to 38.9 metres (128 ft) swept houses, bridges, roads, trees, and everything else into a massive ruble of destruction. One coastal community survived intact from the full onslaught of the destructive tsunami waves. This city had decided many years previously to build an enormously high bulwark as a protective wall, after they had suffered the destructive force of a tidal wave which caused great damage and loss of life. Their wise mayor had convinced the residents that it was worth the enormous financial cost and sacrifice of great human effort to build a high protective wall for future generations as well. 

Bulwarks in the ancient world were a common strategy for protecting cities and nations from invading forces. The image of a bulwark was used in the Scriptures to describe how God both dwelt with his people and protected them from their enemies. Paul the Apostle described the church as a “household of the living God” which stood strong as a “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Apostle Peter also used the image of a fortified house to describe how Christ called his followers to be joined together as “living stones built into a spiritual house” with Christ himself as the foundation and cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5,6). 

Jesus, in one of his parables, contrasted two kinds of disciples – one who built his house on sand and the other who built his house on firm rock. The house built on sand was swept away when the storms and floods beat upon it, while the house built on rock stood secure and firm (Matthew 7:24-27). Today, unfortunately, many Christians have built their lives on the shaky sands of spiritual indifference, moral confusion, and preoccupation with worldly success and possessions. It doesn't take much to sweep them away from allegiance to Christ and the protection which he provides. 

“We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual army of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Spiritual warfare today
Jesus warned his followers, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The Apostle Paul stated that “we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual army of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The main battle in the universe is not good versus evil, but God versus Satan (1 John 5:19). The Apostle Peter reminds us that “our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:9). John the Evangelist in his first letter declares that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) in order to rescue us from Satan’s power and transfer us to Christ’s kingdom of peace and righteousness (Colossians 1:13). 

Can Christians afford to remain neutral while the enemy, Satan, continues to wage war on God and his people?

The two kingdoms
The Scriptures make clear that there are ultimately only two kingdoms and two banners that determine the course of our destiny – the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, and the standard of Christ and the standard of Lucifer. There are no neutral parties – we are either for one kingdom or the other, we either follow the standard of Christ or the standard of Satan. 

How does Satan wield his power and influence the hearts and minds of people over the earth? He seduces people through lies, deception, and false promises of reward. John the Apostle states that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). John speaks of the “world” as that society of men and women who are closed to God and not following his plan (John 17:11,16; 1 John 2:15-17). 

The spiritual battle lines today
In the spiritual battle we face today, Christ our Captain raises a standard to rally his people to fight and defend the honor of his name and the truth of his gospel. Are we prepared to follow him into battle? Or do we sit in ease in the comfort of our homes while the enemy overtakes our land, schools and media, our cultural and entertainment outlets, our courts, hospitals, and seats of government? 

In a prophetic word to the Sword of the Spirit, the Lord has urged preparation for the spiritual storms and battles that are sure to come.

The storm is rising, the clouds gather, lightning, wind and storm great enough to carry off even the strong, the unprepared, the confused. Where now is the shelter? Where the bulwark, the refuge? Where is the strength of my church when the storm is upon it?

What use is there in building an island of peaceful ease while all around you spiritual war rages? Either I will take your ease from you, and in exchange for it a place in the battle, and with it my everlasting favor, or the enemy will take you from your ease, and give you in return for it punishment and terror. There is no other alternative. You are a spiritual nation at war, and the spiritual war will grow and draw you in, whether you wish to join or not. …Act, train, and live as if you were at war.

Satan’s strategy
Satan’s goal is to bring as many people as possible into his kingdom, and to neutralize or remove anyone who tries to stand in his way. Satan is fiercely determined to not rest until he has won over the hearts, minds, and souls of every person living on the face of the earth today.

Satan is a very powerful master of deceit, and he knows our weaknesses better than we do. He is always looking for ways to gain mastery over our hearts and minds. He deceives human beings and robs them of their spiritual authority and confidence, often working through his human agents (worldly individuals and groups who use their influence and the media to promote a lifestyle and way of thinking which is contrary to the gospel).

If Satan can’t get Christians to join his side, he tries to weaken and neutralize them through intimidation, isolation, and the promise of false rewards. Why do many Christians come under his spell? Because the world is very attractive, many compromise with its ways, yield to the flesh, and fall into Satan’s traps (1 John 2:15-17). Satan uses the world and its powerful tools of propaganda to make good look evil and evil look good (Isaiah 5:20; Psalm 52:3). 

Some areas vulnerable to Satan’s attack 
Strong men and women of God have become a vanishing species today – too few, too intimidated, too distracted, or discouraged. He doesn’t want Christians to exercise moral leadership and spiritual influence in their homes, schools, and communities. Satan will do everything he can to distract and weaken us spiritually, especially in our personal prayer life, in our marriages and families, in our social relationships, and in our communities and churches. Men are genetically wired to protect their families and communities. But something radical has changed in our Western secularist culture. Through intimidation and persecution from the world, Satan has robbed many Christian men today of their rightful authority to govern  and defend their families, communities, churches, and society at large. Too many have abandoned their posts or given up the fight and left the woman to defend their families and communities alone. 

As an inventory of your own situation, ask yourself:

  •  Where am I vulnerable to Satan’s lies and attack? Do I make use of the spiritual wisdom and protection the Lord gives me in his word and through the support of other Christians?
  • Who is the real master of my life? Whose voice do I listen to and obey – the voice of the world, the devil, or my unruly thoughts and passions? Do I regularly read God’s Word, obey it, and allow it to shape the way I think, act, and speak? When I struggle with temptation, besetting sin, and harmful habits, do I seek out the support and counsel of others, especially those in my small group? 
  • Am I spiritually in the right place with the Lord or am I undisciplined, lazy, or distracted with other occupations and interests? 
  • Do I neglect daily prayer and interceeding for my family, community, work, and other responsibilities?
  • Do I nourish and protect my spouse and family spiritually? Do I strive to build a Christ-centered environment for my family? Do I lead my family in prayer, teach my children reverence for God’s Word, and help them grow in Christian wisdom and maturity? Do I protect my children from spiritual and moral harm, teach them to distinguish good from evil, and help them recognize and resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and devil?
One of our key sources of protection is our fellow Christians – our brothers and sisters in the Lord who stand firm in their faith.  The wisdom of scripture attests to this truth: “A brother is born for adversity and a friend helps at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Who do you turn to for support, counsel, and spiritual protection? Do you have a spiritual mentor and a small group you can meet with regularly for prayer, support, and accountability? 

Satan uses pride and shame to keep Christians from living in the light with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Here is some more inventory to help you assess your own personal situation, and to help you move towards greater inner freedom:

  • Do I neglect to pray regularly for my those in my small group, to meet with them regularly, and to come prepared to give some spiritual input and encouragement to help them grow spiritually?
  • Do I allow pride and shame to keep me from sharing honestly and openly with my brothers, especially in areas where I need to be accountable (i.e. care for my spouse and family, stewardship of my time, money, and possessions)? Do I hide my areas of personal weakness and vulnerability to temptation (i.e. irresponsibility in the home, addiction to pornography, excessive drinking or eating)?
  • Am I possessive or protective of my personal time and resources? Am I willing and ready to serve where I am needed in community and to share what I have with others in need? 
God’s strategy for overcoming the enemy
The enemy is powerful and easily outnumbers us. And he tells us that we cannot win back the territory and the lives he has claimed for himself. What chance of success do we have against these odds? Can an outnumbered army defeat a stronger enemy? God has fortunately not left us to our own devices. He fights for us and with us. The Lord's spiritual army vastly outnumbers the forces arrayed against him and his people. A great example of this spiritual reality can be found in the Old Testament in the Second Book of Kings, chapter 6. Elisha the prophet, through his intercessory prayers, thwarts the work of the Syrian army who has come to destroy the people of Israel. 
And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, "Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?" And one of his servants said, "None, my lord, O king; but Eli'sha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber." And he said, "Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him." It was told him, "Behold, he is in Dothan." So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army; and they came by night, and surrounded the city. 

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the city.  And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" He said, "Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Eli'sha prayed, and said, "O LORD, I pray you, open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Eli'sha.  And when the Syrians came down against him, Eli'sha prayed to the LORD, and said, "Strike this people, I pray you, with blindness." So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Eli'sha (2 Kings 6:11-18).

The Lord Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them always, even to the end of the ages and that the enemy would not prevail against them. In our struggle against the spiritual forces of evil we do not need to fear, for those who are with us [the spiritual armies of heaven] are more numerous than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Our spiritual strength, protection, and authority come from God – not from ourselves. 

Shoulder to shoulder
We are not called to fight alone, but to stand united as “one man,” a “band of brothers” who can take back and defend the territory which the enemy has taken from us. 

The Roman phalanx

In any warfare the only sure defense is total protection. What good is a bullet-proof vest if the head is left unprotected, or the back exposed? Ancient Rome equipped their armies with full protective gear. Each soldier wore a full set of armor, including helmet, breastplate, and shin guards, along with a sword, dagger, and shield. 

Soldiers were trained to work and fight in unison, to provide protective covering for one another, and to march together on the opposing army. 

One example of how the Romans succeeded in conquering superior forces was their use of small tactical forces called the phalanx. The Roman phalanx was a tight-knit fighting unit protected on all sides by use of their shields. It was literally a wall of armed men with tall shields – a living bulwark – used for protection and for advancing against enemy forces. When a small phalanx came under attack, it could hold its ground as a protective wall. It could also advance on a much larger force and overtake them. [You can see an example of the Roman phalanx in action in this video clip.] 

The Lord Jesus has not left Christians defenseless against the attacks of Satan and his spiritual forces. The Lord has equipped us with the spiritual weapons needed for today's spiritual combat.

“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 wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10,11).

The armor of God
Paul the Apostle tells us that we can “stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” if we “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10). God gives us all the spiritual armor and weapons we need to “stand against the strategies and tricks of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Paul uses the analogy of a Roman soldier’s equipment to show us how God equips us (Ephesians 6:13-19). 

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:10-19).

Roman soldier fully armed

Are you wearing your spiritual armor? Do you strive to wear the whole armor of God in all the situations that you find yourself in? 

  • Wearing the belt of truth. Do you fight for the truth or do you compromise with the world’s way of thinking? Do you allow God’s word to form the way you think, act, and speak? Does your practice match your speech, or do you say one thing and do another?
  • Breastplate of righteousness. Do you love God’s wisdom and obey his commandments? Do you fight evil with good and strive to root out wrongdoing in your personal life, and in your home and work environment? Do you quickly repent of wrongdoing or do you tolerate sinful habits and worldly ways of thinking? 
  • Shoes fitted with the gospel of peace. Do you share your faith with others and strive to lead them to Christ? Do you strive to live peaceably with all as far as you am able?
  • Shield of faith. Do you fight fear with faith, lies with God's truth, discouragement with hope and perseverance, worldliness and insincerity with godliness and zeal? 
  • Helmet of salvation. Do you protect your mind and heart with the truth of the gospel? Do you love your neighbor – and your enemy as well – and show them kindness, compassion, and forbearance?
  • Sword of the Spirit. Do you believe in the power of God’s word to transform your life, your family, and your community? Do you engage in mission and support it with prayer and confidence that God will use you to speak his word, defend his people, and advance his purpose wherever he places you?

The Medieval walled community of Carcassone, France, was a center of trade and Christian renewal for the surrounding region. It was originally built in the 5th century A.D.

Fighting as a bulwark
For thousands of years fortified cities and settlements not only kept hostile intruders out, they provided centers where people who lived nearby, as well as travelers passing through, could find shelter, medical care, hospitality, vocational training and education. These settlements were also places where poeple could share their goods through trade and commerce. Fortified cities are largely a thing of the past. If Christians are to thrive today, especially in environments that are de-Christianized or opposed to the gospel, then new spiritual bulwarks must be built. Like the Japanese city, we need to be ready. 

I believe that the key to effectiveness of many Christian renewal movements today, such as the Sword of the Spirit, is their understanding of the need to build spiritual bulwarks. This approach not only enables them to succeed in building Christian communities with a strong and vibrant Christian way of life. It also allows them to fight on the front lines of mission, the spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people who are being seduced by the false gods of atheism, hedonism, materialism, and by a false humanism that justifies the sacrifice of unborn children and pain-ridden parents on the altars of Moloch. 

Overcoming the evil one
If we take the whole armor of God, we can be confident that the Lord will place us in the battle where we can take our stand for the truth of the gospel. We can defend our families and communities if we hold to the truth and fight with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelations 3:21-22).
I believe that God wants every Christian – man, woman, and child – to take their shield and sword (the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit) and fight for his honor, for the truth of the gospel, and for the advancement of his kingdom. The victory is assured because the Lord is the Victor, and as we stand united with him, our own victory is assured, as well.

[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.].

Illustration based on the parable of Jesus about the house built upon a rock standing firm against the storm and raging flood waters (Matthew 7:24-27)

The Two Standards
a meditation by Ignatius of Loyola

adapted with comments by Don Schwager

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), a Spanish soldier who converted to Christ after a near fatal battle injury, wrote The Spiritual Exercises, a series of meditations based on the Gospel texts, to help people discern the call of Christ in their personal lives.

In one of the meditations, called The Two Standards, Ignatius paints a vivid picture of two opposing armies and their captains. The first captain is Christ, our commander-in-chief and Lord; the other captain is Lucifer (also known as Satan and the Devil), the mortal enemy of our human nature. Each captain calls the inhabitants of the earth to follow their respective standard, the flag of their army, raised on a pole to indicate the rallying point in battle. 

The deceits of Lucifer
Ignatius sets these two armies in a great field around their respective capitols – Jerusalem and Babylon. These great cities symbolize the two opposing kingdoms – one established by God (Revelations 21:2) and the other ruled by Lucifer (Revelations 18). Ignatius points out the importance of exercising spiritual discernment in order to understand how Satan works on huma beings to win them over to his side. Ignatius explains what kind of spiritual discernment we should pray for:

…Ask for knowledge of the deceits of the bad chief [Lucifer] and help to guard myself against them, and for knowledge of the true life which the supreme and true Captain [the Lord Jesus Christ] shows, and grace to imitate him.

The first point is to imagine that the chief of all the enemy was seated in that great field of Babylon, as in a great chair of fire and smoke, in shape horrible and terrifying.

The second, to consider how he issues a summons to innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through all the world, not omitting any provinces, places, states, nor any persons in particular.

The third, to consider the discourse which he makes them, and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches  – as he is accustomed to do in most cas – that men and women may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.

Following Christ into battle
How does Christ our Lord, the true supreme and good captain, call us to his standard? Ignatius uses three illustrations in his meditation to help us understand how Christ draws us to himself:
The first point is to consider how Christ our Lord puts himself in a great field of that region of Jerusalem, in lowly place, beautiful and attractive.

The second point is to consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons – apostles, disciples, friends, helpers, et alia – and sends them through all the world spreading his sacred doctrine through all states and conditions of persons.

The third point is to consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all his servants and friends whom he sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and  – if his Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them  – no less to actual poverty; the second is to embrace scornful treatment and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. 

So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them be drawn to all the other virtues.

A Mighty Fortress 
is Our God

hymn by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper he amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he.
Lord Sabbaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers
Not thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God's truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.

Éowyn – shieldmaiden of Rohan 
in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings 

Onward Lady Warriors

verse by Blanca Morales

She is dangerous, her enemy says
Her strength is exhausting
Her femininity –  powerful
Her modesty annihilates harm
And her purity defeats all evil

The defender of all innocence
Protector of man's virtue
She can endure great pain
With great amounts of love

Her shield is patience
Her helmet is peace
Her sword is the kindness
With which she kills

She is escorted by the angels
An army of guardians
She is guided by the Spirit
Of Light, Life, and War

Strong and courageous is she
Stepping behind enemy lines
Lighting torches
Brightening darkness
Crushing the enemy's head
With every single act of love

She laughs in the face of evil
She is never frightened.
For a woman of Truth
Has only the Lord to fear

Darkness has a new enemy
Faithful warriors of Heaven's army
Capturing hearts on enemy territory
As she turns doubters into believers

Side by side with the man God made
She will fight to the finish
For her children, her husband, her people
This daughter, servant, princess, warrior
Yearns for the victory of the Father Almighty

Do you not see her eyes glow with fire?
Listen to her heart
It's the drumbeat of war
Marching Onward
She never stops
Onward Lady Warriors

[Blanca Morales is from Florida, US, and is a member of New Jerusalem Community in Miami. She is a freelance writer of religious nonfiction. You can see her blog at http://blamor.blogspot.com]

Soldiers Preparing for War

sung by Servants of the Word
music and words by Stacey Whitfield

Anointed with power by your King. 
Now gird up the loins of your mind 
That you may be fully prepared. 

Go forth now in great confidence 
For you shall not be put down. 

Who is the captain of your army 
Let him ride out ahead of you 
Preparing the path you are to take 
Then riding alongside of you. 

Robed in the strength of your God 
And clothed in the armor he provides 
Is there one to overcome you 
No, you shall not be disturbed at all. 

God alone is your rock 
A fortress for you in time of need. 
And he is the source of your strength 
Without him you could not succeed. 

Know too the love of your brethern 
Let it encourage you. 
For though you go forth from their midst 
Still you remain one with them. 

Go forth now in great confidence 
For you shall not be put down. 
For your God goes forth with you 
You shall not be put down. 

 (c) copyright 2011  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: living.bulwark@yahoo.com