Posts Tagged “Ephesians”

Hi Folks! I initially published this blog in March 2012. It is so appropriate to yesterday’s blog that I wanted to re-issue it – with a bit of updating. Enjoy! Sandy

It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you! (Need a reminder of that? Read yesterday’s blog!)

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry. That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.’”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. There was a high school student in town who knew his mom and dad wanted him to attend the meetings – but he had determined to have none of it. He would not attend. During the meetings, Billy Sunday challenged students to attend and the student became curious. One evening he jumped in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, went to the meeting and sat in the back row.

That man was Billy Graham and he gave his life to Christ that night. He was the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham, owners of that cow pasture where they held that all day prayer meeting.

In June 1994 Billy Graham held his second crusade in Cleveland, Ohio. My Aunt Dolly attended one evening and gave her life to Christ. My Aunt Dolly died earlier this year. She is now with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. Thank you, Edward Kimball.

Trace it backwards, friends, and you see that Billy Graham (and my Aunt Dolly) came to Christ because Edward Kimball allowed God to use him in his fear and ineptitude. As I wrote earlier, Kimball later reported that he felt like his presentation of the gospel to Dwight Moody had been pretty anemic. It might have felt that way in the natural, but God added to it His dunamis power and a miracle occurred. Again, thank you, Edward Kimball for letting God use you to impact eternity.

Edward Kimball obeyed the whisper of God and stepped into the works God had prepared in advance for him to do.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history is full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys, and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham and then my Aunt Dolly. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry. Billy Graham’s grandson is a good preacher in his own right. And let’s not forget about my Aunt Dolly – the people she influenced are no less important than those influenced by Billy Graham. Her children and grandchildren influence those around them to love Christ – including Aunt Dolly’s great grandchildren.

And we can trace all of them back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us (see yesterday’s blog)
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

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On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.

Wow!

The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

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12I want you brothers and sisters to know that what has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News. 13All the palace guards and everyone else knows that I am in prison because I am a believer in Christ. 14Because I am in prison, most of the believers have become more bold in Christ and are not afraid to speak the word of God.
Philippians 1:12-14 (NCV)

It is often challenging to find God in difficult circumstances. There are some Christians who believe that hardships and suffering are never of the Lord. They believe that the hardship is always sent by satan or the suffering would be overcome if we had enough faith. I reject those teachings, not because of my own experiences, but because of passages like this one.

Paul was in prison because he preached the gospel. That counts as a hardship to me. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. That counts as suffering to me. Jesus’ response to Paul’s prayers were “No, I won’t remove the thorn. My grace is sufficient for you to live with it.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In the midst of hardship, Paul was able to not only find God, but to find God’s purposes – to see how He was using Paul’s circumstances. Paul saw that God was using his circumstances in two ways – to bring others to Christ, and to encourage believers to be more bold in their walk with the Lord. And in that, Paul finds the joy of the Lord. Not joy in his circumstances, but joy in the Lord in the midst of his circumstances. And the joy of what God is doing overwhelming exceeds the difficulties of his circumstances.

Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that – to grab hold that truth. He didn’t want the Philippians to be praying prayers of discouragement and defeat (“Oh Lord, we pray for our brother Paul and ask you to encourage him as he labors in the prison. Lord, he’s been there so long…”). No, he wants them to pray bold prayers of victory and thanksgiving. (“Lord we praise you and thank you that you are using Paul’s circumstances to bring jailers to the love of Jesus. Thank you for the boldness of the believers who see Paul’s witness. Lord, may their impact spread beyond the prison to all of Rome.”)

Imagine the impact the two different kinds of prayers have on the pray-ers? One leaves them defeated. The other leaves them trusting and walking in the anticipation of see God’s hand at work in their lives.

I fell into a trap awhile back in which I realized that I was praying the discouraged and defeated prayers of the Philippians. Here’s the notes I made in my prayer Journal:

Every day I pray for wisdom to balance my many competing priorities.

This morning, I realized that I make that prayer in an attitude of anxiety.

Anxiety does not equal faith.

The Lord honors faith.

The Lord is worthy of my faith

I’m changing the words I use and the attitude with which I pray them.

God will provide.

God will enable.

God will guide.

God will rescue.

But if He doesn’t, He is still God. (And what appears to me as not rescuing is simply rescuing a different way from what I am expecting. After all, that’s what the gospel is all about. The Jews expected a conquering Messiah. Jesus came as a suffering servant who died for my sins.)

So today, I take a deep breath, put a smile on my face (a real one, not a plastic one) and I thank God for his direction throughout my day.

Because He has solutions to all of it.

All of it.

Friends, how we pray makes a world of differences in how we live our lives. Paul wanted the Philippians to pray for him with boldness. He wanted them to see the victory that perhaps they weren’t seeing. He didn’t want them to see poor Paul stuck in prison. He wanted them to see God moving in the lives of Paul and those around him and producing miraculous results in the salvation of the jailers and the boldness of other Christians.

Lord, help me see You at work, not my earthly circumstances. Especially when things don’t seem to be going right. And prick my spirit when I forget to be thankful for all those circumstances.

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1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my last blog, I wrote a tribute to my mom. She is an example to me of a person who lives in difficult circumstances but remains thankful, joyful and positive. I ended by saying that she is God’s living example to me of someone who lives Colossians 3:1-4. I had preached on it a week or so ago but mom had been bedridden and unable to attend. Yet upon receiving sad news she did what the Apostle Paul encouraged – she directed her thoughts to things above. Let’s look at the Colossians passage in more depth.

Paul was writing to the Colossians – a city that had once been a thriving, important city but at the time of Paul’s writing was a dying city. Although it was located on a trade route, cities had grown up to the east and west of it and it somehow became overlooked. The population had declined as people moved away to the larger cities where most of the trade was occurring.

If you’ve ever lived in such a place, you know that they are depressed and depressive places – they have seen glory days but are now in decline. Living in that kind of place has a way of seeping into your psyche and it’s easy to become depressed yourself. At the very least, it’s hard to stay positive and creative and hopeful when living in such a place.

It occurs to me that Colosse is also an analogy for many of our lives. At some point in our lives, our “glory days” seem to be over and our health and prospects for an exciting future dwindle. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that God has purposes for us to fulfill in all stages of our lives. Still, there can be times when we are tempted to succumb to the aches and pains that come with aging and there are times when it is easier to let our culture – which worships youth – to seep in and drag us down.

It’s in those times, when Paul’s words to the Colossians are especially important. Paul is saying “It’s time for you to hit the reset button. Your lifes aren’t working quite the way God intended it work – you’re not living in the Kingdom while still here on earth.” Scripture is clear that eternal life isn’t something that we wait to experience once we’ve gone on to be with the Lord. It says that eternal life has come to all who receive Christ. Eternal life is, or at least ought to be, a part of living on earth. With the Lord beside us and the Holy Spirit in us, we can live lives that are full of peace and joy and purpose no matter what our circumstances are. Here’s how Paul put it:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

Paul first gives a reason for hitting the reset button – he begins by saying “Since you have been raised with Christ.”

In other words…you are thinking and acting as if you live here in this city that is declining. I’m here to tell you that you have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms. You are thinking and acting as if the boundaries of your life are related in some way by the limitations of this world. They are not. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6 (NIV)

So, even before you hit the reset button, you need to remind yourself that this place is not your home, you are just passing through on your way to your eternal, heavenly, glorious home.

Now with that firmly planted in your mind – since you have been raised with Christ, Paul says, set your hearts on things above.

Set your hearts on things above.

Hit the reset button on your heart – reset the longings of your heart to things above. We long for things from our hearts. Our minds reasons, our hearts long. Our hearts desire. Desire the things of heaven. Let the things you long for be the things of heaven.

What are those things? What does Scripture teach us about heaven? It’s where God lives eternally. It’s where we will be face to face with God. It’s where we’ll sit with Jesus and reason together. It is where we have a mansion – a home created just for us. It is where our loved ones who have trusted Jesus wait for us. It is where there is no more sorry or sadness. It is where there is no sin or pain. It is where we will understand and fully experience the deep richness of God’s love.

Hit the reset button and set your heart on things above instead of things here on earth. Don’t long for the things of this world, long for the realities of heaven. That’s how the New Living Translation renders this verse: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

Now I realize that’s not always so easy, because this world often seems more real than heaven. This world presses in on us and blocks out the realities of heaven.

The Apostle Paul realized that, too, so he continued, saying that there are two reset buttons we have to push to get our life headed in the right direction. The first, is that we need to set our hearts on things above.

The second reset button is found in verse 2:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)

We are to set our hearts on things above, and we are to set our minds on things above. Our hearts are the center of our longing. Our minds are the center of our thinking. The Apostle Paul is very appropriately telling us to hit the reset button on our thoughts. Set your minds – in other words, center your thoughts – on things above.

Our minds are very powerful muscles. You will find that they are very suggestible and whatever we tend to occupy our mind with, our desires quickly follow. So one big way that we reset our hearts is by resetting our minds. Set your minds on thoughts above and your heart will follow. If you want to long for heaven more, think about what is waiting there for you.

Are you at a place in your life where you have something in common with the Colossians – perhaps your life today doesn’t compare well with the life you once had. If that’s the case, let me challenge you to take the Apostle Paul’s words to heart this week and hit the rest button – reset your heart and mind to things above.

This week, when you wake up each morning, do two things:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And each day at lunch, use your mealtime prayer as a reminder to

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And then again at dinner, before you eat, pray and use it as an opportunity to hit the reset button:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And finally, when you go to bed at night – be sure to be thankful as you

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

Colossions 3 continues:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

You are hidden – kept safe from the worst this world has to throw at you – with Christ in God. He is your protection. He is your safe place. He is also your ultimate reward – if you know Christ, you will one day appear with Him in glory.

Trusting Christ is the first step in living the Kingdom He has given us here on earth. It is the first step in a journey that takes us through our death into eternal life. That journey is made easier when our hearts and minds stay with the One who loves us more than anyone, who protects us, and who leads us home.

I sign most of my emails with the simply closing “Enjoy!” It is my shorthand for “Enjoy God! Enjoy life!” We do that by keeping our hearts and minds on Him. Friends, enjoy!

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Studying the Parable of the Lost Son, in my previous blog we focused on the namesake of the parable, the lost or prodigal son. He is only one of the three main characters in the story. Today I want to study the actions of the father. First, let me repeat the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

It’s important to understand what it meant for the son to ask for his father for his inheritance. It was exceedingly hurtful and humiliating. Many fathers would respond in great anger at such a request. The son was saying “your money is more important to me than you.” The son was disgracing the family. I have no doubt that it was a very difficult thing for the father to hand over the son’s inheritance to him knowing that he would squander it. Yet he did that, perhaps also knowing that the son had to come to his own understanding about life and his father’s love for him.

Verse 20 tells us that while the son was still “a long way off”, his father saw him. I’m guessing that the father had an eye trained on the lane down which the son would return. That throughout his daily life he kept looking, watching and waiting. The father is a picture of our heavenly Father. I love knowing that he watches and waits for each sinner to return. That He hasn’t turned His back on them, but longs for them to return, just as this father longed for his lost son to return. God waits patiently, turned toward so that when we make the slightest move toward Him, He is there.

The lost son’s father was filled with compassion for his son. He wasn’t full of criticism. He wasn’t full of self-righteousness. He wasn’t ready to punish. He was filled with compassion. The son was undoubtedly dressed much differently from when he left. Having lost all his money and having been slopping pigs, his clothing would not have been the same as when he left with his inheritance. But it wasn’t only his clothing that had changed – his demeanor had changed at least as much. He was now defeated. And he was now repentant. And his father was filled with compassion. So much that he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. What a display of affection! What an act demonstrating his love and forgiveness.

And he didn’t stop there. Before the son even finished what I’m sure was his well-rehearsed speech, the father began to direct the servants to begin the celebration.

“Bring the best robe.” – The best robe most likely belonged to the father. He was effectively saying – welcome back, what’s mine is yours.

“Put a ring on his finger.” – The ring was a sign of the father’s authority and he was giving it to his repentant son.

“Put sandals on his feet.” – Servants were not given robes, rings and sandals. The father was making it clear that his son was part of the family.

“Bring the fattened calf. Let’s celebrate!” – The father was expressing his joy. His son was once lost, but now he is found. The father was mirroring the response of all of heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7; see my blog Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.)

Jesus, in telling the story, was teaching about the Father’s love. This is the love the Psalmist wrote about:

10He [God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve….13The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalm 103:10, 13 (NLT)

It is the love Paul wrote about and prayed for the Ephesians:

18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

All of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. God is watching for us to turn. He is waiting to run toward us and…

Put a robe around our shoulders – his robe of righteousness,

Put a ring on our finger – giving us His authority,

Put sandals on our feet – clothing us better than fields of lilies, and

Celebrate!

What a loving, gracious and forgiving Father we have!

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How many choices do you make in a day? Since this is a blog about making choices, I began to wonder that. I did what every connected person does – I googled it. How many choices do people make a day? I found answers that varied from 612 to 35,000. Of course, none of the sites I went to had any documentation to back up their definitively provided answers. One interesting study had scientists following CEOs around for a week. They learned that about 50% of the decisions they made in a week were made in 9 minutes or less.

Great choices…tragic choices…made throughout the seasons of our lives… and most of them made in 9 minutes or less.

2 Chronicles, Chapters 14 and 15 tell the story of the life of King Asa. I was struck by the choices King Asa made and how they changed throughout his life.

The year is 911 BC – 911 years before Christ was born. The nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom called Judah and the southern kingdom still called Israel. In Judah, King Abijah died and his son Asa became king. As we look at Asa’s life we’ll see that while he was King of Judah and he lived a long time ago, the pattern of his life could be the pattern of any of our lives. The choices he faced were different from the choices we face, and yet they were very much the same. There are lessons to learn from Asa, both in what he did well – that is, the great choices he made, and in his failures – that is, the tragic choices he made. So let’s begin:

1When Abijah died, he was buried in the City of David. Then his son Asa became the next king. There was peace in the land for ten years. 2Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the LORD his God. 3He removed the foreign altars and the pagan shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. 4He challenged the people of Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his law and his commands. 5Asa also removed the pagan shrines, as well as the incense altars from every one of Judah’s towns. So Asa’s kingdom enjoyed a period of peace.
2 Chronicles 14:1-5 (NLT)

What was the first statement made about Asa after he became king in that passage? “Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the Lord.” Asa made choices that were pleasing to God. What were those choices?

Scripture says that God gave Asa ten years of peace and during that time, he tore down foreign altars and pagan shrines and he exhorted, he challenged the people to seek the Lord. Asa rebuilt the spiritual foundations of the city. The best choice we can always make is to tear down idols in our lives and build up our spiritual foundations – to seek God regularly, to obey his law and his commandments.

So Asa started his Kingship by making great choices, let’s see what happened next.

6During those peaceful years, [Asa] was able to build up the fortified towns throughout Judah. No one tried to make war against him at this time, for the LORD was giving him rest from his enemies. 7Asa told the people of Judah, “Let us build towns and fortify them with walls, towers, gates, and bars. The land is still ours because we sought the LORD our God, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they went ahead with these projects and brought them to completion.
2 Chronicles 14:6-7 (NLT)

King Asa made more great choices. He first rebuilt the spiritual foundations of Judah, then went on to rebuild the physical foundations of the cities, fortifying the walls, towers and gates of the city.

While doing so, he didn’t do it with an attitude of “look how great we are – look at what we’re building!” No, he acknowledged that “the land is still ours because we sought the Lord our God and he has given us peace on every side.”

King Asa made the choice to live in humility – to acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. He also occupied the time well. He prepared himself and his people during times of peace for times of war that would undoubtedly come. The next verse talks about the great army and weapons he had.

King Asa had an army of 300,000 warriors from the tribe of Judah, armed with large shields and spears. He also had an army of 280,000 warriors from the tribe of Benjamin, armed with small shields and bows. Both armies were composed of well-trained fighting men.
2 Chronicles 14:8 (NLT)

We can learn from Asa’s great choices. During times of peace, we’re to keep busy. We’re not to become complacent or comfortable, but we’re to shore up our defenses, first spiritually – clean house by removing worship of worldly things. It’s easy for the worldly to creep in when things are going well. So when things are going well, we need to make wise choices and clean house spiritually first, then prepare for the battles God has before us. King Asa didn’t spend his afternoons relaxing in his King’s gardens. He spent them preparing himself and his people.

Well, peace didn’t last forever. Let’s continue to read:

9Once an Ethiopian named Zerah attacked Judah with an army of 1,000,000 men and 300 chariots. They advanced to the town of Mareshah, 10so Asa deployed his armies for battle in the valley north of Mareshah.
2 Chronicles 14:9-10 (NLT)

Just as a reminder – Asa had about 680,000 troops armed with shields and swords and he was facing an army of a million men and 300 chariots. Asa’s time of peace was gone. What did he do? Verse 10 said he deployed his troops for battle. Verse 11 continues Asa’s actions:

Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God, “O LORD, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O LORD, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!”
2 Chronicles 14:11 (NLT)

This is perhaps King Asa’s greatest choice – he gave the impossible battle to the Lord. “Help us, O Lord, for we trust in you alone. You are our God.”

We will also face battles in life. Perhaps not literal battles as King Asa did, but battles none the less. We would do well to follow King Asa’s great example and make the same choice – know that the battles belong to the Lord, step up to the battle, but then we turn the battles over to Him. We show up, but we trust Him for the victory.

Maybe our battle is physical – an illness or injury – we pray “Lord, I’m going to the doctor today, but I trust You to heal me.” Maybe the battle is for our provision or for our children’s provision. So we pray “Lord, I’m going to work today, but I trust You to provide for my needs.”

What was the result of Asa’s battle? Verse 12 tells us:

So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians in the presence of Asa and the army of Judah, and the enemy fled.
2 Chronicles 14:12 (NLT)

We serve a faithful God! When we face battles in life, we can trust Him. He is faithful!

Now I love what happens next. The next few verses give more description of the battle and how the Ethiopians were defeated, then the scene shifts to a prophet named Aazriah. Let’s read…

1Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, 2and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The LORD will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you….7But as for you, be strong and courageous, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:1-2, 7 (NLT)

King Asa had just come off a hard battle. Yes, the Lord gave him the victory, but even when we win the battles, we can sometimes get pretty beat up. The Lord knew that Asa needed some encouragement, so He sent someone with a special message for him. A reminder… “Whenever you seek the Lord, you will find Him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for your work will be rewarded.” God will be found by those who seek Him.

Notice that God sent someone to give Asa the message. Do you make yourself available to be the messenger? I believe God has called all of His children to be encouragers. If we’re following God’s heart, we see through His eyes, and we know that this world is a hurting place full of hurting people. He’s given us the special assignment of being those prophets – being those people who build up the body!

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

And that was the result of the message to Asa. Continuing reading:

8When Asa heard this message from Azariah the prophet, he took courage and removed all the detestable idols from the land of Judah and Benjamin and in the towns he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, which stood in front of the entry room of the LORD’s Temple.
2 Chronicles 15:8 (NLT)

Asa had already torn down shrines to false Gods, but now he went even further. He “took courage” and threw away all detestable idols. When we encourage people, it gives them courage to do the right thing.

King Asa continued to exhort the people to follow the Lord, and a few verses later Scripture tells us the results of Asa’s encouragement.

12Then [the people] entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul….14They shouted out their oath of loyalty to the LORD with trumpets blaring and rams’ horns sounding. 15All in Judah were happy about this covenant, for they had entered into it with all their heart. They earnestly sought after God, and they found him. And the LORD gave them rest from their enemies on every side….19So there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign.
2 Chronicles 15:12, 14-15, 19 (NLT)

Asa’s great choices resulted in the people of his Kingdom earnestly seeking the Lord and they led to peace for his kingdom for many years.

One thing to note is that when King Asa made great choices, those choices impacted the people around him. The same is true in our lives. When we make good choices, those around us are positively impacted. When I live my life in a way that pleases God, Phil is impacted by it. My life has more peace and as a result, his life has more peace.

Even more important than that, when I lead a life that pleases God, those around me are encouraged to lead a life that pleases God. Friends, it’s important to put yourself in a place where there are people who love God more than you do! Because being around those people will motivate you to follow God more closely. Make it a priority to (1) be a person who encourages others to follow  hard after Christ and (2) be around others who love God more than you do.

King Asa made some great choices in his life. Unfortunately, that didn’t last through his entire life. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the tragic choices he made.

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Ephesians 5 began a discussion about how we are to live together, not living according to the world’s standards, but living in a Godly way. Yesterday’s blog focused on the first half of the discussion. “Be imitators of God” Paul wrote (verse 1), and “Be very careful then, how you live” (verse 15). In verse 21 he begins to expand on the subject of how we are to live, dealing with very specific relationships. In Ephesians 5:21 through 6:9 Paul provides the following instructions:

  • Submit to one another – not because they deserve it or even because they’re doing the right thing, but “out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). The word translated “submit” is translated more properly in the King James Version as “submit yourself”. In other words, it is a voluntary submission – we choose to submit ourselves, to consider others as greater than ourselves. (If you’ve been following the Resting at the River’s Edge readings, you will have seen this in David’s relationship with Saul. When offered Saul’s daughter in marriage, his response was “Who am I, and what is my family in Israel that I should be the king’s son-in-law?” David exclaimed. “My father’s family is nothing!” (1 Samuel 18:18, NLT) Well, I thought as I read the passage, you’re David, the one who has killed Goliath and has done everything King Saul has asked from playing the harp to killing 10,000. But that was not David’s attitude. David continually submitted to Saul.
  • Wives, submit to your husbands. The same Greek word is used here. It is the wife’s choice to submit to her loving husband.
  • Wives respect your husbands. Showing our husbands respect is one of the ways we submit and it is one of the ways we love our husbands. That means no disparaging him when having lunch with your girlfriends! Build him up in his presence and when he is absent.
  • Husbands love your wives. Paul explains what that means – “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV). While the wife is to treat her husband as lord, the husband is not to treat his wife as if he is her lord. (Remember, the first instruction is to submit to one another.)
  • Children, obey your parents. The word translated obey means to listen attentively and obey.
  • Children, honor your father and mother. This isn’t limited to people of a certain age. Everyone with a father and mother (and of course that’s all of us) is to honor them. In their presence and when they are absent.
  • Fathers, do not exasperate your children. God knows that men and women are different (after all, He made us that way). He knows that generally women are more nurturing and patient with children. So God, through Paul, reminds Fathers to have patience with their children and to train and instruct them with love.
  • Slaves obey your earthly masters. In our culture, that can be applied in the employee/employer relationship. Employees, obey your bosses. When you agree with their decisions and when you don’t. In their presence and when they are absent. Paul tells us to go the extra mile and “serve [our bosses/masters] wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7, NIV).
  • Masters (bosses), treat your slaves (employees) well. Do not threaten them and do not show favoritism.

Well, that covers just about all relationships, and any that don’t fit into these categories fall under the first instruction to “submit to one another.”

The book of Ephesians began with the glorious prayers of Paul, reminding us of our relationship with the Father. It then gives very practical instructions about how to live together in unity. Finally, it ends with Paul’s urging us to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10, NIV). We are to put on the full armor of God – to suit up for the battle to come.

Paul reminds us that all the things he’s addressed in his letter (and we’ve talked about in this blog series) – all these relationship challenges – that’s not where are battle truly is. Those are petty squabbles that we are to work through by submitting by one another. No, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV) Battling those forces requires spiritual armor. It is our spiritual armor that protects us from attacks of the enemy.

Guest blogger Pastor Dan Caudill wrote about our armor in this blog.

We are children of the Most High God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus, called to live a life of love in all relationships. I love how Paul combines spiritual truths and practical advice in this letter to people who were suffering for their faith.

Let’s go live that life. Let’s pray for one another the kind of prayers Paul prayed. Let’s love one another as Jesus loves us. Let’s stay strong as we purposefully put on our full armor every day. Let’s not get so caught up in life that we don’t live it as God would have us live. Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

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A few months ago our pastor preached about how we need to be “pickled” in the Lord –not just dipping a toe in the presence of the Lord, but being fully in it – spending long enough in it to be “pickled.”

Later in the day we went grocery shopping…and my husband had an unusual desire to buy…dill pickles! We bought them, only to find an unopened jar of them in the back of our fridge. Well, we opened this new jar and the pickles were gone in a week.

A few days later Phil and I were leading a Bible study and Phil started talking about pies. As he talked about pies to illustrate some point he was making, I began to think “pies. Yeah, that’d taste really good right now. We’ll have to buy a pie soon.” Well, we resisted the temptation to buy that pie, but God used it to make me aware of how strongly influenced I am by the suggestions and behaviors of others. Within a span of 4 days, hearing about pickles made us go out and buy a jar of pickles, and eat all of them and then hearing about pies made me crave pies.

And if it happens with pickles and pies, you know it can and does happen with other things. Being around people who complain a lot makes me more likely to complain. Being around people who are excited about and motivated to grow their business makes me likely to return to my office more enthusiastic than when I left it. Being around people who are eating a lot encourages me to eat more, while being around people who are being more careful about what they eat encourages me to be healthier in my eating habits. God is showing me how very suggestible I am. And I’m guessing you’re the same way.

Ephesians 5 has something to say about that:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
Ephesians 5:1 (NIV)

I’m to be an imitator of God, not those around me. It’s a good thing to be easily influenced if the One we’re looking to for influence is God.

Paul does end his sentence there. Let’s continue with verse 2:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  
Ephesians 5:1-2(NIV)

“Live a life of love” Paul writes. OK. Sounds like a great ideal. My question is obvious – How? What does living a life of love look like?

Paul answers the question in the rest of the verse – the way we live a life of live is by imitating Christ – by pouring ourselves out as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. When we live a life of love, it will be a life that is both sweet smelling and sacrificial.

  • It will be attractive to others, it will enhance their lives in some way, it will add a sweetness to it – that’s the fragrant offering. It’s beautiful.
  • It will also be a sacrifice. It means dying to self. It means pouring ourselves out for others – often, others who won’t return that love or who don’t seem to deserve that love. But we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide who deserves our love. Christ didn’t say “go and make disciples of those who deserve it…” If He had, none of us would have become disciples because we didn’t deserve it. And I’m guessing it took someone along the line showing us God’s love when we weren’t very lovable for us to truly comprehend and embrace the Gospel. That love is beautiful to the receiver – the fragrant offering. That love is sacrificial, hard work, for the one pouring himself out.

“Behold the kindness and severity of God” Scripture says (Romans 11:22) and I see that in living a life of love – in the sweet fragrance to the receiver and the sacrifice to the giver. Now if you know Scripture, you know that I just misused that Scripture, because in context it’s talking about how very kind God is to those who believe and how very severe His judgment is on those who don’t believe.

But see it applying here as well. God tells us to pour ourselves out – to sacrifice our lives – so that others smell the fragrant offering it is. Behold, the severity and kindness of God.

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.    
Ephesians 5:1-2

We’re not only to be imitators of God, but we’re to become people that influence others to become imitators of God. We’ve already talked about how highly suggestible people are – you talk about pickles and pies and they (I) begin to crave them – we’ll let’s be such visible and strong imitators of God that we influence others, not to buy pickles and pies, but to become pursuers of God.

Ephesians 5 goes on with a long list of behaviors that should not characterize our lives…sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking…behaviors that are an imitation of the world, not an imitation of God. Things that are not sweet smelling or sacrificial. But you know what? These behaviors come naturally to those who live in the world. Because we are highly suggestible people. So Paul continues in his letter…drop down to verse 15:

15Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Live purposefully – be careful how you live – watch your influences and make decisions, don’t just follow the suggestions people put in your mind.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Ephesians 5:17

What is His will? That we live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18

Again, don’t let the world be your influencer, let God be your influencer. Be imitators of God, not the world.

19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:19 -20

Need encouragement in living that sacrificial life of love? Follow the advice in verses 19 and 20. Let what God is doing be so much in the forefront of your mind that you easily talk about His blessings with other believers. Keep your focus on Him by singing songs of praise and thanksgiving throughout the day.

Living a life of love – being an imitator of God’s extravagant love and grace – will make you stand out in a world that is filled with hurting people. Allow your love to be the influence that others imitate.

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There is so much in Ephesians 4 that could draw our attention today, and I’ve been reading it and listening to teachings about it and was beginning to despair a bit. So much good stuff, and so little space (and time, I’m afraid) for blogging. That’s when it occurred to me that what I needed to do was sit back and ask God what was most important for today. Yes, all of it is important, but what is on God’s heart for today’s blog? My attention was immediately drawn to verse 3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)

Paul urges the Ephesians to “make every effort.” He doesn’t write “consider the benefit of.” He continues in the vein of verse 1 in which he wrote “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Part of living worthy of our calling is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It means that we make peace a priority. It’s more important than the person who is right winning. It’s more important than you winning or me winning.

The word translated “make every effort” could also be translated “be diligent”. The word translated “to keep” could also be translated “to preserve”. Be diligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are to be aggressively watchful to protect, preserve and maintain the peace. I like the word “preserve” because it has more of a sense of caring for something – nurturing it and protecting it.

Peace needs that kind of care. It doesn’t come naturally. Division and strife come naturally. Peace must be sought after and preserved. Paul explains why in later verses, but first let’s look at the unity we have. Paul continues in his letter:

4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)

We may look different and we may act different, but we are part of one body (the church) and there is one Spirit who is alive in us. We have all been called to one hope – our glorious redemption in Christ with an eternal home in heavenly realms. We worship one Lord, share one faith and one baptism. Yes, we may practice that baptism ritual in different ways, but each baptism represents a dying to our old self and a raising up with Christ having been cleansed of our sin and made alive with Christ. We all serve one God and Father and He is sovereign over all, through all and in all. That’s omnipresence – He is everywhere at all times. That’s unity and when our focus remains on that unity and our spirit is sensitive to the Spirit which lives in us, we are held together with a bond of peace.

Still there’s a need to make every effort. Because while we have unity, we do not have uniformity. God has gifted each of us differently.

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:7-13 (NIV)

Christ has given each of us a measure of grace and a variety of gifts. The problem with this is that in our sinfulness, we tend to see things through our giftings instead of through God’s eyes. If we are gifted in teaching, we think that the church’s resources (for example) ought to be focused on teaching God’s Word to young disciples. If we are gifted in evangelism, however, we think the church’s resources ought to be focused on the lost. Throw apostles and prophets and pastors into the mix and you have a church board meeting that easily turns from keeping the bond of peace to keeping their portion of the budget intact (and growing).

But God has apportioned the gifts for a purpose – “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. All gifts are required for that to happen. If we become so focused on our own gift that we diminish others, we disrupt the unity of the body and we damage the body’s ability (and our own ability) to be built up, become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We are no longer living a life worthy of our calling. Even if we are called as an evangelist, if we diminish the other gifts, we are no longer living a life worthy of our calling because that calling is first and foremost to mirror Christ, to become like him.

We have skipped over verse two so far. Let’s look at it now in two translations:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Ephesians 4:2 (KJV)

Although we are called to use our gifts, we are also to be humble (lowly) and gentle (meek), patient (longsuffering) and bearing with one another in love. The Bible describes two people as being meek – Jesus and Moses. Our definition of meekness and the historical definition must be radically different. We tend to think of meekness as timidity. Scripture uses the word differently. It has more to do with gentleness than timidity. It is a humility, not a fearfulness or shyness. When Paul encourages us to be meek, he is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

Patience means putting the needs of others before our own needs. It means that my agenda isn’t more important than your agenda. Longsuffering means we don’t expect or require that our priorities or needs be met instantly. We wait patiently. We don’t get angry quickly. We place love as a higher priority and bear with one another. Again, Paul is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

As we mirror the attitudes and behaviors of Christ while using the gifts He has given us, we maintain unity of the body.

Friends, let’s make every effort to reflect Christ to one another.

There is so much more in this chapter. In preparing to write this blog, I found this three-blog series that I wrote about this chapter about a year ago. Click on the links below for more on Ephesians 4:

Worthy. Who Me?

Live Worthy

Live Worthy, Part 2

Let’s live a life worthy of our calling!

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I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

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