Do I Fit the Ephesian’s Pattern?

Paul stayed with the church in Ephesus for three years, teaching them all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, during a time when most believers only had an apostle or disciple come to teach the way of salvation for weeks or a few months at most. History says that John the beloved disciple stayed at Ephesus for an equally long time. What a privilege! To have two outstanding apostles teaching and preaching for several years, one would think that later the Ephesian church would be a shining example to all others.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. In Acts 20:29-30 (see verses 18-38 for context) Paul warns the leaders of this church about those who would come in to lead the believers away from God. We read in Revelation 2:1-7 the history of the Ephesian church, not that many years after John was there. Christ commends the church for their hard work, patient endurance and not tolerating those who are evil. Then He said, “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first” (verse 4, New Living Translation). Then Christ warns them to turn back and love Him wholeheartedly.

How many of us are in this same position? We’ve had good biblical teaching but suddenly we find ourselves too busy with matters of everyday life? Possibly soon after our salvation, we were excited to share the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness. Possibly we poured over the Bible, eager to learn more; joy filled our heart. Now all that has somehow leaked out and we still go to church, but it’s not as life-giving as it once was. If this fits our situation, be encouraged because our Father always gives us another opportunity to return to loving Him with our whole being. When we determine to turn back to our first love for Christ, we’ll find more blessings than we can imagine.

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Receiving God’s Love

God, I don’t really know how to approach You, but a person told me You loved me. Really loved me so much that You gave up your Son on my behalf. Now that’s really hard to believe! I mean, I’m not a good person, so why would You love me or do anything for me?

I’ve been in a deep, deep pit for most of my life. Wanting out but not even knowing how to try to get out. It seemed the harder I tried, the deeper I went. I can’t imagine anyone doing me any favors. No one ever has, so why should You?

But this person told me Jesus loves me and actually suffered all your hatred of my wrong ways, and now I’m free to have a good life, if I only believe that Jesus did this for me. Not only that, but I can become your child. Seems strange for an adult to become someone’s child, even God’s. I didn’t even know my own parents, and my childhood certainly wasn’t something I’d want anyone else to experience.

God, I don’t quite understand all this, but I’m trying. I do believe what I was told that Jesus suffered all your fury for all the horrible things I’ve done. I want to become a different person, a person who can do good for others. I don’t know how I could do anything good for someone; but the person who told me about you, said that I’d find things I could do that would help others. I’d like to be that way – helping people instead of all the evil I’ve done in the past. God, forgive me for all that stuff!

I’ve been rotten and don’t see how anybody could want me, much less You, God. But that’s what I was told, and something happened in my heart at those words. Somehow, I believed them, and they made me smile. I haven’t smiled in a long, long time. I can’t explain it, but something happened, and all the heaviness, anger and bitterness just melted away. Why, I feel like a new person; almost like a little baby just finding out what’s happening in the world and how to adjust to it. Just learning how to be loved, not by a person, but by You, God. Amazing!

Thank you, God, for doing whatever You did to make me feel this way, to give me this joy and this newfound hope. Thank You that Jesus suffered all your wrath over my evil deeds, so I can become a person who’s able to talk with You, to have a relationship with You. God, You are awesome! I just realized that if I’m your child, then You are my Father. What an amazing idea! I’ve never had a father, and now the God of all the universe is my Father. I’m so thankful for this person who told me about You because You have changed my life. You made me a new person, and I love You. I just discovered that: I love You because of what You have done for me. Thank You, Father! Thank You, Jesus!

My Thanksgiving

Father, I thank You that You have already won all my battles. I praise You for the victories over disease, lost jobs, lack of finances. I thank you for salvations and renewals of love for You. I thank you for new heavenly births.

I thank You for so many blessings You’ve given me. And for the faith to believe You and the rewarding of my tiny faith, growing it into mountain-shaking faith. Father, I thank You that nothing is impossible with You.

I thank You for your amazing love. That love carries me through hardships and good times alike. That love flowing out of me returns double-fold to You, for it teaches me to love You more. That love fills me until it overflows to those around me.

Lord, open their eyes to see Jesus in me, not for my honor but for your glory, Father, so that what they see in me, they will hunger for themselves.

Father, they don’t know your love. They are lonely, fearful, hurting and lost. They need You, holy God. Here I am, Lord, use me to show them your Son. Open their eyes, holy God. Open their eyes, I pray.

Understanding the Spiritual Armor

When I first put on the spiritual armor, I had trouble remembering the order, so I learned the pieces from head down and used that way for a while. Then one day I wondered why it was listed in such a seemingly disconnected way. That’s when my Father whispered in my mind that He has a reason for that process. As I thought about this, I began to understand that reasoning and have put it on correctly ever since.

God led Paul to write about the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-18 after telling these believers in Jesus Christ how to live a life pleasing to Him. Paul, being a prisoner in Rome, knew he’d never see them again and so wanted to help them as much as possible. Most likely, Paul intended this letter to circulate to all the churches in the area. This and Philippians are my favorite letters of all those Paul wrote. Ephesians tells us in chapter one where our spiritual standing lives and how blessed we are. Stuffed full of golden nuggets, we do well to study this book repeatedly. Chapter six gives us final instructions for living a genuine Christian life and at the end tells us how to fight all Satan throws against us.

Ephesians 6:10-12 (New Living Translation* – NLT)  Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

 Here Paul tells us that our troubles aren’t caused by people but by the spirits and powers ruling those people. When one becomes a Christ-follower, Satan realizes that person is a threat to him and his kingdom, so he starts to attack that one in various ways. That doesn’t mean non-believers don’t have problems also because Satan’s whole aim is to “steal, kill and destroy.” Jesus calls our enemy the thief in John 10:10 and uses these words to describe him. But Jesus goes on to say that He came to give us a satisfying and rich life [not necessarily rich in money or material possessions, though some Christ-followers are] (NLT). That’s what makes following Jesus such a wonderful blessing. Next Paul describes the spiritual armor that protects us from the assaults of Satan. Then, we’re to stand strong even through the assaults. Christians become stronger through the warfare we endure, but our aim centers on standing for Jesus, no matter what. Without this armor, we cannot stand.

 Ephesians 6:13-17 (NLT):   Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17 (The Message Bible** – MSG):   Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. 14 Truth, righteousness, 15 peace, 16 faith, 17 and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. I really like this version because it’s so succinct, telling us exactly what’s what.

How do we wear the spiritual armor?

We’re to wrap ourselves in the truth of God’s word, which is the first piece of armor we must wear. Why? Because if we don’t know the truth, the other pieces can’t help us. When the Holy Spirit breaks through to our spirit that Jesus really is the Son of God and that His blood shed so long ago will forgive our sins, then we confess them and turn away from them and start on the path as a child of God. (Please note, salvation only begins with this first step; our full salvation continues as we grow closer to the Lord in this life and finds fulfillment when we arrive in heaven.)

The breastplate of righteousness comes in and gives us that right standing before God, so we can enter His presence and talk with Him. This piece goes over our heart and gives us encouragement to live a godly life daily.

We need these and the other pieces of spiritual armor all the way through our lives because the devil will always try to turn us from the truth of God’s Word. That’s not meant at all to be discouraging but simply states the fact that we do have an enemy who doesn’t want us to follow our Lord.

Next we put on the shoes of the peace that comes from knowing and acting on the Word of God. When we become a believer in Jesus Christ, we receive peace from God because all our sins are forgiven. Afterwards, we’ll find that peace disappears if we stray from God’s way, so we must go back and confess that wrong against God and others; then we’ll regain that peace. This peace also helps us be at peace with other people because once we learn of our Father’s great forgiveness towards us, then we’re enabled to forgive others. For more on God’s peace, please read Philippians 4:6-8 below. I think describing this peace with shoes is important because it indicates that this special inward peace goes with us, no matter what circumstances we face. Paul was in prison when he wrote about this wonderful peace and contentment from God that remains always with us (see also Philippians 4:11, 13 and 19.)

Philippians 4:6-8 (NLT):  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Graham Cooke, a godly author and speaker, calls negative thinking “the worship language of the devil” because that’s what he wants us to do. Negative thinking gets us depressed and almost giving up on God. That’s why Paul tells us to keep on thinking about all the goodness of our heavenly Father. Not that we deny earthly problems, but  we realize our circumstances are governed by a God who loves us so much that He gave His own Son to die for us. Unless they were fighting in a war for our country, I seriously doubt I’d ever let one of my sons sacrifice his life for someone who didn’t even like us; yet, that’s exactly what God did! Romans 5:8 (NLT):  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

We take up the shield of faith, which grows larger the more we involve ourselves in Bible study and prayer. Our faith is only enough to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior when we first become a Christian but as we follow our Lord, it grows. We’ll never not need that faith because Satan will always try to discourage it, as the Word says, by throwing those flaming darts of doubt, confusion and lies. That shield is stronger than he is, though, so we can stand faithful as long as we remember that fact. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that the Holy Spirit who lives within us is greater than the devil who rules the world. The Bible goes on to tell us that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Faith starts at the beginning of our Christian life and goes through till the end. In Luke 18:8 Jesus asks when He returns, will He find faith on the earth?

The helmet of salvation operates best with all the rest of the armor. We cover our heads (indicating our minds, wills and emotions) guarding them against all doubts and lies Satan and the world in general try to throw at us, but we must know the truth to effectively protect ourselves or others when we’re talking with them. When we’re believers in Jesus Christ, we experience a relationship with Him. Being a good person, joining a church or following a certain religious doctrine doesn’t make us a believer. Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship with our Lord.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This sword only works if we have an experiential knowledge of the Bible. That means we’ve walked with God and can put His Word into practice. We don’t simply read the Bible as we would another book. Jesus used the sword of the Spirit to defeat Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and we’re to do the same thing.

Why is the last piece of the spiritual armor the Word of God? Because everything we think, say or do must be checked by the Bible. It’s the controller of what is and isn’t good for us under God’s leadership. Yes, there are gray areas that aren’t mentioned, things that weren’t even possible during Bible times. For example, television and the internet supplies both spiritual food and spiritual death. Some things remain neutral. When we wear the rest of the armor, we can easily tell which is which. Does what we see build us up spiritually or tear us down? Does it meet the test of Philippians 4:8? If we want to discern the difference, we can. Jesus defeated Satan by using the Word of God and so can we.

James 4:7-10 (MSG):  So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. 8 Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. 9 Hit bottom and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. 10 Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

The Final Act

 Ephesians 6:18-20 (NLT)  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. 19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Why do we put on and keep on this armor? To protect us from all that the enemy of our souls throws at us. And even more than that, it prepares us to pray as the Holy Spirit leads us to pray not only for ourselves but for other believers – those we know and those around the world. We also pray for those who do not yet know our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

We must support ourselves and keep our hopes high in the Lord. Likewise, we must support each other because all of us experience days that discourage us and need a special word of encouragement at that time. Long ago, I learned that when someone’s name came to mind, to pray for that person. This happened several times with the same lady, so I started calling her then to see how things were going. Each time, she needed prayer about something. I learned then to always pray, no matter where I was, when I suddenly thought of someone, especially if they weren’t usually on my mind’s radar.

If we keep up with Christian news, we know many believers in numerous countries are persecuted, jailed or killed for being Christians and spreading the gospel.  It’s our responsibility as free people to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who miss this freedom. We pray for their safety but also their courage and strength to stand strong during persecution. We also pray for the persecutors because they don’t know Jesus as their Savior. We can pray that either by their captive’s witness, through dreams or other ways that they too will accept Christ. Jesus always cared for those who don’t know Him and still does.

Matthew 9:36-38 (NLT   He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Thus, it’s our job as believers to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks and to pray for other believers, whether we know them or not. As well, our duty and privilege call us to pray for those who don’t know Him that they will accept Christ as their Savior. One way Paul mentions he needs prayer is that he will be bold to say exactly what needs to be said. He doesn’t suggest they pray for his quick release, as I probably would, but I’m not sure I’d pray for boldness to witness when it would likely cost me more persecution. Responsibilities come with being a Christian – to others and especially to our Father who loves and gives us so very much. Will we continually wear our spiritual armor and pray for ourselves, for others and for those who don’t yet know our Savior and Lord?

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*   Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

**  THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. l rights reserved.

***  I use these modern Bible translations because they are easier to understand for people whose first language may not be English because this goes on my blog, with many readers whom I don’t know.

The Batter

Imagine that you are the last batter in the last inning of a baseball game. Already.  your team has two outs and the bases are loaded. If you can make a home run and bring in those four points, your team wins. Otherwise, it loses. What a responsibility!

In the reality of eternal life, each Christ-follower stands at that place. While we will not lose our destiny in heaven, all those on the bases who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will spend eternity in hell. What an overwhelming responsibility! Yet, if we are willing, the Holy Spirit will use each of us to help show the joy of Jesus to those who do not know Him. Our only responsibility is to obey what our Father asks us to do. We speak when we’re led to speak, we live a life that witnesses to what we say, and we pray for those who do not know our Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Continue reading

Blue-Eyed Grass, Part 2

blue-eyed-grass 

Looking closely at a blue-eyed grass flower, you notice how complex it is: inward from the outer three leaves with their notches is the light blue or violet flower-like part, then comes the deep purple, and finally the three yellow stamen. All this for a flower that’s only about one-half inch across. While it can grow taller, those I most often see are less than six inches. That’s a lot for a flower that’s often inconspicuous. Continue reading

The Apple Tree

For his birthday, our son gave my husband a small apple tree about twenty years ago. Because of similar climate, the person who sold it recommended a green apple from Israel. We watched it grow, hoping it wouldn’t be too long before we had delicious apples to eat year round, since it should produce several different times. When apples started growing, our expectations grew – a bit longer and we could pick our own instead of buying them at the store. Continue reading

Going Deeper in the River

If you had grown up in Galveston on the Gulf Coast like I did, you would have gone to the beach often as a child. We still live near Galveston and our grandchildren have enjoyed going to the beach and playing in the water. Often my husband and I simply drive there and watch families take their small children wading so that the water comes up only a little ways. Older children go in deeper, of course, and surfers like to go still further out to ride the waves into shore. Shrimp boats certainly aren’t within swimming distance but are easily visible, while the oil tankers and container ships are out very deep so they are barely seen on the horizon. I thought of this last week while I was reading in the book of Ezekiel. Continue reading

Part 6: Sardis

 

Revelation 3:1-6: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

      4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Continue reading

Part 5: Thyatira

Revelation 2:18-29“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, I will not impose any other burden on you: 25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.

26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — 27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ — just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Continue reading