Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ephesians 4:7-10

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,
        “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
         and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Many people perceive Christianity as a list of rules to follow in an attempt to appease God. It is true that there are many commands in the Bible about how to live a holy life that pleases and glorifies God. But remember that we cannot really “do good” for God, but He can “do good” through us. And any good in our life is but a natural outgrowth of what He has done for us. Christianity is not about what we can do for God, but what He has done for us. Christ’s gift of forgiveness to us is unmerited and cannot be earned. As believers we also receive both individual spiritual gifts as well as the fruit of the Spirit.

The quoted passage comes from Psalm 68, a psalm that probably referred to the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Sukkoth), God’s presence at Mt. Sinai, the conquer of Jerusalem through God’s power, and God’s protection of Israel against their enemies. 68:18 is an image of God ascending the hill of victory carrying the spoils of victory and the enemy captives with Him. He had set the Hebrew captives free and brought them back to Israel. Paul’s letter reveals that this is a prophecy of Jesus and His victory over Satan, death, and Hell.

Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His followers for 40 Days after his resurrection. To say he ascended assumes that he once descended to earth from heaven at the incarnation. Although this particular text is not indicative of it, during the three days His body lay in the tomb he also descended into Sheol to set the righteous captives free (1 Peter 3:18-21; 4:6). All the righteous who had died before Christ’s sacrifice could not be resurrected until redemption was completed on the cross of Calvary. He descended into the grave to lead that host of captives into freedom as well as proclaim to the enemy forces that what they had seen as a victory was actually their defeat!

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:15

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ephesians 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We meet on different continents, speak different tongues, worship with different styles of music – but none of this truly separates us. The individual local church bodies that follow the “one Spirit” are united into the body of Christ. True ministers of the gospel will seek to unite us, not schism and split. Despite doctrinal differences we all look to our hope in the resurrection of Jesus.

We have one Lord and we profess one faith. We baptize in different ways, so the third one is tricky. At the time Paul wrote he would have referred to baptism at the time a person came into the faith. (My belief from studying scripture is in immersion at an age of understanding, but let’s not get into that.) Regardless of whether you "sprinkle" or "dunk", baptize infants or adults, receive confirmation at a prescribed age or when you feel a call, the point is that we are baptized into one Spirit. The essential thing is not the mode but that at some point you are consecrated to God through faith. It is not a one time deal, either. Christianity is a process by which we are continually conformed into the image of Christ. It is daily walking with God being led by His Spirit. You cannot simply experience some sort of water baptism and count yourself checked off God's naughty list.

We have one God, a distinction that tied the church to its Jewish past in opposition to the polytheism rampant in the Ephesian culture. As believers witness through word and deed to the world around us we must show unity and work together for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

You may say, “But Carol, when I look at the world today I see denominations and sects, arguing and infighting in many parts of Christianity.” And to some extent you would be right. But imagine if we lived out the characteristics in the previous verses: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and diligence in preserving the unity of the Spirit. How could we not be drawn together?

Remember Jesus’ prayer: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21)

Whenever the world evaluates itself it sees discord. The point is this. if in the midst of all of this disunity and all of this lack of peace and all of this lack of love there is a community of people who are totally in love with each other, who are totally one, who are absolutely united then somebody's going to have to recognize that that's not a human institution, see?

Because human institutions don't have that. And they're going to say, then these must be of a supernatural source... Where there is discord and friction and factions and fighting and disconnection and a lack of peace the world sees us as just another human institution, and they have every right to make that evaluation.

How do you get church unity? One Christian at a time, one at a time committed in his heart to walk worthy, to balance his life with his theology… You know what I believe? I believe if all Christians were right with the Holy Spirit we wouldn't have any discord, it would purify our doctrine to start with, secondly it would purify our relationships, only one body.
- John MacArthur

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ephesians 4:1-3

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“Therefore” refers directly back to the first three chapters. Because God has provided us unmerited salvation and drawn both Jew and Gentile together into a united dwelling place for God, we should live like the people we have become. Remember that Paul sees himself not as the prisoner of Rome, but as the prisoner of the Lord. He gave up his freedom to “do his own thing” when he made the choice to follow Christ. From that point on he strove to walk in a manner worthy of his calling. The he describes the characteristics found in such a walk:

Humility: Humility is a tricky thing. Just when you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. But humility is not a self-debasing act - you are a child of God endowed with inherent value. Rather it is realizing that you have no more worth than any other person on the planet. It means you are not the authority in your own life but rather submit your will to the will of the Father. Humility leads us away from materialism and loneliness towards submissively meeting the needs of others. If we all lived in humility and love no one would have unmet physical or emotional needs.

Gentleness: Gentleness is not weakness, it is power controlled. Jesus constantly exhibited this trait. At the snap of a finger he could have annihilated his enemies, but he confronted them with truth instead. Followers of God should never manipulate circumstances toward an outcome. God’s will unfolds as we follow him and speak his truth in gentleness to those around us.

Patience: (Yikes – this is a trait that God has been working on in me for years.) Patience is waiting on God’s timetable rather than trying to run the show ourselves. It is replacing our carnal tempers with spirits that not only “roll with the punches” but calmly teach God’s truth to those around us, no matter how often we must repeat ourselves. I long to model my motherhood after the way Jesus taught his disciples. He never lost his cool with his followers. He taught his disciples over and over again, overlooking the fact that they didn’t catch on and often got the wrong impression.

Showing tolerance (forbearance): This trait goes hand in hand with patience. If you are patient you are able to show self-control, rather than the inclination to smack someone you deem idiotic, scream at your spouse or children, or mouth off to a parent or superior. In the spirit of agape love we commit ourselves to benefit others rather than ourselves.

“Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another” (JBPNT). Unity inherently exists in Christ as we live in the spirit. Unity is shattered when we seek our own gain and accolades. Unity exists when as his disciples we show love one to another. This video says it better than I can:  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ephesians 3:20-21

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

When I consider how much I ask of God, it’s amazing to contemplate that he is able to do “superabundantly” more than what I ask. It would be amazing enough to receive even what I ask – healing for others, patience in my own heart, wisdom, etc. (Of course I am usually asking the wrong questions.) Among Jesus’ last words to his disciples are that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. We have the same power working within us that healed the sick and raised the dead! Do our lives reveal the working of an omnipotent God?

Imagine if we drew on His strength instead of drawing on our own strength when making plans or maneuvering through a busy day. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. When we admit that we cannot effectively live our lives through our own strength we find true strength in Him. Then He will receive the glory for the work done in and through us. We become a visible doxology to God.

You say, "But why would God... want me to be so powerful?" The answer is in verse 21... in order that He might display His glory through the church... When we run around saying we belong to Christ, we belong to God, God is our God, our God is a mighty and a powerful and a saving and a transforming God and we have these weak vacillating lives... people assume that either our God is lying about who He is or we're lying about who He is? Somebody is not telling the truth. The world looks at the church, what do they see? Power? No. Weakness. What do they conclude? That God is powerful? No. Those are His people, take a look at them. He wants glory in the church. I think obviously not only in eternity where He'll get it but in time as well, to all generations forever and ever, starting now and on forever. He wants glory. Unto Him be glory.
 - John MacArthur

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ephesians 3:19

Ephesians 3:19 (ESV) – and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

This prayer is not for cerebral or secondhand knowledge, but that the believers would truly and personally comprehend the love of Christ. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The immensity of redeeming love surpasses knowledge and can only be known through experience. Whitney Houston was a great singer, but “learning to love yourself” doesn’t come close to touching the real “greatest love of all.”

The experience of true believers goes beyond mere religion. We are filled with the supernatural fullness of God and the fruit of the Sprit. We can be so filled with God that there is no room for sin to gain a foothold in our lives.

Now when it says you are filled up with the fullness of God, it doesn't mean you become God. It simply means that the essence of who God is in His glory is going to be filling your life. If I go down to the Pacific Ocean, I take a little glass and I scoop up some of the ocean, it wouldn't be proper to say that the entire Pacific Ocean is in my glass because there's much more. It is vast and vastly beyond my glass. All of the ocean is not in my glass but… the ocean is in my glass. The essence of what it is is contained there. And all of the vast infinity of God is not in me but what God is by virtue of His nature is in me. And I become like Him, moving, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it, from one level of glory to the next to the next to the next. – John MacArthur

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ephesians 3:18

may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

When we dedicated my son at church we had to submit a Bible verse for his life. This was the key verse of the passage we chose for him. So when I read this passage it choke me up, especially if I read to my kids from the children’s book I Love You This Much. It’s also the passage I usually pen on the cover page of the high school graduates’ Bibles. My fervent prayer is that they can comprehend the love of Christ because this alone will change their lives!

The breadth of the love of Christ embraces all mankind; its length is from everlasting to everlasting; its depth saves those who are sunk into the depths of sin and misery; its height raises them up to heavenly happiness and glory (adapted from Wesley & Henry). The only way to comprehend a love of this magnitude is to experience it for yourself by living a life rooted and established in His love.

The longer I walk with God, the more I understand this love. Yet the more I understand it, the more it surprises me. I see Him work through evil situations, turning them for His glory. I see him change the hearts of believers toward His passions. As he opens my eyes to see more clearly the world as He sees it the love in my heart and burden for the physical needs of others grows immeasurably. The greater my comprehension of His love, the greater my love for Him and His creation.

I pray that we can have the power to grasp the magnitude of His love and that it would change our lives to reflect this love to a world in desperate need!

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ephesians 3:16-17

that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

The troubles of this world can destroy our inner being, steal our joy, and disable us for the Lord’s service. But the riches of the Lord are immeasurable. If He gives to us out of His riches we can trust that all we need will be supplied. We will be strengthened beyond human comprehension - able to withstand any trial. “We are the possessors, says Paul, of the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. The great and almighty God of the universe has set His affection upon us and then given us His redeeming love in Christ, drawn us into His own family and poured out all the full riches of the inheritance of His mercy on us. We are rich beyond imagination. Our resources are limitless. We are more than conquerors. Life in time and life in eternity will bring before us thrilling fantastic fulfilling and utterly comprehensive riches from the goodness of God” (MacArthur).

At the moment of salvation Christ enters your heart, so you may wonder why Paul would pray that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians’ hearts. The Greek for dwell here is atoike, which means to settle or inhabit. It is not a matter of salvation but a matter of whether or not He can actually be at home there. Can he rest in your life or does he have things to fix? There’s a big difference between being in a house and being at home. John MacArthur posed the question to his congregants, “Is Jesus comfortable in your heart? Is He at home there? Or is He always up fussing with something?" It’s like your parents coming to visit. If things aren’t exactly the way they should be your mom might spend the trip cleaning your kitchen while your dad makes needed home repairs. But if things are together you can all have a nice visit in the living room. Jesus isn't satisfied if you have even one small closet in your heart that needs to be cleaned out.

If we are rooted and grounded in love then what will grow from our hearts will be have its roots in love. Our natural inclination will be to speak words that build up, not tear down. We will long to see others come to know Christ more deeply in their lives. We will begin to see the world around us through the eyes of God. Out of the overflow our our hearts, our mouths speak.

The Christian world of today... is woefully and abysmally ignorant about the resources that are available in Christ. Christians... chase around in every direction madly trying to find the solution to life's problems when they have them resident if they're genuinely Christians in the indwelling Christ. We need to understand that. And we need to apply it.
- John MacArthur

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ephesians 3:14-15

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,

In repeating his opening phrase, Paul ends his explanation of the great mystery of God bringing all people together into the body of Christ and resumes his original prayer. “I bow my knees” indicates his humility; at the time most prayers were delivered standing.

No matter what our nationality, language, or even whether in heaven or earth, we all have the same name. We are all Christians – “little Christs” – and we all have one Redeemer & are one family. (Many commentators suppose “heaven” may refer to angels. Although angels cannot be “Christians” or experience salvation, they are part of the same community with the Trinity at the head of the family.)

About these verses John Macarthur said, “Inner strength... begins here… Paul starts by saying, ‘For this cause, I bow my knees unto the Father…’ [B]ecause of who you are, because of your resources, because of the specs of your Spiritual engine, because you have so much capacity, because you are who you are, because you have available to you all that is available, because of this position in Christ, I pray that you'll get turned on. There's nothing worse than a Christian with all this power just sitting there. It's got to get going, that's what he's saying, ‘I'm praying to the Father, the Father of whom the whole family in Heaven and Earth is named, our Father.’ And he's talking about the Christian family, ‘the church triumphant’ that's with Christ and ‘the church militant’ that's alive on Earth.’ The whole family of God has a common Father, and it's to that Father that I bow the knee to pray for you." Paul prays for us.

“You know, Paul prayed a lot for the believers. And he always prayed for their Spiritual needs, not their physical ones. And what he's concerned about here is that they would really know the fullness of the power of God...that they would see released in their lives that power that God can use to do ‘exceeding, abundantly above all they can ask or think.’”

I pray that your engine is turned on today through the power of God!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ephesians 3:12-13

in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

Before Christ’s death, only the high priest could enter into God’s presence. He could do this only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, after performing many elaborate cleansing rituals. He would enter humbly, wearing only a linen ephod rather than his normal ornate vestments. The Holy of Holies was shut off behind a maze of thick veils, and it would be impossible for even other priests to catch a glimpse of the inner sanctum. It would be a radical idea to Jews of the time that one could simply enter into the presence of God with boldness and full access to His throne. But through the atoning blood of Christ we are fully cleansed from sin and can therefore approach and commune with the Holy One.

After expounding on God’s rich blessings to the world through his mercy and wisdom and how amazed he was that God would use him to spread the gospel, Paul encouraged the believers not to be discouraged by his current situation. He counted all things as loss for the sake of Christ. He knew that some might see his chains and turn from belief in Jesus, but instead Paul saw his imprisonment as a way to further the kingdom of God, especially among the Gentiles. Some preachers today talk about how God wants to bless you with worldly gifts and a life of ease. This is completely unbiblical. God wants to transform you into the image of Christ. He wants to sanctify you and help you grow. Usually this only happens through trials. Paul used his trials for the glory of God, and I pray that we can do the same.

It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling. What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens. –Chip Brogden

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ephesians 3:10-11

so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

I’m hooked on the new show Person of Interest. The basic premise is that there is a machine tracking phone conversations, emails, and every wired video camera in America so that it can predict acts of violence. You are being watched. It’s a great premise for a drama, but what about the fact that you are being watched by angels? The “multifaceted wisdom of God” (NLT) is revealed to those in the heavenly places through the earthly church. It may seem strange to you that the body of Christ on earth is somewhat of an object lesson to heavenly beings. Good angels as well as demons see God bringing a diverse group of believers to redemption for His purposes and alternatively rejoice or shudder.

When God takes a life broken by sin and turns it around, the testimony not only affects mortals in this world but an invisible audience of angels. Jesus taught, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

The angels (both good and bad) were present at creations. They existed when Adam and Eve first sinned. I imagine they all watched with differing reactions at the sacrifice of Christ. And although we often think of angels as almost omnipotent, they are learning by watching the redemption of Christ play out in the life of the church today. How amazing to have the opportunity to have not only a visible affect on the world around us but on the unseen world of spiritual forces locked in battle. Only through observation of humans can angels understand mercy, grace, and redemption.

Most of us live our lives with far too little awareness of the stupendous realities around us. Most of us go through day after day and seldom feel the impact of the magnitude of what we are caught up in by belonging to Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the ruler of the universe. And we don't take enough time to meditate on how our jobs, our home life, our leisure, our church involvement -- how each of these fits into the cosmic significance of the church. And consequently our lives often lack the flavor of eternity and the aroma of something ultimate. O, that there might be more people among us whose manner of life mirrors something mysterious and wonderful and whose words have a cosmic significance. – John Piper

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ephesians 3:7-9

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Despite some serious religious training under the Rabbi Gamaliel and a lifetime committed to following the one true God, Paul saw himself as the least of the saints. He seems genuinely surprised that God would dramatically reveal to him the errors of his religious thought and not only enlighten him to the truth but allow him to expand the kingdom into the Gentile world. (Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a Damascus road experience to show us our erroneous thinking?)

The word minister is the Greek word diakonos which means waiter, servant, or administrator. As a former waitress I can tell you that it isn’t as glamorous as it is on TV shows. You run around, killing your feet & back to try to meet the needs of others. And that’s what Paul did. He didn’t seek power or glory, he worked as a servant of God trying desperately to meet spiritual needs people didn’t even always know existed.

Paul realized that he was a minister because God had made him a minister, not because he chose a career path. Paul had power because he understood that his power came from God. When we as Christians live in humility and service God’s power flows through us, working all things for his good. But when conceit rises up or we start to do things through our own power then trouble begins.

As MacArthur said, “You see God will release his power to flow through his servant [but]as soon as I begin to exalt myself, glorify myself, lift up myself, do my own thing, I'm not serving God anymore. I'm competing with God. And I forfeit his power. And it's over. And that's the end of my ministry. Now with the crowds may still come and the people may still show up, but there's no power.

“Humility is what maintains the servant's heart and that's what lets Christ rule my life and flow his power through me. And sometimes I'm not willing to pay that price. And sometimes you're not either. All we want to covet a reputation, we want to covet honor, personal charm. We want to use our forcefulness to sway people to our opinions. And we get ourselves in the way of the power of God. And as soon as the heart is filled with self ambition, as soon as its filled with self-glory, then I've lost a servant's heart, humility is gone and the power is cut off.”

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-9 (ESV)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ephesians 3:4-6

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

From a strictly Christian viewpoint one can look back in hindsight through the Old Testament and clearly see that God’s purpose was to draw the Gentiles into the body of faith through the Jewish people. But verses such as these as well as dealings in the early church reveal that it was a complete surprise to everyone when God brought the Jews and Gentiles together with no prescribed “hoops” through which to jump. (The word “mystery” doesn’t mean something magical or puzzling, but something that had not previously been made known.) It was a complete shock that the Gentiles were to be seen as religious equals, having the same access to the throne of God with no distinction between the two.

What distinctions do we make within the body today? What labels do we slap on ourselves and others? Am I a conservative Southern Baptist homeschooling housewife? What if I were a liberal Episcopalian childless-by-choice corporate warrior? The path I walk with Him might look different. Would it change who I am in Christ? There is only one label I really need to wear. (Sing it with me – I am a C…. I am a C-H… I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.) How it must grieve the Son to see us constantly dividing the body He gave His own life to unite. How it must grieve the Father when we divide ourselves into groups and cliques whether consciously or not.

We should be one. Now until He returns we won’t agree on everything. You might sprinkle, I might dunk, but as long as we agree on the Lordship of Jesus Christ then we are one. The mystery is that I can worship with my sisters of different political ilk, from different walks of life, with completely different style of dress, or even from a totally different culture and we are one. The Spirit within us is greater than any divisions that exist. When we come before God in humility the dross of one-upmanship is burned away. Petty arguments cease when we communicate together with the Lord of Lords. You can’t look down your nose at someone else when your eyes are fixed on Him.

“The only way the world is going to see a clear picture of Christ is to see unity because we are his body and where there is discord, then the body is: disconnected and separated and maimed and crippled and the world doesn’t really see what they should see of Christ. So it behooves us to be aware that God calls us to unity. The end of all disparity, the end of all bitterness, the end of all prejudice, the end of all those things that separate us, the end of all pride, primarily, to be replaced with humility.” - John MacArthur

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ephesians 3:1-3

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.

Paul refers to himself not as the prisoner of the Romans, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul assumes his readers know that the mystery of the union of Jew and Gentile into one body of believers was revealed to him, that he became a minister/evangelist to the Jews, and that this is what ultimately landed him in enough trouble with the Jewish leaders to have him arrested and eventually appeal his case to Caesar in Rome. It was out of obedience to Jesus that he was a prisoner, and Paul trusted that God had a sovereign purpose for it. He believed that God had a purpose for his chains and that even in prison God could use him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles.

There are many in chains today for their Christian faith, but two believers from recent history come immediately to my mind when I think of ministering the gospel while in chains.

Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Nazis in Holland after their part in the Jewish Underground Railroad during the Holocaust. She and her sister were sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she witnessed many atrocities, the worst being the death of her dear sister Betsie. Her sister had reached out to others in the concentration camp and always tried to look for the best in every situation. The sisters held evening worship services in the barracks, translating the Biblical text aloud from Dutch to German. Other prisoners would pass the life-giving words back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. Before she died in the camp, Betsie told Corrie, "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” She inspired Corrie to establish rehabilitation centers for concentration camp survivors after her release and eventually travel as a missionary, preaching God’s forgiveness. Her belief in reconciliation was tested when after one speaking engagement she recognized a guard from Ravensbruk. He had since become a Christian and asked her forgiveness. She was able to do so with the help of Jesus. (Read the full account here.)

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, was a pastor who bravely stood against Romanian communism. The communists had closed Sunday schools and oppressed the church. He held services for youth attending his church in front of the lion’s den at the Bucharest Zoo to prepare them for battle with the world. Pastor Wurmbrand led his little Lutheran congregation, composed of many Jewish converts, to the Bucharest train station to toss Russian Gospels into the windows of passing trains filled with invading Russian soldiers. He and his wife both went to prison. Although he was psychologically and physically tortured for many years, he continued to preach the love of God to his captors and fellow prisoners. Even in solitary confinement he composed sermons and preached them to the walls.

He later wrote,"It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us—so everyone was happy."

My earthly trials pale in comparison to what was experienced by Paul, ten Boom, and Wurmbrand, and my earthly witness pales even more. God, make me more like these saints who have gone before!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ephesians 2:21-22

in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Just as the builders of the Jewish tabernacle and temples used a variety of materials to strengthen and beautify, so God draws together many different “living stones” into his holy temple today. And we are “fitly framed together” (KJV) like a carpenter joining together the framework of a building. God’s love through Christ binds us more tightly than mortar joins bricks. We are holy and set apart – a dwelling place for the very Spirit of God. In this temple He receives worship, praise, and our spiritual sacrifice.

When the tabernacle was dedicated in Exodus 40 the shekinah glory of the Lord came down and filled the temple. God’s presence literally filled the tabernacle, and it was visibly present in the form of a cloud. It was such a glorious event that even Moses dared not enter. Today we are the stones; the body of Christ is the building. When we are in his will, he is visibly present in our lives. But unlike in Moses’ day, the Most High God can be approached through the blood of Christ. Let’s live today as living, walking, talking tabernacles – evidencing the glory of God in all we say and do!

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:17

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ephesians 2:19-20

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,

“So then” refers us back to the fact that we have been reconciled into one body through Christ and have access to the Father through Him. Because of this we are no longer strangers. “Strangers” (ξένοι) means “foreigners in state,” as opposed to citizens. “Aliens” (πάροικοι) means “guests in a private family,” as opposed to the members of the family. In Greek culture strangers and aliens would not have a voice in politics and would need a patron to conduct business. In Jewish culture strangers and aliens might have been shown some hospitality as guests, but you would keep your distance and consider them unable to access God. But we have become fully naturalized citizens of the kingdom – even adopted as full members of God’s privileged household.

The foundation for our faith has been laid by the apostles – or the teachings of the New Testament – and the prophets – or the teachings of the Old Testament. However the key is not the makeup of the foundation but the cornerstone connecting and supporting the entire structure of believers. A great building would rest on its cornerstone, and if the cornerstone were shaky or unstable the building would collapse. Jesus is a stalwart cornerstone, fully supporting the church body as our firm foundation. The cornerstone was twice as big as the other stones and became a part of both walls to join them together. So Jesus had joined the Jews and Gentiles together into one building. There is also a shift in focus from a building such as the Temple of Artemis or the Temple in Jerusalem as a primary place of worship to believers being the dwelling place of God.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.
- Isaiah 28:16

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ephesians 2:16-18

He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

When I live in Texas I was surrounded by Big 12 and SEC fans. Being an ACC girl myself I would instantly be drawn to anyone who would watch games with me… even if they were Duke fans! As a mom I find that I can carry on conversations with any other mother, no matter how different we are. There is something within us that draws us to people with common interests, hobbies, and life experiences. But what draws us to fellow believers is deeper and stronger than any sports fanaticism or maternal affection. We are truly on the same team, listening to the same coach although we play different positions. The bond between believers is indeed supernatural – something that those who have not experienced it cannot comprehend. We are kindred. We grieve together, love one another, and share in joys. We ache for our persecuted brethren and rejoice when God receives glory around the world.

I remember worshipping with African believers, attempting to sing songs in IsiXhosa from a hymnal. Although I didn’t know what I was singing, the spirit behind the song was completely apparent. I imagined heaven filled with every tribe tongue and nation – all singing praise to God. (Hopefully then I will supernaturally understand the lyrics.) Interacting, praying, and worshipping with people who for all intents and purposes were my polar opposite was beyond natural. We all had access to the Father by the Spirit within us.

The only way to truly bring people together is through the cross. Because we are forgiven we forgive. Because our grave sins against God are overlooked, we find that his strength within us allows us to forgive those who sin against us. Christ’s blood covers the sin that separates us from fellow believers. Our hearts are turned from our own selfish interests toward the needs of others as we grow in spiritual maturity. God can turn enemies into friends and melt hearts of stone. He can bring true peace on earth. He himself is our peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. - Jesus

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ephesians 2:13-15

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

The previous verses highlighted the difficulties both in converting to Judaism before Christ and in bringing Jew and Gentile together into one body in Christ. The cultural and religious barriers the early church overcame in bringing these two groups together cannot be understated. But in Christ Jesus those far off (the Gentiles) were brought together with those near (the Jews). We are made one in Christ – no matter our nationality, creed, or cultural background. He created a new man – kainos – meaning new in quality, not in quantity.

But we don’t always live this out. In fact we section ourselves off from other believers and build walls to separate. The death of Christ destroyed the wall between Jew and Gentile, but we have spent the last two millennium erecting new barriers. We segregate by class, race, worship style, and political bent. We split into denominations and sub-denominations. We tend to worship with the people with whom we are most comfortable.

Even in the early church Paul battled against this. In the Corinthian church some were claiming to follow Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and some Christ. And Paul told them as he would tell us today – you all should follow Christ! You are living in the flesh, not through the power of Christ!

I attend an amazing church where people of many different races, nationalities, and ages worship together in harmony. But I dare say that most of us choose who to sit with in service, which Bible Study class we feel most comfortable in, and who to talk with in the halls. Even in our own happy body we may avoid certain people who grate on our nerves.

Even though I personally can get along with anyone at my church, there are some professing Christians with whom I would not even want to be in the room. There are people who in my estimation have done damage to the body of Christ or to those I love, and I cannot see how they are even in the same body I claim. They likely think the same of me. Deep down I believe that I am a better believer with a better handle on God’s will. But if we are all in fact true believers then we are all the sons of God in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). And although deep down I think I am better than them, and they may think they are better than me, if we are all sons and daughters of God then we are equal. God loves us equally. Whoever calls upon the Lord is saved (Rom. 10:12).

And listen people, those of us who are all in Christ out to be radiating that kind of acceptance and love. We ought to be ripping down those fences so that the world will know what our Christ really does. And the sad, sickening, disheartening thing of it all is that we just keep slapping up the fences even in the name of Christianity, don't we? Churches fight and quarrel and squabble and split. No wonder God's heart is grieved. When that's the one thing He came to do was make us one and we're constantly tearing it apart. Listen, all fleshly distinctions, race, nationality, color, all are nailed to the cross. It's over with.
  – John MacArthur

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ephesians 2:11-12

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

I imagine many of us watched the Super Bowl last night. I loved that it was a close game with both teams giving their all. In football the officials have an important job – trying to impose instant penalties for any infraction of a long list of rules. They are well versed in the game of football and are expected to understand and lookout for even the tiniest violation. Sterling Moore may or may not have gotten away with pass interference in the game (depending on whose side you’re on). But we can rest assured that God sees every infraction in our lives, even when a penalty is not immediately assessed. (Come on, I had to work in a football analogy!)

Prior to the sacrifice of Jesus the only way to be a part of God’s covenant was to be among the citizen of Israel; and to convert would involve many things – one of which would be circumcision. It’s hard for me as a woman to completely understand what it would take to go that far for my beliefs, but I can imagine that it would be pretty drastic! You can understand why there were many “God-fearers” in New Testament time who did not fully take the plunge!

The thing about circumcision is that it was a physical and permanent reminder of the covenant between you and God. It was an intimate sign that bound the people of Israel together and set them apart from other cultures. Those who were not Jewish were excluded from Jewish life and worship and had no natural access to the message of God's redemption. Even if they wanted to worship the one true God at the Temple they could approach no further than the Court of the Gentiles, a place crowded with street vendors and people short cutting through the city.

But even the most pious Jew fell short of God’s law. And the sacrifices of atonement did not fully cover sins. Only the blood of Christ accomplished that. As we follow him our hearts are circumcised as the unrepentant parts are carved away. When we remember what we were without Christ or ponder what we would be without him we should be filled with gratitude to be counted a part of God’s covenant people. To be without hope and without God would be an awful fate.

Without God there is for mankind no purpose, no goal, no hope, only a wavering future, an eternal dread of every darkness. – Jean Paul

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ephesians 2:10

Eph. 2:10 (ESV) - For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are His workmanship both in the fact that he created all living things and in the truth that He transforms true believers. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). His primary intent is that we would no longer be conformed to our former passions but would be holy, even as He is holy (2 Peter 1:14-16).

One of my 2 year old’s favorite songs is “This Little Light of Mine.” How often do I hide my “light” under a bushel when it isn’t convenient? How often do I forget to guard it against Satan’s attempts to blow it out? Our primary purpose is to glorify Him, and I want to let my light shine brightly until Jesus comes.

As the body of Christ we should certainly be doing more to do His works and glorify Him. I often think that with the number of professing Christians in America there should be no hunger, no children waiting for adoption, and no one without medical care. I imagine that we are all too often walking through our lives without being attuned to the good works he has prepared for us. What blessings we miss!

The previous verses teach that works do not justify, but this one is equally clear that the justified must work! We do not do good works for Him; instead he does good works through us as we walk in accordance with His will. When we show the love of God in the world, our faith is made visible to a watching world.

God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. – John Henry Newman

I have seen many men work without praying, though I have never seen any good come out of it; but I have never seen a man pray without working. – James Hudson Taylor

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Some NT Greek scholars debate whether the “gift of God” refers to “grace” or “faith”, but the two are so closely related that the gift cannot really be divided. Without God quickening our hearts to have faith we would not receive his grace. Without his grace we would not have faith or salvation. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

These two verses may be the most recognizable from Ephesians. We are saved through our faith, not by rote or ritual. At the end of days many will say “Lord, Lord!” yet hear our Savior respond, “Depart from me; I knew you not.” Although good can be found in such things as baptisms and confirmations, tithes and offerings, communion and confession, and loving God and neighbor, none of these things save. Any religion with a list of tasks or rituals needed to attain salvation should be met with skepticism to say the least. If there were a magical list of tasks to be completed on an epic life quest then of course those who completed the race would have reason to boast. But it is in through our faith and God’s grace that the righteousness of Christ is conferred upon us.

There is a twofold danger related to this verse. One is of course that there are groups within Christianity as well as quasi-Christian or non-Christian religions which convince people that good works or religious ritual can save. Countless millions in the world worship piously live “moral” lives, and yet all their life work is but wood, hay, and stubble. They fruitlessly pile good work upon good work but never attain the heights of the glory of God. You cannot square such belief with scriptures such as this.

The other danger existing on the other end of the spectrum is to rely on a one time conversion leading to salvation without any fruit in one’s life. If you commit your faith in Christ it must change your life. You must love the Lord your God with your mind as well as your heart. You must daily be transformed into the image of Christ. Sometimes we rely so heavily on the emotion of a initial faith experience that we neglect our responsibility to truly study God’s Word and learn from the spiritual giants who have gone before. We should be growing from spiritual babes into mature Christians – moving from sipping spiritual milk to cutting our teeth on some real meat!

It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible, until at last you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you. - Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ephesians 2:6-7

and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God raised us up with the sinless Christ. The "sons of disobedience" are made alive in Christ, and this miracle is all for the glory of God. Not only are we saved, but we are seated with him in the heavenly places despite the fact that we should be relegated to the dungeon. We are united in Christ in His sufferings and His joys. His resurrection is proof that we can be resurrected from our present lives of sin as well as bodily resurrected into the heavenly realms in the future – fully justified and sanctified.

So what does it mean that we are seated in the heavenly places with Christ? For one, heaven is where our heart is. Our lives on earth will be lived for God’s glory, our time and treasure used to further the kingdom, and our minds set on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:2). We live in the power of God, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in supernatural ways that glorify Him rather than pointing to any personal merit.

Many look at the world as a place filled with tragedy and disaster and question the existence of an all powerful yet good God. But the fact is, none of us deserve salvation. Sure some may do great deeds in the eyes of man while others wallow in their sinfulness, but no one attains the glory of God. We only know holiness through the righteousness attributed to us through the blood of Christ.

I struggle with the thought that I would be counted worthy to sit in the heavenly realms with Christ. To merely allow me hang out just inside the pearly gates would be evidence enough of God’s great mercy and kindness. Whether Ephesian turning from ritualistic religion or modern man turning from worship of self, God’s grace is astounding. That he has both the power and the willingness to view us as He views his perfect Son is indeed evidence of his goodness and his omnipotence.