< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: April 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Willing to Walk on Water by Caroline Barnett

Caroline Barnett's new book Willing to Walk on Water has inspired me to think about my passions. She has convinced me that God gave me those passions to use in service to others. For those who are afraid to say "use me" to God because He might send them to Africa, this book will show you that the abundant life God has for you when you say yes to Him is when you are doing the good works He prepared for YOU. You will be filled with joy, confidant with purpose and content in His will.

She also gives many practical ways to take steps toward lives of service. You don't have to quit your job, there are many things you can do on the side.

I also loved learning about Dream Center in Los Angeles which she and her husband, Pastor Matthew Barnett, run. The amount of good they do will blow you away!

I was given this book by the publisher to review, but told to be honest - good or bad.

It's all good!

About the Author . . . Caroline Barnett has a passion for inspiring women of the church to find their God-given cause. In her role at The Dream Center, Caroline has changed people’s lives through a wide range of outreach ministries—from starting a food truck ministry that currently feeds over 50,000 people each month, to founding Project Prevention, a foster care intervention program designed to assist families facing the threat of separation due to issues of poverty. Caroline is married to Dream Center founder and New York Times bestselling author Matthew Barnett; they live with their two children in Los Angeles.

1. What is your hope for this book, Willing to Walk on Water?

My hope for this book is that those who read it will be inspired to take their place as God’s children and fix our world. My hope is that they would experience the joy and fulfillment that comes through acting as His ambassador and the thrill of having such a powerful impact.

2. Tell me about the personal experience(s) which prompted you to write such a book.

Nine years into being a part of The Dream Center—a ministry that helps to heal and restore broken lives, broken homes, and broken communities through outreach and live-in programs, and through providing other social needs—God, through different revelations, changed my perspective of what we were really capable of. Before the revelations I had assumed even with our best efforts we could only scratch the surface of the pain and suffering that we see all around the world and in our communities. As you read through what God revealed to me you will see that all He needs is your willingness and you can be a part of His miracles
3. How did you recognize God’s call and direction for your life?

At the end of my senior year in high school, I started seeking God for answers about life, and as I read the words of Jesus I felt a strong passion that I wanted to do what He was doing and what He was asking us to do. Suddenly every other dream I had in my heart seemed empty by comparison.

4. You talk about "triggers" within your book. What exactly do you mean by a "trigger?" Can you give me an example of a pivotal trigger in your life?

As Christians filled with His love, there are a lot of injustices in our world that bring us to tears. However, that does not necessarily mean that this will lead us to action. I believe all Christians are meant to be a part of healing an injustice. Our levels of commitment will look different, but it is meant to be an element of our walk with Him in this life. Our trigger is that injustice that doesn’t just bring us to tears but will ignite a passion so deep within us that we can’t know of its existence without doing something about it.

5. When did you realize what your “trigger” is? Can you share that story?

Sometimes in order to find our trigger we have to smell the smells, feel the fear, hear the cries, and be in the middle of the elements to know how passionate we are. That’s how I found my trigger. One day I was volunteering in the reception office of The Dream Center when we received a call from a social worker who told us of a family in need of food. What I saw that day changed my life. When we arrived at the dilapidated apartment building one mile away, we were shocked to find a mother of about twenty-five years old with eight kids who were only dressed in their diapers or underwear. There was no furniture in the home other than some couch cushions on the floor that were being used as beds. As soon as we walked in, the kids jumped into our arms and started eating some of the raw zucchini we had brought. I couldn’t believe how hungry these kids were. When I saw what life was like for a hungry child, my trigger was pulled and I determined then that I could not know about this and not do something about it. That’s when I went back to The Dream Center and asked permission to start a mobile food bank, because the reality is that the people who are really in need of food have no way of getting to us for help. Throughout my whole life, I have seen commercials of children starving around the world, and while those commercials brought me to tears, they did not prompt me to act. I didn’t truly understand my passion until I was face to face with a hungry child.

6. You have changed countless lives through your work at The Dream Center. How has this work changed you?

It has changed me in every way—what I value, my priorities, my view of this world, and the view of my life. It has changed me in every good way. There is no greater feeling than ending your day knowing you were used to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

7. What encouragement would you provide to those who feel the call from God to step out of their comfort zone to answer His call?

God wants you accomplishing and doing things you never thought you were capable of doing, for His purpose and to show off His glory, but also to make your life fun, exciting, and adventurous. You’re not fully living until you have moments when God pulls you through fears and challenges and you can look back in amazement at what you have accomplished in His name. My encouragement to you is to try it once and see if the adrenaline rush and satisfaction don’t addict you to wanting to live your entire life this way.

8. What response would you give to those who think they are too busy to take on one more role in life—despite God’s call and leading?

God does not ask us to do what He has not fully intended to enable us to do. If He asks you to take on another role, it will be for your benefit as much as for those whom you will help. He will give you the strength and energy. I once heard an incredible volunteer at The Dream Center say that she could take on five tasks God was not asking her to do and feel burned out, and take on twenty-five that He was asking and have excitement and energy to spare. Answering God’s call in this one area will positively affect every other area of your life. We feel overwhelmed when we assume we will have to do the task in our own strength.

9. You and your husband are very dedicated to The Dream Center. How does this impact your family life and raising children?

In our life no two weeks look the same. We are constantly trying to stay balanced. My seasons of involvement are always adjusting to assure that our kids are our priority. Matthew travels all year long for The Dream Center, so when he is gone I am not as available. We all love the work of The Dream Center, and our kids have a great compassion for people and they are very generous. Our kids enjoy doing outreaches and giving their toys to kids out on food truck sites. I want them to grow up and view outreach as a normal part of life, no matter where their dreams lead them.

10. You say in your book that by living out your own unique, God-given purpose, you will experience a reignited passion for life and true fulfillment. Has this been the case for you? How so?

When God designed us, He had these purposes in mind, so of course He knows that people accomplish more when they feel they are at their best and their talents and gifts are being used and refined. This will be work that doesn’t feel like work. What I have experienced in serving is that God multiplies our every effort—which makes it feel like I am running on a people mover instead of a treadmill. Also, as I see God’s hand move in the miracles of provision and in the lives of people, I can’t wait to get up in the morning to see what is going to happen next.

11. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?

My father-in-law, Tommy Barnett, always says, “It is okay to want to quit, as long as you never quit.” You see, we all have days when our flesh gets tired or in the way of our work, and we want to quit. However, when you stay steady and faithful, God then has a foundation to build something massive and strong. This applies to every area of your life, even you! Don’t quit on yourself—in growing, learning, and accomplishing, you have no idea the powerful impact God wants to make with your life!

This is a link to Chapter One: http://files.tyndale.com/thpdata/FirstChapters/978-1-4143-7229-7.pdf

To schedule an interview with Caroline Barnett, please contact: Katie Dodillet, katiedodillet@tyndale.com, 630.784.5275

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Belt of Truth

Here's the final part of my Sunday School lesson based on Larry Richard's book The Full Armor of God:

Ephesians 5:8-6:9 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Christ once said, “When Satan lies he uses his native tongue.” And Satan has been deceiving us with lies since the Garden of Eden. His lies are designed to appeal to the sinful nature of man. The world values possessions more then persons, achievement more then relationships, believes a bigger house or a new car will make you happy. And the world is more attracted to beauty, then charity. Satan spins these lies. Satan and his demons don’t have to influence people individually. They influence culture and get a whole lot more bang for their buck! We need the belt of truth. Living by God’s word, wrapping His truth tightly around us like a belt, provides us with the support we need.

Paul uses “light” here for truth. God has given us a beacon of light: His Word. The truth! Jesus is also the light and the truth. If you remember John 1:1 He is also the Word. And we are not called simply to believe the truth; we are called to live the truth. And according to Jesus; that will set us free. Paul talks about how family members should treat each other. We are to live out the truth in our families.
Many ancient writers wrote about household management and Paul wrote about it in many of his other letters too. The secular writers though were all about the father as the absolute head of the family and what the wife, children and slaves owed him. The Biblical ones hold him accountable for loving his wife, nurturing his children and treating his slaves with respect. He’s not a dictator but rather God’s servant.  Where he says wives submit to your husband and husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church: husbands and wives are to care deeply for each other and be concerned with each others personal and spiritual growth.

Marriage is a partnership in the deepest sense of the word. If one partner believes he or she is more important then the other that’s allowing the door to open to demons by preying on the other spouse’s resentment or hurt. We’re to serve each other. And we’re to help each other put on the armor of God.
Ephesians 6:17-18 adds 2 important lessons to our goal of defending ourselves from the schemes of Satan. Take the sword of the spirit which is the word of God and pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Paul emphasizes prayer. Our safety depends on God’s mighty power. We must rely on Him and look to Him at all times, expressing our needs and concerns.
The author ends his book by telling Christians that we are authorized to cast demons out! He says any Christian living in fellowship with Christ can command demons in Jesus’ name and they will obey Him. First you have to deal with what’s going on in your life that’s letting them in though. Fix that and then cast them out. Then keep the door closed so they won’t come in again.

“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.”

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Breast Plate of Righteousness

This is the fifth part (of six) of the Sunday School lesson I did based on Larry Richard's book The Full Armor of God;

Even though we have “new selves” when we are born again that want to do right, we still have our old selves that are pulled by the world. And in that old self that still loves sin, Satan has an ally. Satan directs his temptations to the old self.

Paul lists just some of the things we do when we aren’t living righteously and how we should be living. This isn’t the only list like this in the Bible so we can’t claim to know what righteous living looks like and what sin looks like!

Ephesians 4:17-5:7 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
This section tells us we are called to true righteousness not just to be “good people”.

The Roman breast plate was essential. It protected the vital organs. In the 1st century it was a metal plate worn over a leather garment. The spiritual breast plate of the Christian is righteousness and the Christian is responsible to put it on himself.

In the Bible righteousness is the idea of conformity to a standard. Old Testament saints were considered righteous when their personal and interpersonal behavior conformed to the moral and ethical norms established by God.

Deuteronomy 6:25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness. But humans could only be righteous comparatively. Only God is righteous perfectly. Knowing no human could live up to the standard of God’s own righteous character demands has moved God to accept those who trust Him despite their flaws and failures.

Genesis 15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

The Jews however sought to establish their own righteousness. But just like Abraham God credits righteousness to us who believe. Jesus didn’t just die to take us to heaven though. He died to free us from the dark way we were living too. The Holy Spirit in us helps us live godly lives if we follow his guidance.

So the breast plate of righteousness we are to put on is to maintain a good, holy and righteous life style. Take off the old. Put on the new.

The author, from talking to other ministers, believes that demons enter through 4 primary doors.

1. Trauma. All of the armor we’ve talked about so far helps here, but especially the shield of faithfulness. Remember the faithfulness of God who protects us and stays with us.

2. A sinful life style. And this is sin that’s usually done knowingly and habitually.

3. The occult. Deuteronomy 18:9-12 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.  It’s pretty clear what the Bible tells us to stay away from and the reason is that supernatural beings reached through the occult are in fact demons. Playing with the occult is inviting demons into your life!

4. Authority figures and the family line. This has to do with certain cultures where parents speak curses over their children or dedicate them to pagan gods.

The best way to get rid of the old self and put on the new righteous self is to take time for self-examination. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart. What attitudes, habitual choices, habitual responses, addictions, do you have? And then acknowledge it as sin. Repent (make it right with someone if you can). Repudiate (meaning reject the sin and determine to do what is honoring to the Lord). Relate (tell 2 people close to you. Ask for their prayer support and encouragement.) And rely. (On the Holy Spirit to guide you).

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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Sandals of Peace Ephesians 2:11-4:16

This is part four from my Sunday School lesson based on Larry Richard's book The Full Armor of God:

The 3rd scheme is to destroy our inner peace and distort or shatter the harmony that should exist in our relationships with others. Satan wants us to respond with anger and bitterness when we are wounded. He wants us to be in turmoil, suspicious of others’ motives and quick to take offense. He wants us to remember and nurse our hurts. Anger and bitterness steal your peace! In the Bible peace is not the absence of strife. In Hebrews the word is Shalom. It’s harmony and wholeness. Colossians 3:12-15 tells us how to live as believers to experience this. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

In the Ephesian verses Paul talks about the military sandals worn by Roman Legionnaires. The heavy Roman military sandals were ½ boot and ½ sandal. They were tied on with leather thongs wrapped halfway up the shin. The sole was made with several layers of leather three quarters of an inch thick and studded with hobnails. This enabled the soldier to line up with his fellow soldiers and for all of them to dig their feet into the ground and hold their position. Paul warns us that it’s impossible for us to stand against our supernatural enemy without lining up with our fellow believers and digging our feet in.

There are several dimensions of peace in scripture. There’s the inner peace that Jesus knew and that He promises his followers. There’s the peace with God that is ours through faith in Jesus. And there is interpersonal peace which marks our relationship with others.

In this Ephesians passage it’s the “gospel of peace”. The good news of Jesus that enables us to live at peace with one another and Paul devotes a large space to this section. And he points out the powerful results of peace. When we “keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” the spiritual gifts God has given us function and the Body of Christ is built up and we become mature and more and more like Christ. No wonder Satan doesn’t want us to have peace. Christianity is the story of chaos to peace, hostility to love. Once we were enemies of God. Now through Christ’s love we are reconciled.

Ephesians 2:14-16 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Paul was writing about Jews and Gentiles and describing them as hostile was putting it mildly! The Jews had been persecuted by non-Jews for centuries. Their homeland had been occupied by the Romans and taxed mercilessly. Their faith and customs had been ridiculed throughout the Empire. And the Jews returned the hostility. They called the Gentiles dogs and immoral worshippers of idols. They even avoided a Gentile’s shadow; believing contact with it would make them ritually unclean. They were God’s chosen people and they felt contempt for non-Jews.

Jesus came to unite the two hostile people into a single community. The church that was to be marked by peace and love. How?

What set the Jews apart from all other people was Moses’ law, prescribing a way of life that was markedly different from the way of life of non-Jews. The Jews thought that their descent from Abraham along with their observance of the law guaranteed them God’s favor. The Gospel challenged that.

In the book of Romans Paul says God sees Jews and Gentiles both as sinners. So God sent His Son to die on a cross so all humans could have their sins forgiven. Rather then relate to God through the law, Jews and Gentiles are to relate to God through faith in Jesus. With the focus on the cross the barrier of the law became irrelevant. Christ’s death abolished the law.

For peace to exist the barrier to peace must be made irrelevant. With observance of the law no longer an issue, Jewish and Gentile believers could live together in harmony.

But how does this help a person who has no peace because of bitterness and anger from broken relationships?

The cross not only removed the cause of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles (the law), it is also God’s proclamation that He forgives sin. And it demonstrates that God is totally committed to punishing sin!

Romans 3:25-26 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

God let “sins committed beforehand” (prior to Christ’s death)  go unpunished because He knew He would one day send His Son to receive the punishment those unpunished sins deserved! God is a God of justice. The fact that God punished sin in Christ is proof He will punish all sin. We, who trust Christ, are only forgiven because Jesus took the punishment we deserve. Those who don’t look to Jesus to save them will bear the punishment themselves.  Because God is committed to this Paul says in Romans 12:19 we shouldn’t take revenge, but leave it to God. He will repay. God is the only one who has the right to punish sin.

Ideally we go to the person who has hurt us and tell him or her how we feel. And ideally they accept responsibility and apologize. This will heal a relationship. If they don’t do that we still forgive. And give it over to God.

It’s ok to feel anger, but it’s not ok to nurse it.

Ephesians 4:26-27 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

We free ourselves from the burden of continuing to hold the other person responsible. And even more as Christians; Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

This closes a window where a demon might have entered. The purpose of going to the person is not confrontation, but reconciliation. We all sin. The only way to maintain harmony is to be quick to confess our faults and just as quick to forgive the faults of others.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Shield of Faith.

This is part three from my Sunday School lesson based on Larry Richard's book The Full Armor of God.

At the end of his letter Paul says in 6:16, “Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” But he covers what this means in Ephesians 2:1-10 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In hand to hand combat Roman soldiers were the likely winners. So their enemies would shoot flaming “darts” or “javelins” at them as they advanced. But even that didn’t work very well because the Romans had large shields two and a half feet wide and four feet tall that they held in front of them as they advanced in long rows. When the arrows came from above they moved the shields over their heads and formed a roof. This formation was called a turtle. The arrows just bounded off.

Paul likens theses arrows to demonic attacks. This is not close, personal confrontation. They were hurled from a distance. And they weren’t weapons for killing; they were just designed to break up an advancing formation. Separate the soldiers so they could do hand to hand combat.

Sometimes Satan throws obstacles at us to make us anxious and discouraged. Sarah urged Abraham to have a child with her servant Hagar rather then wait on God’s promise. And he did! And that’s what began the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews that still goes on today! They panicked under pressure instead of raising the shield that God provides all believers. The shield of faith.

What faith is Paul talking about? THE faith? The Good News that Jesus saves? Or OUR faith – the trust we exhibit in Jesus? Or is it our new self-image? Because when Paul talked about the helmet of salvation he went to great lengths to show how it was meant to shape our self-image.

When we grasped what each member of the Trinity did to provide us with salvation we realized we were not nothings or nobodies. We are special and part of God’s family. We could see ourselves as God sees us: no longer victims, but victors. We could shake off Satan’s lies and step out boldly to live the lives God created for us to live. Called to live out the victory Jesus won for us.
But in Ephesians 2:1 Paul, after just telling us we are chosen, loved, blessed and empowered, says we were dead in transgressions and sins. That we used to live in our sins when we followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Satan). And on and on. But then he says we were not totally lost. Because of His great love for us God intervened!

We cannot save ourselves! God acted. God raised us up. God gave us life in Jesus Christ! And because our salvation is entirely the work of God we will be on display for all of eternity as living expressions of “the incomparable riches of His grace.” We are special and wonderful. But only because God created us and only because God saved us.

In this section of Ephesians 2 Paul wants us to realize we are totally dependent on God, not on ourselves.

The author of this book believes that the “true faith” in these verses is not pointing to our faith, but God’s faithfulness. That when it comes to salvation God does it all. So the shield that extinguishes Satan’s flaming arrows is not the strength or measure of our faith, it’s the faithfulness of God. Our salvation is rooted in His grace and love.

Psalm 7:10 is just one verse in the Old Testament which confirms the idea of God as the believer’s shield. “My shield is God Most High.”

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Our lives have purpose and meaning. God has a path for each of us to follow.
Satan wants to force us off that path. So he hurls his flaming arrows at us. Those difficulties and troubling circumstances that cause us fear and anxiety. He hopes we’ll panic and rush ahead of God’s timing like Sarah did. Or turn and go in the wrong direction. But God is faithful - if we listen to Him – to His promptings, He will guide us along the path He has chosen. We may not know what that path is right now, but He will show us when and how to take the next step.

Paul knows we are frail. He knows how hard it is for us to trust God for today. Isn’t it interesting we trust Him to get us to Heaven, but it’s so hard to have confidence He’ll get us through today?
So Paul reminds us. Often!

Romans 5:10 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

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

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

God knows exactly how much we can bear. And then will provide a way out.

How are we to take up this shield of faith?

First, be prepared. Satan will go after you because you believe in God. Don’t focus on your problems. Focus on God. Remember everything He has done for you and been to you. Memorize Bible verses:

Psalm 18:2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Helmet of Salvation

This is part two of the Sunday School lesson I wrote using Larry Richard's book The Full Armor of God:

In the 1st century the whole Mediterranean was under Roman rule. The Roman guards/soldiers and their uniforms were well known. In Ephesians 6 Paul describes their armor and draws an analogy between it and God’s spiritual armor that we can use to stand against demonic enemies.

Ephesians 6:14-17 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Belt = truth, Breastplate = righteousness, Sandals = preparation that comes from the Gospel of peace, Shield = faith, the helmet = salvation. The sword is the Word of God. The sword is the only offensive weapon. Everything else is defensive. Each of these meanings is defined earlier in his letter.

Ephesians 1:1-23 = defines salvation. Ephesians 2:1-10 = faith. Ephesians 2:11- 4:16 = peace. Ephesians 4:17-5:7 = righteousness. Ephesians 5:8 – 6:9 = truth.

The first scheme of Satan:

The truth is we are works of God. Each one of us is God’s personal creation. Each of us is special! We may wish certain things about us were different, but we are just as God intended us to be for His purposes.

Satan hates that. He doesn’t want us to have a meaningful life. He doesn’t want us to be used for God’s purposes. His scheme is to block our development by convincing us we are worthless. He tries to convince us we are flawed, weak and inadequate. So we will never step out and become all that God intends us to be. And he uses sin that others committed against us to reach that goal. Parents who make their children feel they aren’t reaching their potential. People who shame and humiliate us. Abandon us. Bully us. We’ve all been wounded by someone’s words or actions. Satan’s strategy is to use those words and actions to convince us we are not “wonderfully made”. That our lives will never have meaning. He uses those things to corrupt our self image. He wants us to feel weak, helpless and miserable.

Our thoughts of “I’ll never change” or “nobody cares” or “nothing I do is important” can usually be traced back to something that happened in our childhood or adolescence. The feelings we have may be real, but these are Satan’s lies.

The Helmet of Salvation

The helmet of salvation is the last piece of armor a Roman soldier puts on, but Paul talks about it first in his letter. Around the time of Paul’s writing the Roman helmet not only had a metal skull cap covered with bronze, it had a piece that protected the neck and 2 pieces that protected the cheeks.

Paul uses this to show that what protects our hearts and minds is an understanding of salvation itself. Our salvation provides a perspective that protects us from Satan’s lies. When we understand what God has done to provide salvation, we begin to grasp how truly significant we are and how much we are loved. Each member of the Trinity played a part in our Salvation.

Ephesians 1:3-14 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Even before creation, God the Father had you in His thoughts. He chose you. He planned you. He determined to adopt you as His child. In Ephesians 1:3 it says God the Father “blessed us in the heavenly realms.” In Ephesians 6:12 Paul points out that “the heavenly realms are those from which “the forces of evil” launch their attacks. Blessed in these realms we are guarded against these attacks.

It also says in 1:3 God blessed us “with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Because of our relationship with Christ there isn’t a single spiritual blessing we don’t have. So Satan’s lie of “there’s no use trying” is just that – a lie!

Ephesians 1:4 says “God chose us to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Satan’s lie is “you’ll never amount to anything.” God’s truth is that throughout eternity you will reflect the very holiness of God and even now are becoming more and more like your Creator.

Ephesians 1:5 says “God predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Christ Jesus. He did this at the foundation of the world. In the 1st century adoption as a son was very special. Every tie to the old family was cut and every debt owed to the old family canceled. We are part of God’s family now. We are royalty! Destined to rule with Jesus.

1:5 also tells us why God did this. “In accordance with His pleasure and will.” He blessed, chose and adopted us because He wanted to! He loves us! And that love isn’t based on anything we have done or will do. He loves us for ourselves!

The Son’s part is He was a freely given gift.

Ephesians 1:6 Grace. Even though we didn’t deserve it and didn’t do anything for it, Jesus chose to die for us. There was a huge cost to bring us into the family of God.

Ephesians 1:7 Jesus shed His blood to redeem us. Redemption means to pay the price necessary to free someone from imminent threat or danger. His death saved us from death. And also provided forgiveness from our sins. Past, present and future.

Ephesians 1:8 In Jesus God lavished on us the riches of God’s grace. This means that in everything that happens to us, Jesus will be there, working in each situation to bless us and those we love.

Ephesians 1:9-11 Ultimately all things in heaven and on earth will be brought together in Christ. All of God’s purpose will be fulfilled and we will see where we fit in.

Ephesians 1:12 says “for the praise of His glory.” Throughout eternity we will glorify God.

The Holy Spirit’s part:

Ephesians 1:13 says the Holy Spirit marked us with a seal. The seal is the Holy Spirit Himself who came into our lives when we believed. In the 1st century a wax seal on a package or letter had several purposes. 1. It denoted security. 2. It identified ownership. 3. It certified genuineness. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our life shows we are genuine Christians. His presence is proof we belong to God and it assures us we are safe in His loving hands.

Ephesians 1:14 The Holy Spirit is “a deposit guarding our inheritance until redemption.” Jesus has redeemed us. The Holy Spirit is God’s personal guarantee that when Jesus returns the transaction will be completed and we will be free from the slightest taint of sin.

In Ephesians 1:14 Paul repeats “to the praise of His glory.”

So God: chose, blessed and adopted us as His children.
 Jesus: redeemed, forgave and granted us overflowing grace.
 And the Holy Spirit: sealed and guaranteed our ultimate salvation so that throughout eternity we will glorify God.

Paul’s prayer follows and it’s not just for the Ephesians. Because it’s in the Bible it’s for us too.

He prays that God enables us to know Him better. That God opens our eyes to understand the significance of this salvation that is ours. As God’s own we are now one of His treasurer’s. His own precious inheritance. Also, God’s resurrection power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us! The power which not only raised Him from the dead, but lifted Him to a position of total authority over the heavenly realm. Everything bows to the authority of Jesus.

Satan says we are weak and impotent. God says we have His resurrection power available to us!

How do we put on the helmet of salvation? How do we change the beliefs and feelings about ourselves that are rooted in Satan’s lies?

1.  Speak the truth. Read out loud and often: confessions. An example – Loving Father, I confess that I believed Satan’s lies about who I am. I have failed to live as the new creation Your Word says I am. For this I ask Your forgiveness. God and Father, I praise You for the gift of forgiveness won for me by Christ on the cross. I acknowledge You have forgiven me and accepted me. That I am Your child and an inheritor of Your kingdom. 

Next renunciation. Example: I reject Satan’s lie that I will never amount to anything. I have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit and am an important member of the Body of Christ. I renounce the lie I am not worthy to be loved. I am loved by You, God Almighty, and I am worthy to be loved by others also. I renounce the idea there is no use trying. I reject self-hatred and self-condemnation. And I affirm that You, Lord Jesus, will enable me to do anything You call me to do. I believe in Your promise that You give me “hope and a future.”

Then declaration: Example: I declare this day I am a dearly loved child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I am adopted into God’s family and provided with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. I will no longer listen to Satan’s lies. I will daily put on the helmet of salvation and live as the redeemed and transformed person I truly am. To the glory of God, the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son.

2.  Besides speaking these, read Ephesians 1 regularly and let the truth of who you are in Christ fill your heart and mind.

3.  Memorize verses. Like 1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Galatians 4:6-7 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Full Armor of God

I wrote a Sunday School lesson from the book The Full Armor of God by Larry Richards. I thought I'd share it over the next half dozen or so posts. The book goes into much more detail and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

The author uses Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to explain to his readers how God provides protection from every attack of Satan and his demons. He tells us how we can put on the full armor of God every day. Ephesians has been called Paul’s handbook on spiritual warfare.

In the 1st century, Ephesus was the third most prominent city in the Roman Empire. It had a quarter of a million inhabitants and it was both an economic and a religious center in Asia. Thousands of religious pilgrims came to the city every year to worship the goddess Artemis. (Also known as Diana.)

Paul went there in 53 AD as a missionary for Jesus Christ.

Ephesus wasn’t just a center of pagan religion; it was a center of demonic activity. A place where magic and sorcery were practiced in an effort to control the powerful spirits that people believed ruled their destinies. Ephesians 6:12 talks about the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Paul was going to war!

In Acts 19 Luke gives an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

Acts 19:11-12 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

Paul is described as casting out evil spirits and healing the sick. He did the miracles publicly so everyone in the city knew he was casting out demons. In Acts 19:13-16 Luke tells about the 7 sons of Scevin who were exorcists. 13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

And Acts 19:17 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.

Because they had no relationship with Jesus they had no authority over evil spirits.

The third story is in Acts 19:18-20 and indicates how powerfully Paul’s defeat of demons influenced the Christian community. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Before Paul came a lot of the new Christians practiced sorcery to protect themselves from the demons. Now they brought out their books of spells and magic and burned them publicly. Luke says the books were worth 50,000 drachma. (50,000 days’ worth of income!)

So from Acts we know Ephesus was a center of satanic activity. This gives us a clue to understanding the purpose and value of the book of Ephesians. Ephesians has more references to demonic activity then any other New Testament letter.

We are told in the Bible that there is spiritual warfare going on. But we don’t think about it much. Except maybe as entertainment in books and movies. But in the 1st century people were well aware that the Spirit world was real. And there were all types of spirits. There were spirits of the dead. Spirits of heroes of old. Spirits who were gods and goddesses. And there were demons: evil spirits. All of these spirits were thought to interact with and have an impact on living people. So everything – success in business, in love, health, etc. depended on whether the spirits were pleased or displeased with an individual. And the spirits were capricious. They didn’t care about the person. Mostly people just made offerings to placate angry or hostile spirits. Or resort to magic to try to control them.

No one in Ephesus had ever seen a person dominate demons the way Paul did. Paul wrote the letter after he left Ephesus to reassure the young Christian church and tell them plainly how to defend themselves against the attacks of evil spirits who were armed with strategies devised by Satan himself.

Many people today are hooked on the occult. I mentioned books and movies, but Tarot cards, Ouija boards, horoscopes, witchcraft and even people who believe in reincarnation go against Christianity. And the numbers are growing every year.

One of the differences between modern belief and 1st century belief is today many people think the spirits want to help them! So they go to palm readers, psychics and mediums. And ask for help! This opens the door to demons.

Many Christians today are ignorant of demons. They don’t realize that they might be the cause of their spiritual, emotional and even physical problems. Satan works best behind the scenes.

In the Bible there were only 3 time periods when the struggle against demons broke out into the open.

1.  The Exodus. The plagues God sent were judgment on the gods of Egypt. (Who were demons presenting themselves as deities.)

2.  The time of Elijah and Elisha in the 8th century BC. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles that demonstrated that the Lord, is God.

3.  The time of Jesus and the apostles. There were a lot of demons when Jesus walked the earth wanting to do battle with Him.

Today they are still active. But hidden. So Christians discount their influence. Paul knew this would happen and left this letter so we would recognize and combat demons. To recognize them we need to realize Satan is trying to cripple believers to make them miserable and ineffective. And that they are always looking for an open door to get in.

Demons created a lot of misery in the Old Testament, but in the gospels every time they ran into Jesus the demons lost.

Paul wrote “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” And while demons are spiritual they are also personal beings. The Gospels use personal pronouns when reporting dialog with demons. They have emotions. And groups of demons have team names. Luke 8:27-30 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.

Most Bible students believe demons are angels who followed Satan when he rebelled against God. Revelation 12:4 suggests that 1/3 of the angels God created went with Satan.

Demons are hostile to God and hate humans. They can get inside our personalities. Jesus threw demons out of people. The author says though that demons do not possess people. The Greek word used in scripture means demonized. They influence us. They tempt us, twist our thinking, cloud our understanding. They lie about Christ. They tell us we are hopeless. They encourage bitterness and anger. They push us toward addictions that can ruin our lives.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Full Armor of God by Larry Richards

I just finished reading Larry Richard’s new book, ‘The Full Armor of God’ and it changed most of what I thought about the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians has been called Paul’s book on spiritual warfare. Richards explained how Paul wrote the letter after he left Ephesus to reassure the young Christian church and tell them plainly how to defend themselves against the attacks of evil spirits who were armed with strategies devised by Satan himself. But then he brought spiritual warfare into the twenty-first century.

Many Christians today are ignorant of demons. They don’t realize that they might be the cause of their spiritual, emotional and even physical problems.

Today they are still active. But hidden. So Christians discount their influence. Paul knew this would happen and left this letter so we would recognize and combat demons. To recognize we need to realize Satan is trying to cripple believers to make them miserable and ineffective. And they are always looking for an open door to get in.

The author shows us how to recognize demons and demonic activity, how to look at our lives and see how we are “inviting them in”, how we can shut the door to them and also cast them out.

This is a fascinating and enlightening read. I was given a free copy to review, but was told my review could be good or bad so long as it was honest. I highly recommend this book.

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