• Jacob's Ladder Bible Studies

    Part One: Jacob’s Ladder Bible Study on Ephesians 1

    Knowing who you are in Christ

    Part One: Understanding God’s Word

    Bible commentary on Ephesians 1

    Prior to choosing a Bible chapter for this month’s theme, “Who l am in Christ”, a dear friend recommended that l read Ephesians 1 during my private time with the Lord.

    I am so glad l took his advice, for this chapter was a beautiful reminder for me of God’s declaration of love. We are cherished, set apart, and fore-ordained to be in a relationship with our Father, full of blessings, grace, and purpose. I knew l had to take the teachings of this chapter and share it on our blog with all of you.

    Ephesians 1 explains how not only have we been forgiven and redeemed, but we have been chosen by God to be adopted as His sons and daughters. On the occasion of this adoption, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, identifying us as belonging to Christ and who is a down payment of our eternal inheritance. 

    Additionally, Ephesians 1 provides us with revelation about the church, which is the Body of Christ with Jesus at its head, as well as our calling to teach and proclaim the Gospel. 

    However, before we begin with studying this pivotal chapter of the Bible, let us find out more about who wrote it. 

    A brief Jacob’s Ladder history lesson – Who wrote the Book of Ephesians?

    The book of Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, in present-day Turkey. Ephesians is one of 13 epistles, or letters, that he wrote to various churches or followers of Christ.  

    Whereas some of the Pauline epistles were written to address issues that had arisen in certain churches, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written to give revelation to the most important themes of Christianity – kind of a grand summary of what it means to be a Christian.  

    Hence, scholars have referred to the Book of Ephesians as “the Queen of Epistles” or “the crown of Paulism”, just to mention a few terms. It is also known as a “prison” epistle, as Paul wrote this book while under a 2-year house arrest, as he awaited trial in Rome for spreading the Gospel.  

    Upon studying this epistle, some scholars believe that Paul’s intended audience was not limited to the church in Ephesus, as a few of the ancient manuscripts show a blank space instead of the location of Ephesus. 

    Instead, they surmise that this letter was actually written as a circular for various churches across different cities.  

    Despite this postulation, Paul’s affiliation to the city of Ephesus is rather evident: He had come to Ephesus as an apostolic missionary and established the Church at Ephesus, which became head of the Seven Churches in Asia minor. Ephesus became the third renowned Christian city after Jerusalem and Antioch. 

    The first 14 verses of Ephesians 1 are important, as they set the tone for the rest of the book.  

    Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians in Ancient Greek, so l will be referring to the odd Greek term that Paul used in the ancient manuscripts, as it gives a vivid portrayal of his sentiments and provides us with an insight into the tone of that time. 

    Photo credit:  Paola Aguilar on Unsplash

    Greetings to the Church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1-2)

     Paul begins this epistle with his customary greeting to God’s people. In his salutation, he establishes his only two worthwhile credentials: 

    1) He is an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent out in His service

     The word “apostle” is derived from the Greek verb apostellein, which means to be sent out.  

    2) Any authority that Paul possesses has been delegated to him through Divine appointment 

    Paul is an apostle through God’s will, blessed to be a vessel to spread the Word of God by God’s grace and mercy. From the time he first gave his life to Christ (Acts 9:1-19), Paul was in constant amazement at the mercy and grace of God to use him as a vessel to spread the Gospel.  

    Paul continues his greetings to the Ephesians by wishing that “grace” and “peace” be theirs. These two words hold great significance in Christian faith.  

    The word “grace” is derived from the Greek word charis, which means charm. Grace is a gift that is only available from God, man cannot attain this for himself by earning it or deserving it. Therefore grace is the underserved merit of God. 

    The word “peace” comes from the Greek word eirene, but a Hebrew translation of the word is shalowm. In the Bible, peace does not necessarily mean the absence of trouble. It is a state that is independent of your surrounding circumstances. Hence, the only true peace a Christian can find is through God. 

    Photo credit:  Sunyu on Unsplash

    Blessed and chosen by God (Ephesians 1:3-6)

    Paul wants to accentuate some major points in these Bible passages:

    God’s blessings are ours  

    God blessings are ours through Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross at Calvary. We receive them when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. These blessings are spiritual, which far outweigh any material blessing or temporal joy that we can experience.  

    Gods wants to, nay, He seeks to bless us abundantly with everything available in the Heavenly realm, for we are His children. 

    God has chosen us  

    God has chosen us, though we are undeserving of His benevolence, for we are sinners. God’s reasons for choosing us are beyond our ability to comprehend, but what we do know is that God chooses according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:5) In the Amplified version, this explanation is extended in brackets – (because it pleased Him and it was His kind intent). 

    God’s plan of adoption 

    Paul explains that it has always been God’s plan to adopt us as His own into the Body of Christ, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)  to be a part of His family. 

     In Rome, where Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians, there was a strict law for adults adopting children, as it was considered a serious responsibility. The process of adoption was ceremonial and exact, involving a “father” selling his son twice through the use of a symbolic scale and then buying him back twice. For a third time, the father sold his son, but instead of buying him back, the father had to go the local praetor, a principal Roman magistrate, and plead for his son’s adoption.  

    Once the praetor had agreed to the adoption, the child gave up his rights to his old family and received all the rights of his new family, being recognized as a legitimate son. Any debts or obligations that were connected to his old family were wiped clean.  

    In the same way, God’s adoption of us wipes us clean of our old sins. Our old lives are no more – we can start a new life as new creations in the Body of Christ. 

    Foreordained for salvation and holiness 

    God has foreordained our adoption as His sons and daughters so that we may not only know salvation, but that we may be holy and blameless before Him. The Greek word for “holy” is hagios, which carries the meaning of difference and separation, like a temple is separated in its categorization from other buildings through its purpose of holiness. To apply this to today, a Christian needs to be identifiable as a vessel of Christ in today’s broken world. 

    Paul wonders that God should choose man and not the other way around. This grace is a further blessing from God, given freely to us and one which we should give God praise and honor for.  

    Photo credit:  Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

    Deliverance as an ultimate expression of God’s grace (Ephesians 1: 7-8)

    Paul reminds us that it is God who has delivered us from our sins, by sending his son Jesus to pay a ransom for our transgressions with His precious blood.   

    The word deliverance comes from the Greek word apolutrosis, which originates from the verb lutroun, meaning “to ransom”. This implies the liberation of a man or an entity from a situation he was powerless to free himself of, by means of payment. 

    Redemption is only possible through the Father; it is impossible for man to earn through his own works or earn by his own merits. It is an expression of God’s ultimate grace and a reflection of His loving, merciful nature. 

    Photo credit: Jason Betz on Unsplash

    God’s secret plan for mankind is revealed (Ephesians 1:9-10)

    In these verses, Paul reveals God’s secret plan for mankind that had been previously kept hidden.  Now, God wants to reveal His secret to us, or as the Apostle puts it, “He has made known to us the mystery of his will. (Ephesians 1:9)”. 

    It is a plan that God has been setting into motion throughout the course of history; the passage of time has been used to arrange and guide events, so that God’s plan can come to fruition at His designated time. Paul uses the Greek word oikonomia to describe this, which means “household management”.  In Ancient times, the oikonomos was the steward of a household, whose duty it was to organize the family’s affairs.

     Yep, God has an end plan for us and He has been working on it for a long time! 

    Would you like to know what God’s secret plan for mankind is? To bring together all things of the world and unify them under Christ.  

    This means a few things. Most importantly, God wants us to know that His Gospel of love, hope, and salvation is available to everyone, Gentile and Jew. Until the coming of Christ, the teachings of the Bible were restricted to the Jewish nation. As a consequence, all tensions between the nations, regardless of their backgrounds, are to be resolved in Christ so that there is unity amongst mankind. Additionally, all rights are to be wronged and every dispute is to be resolved under Christ’s jurisdiction.  

    God’s plan is a plan that will glorify Him and set His children free from the bonds of decay and futility (Romans 8:18-22). 

    Sounds like a good plan, right? 

    Such unity was unheard of during Paul’s time. Now, Jesus wants the church, as His bride, to do their part in contributing to this unification process by spreading the good news of the gospel. 

    Photo credit:  Kristina Flour on Unsplash

    Signed, sealed, and stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14)

    Beneficiaries of God’s inheritance 

    Paul tells the Ephesians in this part of his letter that they (and us by extension), have an inheritance in God when we receive His salvation.  

    God has chosen and appointed us as the beneficiaries of His heritage and portion long before we were even aware of it. In Jeremiah 1:5 it states, 

    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, 
    and before you were born I consecrated you; 
    I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 

    Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV) 

    As Paul has stated previously in verse 5, God’s reasons for choosing us are His own and are centered around the purpose of His will.  

    Ultimately, those who have chosen to trust God, have been destined and appointed for the praise of His glory (verse 12)!  

    Stamped with the Divine seal of approval 

    For those who have heard God’s Word and received it into their hearts by calling upon Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, God literally confirms the deal by stamping us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.  

    Just as a seal or a stamp denotes ownership, so too does the seal of the Holy Spirit on us denote us as belonging to God.  

    This is especially important when considering that we live in a broken world that tries to lure us away from God with the temptation of material and superficial goals, as well as giving in to our flesh. In such times, we need to remember that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4.4). It is also important when considering spiritual warfare, as Satan constantly attacks us with lies and tries to deceive us into thinking that we are not worthy to God  (John 8:44). 

    So, what does it mean to be stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit? 

    It means that the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and does the following: 

    The Holy Spirit does more, but this gives you a working idea of how the seal of the Holy Spirit over us changes us into a new creation in Christ. 

    In the Ancient Greek business world, the term arrabon, meaning “earnest”, was the term for a down-payment or installment. On purchasing goods, this pledge was considered part of the purchase price. It was paid in advance as a guarantee that the full price would be paid in due course. 

    In the same way, Paul is stating that the experience of the Holy Spirit we receive on earth is a pledge of our total inheritance, a down-payment of the fullness of God blessings we are to receive in Heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22). 

    Photo credit:  Gian Cescon on Unsplash

    Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians reflects God’s wishes for us (Ephesians 1:15-20)

    Paul acknowledges the Ephesians love of Christ and His saints. This mention of the word saints is a reference to Christians as being “set apart” through their vocation of leading holy lives in the presence of God.  

    Although Paul had lived with the Ephesians, it seems that news of their continuing faith after his departure had reached him in his confinement in Rome.  Greatly encouraged by these glad tidings, Paul wants to assure the Ephesians that he continues to hold them in his prayers. 

    Paul lists three desires in his prayers over the Ephesians. These desires can also be seen as a reflection of what God wishes for us to also experience: 

    1. Paul prays for a spirit of wisdom and revelation of God which will lead to a deep and more intimate knowledge of him (Ephesians 1 1:17
    1. Paul wishes that the Ephesians have a revelation of their vocational calling in Christ “with the eyes of your heart enlightened”. Additionally, he prays that they are aware of how blessed they are by being recipients of His divine inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). 
    1. Paul desires that the omnipresent and immeasurable power of God is comprehensible to the people of Ephesus, which not only shows itself in us, but is available for us, as God mightily demonstrates to us in our lives (Ephesians 1:19). 

    Paul wants the Ephesians, and by extension – us, to know that we are so precious to God and that His power is great and available to those who believe in Him.   

    It is this same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and has raised Him above any earthly and spiritual rule, authority, power, and dominion for now and all eternity. And this same power works in us as God’s believers. 

    Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:21-23)

    As a continuing expression of the magnificence of Christ’s power, Paul tells us that all things are under Jesus’ feet and that God has appointed Him as the universal and supreme Head of the Church (Psalm 8:6).  

    If Jesus is the head, then we as a community of Christians make up His body.  

    What does this mean? 

    God’s plan of reconciliation for all the nations was through the life and death of Christ. However, God requires followers to spread this message of love and unity. 

    Each part of a living organism has a function. The head is the cerebral center of the body, whereas the legs have their own function, as do the hands etc. And yet, together, all the individual parts work cohesively as one unit.

    The same applies to us in our function as the Body of Christ. Jesus is the Head, the spiritual center, however, He requires us to be His voice to minister, His hands to pray, and His feet to go out and spread the gospel. Together, we unleash the full potential of Christ’s glory out into the world and fill the voids of this world wrought by brokenness and disunity.  

    Photo credit:  Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    This concludes the first part of our Jacob’s Ladder Bible Study series on Ephesians 1 – “Knowing who you are in Christ”. 

    I hope you have enjoyed reading about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. 

    If so, feel free to join us next week Thursday, when l post the second part of the series.  

    Until then friends, be blessed!  

     Sources:

    https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary, “Ephesians 1 – God’s ulimate plan” 

    https://www.studylight.org, “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible 
    Ephesians 1” 

    www.jcblog.net/ephesians/summary, “Summary of the Book of Ephesians” 

    https://www.gty.org/library, “What Does It Mean to Be Sealed With the Holy Spirit?“ 

    https://www.ephesus.us/, “St. Paul in Ephesus” 

    https://www.gotquestions.org, “What does the Holy Spirit do?” 

    https://www.bibleref.com, “What does Ephesians 1:15 mean?” 

  • Articles

    Why we must purposefully pursue peace

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    We are all no strangers to trials and tribulations. It can be a confusing and even difficult interval in our lives that we have no choice but to endure.


    Sometimes these times means that a new chapter is being opened for us, other times it heralds the end of a significant period and the need for closure.


    When our circumstances change, God will always help us and provide a solution. However He is more interested in the changes He can make in you.

    “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing;  rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.

    1 Peter 3:3-4 (NRSV)

    No matter what is going on in our lives, God encourages us to be at peace.

    Where does this peace derive from?


    From the Prince of Peace himself, Jesus Christ.

    For a child has been born for us,
        a son given to us;
    authority rests upon his shoulders;
        and he is named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    Isaiah 9:6

    In the Book of John, Jesus states:

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27

    Jesus gives us the free gift of His own peace. It is a present that He handed over to us, before He left to be with the Father. That’s not just any peace. This is a level of peace that has withstood open criticism from the Pharisees, trials in the desert from the devil, public prosecution, degradation, pain, suffering, and even death.


    No wonder that Jesus goes on to say:

    “Not as the world gives do l give to you.”

    John 14:27

    Is there any treasure on this earth, which can be comparable to the peace that Jesus gives us? With Jesus’ peace inside you, you don’t need to feel fear anymore, you can stop worrying. Nothing can intimidate you.


    In fact, Jesus tells us that these negative feelings have no more place in us:

    “Therefore, do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27

    Now that is one special gift.


    So, if peace is already in us then why must we pursue it?


    When we experience difficult times, we often get distracted or even overwhelmed by the given situation. We start to fret and get annoyed. We become emotional. Consequently, we start making wrong decisions that can make the current situation even worse.


    l used to feel miserable, scared, and defeated when I found myself in a bad situation. Only when l actively sought to be peaceful in such times, did l discover a new interpretation of how l could live my life.


    I realized that living a life filled with peace begins with a choice.
    The conscious choice to pursue it.


    The purposeful pursuit of peace is something we as Christians need to be exercising. It is, with the other Fruits of the Spirit, a ready arsenal that can make not only our own lives, but the lives of our family, friends, and others who interact with us, all the more richer and victorious.


    Ok, so let’s say you’re in the peace zone. What happens next?


    Well, once you have peace, you have to maintain it.


    Think about Exodus 14:14 (KJV):

    “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. “


    God is telling us that not only should we aspire to acquire peace, but that we also need to stay in peace through trials and tribulations. He will deal with the issue at hand, but we need to do our part and be at peace and rest, being confident that He will provide us with the best outcome.


    Holding our peace is telling God that we trust Him.


    I am so grateful to the Lord for showing me the importance of pursuing peace, while He deals with my present circumstances.

    Currently, l am experiencing a severe relapse in my convalscence from burnout and chronic depression. Panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed, and extreme social anxiety are daily battles l have to face, as well as depressive episodes.

    However, in the deepest depths of the darkest, miry pits, l can only stretch my hands out and rely on the grace and goodness of my Father, who promises to never fail me, nor forsake me. He walks with me in the shadow of the valley of Death. He is my light in the darkness, and His peace is a gift that l can accept and rely on, as He walks through this period of illness with me.


    The intensity with which we experience pain and suffering is subjective to each individual. No one can understand what you are going through as well as God.


    Put Him first, do your part and hold your peace and He will do His part and help you. He loves us all so much and He will never ask us to do anything we couldn’t do.

    “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”

    Colossians 3:15

    I wish you peace brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever storm you are in at this moment, it too shall pass.

    Blog banner credit: Simon Migaj on Unsplash

  • Devotionals

    How God showed me His love through a song on the radio

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    Thought of the day: In every situation, God is with me and comforts me. He shows His love for me in many unexpected ways.

    “Let your steadfast love become my comfort
    according to your promise to your servant.”

    Psalm 119:76 (NRSV)

    My childhood was an unhappy one. My parents beat me, and they constantly fought with each other. l lived in constant fear of them and felt unsafe and unloved.


    Being confined to close quarters with my parents was always stressful, so l wasn’t pleased when one day, my parents decided we should all go on a day trip. It was the early 80’s, so my father always had a mixed tape of songs he played in the car, in order to while away the journey time.


    However, during this trip, he turned on the radio. The opening twangy notes of a pedal steel guitar filtered through the car’s speakers, filling the car’s cabin with the melodious overtures of the song “Missippi” by Pussycat.


    My father had once told me that this song had stormed the UK charts in 1976, in the week l was born. We had been living in London at the time, so in celebration of my birth, he had gone to Selfridges, to buy the single on 7” vinyl.


    I used to enjoy the times my father would play the song, because l associated it with the few memories l had of his pleasure at my existence. However, this was the first time that l had ever heard the song on the radio.
    I may have been only a child, but sitting in that car, l knew that the timing of this song, through this particular format, was no coincidence.

    Unbeknown to them, l had been praying for someone to come into my life and protect me from the violence and mental anguish that l felt at the hands of my parents.


    Then “Missippi” came on and through the sweet-toned harmonies, l heard a still, small voice telling me that l was not alone. God was here, and He knew my suffering: He would protect me and keep me safe.

    God kept His word, and l managed to cope with my parent’s maltreatment until l was old enough to leave home.


    Lately, as l have been struggling to recover from burnout and chronic depression, l have been needing God’s comfort and assurance of love more than ever. Then, the other day, God showed me His love again through the radio.


    I was in the kitchen with the radio blaring as l prepared dinner. Suddenly, l heard the familiar twang of the opening bars of “Missippi”, greeting me like an old friend. I couldn’t help but smile, because even if nobody else saw it, l knew that God was telling me that He was keeping the promise He made me years ago, to look after me.


    God shows me His presence in many ways, however, the radio has become our own personal means of communication. Every time l hear “Missippi” on the radio, I am reassured yet again of God’s love for me.

    Prayer:

    Merciful Father, thank you that You are always with us. Your love is steadfast and always provides comfort in every situation we face. Help us to see Your presence every day, and show us how we can experience You in unexpected and delightful ways. Amen.

    Delve deeper:

    Are you wanting God to show you His presence in your current situation, but you can’t see Him?
    Maybe He is showing Himself to you in an unexpected way. Spend time with Him today, and ask Him to open your eyes to the manifestation of His love and comfort in your life today.

    Photo credit: Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

  • Jacob's Ladder Book Reviews

    JL Book review: “He Heard Me” written by Brenda Vargas

    In choosing which book l wanted to review for this month’s theme “Who l am in Christ”, the choice was easy –  He Heard Me, written by Canadian writer and poet, Brenda Vargas. 

    I first met Brenda through PresbyCan Devotionals, where she wrote me an encouraging comment to a devotional l had submitted to the website.  

    From that initial contact, a wonderful friendship has ensued. I am thankful to God every day for bringing this kind-hearted, generous person into my life, and l am grateful to learn more about myself and my own faith walk from her passionate love for Christ and her ability to see the good in all people. 

    He Heard Me is a tangible extension of Brenda’s intimate relationship with God. It is a loving testimony to the blessings, mercy, and miracles that God has given to her through the power of His infinite grace and mercy.  

    After reading this book, you will be filled with renewed faith, be grateful for God’s favor and blessings over your life, and be ignited with hope in experiencing the same miracles and revelation that Brenda has experienced.  Furthermore, Brenda’s words will rekindle your desire to discover a deeper relationship with God. 

    Brenda shares her inspiring spiritual journey through a compilation of personal testimonies and self-composed poetry. 

    Her introduction to the book begins with her testimony of salvation. The successive 11 themed chapters highlight situations in Brenda’s life where God has revealed Himself to her. Each chapter is complemented with Scripture.

    One favorite testimony of mine is to be found in the chapter “Trust and Obey”, where God gave Brenda favor with her bank by replacing a sum of money that had been owed to her.  

    Brenda also provides testimonial accounts of her friends and loved ones. One such account is given by a lady named Karen, whose testimony of recovery from lymphoma cancer, despite negative doctor’s reports, is just a beautiful confirmation of the power of God to heal and restore.  

    Within each chapter are self-composed poems, which supplement the chapter themes with their moving declarations of revelation and praise of God’s goodness. 

    What l also love about this book is Brenda’s attention for details. What first caught my eye about this book is the glorious sunset portrayed on the cover. The wash of golden, amber, and bronze hues evoked a feeling of peace and happiness in me.  

    When l asked Brenda about her inspiration behind choosing this photo, she informed me that the photo was taken on Pico in the Azores Islands, from a local photographer. Pico holds a special place in Brenda’s heart and is where she and her family spend a few months of the year to escape the harsh Canadian winters.  

    Inside my book l also found a bookmark, with the same beautiful sunset photo depicted on it, as well as the book’s title and author.  

    Brenda’s keenest desire is that people who read her book will have their eyes opened to see how God’s hand is present in every part of their daily lives. She has certainly achieved this! 

    I highly recommend reading He Heard Me. It is a book that will revive the spiritually fatigued, motivate the new believer in Christ, and give hope to those who are yearning for a meaningful relationship with God but just don’t know how to connect with Him 

    You can buy Brenda’s book on Amazon.com. Brenda also stocks her books in selected bookstores. To find out more, you can connect with her on Facebook.  

    About the author: 

    Brenda Vargas started writing poetry at a young age for special occasions and to communicate the things on her heart.  She has continued to write since that point, with encouragement from friends and family. Brenda currently lives in Ontario with her family and escapes the Canadian winters in Pico in the Azores Islands. 

    Blog banner credit:  Ben White on Unsplash

  • Articles

    How my worship of God is challenged by a world full of choices

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    I love spending time with God. My worship of Him is such an essential part of my day; l need it like the air that l breathe. In the same way, being in church is the highlight of my week, because l  can refuel my spiritual tank there in praise, worship and service. 

    It has taken a lot of trial and error, as well as a huge amount of discipline, but over the years l have formed a routine where l set aside time every morning to worship God through prayer, music, bible study, and journaling. 

    In John 4:23-24 it states that we should worship God “in the Spirit and in truth”, and l try my hardest to abide by this. My time with God has become my dedication of thanks to Him, to show Him how much l love Him and to grow in my relationship with Him. His presence fills me with strength, gives me peace, and reminds me that God is always looking after me. Consequently, when l come out of my time with God, l am strengthened in the assurance of His love and that with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)! 

    That being said, making time to worship God and commit myself to Him with my entire being isn’t easy. The world offers values, distractions, and pursuits that tempt me to take my eyes of God. It’s like the world is calling out to me to use my time of worship to pursue endeavors it considers more “important”. Hence, l am constantly being challenged to make a decision between the selection of choices that the world is offering me and my choice to spend time with God in worship. 

    1 John 2:15 warns us to not love this world, not the things it offers us. But unless you’re an uncontacted community, entirely cut off from the influence of modern-day society, what the world offers to entertain us, advance us, and ease our everyday lives can be pretty enticing.  

    Through trial and error, l have learned to recognize in what ways l am being distracted by the world and have accordingly worked on those areas to re-focus my attention back to God, when l find myself being challenged to worship Him.  I am still a work in progress, but l am getting better! 

    Here are 3 of my most pressing challenges to worshipping God in a world full of choices: 

    1. Caught between serving two masters: Technological distractions verses God

    I remember receiving my first mobile phone in the late ’90s. Before that, l was hightailing it to a pay phone every time l wanted to ring someone when l was on the go. Similarly, l am grateful for the invention of the internet. Teaching myself make-up application from YouTube tutorials jumpstarted my freelance career as an SFX and Make-up artist.  

    However, at some point, my life began to revolve around my devices, apps, and feeds. I was more intrigued by the scintillation of the internet and social media than being in God’s presence.  

    When it got to the point that l was tempted to check my WhatsApp messages during church services, l knew it was time to cut the digital umbilical cord. 

    It is almost scary how easily we allow the digital world to rule our lives. God says in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve two masters.  When we can’t stop scrolling through social media feeds or we just have to play one more game of “Candy Crush” on our phones, then we’re relying on technological advancement to get through life and we’re not relying on God.  

    These days, instead of looking at my phone when l get up in the morning, l thank God for the day He has made (Psalm 118:24).  During my worship time with God, l turn off all my devices. If someone wants to get in contact with me during this time, they can leave a message. In church, l switch my phone off before the service starts.  

    Photo credit:  Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

    2. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

    Every day when l get up in the morning, my focus is to spend those first hours of the day with God in His presence.  

    However, more often than not, by the time l give my one-eared pussycat his breakfast and start brewing my first cup of coffee, my mind starts formulating a list of all the activities l want to do that day. I start to get so nervous at the thought of not experiencing any of these events, that l become tempted to exchange my delegated worship time for the pursuit of my other endeavors. 

    Today’s fast-paced society is derived from an oversaturation of choices. Our anxiety at missing out on an experience is making us run from pillar to post – we’re suffering from FOMO. 

    In such times, l go back to the Bible for guidance. Matthew 6:33 highlights seeking God’s kingdom first above all things. After that, God will provide us with everything we need, including experiences. l have learned that God has to be the encounter l need to have FOMO about – not the pursuits of the world. 

    Photo credit:  Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

    3. We worship the things of this world, instead of God

    One of my favorite recreational pursuits is to go to the gym. Although l work out to promote a healthy lifestyle, a part of me is very aware of the “body goals” that are being portrayed on Instagram and splashed across the celebrity pages of magazines. Sometimes, when l lift weights, l question myself as to whether l should be striving to attain the highly sought-after peach emoji booty instead of accepting the body that God gave me. 

    The pursuit of a certain aesthetic, acquiring the latest version of the iPhone or constantly showing off photos of our dream partners and our exotic holidays on Facebook – these are portrayed as “goals”. However, in reality, they are societal pressures engineered by the world to woo us into worshipping them, instead of worshipping God.   

    Romans 12:2 encourages us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by a renewing of our minds. When l find myself going down the rabbit hole of superficial pursuits, l need to stop and remind myself that the only truly worthy pursuit is that of seeking God’s presence. 

    We are only temporary residents in this world, but God’s love for us is eternal. When we consider that Jesus made the ultimate choice to give His life for us at the cross, then making the decision to spend time with God in worship and praise suddenly becomes a lot easier, and the choices of the world begin to quickly pale in comparison.    

    Photo credit: Nick Fewings on Unsplash

    This article was published on YMI Magazine on May 15th 2019.

    Blog banner credit:  Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

  • Devotionals

    My trust is in the name of the Lord

    Thought of the day: In God do l put my trust and confident reliance and not in the world. 

    “Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
        but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

    Psalm 20:7 (NIV)

    A few months ago, l stopped going on social media. I got to the point where l could not see another Instagram pose, you know the kind with the phone held up in front of a mirror, hip to the side, complete with a pouty lip? Or the photo exemplifying a person’s posterior, with a peach emoji next to it?

    We live in a society that encourages self-promotion and narcissism as a measurement of popularity. Unrealistic beauty and partner ideals, material acquisitions, and exotic travel locations are blatantly advertised as “goals” that should be achieved in order to live an accomplished life. Failing to fulfill any or all of these requirements leaves one feeling insecure, worthless, and constantly comparing.

    However, where is God in all of this? Why isn’t He presented as a “goal” to social media followers, especially to the more easily impressed youth?

    Turning off my notifications has brought a stillness into my life. Free of distractions, l can hear God more clearly. He tells me that He loves me, He is my provider, and that His Truth guides my way.

    I may live in this world, but l don’t have to yield under its pressures. In God do l put my trust and confident reliance and not in superficial conformities. With this revelation, l feel set free from society’s expectations.

    Prayer: Wonderful Lord, help us to not prioritize the ideals and expectations of this world; instead let us hold You first in our hearts, for You give us Love, Truth, and Life.

    Delve deeper: Do you live your life according to how society says you should live it? Do you go on Facebook or Instagram and compare yourself to others? Do you constantly check how many likes your latest tweet or post received?

    Friends, if you find that the things of this world are taking priority over God’s values, spend time in prayer with Him and ask Him to help you re-focus your eyes on Him. What the world says about you is not important; only God’s opinion matters!

    This devotional was published on PresbyCan Devotionals on 26th May 2019.

  • Personal testimonies

    Slave no more

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    I don’t know about you, but l have a fantastic relationship with my doctor. When l was living in Cologne, Germany, for 17 years, Dr. Reiner Frenken was not only my physician for this period, he also became a trusted friend.

    Reiner Frenken is a multi-talent: He is a medical practitioner as well as a rock musician, who writes, sings, and produces his own songs. He has brought out four albums Utopia I, II, III, and IV, the proceeds of which all go to supporting “Doctors without Borders”.

    About three years ago, Reiner asked me if l would be interested in writing some lyrics for an album he was working on at the time, Utopia III. I had written reams of poetry during high school and university, so l was interested in discovering whether l could reawaken the dormant bard within. Thus, l agreed.

    One of the lyrics l wrote for Reiner was for a song he had composed titled “Slave no more“. As a Christian, the title evoked my experience of coming to Christ and how He broke me free of the chains of my past. I wanted the lyrics to reflect this.

    This is what l came up with:

    Slave no more

    I’m a slave
    Trapped in chains,
    In the spaces of my mind
    Searching for peace l cannot find
    Won’t let the darkness smother me
    No more
    I wanna break free
    l gotta break free


    No more a slave, no more a slave
    The taste of freedom is what l crave
    I’m no slave, l’ll be saved
    No more a slave, that’s the promise You gave

    I’m a slave
    Head bowed low
    Living in sorrow, bearing the shame
    I need You to take away the pain
    Only Your love is my breakthrough
    I know it’s true
    I wanna break free
    Help me break free


    Take me to a place
    Where the sunlight reaches me
    Where l feel my spirit’s free
    Touch my heart from deep within

    Accept my fall from grace
    Only You can break these chains
    Raise me to my feet again
    Your love is power, l just can’t explain.

    Reiner amalgamated these lyrics to the melody he had written, and the song “Slave no more” became a part of the album Utopia III. You can listen to the song here.

    If you would like to find out more about Reiner Frenken’s music and charity work, then visit him on Facebook or click on his YouTube channel.

    Photo credit:  Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

  • Articles

    Made in God’s Image

    Blessed to Be a Blessing, Created to Be Creative

    Written by Sarah Keith

    Have you ever heard someone say, or maybe you’ve said it, “I’m not very creative; I can’t even draw a stick figure!” While it’s true that many people can’t draw, the visual arts are not the only measurement for determining creativity. In fact, I believe creativity is a hallmark trait of being made in God’s image.

    When God created Adam and Eve, He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” Genesis 1: 26-27 (ESV).

    As Christians, we understand the term, “us” in Genesis 1 as a direct reference to the triune* nature of One God, who is manifested in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On the other hand, there are those who would say the “us” is a reference to God’s heavenly court, meaning God and His angels. However, this presents a problem, because people are not created in the image of an angel.

    We—human beings, male and female, and not any of the other animals—are created in God’s image (tselem in Hebrew) and in His likeness (demuth in Hebrew). This image-likeness must refer to inward qualities such as our eternal nature, our intellect, our morality, our social nature, and our ability to love and be loved, all of which has been damaged because of the Fall (Genesis 3) because sin has marred our God-like image. Yet, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, we can be restored by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, to be conformed into the image of Jesus, who is the exact representation of our Father God (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3).

    The words “create”, “created”, and “made or make” are used interchangeably throughout Scripture, and are sometimes used to explain the same event, as referenced in Genesis 1, above. The Old Testament Hebrew word for “create”, bara’, means God-shaping, God-forming, or God-fashioning what was “not there before” (Latin, ex nihilo, out of nothing.) The Hebrew word for “made or make” in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man. . .” is ‘asah, which means to fashion, accomplish, make, work, produce, prepare, to make an offering, appoint.

    Only God can bara’, that is create something from nothing, but both God and people can ‘asah, make things.

    In Genesis 1:26-27, bara’ and ‘asah are used interchangeably and refer to God’s work in creation. In Exodus 25-28, God instructed Moses to have the children of Israel make (‘asah) Him a Sanctuary, as well as all the components within the Sanctuary: candlesticks, a wooden chest, curtains, frames, and hooks, to name a few. They were to make things (‘asah) from existing things that God had created (bara’) from nothing.

    Throughout the Old Testament ‘asah may refer to making a cake, a garden, a crown, or even making an agreement. There are a lot more! In fact, there are over 2000 references of ‘asah; some pertain to God-making or doing, and others to people-making or doing.

    In Psalm 51:10 David pleads, “Create (bara’) in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” David knew in order to have a clean heart, it would be God’s doing. David couldn’t “make” his heart clean! But he also knew there was a purpose in having a clean heart:

    “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.”

    Psalm 51:13.

    The equivalent New Testament Greek word for God’s creative work is ktizo or ktisis, meaning to create, form, or shape, making something from nothing. The Apostle Paul tells us that those who are in Christ are a God-created work:

    “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (ktisis); the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

    2 Corinthians 5:17

    And like David who understood that having a clean heart was not just for his benefit, God’s children are made into new creatures for a purpose.

    “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. For we are His workmanship, created (ktizo) in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them”

    Ephesians 2:8-10.

    Because we are made in God’s image+, it makes sense that creativity would be part of our DNA. Of course, not all of us can sing well, write a novel, play a musical instrument, or even draw a stick figure. But these are too narrow a definition of creativity!

    Consider what you can do!

    • Can you make (‘asah) a cake?
    • Can you make (‘asah) a garden?
    • Can you make (‘asah) an agreement—can you be agreeable?
    • Can you make (‘asah) a friend?
    • Can you make (‘asah) a card to send to someone who is sick or suffering?
    • Can you make (‘asah) a prayer?
    • Can you make (‘asah) order out of chaos—by helping a friend in their time of need?
    • Can you make (‘asah) your witness for Christ known?

    All of us can make (‘asah) something and do it with the purpose of bringing God’s kingdom to others. And we can do it with the knowledge that we have God’s creative DNA working in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13). Our good works reflect God’s image, His likeness, to the world!

    My good friend and editor, Kit MacLeod, shared her experience of volunteering at an elementary school, and how God’s creative DNA was available to her.

    She wrote, “I realized a lot of the things I’ve done were more spur of the minute inspired, rather than planned. That goes back to the concept of being open to God’s inspiration, praying for it, and believing it will flow according to His perfect plan. I remember reading the book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen to a group of second graders, and seeing that there were some children who were not very engaged. That particular book has the owl’s “whoo-whoo-whooo” repeated throughout.

    After I read it dramatically the first time, on a whim I encouraged them to join in with me. As I continued reading, even the most reluctant students became more and more engaged. They were hanging on every word, waiting for their next chance to dramatically hoot, grinning all the time.

    When we finished reading, they applauded, delighted with the story and their part in it. I believe the inspiration to engage them that way was just God’s creativity flowing through me, showing me opportunities to enjoy and share enjoyment of His creative Spirit.”

    So, let us begin thinking of ways to put God’s creative intellect and power to work in our lives, so that others may believe, be encouraged, and grow in their faith! And when you tap into your creativity, I believe you will discover a deep joy and a Divine creative flow at work within you!

    *Jewish scholars reject the idea of a triune being. However, they must still deal with at least the duality of God and his Spirit, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth . . . and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” Genesis 1:1-2. (See also, Genesis 6:3, Exodus 31:3, or Numbers 11:25 to name just a few.)

    + According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:
    “Image,” the Hebrew term, tselem, is from an unused root meaning to shade; a phantom, i.e. (figuratively) illusion, resemblance; hence, a representative figure, especially an idol — image, vain shew. (We are not to make “graven images,” “tselem,” “carved idols.). And “Likeness,” the Hebrew, demuth, is to “model, shape, fashion, to resemble, liken, consider.”

    From the editor:  Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this informative article. If you would like to read more articles from Sarah Keith, visit School Network.com.

    Also, check out the website’s vast array of biblical-based teaching resources designed to help children to get to know Jesus.


    Sources

    bibletools.org, ” Bible verses about Asah” 

    crosswalk.com,  “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance” 

    answersingenesis.com, “Did God Create (Bara) or Make (Asah) in Genesis 1?” 

    sunnybrookpub.com, “Asah in Genesis – The Work God Did” 

    creation.com, “Made in the image of God” 

    About the author:

    Sarah Keith is the founder of SundaySchoolNetwork.com. She has been writing Christian adult devotionals and Bible curricula for teachers of children since 1999. In 1981 she graduated with honors from Palm Beach Atlantic University with a degree in Psychology and Religion, and she holds a degree in Fine Arts from Palm Beach State College.

    Sarah is passionate about the importance of teaching children about Jesus, having them memorize God’s Word early and often. She has worked in children’s ministry for over 30 years

  • Devotionals

    My strength comes from the joy of the Lord

    Thought of the day:
    When God is leading me through a transition, His joy for me is my source of strength.

    “Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
    Nehemiah 8:10 (NRSV)

    Being in a period of transition is a stressful time for me. When my circumstances start to change and l experience growing pains, it can affect my ability to see the situation for what it is – as God testing and purifying me so that He can prepare me for the next level of His wonderful plan for my life.

    At such times, I hand over the situation to God, but emotionally, l can’t help but see changes in our family’s circumstances as portents of doom. I admonish myself constantly for allowing my fears to overpower my faith.


    My husband, Solomon, on the other hand, is the kind of person who can always tap into God’s joy, despite what is going on around him. He interacts socially and generally enjoys his life, while l sit at home lamenting over what l perceive as a downward turn of events.


    In order to cheer me up, Solomon encourages me to go out for a coffee with him or to meet up with friends. However, l get too caught up in the cinema playing in my head to take on his suggestions. In such times, my husband reminds me that the joy of the Lord is our strength. God knows our current dilemma and is preparing us for promotion and blessings. In the meantime, we should rejoice in each day that God has made.

    Maybe l am not as spiritually mature as my husband, for l have never really understood what Nehemiah meant when he told the Israelites in Nehemiah 8:10 that God’s joy strengthens us.

    Then, a few days ago, l watched an online sermon that gave me a revelation of this Bible verse.


    The pastor preached on Psalm 23:6, where God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. As l listened, l began to understand Nehemiah’s words better. Sure, life would be more joyful if l could foresee how we were to persevere through our adversities, but true joy comes from the strength that only God can give me.


    Revelation rained down on me: God takes joy in me as His child – I am loved, cherished, and protected. Though changes may be whirling around me in a chaotic cyclone of fear and doubt, l can be confident in the presence of it, fortified in the knowledge that God has my back.


    With this in mind, l will heed Nehemiah’s words to the Israelites to eat, drink, and not grieve. I need not fear change, nor should l condemn myself for feeling it. Instead, l should lift my eyes to Jesus and remember that my joy comes from above. God will do the rest.

    Prayer:
    Wonderful Father, thank you that You love us and take joy in us as Your children. As You lead us through changes, help us to remember that Your joy is our true source of strength which overcomes fear and doubt. Amen.

    Delve deeper:
    Are you currently finding it difficult to experience joy in the midst of your present circumstances? Is God leading you through a period of transition, which is making you anxious and worried?

    Remember that your help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth! In prayer, ask God to show you how you can tap into the strength that comes from the joy He feels for us, His beloved children.

    Photo credit:  Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash

  • Personal testimonies

    How l withstood the heat -Bushfires and the Holy Spirit

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    When l was six years old, l experienced my first bushfire. I grew up in Victoria, Australia, in a set of low rural mountain ranges called the Dandenongs, about 35 km east of Melbourne.

    That summer had been a real scorcher, with little rainfall and strong winds. The threat of bushfires breaking out was very real: The majestic eucalyptus gums that surrounded our neighborhood were particularly flammable due to their abundant foliage and high oil content. Many houses backed onto steep gullies that could sweep a bushfire upwards towards us at an alarming speed. Everyone was tense with dread and anticipation.

    Then, the threat became a reality. My family and l were at home when we first saw the fire alert on TV, but we could already see billowing clouds of smoke moving towards us from a distant mountain, turning day instantly into night in its wake. Instead of evacuating, we unanimously agreed to stay and defend our home.

    Everyone had their houses fire-prepared as standard protocol. The air was already thick with smoke as my mum hosed down the patio areas and my dad confirmed the levels of water in the gutters on the roof one last time.

    I ran around the garden, checking that the buckets placed around our property were full of water. The fire was near: My eyes were stinging, and l could taste feathery flakes of ash on my tongue. Panic rose in me as my lungs started to fill with smoke, making me cough and splutter.

    Afer we had completed our final inspections, my parents and l went into our house and shut the windows and doors that had been already secured with metal mesh screens. The phone lines had jammed hours previously, and the radio waves were spitting out static. The TV was our only lifeline and we stayed glued in front of it, watching and waiting.

    About an hour later, the bushfire swept through. We remained safe and our house received only surface fire damage. However, the aftermath of that natural disaster had diabolical effects on our community: Many of our neighbor’s houses were destroyed, local vegetation was razed to charcoal, and only a small percent of native fauna survived.

    Afer the firefighters had left, l looked out onto the charred landscape of what had once been my backyard, with big eyes filling up with sooty tears. I may have been a small child, however, l understood that fire was a cataclysmic force of nature. It was a bitter lesson to learn.

    It was only a few years later in a Geoscience lesson in school that l discovered how bushfires play an important role in the rejuvenation and continuation of Australia’s environment. Natural ecosystems are dependent on periodic fire to cleanse out undergrowth, unleash stored nutrients in the soil, and encourage the germination of seeds and pods, which can only be released through heat.

    Sitting in that classroom, it dawned on me, that what fire initially destroys can be the necessary preparation to refine and give re-birth to the new.

    As a Christian, the application of fire manifests itself in the same way when we enter into a deeper relationship with God. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, where the Holy Spirit is represented as tongues of fire:

    “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. “

    Acts 2:3-4  (NRSV)

    l experienced this baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit, after l gave my life to Christ over 10 years ago.

    I recall the encounter vividly.  It was like a thermostat had been turned up, and l experienced a wave of heavenly fire wash over me. Like gold or silver, l was made to withstand the heat, and l felt myself being cleansed of my past, as well as of my guilt and regrets ( Zechariah 13:9). I knew that the fire had purified and refined me.

    Since then, l have never been the same. I feel such a burning in my heart for God – a true passion that has stirred up my entire being. Though l am naturally shy, l have a boldness to talk about my faith – with friends and strangers alike – and l have a burning desire to spread the gospel.  

    I have spent most of my life drifting, with obscure goals and fickle dreams. However, 12 months ago, l started freelancing as a Christian writer and blogger. Furthermore, last month, l started an online ministry through this blog! I am also currently writing my first novel.

    l have the Holy Spirit to thank for instilling all of these dreams in me and for being my source of inspiration. He is guiding me, just like He guided the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night.

    “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

    Exodus 13:21-22

    Most importantly, through the fire of the Holy Spirit, God has breathed new life into me through the blood of His son Jesus Christ. When l sat in the darkness of indecision and despair, God’s light set the wilderness inside of me on fire, and l became a new creation, His child. I could start a new existence in right standing with a loving, forgiving Father. Hallelujah!

    All of this was as yet unknown to me at the age of six, as l stood in the aftermath of that bushfire that had turned my childhood memories into a burnt out, blackened wasteland.

    However, in the months that followed the fire, l did witness the bush come slowly back to life. Green shoots began to tentatively burst out of the ground in clusters, pushing the scorched earth behind them as they reached out for the nurturing light above.

    Additionally, I caught the occasional glimpse of a kangaroo with her joey hopping amongst the singed and blistered tree stumps. My ears pricked up at a melodic burst of almost forgotten birdsong.

    Fire, which l had formerly seen as devastating, was a necessary part of the process of living. The season of re-birth had begun.

     

    You can also read this testimony on shelovesmagazine.com.

    About the author:

     

    Madeline Twooney is a Christian writer and blogger. She has written artricles for SheLoves, Converge, and Ruminate Magazine and is a contributing writer for Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, and YMI Magazine.

    In her spare time, Madeline gets creative as a freelance Special Effects Makeup artist, and she loves dancing to Sister Sledge and Stevie Wonder whilst cooking. Madeline is British but lives in Germany with her husband and their one-eared pussycat. You can contact Madeline at madelinetwooney@gmail.com or tweet her at @MTwooney