stronghold

Over the past couple of years I’ve been learning a lot about the spiritual realm, that place within creation that is inhabited by spiritual beings. Of course, we humans live in the physical realm, the creation of which is described in Genesis 1, but we are unique among physical creatures because we have a spiritual element — something that we have come to call a spirit. (We’re so creative!) The Bible tells us that, because of this, we have a certain amount of access to the spiritual world. In fact, it seems as though God’s plan was, and still is, for humans to be the link between, and even the rulers of, a new, combined spiritual and physical universe. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I strongly recommend you check out the work of Dr. Michael Heiser. You can read my review of his book The Unseen Realm here.


A spiritual stronghold is a mental or emotional space controlled by our spiritual enemy.

Not all of the spiritual beings liked God’s plan to make human beings the rulers of both realms (ruling alongside God himself, of course), and so they sought to corrupt humans. I think that these spiritual beings wanted to both prove our unworthiness for the role, while at the same time showing how strong, wise, and qualified they were to rule the universe. Regardless of their intentions, their plan succeeded, and we have all lived in what the Bible calls sin ever since. Humans are in an interesting position here, because we are both actors in a spiritual war and the objects of that war. We are both soldiers and the battleground, and because of this sin, we don’t fight on the side of the good guys nearly often enough. Fortunately for us, God has fought back against these dark spiritual beings to redeem and reclaim us, which is what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were all about. Now that these forces of evil know that God will ultimately win, their goal is to bring as many of us into their condemnation as possible.

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First Love
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
-Revelation 2:1-7

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Or, if you’re like me and were raised in a Christian home, can you recall that time in your life when you made the faith your own? For many of us, those are the moments of the birth of new life in our souls, of freshness and forgiveness, of a passionate love for Jesus burning in our hearts. It’s the moment of first love, when God reveals himself to us with grace and clarity, and we finally understand how deeply loved we are by our Creator — that is when our love for God explodes out of our hearts and flows out into the world around us through our words and actions. We love God so much that we just can’t hide it!

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to stay in that place. It’s difficult to maintain that level of passion and emotion over the course of our lives. I told Jesus this in prayer the other day. I said, “Look, it’s hard to love you when you’re not physically present on the earth. I don’t mean that you’re hard to love, because your character and the things you’ve done for me — how can I not love you? I’m just saying that it’s difficult to maintain this love in your absence.” I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, I’m just trying to guilt Jesus into returning right now! (It’s not working.) I recognize that I was speaking purely from an emotional level (frustration, disappointment) in that prayer, and that Jesus’s absence is no excuse to not be present to the passion of our love for him. After all, he has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us, and he is always urging us back to our first love.

But the world tends to distract us from our love for Jesus. The tedium and monotony of our daily routines, the triviality of consumerism, and the banality of entertainment have a way of dulling the senses — especially our deepest feelings for our Savior. The more that our love for God is at the surface of our souls and not buried beneath the anxieties and distractions of modern life, the more we will feel a passionate love for him. I am not as passionate about God when I spend a lot of time on my phone. There’s something about that screen that can pull me away from the One I’m supposed to feel most passionately about. Love isn’t a feeling, of course, but we do feel love. We have an emotional response to love and our presence to it, and the more in touch with that love we are, the more we will feel it on an emotional level. Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.


Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.

What Jesus is after from the Church in Ephesus, and from us, is that they become present to the passion of their love for him. It’s not that they don’t love; it’s that they have grown cold to love. Their souls have become distant from their first love, and a great chasm of fear and rule-keeping has opened up between them and Jesus. They didn’t fall off the path, necessarily, they just forgot why they were walking on it and who they were following.

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Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.

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Paul’s Friends – 4:7-18


7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Paul was not alone in ministry. Though different people accompanied him at different times, he always seemed to have a group of men by his side. Paul’s friends were faithful ministers of the Gospel who supported him in every way.

Tychicus is the first person mentioned, most likely because he was the carrier of this letter. It would have been his responsibility to read the letter aloud to the congregation, explaining anything that needed clarification or further comment. He is also mentioned in Ephesians. In fact, he is the only one mentioned there, which stands in stark contrast with the ending to Colossians. Paul’s language regarding Tychicus is similar in Ephesians and Colossians, indicating the possibility that he wrote both letters at the same time, entrusting both to Tychicus. Tychicus is also mentioned in Acts 20, Titus, and 2 Timothy.

Tychicus had a travelling companion, the famous Onesimus. Paul refers to him as “one of you,” indicating that he was the same Onesimus who belonged to Philemon. Could he have been a runaway slave? Possibly. Regardless of his previous situation, he is now a “faithful and dear brother.” Onesimus is a Christian, and a reliable witness to all that is going on with Paul’s ministry.

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Concluding Exhortations – 4:2-6


2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Paul’s concluding exhortations center around two themes: prayer and witness. These exhortations are personal, not general, and Paul includes an appeal that they would pray for him as he witnesses wherever he goes. This section provides a fine complement to the sweeping gospel-vision he proclaimed in 1:6: “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” And how does it bear fruit? Through the proclamation of Spirit-empowered people like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras.

His first command is to be devoted to prayer. One of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the denomination of which I am a part, is “prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” Prayer is the first course of action for the believer, and nothing of kingdom value is accomplished without it. Our devotion to prayer must be greater than our commitment to plan and strategize, for it is only through prayer that the plans of God’s people succeed. When our first impulse in any situation is to pray, then worry and anxiety will be unable to take root in our hearts.


Prayer requires follow through.
Within prayer, believers are to be both watchful and thankful. The object of our watchfulness is uncertain. Perhaps we are watching for the Lord’s return. Perhaps we are watching out for the works of the evil one. Could it be that we are to be watching for answers to our prayers? Whatever Paul had in mind, all three of these forms of watchfulness are beneficial for the Christian. But his point is well made: prayer requires follow through. Prayer does not exist in isolation from the rest of our lives. Rather, when we pray, we must watch for God’s activity, and be thankful when we see him move.

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