Monday, February 28, 2011

Christian Marriage, the Man's Role. The Road Less Traveled, Part II: Ephesians 5:22-33

Today we continue our study of marriage. As we study these verses in Ephesians on marriage, some who are not married may ask, “How does this apply to me?” This is an excellent and very important question. Whether you are single or married it is important, critically important for us to understand God’s design for marriage. We live in the age of “Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire?” A show, a concept that makes a mockery of marriage, and yet it was a show that drew large ratings. I don’t know exactly what that says about us as a people, but whatever it is, is not good. We must have a high view of marriage.  Hear now God’s word.

Ephesians 5:22-33
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.

The image of a husband as a gigantic dictator who rampages through his house enforcing his will on his puny servants is dispelled by verse 25. Husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the church. What does that mean? As has often been pointed out that means that husbands must be willing to die for their wives. This does mean though that husbands can say, “OK, OK if ever an assassins bullet comes her way, I will step in front of her; if we are on the Titanic and it is going down I will place her on the life boat and I will go down with the ship—fine—can I go back to watching my Rams Super Bowl video now?” You probably will never have to face a situation in which you will have to literally lay down your life for your wife. The question then is not so much whether you are willing to die for your wife, but whether you are willing to live for your wife in accordance with the will of Christ. Our love is modeled after the love of Christ who yes, did die for the church, but while he lived on earth he lived for his people; he loved them. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he forgave people’s sins, and he washed their feet. He served them. Husbands are called to live Christ-like lives in their homes and to love their wives.

Husbands love by leading, verse 23. The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. The husband loves his wife as he functions in the role God has given him, as leader. Too often the problem is that husbands are inactive or passive in leadership, thus placing the decisions and resulting stress upon their wives who then grow in their frustration and resentment at the inactivity of their husbands. Husbands must actively lead. Our leadership must be expressed in protection and commitment.

Protection, verse 25.  Christ gave himself up for us. This one statement has many facets as we shall see but it definitely refers to Jesus’ protection of us for he died for our sins, our failures. Elsewhere we read that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, the one who shed his blood so that God’s judgment upon our sin would pass over us. Thus he is our shield and our protector. There is much that brings pressure to bear on any family; it is the husband’s responsibility to bear much of that load and to shield and to protect his wife and family. Sadly, rather than asserting, “Yes, the buck stops here,” we often seek to evade responsibility for it is far easier to criticize and point the finger of blame.

I hated long trips when I was growing up. Inevitably it would mean that my father rather than looking at the map ahead of time would as we were driving, seemingly at the last possible second would place the map in my mother’s lap and say, “Figure out where we need to go!” Pressure would be on her to get her bearings on the map, look at all the major roads and make the right split-second decision, and if she made the wrong decision, Dad would always blame her and yell and scream. I told myself I would never do that to my wife.  God has a way of bursting the bubble of my self-righteousness. Two years ago Ginger and I were in search of new health coverage. There were so many details and options it was quite nerve wracking. Instead of taking leadership, I allowed her to do the research and bear the stress. Rather than “protecting,” I found myself in the role of critic and one day said something incredibly stupid and demeaning to my wife and she took off down the hallway in tears. I realized I had failed to take leadership; I had failed to protect her. I was not loving her as Christ loves me. Please understand this does not mean that you refuse to discuss issues, listen to what your wife has to say and at times leave decisions to her because in particular circumstances she knows more than you, of course you do these things, you would be foolish not to; rather it is an attitude that says when you can see the pressure is great upon your wife, “I will take this burden, you do not have to bear it alone anymore.” Raising children can be a particularly stressful area, many times women feel all alone in bearing this responsibility.  I know a father who though he loves his children dearly has zero tolerance for his children talking back to their mother, his wife. “You will not talk to your mother that way and if I ever hear such things come out of your mouth you know the consequences.” Such a statement is necessary for the children to learn to treat their mother with respect, but it is also a powerful statement of protection to the wife: “I am in this with you and I am not going to tolerate them or anyone else for that matter talking to you, my wife, that way.” Men, are you loving your wives this way?

Leadership expresses itself in commitment, verse 23. The church is Christ’s body and He is our Savior. In verses 26 and 27 we read of his commitment to the body, to be with us through to the end as we become the people he would have us be. Christ does not leave us. He is never going to say, “Yes, I died to save you, but I have changed my mind—I am out of here!” No and likewise, the husband must communicate to his wife that he has sunk the anchor down deep and in the storms of life he is not going to abandon ship; he is going to stay put. The wife needs to know the security of her husband’s commitment, that no matter what comes, he is going to be there, til death do us part.

Imagine the U.S.S. Enterprise under severe attack by the Klingons and the entire crew looks to Captain Kirk to save the day. Imagine the Captain saying, “Gee guys, this looks tough—I quit—I am going to take my escape pod to safety—good luck.” Of course not, he is committed to the last to save the ship and her crew. When things get difficult, a job is lost, finances are tight, a child rebels, an illness arises, tension builds, do you run away? Do you look for a place to hide? God calls us to love by our commitment—to be there—no matter what life may bring.

Second love must serve. Loves serves through nurturing, verses 26-27. It was the Jewish custom for the bride, just prior to her wedding to take a cleansing bath and then get dressed for her groom. Here, Christ washes us who were dirty in our sin; he cleanses and dresses us that we would be without wrinkle or any other blemish, that we would be radiant like a bride on her wedding day, that we would become all that God intends us to be. Because of his deep love for us, Christ nurtures us. So must we love our wives, that we would be instruments of grace, encouraging our wives to become all that God intends them to be. We do not seek to suppress the talents and gifts of our wives, but instead consider how we can provide an environment in which these are allowed to flourish, grow and prosper. As I alluded to last week there is much pressure on women to conform to society’s evaluation of what a woman ought to be and sometimes, just like men there is the nagging question, “Am I good enough? Do I measure up?” You look at TV, perhaps watch the Grammy’s and you see the images of women and you look at yourself in the mirror and maybe, just maybe, you feel like such a failure. It was not too long ago that we were sitting at the table and Ginger shared that at times she did not feel like she was contributing to the family, primarily because she was not working full-time. Knowing all that she does, so much of which revolves around the children, I knew that the very idea was preposterous, but I realized how easy it is for me to fail to nurture my wife with words of encouragement and appreciation.  In small ways and big ways that she would hear from my lips, “I am so glad I am married to you.” Men, don’t just think these things, say these things. Further, talk to your wife about what is going in your life, your struggles, problems, questions and doubts and listen to what she has to say; involving her in your life nurtures her and in the process you grow together and she increasingly becomes the women God would have her be.

Giving sacrificially, verse 25. Christ gave himself up for us. So we must give ourselves up for our wives. This is not easy. We are selfish, are we not? This past week the Sports illustrated swimsuit issue came out which fuels this selfishness. How can women meet my needs. How can women make me feel good or at least the fantasy of such women. When Christ went to the cross was he thinking first and foremost of himself? No, neither must we.  How can I give of myself to my wife? How can I serve her? How can I meet her needs? Dr. Bryan Chapell tells the story of an elderly couple who lived in a rural community where Wal-Mart was the social hub. Mary loved going to Wal-Mart, not just to shop but to socialize with her friends and meet new ones. She would go and do her thing and Joe would go off and fish. They would come back at the end of the day and share their stories. There came a time when Mary’s health was such that she was no longer able to drive to Wal-Mart. Though Joe did not understand her love for going there, he knew that she missed it. So he decided to give sacrificially, rather than going fishing, he would with increasing regularity drive his wife to Wal-Mart and knowing that it would not be a short visit, he actually brought a lawn chair into the store. When his wife would strike up a conversation, he would sit in his chair in the aisle until his wife was finished and silently delight in the joy of his wife. He sacrificed his pleasure for hers. What is in view is not a list of things to do, but rather an attitude of service: how can I give sacrificially to my wife and how can I nurture her?

How is all this possible? As we only scratch the surface of what it means to love our wives, it can be overwhelming. We are self-centered people and to love this way does not come naturally. As you strive to pursue these qualities of love by leading and serving you will see that this is true of you more than you ever knew, you will see the selfishness in your own heart, that you want things to go your way, and you will see your inability to love as Christ has loved us. That is why we must always, daily go back to Christ’s love for us. Though I have failed as a husband and I know I will fail again, Christ loves me; he will never give up on me, he leads me, he has served and is serving me and he will do this to the end. Though I am not the husband I ought to be, by God’s grace in Christ he will continue to change me, that I would learn to love my wife as he has loved me and thus be God’s instrument of grace to her and walk upon the road less traveled.

A movie entitled A Vow To Cherish depicts a successful business man whose wife is stricken with Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progresses she recognizes her family less and less. Caring for her is interfering with his business and is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating. He feels alone and trapped. Part of him desperately wants out. There are those who would say, “Nobody would blame you  if you went on with your life and met somebody else.” Today perhaps that is the path most traveled, but as he reflected on his relationship to God and his love, the husband made a decision. He came home one evening, sat on the bed next to his wife though she did not recognize him, took her hand and said, “I take you to be wife, to love, honor and cherish from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part.” This is the road less traveled; let us walk upon it, following Him who loves us so. Let us pray.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What is Christian Marriage? The Road Less Traveled - Part 1, Ephesians 5: 22-24, 33

Do the words, “til death do us part” mean anything? Several years ago a popular song asked a similar question: Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?” I went through our directory this week, though not everyone’s anniversary is listed, I discovered that Jack and Althea Rein have been married 42 years; Ken an Yvonne Wagner 44; Clint and Lucy Zolman 45; Rick and Nancy Fournier 47; Bill and June Dare 49; Art and Marilyn Wagner 50; Lou and Laverne 51; Bob and Laverne Maddux 52; Vernon and Evelyn Wilson 57. If I was wearing a hat I would tip it to you. That is fantastic! I do wonder though how common such marriages will be in the future. As we turn to God’s word, may we see yet again God’s best for marriage. Whether we are married or not, may we all honor God’s design for marriage. Hear now God’s word.

“ 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. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-24,33)

Today we head into what some may describe as shark-infested waters. Verses that some misapply, others choose to avoid, but as we go verse by verse through Ephesians, we come across verse 22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Some may laugh. Some may scream in anger. Some may with a sarcastic role of the eyes dismiss it all together. But this is what God says and not only here but in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1. If you treat this lightly, your walk with the Lord will be hindered and the growth in your marriage will be stunted. God has placed the husband in the position of leadership in the home, verse 23, lest anyone misunderstand, this leadership is to be modeled after Christ’s love for the church, which we will study next week. The wife is called to submit to the husband and to his leadership.  But what does that mean?

Submission certainly does not mean that a woman is inferior in any way. This is the clear implication of verse 31, which says that the two shall become one, one body, one flesh where there is no superior or inferior anymore than there is a superior or inferior in the Triune God. 1 Corinthians 15:28 speaks of Christ being subject or submissive to the Father—does this in any way make him inferior? Of course not. Still some might refer to Genesis 2:20 to demonstrate that the woman is a helpmate to the man—as if the woman was no more than one who carries the bags on a trip—but this same word is used to refer to God and his relation to us—he is our helper in Deuteronomy 33:29, Psalm 10:14; clearly the biblical concept of submission does not imply inferiority.

Nor does it mean accepting physical abuse or adultery. Sadly, there have been instances when this verse has been twisted to communicate that wives whose very lives were in danger because of abuse were to simply sit back and take it because, of course, they are to submit. Submit to your husband in everything, verse 24, is not universal. If your husband commands you to do something that clearly violates God’s law, you must refuse. If your life or the lives of your children are at risk, you must do everything you can to protect yourself and your children. You submit to your husband as unto Christ, and you submit according to the will of Christ. 

If submission does not mean abuse or inferiority, what does it mean? I believe it means, as one author has said, “Pouring out your life” on behalf of your husband. This is the natural implication of the union expressed in verse 31: the two shall become one. Yet the messages with which society and our sinful nature bombards us are clear: Always pursue self interest.  Always ask, “What is in it for me?” This principle will destroy any marriage for it works against the union expressed in verse 31. It must not be what is best for me, but what is best for my marriage. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Those who seek to assert themselves, to control, dominate and manipulate another, will in the end lose their life.  But those who serve, who pour out their lives on behalf of another, who in this sense lose their life, will in fact find life. This principle then of submission, as we saw last week is applicable to all of us, married or not, we actually find life in service to others. In these verses, of course, this is specifically applied to the role of the woman in marriage. Too many wives seek to find life and find marriage, by attempting to control and manipulate their husbands—instead of finding the meaning and happiness they sought—they discover only greater misery and isolation.

Wives you must submit by pouring yourself into your husband, into your family, to give yourself unto him. In so doing your gifts are not suppressed or ignored, but are used to the full in accordance with God’s design. From a purely financial standpoint, going to seminary was an incredibly stupid move for me. Quitting my job at AT&T, moving my wife and my 1 ½ year old son to St. Louis where I would not only have no income, but actually be a drain on the family’s finances because of tuition was foolish. I want to take you back to some of the thinking that led to this foolish decision, 5 years prior in our premarital counseling, we were required  to work through this book.  We were asked to discuss our long range goals. Ginger wrote: “Doug works 5 years at AT&T, I (referring to herself) go to grad school; Doug goes to seminary, then takes a pastorate.” Yes, many of these were my dreams, but as we talked about them, Ginger made them her own and they became our dreams. While we were in Virginia she went to grad school so that she would be able to secure a good job here in St. Louis which put me, put us through seminary. In using her gifts and abilities, she worked odd hours and sacrificed time with our little boy Jim. She poured herself out on behalf of her family and on my behalf. We would not be where we are today were it not for her. As our circumstances have changed so has her activity. Too often when it comes to these verses people are in search of a list of rules, just tell me what to do, but it is not a list of rules that is in view here, but an attitude that says I am going to sacrifice my needs for the needs of others, my husband, my children, I am going to pour out my gifts on their behalf. In some cases this may mean working; in others it may mean staying at home. Here a woman is not suppressed in her gifts or her abilities ignored; here she can flourish into the person God would have her be and yes in such service she finds her life.  

I understand that there are enormous pressures placed upon women today. Many will judge those who serve, who pour their lives on behalf of others as complete failures: “Why, you have wasted your life!” Do not look at yourself according to the standards of the world, rather look at yourself from God’s perspective: are you pouring yourself on behalf of others? Your husband?

Submission involves respect, verse 33. At times it seems that when I listen to radio or television programs on marriage be they Christian or not, the man seems to be blamed for everything, as if men have the market cornered on total depravity, but women, wives struggle with sin too when they seek to manipulate their husbands and fail to give them the respect that is their due.

Women were talking about what they liked in men and one woman stood up and said, “It is good for a man to be strong. A strong man can do so many things.  But a man who is both strong and gentle is wonderful. He must be intelligent of course, but humble. He must be strong enough to live a disciplined life, but tender with the faults of others, honest above all, but kind, a man with courage to stay with the same task year in and year out—no matter how routine or boring it gets—the courage of faithfulness. I love all these things about a man.” She sat down and there was silence. The other women were clearly in awe of her a statement and perhaps dreaming of just such a man. If Bill Cosby was sitting there, I can imagine him saying, as he did on his sitcom so many years ago, “Are you finished?  That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.” Prince Charming doesn’t live here. In fact, Prince Charming doesn’t exist.

Most men, if they are not all consumed with their own ego, are well aware that they are not Prince Charming. Yet men battle with pressure from the expectation that they are to be Prince Charming: to be tall dark and handsome with no belly, to be a solid, successful worker who is advancing up the corporate ladder and providing for his family, to be a good husband and father, to try to balance all these things and still somehow find a few hours each day to sleep. In the midst of the business of life there is a nagging question: “Am I good enough? Do I really measure up?” Behind those questions there is the nagging fear that the answer to that question is, “No, I am a miserable failure.”  If you ask your husbands about this, you might be surprised to hear what they have to say. In this context there are wives, who through their words, will fuel this feeling of inadequacy. I am not talking about wives lovingly talking to their husbands about problems and issues, but wives who seek to control and manipulate through their words: “Why can’t you do things this way? Why can’t you get a better paying job? Why can’t you be more like him?” Each question, each comparison is a hammer that beats him down. If it was a cheer you would be saying, “Beat him down. Beat him down. Way down. Way down.” There are women who get together and talk about their husbands and in the process destroy them with their words, “Can you believe how stupid my husband is?  Let me tell you what he did last night.” demonstrating that they offer their husbands no respect at all. Do you think you will find your marriage or your life through such conversation and attitudes?

I was reading Dr. Bryan Chapell’s book on marriage and was so encouraged when I discovered that my experience was similar to his—there have been times when I was discouraged and beaten down yet there was my wife, as a minister of God’s grace to me, respecting me through it all. “Yes all of that is true, but you are my husband and I am proud of it. Let me tell you why.” Does your husband know that you respect him?

Thirdly, as has been observed by many scholars the word translated as respect in verse 33, carries the idea of reverence. Wives are to revere their husbands. What? Are you crazy, what are you talking about? What this means is realizing the awesome responsibility that God has placed on your husband. He is accountable before the Almighty God for the spiritual leadership of the home. You will not stand before God in this, he will. The realization that this is his awesome, solemn responsibility before God must lead you pray for him. Do you? Not, “Lord change that selfish ninny.” But “Lord, enable him to do what you have called him to and enable be to do all I can to support him in this.”  If he is not a Christian to pray that God would draw him to the faith. Do you regularly pray for your husband?

Pour out your life on behalf of your husband; respect him, revere him. You do this, you submit not because your husband deserves it, he most certainly does not, but rather out of reverence for Christ. Submit to your husbands as to the Lord, verse 22. You look to him who submitted himself to the will of the Father on your behalf and mine. In this you are called to be Christ-like, a minister of God’s grace to your husband. I read a story of a young man who had lost his job and spent his last dollar on diversions to forget and returned home, expecting his wife to add her scorn, to the weight of his self-defeat. Instead she told him that she loved him and proceeded to recount all the specific things she loved about him.  Knowing that he was undeserving of such love he said, “I don’t want you to love me so much.” She responded simply, “God does.” She was an instrument of grace used by the God of all grace. He and his word are the lamp unto your feet and the light unto your path—yes it is a path, a road less traveled, but it is the path of life. Lose your life and you will find it as your life is conformed to the image of Christ. Wives submit to your husbands. Let us pray.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Signs of the Spirit: Ephesians 5:19-21

The story is told a woman who was quite upset at her children for making her go the doctor and receive a thorough examination. “My life was just fine until you made me go see the doctor for that examination,” she would exclaim. “Now I have to go and receive chemotherapy and radiation. I would rather have not known that I have cancer.”  Sometimes we are just like that when it comes to our relationship with God. We would rather not go through an examination. We would rather not know what is wrong and our need for treatment. Yet God, out of his great love for us, gives us his word, that we might examine our lives, that we might see our need for him. Today, in these verses, God, I believe gives us just such an examination. Hear now God’s word.

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5: 19-21)

The command is clear: be filled with the Spirit. How do I know the Spirit is at work in my life? Many would answer that question by pointing to miraculous signs, slaying in the spirit, holy laughter and the like. This is a very serious error and, I believe, a tragedy in the Church of Jesus Christ, a tragedy because so many have been led astray by such teaching. People run here and there in search of such signs as proof that the Spirit is at work, but as one author wrote, “far from preparing for revival, these have rather been a distraction” a distraction from what, I believe, is the great sign of the Spirit at work—changed lives—lives that are increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, conforming to his law. How is the law summarized? We read it in our responsive reading: Love your neighbor and love God.  This is what we see in Ephesians 5:19-21. This is the examination to which God is calling us.

Do we love our neighbor? Specifically in this context, are you committed to community? Look at verse 19. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We need each other. God has given you the body of Christ. This is hard for us, because, as children of our culture, we can push our individualism to an unhealthy extreme. When we are together there is something special, something mysterious that can take place. In verse 19, the context is obviously worship, but this could refer to a small group study, prayer meeting, serving together and the like. Did not Jesus say where two or three are gathered in my name there I am in the midst of them? Surely Jesus, being God, is already everywhere present; it seems then that Jesus is saying that when we are together Jesus is present in a special, unique way. Thus when the Spirit is at work and you are not here, and you miss worship or Sunday school or the small group, you are missed. Sometimes when someone says, “I missed you last week” there is a tendency to become defensive and list the reasons why you couldn’t come. I know that I say “I missed you,” not to make you feel guilty, we have enough of that already, but to simply say, “I missed you.” When you are not here, you are missed. When the Spirit is at work, being together becomes increasingly important. If God the Holy Spirit is at work in your life you will be growing in your commitment to community. When you are unable to attend church or the small group, not only will you be missed, but you will miss being there. If you are not growing in your commitment to community, you can come up with all kinds of excuses I know, but if being with God’s people is not important to you, it is a sign that perhaps the Holy Spirit is not at work in you, at least not to the degree that you originally thought. Do you love your neighbor?  Are you committed to community?

Are you committed to service? Look at verse 21.  Submit yourself to one another. Voluntarily place yourself in the position of a servant. This is hard for us, as one author has observed: we are determined to assert ourselves, our independence and will, to be the center of our own lives. Remember the comic strip in which the boy scientist concluded that Galileo was wrong, “The world does not revolve around the sun,” he exclaimed, “it revolves around me!” Verse 21 calls us to something radically different: “I am going to pour my life into you.  I am going to serve you, pray for you, and be by your side.” Here is the sign of the work of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Sadly, we too often seek acts of service that are big; we look for our name in lights, for that 15 seconds of fame and we miss the Biblical truth that in God’s kingdom it begins with the “little” acts of service. Years ago when we met in the Junior High we would have to pick up the Bibles, the hymnals and the chairs every single week; there were always a faithful few who would stay and help clean up. These faithful few would normally be the leaders of the church. It would have been easy to think “I didn’t get involved with this brand new church to put away chairs.” Yet they expressed their leadership in submitting themselves to others as a servant. This is not limited to the church—it may include inviting people over to your house for dinner, putting away the dishes at home, raking the neighbor’s leaves, or shoveling his sidewalk. Did not Jesus, the creator and sustainer of the universe washed the disciple’s feet? Jesus did not do this because he had too; he did this because he loved his disciples, and he loves us. Our submission to one another is done out of reverence for Christ. If he my Lord and Savior served me, how can I not but serve others, especially those closest to me in the body of Christ? Do you love your neighbor in this way? Are you committed to service?  If not, the Holy Spirit it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is not as active in your life as you might think? Examine your life.

We are commanded not only to love our neighbor but to love God. This love is expressed in worship, verse 19: “Speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  I think it is a mistake to get caught up in trying to identify what is a hymn versus a spiritual song as opposed to focusing on what is clearly the emphasis here: worshiping the Lord. I heard an elder at New City Church describe his love for worship in this way: “After dealing with all the stuff and the junk in life throughout the week, I long for, look forward to the day when I gather with God’s people and worship Him.” In this context, the element of worship focused on here is singing. There have been a few times when people have said about our church, “you sing too much.” To that I really want to say, “Thank you.” Imagine that? A Presbyterian Church being accused of singing too much? Worship is central to our lives as God’s people. This is why we were made. Remember the Catechism? What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. We glorify God when we worship. This worship is to express our love for God for it is to flow from the heart, verse 20. Such love for God expressed in worship cannot be faked or staged. I wonder just how many people in churches across America today go to church but are not really worshipping the Lord. It is easy to go through the motions, but that is not the kind of worship which God seeks. In Psalm 42, the psalmist cries, “My soul thirsts for God for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Does this express the desire of your heart today? Do long to worship? If not, it is yet another sign that the Spirit is not as active in your life as you might have originally thought.

Our love for God must also be expressed in an attitude of thanksgiving, verse 20. When are we to give thanks? Always. An attitude of thanksgiving is to always characterize our lives.  You cannot be thankful if you are grumbling, complaining or bitter and resentful. Nor can you give thanks when you fail to realize that anything in your life that is good has come to you directly from the hand of God. Always give thanks. What are we to give thanks for?  Always give thanks for everything, verse 20. How does that grab you? Does this mean that we are to say, “Thank God my Uncle Joe died? Thank God that I totaled my car, lost my job, that my spouse left me - wow there is just so much to be thankful for” is that what this passage is saying?  Does God expect me to ignore the harsh realities of life and pretend as if they really are not that bad? There is a critical clarifier in this verse, give thanks for everything in the name of Jesus Christ. In John 16:23, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, and my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” Surely this does not mean that Jesus name is the magic formula that enables us to get what we want: “God give me a million dollars in Jesus name!” The ‘Whatever we ask” is clarified by “in the name of Jesus” that what we are asking must be done in accordance with the will of Jesus. Likewise in Colossians 3:17 we are told that whatever we do in thought word and deed do it in the name of Jesus. “True I am going out and committing adultery but I am doing in the name of Jesus.” No, the “whatever” is only properly understood within the context of “in the name of Jesus.” Likewise giving thanks for all things does not require us to ignore the bad things in life or pretend that they do not really hurt, but rather that even in the bad we can still give thanks because God is so powerful he is even able to use these things to bring about his own glory. This does not make the bad thing good, but it enables us to realize that God is still God. He is on the throne.  So that no matter what happens today I can and I must give thanks to God, my savior. As Job said, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Jesus, in looking to the cross prayed in John 17, “The time has come Father; glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” Elsewhere, God says, “I have glorified my name and I will glorify it again - this is our assurance and this is why we give thanks because we know God will bring glory to himself out of it. Yes that means in the cancer, in the accidents and tragedies of life - even then - when our heart if breaking, we give thanks to the one who used the most vilest crime in the history of the world - the crucifixion of Christ - to bring about your salvation and mine.  Thank you Father, thank you.” Is your life demonstrating this attitude of thankfulness?

Perhaps it is better, at this point, to ask how has the examination gone? Does your life reflect a love for neighbor? Are you committed to community? Are you serving, pouring out your life into others—or are you primarily concerned about your own interests? Does your life reflect a love for God? Does your heart long to worship him? Do you have an attitude of thanksgiving? Maybe you feel like the woman who said she would rather not have gone to the doctor for her examination—but like her you cannot escape the truth—the signs of the Spirit are not as evident in your life as you once thought. Do you want a greater love for God and for your neighbor? Do you want to see the Spirit at work in your life? If so, you might be tempted to try harder to worship God, to be thankful even when you’re not to serve like you have never served before. But that does not work. There is no doubt many people who serve and serve and serve—but resent every minute of it. I would suggest that we follow the scriptures. God does not give us this examination to drive us into a deep depression, or to make us work harder but rather that we realize our need for him. Be filled with the Spirit—we must go to God. Lord I want to be different—today after this examination I see that there are areas of my life that are not as they ought to be—but I know that I cannot do this on my own. Fill me, that my love for others and love for you would shine brightly in the darkness—that I would love to serve and love to worship more than ever before. Fill me Lord with your Spirit.  Let us pray.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Carpe Diem: Ephesians 5: 15-18

(This sermon can also be found in audio format at

“Carpe Diem,” Seize the Day—a phrase made popular by a movie a few years ago, and particularly in St. Louis, by a local radio personality. Carpe Diem—it is a good phrase, an appropriate exhortation, especially for the children of God. Seize the day. But how do we as God’s people, do that?  Hear now God’s word.

Ephesians 5:15-18
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

A movie scene depicts a lawyer driving home late at night who seeks to bypass a traffic jam, and in the process finds himself in a rather unpleasant part of Los Angeles when, to his horror, his expensive car breaks down. The attorney phones for a tow truck but before it arrives a gang of five tough guys threaten him with considerable bodily harm. The tow truck driver arrives just in time and begins to hook up the car; the gang protests by waving their gun, but in response the driver says, “The world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And he is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off.  Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here.” Do you agree? If so, you agree with the scriptures, look at the end of verse 16, the days in which we live are evil. The world is infected by sin. You watch the news. You read the papers. You have you own experiences which tell you that this is so. We live in evil days. Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here. How then should we live in these evil days? How do many choose to live with this reality? 

Many choose to escape, even Christians. Look at verse 18. Do not get drunk with wine. It might interest you to know that this is a command to stop an action that is already in progress. Apparently many in the church were getting drunkreminding us yet again that the New Testament church wasn’t any more perfect than the church todayChristians were getting drunk. Why? Why do people get drunk? It is a very effective way to escape the pressures and stresses of the evil days in which we live, for a time. Eventually, the effects of the alcohol wear off and all the problems you were trying to escape are still there. This is what leads many to a life of alcoholism, as more and more frequently one turns to alcohol to escape and precisely because it fails, the person tries again and thus the noose grows tighter and tighter around ones neck. Alcoholism is fundamentally not a disease. It is at the core, an attempt to escape the realities of life that has enslaved a person. This escapism can cover a variety of activities: drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, it can even cover activities which are not inherently wrong: shopping, eating, working, watching television, the Internet, you name it.

Yes, even behavior that is some instances is perfectly OK, can, because of our desire to escape, be turned into something that is destructive. Indeed, verse 18 teaches that such escapism leads to debauchery, dissipation, that is, an activity that leads to destruction. Some of you know from experience in your own families the destructiveness of alcoholism. It destroys not only the alcoholic, but dramatically impacts the lives of those around him or her. While I can understand the desire to get away from the evil that is around us, escapism will ultimately, in the end, only bring greater misery, as what we think will provide relief only brings destruction.

Some may choose to deal with the evil that is around us by trying harder, getting your act together. This would be an incorrect application of verse 16. Here we are taught that we must make the most of every opportunity, verse 16. Some of you may have heard the exhortation, “redeem the time.” This is a phrase that elsewhere refers to Christ redeeming us from the law, thus carrying with it the idea of salvation. How can we redeem the time in a saving sort of way? How can we seize the day? Wherever we are, whatever it is we are doing live for Christ in the world. If you are waiting at the red light, or in the checkout line, if you are speaking to your neighbor or in a meeting at work, redeem the time; take advantage of every opportunity to live for Jesus Christ. We are to do this precisely because the days are evil. Precisely because the world needs Jesus we are not to escape, but to go out there and make a difference.  But if you are not careful, you will make the mistake of trying to do this on your own. This is tragic of course because there is not just evil out there, there is evil in here.

This past Monday I was in McDonalds. Jim and I were coming home from his basketball game around 7:20. Neither of us had eaten yet so we were both hungry, very hungry. For whatever reason the food was not particularly fast this evening at McDonalds. The two people in front of us had each ordered a few cheeseburgers and yet it seemed to take forever. When I placed my order, I was told, it will be just a minute. Actually it was about 10 minutes; we had now been in McDonalds for over 25 minutes and next I was told the French fries were going to be 15 more seconds. Since I had already learned that a minute is actually ten, I quickly calculated that 15 seconds was actually going to be 2.5 minutes. I was growing impatient. But here was an opportunity to live for Christ, to redeem the time, to seize the day. What did I do? My frustration boiled over, with disdain on my face I said, “I am watching the clock.” What made it even worse was that my son was with me. What kind of example was I setting for him? His own father, who is, of all things, a pastor, did not control his own temper. I had failed. Failed miserably to make the most of every opportunity, to redeem the time. I had instead contributed to the evil of the evil days. Has something similar ever happened to youwhen you realized that you just really blew it?  Many of you have tried so hard to do what is right and you are tired, discouraged in your faith, maybe you berate yourself, “When I will I grow up and become a Christian?” Maybe you are even on the verge of giving upcarpe diem, seize the day - forget about it! Perhaps this is whyyou have been trying to serve in your own strengthtrying to get you act together to be more determined to do what God wants in these evil days - for many the frustration builds to the point of going back to option number one and choosing to escape everything.

Instead, we must choose to live by the Holy Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit, verse 18. Rather than depending on alcohol or some other escape mechanism, rather than relying on our own self hard work and determination, we must depend, rely and be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. There is much confusion on the role of the Holy Spirit today, it is important to understand that being filled with the Holy Spirit does not refer to a second once for all experience or “blessing” as it is called in some circles. The language here clearly points to that which is an ongoing need for the children of God, a day by day need for the empowering of the Holy Spirit that we would redeem the time, seize the day and live for Christ. Therefore children of God, this side of heaven, you will never reach the point where you can say at long last I am done being filled, I am full, I have now arrived. The command is there every day, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Oh, but friends how easily we overlook this and think, “I can do it.” When we do, God, because of his perfect love for us gives us a McDonalds experience to show us, “No you can’t eitheryou need me more than you know.” It is God’s desire that we would hunger and thirst in desperation for the Holy Spirit.

Notice too that this command is passive: it does not say fill yourself with the Holy Spirit, but rather be filled with the Spirit. This is what God does, this is His work. Do you hear this?  Do you?  Living in the United States we like to think that we can manage everythingif you just do things a certain way, you will get the desired results. If you listen to much of the teaching on radio and TV you might come to the conclusion that indeed if you follow a formula you will be able to control the Spirit. Not so. The Spirit, Jesus says, blows where it willsthe Holy Spirit is not manageable, the Holy Spirit is God. If you are going to seize the day, to live for God in that traffic jam or on that business trip or when you are disciplining your children, you can only do so by the power of God the Holy Spirit, who is sent according to the will of God the Father. Therefore your position and my position must be every day one of humility, in coming to God with open hands, every day, saying, Lord, fill me with the Spirit today, that I might live for you in all that I dothat I might redeem the time and seize the day. Let us pray.