Bright and Radiant People; and a Marraige made in Heaven

1.0 –  The Bright and Radiant People of God

Question: How come the good guys always win in movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

Ephesians 5:7-21: Therefore do not become partners with them [the sons of disobedience]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

There is a word you hear every so often and it is the word “antithesis.” An antithesis is when you have two things in direct opposition to each other. Hot is the antithesis of cold. Good is the antithesis of evil. Darth Sidious is the antithesis of Yoda. (As in this Star Wars Clip.)

In this section of his letter, Paul sets up an antithesis between the two ways people live. On one hand there are people in darkness, and then as you read on you see what these people are like: their deeds are unfruitful (v.11); their deeds are shameful (v.12); and their deeds are done in secret (v.12). They are unwise, foolish, and drunk (v.15-18).

Then the antithesis of these people are those who walk in light: their deeds are good and right and true (v.9); they seek to figure out what is pleasing to God in any given situation they might be in (v.10); they bring truth and goodness to bear on dark and evil situations hidden below the surface (v.11); they are wise in their lifestyle and choices (v.15); they are smart and efficient, trying to use their time best for God’s purposes (v.16); instead of being filled with substances they are filled with God’s Holy Spirit (v.19); and the natural outflow of the Spirit is music – they have melodic spirituality (v.19); they are thankful people who, rather than finding something to complain about, find something instead to praise God for in any given situation (v.19); and finally they are people who, for the sake of Jesus, are willing to submit to one another – they defer to the authorities in their lives, and, to use, a modern-day term, they are people with a team-spirit – they know how to co-operate and compromise (v.21).

My younger brother was in the coast guard for a year or two and at one point he and some of his co-workers took a massive ship up to some of the Northern parts of Canada. There are certain areas up in the Arctic where the sun never rises for six months of the year. They have permanent darkness. Can you imagine a life like that? I think I would go crazy.

Many people live a completely dark life. When it comes to joy in Jesus and peace and a close walk with God there is just nothing going on. The lights are off.

We need to wake up to the bright face of Jesus, shining into our hearts in his word. For one day, the sun will totally rise and every dark deed will be exposed. So prepare for that day.


2.0 – A Marriage Made in Heaven

This little piece of scripture ended with the summons to submit to one another. All Christians are to be in submission. Submission to the authorities that God has placed in our lives. Teachers. Police officers. Government. Bosses. Pastors and church leaders. Parents.

But now God’s word is going to show us particularly what this looks like in a marriage. And even though you guys aren’t married, the reality is that most people do get married – and most everybody knows someone who is married! So let’s look at what this says for your future marriages…

Question: When you consider the marriages of other people, do they seem healthy or struggling, or some mix of both? What do you think makes for a good marriage?

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

We are in a new section of the letter and Paul is going to lay out what Christian obedience looks like for different types of people – husbands, children, masters, wives, parents, etc.

So first – the wives:

The charge to the wives is that they need to be subject to their husbands – they need to submit to their husbands. Notice that it says to their “own” husbands – the Bible nowhere teaches that all women are supposed to be subject to all men. But in the home, and the church, and to a certain degree in the rest of society, our differences as men and women get built on for the sake of human flourishing.

Let’s talk about what submission is not.

Submitting to a husband is not blindly following without thought. A good wife is smart and thoughtful and provides insight in the marriage – Paul is talking about an intelligent submission. Nor does submission mean being, in modern terms, a “push-over” or a “doormat” – nobody is helped by weak women – marriages need strong women with strong convictions. But the central idea here is that the actions of the wife need to encourage the husband to take responsibility – and to be the man God wants him to be. She needs to fuel his leadership instead of resisting his leadership. And that happens by showing respect to him and co-operating with his leadership. Not only is that in the interest of the husband, but it is also in the best interest of the wife, the children, and in fact the rest of the community.

The analogy is that the wife submits to her husband in the same way the entire church submits to God. That is a very important point. We are all to submit to God. We are all in submission to an ultimate authority. One of the reasons people don’t like what God has to say here to wives is because people naturally just don’t like to submit to anyone. Bosses. Police. Teachers. And certainly, not to God. But the reality we see here is that all authority is derived from God. If God told you, in the Bible, to live in a tree-house for a year when you turn 16, you would have to do it because God said so. And here we have the same thing – wives are told to submit to their husbands because God says so.

Now if that sounds hard (and it is) – notice what God calls the husbands to do!

God commands the husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church. Let me ask you a question: how did Jesus love the church? He died for her. He had nails pierced through his hands for her. He drank the full fury of the wrath of God as he died naked and bloodied on a cross – for her. That is the kind of love that God, in all his authority, demands that the husbands demonstrate – it’s the authority of the cross. It’s authority that bleeds. Husbands are to model the same love of Jesus – and that is also a love that speaks the word of God – husbands need to guard and guide the marriage in the grace and the truth of the gospel.

When husbands assume this sort of sacrificial responsibility, as the driver in their leadership, that is the sort of thing that nearly every wife finds easier to submit to. You all know this – if you are under the authority of a boss or a parent who you know, deep down, has your best interest in mind – even if you might disagree with some of their decisions – that is a wonderful place to be. That dynamic is what you see in a healthy marriage. Men sacrifice as they govern – yes govern. And women fuel the sacrifice and love from their husbands by their respect and submission. The result is that both are blessed – the blessing of both is multiplied by the investment in one another.

That is where the fundamental point comes out in verse 28 – a man who loves his wife loves himself. He is to love his wife in the same way he cares for his own body. If you are committed to this sort of sacrificial leadership, you can never lose.

In Lord of the Rings, the hobbits follow the leader – Aragorn. He is the kingly, manly, figure in the story because he is the one who takes on, willingly, the plight of the hobbits. He has a role in protecting them and leading them. Now in the part of the story where Aragorn is protecting the hobbits from the Nazgul, he has to sacrifice in order to protect them. It would be completely foolish for the hobbits to get in the way of that leadership – and notice how they act foolishly by lighting a fire.

Yet at another level, Aragorn needs these hobbits. They are the ones who destroy the ring – the line of men fell and Aragorn himself knows that the does not have it in himself to throw the ring into the lava of Mount Doom. The Hobbits are the only ones who can do this.

This is the point for a healthy marriage – men and women are different. They have different abilities and they have different responsibilities given by God. We need to realize that God is the one who has given this charge and He is the one who will hold them accountable, regardless of what our culture teaches on these matters. My prayer is that the voice of God on these issues will drown out the competing voices from our culture that would flatten any difference between men and women under God. On judgment day God isn’t going to ask me if I followed the ever-shifting values of a feminist society – he is going to hold me to account based on his word.

We need each other. And we need to benefit from each other’s differences. And in the loving unity of marriage that emerges when men lay down their lives and women respond joyfully, we see a faint picture of what Jesus did for you on the cross. So follow him.

The New Life: Tongue, Hands, and Heart

Related image

Hogweed

Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV):

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

We have been working through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and today we arrive at end of chapter four. In this section we learn more about what it means to live a Christian lifestyle. Christians are people who live truly alternative lifestyles. We are the ones, today, who are truly counter-cultural. In a day where everyone is embracing the unrestricted expression of self-rule, we are the ones who want to follow God’s rule for the good of others. So we are the new rebels.

The driving principle in the latter part of Ephesians chapter four is to be done with the old way of life and to press on in the new way of life – put off the old, and put on the new.

This principle applies first to your identity as a person – you are no longer outside the people of God and walking in the darkness of the Gentiles, but now you are part of God’s people – the people he loves and has chosen to reconcile to himself.

Our new identity then leads to our new lifestyle – our identity in Jesus now shapes our actions.  Now we have a new way of life, and that way of life is the natural outworking of who we have now become. 

Yet for all of us the pull back towards the old way is so strong.

So the Apostle Paul takes a couple key areas and tells us how we put off the old way and put on the new way. The whole ideas is that of substitution. You know, at McDonald’s you can say – instead of fries I’d like to substitute a garden salad – not that any of us do that – but the idea is you take out one thing and put something else in it’s place.

And that right there – taking of evil habits and substituting them for holy habits – is the key to growing as a follower of Jesus.

There are three key areas of Christian maturity that the Scriptures address here: destructive speech, theft, and anger. Or I suppose you could say, the tongue, the hands, and the heart.

The Tongue

“…having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (25) And, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (29).

These are very important things to consider. Rather than speaking deceptively – and those are words that will always lead to problems, division, and friction between people – we are to speak truth – and the truth is what builds people up. If we are people who constantly lie then we are essentially hiding who we are from people – we never get to relate to each other as we really are.

Notice here that healthy speech is speech that fits the occasion. We are to speak truth – but not every truth needs to be spoken all the time – there is a time for everything and learning wisdom means knowing when to bite your tongue and when to unleash it.

Notice also that good words are words that give grace – what does that mean? It is like I was saying two weeks ago – we need to encourage one another with the grace that is in Jesus. Reassure one another of the goodness of God and his work in our lives. Remind one another of who we are as sons and daughters of God. Essentially, we need to speak the gospel to one another.

A months ago my wife did this. I was feeling so down with sin – my sins – the sins of others – and she spoke to me the most encouraging and gracious words. She reminded me of who I was as a Christian and a man of God. This very thing, I am tempted to say, is the reason the church exists – we need other Christians to speak God’s life-giving truth to us. And we need to do it in return.

Does your speech lead to the benefit of others? Does it make them feel encouraged, blessed, strengthened? Or does your speech lead to corruption – does it create rot and stench like a decaying fish?

The Hands

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”(28)

Now here is a good verse for young people. When I was a young kid I was a thief. I stole things – little things like candy and coins. But I was a thief and there is no denying that. One of the ways God grabbed a hold of me was to show me that I needed to repent of stealing.

So, following the same principle of taking off the old and putting on the new, then what do you do? Use your hands to work for the good of others. I want you to see that the Bible is a very hands-on book. There is a lot to think about in this book, but ultimately the Christian life comes down to your hands. Use your hands to serve people – like many of you did in the kitchen this past Sunday. Use you hands to work for the common good. And then when you acquire wealth – and generally-speaking everyone who learns the importance of working with their hands will acquire wealth – then you can share that with others and you can give sacrificially to important things, like the ministry of the church for instance.

One of the best things that ever happened to me when I was a teenager is an older lady in the church hired my brother and I on Saturdays to do yard work for her. We did TONS of different things for her. We chopped firewood. We stacked firewood. We weeded. We mowed the lawn over and over and over. We tilled soil. We mulched. We pruned trees. We landscaped and edged her lawn. We turned the compost over in her composting system.

And the thing we did most of all was killed Hogweed.

Her property was on a small river and the river carried this weed that grew fast and spread through the lower, moist ground by the water’s edge. And Hogweed was nasty. It grew up into a big stalk and if you touched it, it would burn your skin. The poison it left on your skin was activated by sunlight and so then it would blister up every time the sun touched it. So we had to wear big coveralls and then go out and chop this stuff down and kill it right at the root. We did this for days and days and days.

The point of me telling you all this is that I hated a lot of this work at the time. But I have come to look back on it with a real thankfulness. It is exactly what I needed. Good, honest work with my hands. I  want to encourage all of you to find some honest work with your hands to do in the summer and in the years ahead. Even people planning to go into acting, or teaching, or writing, need to find some work to do with their hands. Construction, landscaping, tree-care, washing dishes, installing drywall. Whatever. The point is to be able to give to those in need – in both the work itself and in the profits from the work. And also you can save for your future education or training so you can use that training to contribute to others in an even greater way.

What skills might you learn this spring and summer? What will you do with your hands to contribute for the good of others?

Anger

Now look at what the Scripture says about your heart – anger.

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” (26)

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (31)

What do you think the Bible means here when it tells us to be angry?

Did Jesus ever get angry?

Why did he get angry?

When Jesus was angry in the temple he was angry about what God was angry about – injustice. Jesus was angry along with God. This is what the Bible means here. We are to get angry, not when someone personally offends us, but when we witness things that personally offend God.

Some of you maybe remember last year I told you of a time I got really, really angry. I saw one man punch another man and left him unconscious and bleeding on the side of the road. I was so mad at that guy. I went on a vigilante rampage. My wife and I helped the guy who was injured and then left him with some other people as the ambulance came. Then I followed him in my car, while talking on the phone with the police, for like four blocks until I lost him.

That is an example of godly anger. And many of you probably have righteous anger over things that you see in the world. You are angry about poverty. Or social greed. Or issues around the world here women are taken advantage of. Be angry, the Bible says – but don’t fall asleep dwelling on all of it. Let it go when you go to bed. Don’t let anger continually fester indefinitely because the devil can use that against you and against others.

Anger is like fire – it’s easy to light but very hard to put out. And it does great damage.

But if I am honest – and if you are honest – we are often too quick to get angry about things that personally upset us. So the Bible says get rid of bitterness and slander and malice. Bitterness is when we just get so deeply jaded towards people because they have hurt us – and then eventually we lash out against them in return. Let that go. Be done with that. Slander is when we try to destroy another person’s reputation behind their back because we are so mad at them. Don’t do that – let God take care of people who wrong you and don’t try to beat down their reputation. Malice – malice is when you deliberately and intentionally hurt someone. You make a choice to make them hurt. Be done with that.

Then the general command is given not to grieve the Holy Spirit – and also to be kind, tenderhearted towards one another and forgiving, just as God forgave. That is how this passage ends.

That is the new life – it involves your tongue, your hands, and your heart. And it is the life of joy. It’s not always easy, but it is the good life and it’s the life that Jesus invites us into as we learn to follow him.

To Die is Gain

When I was in university there were certain people who were totally devoted to their schoolwork. They had their days planned out, minute-by-minute, to maximize the amount of time they could put into studying. They would go to bed at like 2am and then wake up the next day at 6:30am to get in a quick bite from the cafeteria, and then a bit more studying before 8am class.

I was one of those people. It was all about the next test score. It was obsessive. It was all-encompassing. It was messed up.

But when you look at the life of the Apostle Paul you quickly see that this is the kind of all-consuming passion he had, but he had it for Jesus. He says in Philippians 1:21-24, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I chose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Paul wanted more than anything just to be with Jesus. That is why death for him was gain! It was a gain to leave this body for at time to enter the presence of Jesus! And this all-encompassing, overriding, love for Jesus changed how he looked at the rest of his life.

What kind of a person can say death is gain? Most Christians cannot say that. Hey! In all honesty – I can hardly relate to that! Occasionally I can. But what kind of person would we need to be to be able to say, with sincerity, “My live is lived totally for Christ and my death will be a great victory for me! It’s a gain because then I will get to see Jesus face to face!”

If we really want to say that then we would have to be people of intense faith, intense hope, and intense love (1 Cor 13:13):

Faith

Paul did not just believe in Jesus as a sort of guess at “the meaning of life.” He trusted in Jesus and his existence and in his promises moment by moment. When you are faced with clubs and whips, you need to really trust that what you believe is worth believing in. And for Paul it was. Jesus revealed himself on the Damascus road and commissioned Paul to be the suffering missionary to the Kings, the Gentiles, and the Jews (Acts 9:17). And suffer he did. His faith was as strong like a bull moose on steroids. It propelled him to serve others and look forward to meeting Jesus.

Hope

I am convinced that Paul woke up and got out of bed saying, “Come today, Lord Jesus!” The return of Christ was not some vague idea. It fueled him. It pushed him forward like high octane jet-fuel. His focus was set on the reality that one day Jesus would split open the sky and return. He was not all that concerned about the next Avengers movie; his weekend sleep-over plans; or his next paycheque. He was driven by a simple thought “What if Jesus comes back today?”

Love

Most of all Paul was driven by love for Jesus, his supreme treasure. Paul’s treasure was in heaven sitting down at the right hand of God the Father. That’s why death was gain.  Death was just the necessary bridge to cross to get to that treasure. It was like walking out in a cold winter day to pick up a cheque in the mail for a million dollars. The treasure makes the walk pretty easy.

Paul’s love for Jesus propelled him in two ways – to love the people of Jesus and to do all he could to care for them. And second – it made him want to go home to see Jesus ASAP. That is why he was torn. He wanted to care for Jesus’ people. Yet, really he cared for them because he cared so much about Jesus himself.

So what about you?

Where is your faith? What are you trusting in? Do you really believe in Jesus?

Where is your hope placed? What are you hoping for? Is your hope really placed in the return of Jesus?

What do you love? What is the chief treasure of your life? What is the GAIN you are pursuing? Do you really love Jesus, or are you just kidding yourself?

And if Jesus is secondary in all of those answers. Then you need to wake up to the fact that the King is returning and it would be best to get ready for his arrival. That is an all-consuming truth – but, unlike getting a good test score, it is sure to happen, and it is sure to satisfy every longing of your heart. All other obsessions don’t even come close. All other loves won’t ultimately deliver like this one.

Thoughts for Teens: A Prophet and More Than a Prophet

Jesus in the Temple

Read Mark 11:12-25

There are many people today that have tamed Jesus. They have turned him into “Jesus, meek and mild.” They have proposed that Jesus was really the original hippie, the first tree-loving, shaggy-faced, rainbow child.

In this passage we see Jesus for who he really was: a prophet and more than a prophet. Now, Jesus is a man who wears many hats. Jesus was a carpenter, a teacher, a rabbi, a king, a missionary, and a priest, among other roles. But perhaps his most central job was that of a prophet.

The prophets in the Old Testament were eccentric people. They often lived very difficult lives. They were commissioned by God to call the people of Israel, and other nations, back to obedience. They were God’s mouthpieces. They spoke on behalf of God himself. In some cases they even acted out messages for God – Hosea married a prostitute to show how Israel acted like a prostitute to God, their faithful husband. Isaiah went naked for a time to show how Cush and Egypt’s disobedience was shameful and naked (Isaiah 20). Ezekiel likewise did crazy things like lying on his side and cooking a meal over cow dung. In all this the prophets were giving people a visual lesson (Ezekiel 4).

In many ways, the prophets were a lot like lawyers – the argued with people based on God’s requirements in his law, which, if you follow the lawyer parallel, was the equivalent of their constitution. When things were going poorly because the people disobeyed God, they would point out sin. That meant that people didn’t generally like them. They have harsh warnings of future misery, pain, and destruction if God’s law was disobeyed, and at the same time the gave promises of future blessing and hope if God was obeyed. So their job was to speak the truth, stir the pot, and take many hits for doing so.

Here in Mark 11 we see that Jesus is a prophet. He spoke the truth. He visibly acted out the truth. He stirred the pot. He pushed back against the corrupt establishment. He called people to repentance.

The main point of this passage is that the people of God are supposed to extend the grace of God to other peoples and nations. Israel had failed in this. The temple was supposed to have room for the gentiles, indeed, the temple was supposed to extend God’s presence and blessing towards the gentiles, but by the time of Jesus we see that the Gentiles had been excluded from worship and replaced with a market were goods were bought and sold.

So here we learn that, like Israel, if we are going to be faithful, we also need to extend the light of Christ to others. We need to learn to be prophets too. So we have to look to Jesus for an example.

Three lessons from Jesus’ behavior:

  • Speak and teach in a way that connects with people. Jesus used the fig tree as a visual to teach the importance of bearing fruit. He also turned over tables to point to the temple’s destruction. How do you give people visuals? Actions speak louder than words, and what do your actions proclaim? Likewise, how do you, like Jesus and the prophets, use your actions to send messages that people can understand? What do your actions say?
  • Get on the offensive, not the defensive – start picking some fights. Notice that Jesus is the one who starts this encounter in the temple. Then the chief priests and teachers of the law react to him, and seek to kill him (v.18). How often do we stir the pot? Why are we so afraid to? Why does the church always tend to be reactive instead of proactive? We need to realize that in spreading the light of Christ we have some fights to pick. We are much too quick to apologize as Christians. Non-Christians often manipulate us for this: “Oh you hurt my feelings – oh – you offend my sensibilities!” And then we quickly retract all that we have said. No – there is a time to apologize. There is also a time not to. Apologizing when you aren’t actually sorry is never a good idea.
  • Do all things with faith. Do all things with prayer. Do all things in forgiveness. Jesus makes it very clear that we need to be people of faith – mountain-moving faith. Do we really believe we might take this city for Jesus? Do we really believe we might take our schools? With God all things are possible. Pray with that boldness. Then Jesus reminds us – make sure you let go of your bitterness – forgive people. The whole work in spreading the light of Christ will be darkened by your bitterness. So process your hurts, your pains, your offenses – forgive others and do so by realizing that you likewise need forgiveness.