Monday, September 11, 2006

Ephesians 5 - Love and Fly Right

Read the passage from The Message: Ephesians 5
Read the passage from the New International Version: Ephesians 5

I have obviously never spent enough time reading Ephesians. Since Chapter 5 has generally been used as a weapon to beat wives into submission, I guess that I decided early on to simply ignore this. And I missed some powerful teaching. I am going to reiterate how joyful it is to read Eugene Peterson's "The Message" when studying these passages.

The first 2 verses are amazing:
"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."

Love like that! Love like that! Extravagant, risk-taking love. Love that takes Jesus to the cross. Love that is an offering to God. Love like that!

And the rest of the paragraph... "Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love." Now, John tells us in his first letter (4:16) "God is love". Paul encourages us to keep company with God and learn to love. I was a good kid as a child. Other parents liked having their kids hang out with me. I guess they hoped I'd be a positive influence. And, I hope I was. But, I managed to make a lot of friends with marginal kids that way. One of my boyfriends made my parents crazy. He was into drugs and had no motivation at all. My parents would fight with each other all of the time about Brian. I would hide and hope that they wouldn't come after me, but I loved him and didn't want to leave him. I suppose I also hoped that he would finally grow up. Dad was concerned that Brian would influence me, and mom knew that I was influencing Brian. Honestly, to this day, I have never smoked marijuana and I had ready access to it daily with Brian. It just never happened. In those few months we were together, I hope that I was the postive influence in the relationship.

Now, however, in my marriage, I have managed to allow my husband's slothful habits to overtake me. I was always highly organized when living alone. Everything had it's place and everything was always in it's place. Even the junk drawer had spaces for every piece of junk. If you removed something, you could see where it should fit so that you could return it to it's exact spot. Then, I married Max and complete chaos came into my world. I look around my home right now - and there is nothing that seems 'highly organized'. I have to fight with him to put the wooden utensils in the correct crock. It simply doesn't occur to him to observe that if a crock has all wooden utensils in it - putting the metal spatula there makes no sense.

When it comes to love and righteous behavior where does the influence exist and who is doing it. I am basically an optimistic person (unless stress and pain are overwhelming me). I have friends that know they are basically negative and have told me over and over how different it is to see a different perspective. What kind of influence are you? Are you the stronger person with a positive attitude? Are you a weaker person with a positive attitude that allows others to bring you down? Are you a person with a negative attitude?

The good news? There is none stronger than God and His positive influence will prevail. If we draw close to Him and try to imitate Him, we will allow that attitude of love to influence us in our lives.

Paul spends time in the next verses telling us how to live so that we become more like God. He's pretty specific and some of it actually hits me in my face. You don't get to guess which of the items applies to me, you get to figure out which apply to you!

No sexual immorality or impurity.
No greed.
No obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking.

Goodness, but these have a lot of impact on our society today. How much sexual immorality or impurity do we simply allow. With young people, with each other. We want people to be happy and believe that by allowing them the freedom to explore life sexually, they will be happy.

No greed. When eeping up with the Jones' becomes more than just mowing a lawn regularly, we are in trouble. When we worry about wearing clothes to impress, or driving a nice car because we want to be seen in it, or having the bnewest and best technology, etc., etc. we aren't allowing the hand of God to be at work in our lives. We allow the world to define our lives for us.

No obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. One of my downfalls. We like to entertain people and be the center of attention. And foul jokes ARE funny! How do we stop being susceptible to this influence of the world?

Darkness to Light
I've always read verse 8 incorrectly. I read "For you were once in darkness, but now you are in light in the Lord." But, there is a little word that needs to be removed from that sentence. More than being 'in' darkness, Paul says that I WAS darkness. Darkness pervades every aspect of me when I live outside the light of the Lord. I can't provide the light that brings goodness, righteousness and truth. Only God can provide that light. Everything else is simply a reflection of God's light.

Paul calls us to exorbitant, lavish love. He calls us to live a life filled with purity. In verse 15, he reminds us why. The days are evil. We are living in an evil world. Make choices about how you live in this world. Is it easy to become a part of the world, to live a life that fits in with what we are a part of? Don't let it be easy. Walk away from those things.

Speak, sing and make music, always giving thanks for everything. God has shown His love to us in an outrageous, unrestrained way. Can we do no less in showing our love for Him?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ephesians 4, Pt. 2. How does He love a filthy me?

Here we are ... all grown up, or at least Paul has just told us that is where we need to be. What does this mean? Well, if we're going to be all grown up, it's time to act like it.

I remember my severe case of senioritis. Mom had HAD it with me. We were having one of our major meltdowns in the middle of the living room. Dad wasn't home from work yet and I'm sure that Carol and Jamie had run for the hills. I finally told mom that I needed space and why couldn't she treat me like a grownup (at my age now, I understand that every single high school senior and their parent faces this). She simply told me that when I began acting like a grownup, I'd be treated as one. That pretty much shut me down, because I immediately recognized that the tantrum I was throwing was definitely not the mark of an adult.

These 'Gentiles' that Paul speaks of in verses 17-19 are not simply 'non-Jews'. These are people who have no connection to God, either through their heritage (and the law) or through Jesus Christ. They are separated from God because of choices that they've made. And verse 19 says that they've lost all sensitivity and have given themselves over to sensuality, indulging in every impurity with a continual lust for more.

Read those words again. "They've lost all sensitivity and have given themselves over to sensuality, indulging in every impurity, with a continual lust for more." (vs. 19)

I have participated in conversations and listened to people complain about our society and how it is continually declining. Children! Kids! Young People! They have no discipline, they can't focus, they don't play outside enough, they are overweight, they don't read books, they play videogames incessantly, they spend too much time watching television, they spend too much time on the computer. The list is enormous! Kids these days!

More kids than ever are on Ritalin just to make it through a single school day without being destroyed by a frustrated teacher, the number of kids that are autistic is jumping up by leaps and bounds, kids are dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome while they are trying to grow up, suicide, rampant sex, everything is public, everything is huge. No one seems to be safe anymore.

What kind of world are we living in? We are living in a world just like that which Paul is talking about. And though our kids are suffering from it, none of these things are their fault. As adults we are more interested in making a lot of money and taking time for ourselves. We eat out more than we ever have, or when time is too tight, pizza is brought in, shoved down and we are off to the next event in our day.

Have we lost all sensitivity? Oh, I can exclaim that I have lost a lot of it! I love to watch television, and I love to search around the internet. My house is rarely quiet anymore, I have so much going on all the time. I don't even have children in my life. I can't imagine what I would have done to them by now. If I want to have a bowl of m&ms in the kitchen, I do. If I want to eat Chinese, I just call and order. Whatever I want, I seem to find a way to make it happen. And it all works out just fine!

But, stop it! Just because I can have everything that I want, is that good for me? When do I stop an dtake the time to just be equiet and listen to God? When do I leave the comfort of my couch, my lovable dog, my cute cats, my television, my internet, my cell phone (so I can stay in contact with my friends and do something for someone who needs it. I can easily justify my 'work for the Lord' because I spend innumerable hours doing things for the church, playing for rehearsals, singing in the worship band, directing choirs, typesetting newsletters and bulletins. All of that is great, but my goodness, I need to be taking care of people who need me. And I can't because I'm too busy doing 'stuff for the Lord' and when I'm not busy doing that, I'm exhausted beyond belief.

I am indulging in everything and I lust for more. It might not be pornography, or gambling, or alcohol ... but, my need for activity and insanity is great

Paul reminds me in verse 20 that I didn't come to know Christ that way. I didn't learn this from him. When Jesus came into my life, he taught me to get rid of the old stuff and become new. I'm supposed to be like God when it comes to righteousness and holiness.

Then ... Paul gets a little personal - a little too personal for me.

No more lying. So, when I don't want to go out in the evening, or I don't want to do anything other than hide in my house, I have to just say that? I can't tell people that I don't feel good? Yikes.

No more sinful anger. Ok ... I'm not supposed to let the sun go down on my anger because it will give the devil a foothold in my life. Poor Max. He's not used to anger (aww heck, what am I saying, we've been married for over 12 years - what's his problem?). I got so mad at him once, I didn't talk to him for 4 days. The poor guy had to finally email me and beg forgiveness for something he wasn't even sure he had done. Was that fair of me? Absolutely not. Had I justified my anger? Absolutely.

No more stealing, but work hard. How many days do I find myself doing nothing while at work. I throw away precious time that I should be finishing projects, and doing the work that I've been given.

No more foul mouth. I grew up in a minister's family and foul language really didn't exist in my life. I was also a terrible goody-two-shoes. I moved to a new town between my 6th and 7th grade year in school. Ah ha!!! I was going to become someone new. I remember deliberately beginning to use foul language when I was around these new kids - because I was going to be cool. It is now 35 years later and I still have to curb my tongue. What a filthy habit I picked up.

I have to get rid of the bitterness (in other words, I need to learn to forgive), rage (oh for heaven's sake - sometimes this is what makes my blood pressure rise)

I can't fight with people. I really haven't done too much of that in my adult life. It's much easier to get through the day if there isn't a war involved.

I can't say mean things about them. I don't know about you - but gossip is one of those other hideous habits, along with a foul mouth that seems to be a part of many of my conversations! I walk away from those conversations and feel so guilty and so dirty, but I'll do it again the next time I hang out with my friends.

I have to get rid of every malicious thing that I do. I need to be kind and compassionate and learn to forgive. Because as annoyed as I am with the people that I do these things to ... I have to forgive them. I have done much worse to Christ and He went to the cross for me.

What's next? I'll be back with Chapter 5 to explore what it is that God wants us to be ... it looks like I'm going to be going a lot deeper with these same issues.