Friday, August 24, 2012

Maybe too quiet.

This week it is all about Ephesians 6:10-20. The armour of God. (Or Armor...if you happen to be North American). You can find any number of blogs and commentaries that will tell you about the various bits of armament and what they are and what they are for and what they represent and what their meaning is, so I am not even going to go there. My struggle with this verse is more in the area of Christan warfare and the concept that any nation is to be some sort of theocracy.

In reading about the current US Presidential campaign, there is so much talk and so much being written about being a 'Christian' nation and about 'Christians' standing against either the incumbent President who obviously wants to undermine the Christian faith and values, or the opponent who is also suspected by some because of his particular religious background. Similar arguments come up from time to time about our 'atheist' Prime Minister here in Australia.  In background you can almost hear the hymns being sung as we are told that a return to 'Christian' values would lead to an economic or moral recovery.  I am still  unclear what 'Christian' values are considering the number of interpretations being applied to that particular phrase at the present. But moving right along...

In so many of the war movies I have seen over the years there has been that moment in the story when things seemed too quiet. You know the one.  The soldiers are all relaxed and sitting around, talking about going home after the war and the one soldier starts talking about how he is going back to his girl and settle down when suddenly a shot rings out and he drops dead, felled by an enemy sniper. Or again, the soldiers sitting back admiring the stars, talking about home, when suddenly their whole world erupts in gunfire and explosions as the enemy forces make a suicidal attempt to overrun their position. One moment everything is quiet, and the next they are fighting for their lives. Sometimes I think that is what the Christian life is like. It's verse 13,  the one which intrigues me today, that hooked me into the memories of these movie moments.

So put on God's armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.

 Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God now. But after putting on all that armour he talks about how we should 'resist the enemy's attacks' and 'hold your ground'. No offensive mentioned here. No going after the godless hordes and chasing them down to a bloody end as we enact the judgement of God on them. Nothing about victory or the establishment of some pseudo-Christian government...nation...kingdom.  It's about readiness. It's about resistance against evil. It's about holding ground. It's about standing shoulder to shoulder with Christ to hold the ground that he has already won. It's not about politics and nations. Christ's battle and Christ's victory is against something so much greater than these. Our battle is against spiritual forces in the heavenly realm, the rulers and authorities and cosmic powers. Not earthly politicians and political powers. 

Most certainly exercise your right to vote. Most certainly campaign and speak out for what you believe in, but don't confuse an election or a government or a politician with the real enemy. Always remember that we must be ready to resist and stand our ground even when things seem quiet...maybe too quiet!

Friday, August 17, 2012

You really can be too careful...

OK...let's take a look at Ephesians 5:15-20.  Paul is continuing down this road of Christian living...or that's how I describe it anyway.  Last week it was sort of a 'Mission: Impossible' call to change. This week Paul sounds a bit...well, one writer said Paul reminds him of his Sunday School teacher. Personally, I think of the Desk Sargent from the TV series 'Hills Street Blues' who always ended his shift briefing with the words "Let's be careful out there."  He wasn't telling the police officers not to do their job, he was just reminding them that it wasn't going to be easy and it certainly wasn't safe out there.  To me, that is precisely the point Paul is making in verse 15. 

So be careful how you live.

He is not telling us to withdraw into Fortress Church or that we should cut ourselves from the 'evil' world around us. He is most certainly not telling us to live our lives in fear, you know, facing each moment as if we are walking through an uncharted minefield just waiting for something to blow up in our face. The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to live the Christian life, and not because the world is 'evil', but because we are human.  Flesh and blood, just like everyone else walking around on this planet.  That's why his advice is  pretty basic simple stuff in those early verses.  He tells us to use our heads, to think before we act. He reminds us that our time is limited so we need to make the most of it. He also tells us that we won't find the answers in the bottom of a bottle...or more to the artificial highs that may come from reveling in earthly pleasures as we look for purpose and meaning in our lives. (Just as an aside...a little bit of reveling now and then is good.  Take a look at Proverbs or Psalms or Song of Solomon if you want some Biblical reveling.  And don't forget Jesus and the Wedding at Cana.)

The real insights come from wisdom. From discovering God's purpose for your life. From being filled with the Spirit...rather than just those other spirits. But even here, Paul is not talking about amazing spiritual experiences or divine revelation. Just read through the rest of Ephesians and some of his other letters, and you will see that often these discoveries, this wisdom is something that comes in and through the everyday action of life. Little things. New experiences. An insight here. Word of wisdom there. Not necessarily in 'religious' settings or from 'Christian' people or 'spiritual' experiences. Quite often it comes through the ordinary, the mundane, the plain...and sometimes the downright boring...and I am talking about experiences and people here.

Verse 19 creates some interesting pictures in my somewhat twisted imagination.  The idea of addressing my wife or children or friends with the words of some good old Lutheran hymn.  Or better yet, simply quoting the Bible at them. (There is one about a perfect wife and some about obedient children...we can just ignore those ones about fathers and husbands for the moment.) A better picture though is one that provides a setting where all these elements are usually found.  Worship. We speak to one another in worship.  It's not just about God and me...or me and God...but about me and all those other human beings who gather to worship...and me and all those other human beings who don't gather for worship. The words reveal...uplift...encourage...educate...renew...redirect...refresh...and so much more.  And from this worship comes the ability then to truly give thanks for everything, since in worship I am admitting and confessing that God is always present everywhere. So if my search for wisdom and purpose in life finds me in times of difficulty and pain, God is there. If that search finds me on a high, a mountain-top experience, God is there. If that search leads me to the valley of the shadow of death, God is there. I don't necessarily have to thank him for where I find myself. (Quite often I put myself into those messes anyway) I can thank him that he is always present.

And one last thing...

Let's be careful out there!

...but not too careful.

Friday, August 10, 2012

You have got to be kidding!!!

I really like Paul.  I mean I really like Paul and his writing...and in this case his sense of humour. Reading through the text for this Sunday from Ephesians 4:25-5:2 I think we see Paul at his best. Let me just highlight some of the funnier bits.

No more lying...yeah, sure. Like that is gonna happen. Is there anyone out there who would appreciate me telling the truth all the time and in all situations??? Could I even live with myself if I told the truth about myself to myself? (yeah...take a moment and go back to reread that one carefully)

Do not let your anger lead you into sin...well, Paul didn't have to put up with peak hour traffic and those idiot drivers. He never got his parking spot snaked from under him at the mall. He didn't have to live with some of the people I have to live and work with every day.  Sometimes anger is all I have left!

Stop robbing...OK...I'll stop the breaking and entering, and the car theft, and the hand bag snatching, and the shoplifting, and the pirating DVDs, and the illegal music downloads, and the cheating on the parking meters, and the small lies on the returned goods, and whatever I can get away with on my income tax, and all that extra food I waste and throw away, and my lifestyle that uses up way more of the world resources than is needed, and maybe we should walk away from this one now.

Do not use harmful words...I don't do this. I am just telling the truth.  Isn't that what I am supposed to do? And what is wrong with a bit of sarcasm or honest criticism anyway? Some just can't please Paul, make up your mind.

I won't even go into the one about making the Holy Spirit sad or getting rid of bitterness, passion and anger which are some of my favourite whiskers on kittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

But one last thought. 

Your life must be controlled by love (Ephesians 5:2)  This had better be God's love because I don't have enough self-love to sustain a love for my neighbour, let alone control my life. Which reminds me, didn't Jesus say something about my not being able to control anything????