Don’t Try Harder - Learn Christ (Ephesians 4:17-5:2)

We're twenty-five days into the New Year, which means that we're officially off the tracks in terms of New Years resolutions. Isn't that right? Even if you don't believe in New Years resolutions, most of us kind of thought we would change something on January 1. We would eat better. We would work out more. We would stop smoking. But studies show that by now, most of us have pretty much abandoned the resolutions we had made. We just can't change like we want to.

I know that most of you don't make resolutions, because you found out long ago that they don't work. But I wonder if you can relate to the words of a song I heard on CBC Radio 2 just a few weeks ago. It's a song by Mother Mother:

Try to change..
I try to change..
I make a list of all the ways to change my ways.
But I stay the same...

In a decadent age I try to change
all my decadent ways but I just can't help but
stay the same...

Carry a cane.
I carry a cane.
'cause I tried to change
and I tried too hard
so I hurt my leg and well, overall
I just stayed the same.
Now I carry a cane.

I heard that song and thought, "Now that's a song I can relate to!" We try to change, but the harder we try, the more we find that we just stay the same. We can even hurt ourselves in our efforts to change. The conclusion of the song is, "It's safe to say - don't change."

If you're frustrated with your efforts to change, and yet you still have some hopes buried somewhere that you can change, then this morning is for you. The apostle Paul is writing to a group of believers in Jesus Christ, and he is explaining how change can take place. But the way that it happens is completely different than what we think. It's not a matter of setting new goals or trying harder. It's far different from that. But change is possible. So let's look at who we can become, and how it can happen.

We Can Change

The first thing we need to do is to contradict the message of the song that I just told you about. The song concludes, "Don't change." The message is that change is impossible, so accept yourself the way that you are. That's the message of many in our society today, by the way: that we should accept ourselves the way we are. And it seems to make sense in one way: it's hard to see the alternative because our efforts to change fail more often than they succeed. But it's also a pretty depressing message. If you are in a difficult marriage, you don't want to be told, "Get used to it. It's not going to get better." If you have a bad temper, or you are a habitual liar, or you have a sarcastic streak that has destroyed relationships around you, it's not much help to be told, "Don't change."

You need to understand that change is possible. Paul is writing to people who are not exactly naive or inexperienced in terms of sin. In verse 22 he talks about their former manner of life, and as we're going to see, they didn't used to be Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. These were Gentiles - non-Jews - who lived in a city that had all kinds of opportunities for sins of every kind. But Paul says in verses 22 to 24 that these believers in Jesus Christ are able to take that old way of life off, and put a new way of life on, just like you'd change clothes. And in verses 25 and on he gives us a picture of what is now possible:

  • honesty (4:25) - being able to speak the truth without fudging out of fear or manipulation
  • a long fuse (4:26) - the ability to overcome the anger that some of us struggle with, that causes us to blow up and hurt people around us
  • industry (4:28-29) - complete honesty and integrity in how we conduct our work lives, so that nobody could ever call us greedy or lazy
  • generosity (4:28) - not only earning money for ourselves, but also sharing what we make with others
  • an ability to speak in a way that helps others (4:29) - being able to speak in a way that builds others up and that fits the occasion, and that gives grace to those who hear us
  • able to overcome hurts (4:31-32) - able to forgive those who have hurt us, rather than responding with bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice

How would you like this to be true in your life? Whatever your flaws and sins are now, how much would you like people to say about you that you are a person of honesty and self-control? That you are a hard worker who is unquestionably generous? That when you speak, your words are always appropriate and always helpful? That you never hold a grudge, but overcome the hurts that come your way?

Paul says that this is possible. In fact, it's more than possible: it's commanded. The Bible never commands something that it doesn't make possible. Paul says that it is possible for every single person present here this morning to become a person who is able to carry out the commands listed here in verses 25 and on. In fact, it's not only possible, but it's supposed to characterize us as a church. When people think of Richview, they should be thinking about the qualities that Paul has just listed. Talk about challenging!

Change is possible. But before we can people who are honest, long-tempered, hard-working, generous, gracious, and forgiving, we need to take an honest look at the human condition to see what's keeping us from being like this.

We Can Change - But Our Natures Are Corrupt

eBay is an online auction site that is founded on five values. The first value is, "We believe people are basically good." If you've been stiffed on eBay, you may disagree with this value. But this is a popular view. Many today think that people are basically good, and that the problem is poverty or lack of education. But at the core, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with human nature.

Beatrice Webb was one of the architects of the modern British welfare system. She and her husband founded the London School of Economics. She was a socialist, activist, and reformer. In 1925, she went back and read her old diaries. She wrote:

In my diary, 1890, I wrote, 'I have staked all on the essential goodness of human nature.' But now 35 years later I realize how permanent are the evil impulses and instincts in us, and how little they seem to change, like greed for wealth and power. And how mere social machinery will never change that. We must ask better things of human nature, but will we get a response? No amount of knowledge or science has been of any avail, and unless we curb the bad impulse, how will we get better social institutions?

She's saying she used to believe in the essential goodness of human nature. But she came to recognize that there's something so wrong with us that leads to corruption that is consistent across history that nothing seems to change. How do you explain this?

Well, Paul explains it for us. The problem with us is that we are not fundamentally good. As long as you think that it's a matter of trying harder or breaking bad habits, you'll never really deal with the problem. Paul tells us what the problem really is in verses 17-19:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

This is going to seem harsh. The Greeks of that day prided themselves on their wisdom. People still read their literature and their philosophy. But Paul sees things differently. What he writes of the Gentiles is true today. You could substitute "Canadians" for Gentiles. "You must no longer live as the Canadians do..." Paul describes this way of life in three ways:

  • One: People's thinking becomes distorted (4:17-18) - When you reject God, then you've disconnected your thinking from reality. Your thinking becomes distorted. Having lost touch with reality, you end up living for trivialities and side issues. When you lose track of the God who is ultimate, you end up in the dark, out of touch with reality. You become blind to the true purpose of life and incapable of apprehending truth.
  • Two: People become disconnected to God, who is the source of life, due to their willful rejection of him (4:18) - Paul says that people are alienated from the life of God, because they're ignorant and have hard hearts. At some level, he says, people know about God, but they have rejected what they know to be true. They have hardened their hearts. Because they have rejected God, they are disconnected from the life that is found in God.
  • Three: They become morally desensitized, which leads to immorality and and endless pursuit of more (4:19) - As a result of the distorted thinking and the rejection of God, they become spiritually calloused. They lack moral feeling and discernment, and have therefore given themselves over to sensuality, impurity, and always wanting more. They fit what Martin Luther defined as sin: a human being curved in upon itself.

This is harsh. You may be thinking, "Wow, Paul's talking about the really bad people here." Not really. Centuries ago in England, thousands flocked to hear George Whitefield preach. Lady Huntington, one of Whitefield's supporters, invited the Duchess of Buckingham to hear Whitefield preach. The Duchess refused, and this is what she wrote:

I thank your Ladyship for the information concerning these preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect toward their superiors in that they are perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common lechers that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiment so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.

She was right. G.K. Chesterton said that the biblical doctrine of original sin is the only doctrine that can really be proven. Just look around you. It is also the great equalizer. Chesterton said, "Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king." This is the natural human condition, not of bad people but of everyone.

Sheldon Vanauken tells of an experience he had with his wife in his book A Severe Mercy. One day he came home to find his wife's face streaked with tears. She hung onto him desperately and wept. It took some time for her to tell him what was wrong:

Her sins, she said, had come out and paraded before her, ghastly in appearance and mocking in demeanor. What sins/ What sins could this eager, loving creature have committed? Not sins as the world counts sins. Not one person had she murdered, nor one gold ingot stolen. No unfaithfulness, no secret drinking, no dishonesty, no sloth, no kicking dogs. But sometimes she had been grouchy or snappish. She had said cruel things to people, perhaps to her mother or brother...Now her words haunted her...Even worse, the sins of omission.

She had done nothing especially bad, and she certainly wasn't a Christian at that point, but her sins became real to her. She saw her heart and it scared her. The world fell away that night, and they never forgot.

Our problem is not the sin we commit. Our problem goes much deeper. The sin we commit is only a symptom of the real problem: our sinful natures. This also explains why it's so hard to change. Do you ever mow over weeds in the summer? For a day or two it looks fine. The mowed weeds blend in with the mowed grass. But in a couple of days the weeds sprout up and show themselves again. Trying to change without changing your heart is like mowing the weeds. It will look good for a couple of days, but it won't be long before the old nature starts showing up again. This is why trying harder is never enough.

So this is pretty depressing. If we're to become the people Paul describes, how can we change? He says we can change, but not by trying harder. The problem is our sinful natures. This confronts us at times. It's a serious problem. What do we do?

Paul doesn't tell us to try harder. He says:

Learn Christ

Paul says in verses 20-24:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

In these four verses, we discover how it is we go from the hopeless situation in verses 17-19, to the people we want to be in verses 25 and on. Jesus is the great divide. We don't change by trying harder. We change as two things take place in our lives.

First: we change as we learn about Christ. That's where it starts, according to verses 20 and 21. We enter the school of Jesus Christ.

The language here is baffling. Paul literally says that we do three things. One: learn Jesus Christ. You don't usually learn a person, but that's what Paul says we do. Two: we hear him. Three: we are taught in him. In other words, Jesus is the subject of our teaching. He is the teacher. And he is the atmosphere in which the teaching takes place. It's all about Jesus.

Do you realize that change doesn't take place as we try to change ourselves? Change comes as we see what Jesus has done, as we learn more about him, as we get to know him. Paul earlier described the pagan life as ignorance of God. The opposite of this ignorance is knowledge, specifically knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. That is how we change.

So let me ask you how much of your life is centered on Jesus? How often do you remind yourself of what he has done for you? This is what we need to preach to ourselves daily. Martin Luther said this has to be beaten into our heads. Learn Christ.

Second: we change as we apply what Jesus has done to your life everyday. Have you ever put money in a machine, hit the button, and then nothing happened? You've paid for the Coke, but you don't have it in your hands or in your mouth. Sometimes you have to bang the machine, and then the bottle falls and it's yours.

Paul says that this can happen to us spiritually. Through Christ, God has made all who trust in him into new creatures. He as called us out of the grave, just like he did with Lazarus. But some of us are still wearing the graveclothes. For some of us, the money's been paid, but the bottle hasn't yet dropped. Paul is saying that if you have entered the school of Christ, you've already been made new. Now act like it. Get those graveclothes off and act out who you really are in Christ.

One question, and then one application. First, the question. Have you entered the school of Christ? There are only two conditions possible. There is no third option. Either you are in the condition Paul describes: your thinking distorted, your relationship with God broken, and your life desensitized. Have you realized the truth about human nature: that we aren't fundamentally good, and that apart from Christ we are human beings curved in on ourselves? Until we see the desperateness of our situation, and the hope that's found in Christ, we'll keep on trying to change, and we'll keep on failing.

Now the application: If you have put your trust in Christ, then stop trying to change on your own. Focus your energies in getting to know Christ, understanding the gospel. Keep discovering new aspects to what he accomplished for you at the cross. Get to know Jesus. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. And then live in the reality of who you already are because of what Jesus has already accomplished. That's how you change.

Father, thank you for Jesus. May every person here see the hopelessness of life apart from him. And may every person here learn Jesus, and live out the reality of what he's done. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Posted on January 25, 2009 and filed under Ephesians.

Why We Pray (Matthew 7:7-11)

Maybe you can relate to a scene in a novel. Annie Dillard describes a church service in her book Holy the Firm:

The minister is a Congregationalist and wears a white shirt. The man knows God. Once, in the middle of the long pastoral prayer of intercession for the whole world for the gift of wisdom to its leaders, for hope and mercy to the grieving and pained, succor to the oppressed, and God's grace to all in the middle of this he stopped and burst out, "Lord, we bring you these same petitions every week." After a shocked pause, he continued reading the prayer. Because of this, I like him very much.

Almost every week, somebody climbs the stairs, stands behind this pulpit, and prays. Most every week, they pray pretty much the same things. Have you ever wondered why we take time on Sundays to pray as a congregation?

The verses we've just read actually tell us why we bother to pray. I found four reasons why we should pray in just a few short verses, so let's go:

1. He invites us to pray

A new president is taking office in a couple of days. If you had tried to call the president-elect five years ago, you probably could have reached him with a bit of persistence. If you try calling him this Wednesday, you're out of luck. Access to the most powerful leader in the world is granted to only a few, and you're probably not one of them.

A Norway teen once dialed a secret phone number for the White House. He said, "I just wanted to talk to him--have a chat, invite him to Iceland, and see what he'd say." He pretended to be the president of Iceland. He was surprised when his initial call didn't pass through a switchboard, but went directly to a higher office to be screened by various security officials. He was asked a series of personal questions in an attempt to verify his identification. He never made it through to the president and was later taken from his home for questioning by local police. No charges were filed.

You may not be able to get through to the president, but someone infinitely more powerful invites you to talk to him. Three times in this passage, Jesus - who is God himself - invites us to pray, commands us to pray. He repeats it so we get it: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

What's surprising is that God, who is infinitely powerful, who lacks nothing, and is surrounded by angels, and who enjoys perfect fellowship within the Godhead, actually invites us to talk to him. We pray because God invites us to.

Secondly:

2. He makes promises to us if we pray

Verses 7 and 8 say:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

That's the second reason why we pray. Not only does God invite us to pray; he makes promises to those who pray. Including the end of verse 11, Jesus makes seven promises in this passage. God answers when we pray.

I know that we read these verses and have lots of questions about unanswered prayer. It's a legitimate issue, and deserves its own sermon. But we should never lose sight of the amazing fact that God does answer prayer. He answers everyday requests: prayer for him to provide, prayer for guidance and wisdom. He also answers extraordinary requests. I can think of three times that God has healed someone in my family in a miraculous way in response to prayer. We pray first because God invites us to, and second, because he makes promises to us if we pray.

3. Because he is available to all of us all the time

My wife lost her credit card on Christmas Eve. She left it at Sobeys. She eventually found it, and they had it there safe in an envelope waiting for her. Even though she still had an open account, that account wasn't any good to her as long as she didn't have her credit card.

There are lots of things that are only available some of the time, but God is always available. Notice how Jesus described three levels of how prayer can feel to us. Sometimes it's asking: God seems present, and all we have to do is ask. Sometimes prayer is like seeking: we actually have to go looking for God, because he doesn't seem present. Sometimes God seems even further away, like someone who's locked behind a closed door. In that case, we go knocking. But Jesus says God is actually available to us in all three cases. No matter how far away God is, he's available to us - when we just have to ask, when we have to go looking for him, even when it seems we're knocking on a closed door.

Then notice what he says in verse 8: "For everyone who asks receives." I read stories sometimes of people who excel in prayer, and they intimidate me. I am not a prayer warrior like some people. But God doesn't play favorites in prayer. "Everyone who asks receives." God is available to all the time, not just to some of us but to all of us all the time.

4. Because he is inclined to answer

What is your father like? It's a tough question because there are all kinds of fathers. Every Saturday my dad used to take my sister and me out shopping. It would be tons of fun. He would buy us stuff and play with us. I have really good memories. But other times would not be as good. One time I must have ticked him off, because he dropped me at home early, and I remember waiting in the garage while it rained until someone came home and could let me into the house.

Many of us have good fathers, but nobody here has a perfect father. Jesus says as much in these verses: our fathers, no matter how good they are, aren't perfect. But most of them are inclined to do good things for their children. It's just part of being a dad; you want to look after your kids. But Jesus says that God is our Father, except he is a Father who never lets us down. He is always looking out for what is best for us. He is incredibly interested in the welfare of his children. He is inclined to give good gifts to his children. "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance ... it is laying hold of his highest willingness" (Archbishop Richard Trench).

When Jesus says that God is our Father, he also reminds us of who we are: children who are dependent on him. When you're a child, you never try to be self-sufficient. You accept that your father has everything that you need. That's exactly our position with God. We need him. And he is more than willing to meet our need as we come to him.

It's here that we see the real shift in our relationship with God. When you begin to see God as your Father, you understand all that Jesus said. You know you've been invited. You hear his promises. You know he's available and inclined to answer you. But you notice that it starts to be less about what you can get from God, and more about the sheer delight of relationship with the One who offers all of this to you. We move from prayer being about getting things from God, to prayer being about seeing his worth and beauty, and marveling that he wants to spend time with us.

We don't only have access to God. We have relationship with God. God isn't just open to hearing from us. God gave up his own Son to make it possible. We never have to wonder if God is interested in hearing from us. As the apostle Paul said, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

I mentioned the preacher who prayed for the same things every week. It probably seems like a waste of time to some. But maybe he knows that God has invited him. Maybe he knows that God has made promises to those who pray. Maybe he knows God is available, all the time, to everyone. But most of all, maybe he knows that God is inclined to answer. Maybe he's discovered that prayer isn't only about getting things from God, but it's about the sheer joy of relationship with him.

That's why we pray.

Posted on January 18, 2009 and filed under prayer.

Investing Our Time (Ephesians 5:15-16)

We're going to take a break today from our series in Ephesians. Actually, we're going to jump ahead a little bit a chapter to look at a verse from the section that we just read. It's because I think we particularly need the message of this verse. We really need to hear this, and the start of a new year is the perfect time to apply its message to our lives.

Last summer we drove through New York to Massachusetts, then up to the Maritimes, and then through Quebec and home. Have you ever noticed how differently people drive depending on where you are? When we were in New Brunswick, we were that car with Ontario plates riding the bumper of everyone we saw. It was like everyone drove like an elderly lady. Then we crossed the border into Quebec, and we were the ones that everyone was passing. Same speed, but different context. In one province, we were the speedsters. In the next province we could barely keep up.

Here's the thing: in both provinces, the drivers thought they were normal. Meanwhile, we all know that the normal ones were the ones with the Ontario license plates, right? Whatever we are used to becomes normal for us, even if those from the outside look in at us and think that we are completely nuts.

Here are some things I know about us.

First: our lifestyles have become normal to us. I don't care who you are, but however you are living has become your version of normal. Some of you get up at ridiculous hours of the morning, and for you getting up at 5 is normal. Everyone else is weird. Some of you sleep in until 9 in the morning, and for you that's normal.

The danger is that some of what has become normal to us is actually quite insane if you take a step back and look at things. Today I want us to drive to another province, as it were, so we can take a look at the way we're driving and recognize that it's not all that sane after all.

Here's something else that I know about you: You are way too busy. Busy has become normal for us. If someone asks you how you are doing, what is the appropriate response? Busy. It happens all the time. There's actually another response that's equally acceptable: crazy busy. "How are you doing?" "Oh fine, thanks. It's been busy. We haven't had a moment for ourselves." In some places and times that response would be viewed as insane, but for us it has become normal. We are used to being busy. It has become the new normal for us.

On your way home today, wait until the light turns green and there are three or four cars behind you. Then count to three after the light turns and see what happens. It's like what the Queen said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that." We don't know how not to be busy. When we're not busy we feel lost, like we should be doing something. We're just not sure what.

More than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they "often" or "always" rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it's "often" or "always" true that "the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God." Do you want to know the worst profession? Pastors. "It's tragic and ironic: the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains," said the person who conducted the study.

Our kids are also busy. A study in Britain found that many children are living in dysfunctional families that refuse to eat together or talk to each other. It's a rich, developed country, and the children's lives are just as packed as the parents.

Closer to home, one anthropologist lived with some families to observe how they live and found that the busyness actually creates more busyness, because the busier you are, the more you have to plan and coordinate and communicate what's happening, which makes you even busier. After observing the families he said:

I think we need to pay attention to an important consequence of the busyness for our children. The master story of our family lives becomes focused on being productive and efficient, and children hear that language. The larger purposes or goals of our lives may become unclear to our children, but the message is clear: it is important to be productive and efficient. In fact, there may be a broader concern that our busyness fragments families' ability to create stories that will guide them in future. It is stories that help children to understand, "This is how we - as a family - live." When families lose track of those larger stories, it is difficult for children to grasp what we are about.

If you are a Christian parent hearing these words, you should be scared. He is saying that our busyness communicates to our children that our lives are about being productive and efficient, and this crowds out any sort of larger story about what life is all about - stories like the Biblical story of Jesus. Our busyness teaches something to our children, and it drowns out any other message, including the message of Jesus.

One more think I know about us before we look at the Scripture. It takes no effort to waste our time. That happens automatically. That means that unless you take purposeful, direct action, you will default toward wasting your time. Now when I talk about wasting time, you probably think of watching TV shows that you don't even like, playing endless video games, and so on, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about time that could have been meaningfully used.

I was surprised a few years ago to hear Eugene Peterson label busyness as a form of laziness, but I think he's right. The reason is that it will take absolutely no effort on your part to get busy and remain busy. That's the lazy option. You will have to work very hard to get un-busy and to switch to what you should be doing and no more. That will take incredible work. It's not the lazy way at all. Your busyness is actually a form of laziness, and chances are it's keeping you from investing your life meaningfully. It's also quite possibly damaging your children's lives. And yet it's become normal for us.

Living Wisely With our Time

Depressed yet? This is a problem we need to address, and Paul is going to give us some help. In Ephesians 4:15 he says: "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise." If you were around last summer, then you remember studying Proverbs. The Bible, especially Proverbs, says that there are two ways to live your life: skillfully or foolishly. I think Paul might say that a lot of us are living our lives unwisely or foolishly, and he says there is an option. We can choose to live wisely, but it's going to take some deliberate action on our part.

Where do I get that from? At the start of verse 15 he says, "Be very careful, then, how you live." The old King James Version says, "See then that you walk circumspectly." I'll never forget having this explained to me years ago. Have you ever seen one of those stone walls in Britain that have pieces of glass stuck on the top of them so that you can't climb over? So picture this stone wall, and little pieces of glass sticking out on top that will cut you open if you touch them. Now picture a cat walking on top of that wall, and you have a picture of what it means to walk circumspectly. Every step that cat takes will be purposeful and deliberate. This is a picture of how Paul is asking us to live. Every step we take is purposeful and carefully chosen, just like that cat walking on top of the wall.

How do we live carefully and walk circumspectly? One way is what Paul tells us in verse 16: "making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." There are a couple of things you need to understand about what Paul says here. The first is what he means by "every opportunity". Your version might talk about redeeming the time. Paul had a number of options he could have used. He could have said day, hour, season, or age. He could have just said time. You would recognize the word: chronos, from which we get English words like chronological. But he didn't use any of those. Instead he used the word kairos, which means opportunity. Not all time is equal. There are particular moments that are especially significant or favorable.

You know what this is like. Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which there was a pregnant moment, in which you could say something that made a real difference in their lives? That's a kairos moment, a moment of opportunity. At that moment, what you say can have a huge impact. But say you freeze and you can't think of what to say, but then on the way you come up with the perfect thing that you should have said. The problem is that by then, the kairos moment has passed and you're left with chronos, just ordinary time. Paul says to make the most of those kairos moments that come up so that you're really ready to use them when they come.

It's also interesting what Paul says: "making the most of every opportunity." The word picture he uses is that of buying back those kairos moments. It's an investment word. We'll put it this way. Everyone has kairos moments happen to them, and everyone has the choice to invest in those kairos moments when they come along. But it's possible that we are going to choose to invest in other things instead, which means that we won't have the resources to invest in kairos when they come.

Let me give an example from my own life. I have a lot of evening meetings. It's just part of the territory when you're a pastor. My schedule fills up pretty quickly in the evenings. When I go to all of these meetings, the kairos moments still happen at home. It's not like the opportune moments of time stop happening when I'm not there. But if I'm at meetings every night, then I have chosen to invest there, and I won't be able to invest in those kairos moments when they come up. There are kairos moments that come up all the time all over the place, and Paul says that we need to be ready to buy them up when they come, and if we're buying up over here, then we won't have enough to buy them up over here.

Imagine in ten years I realize that I've missed too much at home, so I stop going to so many meetings and start staying at home a lot more. In ten years, my kids are out of high school. The kairos moments at home will be gone, and I'll be left with chronos. See why this takes wisdom? Paul says that we need to recognize the kairos moments when we have them, and arrange our lives so that we can invest in them when they come up.

So I want to ask you two questions right now:

Where are the kairos moments in your life showing up right now? I don't think there are many more important questions for you to answer. Where are those moments of potential deep impact where you can make a tremendous difference in someone's life, but if that moment passes, you can't get it back?

I can tell you that if you have children at home, kairos moments are happening all the time there. The problem is that we don't see that these kairos moments are going to evaporate, and that one day they're going to turn into chronos moments, and it will be too late.

If you are younger - say a student - I'll tell you where some of those kairos moments are right now. They're at school. I remember being in school and taking in some of what I was getting. It was amazing stuff, and I often wish I could go back and absorb what I was being exposed to back then. But I didn't absorb as much as I should have, because I didn't recognize those as kairos moments back then.

If you are a senior, then you have all kinds of kairos moments as well. I don't think you know the impact of a well-chosen word in the life of a younger person from someone who has your wisdom and experience.

No matter what your age, I'll tell you one of those kairos moments for you. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." The opportunity to respond to God's grace is a kairos moment, and one that you will not have forever.

If you are already a disciple of Jesus Christ, then what are the kairos moments you could be having with him? One of my favorite pastors, Jack Miller, said, "I have asked three close friends to monitor me and tell me when I am allowing busyness to crowd out fellowship with God."

So the question you need to answer is: where are the kairos moments in your life? Because if you don't recognize and identify them, they will be gone and you will never get them back.

Question two: What are you investing in right now that is causing you to miss those kairos moments? Most of life is chronos, ordinary time. How are you spending your life right now that is causing you to to miss out on those kairos moments?

There is nothing wrong with working long hours at work, but you need to ask yourself if your long hours are causing you to miss out the strategic times that may be happening somewhere else.

There is nothing wrong with watching a movie or TV or playing a game, but you need to ask yourself if watching that show or playing that game will cause you to miss out on a kairos moment that you could have predicted, and that you'll never get back.

There is nothing wrong with having your kids enrolled in hockey, ballet, soccer, martial arts, dance, Brownies, and choir, but you need to ask yourself if your kids are so busy that they will never be at home with you for those kairos moments.

There is nothing wrong with discussing politics or sports at dinner with your family, but we need to ask ourselves if we are letting those kairos moments of deep impact go by, if we are talking about things that really don't matter, compared with talking about things that could have lasting impact.

I am going to ask you to go home today and spend half an hour answering these two questions that could have a profound impact on your life, and those around you. Where are the kairos moments showing up in your life right now? And what are you currently doing that is causing you to miss out on these moments of opportunity that you will never get back?

Paul concludes this verse, "because the days are evil." We do live in an evil age, in which it's hard to know the right thing to do. It's because of this that it's so important to live deliberately, to walk carefully, to be wise instead of unwise. You probably know the law of entropy, that left to themselves things will break down. Because there is pride and wickedness and evil in this world, things will break down over time if we don't take advantage of these kairos moments. It's because these days are evil that the stakes are so high.

But you and I have the good news that we don't have to be subject to evil days. If you live in evil days with an evil heart, you don't have any hope. But if you understand the grace of Jesus Christ, and what this means for us, we can live differently, even if the days are evil.

God gives you kairos moments every day that you can grab and use for deep impact. Where are those kairos moments in your life? And what's keeping you from redeeming them?

D.T. Niles said, "Hurry means that we gather impressions but have no experiences, that we collect acquaintances but make no friends, that we attend meetings but experience no encounter. We must recover eternity if we are to find time, and eternity is what Jesus came to restore. For without it, there can be no charity."

Father, as we start a new year, I pray that you would help us take stock of these two questions. I pray that you would give us the courage and the resolve to identify those opportunities in our lives that you are giving us. I also pray that you would help us identify what it is that is causing us to miss out on them. Help us this year to live wisely and for your glory.

I pray that we would resolve, as Jonathan Edwards did years ago: "Resolved: never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can. Resolved: to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved: that I will live so, as I shall wish I had when I come to die."

I thank you finally, Father, that this isn't some self-help project. I thank you that you are not calling us to save ourselves. I thank you for Jesus and the gospel: that he died to forgive us for valuing other things more than we value you; that he rose to give us new life; that you have given us your Spirit to guide us so we can live wisely. So in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit, would you help us to be careful how we live, making the most of every opportunity. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Posted on January 4, 2009 and filed under Ephesians.