Be Careful

“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.‭‭
Ephesians‬ ‭5:15-17‬ ‭NLT

I’m sure we all take care in the way we live. After all, we are wired to keep ourselves safe from danger, and that basic instinct increases, and becomes more important somehow, as we get older. But there are adrenalin junkies who take on incredible tasks, performing feats of courage and ignoring danger. I’m thinking of people like mountain climbers, or single-handed Atlantic rowers. Perhaps those who fly hang gliders or head for the breakers to surf their way ashore. There are also those who engage in more insidious tasks, taking illicit drugs of unknown content or purity, or those who deliberately head for temptation, trying to determine how strong they really are.

But this is a worldly perspective. As Christian pilgrims, we take seriously Paul’s instructions about the way we live. Not for us the way of fools, exploring places where we should never go. Instead we must seek out the ways of wisdom. True wisdom has its source in God. In James 1:5, we read, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking”. There is another helpful verse in James 3:17,  “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere”. Following this advice will help us live like wise pilgrims.

In our verse today, Paul continues by encouraging us to make the most of our lives. He was right, when he wrote this Epistle, by discerning that the days were evil. And our days in the 21st Century are still evil. Nothing has changed over the centuries. The media is full of reports of crime, drug taking, wars and so on. An evil world where our enemy, the devil, prowls around causing mayhem and distress. An evil world where sin is endemic. But as we read in a recent blog, we are light in this dark and evil world, and must be opportunistic in shining our light into dark places. We must be counter-cultural pilgrims walking against the tide of those of humanity who are sadly and unknowingly heading for a lost eternity. And we must be diligent in aligning our lives to the true Way, avoiding the false and evil ways of darkness. Thinking clearly. Remaining focused on our assignment, doing God’s work. True in His service.

Worthless Deeds

“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible…”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:11-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In the work place I made no secret of my faith. There was a cost involved of course – I was no longer included in the social set, you know, the “cool” group, that got involved in chats around the coffee machine or the photocopier, chewing over “the worthless deeds of evil and darkness”. Sometimes there was an awkward silence in a meeting room when I arrived. The occasional apology when an expletive was inadvertently uttered. I often wondered that my work colleagues somehow felt that their behaviour was incompatible with my faith in Jesus. It was of course – they obviously knew what the “light” was. And that they behaved in a way that was different. But I sometimes had an opportunity to include myself in the office chatter – I can remember a discussion on life insurance where costs and benefits were being discussed. My contribution was to remind them that worldly life insurance, was costly, and only paid out in death, but eternal life insurance was far more important, it was free, and paid out with life. There were a few embarrassed coughs followed by a change of subject. Light exposing “worthless deeds” perhaps? I suppose I was grateful to be excluded from the sordid discussions about things of a dark world that I once knew, but had been redeemed from, by the blood of Jesus.

But how should a 21st Century pilgrim allow God’s light to shine out into the dark and evil world around us? Over the past centuries, there have always been a small number of men and women who have cut themselves off from society, to avoid contaminating themselves by contact with the darkness. They live in monasteries and nunneries, spending their time in prayer and working in their gardens, in a life devoted to God. But is that the answer to God’s call to holiness? In 1 Peter 1:15-16, we read, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”“. A monasterial lifestyle may be the way for some, but for me there is that difficult balancing act between being in the world but not of the world. In Jesus’s amazing prayer to His Father in Heaven, in John 17, He said, “I have given them Your Word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.” We pilgrims have a mission in life, folks. In this dark world, not apart from it. Our service to God includes telling those who live on the dark side about the hope we have for a future with God in Heaven. It includes being a light shining in the darkness around us (Matthew 5). We are salt savouring a tasteless society. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy these wicked towns if any righteous people lived there, is perhaps a warning that God’s patience with a dark society will one day expire. Perhaps our presence in the darkness of our age is turning way His wrath.

But on a more positive note, we know the love of God. We know what He has done for us. We know that one day we will be in His presence. And as we trudge through life we share our messages of hope, our testimonies of what God has done for us, with those around us. Sharing in the dark places where we find ourselves, our schools, workplaces, communities and families. But all the time being conscious of our call to holiness and the love of our wonderful God.

Evil for Good

“O God, whom I praise,
don’t stand silent and aloof
while the wicked slander me
and tell lies about me.
They surround me with hateful words
and fight against me for no reason.
I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations
even as I am praying for them!
They repay evil for good,
and hatred for my love.”
Psalm 109:1-5. NLT

David is being slandered by people telling lies about him. And he appeals to his Heavenly Advocate for vindication. He appeals to God Himself, that He will get involved in the injustice David is experiencing. David feels particularly aggrieved because the people he loves, the people he prays for, are all paying back his goodness to them with a wicked and evil response. And much of the Psalm is devoted to a list of what the evil people are saying about him and what they would like to do to him. 

I’m sure we have all been in a place where we think or feel that people are saying negative things about us. Those whispers and sidelong glances apparently pointed towards us in the office, at a party, in the school playground or on a university campus (for those of us young enough to remember!). It’s human nature to amplify what might not really be a negative situation or a problem into a full blown disaster, with our thinking extrapolating into worries that people might want to murder us, or slander us at the very least. And before we know it we retreat into a corner, behind our front doors, anywhere, away from the potential or imagined abuse that we’re suffering, to a place where we anxiously dwell on the injustices of life. Was David suffering from paranoia, or was there a real problem with his friends and relatives, with those people he knew? Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the attack upon him was to him very real.

What about us? Do we suffer from paranoia, or are we too experiencing all sorts of unmerited abuse? We can take a lesson from David and his life. Having listed all the abuse being lined up against him, he finishes the Psalm with this: “May my accusers be clothed with disgrace; may their humiliation cover them like a cloak. But I will give repeated thanks to the Lord, praising him to everyone. For he stands beside the needy, ready to save them from those who condemn them“. That’s the place we need to find. In the end it doesn’t matter what others think about us. For me, God is enough. He has told me, and still tells me, that He loves me. The Passion translation of the Bible translates 1 John 3:1 as, “Look with wonder at the depth of the Father’s marvellous love that he has lavished on us! He has called us and made us his very own beloved children.” Somehow, as we rest in our status as God’s children, it doesn’t matter much what others think of us. It’s what God thinks that matters. And He loves me.

The Perfect Plan

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, 
from the plots of evildoers. 
They plot injustice and say, 
‘We have devised a perfect plan!’ 
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. 
The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; 
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
Psalms‬ ‭64:2, 6, 10‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

David is having another rant about the wicked people in his day and draws a comparison with those who are righteous. This theme seems to have been almost constantly in his mind, and appears in many of his Psalms. But his description of the “wicked” applies just as well today as it did in his day. Sin pervades people’s minds and works out in increasingly despicable actions, generation by generation.

My thoughts immediately went back to the events of the Second World War, and, in particular, the Holocaust. That desperately sad time when so many of God’s people, the Jews, were annihilated by Hitler’s “Perfect Plan”. But there have been many times in history and right up to today, where evil men and women have come up with their own “Perfect Plan”, usually involving crimes against their fellow members of societies. I say it again, “Sin pervades people’s minds and works out in increasingly despicable actions.” 

In this Psalm, and others, David calls on God to deal with such people. And if we are honest we do as well today, in our thoughts, in our prayers, and in our conversations. We look around us at world events, at things going on in our own countries, in our own societies and communities. When we see the evil acts that are taking place, we are faced with the reality that the pervasiveness of sin works out in many ways, from genocide to low level anti-social behaviour. Why doesn’t God deal with sin, and sinful and wicked people, once and for all and give us all peace? A good question for those taking the moral high ground, until they realise, as it says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We must therefore leave room for the grace of God.

Jesus taught the people of His day in parables, and one of them is entitled, “The Wheat and the Tares”, which we can read in Matthew 13. It refers to the fact that although righteous and wicked people live together, one day they will be separated. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to explain the parable, He said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” So we have the picture of the wicked and righteous being dealt with “at the end of the age“, when there will be a time of judgement. But thankfully, there is a place for the righteous in the Kingdom of God.

So what can we all learn from these few verses? Firstly, we must keep away from making plans that do not conform to God’s principles. Proverbs 19:21 states, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” If we read and apply what we find in God’s planning manual we won’t go far wrong. Secondly, we must ensure that we are numbered with the righteous, not the wicked. And the only way we can accomplish that is through Jesus. Only He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is the real, and ultimate, “Perfect Plan”.