Lessons from the ER


Sunday night I found myself at the hospital with Anna again. Her feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger have been uncontrollable. She was at the point where she did not trust herself to not hurt herself again and wanted to go to the hospital. I went with her. I was there with her until Monday evening. It took that long to find an open placement for her. But against the odds she got one.

What a way to spend Memorial day weekend right? But I learned a lot over that 21 hour wait:
Again I learned what a privilege it is to be with Anna and to advocate for her and stand with her when she is weak.
I learned that I can still do all-fighters and/or function on very little sleep.
I learned that being there with Anna meant everything to her.
I learned that when I am punch-drunk tired, I can be very funny.
I learned that you can be both amazingly strong and beautiful and extremely fragile and broken at the same time.
I learned that the prayers of friends and family are effective and necessary to keep me going.
I learned that Anna loves to play with hospital bed controls… especially if they are yours and not hers.
I learned that I do love being her dad. =)
And I learned that right now I can’t be in formal pastoral ministry. Family needs me too much. I can’t give the kind of time and energy to Anna and the rest of my family and also look after a congregation. I need to focus on them right now, and for the foreseeable future. So I have decided to switch gears and stay at Two Guys Smoke Shop and not consider fulltime ministry positions at this time. I will still take advantage of speaking and preaching opportunities, and I will still write and post on my blog here.

Ironically, twenty years ago today, I graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. I was set to go from there into a lifetime of pastoral ministry. Now it looks like I may never go back. When I decided to go to seminary, I went with the attitude that there was no downside to it. At best, I would have the necessary academic credentials to pursue my calling into pastoral ministry. At worst (if you an say worst) I would be well educated in my faith and that would set me up to excel in my own faith and in practice as a husband, father, and worker in Christ’s kingdom.

You see, there is no not being a worker in His kingdom. I don’t see myself as having been demoted or benched. In some ways I feel promoted! We sometimes are guilty of thinking that pastors and missionaries are the ultimate Christians. That, my friends, is not at all the case. In truth the most influential Christian leader, mentor, and spiritual father I have ever met was an insurance salesman! That man loved Jesus better than anyone I know… and that includes all the pastors I know. Never confuse a degree or a title or a position as necessary things to possess in order to do “real” work in the Father’s kingdom. Most kingdom work happens in the everyday, common, and normal places of life where none of those things really come into play… like spending 21 hours in an ER with your anxious and hurting daughter.

 

Be Like Mom


For Mother’s Day I thought I would share this message I gave a few years ago on Mother’s Day. I posted it back then in parts, here it is presented in full.

To all you mothers out there (especially mine) have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Grace,

Dan

Paul the Mother

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Introduction

Mothers…

You can’t come into this world without one (even Jesus couldn’t come into this world without a mother). They are necessary.

Mothers, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their child on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Mothering is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that makes any fulltime job seem trite.

Mothering is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon that will not slow down for two decades or so.

Mothering takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because kids have none and seemingly live eternally in the “now.”

Mothering takes one way love. If you have been a mother for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a mother you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate you!” “I wish you weren’t my mother!” “I am so done with you!” Many mothers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then motherhood is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good mother.

Mothering requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for physical needs, but social, mental, and spiritual needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet mothers do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their kids. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that mothers don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of motherhood outweighs the pain. And so they keep going.

Moms do this so well in fact that very often when their girls grow up they have a longing to be mothers themselves.

I know some women who just can’t wait for it.

I know others who would give all they had just to be one.

I know others who struggle with the pain of losing their child, and they feel that with that loss and the loss of motherhood part of them died too. They would give anything to get them back.

Exegesis

Our text this morning is an interesting one and a good one to think about on Mother’s Day. Paul was only in Thessalonica for a short time a two or three months at best. But notice how he describes who he and his fellow workers lived, worked, and related to them: Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.

It is very interesting to me that Paul here uses the image of a nursing mother to describe his love and care for the Thessalonians. Paul often used the image of fatherhood to describe his leadership. In fact, just a few verses down in verse 11 he shifts his analogy to fatherhood. While Paul certainly knows he is not a woman and cannot be a mother, he was still led by the Spirit to use the analogy of motherhood in his description of how he related to the Thessalonians. The second half of verse 8 through verse 10 Paul explains what he means.

Verse 8b, Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Like a mother loves her child even before they are born, Paul loved the people of Thessalonica before they had been spiritually born. Love came first. Love was the motivation for going to them, for sharing the Gospel with them, and for sharing their lives with them. Love was not something that came later, or was given after there was proof that the gospel had been accepted but before.

Verse 9, Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. This is also very motherly isn’t it? Mothers work constantly day and night so that their children have all that they need and do not need to worry about caring for them. And as mothers work day and night to care for their children, Paul did the same for his spiritual children.

Verse 10, You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. A good mother shows by her example what is good and right by how she conducts herself in the truth and by how she responds in grace. In like fashion Paul and his companions did the same, not only teaching them the knowledge and idea of what it means to be holy, righteous, and blameless, but setting the example of it, showing them the practice of it, and mentoring them in the living of it.

Doctrine

The Church is called the family of God and the household of God. So it is no accident that the most often used picture to describe spiritual leadership, discipleship, and how we are supposed to relate to one another is that of family. What is the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers if not to nurture, mature, and equip their children so that they grow into adults who are able to do the same for their own children? So it should come as no surprise that motherhood and fatherhood were helpful analogies to understand how Christians are to nurture, mature, and equip one another.

We need to reach out to and share our faith with a mothers love. Mothers don’t wait to see their children grow up before they love them. Paul compared his initial coming to them as that of a nursing mother. Love comes first. It is not earned. It does not have to be asked for. It is just given. His nurturing of them started before there were believers and continued after. You cannot nurture a person without first loving them. We see this over and over in how Jesus related to people. He was very gentle with them. He was very compassionate. He healed them. Ate with them. Freed them from demons. He feed them. His doing so showed that He loved them and cared for them and drew them in to hear who He was and why He was here. He showed them He was the Messiah as He told them He was the Messiah. If we attempt to teach about Christ or witness to Christ without showing them Christ’s love and care we will have little fruit to show for our efforts. I have never witnessed anyone sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a person who had any success who did not love them first. Especially with people we are witnessing to and to new Christians we need to be like nursing mothers caring for their children.

That motherly love that Paul had for the Thessalonians drove him to give himself completely to their needs. A mother’s day is not really organized around her needs so much as it is around the needs of her children. In the same way, Paul ministered in such a way that the new believers saw that they were his first priority. We see the same in Jesus’ relating to the crowds. For instance in Matthew 14:13-14 we are told that when Jesus was given the news that His cousin had been executed by Herod He took the disciples away so they could be by themselves and rest and grieve. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (13b-14). This was the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with a few loaves and fish. He wanted to get away. He wanted to have time alone with His disciples. But His instead He met their needs. The work of nurturing, maturing, and equipping one another works best when we do it with that same attitude.

That leads right to the third truth this passage illustrates for us: that believers, especially new believers need spiritual mothering no less than children do in the home. Love and grace are understood in experience before they are fully understood in thought. So like a mother Paul shared his life with the Thessalonians. You’ve heard the saying, “seeing is believing.” If the people we share our faith with don’t see and experience the love of Christ why should they believe what we are saying is true? The only way that is going to happen is if we share our life with them.

Application

You can learn a lot from a good mother. And it is not only helpful for being a mother or for understanding mothers, it is helpful for understanding the kind of work it takes to nurture, mature, and equip one another in the church. I want to try and show this by taking that description of mothers I began with and putting it in the context of discipleship.

Christians…

You can’t come into the kingdom of God without one sharing the Gospel with you. They are necessary. The agents through whom God brings people into the new life of His kingdom.

Christians, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their spiritual children on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Discipleship is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that can make any fulltime job seem trite.

Discipleship is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon.

Discipleship takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because believers are tempted to understand heavenly realities through their present circumstances instead of the other way around, they often live in the “now.”

Discipleship takes one way love. If you have been a discipler for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a discipler you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate God!” “I wish God would just stop!” “I am so done with God!” Many disciplers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then discipleship is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good discipler.

Discipleship requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for spiritual needs, but physical, social, and even mental needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet in Christ, through Christ Christians do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that Christians don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so they keep discipling.

Do you see what I mean? Now I am not at all saying that this describes all Christians, or even most Christians. I’m not even saying that it describes me! But it should, shouldn’t it?

What if it did? What if we could all say,

In Christ, through Christ I do all this without a second thought. I gladly do it, because I love my spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to me a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when I despair. I do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so I keep discipling.

What effects would that have?

How would things change?

How would I see things differently? How would I see people differently? How would it effect how I see myself?

Might I see God differently?

What impact would that have on the kingdom of God?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find out. What do you say?

Why Celebrate?


My daughter Anna struggles with depression and anxiety because of her Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). She was hospitalized eight times within a two year period. It was hard, real hard. Basically every three months she was in a hospital or C-BAT unit. But after that, because of her hard work and the prayers of many friends she started to make significant strides in learning to cope with her NVLD. When we came to the one year anniversary of her being free of self harm and hospitalization we had a celebration going to her favorite restaurant, the China Buffet. When she made it two years, we had a party with family and friends to celebrate her accomplishment.

But three months after the two year celebration, she hurt herself again and ended up back in a C-BAT unit.

The question has come up: what is the point of celebrating such milestones of recovery when there is no certainty that the recovery will continue without times when we fall? Does the fact that she fell again say that our celebration premature?

The reason for celebrating is not about what you are going to do tomorrow. It is acknowledging the work that was done in the past. She worked hard. She accomplished a lot. That was worth celebrating. We weren’t celebrating the expectation that she would never fall down again, we were celebrating the fact that she had gone so long without failing down again.

And you know what? She had a much easier time getting back on her feet this time. She is not the same person she was four and a half years ago. She is in not in the same place she was either. She is stronger, wiser, and more resilient. And so are we and the rest of her support system. Celebrating her milestones is about building her up, giving her hope, and acknowledging her work on her journey, not setting expectations for perfection in the future. She knows that.

I say, yes, it was worth celebrating. It was not a mistake. It was not premature. If I had the chance to do it over again, I would. And when we get to a year from her latest trip, we will all celebrate again. Love drives us to celebrate these milestones with her, no less than it drives us help her up when she falls.

For Mom


That rascally, reclusive, and reluctant varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning. Cold snowy weather for the next six weeks if you can trust the groundhog. He’s not actually all that reliable. He’s been right 50% of the time since he and his forehogs started this tradition back in the 1886.

While I am not so hot on today being Ground Hog Day, February 2nd is also my mom’s birthday.

That makes today a great day.

My mom is one of my favorite people. She’s funny, happy, always interested in what you are doing, and loves to laugh. She has a real servant-heart attitude, and loves to help people–maybe by making some of her famous chicken soup, or just by stopping by and letting them know she’s thinking of them. She is very compassionate, kind, and gracious. I learned about those things from her. She’s not afraid to tell me what I need to hear when I need corrected, but she is always excited to tell me things she is proud of or thankful for related to me. And honestly, those calls are far more common.

She is a great example of what it means to be a spiritual mother. She conducts herself in the truth and responds in grace, and is sold out to her Lord Jesus Christ and lives for God through Him. I can honestly say, I would not know Jesus was well as I do today if not for my mother.

Happy birthday mom! Love you!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling

PS: She’s in the back in the middle, at the center of the fun.

 

 

A good drive


Anna is coming home today. She is doing much better it seems. It seems her depression has passed again. I am very excited about that. We were able to bring her home for a visit yesterday. She did very well. It was so good having her home for awhile. After dinner, I driver her back to the C-BAT she’s been at for the last week and a half. She told me how she wished she could just stay home.

“Well,” I said, “I wish you were too. But at least this means I get to have a half hour alone with you in the car. I really like that.”

She smiled real big and leaned over and hugged my arm. “I love that too. I love you daddy!”

That was a big silver lining in the dark cloud of needing to take her back for one more night. We both benefited from seeing it. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change what we focus on when we are in them. I believe that is a valid application of Philippians 4:8-10 (NIV),

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

“As a son with his father”


Motherhood and fatherhood are woven into our DNA as women and men. God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply: i.e., be a father and a mother. It was also the first thing God told Noah and his family when they came out of the ark. Fatherhood is at the core of what is means to be a man. Motherhood is at the core of what it means to be a woman.

For a good number of God’s people, fatherhood and motherhood is experienced in family as we get married and have children. So we spent last month looking at the relationship between the church and the family. We did that for two reasons.

The first reason is that the church is to be a place where God’s people learn to live a life of love in submission to one another out of reverence for Christ. When the love of Christ is flowing through our relationships, husbands and wives will love and respect one another. Parents will encourage, train, and instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; and children will honor and obey their parents. One of the effects of our time together in worship, in small groups, classes, activities, and fellowship should have, is that families move more and more toward this ideal.

The second reason we looked at the relationship between the family and the church is that the church is patterned after the family. The church is the family of God. It is organized like a family. Structured like a family. It is run like a family. So the more we understand family and how it works, the more insight we have into the church and how God designed it to work. While it is true that not every one of us is in a family, or married, or a parent right now, all of us, who are God’s children are called to be spiritual mothers and fathers. This is experienced in discipleship.

Take a look at Philippians 2:19-24 (NIV).

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

This passage gives us some key insights into what a healthy disciple relationship looks like. There are three that I would like to draw your attention to.

Paul saw himself as Timothy’s father. Paul of course was not Timothy’s natural father. In fact we don’t know who his natural father was. Timothy came to faith through the teaching of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. We first hear about Paul and Timothy meeting in the opening verses of Acts 16. Impressed by the life and character of Timothy, Paul invites him to join with him on his journey. From this point on, Paul takes him under his wing as his disciple becoming a spiritual father to him. This is not the only passage where Paul uses parental language to describe his relationship to Timothy. Paul refers to Timothy as his son in 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, and 2:1. As his spiritual father, Paul took it upon himself to teach him the Scriptures, to model God’s love to him and to guide him in his practice of it, and to reproduce his own faith in Timothy.

Timothy saw himself as Paul’s son. We don’t have any letters written by Timothy that state that he saw Paul as a spiritual father, but we should remember that Timothy was a co-author with Paul of this letter. He knew what was in it and I think it is fair to say that he agreed with how their relationship was described. Timothy acting as a spiritual son to Paul, submitted himself to Paul’s leadership, teaching, and way of life so that he could carry on Paul’s work to the next generation. Paul in fact commissions him to this in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT), Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.

“As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” Discipleship here is pictured as an apprenticeship. In the Greek culture in which Timothy grew up, the faithful service of sons to their fathers in their work was highly valued. In that time, the business or trade of the father was usually passed to his sons. The son would apprentice with his father to learn his trade or business with the goal that one day he would take over. The goal of Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was to apprentice him in the “family business” of building the kingdom of God so that he could take over when Paul was gone.

Being Children of the Light


If you read my post, “Soul Cutting” from yesterday, then you would probably understand that today has been very busy and (to be truthful) draining and difficult. I have no real ability to think deep thoughts. The good news is that as an author I have a repository of written material. This particular piece is very apropos to my current situation, and addresses the interest of a number of readers for more of my thoughts on the nature and work of discipleship.

***

In my years as a bible teacher in Christian schools and as a youth pastor I can tell you that my experience was that as many as half the kids I worked with were from broken homes. It has been my experience that abuse and neglect are more common than any of us would like to think. I know of a high school dance that was cancelled less than an hour after it started because too many freshmen showed up drunk. I have had to counsel families whose children died from drug use.

The summer before I started here I was the speaker at a Christian youth camp that was attended by more than a hundred 10-12th graders. About 75% of them knew a friend who had committed suicide.

In light of this reality, I suspect that more than a few of you over the last month have been thinking, “What you are saying does not apply to me. My family is hurting, broken, struggling just to tread water.” I suspect many of you have been asking questions like “How can I live out a life of love when my family is hurting and broken?” “How do I love or respect my spouse when My marriage is on the rocks?” and “How do I honor and obey my parents when my parents aren’t believers?”

The reason I did not touch on those questions before is because I felt they deserved more than a passing point. They deserve more than that.

The question for today is: How do we live a life of love when we live in a place where there is so much darkness, brokenness, and pain? To answer that we are going to look at Ephesians 5:1-21 (NIV).

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Whenever you see a “therefore,” like there is at the beginning of our text, it is important to look at what was talked about before. In Chapter 4, Paul urged the Ephesians to show their unity in Christ and to strive for maturity by living lives worthy of the calling they had received. To do so necessitated that they be completely humble and gentle; being patient, bearing with one another in love. [Making] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, (Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV).

Paul argued that there should be a clear difference between Christians and non-believers. He says in 4:17-19 (NIV), 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, with a continual lust for more.

This was what Paul is referring back to in the opening verse of our text. Instead of being imitators of gentiles—who did not know Christ and lived by the sinful nature—they were to be imitators of Christ. If they lived like gentiles while claiming to be Christians they would be guilty of committing idolatry—worshipping sex or money instead of Christ.

If Christ truly lives in you, that is not who you are any more. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:8 (NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. When we give in to the temptations of sin, we are no longer being true to who we are—children of the light.

So Paul says, Live as children of the light. In verses 9-13 Paul tells the Ephesians what that looks like, how they would recognize it:

  1. They will recognize it by its fruit: goodness, righteousness and truth.
  2. It is recognized by intentionally asking what the Lord’s will is in any given situation.
  3. By having nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Verses 15-16 explain why this is important: because the days are evil. Because the days were evil the Ephesians needed to make every effort to wisely take advantage of every opportunity.

Verses 17-21 Paul directs them how to go about living wisely.

  1. Understand what the Lord’s will is.
  2. Don’t react by doing things that will pull you away from the Lord, like turning to drinking, but respond by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  3. Speak in psalms and sing hymns and spiritual songs.
  4. Be thankful.
  5. And fifth, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

When we find ourselves living in dark places, we need to remember that Christ has called us to be a light in the dark. We are to be lights of God’s grace. So the answer to questions like “How can I live out a life of love when my family is hurting and broken?” “How do I love or respect my spouse when My marriage is on the rocks?” and “How do I honor and obey my parents when my parents aren’t believers?” is: be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live as children of the light. What I want to do this morning is ask three questions:

  1. What does it mean to be children of the light?
  2. What effect does it have?
  3. How do we nurture that light when our family is not able to?

What does it mean to be children of the light? It means that we are God’s children. Jesus said in John 8:12 (NLT) I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. Jesus was the light of the world because He was God’s Son.

When God adopts you as a son or daughter, you too like Jesus become a child of the light. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:14 (NLT) You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. Peter reaffirms this in 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) saying, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

To get a full understanding of what it means to be children of the light it is helpful to see how “light” is used throughout Scripture.

God is often compared to light in the Bible. Psalm 27:1 (NIV) The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? Psalm 76:4 (NIV) You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game. Psalm 89:15 (NIV) Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. Matthew 17:2 (NIV) There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 1 John 1:5 (NIV) This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Light is also a sign of God’s presence as in Exodus 13:21 (NIV), By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. This was also the meaning for the lamp in the tabernacle and the Temple that was lit day and night every day of the year (Leviticus 24:2).

Light is also given as a sign of His blessing as Exodus 10:23 (NIV), No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Light is compared to truth and wisdom. Psalm 43:3 (NIV) says, Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 119:105 (NIV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Light is synonymous with righteousness. Proverbs 13:9 (NIV) says, The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.

Light is also likened to salvation. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

So what does it mean to be children of the light? It means that we are proof of God’s presence and blessing because our lives are marked by His wisdom, righteousness and grace.

What effect does being children of the light have on those around us?

  1. It identifies us as God’s children. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV) You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. John 3:21 (NIV) But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
  2. It helps people see that they need that light. Ephesians 5:13-14 (NIV) But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
  3. It motivates us to love one another. 1 John 2:9-11 (NIV) Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

Living as children of the light identifies us as belonging to God and living in His power. When we are living as children of the light, God uses our life to wake people up to their need of a savior. And when we live as children of the light we share God’s love with the people around us.

Sometimes, for reasons we don’t understand, or for seasons that we think go on way too long, God puts His children in dark places. It isn’t because we did something wrong, or because we are on God’s bad list. It’s because God wants us to be His light in that dark place. He wants us to incarnate His grace where there is none.

That brings us to the third question: How do we nurture that light when our family is not able to?

This reality highlights the wisdom of God in giving us a spiritual family. Specifically it highlights the importance of having spiritual mothers and fathers. When home is not a place where we can be nurtured and grown and taught and encouraged as God’s sons and daughters, we need to be living in relationship as sons and daughters to godly men and women who can provide the spiritual parenting we need.

This is the kind of relationship Mandi and I have with Shelby. Now Shelby would be the first to tell you that we have not replaced her parents. She still loves her mom and dad very much. And, so do Mandi and I. But Shelby looks at us as her spiritual parents. She looks to us for spiritual guidance, how to understand Scripture, how to live it out at school, at work, in her relationships. Shelby is not in a unique situation. All of us need spiritual moms and dads. In the best of all possible worlds our natural parents and our spiritual parents would be one and the same. But we all need to be in relationships as sons and daughters to people who we can call spiritual parents.

We need to focus on our light, not the darkness in others. Does that seem counter-intuitive to you? Yet if you look back at our text and even at 4:17-32 where Paul is also talking about how we are to nurture our light, this is clearly the case. In the 36 verses between 4:17 and 5:21 there are 22 directions that are aimed at “you,” the believer.

You control your anger,

stop stealing,

stop using foul language,

encourage others with your talk,

do not grieve the Holy Spirit by how you live,

forgive as God forgave you,

imitate God,

live a life of love,

be sexually pure,

don’t be immoral,

don’t be greedy,

live as children of the light,

be careful how you live,

be wise,

take advantage of every opportunity,

understand what the Lord’s will is,

don’t get drunk,

be filled with the Spirit,

speak Scripture,

sing songs,

be thankful,

and submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.

If we are honest with ourselves, if we were to give ourselves to doing these 22 things, we would have precious little time to concern ourselves with “fixing” other people. I have a feeling that was God’s intention! And that leads right to my last point,

Through our grace God will bring to light what is not good in others. There is in our text one verse that talks about dealing with sin in others, Ephesians 5:11 (NIV) Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. In what way are we to “expose them?” Let me suggest, that calling people out for their sin should be one of the last things we do instead of the first. The reason for this is that when we put ourselves in the position of referee, we can easily go from having a motivation to love and encourage God’s light in them to a motivation of showing them how dark they are compared to ourselves. That is a place you do not want to go.

One of the stories that Charlie Jones, liked to tell was about a time when he was having a difficult time with his wife Gloria. He was mad. She didn’t listen to him. She was always nagging him. It was at the point where he didn’t love her any more.

One night, after a long day of sales and travel as he was walking to the bedroom he heard her praying. She was not asking God to change Charlie, she was asking God to help her be a better wife. Then it hit him, or rather God hit him. She wasn’t the problem he was. He was the problem. Charlie broke down and wept. And after an 8 year drought, his love for Gloria came back. Let God do the convicting. You focus on the loving.

Let God use the light that shines out from you to do the convicting and exposing. It is so much more effective.

Let me suggest that the first idea that pops into our minds about how to expose them is often the wrong one—calling them out. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when this is clearly the thing we are to do, and Scripture tells us there are times when it is absolutely necessary too. Jesus wasn’t sinning when He rebuked Peter saying “Get behind me Satan!” Paul did the right thing when he publically called Peter to task for snubbing Gentile Christians in favor of Jewish ones. And Jesus clearly says in Luke 17:3 (NIV), If your brother sins, rebuke him.

So let’s sum up:

What does it mean to be children of the light? It means that we are proof of God’s presence and blessing because our lives are marked by His wisdom, righteousness and grace.

Living as children of the light identifies us as belonging to God and living in His power. When we are living as children of the light, God uses our life to wake people up to their need of a savior. And when we live as children of the light we share God’s love with the people around us.

We nurture that light when our family is not able to by connecting to godly men and women in our church family who can be spiritual parents to us, by focusing on keeping our light bright and clear instead of focusing on the darkness in others, and by letting God use the light that shines out from us to bring to light the need for Jesus’ love and forgiveness in those around us.