Counter Culture: Hard Hearts = Worthless Minds

“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.” (Ephesians 4:17-18)

As we jump into a week or so in the back half of Ephesians 4, Paul seems to be saying some pretty harsh things about these Gentiles. (That was the word for everyone who was not Jewish.) Paul is writing to Christians here, especially those who had not grown up as Jewish believers in the one true God.

ctc_350People who worship others gods — or no god — cannot come to the right conclusions about the universe. All their best thinking is wasted because it starts in the wrong place. Without that understanding of God — and of His Son — they will always be separated from the truth. They’ve hardened their hearts to truth, to God, and even their most brilliant ideas lead to dead ends.

Paul wanted these new Christians (and us!) to catch something: Our lives should look radically different from the lives of those who do not know God. Why? Because we start from a wildly different understanding of . . . everything.

Think: How would you briefly describe the difference between your worldview and that of someone who has not trusted in Jesus for his or her salvation?

Pray: Ask God for the courage to live according to what you actually believe. Ask Him to help you not to live like those who have rejected Jesus.

Do: In the next week, we’ll see some specifics about what it means for our outer life choices to reflect our inner faith in God. Write down one area of your life that you’ve thought maybe you should find a way to change.

Counter Culture: Making Pleasure the Point

“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.” (Ephesians 4:19)

“Experience everything! Don’t leave anything untried. Feel it all. Taste it all. Release your inhibitions. Don’t be held back by outdated rules. Live life to the fullest!”

ctc_350That inspirational-sounding advice is an attempt to put the positive spin on Paul’s statement in today’s verse. He warned that when people harden their hearts toward God, their minds are left to run in worthless circles. All they have left to make them feel alive is sensual pleasure.

So they “seek truth through experience.” (Have you heard that one?) They throw out every rule book that stands in the way of what might feel good. And they know they’ll need to find a new experience soon to replace the one that’s losing its edge today.

Think: Does this attitude toward pleasure and experience sound familiar? Does it even sound a little bit healthy? What’s so wrong with it?

Pray: Ask God to give you the wisdom to avoid making pleasure the point of your life.

Do: Look for messages in your world this week that seem to say that pleasure is the point of living.

Counter Culture: Not That Way

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (Ephesians 4:20-21)

In the last two devo’s, we saw Paul describe “normal” for human beings who live apart from God. They harden their hearts toward Him which leads toward foolish thinking in every area of life. Next, they make pleasure the point of life, seeking truth through what they can experience with their bodies.

ctc_350But nobody finds the Truth that way. Nobody comes to Jesus through experimenting with pleasure. God is not against pleasure; He created it for our enjoyment and gave boundaries for how to experience it for our good. But God doesn’t reveal Himself through human ecstasy; He reveals Himself through the teaching of His Word. That’s God’s plan. He doesn’t hide truth from us; He gives it away.

Those who receive it from Him by trusting Jesus are changed forever — from the inside out. That should show up in how we live every day.

Think: Do you think its good to be a seeker in life? What do you think about seekers who never find what they’re looking for?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God that you came to know Jesus through the teaching of God’s Word.

Do: Think about writing a quick thank you note to the person that taught you the truth about Jesus that led you to trust in Christ for your salvation.

Counter Culture: Step Out Rethink Step In

“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.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Paul described three parts to living this day as a Christ-follower:

ctc_3501) Step out of your old self; don’t live the way you used to — or the way others without Christ live now. The old self was your only option before you knew God through Jesus. The old self fits like a glove, lives for what feels good, and hates being told what to do (especially by God).

2) Change your mind. Better: Learn to think all new thoughts. Ask God to make you think like Jesus.

3) Step into your new self again today. It’s the version of you that became possible the moment you trusted in Jesus for your salvation. By God’s power, you can make godly choices all day long. It doesn’t always feel natural to live in the new self, but it’s always right. And you’ll never regret it when the day is done.

Think: Are you ever aware of having to make a conscious choice to “put off” your old self and “put on” the new self? Is it ever a hard choice?

Pray: Ask God to help you to put off your old self, to be renewed in your mind to think like Jesus, and to put on the new self today.

Do: Make 2 lists: 5 things you know are “old self” choices and 5 things you know are “new self” choices.

Counter Culture: Not Normal

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25)

What is the first specific change Paul said must happen in those who follow Jesus? What must we stop (or take off) first? Murder? Rape? Stealing? Nope. It’s lying.

ctc_350Something tells me most of us would put it further down the list. I’ve heard Christian students openly talking about lying to their parents or others as if it didn’t matter. As if it were just normal teen life.

And it is. But not for Christians, Paul said. We’re not supposed to be normal any more. And the first weird thing that’s supposed to jump out about us is that we tell the truth. Always. No matter what.

Think: What value do you place on telling a lie? Does it feel like a low-cost sin or a big-ticket one? Why do you think it’s such a big deal to God?

Pray: Ask God to make you even less normal by causing an alarm to go off in your head every time you start to think about telling a lie. Then ask Him to give you the courage to tell the truth, even if it costs you something.

Do: Carry a piece of paper with you this week, and make a mark on it every time you catch yourself telling a lie.

Counter Culture: Angry Christians

” ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)

After breaking down why and how Christians should not fit in so well with the world around us, Paul gets specific. First: Don’t lie. Second: Control yourself when angry and learn to chase it off quickly.

ctc_350Notice first, he doesn’t say Christians should never get angry. God assumes you will get angry. Everyone does. That’s not a sin. But the normal thing is to use anger as fuel for sin. Paul quotes David in saying, “Don’t be normal.”

Make two choices when you get angry: A) “I won’t use this emotion as an excuse to sin.” B) “I won’t let this emotion stay the night.” Why? Because aging anger gives the enemy something to grab on to in our lives.

Think: How hard is it for you to let go of anger? What could you do to set it aside more quickly?

Pray: Ask God to help you to know when you’re feeling angry and to be able to control yourself to avoid using anger to launch into sin. Then ask Him to make you more efficient at letting go of your anger.

Do: Watch the people in your life this week to see what kinds of sin they’re more likely to jump into when they’re angry.

Counter Culture: Christian Thieves

“He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

Paul continues to add detail to his portrait of an un-normal Jesus-follower. We should be known in our schools and neighborhoods and jobs as people who just don’t steal. Period. Even when times are rough.

ctc_350Instead, we Christians should build reputations as people ready and willing to work to meet our own needs. Buried in that big idea is a smaller one: We should also be ready to learn to live on whatever money our work brings in.

Finally, in planning how much to spend on ourselves out of the cash our work generates, we should plan to leave some unspent to give away to people who don’t have enough. Then they’ll be less likely to steal, also.

Think: It seems like a no-brainer that Christians shouldn’t steal. Does it seem as obvious that we should also be hard working? Which is harder for you: not stealing, working hard, or sharing with others?

Pray: Ask God to convict you deeply if you are ever tempted to steal. If you’ve already been stealing, ask Him for courage to make it right and turn around.

Do: If you have a group of Christian friends, see if this question will make them argue: Is downloading music or movies or software for free when it is intended to be sold elsewhere stealing? Should Christians ever do so?