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How Guardrails Direct, Protect, and Lead to Faithful Living

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Message portion begins 23 minutes, 30 seconds into the live stream

Several years ago, I was driving to work on a two-lane highway during a rainstorm. I was rounding a long curve and approaching a bridge and suddenly my small 1999 Nissan Altima hydroplaned. I saw a car in the opposite lane quickly approaching, and I thought I’m going to either hit this car head on or I can try to steer toward the guardrail and hope that I don’t go thru it and plunge into the river below. Right when I was about to steer toward the guardrail, I regained control of my car and continued safely on my journey. Looking back at that moment, I believe God protected me from serious injury or death. It was just a bang bang thing, I really had very little time to think. But looking back, I am convinced if I hadn’t been able to regain control, I would’ve hit the guardrail. That would’ve been my last chance to avoid death. When we think about guardrails, they really are designed to do a couple things. They direct and protect us. They help keep us on the road, and they protect us from danger. It could be protection from other vehicles and from a ravine or river to the side of the road. Now here’s the thing about guardrails. They’re always placed in the safety zone. They’re never in the danger zone, because well then it would be too late. Today, we’re going to continue to examine the book of Ephesians, and we’re going to see how God instructs us to put guardrails in our lives to direct us along the road of righteousness and to protect us from danger that would destroy our lives. Now, I just want to say up front, that I highly, highly recommend watching the Guardrails series from Pastor Andy Stanley available on Right Now Media. It’s a great message series/small group study to do in your missional communities, and some of you that have been thru it, will pick up on some references that I make to that message series. I’ve seen it multiple times, and it’s definitely shaped the way I look at this passage. So full disclosure, want to give credit where credit is due and just tell you, you’re going to get Guardrails light today.

1) Walk in the Light (verse 8-14)

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

The first command we see in this passage is that we are to walk as children in the Light. Any land navigation lovers in the house? Several years ago as an ROTC cadet, I did lots of land navigation. I did it during the day and during the night. I really loved it. It was a student at the University of Tennessee, so we did lots of land navigation in the hills of East Tennessee. Just gorgeous terrain—it was like mandatory nature walks. But I’ll tell you, it was much easier doing it in the light of day than at night. I’d be out walking thru the woods for 8-9 hours between day and night, and you could kind of zone out from time to time as you’re going up and down hills especially at night as you were in hour 8 or 9. I remember stepping into holes, getting caught in thicket at night, and on one occasion during the night there wasn’t much illumination from the moon. I didn’t have my flashlight on. I usually do land navigation without it on because it interferes with my body’s natural night vision.  Well, that got me in trouble, and I came very close to walking straight into a ravine. I saw it just at the last moment and avoided tumbling into it. You know I never had that kind of problem during the day. I could easily see the terrain around me and notice elevation changes.

Here’s the takeaway. In this passage, God reveals to us we were once doing life in the dark. We were stumbling around in darkness, and we were reaping all the poisoned fruit of our darkness—evil, unrighteousness, deception. But God is saying, “Look, I love you and I’ve given you my Son, the Light of the World. You can move freely. So live in the light. Reap the fruit of the light—goodness, righteousness, and truth. Don’t go back to the dark. Instead, be the light and shine light into the darkness. This is what God is commanding us to do thru the Great Commission. We’re to be the light of the world and help people see there’s a better way. They don’t have to be enslaved to the darkness. See the fruits of darkness are the opposite of the fruits of the light. Deception, falsity, dishonesty—this is how Satan keeps people in the darkness. God tells us—expose the lies. Here are a few works of darkness we can expose in our day and age. Abortion. The darkness calls it “reproductive freedom.” But the truth is that abortion offers a false hope of emotional and physical freedom. It is deeply damaging to the mother and destroys the life of the pre-born baby. Josh Howerton says, “It is the evil-reverse image of the Gospel. Instead of ‘I’ll die for you,’ abortion says, ‘You die for me.”” Here are other lies from the darkness. “Love is love.” Be true to yourself. What these slogans are really saying is, you are a slave to your sexual desires. You cannot resist unbiblical sensuality, sexual desires such as same-sex attraction, lust, or pornography, adultery, etc. So do what feels good. You be you.  

“Be true to yourself.” But what does that mean? Does that mean be true to your present self or a future, better version of yourself? It can be confusing and disappointing trying to “be true to yourself.” The Gospel says, “die to yourself, so that you can truly live.” Be true to yourself leads to captivity. It leads to emotional and spiritual slavery. “Dying to self” leads to new life. Jesus said in order to find your life, you must lose it (Matthew 16:25). God gives us new desires, better desires. He enables to us to destroy strongholds of sin that would rule over us.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

And the Bible doesn’t say, “Love is love.” Instead, it says, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8b. If we’re going to experience true love—love that is patient, kind, forgiving—all the descriptors we read in 1 Corinthians 13, then we must experience and know God. Jesus is love made visible.

Now this is a tough Scripture to expose the works of darkness. But God’s not just instructing pastors do this. He’s instructing everyone of us to do it. How? We’re to speak the truth in love. This doesn’t mean get in social media scrums and blast people. It means we patiently care for them, build relationships with them and lovingly speak truth to them.

So the command we see from this first part of our passage is to walk in the light. What is a guardrail that would help us do that? Devoting ourselves to the Word of God will serve as a guardrail. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” The Word of God shows us where we are, where our feet are headed and illuminates the path we need to take. That’s how we get thru the highs and lows of life. When we’re going thru the good times, we listen to God’s Word. When we go thru the valleys and shadows, His Word gives us light and hope. We could walk in darkness, but that will lead to pain and separation from God. Because walking in darkness means walking in sin, and sin always leads to destruction and death.

2) Walk carefully (v. 15-18)

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Now if you have small children who like to play with legos, you know how to walk carefully. I mean we are painfully aware of the importance of walking carefully. I’ve stepped on so many legos, that there have been nights when I went into my boys’ room, that I didn’t walk into their room, I just kind of shuffled around. I was really trying to be careful not to step on them and say things in pain that I should not say. I wanted to avoid the corrupting talk that Pastor Mike preached on last week.

In life, we’ve got be careful. Why? Verse 15, because the days are evil! The culture, the times—they aren’t working for you—they’re working against you. Now when we think about this verse, “Look carefully how you walk,” this is a command to construct guardrails in your life. You must be wise and plan ahead. It’s unwise not to. Now where are some areas in your life you need to establish guardrails? I’m going to tell you four areas of life where you should establish guardrails—alcohol (we’ll touch more on that in a moment), relationships (especially between people of the opposite sex), friends, and money.

The world doesn’t like the idea of guardrails. The world likes painted lines. You’ll likely be ridiculed for installing guardrails. Here’s an example of a painted line. “Drink responsibly.” Sounds good right? But what does that mean? How much will I have consumed before I know whether I am still responsible or not? I’m not knocking the phrase, I’m just pointing out, it’s a painted line. It’s not a guardrail.

Now, I can’t decide for you what guardrails you should put in your life, but you need to give this passage serious thought and reflection, and you need to decide for yourself. The way to think about wisdom is not a yes or no should I do something, but to ask, and to paraphrase Pastor Andy Stanley, “In light of my past experience, current circumstances and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing God would have me do?”

If that’s your prayer and desire to walk wisely, then God will bring you clarity on what that looks like in your life.

Now verse 17 says, don’t be foolish, but “Understand what the will of the Lord is.” Now that sounds funny at first. If I tell you, “Understand,” you’re not gonna be like, “Okay I understand now.” How this translates from the Greek is a command to consider or comprehend what the Lord’s will is. Paul is saying, “Come on, you know what the Lord’s will is! Walk worthy of your calling in humility, gentleness, patience, pursuing unity, growing and maturing. You know what the Lord’s will is, because you have access to His Word, the Bible.”

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient path, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

This is what it means to walk in wisdom and understand what the Lord’s will is. We rely on God’s Word for wisdom and we trust that His way is the Way that leads to peace and rest for our souls.

In my life, two guardrails I’ll share with you when it comes to relationships and money. Bethany and I do not share meals with someone of the opposite sex alone. When I was in the business world, and I needed to meet w/ a female client and they wanted to do lunch, I brought a male colleague with me. It was just a guardrail to protect me from me and my marriage. When it comes to money, here’s our guardrail to avoiding the idols of materialism, greed, and covetousness. We tithe ten percent, and we budget enough giving for the church, for the poor, other charities so that it hurts. You need to feel it in your budget. If not, you’re susceptible to loving money and that’s the path toward evil.

You need a guardrail for alcohol. For Bethany and me, our guardrail is that we just don’t drink. I’m not saying it’s wrong to drink, but for us, we don’t have any worries about getting drunk, because we don’t drink period. Please hear me, I’m not saying that should be your guardrail, but what I am saying is, you need to have a guardrail to avoid getting drunk.

The problem with getting drunk is what it leads to. The term debauchery in the text, we don’t use that term much in our culture, but it carries this meaning of sexual indulgence due to a lack of self-control or restraint. The Christian Standard Bible version translates this verse as don’t get drunk with wine which leads to reckless living.

Now, I get that for a lot of Soldiers and people, avoiding getting drunk is not the guardrail, it’s the goal. It’s not funny when a woman is assaulted. It’s not funny when an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel and kills an innocent family. It’s not funny when everyone stops drinking, but one person realizes they can’t stop drinking. So, again, the problem is what it leads to.

Now, I want you to just think about a few words in this verse for a moment.

Don’t get drunk_______which leads to____________.

Any situations come to mind where you saw what it led to? Anyone come to mind? Many of us think about this and we wonder how peoples’ lives might have been different if they hadn’t gotten drunk. For some, our lives might have been different if a friend or relative hadn’t gotten drunk. It led to tremendous pain in our lives.

3) Walk filled by the Spirit (verse 18-21)

The last guardrail we see in this passage is that we are to walk in the fullness of God, together. Note the command to avoid getting drunk on wine and a contrasting command to be filled by the Spirit in verse 18. John Piper writes about the contrast of being drunk on wine versus being filled by the Spirit:

There are people who can’t begin to whistle a happy tune or sing a song at work because they are so tense and anxious about life. But later in the evening at the tavern with a few drinks under their belt they can put their arms around each other and sing and laugh. All of us long to be carefree, uninhibited, happy. And the mounting tragedy of our own day, as in Paul’s, is that increasing numbers of people (even Christians) believe that the only way they can find this child-like freedom is by drugging themselves with alcohol or other mind-benders. Such behavior dishonors God, and so Paul says: there is a better way to cope with the evil days — be filled with the Spirit, stay filled with the Spirit. And you will know unmatched joy that sings and makes melody to the Lord. The fundamental meaning of being filled with the Spirit is being filled with joy that comes from God and overflows in song.

Harvard released a study in May 2020 and May 2019 and the focus of the study was anxiety. From year to year, 90% of respondents said they experienced an increase in anxiety. In 2020, 36% of respondents said they were suffering from debilitating anxiety—that’s defined as feeling overwhelmed to the point that it affects your daily life. In 2019, the same survey, same questions, 8% of respondents said they suffered debilitating anxiety. More than 1 in 3 Americans. 

We should take our anxieties, our loneliness, disappointments, and our worries to our King–not a bottle, binge-watching Netflix, gaming, a human relationship. Be filled with the Spirit. It’s a passive command. We’re to be filled with joy and become instruments of God’s power and grace. We can’t be filled by the Spirit if we’re not surrendered. To be filled by the Spirit means, we are under the Lordship or authority of King Jesus. And we speak to one another, we do life, we walk with one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. How do we do this? We learn God’s Word. We know the Psalms and know God’s Word. We spend time learning songs and hymns that reinforce what we believe from God’s Word. I’m so thankful for Mackenzie and our worship team how they lead us in songs that meet these criteria. We sing praise and give thanks to our God thru our music. You know we make music with our hearts to the Lord when we have joy. When we are filled by His Spirit, we’re thankful. We’re praising and worshiping the King of Kings.

Singing songs of praise to our King with one another is a guardrail. The friends and company we keep can really help us or hurt us in life.  Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Who are the wise? The ones who are walking in the light, obeying and serving the King. You spend time with them, you will grow in wisdom. You spend time with fools, you WILL catch the shrapnel of their foolishness.

Submitting to one another—we don’t exalt ourselves over one another. We walk worthy of our calling – we listen and remind ourselves to submit/support one another as we follow our King in obedience.

As children of the light, we are God’s rescue plan for the world. He wants us to go into the darkness not as partners with the disobedient but as messengers spreading hope and light. Jesus purchased our freedom from the darkness. He’s given us a new life and His Spirit to dwell within us so we can have peace, joy, and life eternal.

Closing questions:

This week, what step do you need to take to be filled with the Spirit of God?

The beauty of the Gospel is that we don’t fix ourselves—we rely on God’s Word, repentance, we yearn for His presence, and we surrender to his control.

When it comes to guardrails—where do you need to start?

Look no one plans to destroy their life. We just don’t plan not to, and guardrails is how we plan not to.

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