Don’t Be a Fool

oil_lamp“The foolish virgins said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’” Matthew 25:8

Please Read: Matthew 25:1-13

This passage always puzzled me. Jesus often spoke of the importance of generosity on the part of believers, so why would He offer a parable about selfish women who won’t share their oil? It seemed a contradiction to me. But as I’ve learned to study the Bible, and especially Jesus’ parables, I’m learning to look for the deeper meanings and truths behind His words.

This parable is about so much more than sharing. It speaks of the church and of the return of Christ. It is part of a bigger series, called the Olivet Discourse that begins in Matthew 24 and continues through the end of chapter 25 where Jesus is teaching about His return. The disciples had asked “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus had a great deal to say about “false prophets” and the falling away of people who claimed to be His followers. He also spoke about the coming time of tribulation, which will weed out the false and reveal the true followers. (I firmly believe we are seeing the early stages of this “weeding out” process even now.) But the heart of all He said in Matthew 24 and 25 is simple: “Jesus is coming, and we must be ready.”

The skeptic demands to know when, but Jesus said “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (24:44), and that is an important point in the passage we are discussing. But to understand this parable better, we need a little “back story.” A wedding story to be precise.

A Jewish wedding in the time of Jesus was different from weddings today. No plans were set on the calendar, no invitations sent out, little to no advanced notice was given, even for the bride, the wedding party and guests. For that matter, even the groom had to wait until his father told him to go fetch his bride.  (This is another wonderful study that we’ll look at soon.)  The groom got the nod from his father and messengers went mere hours before him to tell the bride and the expected guests that the wedding was on – now! Being prepared was essential for everyone involved.

In this parable, the word had been spread that the bridegroom was on his way to claim his bride, but for an unknown reason, he was delayed. As the ten virgins waited, they continued to burn their lamps, and in the process, burned their oil. Jesus said five of those virgins were wise enough to bring extra oil, but five did not. But Jesus is not speaking specifically about oil – He is speaking about faith – that is faith in Him as Savior. And He is confronting those who are part of the crowd, but have not received the grace that God offers. They are the foolish virgins who first try to “borrow” from the wise virgins and then run to the market to attempt to buy what only Jesus offers. They are the ones who are left standing outside the door, denied entry because Jesus does not recognize His Spirit in them. They are foolish – but they have only fooled themselves.

We are talking here about salvation through Jesus Christ, for only those who have received Christ have the Spirit of Christ, and only those with the Spirit of Christ are received into eternal life. Paul expressed it very plainly in Romans 8:9: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” John makes it even clearer: “This is how we know He (Christ) lives in us; we know it by the Spirit He gave us” (I John 3:24).

Our churches are filled with wise and foolish people, some who have taken hold of the life that Jesus Christ offers and some who have not. Those who have are ready for the return of the Bridegroom have “lamps” that are full of the never-ending life of Christ, and when He returns, Jesus will welcome them to the wedding banquet. According to Matthew 25:46 “The righteous [will go] to eternal life.” Those who have not, no matter how much they plead on that day, have a different and terrifying destination – “They will go away to eternal punishment.”

My pastor/mentor says “The message of the virgins is that there are people who know about his Lordship, yet do nothing to obey the words of their Lord. They know ABOUT him, but have not considered him worthy of their obedience. Their condition is the height of foolishness. Their intentional ignorance (or perhaps ignorance born of apathy) has condemned them. So the bridegroom rightly answers with that terrifying reply – “I don’t know you”. This answer is consistent with Jesus words in Matthew 7:21-22 “Not all who say to me Lord, Lord shall enter…but only they who do the will of my Father…”[1]

We must, in this life, prepare for the next life. We must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by faith; we must accept the grace that is offered through the cross. Only then will we be prepared for Jesus’ return. Those who refuse Christ, and even those who are part of the “church crowd” but have never received Christ, are not prepared. When Jesus returns there is no more opportunity to make that decision. It will be too late.

Will you stop for a moment and ask yourself “Does the Spirit of Christ live in me?” “Is my mind set on the things the Spirit desires?” (Romans 8:5). “Is my mind controlled by the life and peace of the Spirit?” (Romans 8:6). “Do I put to death the misdeeds of the body and live by the Spirit?” (Romans 8:13). “Does the Spirit testify to my spirit that I am a child of God?” (Romans 8:16). If you cannot answer “yes” to these questions – questions that come straight out of the Word of God – please don’t wait until it is too late to prepare for the Day that is coming. Please receive Jesus Christ today and be right with God while there is time. I speak to you in Paul’s words: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

If you want to pray to receive Jesus, use this prayer as your own or as an example for your own words: “Dear Jesus, I know that I am not prepared for Your return. But right now, by faith, I receive your gift of salvation and eternal life. I receive You, Jesus as my Savior. Fill me and teach me to live according to Your Spirit. Thank you for dying to save me and give me life.  Amen.

[1] Personal comments by Rev. M. D. Shockley, Pastor, St. Paul’s UMC, Jacksonville, Florida.

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The Tree at the Water’s Edge

Tree_At_The_Water“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I had a friend who owned several acres of land with a great catfish pond.  Many early Saturday mornings I sat on a stump beside his fishing pond, watching the bobber on my line for the slightest movement.  But even when I wasn’t fishing I loved to just sit by the water because it was bordered on three sides with lush, green trees.  I often took a book with me so that if the fish weren’t biting I could sit in the shade and get lost in a good story.  The drive down to the pond wasn’t as shady, the few trees along the path were not as verdant, and in one very dry summer, many of the trees died for lack of water, and the few that survived were scraggily and weak.  But when you rounded the bend to the pond, the trees were alive and full of leaves because they were nearest to the water.

In our key verse, Jeremiah compares the “the man who trusts in the Lord” with one of those trees by the edge of my friend’s pond, alive with green leaves and fruit.  The opposite would apply to those who do not trust in the Lord; they would be like the trees along the path in the dry heat of summer, dead, leafless and fruitless.  What is important to notice in the Psalm, just as at my friend’s property, is that both—trees and people—are subjected to the heat and the drought.  This is a truth we would do well to grasp – those who trust in the Lord and those who don’t will be confronted with many of the same life challenges.  Being a Christian does not exempt us from the difficulties of living in this fallen world.  Believers still get cancer, lose loved ones, have rebellious kids, car troubles, financial struggles, and many of the same trials that unbelievers experience.  It’s just the realities of life we all face.  Droughts and dry seasons will come.

Yet look at how the trees by the water endure these seasons of drought.  They push their roots down farther into the ground and find the water at the deeper levels.  They draw the nourishment they need from the deeper water.  Likewise the one who trusts in the Lord will press in closer to Him and push their roots down farther to tap into the deeper truths of God’s character and His Word.  It is a theme often repeated in Scripture, Psalm 1:1-3 says that the one who delights in God’s Word is like the tree planted by the water, never withered and always fruitful, and Psalm 92:12-15 promises that they will “still bear fruit in old age, staying fresh and green. ”

I find it especially encouraging that those trees—and believers—who drink deeply of the goodness of God “do not fear” and “have no worries” during these dry seasons.  They know that everything they need to stay vibrant, green and fruitful will be provided by their good and faithful Heavenly Father.  Jeremiah says we do not rely on our ability to stay strong, but our “confidence is in the Lord” our security in the drought, our hope in the trial is firmly rooted in God’s faithful, powerful, loving character.  And get this, when you and I set our confidence in the unchanging nature of God, we not only survive the drought, we thrive.  We “never fail to bear fruit.”  I’ve seen many saints of the Lord who endured hard, difficult times yet always bore the fruit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faith and love.  They faithfully served others despite their own pain.  They continued to love that rebellious child.  They were kind and gentle even when they were tired and weary. They patiently trusted God to provide when the rent was due and the money was gone.  Their peace shone through while they endured chemotherapy.  They were not afraid, they were not worried.  They dug their roots deeper and trusted that whatever they needed, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, God would provide.

My friend, are you like the tree standing in the middle of the dry, barren field far from the water?  Are your struggles draining you?  Do you feel withered and weary?  I encourage you to move to the water’s edge where your roots can tap into the life-giving stream of God’s goodness.  There you will be fed from underground streams that never run dry.  Streams of comfort and provision, hope and peace, joy and strength.  Streams of life.

Come friend to the “river whose streams make glad the City of God” (Psalm 46:4).  Drink deeply from the “living water” of Jesus Christ and you will never be thirsty again (John 4:10-14).

Holy Father, I want to dig more deeply into this marvelous living water; I want to be like the flourishing tree that has found the underground stream, drawing strength and hope from your unfailing love.  Amen.

Life by Design

baby_in_wombFor in Him we live and move and have our being  (Acts 17:28).

 I recently completed a Biology course in my seminary studies.  I approached this course with trepidation and a bit of frustration.  What does biology have to do with my major, which is Theology and Biblical Studies?    I’m training to tell others about God, not about the Venus Fly-Trap.  But this course is necessary to complete my degree (I had no previous college credits), so I did it, but only because I had to.  (Doesn’t that sound like a kid being told to apologize to his sister?)  I still don’t love biology, but I have a new appreciation for it and how it really does fit into theology and tells us wonderful things about God.

The Bible tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and “God created man” (Genesis 1:27).  Those verses have become the most debated statements in human history, with fewer than half of Americans holding the Bible’s claims as true.  A 2012 Gallop poll found that only 46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their complete form.  32% believe God guided the evolutionary process to man’s finished state, and 15% dismiss any concept of God’s involvement in human existence at all.[1]  In recent years, that minority have become more vocal and forceful in refuting the Bible’s claim about creation or the existence of God.

The apostle Paul says “What may be know about God is plain, because God has made it plain; for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).  Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  God has left a witness of Himself in the heavens and on earth – the stars, the moon, and the sun, trees and birds and the animals—all of creation, from the vast and mighty mountains—to delicate, tiny flowers speak to us of a Creator.  Yet the unbeliever has reduced the work of His hands to evolutionary processes over millions of years in an effort to deny what nature is singing and shouting: “Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:4).

The most miraculous of all God’s creation stares back at you from the mirror every morning.  YOU are a living, breathing testament of God’s existence and power.  You are the image bearer of God, created by Him to bring Him glory.  In his message to the Athenians, Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth . . . He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24, 25).  Again, the unbelievers reject this word and instead reason that life happened by accident, as parasitic bacteria randomly divided and morphed into molecules and cells and genes and organs and brains and arms and legs.  This is where my biology course became a theology course.

Within every living being, whether plants or animals or humans, molecules and cells and genes, each with its own properties and purpose, are working diligently according to their individual design—one small part of the whole.  If one part fails to do its job, the entire cell function is thrown off.  The cells of a human being are a “factory,” producing everything the body needs to survive and function.  From the connectedness of our organs, skin, bones, muscles, and brain to the delicate intricacy of our DNA, the human body shouts of a Creator.  The beautiful dance of micro-organisms in your body, the transcribing of your DNA while you read this words, even your body’s response to drinking a glass of milk, are a wonder to behold.  And if you need any further proof of God as the Designer of life, study the stages of procreation – of how a baby comes into being.  This is no random colliding of cells, this is Design at its finest!

God fashioned all of nature, to the deepest micro-cellular level, with incredible intricacy and detail, with beauty and function that could never happen by “accident.”  If man tries to deny the Creator who is responsible for all he sees in the universe, he needs only look at creation from the cellular level to see an Intelligent Being at work.  The deeper we go in studying the biological make up of life, the more we see God.  This is not without a purpose; Paul said to the Athenians, God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17: 27).  The great theologian F. B. Meyer says, “God knows just where to find us, and in turn provides all we need to find and worship him.”[2]  God knows that man will deny Him and work to disprove Him, so the deeper man goes the more evidence he will find of a Designer.  Likewise, the farther out in space man goes, the more evidence he will find of the Creator.  It must be so frustrating to those who want to doubt God’s existence.

My friend, despite what the world says, you are no random accident of colliding parasites and micro-organisms.  God created you and signed His name deep within you, so that you will know without a doubt that you were fashioned by His hands.  He created you with intention and purpose—the greatest purpose of all—that you might know Him and love Him, because He knows and loves you.  God, the Creator of the Universe, has made Himself evident in the stars and in the cells of your body.  Get to know Him; He has more wonders to show you than you’ve ever dreamed.

Holy Father, You are the Designer and Creator of all that exists, including me.  You fashioned me with Your own hands and stamped Your name deep within me.  How can I ever deny You? No, I give you shouts of praise and bow in worship before You, Elohim—the God of Creation.  Amen.

[1] “In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins” http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/Hold-Creationist-View-Human-Origins.aspx

 

[2] F. B. Meyer; Bruce H. Wikinson, Calvin W. Edwards, Paula Kirk, Eds., “January 2 Devotional” Closer Walk New Testament: New International Version, (Atlanta, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, Inc., 1990) 8.

Thy Kingdom Come

300px-Denmark_crown“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

One of the first prayers a Christian learns is “The Lord’s Prayer,” which should actually be called “The Disciples’ Prayer” as it was they who asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  This prayer serves as a model for us, teaching us to approach God with reverence and worship in an attitude of surrender, humility and obedience.  I’ve been in many worship services, classes, and events where the prayer is prayed by the congregation in unison and I often wonder if we, as the pray-ers are really aware of what we are saying.  One part in particular always makes we want to shout, “Wait! Do you understand these words?  Is this really your heart’s desire?

How many times have you prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Have you ever stopped to think about what that really means and why Jesus included it in His model prayer?

Have you considered that we ask for His kingdom to come because God is King?  He is the King of the entire universe because He is the Creator of the entire universe and His rule is sovereign – that means He is the absolute authority over the universe, which includes all humankind. (We will look at the “human” side of creation in the next Deeper Roots post.)  A king’s word is always the law of the land.  The Word of the King of the universe is to be obeyed without question.  God created the universe with only His spoken word.  He said, “Let there be . . .” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 14), and out of the void, life sprang forth in obedience to his command.  The Psalmist wrote, “He spoke, and [the world] came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9).  God is Creator and King and His will is His absolute priority.

The question of God’s will has been a constant theme for thousands of years.  We want to know God’s will for our lives, but this verse invites us to look for the bigger picture and how we fit into it.  While God does have a will – a plan and purpose – for our individual lives, that will is encompassed by the greater will of God, the will that was in place before He spoke the first command of creation.  The apostle Paul says that God’s will is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the sovereign authority of Christ (ref. Ephesians 1:10). This is the fulfillment of the times—the ultimate purpose of all existence is the Lordship of Christ Jesus. God’s plan was firmly fixed from before time began.  Understand that God isn’t making decisions and altering events as they unfold.  All of human history has been moving toward one result: the coronation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings with “authority, glory and sovereign power, everlasting dominion, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

So when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (emphasis added), we are surrendering our will to the will of God and committing to be part of ushering in the Kingdom of God and Christ.  Like the angels in heaven, we are swearing our total allegiance to the authority and rule of the only rightful Ruler of the universe.  This is God’s will for your life. He created you with so much more in mind than you can conceive.  He created you to be part of His eternal kingdom.  As you consider the words of this prayer, ask yourself, “What would the world look like if God’s will were done on earth through me?”

Holy Father, Sovereign King, I surrender my life and all that I am and have to Your will.  Use me to bring Your kingdom to this earth.  I long for the day when Jesus rules and reigns for eternity.  Amen.