The Bridesmaids

January 26, 2012

Jesus told a story of ten virgins, and immediately the modern listener may be distracted. When do we use the word virgin these days, except in the name of some company owned by Sir Richard Branson? Maybe we could hear the story better if we substitute another word. Jesus told a story about five wise and five foolish bridesmaids (see Matthew 25:1-13).

After thirty years of performing wedding ceremonies, I’ve witnessed many wedding parties. I’ve seen bridesmaids bring in so much stuff into the church building that one might suppose they planned to camp out for a week: food, water, soft drinks, clothes, make-up, hair dryers, irons, and ironing boards and who knows what else. They seem intent on being prepared for anything just like the scouts, because this is a special day. Only one time in three decades have I had a bridesmaid ask me for a safety pin, and then she was extremely apologetic because she had meant to bring some.

The first century, Jewish wedding ceremony was usually at the bride’s home. The general time of the wedding was known, but the exact time of the bridegroom’s arrival would be unknown. Following the ceremony, the wedding party would go in procession to the groom’s home for the wedding banquet. The bridesmaids would need their lamps (possibly wedding torches) for the nighttime processional to the wedding banquet.

I’ve told illustrations in sermons only to have someone come out, shake my hand, and tell me exactly the wrong point from the story. Jesus’ parable can suffer in the same way. I’ve been in many Bible classes where someone will ask, “Why couldn’t the virgins share?” The simple answer is that is not the point of this particular story. From a practical point of view, some have suggested that the wedding torch had a very short burn time before it needed more oil. In other words, there just wouldn’t have been enough oil to share. An attempt to share would have left the wedding party in the dark at some point along the trip to the wedding banquet and spoiled things for the bridge and groom. After all, we are always anxious for all the details to go just right at weddings, better five torches than no torches.

Five wise bridesmaids are prepared for the wedding. Five foolish bridesmaids are shockingly unprepared, and while they go to make themselves ready, they miss the wedding, are late for the reception, and find themselves permanently shut out. The story is about preparation for a special day The story is about the individual preparation that only each one of us can do for that special day of the Lord’s return. We do not know the day or the hour. Are you ready?

The Needed Directions

January 20, 2012

I was putting an appointment in my calendar one day, and I had the name of the place where I was to go but lacked the address. I like to put address and information on directions with the appointment, so I did what many people would do. I googled the name of the place. Google brought up the web site for the place I wanted, and I clicked to a very professional looking web site. It had all kinds of information on it. It had a description of the place, a photo, and a very nice history. In fact, it had everything but what I wanted to know — the address. The web site told me everything but how to get there.

Occasionally, we will receive a flyer for some event that commits the same error. The flyer will have a nice layout. It will contain information about the event, for example, who is speaking or what singing group will perform. It will give date and time and other important information, but it will omit the address.

It’s a very human failing. I can certainly relate to it. I’ve put together a flyer or two through the years as well as a few web sites too. You have all these things that you want to say, and unless you organize your thoughts a bit, you can leave out something important. I’ve experienced a proofreader’s second set of eyes pointing out something that I had missed.

I’m glad that the Lord does not have this human failing. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus speaks of the place he will prepare for his followers (John 14:1-3). This naturally leads to Thomas wondering about the directions: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5, ESV) Jesus gives this tremendous answer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “(John 14:6, ESV) Yet, I must confess that we might still be perplexed if that was the only answer. This discussion leads to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. I think it contains a special promise to the apostles, the “you” of 14:26.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, ESV)

I am thankful for the divine guidance given the apostles. They were spared the human failing of forgetting something when it came to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, so we have the assurance that we can be thoroughly equipped for every good work. God has provided everything we need for life and godliness. Since it is the most important destination, I’m thankful that we have the needed directions.

A Spiritual Church

January 13, 2012

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.

The Science of Humility

January 6, 2012

Humility has recently been studied by psychologists and social scientists. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology looked at helpfulness. Another study published in the Academy of Management Journal considered humility and leadership. Dr. Wade C. Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, who led one of the studies states: “Our discovery here is that the understudied trait of humility predicts helpfulness.” Note that the trait has been understudied and overlooked. What did these studies discover?

  • Humble people are more willing to lend a helping hand than arrogant people.
  • Humility is a predictor of helpfulness.
  • Humble people do not think poorly of themselves.
  • Humble people are not insecure, but instead have an accurate view of themselves, understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Humble people are actually comfortable with themselves.
  • Humble people make more effective and better-liked leaders than those who are self-promoting and “wear their accomplishments on their sleeve.”*

That humility has positive benefits should not be a surprise to the Christian. The Bible has much to say about humility.

  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:9, ESV
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2, ESV
  • The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4, ESV
  • I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV
  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3, ESV
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10, ESV

Researchers are interested in whether humility can be cultivated. As Jeff LaBouff, of the University of Maine, states, “If we can increase humility, either in the short term or the long term, we might be able to increase those pro-social behaviors.” As a Christian I believe we can learn humility as we follow our Lord “who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8b, ESV).

* – “Humble People Are More Helpful”