Always Filled, Always Ready

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’  And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13

“And do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18

Dangerous is the attitude that says, ‘I’ll settle this later.’ ‘I won’t be called to account, I’ll have time to clean up.’ ‘I’m tired. I’m working. I’m busy. Just a minute. Tomorrow. Not now. This is more important.’ There are many ideas and occupations that would detract our focus from Jesus, and deter us from looking for Him in every endeavor. Yet the Scriptures teach us to watch, to be vigilant, to be ready.

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What the foolish virgins did was get excited, but make no preparations. They liked the idea of a wedding celebration here and now, but lacked foresight and wisdom to be appropriate guests. They were impulsive, enthused about their terms, their timing, their way, but got tired and lost interest when the party didn’t happen. And they lost out. They missed the Bridegroom altogether.

Isn’t it human nature to want what God wants, as long as He wants it my way? To write my terms for our relationship? In my flesh, I plot my choice of schedule and manner of how things should happen, and I grow restless and impatient when my plans do not come about as I’d determined. I grow weary of waiting for the fulfilling of my desires, answers and changes and guidance for which I’ve prayed, and can begin to doubt God’s interest or goodness.

I can allow my spiritual tank to run dry, assuming I’ll find a convenient time and place to refill when it suits. I think I know the remedy for our distance, and will apply it when I deem it important. My lack of ongoing watchful prayer and filling of the Spirit prevent me from seeing the danger of depleted oil.

What makes me spiritually drowsy? On what plans, or dreams, have I become ‘drunk,’ allowing them to have more sway over me than God’s Spirit?

Lord, keep me alert and wise, filled with Your Spirit, trimming the wick of a keen and undivided heart. May I daily be expectant and prepared for Your every invitation. (Psalm 86:10-11)

 

All About Me? Or All About Thee?

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'” “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” Matthew 23:1-12; 25:45-46

Jesus’s scathing remarks about the scribes and Pharisees might have been confusing to His hearers. After all, those publicly religious leaders were to be revered, even feared, as the perfect role models of righteousness and authority. Jesus was condemning them? Yes, because He knew their hearts. Their teaching may have aligned with God’s commands, but their motives and actions did not match. They paraded their religious costumes, flaunted their self-righteous legalism, and pompously relished attention for their esteemed positions. Inwardly they were corrupt; life was “all about me.”

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Before condemning them for their hypocrisy, where are we guilty of the same? When have I looked down on someone for foolish choices, ungodly behavior, rash words, seedy involvements, and failed to consider my own self-righteous attitude, favoritism, love of ease, fear of man, secret indulgences, stingy grace? Where am I culpable for measuring my behavior against others’, and neglecting measurement against God’s holy standards of selfless servanthood, humility, preferring others before myself? Where have I chosen whom to love and forgive? (Matthew 5:44-48; Ephesians 2:3-4; Philippians 4:32)

The Lord calls us to servanthood, in our mindset and in our actions, doing all as unto Him, even in the high positions He entrusts to us. Our best Teacher is Jesus, our loving Father is God, our only Master is the King of kings. We are to be adorned with His righteousness, filled with His Spirit, and yielded to His service and honor. (Isaiah 61:10; Ephesians 5:15; Colossians 3:23)

Lord, check me whenever I make life all about me, and shape my deepest heart’s desire to be all about Thee. Capture my every affection and ounce of vitality that I give You full attention, to the exaltation of Your grace and glory.

“The Joy Was Heard Far Away”

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages. Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate. And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, and certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets: Zechariah… and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David. And Ezra the scribe went before them… 

“The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah, and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; and the priests with trumpets. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” Nehemiah 12:27-28,31-36,38-43

In the cacophony of everyday life we hear a lot of noise, from songbirds to sirens, from vehicles to machines to horns, from a workman’s shout to a mother’s chastisement to a crowd’s revelry. But how often do we hear joy? And what part might I have in bringing it to the mix, and fore?

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The dedication of the wall was a celebration of accomplishment in the face of opposition, of perseverance and commitment and hard work from people of all backgrounds and talents. It was a rejoicing in a humanly impossible work that God had brought about, a time of exalting Him who had done great things. As much as this well-ordered dedication was a beautiful procession ringing the city like a festal crown, it was also a natural uprising of music in every heart, sparkling with melody like multicolored jewels. Gratitude does that, gracing our places with visible, audible joy.

To be heard far away, our joy must abound nearby, welling up inside to overflow. How consistently do I rejoice in my Savior, and sing His praise? What selfish feelings and mental consternations dampen my joy in the Lord, and how will I exchange those for thankfulness? With whom do I connect to laud Him together? Joy seldom attends this dark world; what will I do to contribute it to my home and community? (Psalm 47:1; 96:1; Philippians 4:4)

LORD, may joy so fill my heart and life with ceaseless praise that others see, and hear, and taste its fruit, and glorify You. (Galatians 5:22)

Potentate of Time, Purveyor of Truth

“We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Acts 14:15-17

What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God,.. and find him… For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ ..We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness.” Acts 17:23-31

The LORD over time is LORD of man. He has created us and provided everything for our needs and good. He determines when and where we are born, and into what families. He gives us freedom to walk in our own ways, giving ample evidence of His love, beauty, sufficiency, and power. Yet man so often chooses to make gods with human hands, objects and fetishes we can hold and control, affections we can nurse and indulge in on impulse. The sovereign Potentate of time, Who has determined when He will judge every person, pursues individuals and purveys the truth of the gospel to all who will hear, “Repent!” “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

We who are bound by time can get caught up in it, filling our days with activity and our moments with frenzy. We can fill our schedules with building temples to man, our minds with lowly thought, our hands with meaningless occupation. And when we come before the Master, what will we have to show? Treasures we have laid up in heaven, crowns to offer God in worship, or ashes of a wasted life? (Matthew 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Revelation 4:10-11)

What vain things captivate me today? What idols distort my view of the High and Holy One? What compulsion to man-make and serve and achieve distracts from doing all as unto Him? (Colossians 3:23-24)

“Crown Him the Lord of years,
The Potentate of time.
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Throughout eternity.”  ~Matthew Bridges (1800-1894)

Lord, let me never forget Who You are, and that I will one day stand before You to account for all I do. Have Your way with me in every moment. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

When Jesus Wants a Jailer

“They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And they said, ‘These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. He put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,  and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds… Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” Acts 16:19-20,22-34

When Jesus wants to save, He arranges divine appointments to accomplish His mission. Often we have the privilege of being a part. Paul and Silas, always ‘on’ for their Master, were so caught up in the Lord and His pursuits that being bloodied and locked in stocks could not deter them from rejoicing. Even when it seemed their assignment to preach had been aborted, their great Redeemer caused their prayer and song to fall on the ears of every prisoner and shake open their jail cells. The quaking jailer recognized the supernatural power, asked how to preserve his life, and by God’s grace believed the gospel. The one assigned to keep safe was saved, the real captive freed forever.

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Imagine the joy Paul and Silas experienced at welcoming this jailer and his family into the Spirit’s fellowship, and knowing that Jesus had used their persecution for holy purposes. Their temporary imprisonment had been used to introduce eternal life.

When we are in hard places, painful captivity to disease, challenging circumstances beyond our control, or relationships at impossible impasses, might the Lord use us there to be a light of hope for another? If we would choose to accept every situation as His divine appointment, how would our outlook change? Might we take opportunity to sing, to pray for and with His perspective, to offer true freedom from the places we feel trapped?

Sovereign Lord, teach me to see my circumstances as those prescribed by You for Your broad and high purposes. Keep me singing, and offering life wherever I am.

The Word a Lighthouse

“And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God… And they stood up in their place and read from the Book for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Then the Levites… said, ‘Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and… made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

“And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh… you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land… By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. You came down on Mount Sinai and gave them true laws… You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land… You warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them.'” Nehemiah 8:18; 9:3-13,15,29

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

There is nothing like consistent, regular reading of the Word to influence and inform our lives. Nehemiah had led a valiant effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls amidst relentless opposition, and upon its completion directed Ezra to read from the law, leading the people to remember their Lord and rejoice and celebrate. The more exposure and understanding we gain, the greater its effect on all parts of us. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

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God’s word exalts its Author, promotes a high view of Him and inspires worship, explains history as it recounts His wise and wonderful ways, clarifies His commands, reminds of promises spoken and kept, and convicts of sin. It is a sturdy, immovable lighthouse that beckons us forward, warns against rocks of temptation, exposes danger, steers us in storms to the haven of Jesus. It gives hope, vision, strength, comfort. (Psalm 119:11)

What time do I daily give to the word, and how does it affect the rest of my hours? What keeps me from being drawn to its incomparable light?

Good Father, sow Your word deep in me so it seeps out in the way I worship, think, and behave.

Be Gone, Ye Taunts!

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?’ Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!’ Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads… But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. 

In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.’ And our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.’ At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, ‘You must return to us.’” Nehemiah 4:1-4,7-12

Anger, rage, jeering and jaunts did not shake Nehemiah to fear or self-pity, but prodded him to pray and leave them to the handling of his God. Plots and threats from viable enemies did not unsettle him, but caused him to ask God for protection and act practically to set up guards. Complaining from within his own camp at the hopeless, overwhelming task, and persistent efforts from every enemy and direction to stop their work never succeeded in dissuading Nehemiah from his God-given call to rebuild the wall. He faced his taunts head-on and courageously bid them ‘be gone.’

Snow on stone wall, St. Louis

The devil has many strategies he uses against God’s children, many tricks of his wily trade to turn us from Him and His will. He’s smart. He knows what is effective in veering us off course, freezing out our fervor, tripping up our rhythm, discouraging our efforts. He deceives us to think wrongly and lies to us about ourselves and our opposition. This is who he is and what he does. But no matter how vehement his hatred, how venomous his accusations, how cruel his taunts, our Lord and His keeping power and love are greater. (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:14; Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 4:4)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution?.. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:31,33-35,37,39

Be gone, ye taunts! Welcome, and reign, Jesus my Rock.