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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Preparation And Ten [Sleepy] Virgins

Have you read Matthew 25 lately? Jesus is marching on toward the cross. Things are ratcheting up a bit. The parables get more intense. Some are downright disturbing. There is a heightened distinction being made between those who believe and those who do not believe. Between those who are ready and those who are unprepared. Between those who are dutiful and those who are lazy. Between those who are generous and those who are stingy.

We read these words over and over again; The kingdom of heaven is like. What do they mean? What is all this talk about the kingdom of heaven?

The expression Kingdom of Heaven occurs 32 times in the gospel of Matthew and in no other place in the New Testament. The first time the expression occurs is in Matthew 3:2. (statistics taken from Neverthirsty.org)



What does God say about his kingdom? Jesus tells us something about it in Matthew 25;

“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."

We read this parable and shudder at the thought of not being prepared when Christ returns. Our anxiousness over our lack of preparedness takes over and fear sets in. We begin to look around nervously and we tirelessly fret over things we've left undone. We ask ourselves, "Did I remember to get oil? Did I get enough oil? Did I get the right kind of oil? Will I be able to stay awake? What happens if I dose off when He comes back? Should I even sleep at all?!?"

About this passage, one person wrote;

"My heart quickens when I read that; tears fill my eyes. Will I be ready? Am I ready now? What have I done, and what am I doing now...? I do not want to be like the 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25 who didn't plan ahead."

They, along with so many of us, forget who God is and what the message of the Bible is. We take this parable (and others) out of context and focus on what we should be doing for God instead of what God has already done for us.

You see, rather than the Bible being an instruction book for how we serve God, it is actually a love letter telling us how God serves us.

The Bible is The Love Story to end all love stories and retells in a thousand different ways the story of how King God so loved the world that he sent is one and only son, Prince Jesus, to rescue his beloved bride and make her a new creation, thereby accomplishing the perfect plan of redemption for the entire human race set forth from the beginning of time. 

Unlike many love stories, this one has a happy ending, whereby all things will be made new and every tear will be wiped away. I think this story is closer to what the kingdom of heaven is like. It's a place where we find our home. Live in it. Walk around in it. Rest in it. Take comfort and refuge in it. It will be the cleft of the rock for you when other stories invade your heart and mind. When fear grips you and anxiousness sets in. When you forget your beloved loves you and you worry you're not doing enough for him.

Remember, he has done everything for you, and it was enough.

The story of the virgins trip us up because we forget The Story. We think it's about what they did or did not do. But God said in the very beginning, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins...five of them were foolish ("For my people are foolish; they know me not" Jer 4:22"), and five were wise ("It is God only who makes men to know this kind of wisdom in the hidden part - Gill on Proverbs 24:7"). He declared their position before they did anything. He declared that it was wisdom and foolishness that drove their actions, not their innate organizational abilities that enabled them to plan properly.

Their position not their preparation allowed the five virgins to enter the marriage feast.

Before any preparations were made, God declared their position - some were wise and some were foolish.

Wikipedia

The truth is all the virgins grew weary in the waiting. They all fell asleep. That's us. We all fall asleep - foolish or wise. It is not our ability to stay awake that prepares us. It is our position in Christ. 

He has declared us worthy to enter the marriage feast. 

He is our bridegroom who comes to get us to carry us in. Oil, no oil, sleepy or wide awake - he gets us in. It is up to him, not us. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; a rescue for sinners and a place of eternal love for an undeserving people.

Think about it. Regardless of how prepared you think you are, you will always be asking these haunting questions:

Am I prepared enough? How ready is ready enough? What if I'm mostly ready?

Here is the glorious good news.

God readied you when he bloodied his son. 

On his account you are prepared. By his death you enter what God hath prepared.

By his blood you can rest knowing that your efforts to ready yourself will never prepare you enough, but Christ and his efforts for you declare you are already ready.

You are in. There is not one more thing you need to do. God came down. God showed up. It was He who came to that inn over 2000 years ago. It was God who descended into the womb of Mary. It was God who burst forth as a baby and it was God who loved humanity to the point of his death. Can you do that? Can you prepare yourself for what's ahead by doing the things he did? Of course not, but that's not the point. Love is the point. And, not our love for him, but his great love for you that declares, I have prepared you. I saved you. I raised you. You are prepared.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you’ (John 14:27-28).



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mixed Motives and Divided Hearts

St. Augustine writes, "A friend is someone who knows everything about you and totally accepts you as you are."

Is this not the dream that we all share? Someday, somewhere, I am going to meet that person who really understands me - understands the words I speak and even the words I leave unspoken. The gospel proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of that dream. Paul Tillich's definition of trust remains the most meaningful to me. He defines trust as "the courage to accept acceptance."

Raw honesty with Jesus about our doubts and anxieties, our lust and laziness, our shabby prayer life and stale religiosity, our mixed motives and divided hearts is the risk we take in the certainty of being acceptable and accepted. It is the full and mature expression of invincible trust.




Jesus is the friend who will never fail, the faithful one who will never be lacking in fidelity, even when people are unfaithful to him, the stranger to self-hatred who estranged us from self-hatred.

Brennan Manning - Ruthless Trust

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Give Hope

There is a struggle foreign to most of us. Single motherhood. Unless you are living it, there is no way to fully understand all it takes to work, care for kids and run a home by yourself. The daily burden of single-handedly having to provide emotional, financial and physical care for your children is heavy and often times unbearable.

That is the reason for Hope and Help for Single Moms; to reach out to single moms who day in and day out do this hard work. They are no different than you and I. They love their kids, want to create a safe and nurturing environment for them to grow up in and they care about what their kids eat, where they go to school and how they will one day be able to make it on their own. It could easily be me...or you. They sit among us at church, they stand in line at the grocery store and they are parked in front of you in the school drop off line. Each story I hear is different. Each one is a sad recounting of how relationships are broken. Abuse, selfishness, adultery, death, violence - these are only some of the reasons mothers find themselves parenting alone. Here is one of the over fifty thousand stories right here in Broward County:



A woman who attends a local church Bible study each week and helps to facilitate a moms group received a call two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. She got the news of the tragic and unexpected death of her husband. How do you plan for that? What does it feel like to go to bed with your spouse one night and wake up the next day to realize you are alone and will never see that person again? They have a young son who will spend the rest of his life without his father. This mom, in shock now, will slowly regain the strength needed to carry on without her partner. She will because she has to.



But there is hope...

The Lord has not left us alone. He has come to catch and to wipe away every tear.

One day our troubles will be gone and everything sad will become untrue.

He has given us community. His love manifest through others.




His love for us compels our love for others. We love because he first loved us. It is overwhelming sometimes to think of all the hurt, pain and suffering in the world - do you feel powerless to help? I do. But then I realize that God is not asking me to save the world...or save anyone for that matter. That's his job. However, he has put me in community that I might turn to the person next to me and say, "I care."

This is one way I'm saying, "I care."


This signature hand-crafted pendant was designed for Hope and Help for Single Moms in an effort to raise funds to reach out to some of these moms who are daily struggling to pay bills, clothe children and put food on the table. Each pendant hangs on an adjustable black cord.

100% of the proceeds from the first 20 pendants sold will go to the mom and her young son who suddenly lost their husband and father two weeks ago.

Will it secure their future? No.

But, will it extend the love of Christ to a hurting heart? Yes.

If you would like to purchase this beautiful pendant ($15 ea.) you can email me at lh33351@yahoo.com.

Thankfully, Jesus declared on the cross to you and to I, "I care."

Hope is real.

Hope is a Person.

Hope has come.






(all additional proceeds will go to meet the needs of single moms in three specific areas: Christmas assistance, Car Repair/Maintenance and School uniform/books/supplies/backpack assistance)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Obey or Else!



Sadly, this is how a lot of people view Christianity. It is not only people outside of the church, but many Christians inside the church grew up believing that the only way to make God happy was to obey, and if you didn't, watch out. Now we're adults, and even though we might not say it, we still believe that in some way this is true. God is watching and waiting to discipline those who miss the mark. If that is true then God is only in the discipline business because we all miss the mark!

 A Death Threat

A call to obedience and reminders about discipline might be helpful but neither has any power to bring forth life. They are essentially death threats. Obedience for the sake of obedience leads to death. Talk of God's discipline brings forth fear leading to death. Think about a time when you were "encouraged" to obey. Did it make you want to obey? Recall a time when you heard about God's discipline. Did it stir in you a warm and loving feeling toward God? If you answered no it's because they are absent of love. They are sterile and cold like a morgue. They are caskets housing lifeless corpses.


For the Christian, a call to obedience is usually sprinkled with the carrot of blessing.

However, no matter how enticing the promise of blessing looks it will lead to certain death because it is based on conditionality. 

Obey and you will receive. The gospel breaks that equation and radically declares that you receive before one iota of obedience is ever put forth. It is one way and unconditional love bursting forth life for dead people.

Obedience Does Not Stir Up More Love

Obedience is good. God's discipline is good. However, conversations that dwell on our responsibility to obey God's commands and His discipline of us when we don't are dead ends apart from the life giving message that, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died" (Rom. 5:8).

He didn't say, obey then I'll die for you. He didn't remind us that God's discipline is for our good as he was headed to the cross. He said "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives" (Luke 4:18)Paul exhorts Christians in Galatia, "So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law" (Gal. 5:1).

He is pleading with them to remember the freedom that Christ died to bring them.

They don't have to earn it. It is a done deal. 

Now, they can live. 

They can love. They can serve. They can sacrifice. They can obey. But, no part of their sacrifice and service has any bearing on God's love for them.

We see these reminders in the New Testament often. It's because the early Christians were just like us. Forgetful people. We forget the good news. We go back to our old ways of trying to obey our way out of our messes. We regress and find ourselves cowering with fear over what God thinks of us and what he is going to do to us as a result of our disobedience. No joy. No love. No power. Only death.

God Loves You Even Amid Your Sometime Obedience

If you only hear one thing today, hear this. God loves you not because of your trying. Not because of your sometime obedience or your happy thoughts about him. God loves you because of Jesus. Jesus obeyed perfectly. For you. He accomplished for you what you never could or would. If you have any regret right now you can know that Christ has done everything for you - perfectly. You can be done with the regret and the guilt. Did you screw up yesterday? I did. We can be done with wringing our hands over that because Jesus did not screw up yesterday. His day was perfect and now we have that record of perfection for our yesterday, and every other day.

This is spectacular news!

When conversations turn to obedience, remember first and foremost Christ's obedience on our behalf.

When we hear talk about God's discipline for those he loves, let's remember God's love for screw-ups like us. Let's remember how Jesus responded to Peter when he denied his savior not once but three times. He looked at him with love. Let's remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery; "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." It was Love compelling obedience, not the other way around.

Jesus is speaking to you my friend - "Neither do I condemn you."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2 Imperfect People = 1 Imperfect Marriage


If you followed A Gospel Marriage Moment - 30 Days of Gospel Encouragement for Marriages, thank you!

In the introduction of AGGM I explained that the tidbits of encouragement did not come from a place of success, but rather, a place of failure. I have been married 32 years and I can honesty say that everything I have learned about marriage (that's worth keeping) I learned in the last couple of years since my marriage fell apart. Please do not hear me say that your marriage has to fall apart before you learn anything, that is my story. However, there is something to be said for struggle and difficulty and losing what you think you need in order to be happy. 

Gut-wrenching experiences have a way of softening your heart and opening your eyes.

Two and half years ago my husband left - five days before Christmas. For far too long we had pretended that everything was fine. But we knew the truth....

...our relationship was unraveling and eventually the last thread broke.

As painful as that time was, we both look back and know it was the best thing that could have happened. It does not make sense. We would not have chosen to go through it. But we can say without a doubt that the death of our old marriage had to take place in order for God to give us a new one.



Nothing can make the pain of a difficult marriage go away. What can make it a bit easier is knowing that you are not alone. I have talked with enough husbands and wives to know that marriage difficulty is everyone's story. It must be because we are sinners living life side by side 24/7.

Two imperfect people make an imperfect marriage. Together, you can clasp hands and laugh at your imperfections while thanking God for his perfect son.

His grace really is sufficient.




(For more, follow AGGM on facebook and twitter)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Independence and the Deception of Freedom


A friend sent me a message the other day that began:

You've been miss independent your whole marriage. In recent years you've found yourself needing to be more fragile, more taken care of. Basically just less stand alone-able. Advice?

Those words...every last one of them...were like daggers to my heart. I felt a sharpness and a stirring of regret. I told her that I felt as though she somehow knew my deepest darkest secrets. I told her I thought she was writing about me! Those words described me for most of my life. 

I'm posting (below) most of what I shared with her as a result of her confession because, I know we are not the only ones. In the days that followed I read parts of this to other friends. They looked back at me and said, "That's me too." I'm sharing this because I want women to know there is a way out.

A Way Out

There is a way out of the lie that says independence promises freedom.

It's not easy...

...it does not happen overnight...

...but there is hope.

(Disclaimer: This is a gospel response to women who have struggled with a desire to maintain independence in a marriage relationship. It is not an attempt in any way to promote an agenda for or against women who work or pursue interests outside the home, and it is not meant to promote an agenda for or against any "biblical model" of family, womanhood or manhood.)

Here is what I wrote...

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Oh my…when I started reading this I thought you were writing it about me and somehow you knew my deepest darkest secrets! This was me. I was raised in the “You can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never never let him forget he’s a man” world! My mom was independent, a "never let them see you sweat" self-made woman and successful business owner. Combine that with a culture that shouted feminism and I was left with the notion that I didn't need anyone. Not a good recipe for marriage. And not gospel…I joke and say that I trained my husband well…on how to “stay away” because I can do it all! It has taken hard work these last couple of years to repair that. It does not come easy or quick. And it takes dying. Slow little deaths of giving up control and independence and territory.

What has happened is your husband has been a good student of yours...learning all the ways to silently step around your independence. He knows where he can go and he knows where the land mines are. It will take an excavation of the mine field plus time and patience, to wait on him to trust that the land mines are gone.

(You wrote; “Your husband is so stressed you feel like if u asked him to dote and covet u more  he'll fall apart.”) He is not stressed because you are moving from independence to dependence. He is stressed because of work, kids, life etc. and feeling like he does not measure up. I guarantee you he feels like he is failing. If you tell him you need more doting and coveting he very well could fall apart. That is not what you need and it’s not what he needs to do. 

What you both need is freedom – more than anything!

You need to be set free your independence and he needs to be set free from feeling like he is failing. 

Honest confession and transparency – those are the keys to unlock freedom. 

(You wrote;“what if he just can't handle it at this season of life?”) He can handle it because it will come from a posture of admission, not need. You’re not asking him to do anything other than be weak with you. That is attractive and always compels love. I know your inclination is to communicate your need. That repels, not compels. Communicate your weakness. That compels love.

Instead of telling him you want doting, show him. Show him by your confession. Show him by your honesty and transparency. Confess your independence without demanding his attention. You are realizing for the first time in your life that you need someone. Tell him. Tell him how difficult it is for you to admit. Tell him you have always tried to be strong but now you realize you are not all that strong. Tell him you know you’re getting older and things don’t come as easily. (When I tell my husband about my menopause issues he is sympathetic and caring, not overwhelmed and burdened by it) Our husbands have a natural desire to protect and take care of their family. Let him. It won’t overwhelm him. It may actually help him to put his life in perspective. 

The bottom line is this – you can’t change him. 

You can hardly change yourself. Pray that as you come to him in a transparent and honest posture, grace will reign. It always does. You might be amazed at how he responds when he realizes you really need him. Not just to help with kids. But YOU need him. That is not a clingy or whiny need. It is the need a wife as of her husband and the need a husband has of his wife. As you both get older this need will grow. We are only human and the years wear on us. We can’t do the things we used to do, we don’t’ look like we used to look. Peter and I joke all the time about all that! We are happy now to have this in the midst of our marriage – it humbles both of us and creates a mutual dependence we are grateful for. Remember, strength is admirable, but weakness is attractive. Strength gets attention from a distance. Weakness attracts others and compels their interest and their attention up close because it tells them they are not alone – they know their weakness all too well and now they can relax knowing you are weak too.

Imagine how freeing it will be to share this with your husband. But even more, imagine how freeing it will be for your husband to hear your weakness. Now, he can be free to be weak. 

Be weak together! 

There is nothing more freeing than an unconditional relationship. You don’t demand. He doesn't feel obligated. You both admit weakness and frailty and together rejoice in Jesus.

By the way, STAY AWAY from anything that sets standards or promotes comparisons. You and your husband are unique. Your marriage is one of a kind. Stay away from "how-tos.” Run from marriage seminars and instructors who want to give you an easy way out. 

Here is your instruction. Pray and ask God to set you free and to set your husband free. Pray God’s grace to come clean, admit weakness. Pray God’s grace for your husband to come clean, admit weakness. Pray for grace to trust God with this. You have to know that God is up to something here. It was not your idea to all the sudden move toward dependence! God is teaching you dependence on him and he is using your marriage to do so.


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Celebrate Dependence

My friends, if you can relate to this it's because there is nothing new under the sun. We have all struggled with the desire to be independent. It began in the garden and it is reinforced by our culture. Even one of our most celebrated holidays is nick-named Independence Day. It is cause for much celebration and merry-making. It is exalted as we, the citizens, look to our independence with honor and pride.

However, maintaining independence in your marriage is not a cause for celebration. It is not something to exalt. It kills relationships. It will snuff out intimacy. Maintaining an "I don't need you" posture is a sure fire way to achieve "room-mate" status in your marriage.

Clinging to your independence is a lonely way to live.


The gospel reminds us over and over again that dependence on someone outside of ourselves is a counter cultural message. It is revolutionary, upside down, and opposite from all the world shouts at us.

So live, work, celebrate the 4th of July. But, as you live, work and celebrate, lock arms together.

Rejoice in the gospel that frees you both from enslaving independence.