Saturday, December 4, 2021

Here Comes the...Bridegroom!

 Christmas is coming!  ‘Tis the season for us to ponder with wonder the coming of Christ as God Incarnate in history and to consider with hope the promise of Christ’s return.  I would like to suggest that taking a bit of time to consider the return of Christ will enable us to make our celebration of the Incarnation more powerful and more deeply joyful.

 

The church is sometimes described as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7), and believers are now waiting for the Bridegroom.  This metaphor is worth careful consideration.  In today’s world, weddings are a big deal, requiring months if not years of preparation and care.  But that was similarly true in Bible times and in the centuries in between.  The truth is that marriage is a big deal.  God’s intent for marriage is lifetime intimacy that mirrors the unity and intimacy enjoyed within the Trinity.  And while our elaborate preparations reflect that, it is important to remember that it is the marriage relationship—not the ceremony—that is of ultimate importance.  In the counseling field, it is regularly bemoaned that young couples spend much more time preparing for their wedding than they do preparing for a lifetime of living together.

 

 

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  2“Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.  3“For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.  5“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6“But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’  7“Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  8“The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  9“But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’  10“And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.  11“Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’  12“But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’  13“Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

 

 

This parable of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 25, reminds us that waiting for the bridegroom requires an active and engaged waiting.  And in the end, it is about a genuine relationship with Christ, one characterized by our knowing Him and His knowing us.  I would suggest that keeping our lamps lit is a metaphor for a continued pursuit of Christ, fueled by a desire to build that relationship.  Preparing for Christ is far more than looking good.  It is far more about building and deepening our relationship with Christ.  And while developing that relationship is serious business and more challenging than “dressing up” in Christian trappings, it also means that the messiness of our lives of faith is not the measure of who we are in Christ and need not distract us from pursuing Him.  

 

The celebration of Christmas is marked by special events, special decorations, gifts.  These symbols are reminders of deeper truths.  As we plan our events, dig out our decorations, and purchase our gifts, may we do so with our eyes, ears, and hearts fixed on our Lord so that this holiday may enable and empower us to keep our lamps lit.

 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Exercise of Faith

 "Faith is not a leap into the dark, but into the light."

                                                    John Polkinghorne

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Sacrifice of Praise

 Thanksgiving.  Giving thanks.  So much has been preached, written, and taught about the importance of giving thanks and why embracing the Thanksgiving holiday is so good for us.  Offering praise and thanks to the Lord reinforces to us that God is God and we are not.  Research shows that cultivating a grateful heart is an important component in our experience of happiness. And when we express our thanks, we become an encouragement to others.  Giving thanks changes us, making us more fit for heaven.

 

But herein lies the catch.  Giving thanks can be difficult.  Really difficult.  A few weeks ago, our pastor at Windsor Chapel, preaching from I Thessalonians, commented that waiting on the Lord, waiting for Him to answer our prayers, is often challenging and frustrating.  We see in this epistle an ongoing tension: Paul longingly prays for the opportunity to return to Thessalonica, to be reassured and encouraged by their faith and fellowship while at the same time offering deep heartfelt praise and thanksgiving and exhorting the Thessalonians to do the same even as both sides wait to be reunited.

 

Paul makes note of struggle and suffering in his letter to the Thessalonians, both on his part and theirs.  These are hard times for these young believers living in a very secular world hostile to their faith.  And yet, giving thanks and praise is an unmistakable thread that runs through Paul’s heart and spirit, and his words.

 

We are often told to count our blessings.  While this can be good advice, it can also minimize the challenges of genuine thanksgiving and cultivating a heart of gratitude.  And, the exhortation to count our blessings can mislead us into thinking that the giving of thanks requires us to pretend that times aren’t tough when they are.  Rather, the giving of thanks requires us to think beyond our tough times and beyond ourselves and to refocus on our good God.  The determination to present a grateful heart before the Lord means that we claim by faith that the Lord will work good out of each and every one of our circumstances, to cling to the Truth that we are not yet able to see.

 

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5

 

 

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

 

 

 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Thought For Halloween

 "There's a day that's drawing near when this darkness breaks to light

And the shadows disappear and my faith shall be my eyes


Jesus has overcome and the grave is over-whelmed

The victory is won; He is risen from the dead


And I will rise when He calls my name; no more sorrow no more pain

I will rise on eagle's wings before my God, fall on my knees...."


                        Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher


                                                     

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Thought For The Day

 “Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll always get you the right ones.”

 

                                                                                                            John Lennon

Monday, October 11, 2021

A Lesson From Middle Earth

 October is arguably my favorite month, and I know I am not alone.  The cooler, crisp weather that heralds the changing season is invigorating as it invites us to embrace the rhythm of God’s creation.  And while I am learning the value of living in the present, October includes for me thoughts of past and future: memories of the summer just past and anticipation of the upcoming holiday season in the near future.  And as I integrate these components into my October present, I find a constructive perspective to guide my days.

 

Jogging (with the company of our Doodle) is an integral part of my commitment to fitness, but the heat of summer usually suspends our twice-weekly outings.  And so this past summer, I found myself retreating to Middle Earth (via film) as I worked through interval training workouts on our elliptical trainer.  As The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins, there is an introduction that sets the stage for the epic good vs. evil struggle that follows.

 

Middle Earth is populated by a diverse group of intelligent beings: Wizards, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and men.  When the evil Lord Sauron determines to put the whole of Middle Earth under his cruel rule, he crafts the “one ring to rule them all” as his ultimate weapon.  Men and elves come together to challenge him, and the future of the land rests upon the outcome of the subsequent battle.  After young Prince Isildur witnesses the death of his father, the King of Gondor, he grabs his father’s broken sword and severs Sauron’s ring-bearing hand from his body.  Sauron’s kingdom implodes and disintegrates—for the time being.  But the young prince disregards the advice of the elf lord at his side, and instead of destroying the evil ring, Isildur keeps it for his own purposes.  Sauron’s ring has a will of its own, and it quickly slips away from the prince.  Its location unknown for centuries, the continued existence of the ring enables Sauron to slowly regain his power even as the general population loses the collective memory of the long-past events that threatened their lives and well-being.  It is only as the growing evil represented by the resurgence of Sauron’s sphere of evil influence becomes recognized does the folly of Prince Isildur become clear.

 

And this is the point in the saga that directs my thoughts forward from this past summer, through October, and toward the Christmas holiday that will soon be upon us.  John the Baptist went about his days proclaiming the imminent appearance of Christ and the importance of repentance.  During his public ministry, Jesus repeated John’s message, and the Apostles who continued Jesus’s ministry after His death and resurrection continued to call for confession and repentance.  If we are to be ready for the coming of Christ—in our celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas and/or His second coming—we must be about the business of confessing and repenting.  If any of us believe that we have not sinned, we are deceiving ourselves (I John 1:8).

 

This, then, brings us back to The Lord of the Rings.  The dramatic plot rests upon the deadly consequences of Isildur’s choice, centuries in the making.  Isildur did not experience any consequences of his choice apart from losing the ring; he could not have imagined the cost of claiming the evil ring of power.  But consequences are not limited by our lack of vision or imagination.  And it is not simply our human limitations of vision and imagination that can set us up to make poor choices.  In the course of this powerful story, two elf lords make two observations about the race of men: Men are weak, and they desire power above all else.  We see in Isildur the weakness that made him unable to resist the power pull of the ring that could and would only serve the evil purposes of Sauron.  

 

The Lord of the Rings is a fictional narrative, but its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, understood very well the ability of fiction to represent truth in an extraordinarily effective way (On Fairy-stories).  The story of Isildur challenges us to consider our weakness and our desire for power.  It also challenges us to consider that there are consequences to our choices that we may never see or imagine.  Our choices matter.

 

And so we now have our own choice to make.  Are we going to take responsibility for our weakness and desire for personal power?  Can we accept our limitations as human beings?  Are we going to follow Isildur’s trail, or are we going to learn from it?  If we want to learn from Isildur’s choice, we must prepare our hearts for the kingdom of God, proclaimed in the coming of Christ.  We must maintain a humble attitude characterized by confession and repentance and a dependence upon Christ not only for our salvation but also for our identity, value, significance, power, and influence.  

 

Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga reminds us that our choices matter and that we are not to be trusted to make those choices independently.  Praise God that the kingdom of God is upon us!  Our loving Lord has provided a way for us to safely travel through this world and into His kingdom.  May we prepare with gratitude and joy.

 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Thought For The Day

 "Happiness is not a goal, it's a by-product."

                                        Eleanor Roosevelt