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Monday, November 26, 2012

Give Me Oil In My Lamp Keep Me Burnihg

Give Me Oil in My Lamp Keep Me Burning



“Give Me Oil in My Lamp Keep Me Burning,” is the title of an old gospel spiritual.  In the song someone is asking God for the “oil” of the Holy Spirit to light up their lamp – or their life - and keep them “burning”.  I think they want to be on fire for their Lord!


 In describing a person who has new life in the Holy Spirit, Jesus said this: “The wind blows where it wishes: and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:8)  So since Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, then it sounds like we can’t control it or make it go where we want it to go.


But then Jesus also said: “Most assuredly, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:5)   Jesus is saying here that along with water we need to have the Spirit in our lives to enter heaven.  So my question is:  If we must be born of the Spirit to enter heaven but we can’t control the Spirit, then how does the Spirit come into our lives?  Is there anything we can do to make that happen? 


Jesus gave us a story or parable in Matthew 25:1-13 about the importance of the  Spirit in our lives. The story begins with ten virgins who were planning to meet the  bridegroom and attend a lavish wedding feast. The ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Jesus says that five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish.  The foolish ones left without any oil for their lamps, but the wise virgins remembered to take the oil.  The bridegroom was late so while the ten women were waiting for him to arrive they all fell asleep.  But at midnight they were awakened by someone calling out and announcing that the bridegroom would soon be there! 


The five who had no oil asked the five who had brought oil to share with them.  But the ones with the oil were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to go around.  So the five without the oil ran off to the store to buy oil so they could light their lamps and meet the bridegroom. 


Alas, the five foolish virgins missed the bridegroom when he arrived since they had gone out to purchase oil.  And the five wise virgins carrying their lighted lamps joyously greeted the bridegroom and went with him into the place where the wedding would take place.  And then the door was shut.


Let’s read how this story ends.  “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’  But he answered, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Watch therefore, for you know not the day or the hour when the Son of Man is coming.”  (Matthew 15:11-13)


We have a sobering end to this story.  The bridegroom says, “I do not know you” to the five foolish virgins who did not bring any oil.  “Unless a person is born of the water and the Spirit (oil), he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (John 5:8) The wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven and without oil the foolish virgins didn’t make it.  Time was up and the door was shut.  A terrible ending!   


Oil is symbolic in Scripture of the Holy Spirit.  (Zeph. 4: Isa.61:1)  So in this story that Jesus tells us I believe that the oil represents the Holy Spirit. Outwardly the ten virgins all look the same.  They all act like they want to be a part of the wedding.  All ten make the trip to meet the bridegroom.  Say all the correct words.  Bring along their lamps.  If we could meet them would we be able to tell the wise ones from the foolish? – the real ones from the fake?  No, we would think these young women were all alike – all ten going in the same direction with the same purpose.    


But if we checked closer, the foolish five would not have oil (the Spirit) to light up their lamps (their lives?) or to light up the darkness around them. They might look good but there’s just something missing! Until the bridegroom is arriving they kick back and sleep and don’t seem to worry. Do they really need oil anyway? 


Aren’t they good enough on their own?  After all they are better than all of those other people who have messed up their lives.  These five are successful - the “makers” and not the “takers”. They go to church on Sunday and give their nice offerings and impress their friends.  They don’t drink and don’t chew.  Do good deeds and work hard.  Light candles and pass out fliers. Save money and drive the right car.  Life is complicated but they know the correct formula.  They have it all figured out so why would they need to worry about oil anyway? 


 And the other five virgins – the wise ones- the ones who bring oil to the wedding and seem to value it and hold onto it.  Worry that they could run out. Already this mysterious oil seems to be influencing their lives in ways that they can’t understand.  They don’t have things all figured out on their own so they wait for guidance.  Pray for help.


 And they do good deeds because they care about the people around them who are in need.  They go to church because they love to hear Gods’ Word.  They are humble and put others first.  And their mistakes and sins keep them running back to God for forgiveness.  But for these virgins who have the miracle oil, life is simple because they have the Answer – the Savior.  And the Savior has them and the oil He has given them lights their lives.  And they enter the wedding feast with the bridegroom because their lives are burning brightly with the oil of the Spirit.


What is Jesus trying to teach us when He tells this story- this parable about the ten virgins?  Why did five virgins have the oil and the other five did not?  How would one get the oil in the first place? 


It seems to me that Jesus told this story to teach us that having the Holy Spirit (the oil) in our lives is all important.  Scripture says: “There is a way that seems right to people, but the end thereof is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)    We can go through the motions of living but if we aren’t lit up with the light of the Holy Spirit we are still walking around in our own power.  And that’s not good enough!   


So how do we receive this Spirit that comes and goes like the wind? Acts 2:38 says: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  So there we have it!  We receive the Holy Spirit as a Gift when we repent (are sorry and turn from our sins) and when we accept Jesus into our lives.  When Jesus spoke those words: “ …Unless a person is born of the water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”  (John 3:5)  He was saying the same thing.  When a person is “born of water” he repents (turns from his sin) and is cleansed of sin (is baptized in the water) as the necessary background for receiving the new life in Christ – given by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.


Maybe we aren’t always aware that we have the Holy Spirit (the oil) in our lives.  Maybe we forget that we have this wonderful Gift to guide and teach and comfort us along the way.  But Scripture teaches us that indeed we Christians do have the Holy Spirit in us. Let’s not quench the Spirit but instead make room in our lives for more of the Him. Let’s not hide our light under a bushel but instead open ourselves up so the Holy Spirit can light up our lives all the more. And we can be like the wise virgins and have our lamps lit and burning when the bridegroom comes.  And we can keep praying the same prayer and asking for the same oil that the singer asked for so long ago in the old gospel song,- the one that goes: “Give Me Oil In My Lamp, Keep Me Burning.”   











Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Thanksgiving Psalm

Shout for Joy to the Lord

Psalm 100 (a Thanksgiving Psalm)



This little psalm is special.  When I read it I see our heavenly Father calling all of His children – all the earth - to come for a thanksgiving Celebration – a loving Family Reunion. To enter the gates and come into the courts praising and thanking our Father for all that He is and all that He means to us.  He has created us and made us what we are and His ongoing love and faithfulness to us will last forever.  So He waits with outstretched arms for us to come and enjoy His Presence and thank Him for being our Father.   


Here it is - Psalm 100


Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.


Worship the Lord with gladness:  come before Him with joyful songs.


Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.


Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise: 

Give thanks to Him and praise His name.


For the Lord is good: His love endures forever:

And His faithfulness continues through all generations.


This Psalm is an invitation to everyone on earth to thank and praise God: to rejoice in His faithfulness and goodness and enjoy our relationship with Him.  He enjoys our praises and our worship – our songs and our love. He loves to be honored by His children.  Psalm 22:3 says: “God inhabits the praises of His people.”  In other words, God is present when we praise Him.  And amazingly sometimes when you are together in a group praising God, you can feel Gods’ sweet heavy presence there in the midst of the group.  It’s wonderful.


The third verse of this Psalm reads: “Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…”  Do some of God’s children forget that God created them?  Does He need to remind us that He indeed gave us our lives and made us who we are?  And that we didn’t create ourselves?  We miss out on so much if we forget that we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  If we stay away and don’t come home to our Father. 


I know of several parents who loved their children more than they loved themselves, provided them with a good home and every advantage.  But now the children have grown up and time has passed, and all the love and the good family memories have been forgotten. 


 The children only remember what their parents didn’t do!  “You didn’t go to all of my soccer games.”  “You never were a good cook.”  There is no respect or honor to the parents, only criticism and rejection.  And sadly the bonds between the parents and the children are hanging there torn and tattered.  It would have been so different if the children had remembered the good times and thanked the parents for their ongoing love.


Speaking words of thanks and love mean so much in our human families.  How many broken families would still be together if just a few words of thanks and appreciation – just a few words of respect had been spoken? 


And Scripture tells us that thanks and praise also mean everything in our heavenly family too.  All through the Bible God asks us for our thanks and praise and for our worship and our fellowship.  He reminds us of His love and faithfulness to us and He waits for us to respond with our love and faithfulness in return.  He expects it. The entire message of Psalm 100 is a request - plea for us to come and praise God.  Worship and bring our thanksgiving.  Love Him and enjoy His goodness.  Celebrate and shout for joy to the Lord.  Let’s do it!    






Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jesus Can Use Us Just as We Are.


 Thursday, November 1st was All Saints Day on the liturgical calendar. When many of us think of saints, we think of pictures or statues of people who are wearing a hallo. Often, we think of saints as persons who have been perfect in all their ways. Some believe that in order to be labeled a saint; you have to die and go through a long ecclesiastical rigmarole before you can be given the title of saint. This is different than the Protestant view which holds that if you truly believe that Jesus is God and you accept him as your Lord and Savior, you are automatically a saint.


Are saints perfect in every way?  Consider Mother Teresa, who many believe is a contemporary saint (the Catholic Church is in the process of officially proclaiming her a saint).  This godly, unselfish woman certainly lived up to the ideal of being nearly perfect.  However, even she expressed doubts about her faith and the existence of God. Her letters testify that she suffered through many “dark nights of the soul.”


Perhaps a way of testing these thoughts about godly perfection might be to look at Peter the Apostle, as he is written about in the last chapter (Chap.21) of the Gospel of John. Certainly, all Christian denominations accept Peter as a saint. You may recall the gospel scene: the resurrected Jesus has appeared to some of His followers three times so far, but the disciples are still confused about what all this means.  Shortly after having encountered the risen Lord, Peter decides to go fishing and six other disciples join him. This seems to be a rather odd response to godly encounters!  Maybe this is a “guy thing” kind of reaction to cosmic events that Peter and his friends don’t yet comprehend.


Anyway, they unsuccessfully fish all night on the lake.   Morning comes and they are tired and hungry and are approaching the shore, when a fellow on the beach calls out to them asking if they caught anything.  They say no, and he tells them to throw their net over the other side of the boat and they will have fish.  They do and they catch so many fish that the net is almost to the point of breaking.


At this point Simon Peter recognizes the person on the shore as Jesus.  He jumps into the chest deep water and runs to Jesus.  The others follow, pulling in the boat and the full fishing net. As they come ashore, they find the risen Christ standing beside a charcoal fire on which fish and bread are cooking. He then invites his friends to have breakfast.  Did you catch that?  What an extraordinary display of Godly banality!  Jesus Christ, having just conquered death and hell, cooks breakfast for His disciples! Obviously, here is a lesson about God’s very tangible love and concern for us.


After breakfast, Jesus engages Peter in an intriguing dialogue. Remember, that this is the same Simon Peter who, about a week earlier,  just after the arrest of the Lord, denied Jesus three times.


In the NIV Bible+ the dialogue goes as follows (John. 21:15-18):


Simon Peter … do you truly love me more than these?

Yes Lord, you know I love you.

Jesus said, Feed my lambs.

Again Jesus said, Simon, son of John, Do you love me?

He answered, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.

The third time, He said to him, Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Peter was hurt, because Jesus asked him a third time, do you love me?

He said, Lord you know all things, you know I love you.

Jesus said, Feed my sheep.


Unfortunately, some of the meaning of this is lost in translation.  The several Greek words for love are much more nuanced then the single English word for love. The first two times that Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, He says do you agapao [agape] me? Do you have unconditional, self-sacrificing love for me?  Three times, Peter replies, “Lord, you know I phileo you; you know I love you like a brother and have an emotional fondness for you.


The third time when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he says to Peter, do you phileo me?  Isn’t that interesting?  Jesus has gone from agape to phileo with Peter. I think Jesus realizes that – at this time - this is as far as Peter can go in his love relationship with Jesus.  Could it be that Jesus is willing to take us where we are and use us even if we don’t express the love and faith that we should.  Yes, Jesus does indeed take us where we are and by the work of His Spirit, if we are willing, grows us into sanctification and Christian maturity.  This is what being a saint is all about – participating in God’s process within us.


The third stanza of Charlotte Elliot’s wonderful old hymn, Just as I Am, expresses the feelings of many of us who are neophyte saints:

Just as I am, though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fighting’s and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Thank you Jesus for taking us as we are! May we be among your saints on the day that “The books will be opened” (Rev.20:12).  Meanwhile, let’s get on with the task of being God’s hands and feet as we minister to the others around us.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Jesus Heals A Demon Possessed Man

Jesus Heals a Demon Possessed Man
Mark 5:1-20
During His earthly ministry Jesus healed many people, demonstrating His power over disease and death.  Huge crowds followed Jesus everywhere He went, to listen to His teachings and to be healed by His touch.  There are many stories in Scripture of desperately sick people being instantly healed by Jesus!  Today let’s review one of these healing stories   – the dramatic story of Jesus casting demons out of a man. This story has a surprising ending.
Our story begins with Jesus and His disciples sailing across the Sea of Galilee to the area where the Gadarenes lived.  The Gadarenes were Gentiles with some Jewish people living among them and Jesus had wanted to visit them that day.
As soon as Jesus and his disciples landed and climbed out of the boat the Bible says that a demon possessed man started screaming wildly and rushing toward them.  The disciples must have been frightened since this crazed man was naked and dirty with bloody wounds all over his body.  Scripture says that he lived alone in the hills among the tombs and ran around cutting himself with sharp objects and shrieking and howling like an animal.   His family and friends had tried to bind him with chains, but each time he would break the chains with his super human strength.  
Here is how Scripture describes it:  “The man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet.  No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”  (Matthew 5:3-5)  I wonder if the Gadarene people who lived in the villages nearby were afraid that this tortured man with such physical strength might come into town and cause them harm.
This wild man had once been someone’s baby.  He had played at his mother’s knee and helped feed the pigs. We can only imagine how his parents must have felt, having to watch helplessly as their precious son over time slowly lost his mind. Once he had been their chatty child with bright laughing eyes.  But now his eyes were glazed over and his laughter had turned to howls and animal sounds.  So heartbreaking for the family to have to sit by and watch as their sweet little boy moved deeper into this terrible darkness.  A darkness that drove him to this lonely miserable life among the tombs.
As Jesus and his disciples got out of the boat the desperate man fell in front of Jesus and worshiped Him.  And he (or the demon inside him) begged Jesus not to torture him.  Jesus spoke to the demon inside of the man and commanded: “Come out of this man, you unclean spirit!”  ((Mark 5:8) And then Jesus asked: “What is your name?”  And the demons answered: “My name is Legion: for we are many.”  (Mark 5:9) 
There was a large herd of about 2,000 pigs feeding on the hill nearby and since the demons had been ordered to come out of the man, they asked Jesus if they could enter the pigs nearby.  Jesus said yes and gave the demons permission, so the evil spirits came out of the man and went into the pigs. This upset the pigs so much that they all rushed down the steep bank of the hill into the lake and drowned.  And the shocked people who were tending the pigs were very upset and ran off to report all that had happened to the nearby townspeople.(Mark 5:11-14)
The man who had been demon possessed was now completely healed and in his right mind, finally free from his torment.  Scripture says: “If the Son has made you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)  Jesus had truly set this enslaved man free from his demons and He can set us free from our demons too. The man washed and dressed and came and sat at Jesus’ feet worshipping Him and listening to His teachings.  
He begged Jesus to let him get in the boat and go back with Him and His disciples.  But Jesus lovingly told the man to go back home and tell his friends and relatives about the great things that He had done to heal him.  And that is what the man who had been possessed did.  We are not given salvation just for our own enjoyment but to also give testimony to others concerning the divine Deliverer, Jesus.
When the Gadarenes in the nearby villages heard the news that the demon possessed man had been healed and that they had lost a herd of pigs, they all ran down to the shore to see for themselves.  Here is how Scripture tells it.  “When they came to Jesus they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man – and told about the pigs as well.  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”  (Mark 5:15-17)
Did we read that right?  The relatives and neighbors of the demon possessed man asked Jesus to go away – leave them and get out!? These village folks had known the demon possessed man all of his life.  They had helped raise him as a child, watched him grow up and had been there when he had slowly deteriorated!  He had been one of their neighbors, one of their friends.  Some were related to him and were his family. Shouldn’t they be thrilled that one of their own had been healed and freed from all of his demons?  That he could come back and be part of their lives again?  Wouldn’t they be excited and invite Jesus to their village?  They would want to know more about this Jesus who had the power to heal people and cast out demons, wouldn’t they?  Maybe He could have healed more folk in their towns who were sick or lame or blind? Maybe He could have brought them closer to God?  Didn’t they want to find out? 
But no, the Scriptures say that the Gadarene villagers pleaded and begged Jesus - the source of potential blessing and salvation - to leave! They wanted Jesus out of their lives even after He had healed their loved one!  The Bible says that they were “afraid” of Him!  Were they afraid of Jesus because they had lost a herd of pigs?  In losing the herd of 2,000 pigs they must have been set back financially.  Could they have been afraid that if they invited Jesus to their homes – if they got to know Jesus – it might cost them even more money?  Were their finances more important to them than possibly healing their sick? If Jesus had healed more of their sick neighbors, they might have lost even more financially? Maybe they didn’t want to take that chance!  Maybe just play it safe!
Is there a cost in following Jesus?  Is there a price to pay- a chance to take- when we invite Him into our lives?  Do we ever do the same thing those villagers did and ask Jesus to leave?  Do we want to play it safe? Be conservative?  It seemed that Jesus valued the welfare of people over money.  Do we? When we follow Him sometimes He takes us places we would rather not go!  He may ask us to minister to people we would rather leave alone.  Do we miss out on being with Jesus because our pocketbook is more important to us than the welfare of the sick folk- the demon possessed- in our world?
Scripture says that indeed there is a cost and a price in following Jesus.  If we count the cost and refuse to pay the price, are we following from a distance?  Telling Him not to come too close?  Sending Him away? Are we willing not to count the cost- to take the chance –to go all out - to pay the price?  Are we willing to invite Jesus into our lives all the way and be followers no matter what it takes?