Red Letters: Did Jesus Really Say That?

In the past several years there has been a growing movement of Christians who take on social matters with a Biblical lens. Pushing back against a trend among believers to avoid matters of politics and social justice, Christ followers began to look with a renewed lens. They have come to be known by many as “Red Letter Christians,” followers of Christ who form their responses according to the words of Christ – the letters found in red in many Bibles.

This is not a new approach, of course. But, with ever-changing social issues and cultural complexities, it is good to return to the One who stepped into our world from a heavenly home. Talk about a culture shock. We know that Jesus did not distance himself from the problems of the day, nor did he take a “no comment” approach. Jesus spent time with those who were sick and culturally outcast, he overturned tables within religious institutions, and he addressed the matter of taxation (several times).

Noting my own growing interest in cultural matters as well as the failure of many church bodies to address them, I would like to devote one post each week to the red letters. I picked up in my reading with the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). This parable falls in the middle of a lengthy discourse recorded by Matthew. It falls soon before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and much of the discourse is identified as pointing to the end times.

In this parable, Jesus notes that ten virgins waited for the bridegroom. This reference points toward the coming of Christ. As we understand it, we see it as the return of Christ. Five of the virgins were prepared with enough oil for their lamps, but the other five were not. There were no street lamps, no flashlights and no cell phones to light the way. If you had enough oil, you could keep your lamp burning through the night.

All of them fell asleep while waiting. All of them heard the call at midnight that the bridegroom had arrived. Only five of them were ready. Those who were unprepared asked for oil from those who were ready. The response to their request was “No.”

In the study Bible where I read this parable, I find this note: “When Christ returns, preparedness cannot be shared or transferred.” I cannot find any room to argue that. What my father and mother believe cannot speak for me on that day. What my pastor or neighbor believes cannot be my ticket. Nor will my faith speak for my children. There are no coattails on the path to eternity. While most may accept the position that each person will account for their own actions, I find another note more unsettling.

The analogy of oil for lamps as used by Jesus comes with another note in the study Bible: “Torches required large amounts of oil in order to keep burning, and the oil had to be replenished about every 15 minutes.” That’s a lot of preparation! In that regard, I would have to admit to falling asleep and being unprepared in this sense: I do not do a faith check that often.

I do not believe in salvation by works; we can read that we are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But we can also read that our faith, without action, is dead (James 2:17). So what does that mean for us? How can we be prepared?

I believe that a verse in I Peter 4 points us in the direction of our answer: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – ” (verse 3a). We cannot sleep on our faith. We cannot become complacent and carry on in our old ways. We cannot subscribe to “cheap grace” by sitting in our sin.

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. ~ Proverbs 28:13

He who does not come prepared for the bridegroom will find the door shut. We don’t like to think about that. We like our loving Jesus, our loving God. But we cannot miss the fact that we serve a just God and a living Jesus. We do not know when Christ returns, but we do know we must be ready.

The enemy whispers the same version of the same lie over and over again: “Did God really say…?” In order to know how to combat the lie, we should make sure that we know what God really says.

I was thinking about the note on the 15 minutes. I quickly wanted to brush off what I was thinking: “No one should have to do a ‘faith check,’ a ‘readiness check’ every 15 minutes. That’s silly.” Then I thought about this: if my child was ill and needed a dose of medicine every 15 minutes in order to live, would I ever miss one?

We must be aware. We have spent “enough time” in our life doing as we pleased. We must make sure that we now spend time doing as we’re commanded. Be ready.

 

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Honduras, Day 2

Perhaps it is true that we can hear God most clearly when he doesn’t speak our language. If God does not speak our language, we cannot argue. We cannot analyze. We can only listen. For even when God does not speak our tongue’s language, he can, and will, speak our heart language.
At breakfast this morning, one of our trip leaders shared with me this quote, a favorite of hers: “Every man has a pull to the earth, but it is not always for where they are.” I thanked her for sharing that because it fit perfectly for me today.
In music, you can sing the same song as someone but choose different notes. That is called harmony, and that is one aspect of our life here on Earth – to live in harmony. So, even though my heart may beat to a different note than yours, we can sing the same life song and live in harmony. We can do the same with God. Where you are right now may be a place of harmony – you and God singing the same song, but with different notes.
But there is another way to sing, and that is in unison. Unison is when you sing the same song as someone and sing the same notes. Brothers and sisters, we have been called to live in unison with God. So how do we do that? We must follow our heart language and find the place where God’s heartbeat matches our unique heartbeat. Our heart breaks uniquely and our heart beats uniquely, and we live in search of that place where our beat matches our Heavenly Father’s.
I am certain that that has happened for Austin, the Virginia native who once sold all of his belongings so that he could come and live with the children of an orphanage in Honduras. He heard God’s heartbeat here and he recognized it, for it was the same as his own. So he gave up all that he had, came back for the love of the children, and stayed for the love of Honduras (and a Honduran). Tomorrow, Lord willing, he will wake up early on his birthday to help lead us through our day, and will end the day by having our group to his house – so that he can serve us. Would that happen for him had he stayed in Virginia? Likely not, but here his heart beats in unison with God’s and he loves that.
I am certain this has happened for Emily, a graduate from the school where my sons attend, and her husband David (pronounced here as Dah-VEED). Last week their car broke down, but it could not be fixed because of the celebration of Holy Week. Then they could not find the keys to their car. So they made plans for today to use the car of David’s father, but last night the battery of the car was stolen. Yet somehow they found a way to meet us with smiles at the school they began four years ago. When you hear their words, you hear their heart, and you know it is beating in unison with God’s.
David shared that, a while back, he heard the incredible and heart-wrenching story of a man named Javier who had been abandoned to the streets as a young boy. After hearing the horrific details of this man’s life, David asked him why he shared that. “Because I don’t want that to happen to my two sons,” Javier replied. Javier’s two sons are attending Jubilee, the school David and Emily started, and we met those two boys today. David and Emily Romero live in unison with God.
Tonight we had the privilege of joining the Romeros for a small group that meets in the home of a family in the school’s community. We sang songs together, both in English and Spanish. Then we sang them at the same time. If you ever wish to start hearing God’s heartbeat more clearly, sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” at the same time someone else sings “Santo, Santo, Santo.” That is unison.
Emily and David have dreams. They have been able to purchase land to use for their own buildings. They desire to start a church and have begun to raise up leaders in the community who can step in when the time is right. How can they do all of this in the community, and raise their own children? Because they know the next beat. Whether or not they can see it, they know the heart of God and what is coming next. They walk in faith because they walk in unison.
God is always working, but we are often so busy talking that we do not hear him. Gideon asked that question that we often ask: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Judges 6:13a. Gideon did not see it yet, but God was preparing to move him. He was too busy looking at what was around him to see what was coming.
What I find interesting is to discover Gideon’s activity when an angel of the Lord appeared. He was threshing wheat in secret so that he could keep it from the enemy. In other words, Gideon was protecting what belonged to God’s people. His heart was beating in harmony with God’s, but God wanted unison. Gideon was called not only to protect what belonged to God’s people, but to protect God’s people. However, Gideon did not see that vision until he sacrificed something. Gideon prepared a meal for the angel, still not fully recognizing this visitor. When the meal was completely consumed by fire, Gideon was immediately aware of his company. We must sacrifice in order to see.
You have likely heard God’s heartbeat. It’s pretty hard to miss. Maybe you even began to sing in harmony. But to move to unison, you have to sacrifice your own notes. Gideon gave a meal. Austin sold all he had. Emily gave up apparent comforts and any hint of her own agenda. David gave and gives his all. So what about you? Are you willing to sacrifice so that you can move from harmony to unity?
When the angel touched Gideon’s meal with the tip of his staff, it was completely consumed. Why? Because that which we are prompted to give to God is meant to be used by no one else. God uses it all for his purpose.
Whether or not you can see it, God is working. It might not be meant for you to see yet because you are too far away. You might be listening with your ears instead of your heart. You might have missed that God is speaking another language, the language of the heart. Listen so that your heart can sing in unison with God’s.
How?
I’m glad you asked.
1) Change your routine and your location. When we stay in the same place, we hear what we are expecting to hear. When we are somewhere new, we must listen for what is really there.
2) Sacrifice. To determine our readiness, God needs to know what we are willing to give up. Gideon gave a meal to an angel and was called to lead God’s battle for his people. God wants to see that you are ready.
3) Look up. Today as we were about to enter the Jubilee school, I noticed the cloud in the picture. At first it looked like a heart. I had a difficult time seeing to take the picture because of the sun. After the second attempt, I looked at it again. It looked not like a heart, but very much like an angel. Again I was reminded: God is working when we do not see. The other pictures are as follows:
Top) David and Emily pointing out the community surrounding their school.
Middle) Proverbs 22:6 on the back of a student’s shirt
Bottom) Austin sharing his heart with us while standing beneath the large statue of Jesus.
Changing where we look allows us to see glimpses of what God is doing. So as you look, listen, and sacrifice, you can expect to find your song moving from harmony to one of unity.

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