The Story of the Virgins
God's kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn't show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He's here! The bridegroom's here! Go out and greet him!'
The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.' They answered, ‘There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.' They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.
Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Master, we're here. Let us in.' He answered, ‘Do I know you? I don't think I know you.'
So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.
Matthew 24 and 25 have a lot to say about readiness, the rewards of being ready and the consequences of not being ready. All of this is centered around the Lord's return / kingdom. It's a good study to look at those two chapters together. Even though there are several stories contained inside the two chapters, they have something to say as a whole that you might not get just from the parts. I encourage you to look at them in that way sometime.
This week I had several encounters with people that made me think…. and hopefully think deeply. Some were with friends, others with people I know but don't see very often, and still others with family, both near and far. Does a week ever hit you like that? Lots of experiences to try to process into understanding. As I was thinking about one of these experiences, the Lord reminded me about the parable of the ten virgins.
There is a trend these days, especially where I am living, but I think in the US generally, of Christians leaving traditional church structures. Some are looking beyond Jesus for the truth, which is also known as falling away. Some are starting something else that is occupying there time, like a new job, business, or hobby. Some are starting a Starbucks church, which I understand to mean they are getting together with friends to visit over coffee, with some regularity, and considering that their obligatory observance of ritual. There are too many examples to give voice to each one, but you get the point. Folks are going in a lot of different directions, but most of it is away from church meetings.
I have heard a lot of comments from church leaders about these groups. Have you heard pastors or other leaders talking about the “Starbucks” group? All the comments I have heard from these is completely derogatory; how this is not right and how this is actually abandoning the true way. What I have not heard from these is a desire to actually understand what is going on with these people. No one (that I have heard) seems to care about the people involved more than they dislike the trend. This is a sad state, and I am certain that we are all worse off because of this. The scripture holds a certain stern rebuke for those who speak evil of the things they don't understand, and most of what I have heard from church leaders goes straight in this column.
In our times, we are in the midst of a big shift. Time is moving along, for some of us, at a rapid pace. How do we navigate the times, and keep ourselves moored to the truth in the midst of all this? That seems to be a unique strain, and something that is often approached as an either / or scenario. We either keep pace with the times, or we hold on to the truth. So many, today, are slipping away from truth in the process of navigating the times. Our goal must be to do both, and this has rarely been observable in Christianity that I know of. We are becoming a relic, a force known only from historical significance, or we are becoming so culturally relevant that we are indiscernible from the world around us – no distinction can be drawn.
Both of these are sad states, and we cannot settle for either.
My main point in setting out to write to you in this article was to speak about personal readiness, but it seems I have drifted away myself into talk of trends and the times. But these things do effect our readiness. I wanted to say something really convincing about how you are personally responsible before Jesus for which group of virgins you fall into, and how there is nothing on this earth worth losing your focus on His return. That is what these chapters are talking about. Our lives are to be focused on this return, and to the degree we lose sight of this, to that same degree we will suffer loss. Keep in mind also, that there is a ledge we can fall from that makes the consequence of indifference much higher.
Also, keep in mind, all the virgins fell asleep. This should help us from becoming proud of our own readiness. We need grace to be focused on the things that are important in an eternal sense, and all of us lose sight of things from time to time. Help us Lord.
I have heard this oil described as personal history in God, accompanied with the admonition to cultivate your personal history in God in the midst of your life, what you are going thru, and what the times are giving you to think about. This has helped me to understand and take this on board in a good way. We can all be present, having the same experiences, and having very different outcomes. This is one of the dangers of our current church meeting form. We think everyone is impacted in the same way, same takeaway, same resulting outcome, while many who have the experiences don't use them to cultivate their personal history in God. They are just swaying to the music. This can be true of any of us, and of me.
We will all answer on the individual level for our lives, with corresponding reward and consequence. This is real. Don't take comfort in your surroundings and the fact that you know people who really know God, if you are not using this fact as motivation to know Him yourself. Do not take comfort in this!
Our current systems infer a lot of false security, in the world, and in the church also. We take refuge in houses built of sand, and there is certainly a storm approaching. Don't be so foolish. The (supposed) order of our times will dissolve. All false security will be removed. Make no mistake about this.
While we are waiting for the bridegroom to be announced, let's cultivate our personal history in God, growing in our relationship with Him, seeking to understand things from His perspective. In the surrounding noise of religion and trinkets, don't get distracted or be led away from the One who is the Truth!