Dear Family and Friends, below is an exhortation that God stirred up in our hearts after the 35W bridge collapse. God continues to use this word to challenge and prune our hearts. We desire to share it with you to spur you on in living wholly for Jesus and in standing faithfully with Him, no matter the circumstances. Feel free to post your comments regarding how the Lord is stirring you.
Since the collapse of the 35W Bridge, God has really been stirring the stories of Noah and the ark, from Genesis 6-7, and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, from Matthew 25, in my heart. As you continue reading this challenging word, please know that it has already pierced our own hearts, and that we share it with you out of love so that you also might be spurred on towards Jesus.
It is interesting to note that this bridge was one of the most crucial, central arteries of our city. Its collapse has interrupted and will affect all the systems of our society: our travel and connectedness, our commerce and finances, our communication and government. I believe the bridge collapse is a prophetic picture and a warning, especially to the Church, that the societal structures of this world that we have become so accustomed to and are so dependent on, whose presence and stability we take for granted, are not secure. Even today, August 21, 2007, as I sat down to revise this article, I learned the news of the flooding in Winona that has destroyed many homes and properties. One house literally broke loose from its foundation and was carried away by the current while the terrified homeowners rode on the roof. One homeowner stated: “This house is 150 years old…I thought we would be safe here” (Star Tribune, 8/20/07). In the day of trouble, the only thing that cannot be shaken, the only thing that will stand is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we have too many distractions and idolatries built into our lives that are mere wood, hay, sand, and straw (I Corinthians 3:10-15, Matthew 7:24-27). We can no longer afford to be misdirected and to live comfortable, compromised lives of adultery with the world. If we continue in this pattern, we will be caught off guard like the foolish virgins who were shut out of the wedding feast and like the rest of the world that was shut out of the ark and destroyed. Like Noah and the wise virgins, we can only afford to fix our eyes on Jesus, to store up a personal knowledge of Him in our hearts, to build Him and Him alone into our lives.
In Matthew 25, when the call rang out that the Bridegroom was coming, the prudent virgins “got up and put their own lamps in order” (verse 7). They had brought with them a reserve of oil to sustain them as they waited for the Bridegroom, so that they would be immediately ready to get up and follow him into the marriage feast. Behind them, the door was shut. Meanwhile, the foolish virgins failed to bring a reserve of oil, so their lamps went out even before the Bridegroom’s arrival. This forced them to abandon their watch and rush to buy more from the city dealers. Because of this, they missed the Bridegroom’s arrival and the procession into the wedding feast. They had to approach the shut door and plead, “Lord, Lord open [the door] to us!” (verse 11). The Lord’s reply to them is most somber: “I solemnly declare to you, I do not know you [I am not acquainted with you]” (verse 12).
It is interesting to note that the Bridegroom’s response to the foolish virgins was a comment on the state of His relationship with them. It also seems to be the condition upon which they would either be granted entrance to the wedding feast or not. It is also interesting to note that the wise virgins told the foolish virgins that they were unable to share their oil with them. All of this points to the fact that, among other things, the oil represents our personal relationship with Jesus. It is something that is ours alone, that only we can cultivate, that only we can put into order in our own hearts. It is not something that can be quickly acquired from one person to the next, or that can be quickly picked up at a convenience store. Our relationship with Jesus is something that can only be built intentionally and diligently into our hearts over a lifetime so that it is there to draw upon in our hour of need.
The Bible tells us that the day of Jesus’ return will be unexpected (Luke 12:35-48) and that it will be like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37). At the time, the general condition of the heart of mankind was corrupt and filled with violence. Genesis 6:5 describes “…that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In stark contrast to this, Noah is described as a man who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord…a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (6:8-9). Therefore, God instructs Noah, “Make for yourself an ark…” (6:14a) and gave him very specific instructions for building it, saying “…this is how you shall make it…” (6:15a). Then roughly one-hundred years later, on the basis of Noah’s right standing with Him, the Lord invites Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone have I seen to be righteous before Me in this time” (7:1). Finally, after all the preparations had been made and all of Noah’s family plus the animals had entered the ark, God Himself shuts the door behind them (7:16b).
Just like in the days of Noah, our world is literally becoming more evil and corrupt. Following Jesus will cause us to move and live in opposition to the general population around us. Instead of living self-centered lives, pursuing the earthly pleasures and comforts the majority chase after, like Noah, we will steadfastly walk the narrow path with Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14, seeking to perfect holiness out of reverence for Him (II Corinthians 7:1). Although this requires tremendous sacrifice, we cannot afford to live in any other way; we will not be able to survive in any other way.
God is stirring such urgency in my heart that we must prepare for Him – NOW! My sense is that the time for us to have been preparing is past due. We must prepare NOW – before He comes! When labor has begun and the baby is descending, it is too late to prepare; you are either ready or you are not. When the bridge beneath you begins to give way, it is too late to do anything. Likewise, when the trumpet sounds out that the Bridegroom is on His way, it will be too late to prepare. You will either have what you need to sustain you built up within your heart or not.
Church – Are you READY!?
Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul – Are you READY!?
In the day of disaster, are you ready to be My Bride!?
Is the foundation of your life truly built upon the ROCK of Jesus!?
The time to prepare is BEFOREHAND – NOW! Like the wise virgins, we need to be storing up the oil of the personal knowledge of Jesus in our hearts. In John 17:3, Jesus declares, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Like Noah, God has given each of us an ark to build into our hearts, the ark of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Just as the wise virgins could only store up oil for themselves and put their own lamp in order, the ark is something we must build up for ourselves and for our households. In His Word, God has given us prescribed instructions for doing so. We cannot afford to neglect the Bible’s instructions, to procrastinate in carrying them out, or even worse yet, to be preoccupied with other work. Every day, we must intentionally build Christ into our hearts. If we fail to do so, our understanding will become clouded and foolish, and in the hour when we will most desperately need Him, we will fail to be dressed and ready, with burning lamps lit to greet Him (Luke 12:35). We just might find ourselves closed out of the ark with water swirling around our feet, or shut out of the wedding feast separated from the Bridegroom within, dumfounded that we could have missed it and terrified at the implications.
Proverbs 20:27 says, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being.” Through the lessons of these stories, I believe God is exhorting those of us who claim to know Him to carefully examine our own hearts before Him. I believe that He is presenting a few key questions before each one of us today. The first question to contemplate is this:
What are you building into your life?
God has really been challenging me that all I need, all my children need, all my family needs is literally Him and His Word alone. I do not need a bookshelf of Christian resources on becoming a godly wife, on Christian parenting, or on how to know Jesus better. I ONLY need Jesus – His Word and His Spirit to guide me. My children do not need to have a well-rounded upbringing, containing the perfect balance of educational subjects, physical activity and artistic inspiration. They main thing they need – the only thing they really need – is Jesus!
Please do not misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with learning to read and count, enjoying taking piano lessons, or participating in a sports team. Certainly God does want us to train our children in practical areas according to the unique bent He has given them; however, all of these secondary pursuits must be kept in sharp focus in the light of our ultimate need to know Jesus. In a different day and age, there may have been time for other pursuits, but this is a different generation; the end is closer to us now than ever before. What sustained my parents in the Lord, and what currently sustains me and my husband in the Lord, will not be sufficient to sustain our children through the increasing troubles of these last days. In order for them to survive, and more than that, to be overcomers, they will need even MORE of Jesus. This will require radical pruning and intentional focusing of our lives onto Jesus and Jesus alone. Oh Lord Jesus, how we need Your wisdom!
So, let us ask ourselves this question: On our coffee tables, do our family members or friends see our Bibles sandwiched in piles of other interesting books, newspapers, magazines, or movies of which we enjoy a steady diet? Do we seize our time to pour Jesus into the hearts of our children, or after reading them a five minute Bible story in the evening, do we release them to engage the remainder of their time with whatever their current fascination may be? (Whether a favorite toy, T.V. show, web-site, band, game, etc…you fill in the blank.) Have we truly relinquished every part of our lives to God, or do we constrain our involvement with Him to just one compartment of our lives? You and I cannot afford to do so. We do not have time to do so.
Like Noah, if we are going to survive the coming days, we have an ark to build – an ark of the real, personal knowledge of Jesus built into our hearts. This requires a life-time to truly cultivate. We can no longer withhold or redirect parts of our lives from Him, but we must intentionally build Jesus into every aspect of our lives, every chamber of our hearts. This demands the intentional focus of each of our days and the devotion of the best of our time and energy. We must press into Jesus NOW so that we will be ready THEN. This is a radical choice, which might incur the scorn of those around you who don’t understand and are choosing to pursue other pleasures. But it is also an essential choice. In these last days, the only thing we can afford to build into our hearts, and into the hearts of our loved-ones, is Jesus!
Because suddenly, in these days of increasing birth pangs (Romans 8:20-22), one day will be the day your car is plummeting off of the 35W bridge, or the day you are standing in a collapsing New York skyscraper, or the day your home is destroyed by a tornado, flood, or tsunami – or yet even more profound – the day Christ returns to gather His faithful remnant. And then it will be too late to do anything (Matthew 24:17-18). It will be too late to run home to pick up survival supplies or to run to the store to pick up your “survival dose” of Jesus. Like the virgins, you will either have stored Him up in advance into your heart, and into the heart of your household, or not. You will either already have within you the rock you need to survive – Jesus! – or you will literally watch everything else you thought was stable and secure in your life crumble from beneath your feet.
A second key question I believe the Lord Himself would pose to you is this:
Do you really know Me?
In America, all of us can say that we live in a “Christian” nation. Beyond this, many of us can also claim that we have grown up in a Christian church, live in a Christian home, circulate among Christian circles, attend Christian events, or even give to Christian charities. But do you know Jesus – for yourself, really, truly? Below the surface activity of your life, and the base of religious knowledge in your mind, do you have Jesus in your heart, undergirding and sustaining all that you do? Are you pressing on to know Him more than any other pursuit? Because this is the one thing, the only thing that is needed (Luke 10:41-42). This is the ONE thing, the ONLY thing that will save and sustain you: Jesus Christ, real, true and personal, welcomed into your heart and known by you as your Lord and Savior with absolute certainty (Romans 10:8-13).
Finally, perhaps the most critical question the Lord would present to you today is:
Would I say that I know you?
This is the bottom line. No matter what we claim, no matter what we believe to be true about that state of our relationship with Him, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will have the final say. You might think you know Him, but would He say that He knows you!? You might think that you are acquainted with Jesus, but would He say that He is acquainted with you (Matthew 25:12)? If you were one of the virgins knocking on the door, waiting for the Bridegroom’s response, would his heart warm with familiar delight at the sight of your face, or would he search your features, straining for recognition? Do you visit Jesus like you would eagerly frequent the home of a familiar friend, or are your times with Him more like an occasional, obligated visit to a distant relative? James 4:8 encourages us that if we would only draw near to God, He is ready and waiting to draw near to us. Revelations 3:20 assures us that Jesus is standing at the door of our hearts. He is knocking and saying, “…if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Song of Songs 2:4 assures us: “He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.”
Dear friends, in this desperate hour, Jesus is beckoning us into deeper fellowship with Him. He has placed a door of invitation before us, but it is the door of our hearts that we must open to Him. So let us press on to truly, personally, solely know Jesus while we yet have time on this earth. Because just as God closed the door to the ark and the door to the wedding feast, one day Jesus Himself will return and the ultimate door will close. On that day will your heart be ready to follow Him?
Lord Jesus, may we have burning lamps, watching hearts, and ready feet to follow You!
In Your Name, and to Your Glory, Amen.