What Being Prepared is All About

Writer Author  Jerry Lee Kay Sr.
Christian Article : Christian Living  - Fiction  No

Christian Author Writer Many times over the past fifty years I have been asked if there will be a rapture, and if so, when will it happen. My answers have always been and shall be the same today, why do you want to know? Or sometimes I say, don't worry about it. My letter today is pointed toward being ready, not so much for the rapture, but to do the will of God. Read it all the way through and apply it. I guarantee if you are washed in the Blood of the Lamb and walking in the Spirit you will be ready for the rapture or the catching away if you prefer.

What is one of the most foolish things you have ever done? Pay good money for a suit or dress that you never wore? Buy a car that turned out to be a lemon? Invest your savings based on good advice, but end up losing it all? Have an affair that you thought would be brief and secret, but turned out to bring havoc on everything? But who likes to be reminded of one's foolishness? What is one of the wisest things you have ever done? Saying "yes" to the one you married, or "no" to the one you almost married? Was it admitting that you were helpless over the power of alcohol and finally going to AA? Was it deciding to put away some savings out of every paycheck when you first started to earn a salary? Was it changing jobs, changing friends, changing lifestyles? Was it turning your life over to God?

It might be interesting to gather in clusters and share our stories of foolish things and wise things we have done. In this scripture, Jesus tells a story about 10 bridesmaids. Five were wise and five were foolish. In reading this parable, we are also reminded of the story in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus told about the wise person who built a house on a rock, a solid foundation, and a foolish person who built on sand. Of course, the house built on the sand fell to pieces when the rains came because the foundation was not right. The wise person, whose house did not fall, was like the person who hears the Word and does what it says. In this story the world seems to be made up of wise and foolish people.

In the story of the bridesmaids, the issue of wisdom and foolishness is preparedness ... Being ready. Maybe the founder of the scouting movement was familiar with this parable when it was decided that the scouts' motto would be "Be Prepared." There were five bridesmaids who took enough oil and were therefore ready when the bridegroom came. Five others were not prepared. They did not take enough oil for their lamps. So they missed out on that great opportunity when the critical moment arrived. Jesus is telling his disciples to be prepared. Don't be foolish. Be ready at all times. We ask, be ready for what? What does having oil in one's lamp mean?

The church has always looked upon this passage as a strong warning to be ready for the day of judgment, the return of Christ, the end of time, one's own death or whatever language we may use. Part of our gospel proclamation includes the message that Jesus "will come again to judge the living and the dead." The scriptures clearly teach that there will be a judgment day, a day of accounting. In spite of all the misuse of that teaching, we would do well to keep in mind that which we confess in the Apostles' Creed, "Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead."

It is important to be ready for that final hour whether it takes place when we die or when God chooses to appear in some dramatic form to execute judgment. I have to admit I don't understand very much about the end, or the rapture, or the apocalypse as it is called. In my lifetime I've encountered many bizarre attempts to interpret the end times. Few have been helpful to me. I have become weary of them. It is enough for me to know that God is in charge and that we are held accountable. Some day God will bring to completion what has been set toward a goal. Justice and righteousness will prevail in the end. But there will be a time when the door will be shut and it will be too late ... Too late to get ready. People of faith should never take lightly the place of judgment in their understanding of God.

We need not limit our readiness to the final hour, the last judgment. God comes into our lives in the present situation at special times, at special moments. Sometimes we encounter the bridegroom when we least expect it. We are encouraged to live so that whenever we experience that moment of opportunity - that moment of truth - that moment of encounter or challenge - we will be prepared. We will be ready. We need oil in our lamps, at all times, not just at the end of time.

Take an athletic team, for example. Very often there is the top prize for which they strive. The Super Bowl in football, the Stanley Cup in hockey, the World Series in baseball. There is a "final hour" that every team strives toward. But their readiness better not be limited to the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup finals or the World Series. The team needs to be ready for each week, each game, each encounter. You and I know what happens when a team looks beyond the next game to the big one and forgets to be ready for the present challenge.

The wise are those who are ready at all times for the moment when our lamps are needed - lamps with oil, lest we encounter an unexpected visitation, a moment of truth. Behold! The bridegroom cometh! Those moments may take us by surprise, and it's too late to run off to the store and get some oil.

The phone rings. It's the hospital. Your son/daughter has been in an accident and the future you had imagined for them is cut short. How can you face it? There's no time to run off and get some oil. No time to prepare. The bridegroom cometh! The pink slip arrives on your desk. You've just been notified that you've lost your job, suddenly, after 25 years. No warning. Someone watches as you clear your desk, and they usher you out to your car. You can't believe it. What will you tell your spouse, your children? You are crushed. It's too late to run off and get some oil. No time to prepare. The bridegroom cometh! One day you wake up with an ultimatum - either you get help for your drinking problem or your marriage is over. You never thought it would turn out this way. You were convinced you could handle your drinking habits. You love your spouse, your children. Tomorrow was always going to be different. But suddenly, the possibility of losing your spouse, your children, everything you've lived for is real, and it's too late to run off and get some oil. And no one else's oil can work in your lamp. No time to prepare. The bridegroom cometh!

As a teenager, friends are important to you, but all of a sudden the one you considered your best friend turns against you. That person you trusted tells lies about you. You are deeply hurt, tempted to really get even. You can't believe that your best friend would do that. Now what? It's too late to run off and get oil for your lamp. No time to prepare. The bridegroom cometh!

Moments come when the only thing we have to fall back on is who we are. If there is no oil in our lamps we are left out, nowhere to turn or we end up doing something very foolish.

The story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is a reminder to be prepared - be ready - for those surprise encounters that will happen, not just at the end, but throughout our lives. Are you ready? Do you have adequate oil in your lamp?

I'd like to suggest some types of encounters we need to be ready for, times when the bridegroom cometh. Such moments often come to us at unexpected times, sometimes in disguise or unannounced, sometimes as interruptions. We can't always predict when these special moments appear, so if we are not living in preparedness, we may find ourselves short of oil and miss the opportunity given to us. We may panic and then find the door is shut.

Sometimes temptation comes when you least expect it. You may be doing well. Things are going great. Suddenly and without warning you are face-to-face with temptation. It is powerful. Blinding. Subtle. Seductive. Sometimes it comes most strongly right after you have experienced a special blessing, a mountaintop experience. The temptor makes it sound so reasonable and so good that it doesn't seem like a temptation.

Unless there has been some readiness, some preparation that has taken place, you may well be swept off your feet. By the time you wake up and realize what has happened, the door may be shut.

We all face the temptation to allow good things to rob us of the best. A parent may find advantages in working extra hours, but in so doing neglects time with the children. Later we wake up and wonder how we let it happen. It is subtle and can only be clearly recognized after we've gone through it. Sex is very beautiful, and at the same time, a very powerful force in every human being. We may think we have it under control, but suddenly it surfaces and the temptation is strong to express oneself in a selfish, exploitive, destructive manner. In a very quick moment, the beautiful becomes ugly because we weren't ready for such an encounter.

Greed is often masked as progress, growth or good business sense. We may be riding the wave of success - reaping the rewards of hard work when suddenly and subtly, prosperity turns into greed, wanting more than we need, more than our share, what belongs to someone else. Greed is a powerful temptation that uses many popular and acceptable masks. It is blinding and seductive, especially when we allow the system to be greedy for us.

Only those who are living in a state of alert preparedness are able to withstand the strong pull of evil that lurks close beside us throughout our lives. Be ready, make sure you have enough oil in your lamps for that moment of temptation. Behold the bridegroom cometh.

Another type of encounter that we need to be ready for is the leadership of true and false prophets. The Bible is constantly talking about false prophets and people with itching ears. Most of us have had people knock on our doors, eager to teach us the truth, ready and trained to lead us with the right questions and pointing to certain Bible verses. As they talk, we may feel cheated by our tradition, our church, for not making it clear to us. Some people are swept off their feet by sincerity, personal attention, knowledge of parts of the Bible and current events. Who do you believe? Who are the true, who are the false teachers, prophets?

Whenever there is a global crisis, especially those that call our attention to the Middle East, we encounter new voices of prophecy ... people predicting the battle of Armageddon and the period of tribulation. For them it seems so obvious that the Bible is coming true in the drama of current events. "Lo here, Lo there," they say. This one or that one is the antichrist. Drop what you're doing and get ready for the rapture. Book sales on prophecy go sky high during such times. Who do you believe? How can you tell the false prophets from the true prophets?

A Martin Luther King Jr. comes along and challenges the church, the nation, with a wake-up call. None of us are free until all of us are free. "I have a dream," he says. "I say to you my friends that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal." King's speech from the steps of the capitol in Washington, D.C. will always be remembered. It was a new voice, a passionate voice. He went to jail for preaching his message of love and equality. Finally, we killed him. Many in the church wondered about this black man who caused such a stir. One pastor, took his young people to hear him speak to 15,000 youth in Miami Beach. Some parents got angry and told him to cancel the trip because they were told King was a communist.

Whom do you believe? There are prophets. Some have a message we need to hear and act upon. Some are false prophets. How can you tell the true from the false prophets? There is need to be ready because they appear in unexpected places at moments we have not anticipated. They are not on our agenda. Unless we are living a life of preparedness, we may be led astray or fail to listen to a word that God has for us. Behold the bridegroom cometh.

Another type of blessing or visitation that we may miss if we are not prepared is the presence of Jesus in the lives of those who suffer from hunger, oppression and various forms of injustice. Jesus said, "I was hungry and you fed me ... in that you did it to the least of these, you did it to me." Some were surprised because they didn't expect to meet Jesus in their encounter with the forgotten ones. In Proverbs we read that to lend to the poor is to lend to the Lord.

God comes to us in different ways. Sometimes in the proclaimed word or the sacraments. God comes through the Bible's message, the scriptures. We encounter God in the voices of nature "when through the woods and forest glades we wander." God also comes to us in the lives of broken people. That person in need has the face of Jesus to the one who is following Christ. We may miss that connection unless we are living in the state of preparedness.

Before going on a trip to Central America to teach, my missionary friend told me to be ready to encounter Jesus in the lives of the people we would meet. He was right. We did meet Jesus in those people. Not because they were living closer to God than we were, but somehow God has chosen to come to us in the lives of those who are deprived of life's basic necessities. On that trip I learned the truth of Jesus' words, "I was hungry and you fed me."
Once there was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it would be a long trip to where God lived, so he packed a suitcase full of Twinkies and cans of root beer (his two favorite foods) and set off on his journey. He had only gone a few blocks when he passed an older woman, sitting on a park bench and just staring at some pigeons. She looked sad and lonely, so the boy went over and sat down next to her. He opened his suitcase, took out a package of the Twinkies and offered it to her. She gratefully took it and smiled at him. Her smile was so warm and wonderful that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a can of his root beer. Once again, she took it and smiled at him. The boy was delighted. They sat there all afternoon, eating the Twinkies, drinking the root beers and watching the pigeons, without saying a word to each other. As it grew dark, the boy realized that he had better get started home and got up to leave. But before he had just a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the older woman and gave her a big hug. She gave him the biggest smile of all. When the boy got home, his mother noticed how happy he seemed. So she asked him what he had done all day. He told her: "I had lunch with God. And you know what? She has the most beautiful smile that I've ever seen."
Meanwhile, the older woman had returned to her home. Her son also noticed how happy and contented she seemed so he asked her what she had done that had made her so happy. She said to him: "I sat in the park and ate Twinkies with God. You know, he's much younger than I expected."

We come to worship in our church buildings. We make regular visits to the house of the Lord. There we hope to encounter a living God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. We come saying, "We would see Jesus." Perhaps we should also make regular visits to be with the nobodies of society, the forgotten ones. There, too, we would meet the presence of God who has come to us in Jesus Christ. We miss that opportunity unless there is ample oil in our lamps. Behold the bridegroom cometh.

This letter has been about being ready - living in preparedness - so that when moments of encounter happen, when we are visited by God, we might not miss the opportunity it provides for us to enter the banquet feast. The question this text leaves us with or leads us to is this: What does it mean to be ready? What is this oil needed for our lamps? How do we prepare for the moment, those moments, when the bridegroom comes? The answer to that is made more clear to us when we link this story with the other story Jesus told about wise and foolish people ... the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post. There Jesus said the wise person is the one who hears my Word and does it. The foolish person, Jesus said, is the one who hears my Words, but does not act on them.

The oil we need is the presence of God manifested and experienced when we are obedient to God's call to love our neighbor, to follow the teachings of Jesus, to trust in the promise. Being ready - preparedness - happens when day-by-day, week-by-week as we hear God's Word and are receptive to God's presence. Our oil is renewed when we are actually doing what God tells us to do. In other words, as we follow Jesus in our daily lives, we are storing up on oil. This following embraces our economics, our politics, our social lives, and our religious lives. It is in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God that we discover and renew oil in our lamps.

In living a disciplined life of discipleship, we are preparing and being ready for those moments when suddenly we are called upon:

- to say no to temptation,

- to decide who speaks the truth,

- to recognize the presence of Jesus.

At those moments we are called upon to light our lamps and enter through the door that leads to the experience of celebration and joy. "Behold the bridegroom cometh." It can happen at any moment and it will happen at the end of our lives. Following Jesus is building your life on a very sure foundation. It is a very wise thing to do. The decision is yours. Amen.

? Jerry Lee Kay sr. ? ??

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