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Noah Built His Ark in the Sunshine
By JAMES W. MOORE
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2003 Dimensions for Living
All rights reserved.
Building the Ark of Spiritual Strength
There Are Some Things You Can't Borrow
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
Some years ago, a man came to my office. He was deeply troubled. It was obvious. You could see the pain in his face. He said, "I need to talk. O God, help me, I need to talk! I feel so empty, so dried up inside. I'm scared and lonely and frustrated." He paused for a brief moment, looked at the floor, and then he continued, "I have just come from my doctor's office. I drove straight here. I didn't know where else to go. The doctor told me that I have a terminal illness. I have six months, maybe a year, to live."
Then he added, "As the news sank in, I realized sadly that I have no spiritual resources, no spiritual strength to face this. I have nothing to fall back on, nothing to lean on." He said, "Some people think I'm wealthy, and materially, I am, but that doesn't matter now, does it? Really and truly," he said, "I'm poor in the things that count most. I see it now. All my life, I have put my faith in all the wrong things. The real truth is, I'm spiritually destitute."
He paused again, and then, as if he were thinking out loud, he pointed to the phone on my desk and said, "You know, I could pick up that phone and call any bank in this city and borrow any amount of money to do whatever I want. Just on my name, I could borrow ..." His voice trailed off. He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. Tears were streaming down his face. Then, very quietly, he whispered, "I guess there are some things you just can't borrow—and I don't have any of those things."
"Let's go to work on that now," I said to him. "Let's use the time you have left to work on your faith and your friendship with God."
We did that. We built an ark of spiritual strength for him, and thirteen months later he died, but he died with courage and dignity and confidence in God. At the beginning of that thirteen month faith pilgrimage, I shared with him the scripture for this chapter, the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25. He had a sharp mind, and he quickly realized that the parable was about preparing ahead of time for the troubles of life—building up spiritual resources in advance that will give you the strength you need when the crisis unexpectedly explodes into your personal world.
The setting of the parable is a wedding celebration. In biblical times, a wedding party was one of the greatest of all festivities in a village. Everybody turned out. Men got off work, women put aside their household chores, children were excused from their lessons, and all went to the wedding and remained for the celebration.
Now, the high point of the wedding day came when the groom took his new bride from her parents' house to their new home. Here's how it worked. After the ceremony, the bride and groom would enter the home of the bride's parents, perhaps to discuss the dowry. When all the business matters were settled, then the bride and groom would run out joyfully and head to their new home, and the celebration would begin. They would take the longest route possible through the village to make the wedding parade last as long as possible. Here's where the parable picks up.
The young bridesmaids are waiting for the groom to come out and bring his bride home. But there is an unexpected, long delay, and the girls fall asleep. But then at midnight, there is a shout. The girls wake up. It's the announcement that the big moment is near. "Get ready! Get ready! Won't be long now! The bride and groom will be coming out very shortly!"
However, in the story, some of the young women, who have been waiting all day for this crucial moment in the wedding celebration, now have a big problem. They had not anticipated the delay. They had not counted on a problem. They had not prepared in advance well enough. And now they have run short of oil for their lamps. Frantically, they try to borrow some oil, but they can't, so they rush off to get more oil in a different location, only to find on their return that they missed it! The big moment has passed. The celebration parade is over, the doors to the banquet hall have been shut, and they missed out because they were not adequately prepared!
The point is clear: When crisis comes, you'd better have prepared in advance, because there are some things you just can't borrow! When the crucial moments come, you have to take responsibility for your own life. You have to have your own resources. It's good to have borrowing power. It's good to have material wealth. It's good to have friends to lean on. But sometimes it boils down to you; you have to stand on your own two feet!
The businessman who came to my office that day had learned it the hard way. Jesus had taught it long ago: When crisis comes, there are some things you just can't borrow at the last minute. Here are three examples.
First of All, When Crisis Comes, You Cannot Borrow Somebody Else's Commitment to the Bible
Of course, you could borrow someone's copy of the Bible, but when trouble comes, you need your own Bible, your own biblical strength and knowledge, your own personal biblical inspiration. You need the Scriptures inside of you, written indelibly on your heart. You need your own Bible that you can read daily, marking passages that have special meaning for you, writing your own thoughts in the margin.
Just a few days ago, I went to a funeral. A dear friend of many years had died. In the memorial service, the minister conducting the service held up the Bible that had belonged to my friend. It was held together with silver duct tape! My friend had read that Bible so much, opened those pages so many times, studied those passages so fervently, that she had to use strong duct tape to hold her Bible together. Verse after verse, she had highlighted with a pink magic marker. And in the margins of her Bible next to the great promises of God recorded there—the great promises of God to always be with us come what may—my friend had written, "This I count on." And when this great crisis came that eventually ended her days on this earth, she was ready and faced it all with grace and confidence and courage, and with the strength that comes from spending a lifetime learning and loving the amazing truths of our Scripture.
Let me ask you something: How is it with you right now? Are you at home in the Scriptures? Are you on good terms with your Bible? Is it a trusted friend? Or is it a stranger? Well, let me tell you something. When crisis comes, you need a friend! In desperation, people have turned to the Bible for strength, for comfort, for reassurance, for the Word of Life; and sometimes, sadly, they come up empty, because they don't know how to find its treasures.
Edward Blair, in his book The Bible and You (Abingdon Press, 1953; page 52), points out that "the person who is looking for a way to master the Bible in three easy lessons will be disappointed___In the first place, one can never master the Bible; one can only be 'mastered' by it. In the second place, the Bible is so immeasurably rich that the human mind cannot possibly embrace it all in a few attempts___Familiarity with the Bible comes only by long exposure ... to its contents
coming to it with an open, alert mind;
respecting the individuality of the writers and the inspiration of God;
trying to understand what the words meant then and what they mean to us now;
reading in historical context;
and applying those truths to our own lives today."
When you see it like that, you realize that you could no more hastily borrow someone else's commitment to the Bible in a time of crisis than those young bridesmaids in Jesus' parable could hastily (at the last minute) borrow someone else's oil for their lamps.
There's an old story about a minister who is visiting one day in the home of some of his church members. They ask him a question about where something is located in the Scriptures. He asks if he can see their Bible so he can show them. The mother asks the little five-year-old daughter, Jennie, to "go into the den to the coffee table and bring back our favorite book, the one we love so much, the one we love most of all, the one we read all the time." Jennie runs out, and in a moment she comes back with the Sears catalogue!
Think about that: What is the "favorite" book in your home? What is the one you love most of all and read all the time? Be honest now. How long has it been? How long has it been since you spent some time with your Bible? That's number one: When crisis comes, you cannot borrow somebody else's commitment to the Bible.
Second, When Crisis Comes, You Cannot Borrow Somebody Else's Commitment to Prayer
Some months ago, just a couple of weeks before we left on our vacation, I began to have some pain in my lower back, and then the pain started running down the outside of my right leg. Macho-style, as men will do, I "toughed it out" for a while, but the condition became so painful that we had to come back from our vacation to see my doctor. He checked me over and took some X-rays, but they were not totally conclusive, so he sent me to a back specialist. I went to the back specialist knowing and dreading that he was going to say those three little initials I have come to dislike so much. Sure enough, he said them: "MRI."
Have you ever had an MRI, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging? They slide you into a tube and take magnetic pictures. The pictures are incredible, miraculous, wonderful, but the MRI experience is not wonderful for some people. Sixty-five percent of the population has no trouble at all, but about 35 percent of the people of the world have claustrophobia, and for those folks, MRIs are no fun at all. They are the pits! Unfortunately, not only am I in that 35 percent, I am near the top! I can get claustrophobic, big time!
Up to that point in my life, I had endured four MRIs. They all came when I was having my knee problems a few years ago, and after the last one, I said, "I will never do that again!" But then my new back doctor, who is a legend in his field, said, "Let's get you set up for an MRI. That will show conclusively what the problem is." I told my doctor about my last MRI experience, and he said, "Will you try it for me? If you can't do it, you will be in good company, but the pictures are so helpful. So would you try it for me? I'll give you some medication to relax you." I told him that I had tried that once before and it didn't help much, but, okay, for him I would try.
The next day, I showed up for my MRI filled with dread. My appointment was for 3:00 P.M. on that Saturday. My wife, June, and I got there at 2:30.1 filled out the necessary papers, and they took me in early. I quickly took the oral medication they gave to relax me, knowing it would not have time to work. But when I got into the MRI room and lay down on that little bed that slides you into the tube, I looked at my watch—it was ten minutes till three—and suddenly, I felt this incredible sense of peace. They slid me into the chamber. I closed my eyes, quoted Scripture, said prayers, and I felt so peaceful.
Twenty minutes later, they slid me out, and—I can't believe I'm saying this to you, but—I could have stayed in there another twenty minutes! I came out to the waiting room and told June that I made it just fine, and she said, "You won't believe what happened. Richard came by, and we had a prayer for you." Richard is a layman in our church who makes hospital calls for us on weekends. He had finished his calls at Methodist Hospital and was cutting through the ER waiting room to take a shortcut to another hospital, and he just happened to see June sitting there. He asked what was going on. She told him about my MRI. Quickly, he said, "Let's say a prayer. An MRI can be claustrophobic, and I know how that is." And standing there in the waiting room, Richard and June held hands and prayed for me. I said to June, "What time was that?" And June said, "It was at ten minutes 'til three"—the precise moment I had felt that amazing sense of peace! I know some will say, "Aw, it was the medication," but I believe with all my heart it was the power of prayer!
Now, let me hurry to say that my back is fine now. I do have a herniated disk, but it's minor, and I'm fixing it with exercise—and prayer. My options are surgery, rest, or exercise, so I'm exercising like crazy, and it's working.
You know, we all need that, don't we—the prayers of others, the prayers of those who love us. Having someone else pray for us is a beautiful thing, a powerful thing; but it's not enough. In addition, we need to have our own personal prayer life.
The best definition of prayer I know of is this: "Prayer is friendship with God." That means we don't have to change our tone of voice. We don't have to use pious words or sanctimonious phrases. We just talk to God like we are talking to our best friend—sharing with him our joys and sorrows, our victories and defeats, our concerns, our gratitude, and our fears.
That is real prayer—being with God and recognizing how important God is in our lives, spending time with him as a friend. That's prayer, and you can't borrow that.
Third and Finally, When Crisis Comes, You Cannot Borrow Somebody Else's Commitment to Christ
Recently, the Holocaust Museum in Houston had an elegant luncheon to present their "Guardian of the Human Spirit" awards. Awards were presented to the Houston Chronicle and to one of our church members, Jack Blanton. June and I get to go to a lot of nice events in Houston and in the state of Texas because of Jack, who is often and appropriately recognized and honored for his great leadership in our city and state.
Because Jack was one of the honorees, I was asked to come and be on the program. Jack always takes care of us and sees to it that we get to sit with his family. There were twelve people standing around our table, and we recognized everybody there except one couple. "Who is that man?" I asked somebody, and the answer came back, "That's Luci's husband." I wanted to say, "Luci who but thankfully, I didn't.
Later, as we were being seated, someone said, "Just sit anywhere you would like, but Luci's purse is in this chair, so we will let her sit here, and everybody else, just find a place." I wondered, Who in the world is Luci? Moments later, I found out. The event hosts recognized a long list of honored guests—someone from the governor's office, the mayor pro tern, senators and legislators, members of the city council, survivors of the Holocaust. And then finally, the master of ceremonies said, "And of course, we are delighted to have with us today Luci Baines Johnson"—daughter of the late U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson—and with that, the Luci at our table stood up! And I thought Oh, that Luci!
She was delightful! She asked about our church and told me that she had visited it several times for weddings, funerals, and once for Sunday worship, and she said, "It is always such an exciting experience to be in St. Luke's." I loved that!
I asked about her mother, the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Mrs. Johnson had had a stroke the previous spring, but Luci said that she was doing better. In those first days after the stroke, Mrs. Johnson could not communicate, but she later improved to the point that she could, with effort, communicate with her family. Luci said to me, "I want to tell you an amazing story." She said when her mother had her stroke, she sat beside her bed each day, held her hand, and said, "Mother, I'm going to pray the Lord's Prayer...." She prayed. No response from Mrs. Johnson.
Luci did that again every day for several days. Still no response. On the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday she did it again, and this time Mrs. Johnson tried to join in. She moved her lips but no words came out. On Sunday, Pentecost Sunday (the birthday of the church, the celebration of God's gift of the Holy Spirit), when Luci held her mother's hand and began to pray the Lord's Prayer, Luci said, "Our Father ..." and clear as a bell, Mrs. Johnson said, "Who art in heaven." Later that day, Luci told the doctor what had happened and asked, how was her mother able to do that? And the doctor replied, "Because she has been saying those words for eighty-four years!"
Excerpted from Noah Built His Ark in the Sunshine by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2003 Dimensions for Living. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Building the Ark of Spiritual Strength There Are Some Things You Can't Borrow,
2. Building the Ark of Compassion We Can't Be Too Caring, but We Can Be Too Careful,
3. Building the Ark of Peace Strong Faith for Tough Times,
4. Building the Ark of Christian Love Being More Than Conquerors,
5. Building the Ark of Strong Foundations Fixed Points in a Changing World,
6. Building the Ark of Churchmanship Why Go to Church?,
7. Building the Ark of Christian Witness "Who Will Be a Witness for My Lord?",
8. Building the Ark of Kairos Moments The Powerful Moments That Change Your Life Forever ...,
9. Building the Ark of Confidence Three Victories That Will Change Your Life,
10. Building the Ark of Trust in God "Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me All the Days of My Life",
11. Building the Ark of Christian Marriage The Four C's of a Great Marriage,
12. Building the Ark of Purpose What Are You Going to Do with the Rest of Your Life? ...,
13. Building the Ark of Freedom Why Do We Wait for Permission?,
14. Building the Ark of Perseverance Why Do People Drop Out?,
15. Building the Ark of Sacrificial Love Continuing the Ministry of Christ's Love,
Study Guide by John D. Schroeder,