Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Death by Association

~Tracy Frederick

She grew angrier and angrier at each passing moment. She had a look of panic and fear in her eyes as her voice became louder and louder. She believed the church disregarded her family; especially her daughter’s Bible class teacher. Her husband stood silently outside the room while she, an elder and her daughter’s Bible class teacher listened to her concerns. She and her family were rarely at worship assemblies and her children seldom came to Bible class. However, she was angry because she felt her children were neglected. She was angry because she believed that others---new converts or new members-- were treated better than her family and the church was the reason her family was struggling. It was a very painful and difficult day, and one on which I have reflected many times over the years. However, there was a statement she made that has always stayed with me. She said: “I am a five generation church of Christ!”

Her statement came back to me in full force during one of our recent Wednesday night Bible classes. One of our deacons led an in depth study of the ten foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13).  Most people are familiar with the story, and most of those who teach it focus on “being prepared.” That is, we must make sure we have enough “oil” and are ever watchful and prepared for our bridegroom to return. This most certainly is the overall teaching of this parable. But, we dug a little deeper to consider all of the subtleties of the teaching.  This teacher asked a simple, but very important question that I had never considered: “why did the virgins who had plenty of oil not share?” He put the question into context that we are all taught that sharing is what we should do, it is godly. God’s Old Testament law had commands to share (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:12-15), the New Testament teachings tells us to share and be hospitable to others (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2). It is even a qualification/commandment for elders (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). So, why didn’t these virgins share? The answer, of course, is given in the text: “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves’” (v. 9).  The teacher asked us to consider those that were prepared- worked for the Lord and had saved up oil for the long wait- while when the five unprepared virgins tried to rely on others to cover up their mistakes….they were counting on their association with the five wise virgins to save them.

I was visiting with an older sweet sister who lost her husband some time ago. We began discussing the Bible, of course, and she looked at me with sad eyes and said, “I don’t know the Bible like I thought I did. I didn’t realize it, but when I was raising my children, I didn’t take the time to read and study like I should. I didn’t realize how I relied on my husband so much for what I needed to know in the Bible.” She realized, not too late, that she leaned too heavily on her marriage association for her knowledge of God.

In each of these situations: the angry mother, the five foolish/ill-prepared virgins, and the sweet dear widow, relied on associations to cover their faults. Some of us may be the same way. How often do we hear people proudly proclaim associations with religious facebook friends, godly fathers, mothers, elders, great preachers, or prolific gospel writers? These friendships, or associations, can be wonderful. Associations with great men and women of God is an encouragement and helpful when  struggling with temptations and asking for advice when difficulties arise in our lives. But, the fact of the matter is, they are human and no matter how blessed we are to be associated with great people of God, they don't have all of the answers and their words won’t get us into heaven.

I have wonderd if perhaps we perceive of our Lord in the same way our modern culture thinks of a famous singer, actor, or rock star. I mean you can become a "fan" of God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. on Facebook, right? Perhaps we think that our associations with someone who seems important in the church will get us a "backstage pass” if Jesus recognizes our association.  Consider what our Lord said in Matthew 7:21 :“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven.” When I consider this verse I get a mental picture:  I think of our Lord passing by a huge crowd of people who are facing eternal punishment. In my scenario this crowd is not unlike what you see outside a concert hall waiting to get a glimpse of a famous singer, or people lining up along the “red carpet” at the Oscars, Emmys, or some such entertainment event. The “doomed” crowd pushes against one another trying to catch His attention after he has pronounced judgment…trying to get a look…a nod…a smile….something that says everything is really ok, the judgment is not real, if they can just get Him to acknowledge them it will all be ok. People cry out: LORD! LORD!...maybe even waving their hands...Perhaps they yell out: “Have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?” (v.22). Perhaps they cry out: Don't you know me? Remember, I am the daughter of____, the friend of _____, that great man/woman of God? But, the Savior walks on…saying: “depart from me I never knew you” (v.23).  What a statement…what a judgment….the most important association of all.

I have reflected back, in tears and pain, on that incident over the years of the angry woman who was distraught over her lack of importance in light of her family history in the church. I was the Bible class teacher with whom she was so angry. The saddest part is that this family left the church and has never returned, as far as I know. But as I reflect I have developed a great compassion, pity and sadness for this mother. I realize that although she was angry with me, she was probably also scared, very scared. She knew her children were slipping away from the Lord, lost. But, she continued to rely more on her family’s association with people, than their association with the Savior. The catch? He just doesn’t work that way. Consider what our Lord said about associations and our salvation: “For it is written: ‘ As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Yeah, that “each” word in there is critical. It means we will all stand alone, on our own with no one to vouch for us, no “friends” list to show how well we were known in the brotherhood, or how many preachers, elders or Bible book authors we “friended” on facebook. Nope, the only association that will matter is the one we have with our Master and Savior.

“...many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you…” Luke 13: 24-27.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Tracy. I worry so much about our children who are "raised in the church," because so often we see them taking their Christianity for granted, by virtue of birth, as if being born into an Israelite family in the Old Testament. Many have even told me such. We need to make sure that we are teaching our young ones early on that Christianity is not an "inherited" religion. As Bill would say, "It is taught, not caught." Thanks so much for your good work on this article