Moses met Him at a burning bush when he no longer had confidence that God could use him. Hagar encountered Him when her husband had cast her and her son out, so he could be with another woman. Isaiah had a personal revelation of Him when he went to the temple and saw Him in His stunning glory. Mary Magdalene’s intersected with Him when her worthless life was dominated by demons. Job came to know Him after losing everything in a quick series of personal disasters. Jonah met Him, and ran away from His calling, hoping that He would leave Jonah alone. Gideon was a timid runt, and was contacted by Him while he was hiding from the enemy. Elijah, the stout prophet, got a glimpse of Him during a time when he was depressed, afraid and wanted to quit.
The Him is God… and He is all about personal encounters.
When I was blessed to be entrusted with an opportunity to pastor in 2002, I declared to the people of the church that we would become a church committed to, defined by and discipled by God’s Word. Not wavering at all from the legitimacy of that commitment, I must say that today I have a deep concern in my heart that conservative, biblically-defined Christians and their churches are in danger of something subtle but sinister:
I am afraid we are becoming a people carrying well-crafted lamps that are empty of oil.
The Word of God is often compared in Scripture to light. The first recorded words of God are associated with the creation of light (Genesis 1:3). The psalmist later declared that God’s word was a lamp for his feet and a light upon his pathway (Psalm 119:105). The gospel itself is referred to as light that opens the soul from spiritual darkness (2 Cor. 4:4). Light is good; it brings forth life and warmth and power. The word of God also provides these things for those who will walk in its light. Yet this beautiful lamp needs fuel if it will continue to provide as it is intended. This is where the oil metaphor comes into play. The Holy Spirit is symbolized with oil in both Old and New Testaments. This is most clearly seen via the frequent use of the word ‘anointing’, an activity that always employed some type of oil. In the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:1 is the reference of the Holy Spirit being the substance of Isaiah’s (and in later fulfillment, Christ’s) anointing. Acts 10:38 testifies that the Father anointed the Son with the Spirit. Paul tells us that we Christians also have been anointed via the sealing of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:21-22), as does the Apostle John in 1 John 2:20. It is no theological stretch for us to recognize that the bible typifies the Holy Spirit with oil in various places.
So that brings me to Matthew 25 which reveals a parable told by Jesus Christ which incorporates both the lamp and the oil. Jesus Himself does not strictly interpret this parable so we should be wise in how we handle it. I am simply making application by recognizing that the virgins who had both the oil and the lamp were the only ones who were authorized to remain in close proximity to the Bridegroom on the night of his wedding. The foolish virgins, as Jesus called them, fell asleep and let the oil they did have burn away as they slept. Once the oil was gone they realized that they were not prepared, and when the Bridegroom arrived to summon them, they were not ready for His return. It was too late for them. They had no oil to find their way, and therefore missed the banquet with the Bridegroom. They had lamps, mind you, but no oil. What good is a lamp if, when emptied of its oil, it can provide no light?
This is the crossroads I perceive for Christians like me who cherish God’s Word. The churches wherein we serve have had the lamps (the Word), but I am becoming increasingly concerned that we do not have the oil. I am not saying that we do not possess the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). I am actually saying that I have a gnawing suspicion that He may not really possess us. What do I mean? We have bowed before an erroneous Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Scriptures as we have politely asked the actual third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to wait outside the room. Because of our oil-less lamps we are not experiencing the revival, the breakthroughs, the conversions and fruit of the Spirit that comes when the Word and the Spirit are equally desired and reverenced. Please hear me: we absolutely need both the Word and the Holy Spirit – not just in theory or theology, but in actuality and activity. An imbalance in this need might be summed up like this:
Foundation Without Fuel: Lamp without oil; Word without Spirit
Fuel Without Foundation: Oil without lamp; Spirit without Word
Many of you who are reading are aware that the church where I have served since 1997 has undergone two merges in the last three years. The first merge united Meadow Baptist and Cornerstone Fellowship to become New Bridge Church. The second merge, completed three months ago after nearly a year of praying and planning, brought New Bridge Church into the prayer movement in America through a unification with International House of Prayer of Atlanta. We have intentionally committed to a pathway that, as far as I know, is without precedent in our area. We have have broken the rules of man’s religion, erased denominational boundaries and have committed to the challenging work of becoming a growing missions base, defined by God’s Word alone, anchored in unceasing prayer and facilitated through a commitment to love-fueled unity in the lordship of Jesus Christ. Yes, a former Baptist church and a former Assemblies of God and a former non-denominational prayer & missions ministry are now a singular missions base. In weeks and months to come, I will invite you to consider if you or your church have been left holding a lamp without oil or, perhaps, oil without the lamp. For any who believe that they need and want both, they will find that what God is doing with New Bridge Church & IHOP Atlanta is going to serve as a deep well of joy and strength. We hope you will drink deeply from this well with us.