“Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 5-7 NIV).

Jude tells the church something they already know. Why? They need to be reminded. They must never forget. This information is vital to their walk with God and to the life of the church.

So what’s so important that it has to be repeated for emphasis?

The reminder is a double-edged word of warning and assurance: God knows how to deal with people. God knows how to deliver and protect people who want to live with God. At the same time, God knows how to hold people and even angelic beings who reject God and are self-willed.

Peter concludes a similar passage that includes angels, Noah, and Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:4-9) with these words: “. . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”

I need this reminder. I don’t think I am alone.

I need to remember that God can and will deliver me. I am not on my own. My survival is not dependent on me alone. God is involved. God knows how to rescue. God knows how to deliver. God knows how to secure.

I need to remember that God can take care of punishing those who turn from Him. God can hold them. God can keep them. God can judge them. As much as I would like to throw the first stone in their punishment, that’s not my responsibility. The weight of the world rests on God, not me.

Dear God in heaven,

Thank You for all the times You have rescued people.
Thank You for all the times You have delivered me.
Thank You for watching over us.
Thank You for giving us security and assurance.

Sometimes we forget.
Sometimes we fret.
Sometimes we flail around.

May this reminder provide peace of mind and heart.

You and You alone are worthy to bring final judgment.
Thank You for reminding us.
Forgive me, forgive us, when we forget.
Forgive our burning desire to wrest control from You.
Forgive our judgemental spirits and actions.

May this reminder provide peace of mind and heart.

In Jesus’ name,

Changing Grace

“For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).

This fourth verse of Jude raises several questions in my mind and shines God’s light on my motives and ministry.

The first question that pops into my mind when I read this verse is: How do ungodly, condemned false teachers slip into a church? Shouldn’t they be easy to spot? I can only guess that while they were wolves they wore some impressive sheep disguises. They presented themselves in a way that would allow them to gain entrance to the flock. Where ever that happens, carnage is sure to follow.

When I meditate on this passage I am confronted with questions about my own integrity. Am I wearing a mask? Am I presenting myself to be something I am not? Am I pretending to be something I am not? Do I use dishonest practices to gain people’s trust? Is my inner self consistent with my outer appearance? In what ways can I be more consistent?

The second question confronting me in this verse involves my understanding of the whole concept of godliness and ungodliness. Those who had slipped in were called “ungodly.” In meditating on this passage I have spent considerable time trying to sharpen my focus on what it means to be godly versus ungodly. My understanding is that being godly is about being God-like. The real significance of sharpening my understanding about these terms is that they reveal my thoughts about God. Thus, who I label godly reveals what I think about God. As my knowledge of and relationship with God deepens, it should be translated into my lifestyle. Increasingly, I want to reflect God.

The third question confronting me in this verse involves my understanding of grace. The godless teachers Jude mentions have changed the concept of grace. Perhaps this is one way they are not like God. God’s concept of grace is that it leads to repentance and new behavior. The ungodly ones, however, have changed the concept of grace into something that excuses immoral behavior, even justifies it.

Titus 2:11-14
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

This passage has me asking God to examine my ministry. Do I appreciate grace as a motivation for holiness, or do I view it as a license? Does lifestyle or behavior matter? Do wink at, even revel in immorality in my own life? Is grace a license for immorality in myself or others?

Finally, this passage reminds me of the centrality of Jesus Christ to my faith. I am reminded of John’s letters in which he draws lines of fellowship using the simple standards: Do you love? and Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh? As I consider the centrality of Jesus to the faith, I am convicted that I cheapen belief in Jesus when I make peripheral issues into fellowship issues.

I’ll give an example that is fresh on my mind (and one that is really easy for me to talk about since it’s about what someone else has done). A Christian expressed to me that he could not have fellowship with me because my church family allows the children to be dismissed from the worship assembly for what we call “training for worship.” This Christian has made training for worship equal to the deity of Christ in determining fellowship parameters. I think this cheapens Jesus.

But I really don’t want to spend my time whipping up on my Christian friend. I need to ask myself if I have cheapened Jesus by making some pet issue of mine as important as belief in Jesus as the Christ. It is much easier for me to see the inconsistencies in others than in myself. When I slow down long enough to ask God to examine my heart, God lovingly reveals my own inconsistencies.

Dear God,

Help me to know You, that I may be like You.
Help me to know You, that I might recognize You in others.
Help me to know You, that I might notice when You are missing in my life or in the lives of others.

Forgive me for misusing Your grace.
I just seem to invent ways to justify myself.
Sometimes I get very creative.
Sometimes I just lack integrity.
Help me to find integrity and have a life that is fully integrated with my beliefs.
May Your grace and kindness lead me to repentance.
Forgive me for not taking sin seriously.

I thank You for Jesus.
God, I want my life and my teaching to reflect my belief in Jesus as Christ.
Forgive me when I denigrate Jesus by equating my opinions and traditions with my belief in Jesus.
I want the lines of fellowship that I recognize to be drawn by You.

God, I want to be like You.

In Jesus’ name,

Very Eager To Write

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share. . . .
In the brief letter that bears his name Jude encourages the church to deal with false teachers. But he makes it clear, he is not the type of person who goes around looking for a religious argument. In fact, you get the feeling that he would rather not write or teach about confronting false teachers.

Jude straight up says he was eager, very eager to write a letter about “the salvation we share.” But instead, he felt compelled to write about standing up for the gospel. So he writes a letter he would rather not write.
And this verse has me thinking. . .what am I very eager to talk about?

Write about?

Teach about?

Am I the kind of Christian that is so excited about sharing salvation with my brothers and sisters that whenever I get a chance, that’s what I am talking about?
When I am involved in conversation with people, am I overflowing with the amazing story of salvation by grace through faith?

Like Jude, does sharing salvation top my list of what I am eager to talk about?
Well I must confess there have been times when I have been very eager to talk about and confront false teachers. Confrontation and winning religious arguments was what got me most excited. During that time in my life I would talk about sharing salvation reluctantly, and only if there was nothing left to argue.

But through the years God has transformed my heart from one filled with a love for arguments and disputes to one that is overflowing with the joy that comes from a God who allows us to share salvation. I want to talk about salvation. I want to tell people God has made our salvation possible through sending His Son Jesus to die for us and His Holy Spirit to live within us.

I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith. . . .
Yes, there are still times when false teaching must be addressed, and address it I do from time to time. But like Jude, that is not what I am very eager to do. I am no longer walking around with a hair-trigger ready to take some one’s head off in religious disputation. Instead I am eager to bless and share words of salvation and joy. When the confrontation comes, it is when, like Jude, I feel compelled.

And when I contend, I make every effort to do it with humility, gentleness, and respect. After all, it seems to me the greatest way to stand up for the gospel is to be like God as God is revealed through Jesus. I have to ask myself — am I really contending for God — loving Father, sacrificing Son, and Holy Spirit — in a manner that is consistent with God’s nature? Or am I somehow satisfying my own fleshly desires as I contend? Is it really God, the faith, the gospel I am defending? Or am defending my own way of thinking about things or doing things? Am I defending the faith or traditions?

. . .once for all entrusted to the saints.God gives the gospel to people as a sacred trust. The message is not mine, it is God’s. God has entrusted it to me and to all Christians. Do I treasure the message? Do I value the faith? Do I care for the gospel with the same care that a financial officer would watch over a trust? Am I faithful to God’s trust? And as I meditate on this passage, I come to know God as one who entrusts us with His gospel. What kind of God does this? What kind of God entrusts mere humans with a message from God?

Thank you for trusting me, for trusting us.
May we be faithful with Your message.
Forgive us when we distort the faith.
Forgive us when we accept cheap substitutes for the faith.
Give us the strength and courage to stand up for You.
Forgive me when I am more excited about an argument than I am about how You have intervened not only in the course of history, but in the course of my life.
Fill me with an eagerness to talk about You.
Fill me with an eagerness to talk about salvation.
Fill me with a generous heart that I might share salvation.
Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may bear fruit that brings honor to You.
Help me to grow in understanding what it means to be eager to talk about salvation.
In Jesus’ name, AMEN

Called, Loved, and Kept

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:1-2, NIV).

So often when we begin a study of a New Testament letter we just quickly glance at the introductory words and move on to what we consider the heart of the letter. After all, we are busy, aren’t we? We don’t have time to waste on the insignificant, do we?

And yet the greetings of these letters can shed light on what is on the heart of the writer. More than just a formality or a cliche, the words of greeting often give us a hint at what the letter will be about. Such is certainly the case in the letter, perhaps due to its brevity you might feel more comfortable calling it a postcard, Jude.

It is generally assumed Jude is the brother of Jesus, yet look at how he identifies himself in the greeting. He calls himself a servant of Jesus and the brother of James. This is interesting on a couple of levels. First, if I were writing a letter to a church you better believe I would let everybody know I am the brother of Jesus. I would use this relationship to gain power and control over people, wouldn’t you? But instead, he identifies himself as the brother of James. This James may have been powerful and a noted leader in his own right, but come on, are you going to claim James or Jesus?

Second, when he does refer to his relationship with Jesus, he calls himself a servant or slave. The writer does not seem interested in impressing us with his power, rather, he freely admits he is nothing but a servant. The idea of the writer being a servant fits nicely with the theme of the letter as a whole. Jude is writing to warn the church about false teachers who have slipped in to the church. I don’t know about you, but I have never known of a false teacher who was a servant. I have never known of a false teacher who was known for dying to himself and giving up his or her power.

In 1 Corinthians Paul taught that getting back to the concept of leaders being servants was crucial to stopping the divisiveness in the church (see for example, 4:1). Isn’t the same thing true of addressing the problem of false teachers? If it is understood that leaders are servants, it goes a long way toward addressing the problem of false teachers, since they are interested in promoting themselves rather than dying to themselves.

But these words of greeting tell us about more than the writer, they include rich language about God and His people.

  • To those who have been called. . . . As I read these words I think of people in scripture who were called by God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Samuel, David, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Mary, Peter, Andrew and the list goes on and on. I think of how some of them immediately answered the call while others hesitated and even tried to avoid God. As I read these words I think of how God has called me to Him through Jesus. God wants me, He desires to have a relationship with me and use me in His service. And the same can be said of you. False teachers will often get control of people by claiming a position of superiority over the people. These words remind the church that we are all are called by God.
  • To those who are loved by God the Father. . . . As I read these words my heart is warmed as I am reminded of God’s love. God loves with with a Father’s love. Often false teachers manipulate people by convincing them that they have to do something (that something is whatever the false teacher is interested in) to earn a place with God. They subtly demean us to get us under their control. But here in these introductory words, God’s love breaks through, assuring us that we have a relationship with God that is not dependant on jumping through whatever hoops the false teachers have set up.
  • To those who are kept by Jesus Christ. . . . Again, words of comfort and assurance. When we lose our assurance of God’s love for us, we are most vulnerable to the trap false teachers set for us: that we must know, experience, or do something more to really be God’s person. We are kept…by Jesus! Kept safe. Kept secure. Kept by Jesus for God. God doesn’t love us, call us, and then forget us. We are kept by Jesus. Repeat after me, I am kept by Jesus.

No, don’t skip over the introductory words of this letter. Verse two provides even more rich language to tell us something about ourselves and something about our God. “Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.” These words tell us what kind of God we love and serve and what kind of life God wants us to have. God is a God of mercy, peace, and love. We reflect God as we live a lifestyle of mercy, peace, and love.

One last time I want to ask you to slow down and not rush through the opening words, because I don’t won’t you to miss these last two words: “in abundance.” These words just put the icing on the cake, don’t they? Is your Christian life one of mercy, peace, and love in abundance? Do you experience in your church life mercy, peace, and love in abundance?

The pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) tell us much about false teachers that were around in the days of the first century church. And from reading the pastorals, one thing is clear about the church climate where false teachers are setting the tone, controversy, arguments, and division is the norm rather than mercy, peace, and love.

Jude has taken a sad song and made it better. It’s a sad song about the problem of false teachers in the church, but it is made better, better, better by the rich language that presents a great God who stands out against the backdrop of the sad stuff that is going on.

Noise and Numbers

“Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23 NIV).

Last night I met with the elders and other ministers at Skyline. Together we prayed for some brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin. To be more specific, some members of our flock are choosing to live according to the flesh rather than the Spirit. They have self sitting majestically on their heart’s throne. They are more concerned, at the moment, with pleasing their fleshly desires than pleasing God.

This is a heartbreaking situation for elders and ministers. It is never easy to see a brother or sister wander away from God. It is more difficult when those people are defiant towards God. It is more difficult still when those involved are, in addition to being people you love in the Lord, people you really like, respect, and share a friendship with.

As I woke up this morning, Jude’s words were on my heart. So as I went out for my morning run just as the sun was rising, I was thinking about showing mercy, snatching from the fire, and hating clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

While running in my quiet neighborhood during the early morning hours I always hear the most beautiful birds singing, however, I never know what I will see. I have seen opossums and raccoons scrambling back to their homes. I have seen coyotes finishing up a long night’s work. But this morning I saw something I have never seen as up close and personal as I experienced today.

Just as I was finishing up mile three out of the five I was scheduled to run today, I saw a large hawk land in the middle of the road, right in front of my house. Something was in the clutches of the hawk’s talons. I am not going to sneak up on anybody when I’m running, since the ground shakes with my every stride. The hawk saw me coming and with seemingly little effort lifted straight up off the ground and in a matter of moments was soaring above, with his prey going along for the ride, gripped firmly enough to withstand its valiant escape efforts.

About that time I heard the loudest bunch of birds I have ever heard. They seemed to come out of nowhere. They were loud, their volume increased by the sheer number of them. This was not a case of the birds singing sweetly in the trees, they were sounding an alarm. They were fast, this was not the kind of leisurely flight that you see a seagull enjoying, they were, well, flying! This all happened very quickly, but I would say there were at least 30 birds involved in the chase.

As I hit the button on my watch that began timing my fourth mile, I began to realize what I had just witnessed. That hawk had just raided a nearby bird’s nest and grabbed a feathered breakfast meal to go. The birds, realizing that one of their own was about to be devoured, responded with the only weapons they had at their disposal: noise and numbers.

And that brings me back to the frustration of watching a brother or sister defiantly walk away from God, choosing to love self more than God. It is painful to watch someone you love make a decision that will bring negative consequences for years to come. It is devastating to see someone throw away a relationship with God and His people. It is a terrible thing to watch someone be plucked up in the clutches of Satan, taken away from where they belong, and then devoured.

People make their choices, I know that. God allows people free will. But I don’t think that should stop church leaders and church family from responding when they see the evil one swoop in and strike. Maybe some of our greatest weapons are noise and numbers. If we would just speak up, voicing our concerns to God, alerting our brother or sister about the folly and consequences of turning away from God, and telling the enemy to leave. And if we would do it in great numbers, what an impact that would have.

We just might snatch someone from the fire and save them.

Pride and Joy

“Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what is our proud reward and crown? It is you! Yes, you will bring us much joy as we stand together before our Lord Jesus when he comes back again. For you are our pride and joy.”
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NLT

The pain of separation from loved ones can be intense, especially when the parting was pushed upon you by the circumstances and against your wishes. Paul describes the pain of leaving the Thessalonians as being as intense as that of a parent losing his child. Paul assures the readers while he is physically removed from them; they are still in his heart. It seems some of Paul’s opponents are trying to convince the folks in Thessalonica that Paul really doesn’t care about them. Paul’s heart-pain argues a different position, as do his repeated attempts to return.

But the return visit never happened because Satan cut in and prevented the reunion. Satan “prevented” (NLT), “stymied” (The Message), or “stopped” (NIV) the homecoming. Ever wonder why Satan gets the blame for these plans being interrupted when on other occasions God is credited for changes to the travel itinerary (see for example Acts 16:6-10 where Paul is prevented from entering Bithynia by the Holy Spirit and concluded God had called them to go to Macedonia)? Was this just a human evaluation made in retrospect or did Paul have some supernatural gift of discernment? And just how did Satan blocked Paul’s plans? Jewish opposition? Thorn in the flesh? Political opposition? While we will never know for sure, the Thessalonians may have known exactly how Satan interfered.

Paul opens up his heart and pours out his affection for his brothers and sisters at Thessalonica. Not only was his departure from them against his will, but he tried again and again, albeit unsuccessfully to return to them. Not only were they in his heart even while separated by the miles, but he was filled with hope and joy because of their faith. Contrary to his critics who accused Paul of not caring about these people, the Thessalonians were Paul’s pride and joy.

I don’t know of anything that brings more joy to the heart of a minister than seeing people they love live out their faith. As John wrote, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father” (2 John 4 The Message). And I know there is nothing that brings more joy to the heart of a parent than seeing your children walking with God.