Jude

There is only one chapter in the book of Jude, and it is this chapter that we will focus on today. First, though, I have to confess that I don’t think I have ever heard the word “Jude” and not thought of the Beatles song. Ever. Even now, the lyrics are running through my head! So, now that we have that out of the way…and now that most of you are humming along – let’s dig into this book together.

First, you might be wondering – as I was – who Jude was. Interestingly, most scholars believe that Jude was the brother of Jesus. Jude humbly downplays this relationship, however, by simply referring to himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1:1).

Jude initially intended his letter to focus on salvation. In Jude 1:3, however, we learn that he changed his mind: “I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” False teachers had infiltrated the church and the culture. Jude says that these people have “come by in stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into sensuality and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord” (Jude 1:8). Jude then refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, cities known for their sexual immorality, and compares the contemporary false teachers to the immoral citizens of these two cities by saying that their agenda is like “glory dragged in the mud” (Jude 1:8, MSG).

It is no secret that in many parts of the world, Christianity is currently being dragged through the mud. Jude reminds us that the apostles of Christ spoke to this, saying, “…there will be scoffers living according to their own ungodly desires” (Jude 1:18) Not only will there be false teachers, but these people will “cause divisions…” (Jude 1:19).

Jude does not leave us without a solution, however. Instead, he suggests a path forward. He advises us to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God…” (Jude 1:21). He also advises us to “be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin” (Jude 1:23, MSG). We have probably all heard this before: we must love the sinner while not tolerating the sin. This is not easy, and I don’t expect that it ever will be. But in this time of swirling chaos in our culture, we must continue to boldly proclaim the truth of God and His Word.

I love how Jude, the brother of Christ Himself, ends his letter to his readers with a benediction, a blessing. This is my prayer for our reading community today: “Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

Upside-Down

     When my kids were little, they used to love to try to stand on their heads.  They couldn’t, of course, because they were only toddlers at the time – but they sure loved to try.  I think they enjoyed looking at their little world from a different vantage point:  upside-down.  This idea of looking at life from an upside-down perspective is what I first thought of when I read chapter 23 of Matthew, our scripture for today.   

In this chapter, Jesus speaks plainly to the scribes and to the Pharisees.  These men were known to be the most religious group of people in the land at the time.  But instead of praising them for their devotion, Jesus calls them out for their hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy occurs when a person does not behave according to the moral code that they say they believe in.  Many times, hypocrisy looks like living an upside-down life:  focusing on the non-important while ignoring the essential.  Let’s take a look at an example from Matthew 23.

First, Jesus tells these religious men that they are actually being impediments to God’s kingdom, and that several of their behaviors are holding other people back from becoming followers of Christ.  For example, He says, they are more concerned with their outer appearance than they are with the condition of their hearts (Matthew 23:25 and Matthew 23:28).  Jesus tells them clearly to, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:26).

Jesus also told the scribes and the Pharisees that they were guilty of ignoring some of the basic tenets of Christianity, such as justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) and focusing instead on tithing to the exact penny.  Indeed, He tells them, tithing and keeping accurate financial records is important – but, “the basics are required” (Matthew 23, verse 24, The Message).

These religious people, then, were living upside-down lives.  They were professing to believe one way, yet behaving in a way that directly opposed those beliefs.  They were like my kids standing on their heads, really – looking at life from the wrong perspective.  Eventually, my toddlers tired of being in this position and stood back up, a little dizzy but none the worse for wear.  The scribes and Pharisees, though, were adults who were held responsible for leading others in spiritual matters, which is why Jesus called out their upside-down behavior – their hypocrisy – in no uncertain terms.  The thing about hypocrisy, though?  Those around you, and those around me, are usually able to see right through it.

I love how Jesus’ reprimand is recorded in The Message version:  “Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?”  (Matthew 23, verse 24b, The Message).  Maybe it is because I’m a writer, but verse 24 really spoke to me.  Am I, are we, focusing on the wrong things?  Are we focusing on the punctuation rules, and not the telling of the story, His story?  I know that I am certainly guilty of this!  And so I’m thankful to read that Jesus also offers hope, saying that He wanted to bring the people of Jerusalem to Him as “a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37).  He only asks that we be willing to change our behavior and turn back to Him.  This repentance, this turning back, begins not in the posture of a toddler’s headstand, but in a posture of prayer.  Join me?

All You Need Is Love

When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.

Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.

Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.

I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.

Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.

Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.

God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.

We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.

More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”

Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”

1 Chronicles 15; James 2. Secret: Amos 9; Luke 4

Imitators of me

August 30, 2016

im·i·ta·tor
ˈiməˌtādər/
noun plural noun: imitators 1. a person who copies the behavior or actions of another.  2. To use or follow as a model: Your brother imitates you because he admires you. 
People imitate for many reasons. Some good, and, …some bad. Imitators of words, actions, and lifestyles. Currently, I will see this all the time with my two sons. Jackson the 5 year old will do something, anything, and Marshall our 19 month son will do his best impression of it.(good or bad)  Likewise,  I see these same actions carried out by both boys through my actions as well. (again, good or bad)
In today’s readings, 1 Corinthians 4 shares a message from Paul telling Timothy to be an imitator of him. (1 Corinthians 4:16) Paul was sent for Timothy as a model like a father with their child.  Paul was sent for us to remind us of the ways of Christ that we need to model.
Each day God presents us with needs and opportunities to challenge us to do what is right. Is my “Christian conduct” that which Paul modeled for Timothy? My prayer is to grow in this desire and my behaviors daily until His will calls me elsewhere. As a husband, father, son, brother, and friend I know as I list some of these examples of Christ there is vast opportunity to grow. I can talk about faith, but if my actions don’t follow or I’m saying sorry all the time then I need to make some changes. This is the time where I can reflect on another reading from today Psalm 38:18.
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
2The days are long but the years are short.  Let’s set our best example of Jesus for others.  In my study bible it shares some great verses to help us along this path.
  • Matthew 11:29 – Jesus told his followers to learn from his example of gentleness and humility.
  • Philippians 3:17 – Paul urged believers to follow his example of enthusiasm, perseverance, and maturity.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 – The new Christians in Thessalonica received training in discipleship from Paul.
  • 1 Timothy 1:16 – Paul used his unworthiness to receive Christ as an example of grace so that no one would hold back from coming to Christ.
  • 1 Peter 5:3 – Peter taught Christians leaders to lead by example, not by commands.

Dear Father, We pray that we are examples of Christ. That we are examples of Christ in our children and in the world. That nonbelievers will be able to see the belief of Christ in us and be drawn to this salvation through our examples.  Thank you God, we know this is only possible through you. Amen

Good Morning!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)

When I read that verse it reminded me of one of the questions I’ve been so intrigued by recently: What do you look forward to when you wake up each morning?

Deuteronomy 7; Psalm 90; Isaiah 35; Revelation 5

I heard a sermon a while back where the question was asked, “why wouldn’t your first morning act be to thank God for the new day?” Every breath we have, and every new day happen because he allows it. This act helps remind us of who God is, that he is in control, and it acknowledges him as first in our lives.

Think about the other things that we often look forward to when we wake up. While I’ve made progress in my first thoughts and actions in the morning I still too often fall short and make it “me first”. I’m praying over this verse right now that it will speak to all of us as we consider seeking God’s help to grow into the people he designed us to be. This is a verse to help us acknowledge our sins; he already knows our sins, we have no secrets from him.

You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence. (Psalm 90:8)

Let’s look to some of the Ten Commandments to help guide us.

“‘You shall have no other gods before me. (Deuteronomy 5:7)

What sort of habits can we develop as our first morning thoughts and acts so as to reflect there is no other god before God Almighty? What are our actions as adults saying to our children and others who observe us in the morning? How can we influence our children to develop “holy habits” in the morning without becoming legalistic and thus pushing them away?

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Deuteronomy 5:8-9)

Have our smartphones become our idols? Do our phones serve us or do we inherently serve them? While hopefully no one “bows down” to their phone, do we metaphorically bow down to social media with the amount of time we spend, with our seeking to be validated by someone else rather than our God who made us and loves us unconditionally?

but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Deuteronomy 5:10)

It is refreshing that this portion of the Ten Commandments closes with a promise of love. Our God is not a god who seeks to destroy us; he is seeking relationship with us, he is seeking the best for us because he loves us.

So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Time is our only limited commodity. We can earn more money, we can buy more things, but what equalizes the super wealthy and super poor is time. While we may not have an equal amount of time on this Earth, none of us can make more time, so let’s not waste it! Let’s LIVE ROBUSTLY and say no to the good things so that we can say YES to the GREAT things!

Father God, teach us to number our days; to live them robustly for your glory, to live in a way you designed us to live. Reveal to us the distractions and increase our faith to focus on you. Help us to be a light that shines for you so that our friends, families, and those who observe us notice a difference; that we may not be “of this world” but living with eternity in mind.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:17)

Amen.

Leadership and Love

Today’s reading: Exodus 34; John 13; Proverbs 10; Ephesians 3

March 23rd, 2016

Leadership

Whenever the topic of leadership comes up I like to pass on a simple truth I was taught. I call them the two things. They are simple to understand. Simple to remember. Simple to see why these two things are it. Still they are not so simple to enact without fail. They take sacrifice at the most fundamental level. Self. They take us out of ourselves. Away from us. Away from this world. They leave us with less self and more others. A good friend of mine taught me what leaders do. Leaders do two things:

  1. Leaders lead by example
  2. Leaders serve those they lead

Search your experiences and you will hopefully find a leader in your life who does these two things well. One thing to mention here is that anyone can lead. Power is not needed to lead. Authority is not needed to lead. Though power and authority will accrete to those who follow these two things. Do you want to be a leader? Are you doing these two things?

Leadership and Love

Love, the Fulfillment of the Law

Here I just want to share a collection of verses that point to the importance of love and close with a few verses I encourage everyone to memorize. They are verses you have likely heard several times, but please do not let that cause you to pass over this encouragement without prayerfully considering memorizing them. Once memorized you can meditate on them throughout the day and call them to service as the ultimate checklist against what Jesus has called you to do in any situation. Running late in the check out line; run through the list. In the throes of a tough conversation; run through the list. Frustrated, worried, concerned, angry, scared, upset… go through the list, one by one and make sure you align with God’s word. 

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13

If ye love me, keep my commandments. – John 14:15

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34–35

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans – 13:10

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

– 1 Corinthians 13:4–7

God would you give us understanding that we may keep your law and obey it with all our hearts? Would you turn our hearts toward Your statutes and not toward selfish gain? Would You turn our eyes away from worthless things and preserve our lives according to Your word? Thank you. Amen.

Growing Leaders

Today’s reading link: Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20

Jesus, although having all authority over heaven and earth reminds us that he came to serve.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

Jesus set the greatest example of servant leadership and Paul sought to live it out. Today’s reading in Acts 20 provides numerous examples as to how Paul lived the servant-leader lifestyle. From this chapter we could perhaps summarize all of the (good) leadership books ever written!

Before diving into the leadership attributes, there is some background on Paul that should be noted. Paul (formerly Saul) had some serious training. He studied and memorized Jewish law and scripture for many years. He was trained to become a Pharisee; the highest in order within the ruling class of Israel. Paul was chosen by Jesus to take his message to Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel (see Acts 9:15).  In summary: Paul was educated, trained, and appointed. He didn’t just show up on the scene taking over the leadership reigns.

Here are the leadership attributes that I’ve noticed in Acts 20 along with the verse number for reference. Perhaps I’ve missed some… Can you identify more in this chapter?

Leaders “are” and/or “do” the following:

    1. Encourage; Paul “encourages them”. Encouragement helps give us meaning to our work and can also help get us through rough times. (1-2)
    2. Engage; they meet with people in their environment; they’re visible; Paul spends much of his time traveling to be with those who need him (2-3) and “lived among them”. (18)
    3. In-sync; leaders surround themselves with team-members for assistance and mentoring. They know what is going on with their team and vice-versa. Paul was accompanied by several people, he wasn’t going at it alone. (4)
    4. Tireless; leaders selflessly invest hours and make many sacrifices where and when appropriate. Prior to departing, Paul preaches and teaches “until daybreak”. (7, 11)
    5. Compassionate, merciful; Paul shows kindness to the young man who fell out of the window. Reading this I also sense a calm confidence from Paul as he embraces the injured young man who was believed to be dead. (10)
    6. Intimate; they broke bread together.  Some commentary suggests verse 11 was a meal, some suggest the Lord’s Supper, and some suggest both. Regardless, breaking bread equates to “doing life” with people and this kind of environment can open doors to deep conversation and build bonds among peers. (11)
    7. Humble, passionate;  Paul served with all humility and with tears due to the trials he was put through. (19)
    8. Direct; Paul tells it like it is, without holding back; “didn’t shrink” (20, 27)
    9. Devoted; Paul led and taught publicly and privately for the benefit of others, he taught in public and from house to house. (20)
    10. Focused; leaders know the mission statement and act on the mission; Paul firmly led and taught: “testify of repentance” and faith in Jesus. (21)
    11. Inclusive; Paul made it clear that the mission and message were for all, both Jews and Greeks. (21)
    12. Faithful; Paul didn’t know exactly what would happen but faithfully presses on for the cause. (22)
    13. Fearless; jail and suffering lie ahead and Paul is committed to facing both. (23)
    14. Relentless; finishing the work means everything; considers his life worthless unless he finishes his course. (24)
    15. In touch; Prepare others as leaders to take over, giving instruction; Paul has been watching over these people and is getting them ready, and is in touch with them as well as in touch with the knowledge of hardships yet to come. (28-29)
    16. Truthful; warns them of liars coming to distract and destroy. Paul cherished the truth. (30)
    17. Invest; Paul spent three years, night and day, instructing. (31)
    18. Commend, pass the baton; turning over leadership position at the right time, to those who are ready. (32)
    19. Noble, they do not seek wealth for themselves; Paul didn’t seek after money or things such as clothing. (33)
    20. Preserve; they are good stewards of their resources, not burdening others; Paul supplied for his own needs, he didn’t ask for much from a material standpoint. (34)
    21. Helpful, hard-working, with the focus on helping others. (35)
    22. Prayerful; Paul prayed with others. I’ve spent time with executives and leaders whom I highly respected and nothing touched me more than when they prayed with and for me, humbly bowing down and seeking council from God Almighty. (36)
    23. We can also tell that Paul was a real leader because he was respected and admired by those whom he impacted. They even wept when he departed. (37-38)

These leadership attributes hadn’t ever popped out to me in the past, even after reading the chapter several times. Then after taking some time reading it over again slowly, and prayerfully considering what to write, it became so clear and I wondered how I missed it before. I’m so thankful that the Bible is relevant and that God uses it to speak to us when we take the time to read it with the intent to seek and do his will.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12