Archives For March 2009

Jude Notes 4 – The Spirit

Mike —  March 27, 2009 — Leave a comment

Jude warns the church that “certain individuals” ultimately are causing some major problems within the body of Christ’s followers.  In my mind, this was always tied to the idea of some people being “false teachers”.  A lot of preachers use this idea to justify never letting anyone else speak from “their pulpit” – lest they inadvertently allow false teaching to take place.  In the book of 2 Peter, which is closely tied with Jude, that phrase is used – but it is absent in Jude’s writing.  Certainly, leadership in the church is responsible for teaching the truth, but there is more that makes these individuals who’ve “secretly slipped in among” us so dangerous than what they may say or not say in a relationship of authority.

The dangers that Jude points out are more behavioral dangers than didactic ones.  These people weren’t necessarily in positions of leadership (though some were).  Their deteriorating effects began even with their initial presence, as they:
– pervert grace into immorality (God will forgive me, so...)
– deny the sole Lordship of Jesus (Who really makes the choices of your life?)
– reject authority (Can you follow another’s lead?  Are you teachable?)
– speak abusively against spiritual forces they don’t understand
– think of their own desires above what others need
– grumble and find fault (“I don’t like this video/song/way of worshipping…“)
– boast of themselves and use others for personal gain
– chase after only what they want (What do you spend yourself for?)
The result of all this following after their own personal agendas and desires is the division of the church.  When each chases after his own wants, we all go different directions, tearing the church apart.  Jude uses some pretty strong language in describing these people – identifying them with some major errors in Jewish history and asserting their utter condemnation.  He goes so far as to say that these people “do not have the Spirit.”
And here is where things get really personal for us today.  Leadership in the church is not simply about running a well ordered machine.  It is not merely about being an ‘upstanding member of the community’ or having nice hair and straight teeth.  It’s not the same thing as being a business leader or a great CEO.  Those skills may be useful – but they may also be utterly useless and sometimes detrimental to leadership if they get in the way of the Spirit.  
Leadership in the church has always been about the Spirit.  It is He who empowers us to do ministry.  Paul reminded the Corinthians of this when he said “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence come from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  He also reminds us that the treasure of Christ is held in us as “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Our churches need to rely less on “conventional wisdom” and take to heart the fact that competence to lead comes only from God – and God often accomplishes His purpose in unconventional ways.  We need the Spirit – without Him we’re spinning plates on sticks at best.  It may be entertaining for a while, but it’s not really accomplishing anything meaningful.

My Father’s Son

Mike —  March 24, 2009 — Leave a comment

Just listened to my dad’s sermon from Sunday at WhiteWater – sort of ‘guest-speaking’ I guess about things that get in the way of moving closer to God.  He labeled those things ‘rocks’.  I think one of the most pervasive ‘rocks’ that we carry around is a lack of prayer (which indicates a lack of an attitude of dependence on God).  Prayer was the focus of the service here that our students and I led.  We included a lot of stuff that was ‘out of the ordinary’ for a typical Sunday morning.

I found it funny that, while I had people wandering around the auditorium drawing with chalk and crayons, and sticking post-it notes to the walls, my dad made everyone hold on to rocks through their service.
I guess I really am my father’s son.  We’re odd like that…
I’ve been enjoying this song lately (and the rest of the album from Bluetree) – and it’s awesome to hear the story behind it. Every song has a story, a genesis… I love the reminder in this song that God’s not finished here. There’s still hope for those with no other hope. May we share the hope we’ve been given.

Jude Notes 3 – Flexibility

Mike —  March 16, 2009 — 1 Comment

“… although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us…”  – Jude

It seems that Jude had an agenda.  He wanted to write to the church about “the salvation we share”.  A good idea.  It’s encouraging to think and talk about what we have in common in the gift of Christ.  But I’m not sure Jude got to write the letter he intended (at least not as the letter that we have preserved in the NT).  It seems there was an issue that Jude felt needed to be dealt with first.  Something so disconcerting that Jude set aside what he was “eager to write” about in order to bring attention to the problem.
The problem was that the church was allowing “certain individuals” to lead the church in directions that would end in destruction.  (I’ll discuss those individuals in another post.)  Jude shows a flexibility in instructing the church that I think we’d do well to follow.
I have some certain principles and ideas that I definitely want my students to take hold of before they graduate.  I often set out a theme and line out a series of lessons months before I’ll actually be teaching those lessons.  But sometimes situations dictate a need for something else.  
I first saw this need for flexibility very early in ministry.  I had our youth night all planned out – about the second week I was there, so I still hadn’t even met everyone.  It was a good time for introductions and some basic stuff.  That was the plan on Monday.  On Tuesday, two young men followed through on their plans to shoot up fellow students at Columbine.  Even separated by hundreds of miles, my new students were shaken (as each of us probably were) and questioning a lot of things.
Whatever my plan was, it needed to be scrapped because it was far outweighed by the circumstances.  I pray that we always see what is going on in the world around us and hold to our agendas loosely enough to let them go if need be.
 

Jude was writing his letter to “those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ”.

People today have many different descriptions of what the church is:
– a place for worship
– a place where Christians get to hang out together and talk about God
– a bunch of narrow minded judgmental gay-haters who are out of touch with the real world
– a religious organization that wants to force everyone to conform
– a group of people that are trying to be like Jesus
– somewhere to go on Sunday mornings
– somewhere to go when you need help
The list could go on, because there are an insane number of perspectives on just what the church is (from both within and without).  Jude’s description of the church is people who have been called, loved, and kept.  In the interest of full disclosure, note that Jude’s purpose here wasn’t to define the church, he was simply describing the group to which he wrote.
It’s interesting that the church, to Jude, was distinguished by actions God was taking.  It was God doing the calling, God who loved, and God who was keeping His people.  He didn’t write to those who were current on paying dues, those who had good enough Sunday morning attendance, or those who had received the proper teaching and been properly baptized according to the proper formula.  Not that those concepts/actions are worthless, but… ok, they basically are – if we’re doing them so God will approve of us and love us.
In a great moment of prayer, Isaiah (64:4,5) wrote (of Israel) that, 
“Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;”
Every “righteous act” we do in order to make ourselves presentable to the Father, to wipe away our own uncleanness is like a leper trying to wipe away their sores with a “filthy rag”.  A recent word study of the word Isaiah used that’s translated “filthy” just about makes me puke so I’ll spare you the details.  Let’s just say, our righteous acts don’t make things any better and they don’t earn us membership in some Jesus club.  (We live and choose in response to God’s love, not as a precondition for earning it – but that’s another post.)
The church is still called, loved by the Father, and kept in His Son.  I hope we always will hear His call, share His love, and rest in Him…

Jude Notes 1 – Humility

Mike —  March 10, 2009 — Leave a comment

Reading through Jude, the first thing that strikes me is the humility with which he wrote. He didn’t introduce himself as some high and mighty authority that the readers of his letter were supposed to listen to – but as a “servant of Jesus and a brother of James”.

Often, we can tend to think in terms of credentials and qualifications. If we’re looking for a job, we’ll polish up our resume – listing out the experiences we’ve had that we think qualify us for the job. If we have a message we want the church to heed, we may feel tempted to preface it with a list of our accomplishments or successes in ministry. In short, we may be tempted to puff up ourselves before we deliver the message.

The problem with that is, it ignores the fact that we’re only messengers – or at least that’s what we should be. If the message is only mine, it’s going to come up short of what the Body really needs. One of our seniors will be preaching in a couple weeks and I want him to be aware of that fact. He needs (and I need) to simply say what God wants him to say. His job is not to craft the greatest sermon ever heard (by the half of the congregation that will still be in town). It’s to search the heart and mind of God for His message to His people – and deliver it as His servant.

Jesus had a brother named Jude. And another named James. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that it was probably this same Jude, Jesus’ own brother, who wrote this letter. We know His brothers didn’t believe in Him until after His death and resurrection, but that they did come to belief. But Jude doesn’t write on the authority that “Jesus is my brother, so you better listen up.” He had something on his mind that he wanted to share with the people. And he did it as a servant.

Whatever ministry you and I may be sent into, may we go there as humble servants.

Under the Bus

Mike —  March 6, 2009 — Leave a comment
What do you see when you see the next generation?  I think many of us miss the hurt and the hiding.  We see the athletes and scholars and partiers as simply that – athletes, scholars, partiers.  But what lies below the surface?  What is the truth about who these people are?  Will we get to know them well enough to find out?  

I’ve been really digging into the book of Jude for the past several days.  That may seem a little wierd since Jude takes about two minutes to read, but I’m finding a lot there to think about.  Basically, Jude (who likely was Jesus’ brother) writes a note of warning to the church, urging them to “contend for the faith” and be wary of ungodly influences that were sneaking in.  He warns the church that those who have previously been considered “God’s People” had not escaped punishment when the turned from God’s ways.  The implication is that if the church allows anyone to slip in and lure her away from Jesus, the church ceases to be God’s and places herself in great danger.

Jude writes to remind the church that this shouldn’t surprise them, but they should be alert to people who would “divide you, who follow mere natural insticts and do not have the Spirit.”  He calls them “grumblers, and faultfinders” who boast about themselves and flatter others for their own gain.  I wonder how many churches today have failed to heed this warning and are led only by what comes naturally instead of by the Spirit of Christ?  How many of us rely on our own talents and knowledge base and bank accounts to decide what ministry we will do?  
“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”  (I think there’s an interesting use of words between here and verse 1 that you should look into…)  In relying on Him, we are enabled to skillfully offer what is needed to those who doubt, to go near enough to the fire to rescue those who are falling in – without burning up in the process.