January 31, 2011

Contention is Necessary

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 3)

‘The reason I am not a Christian is because church folks always seem to be fussing and fighting about something.’ Ever heard anyone say that? Admittedly, it’s often just a cop-out. For, in many cases, the person who makes such a complaint has darkened the door of the church so few times that he has no idea on earth what church people are ‘always’ doing. And yet, for some folks, there is a real grain of truth in the complaint about church folks and their infighting. Sadly, many churches are blighted with this disease. They fight about the style of music, the color of carpet, who got elected to such-and-such an office, and who was left out. And the list could go on. But, rest assured, that is not what this article is about.

When I say (as I do above and below) that ‘contention is necessary’ in the church of Jesus Christ … I am not referring to the kind of nitpicky sparring that consumes so many churches and Christians. That kind of thing will kill a church (and I am so thankful that PRBC has been relatively free of it these last 6 years or so!). No, rather than looking for reasons to be contentious, brothers and sisters in Christ ought, like Jude, to “make every effort” to accentuate “our common salvation”; to emphasize our unity at the foot of the cross. And I find it refreshing to hear Jude say that what he really had hoped to do was to write an encouraging letter. He really did want to write his brothers and sisters about how the Lord was at work in their midst, and about what Christ had done for them all, and how God had been good to them as a church family. He really did want to write about their “common salvation”, not their causes for concern. And we will do well to always keep that desire in mind, and to “make every effort” to be like Jude ourselves.

And yet Jude also says that, in spite of his desire to be encouraging, and to bring people together … he has a fire welling up in his bones. He wants to write a nice, easy, comforting letter. But the Spirit won’t allow him. No, as he puts quill to parchment, Jude feels a “necessity” to warn his brothers and sisters in Christ; to put them on the lookout for potential problems in the church – both in the realm of proper beliefs, and of proper behavior.

And he doesn’t merely want these Christians to be aware of potential problems … but to “contend earnestly for the faith.” That is not to say he wants them to be contentious. But Jude (along the Holy Spirit who is driving his quill) wants this church (and every church) to fight for what is right – again, in belief and in behavior! He wants them to protect the church from wolves in sheep’s clothing; from dissenters who would destroy unity or lead people into false doctrine; and from so-called Christians who might destroy the church’s testimony with their unrepentant sin. And the rest of the book is largely an explanation of how and why they must fight these battles … and why we must fight them, too!

Jude really wanted to write a letter about “our common salvation”. But the Spirit constrained him, instead, to urge the church to fight for the truth; to contend for the faith. And both are necessary. Christians must be constantly reminding themselves to focus on their commonalities in Christ, to find equal footing beneath the cross, and to stop bickering over the church décor! But sometimes the commonalities that we share in Jesus force us to close ranks, to take up the sword of the Spirit, and to fend off enemies … both within and without. Sometimes, in order that we may protect the faith we all hold in common, contention is necessary. May God give us grace to know when it is, and when it isn’t. And may He give us grace to “contend for the faith” without being contentious.

January 28, 2011


That's what we have been lately. That is to say that we've mulling around in the book of Proverbs for a few Wednesdays in a row. Here are the fruits ...

Proverbs 14.30 - "A tranquil heart" - MP3
Proverbs 16.20 - "Attention to the word" - MP3
Proverbs 16.1-6 - Sovereignty, Searching, and Salvation - MP3

Hope you enjoy Solomon's wisdom ... and God's truth!

January 24, 2011

Mercy, Peace, and Love

May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you (Jude 2)

Now, admittedly, it may sound, in Jude 2, like our author is simply inserting a few religious clichés for lack of anything better to say. “Mercy”, “peace”, and “love” are words that are thrown around so meaninglessly in our day that we may think that Jude, too, is simply plugging them in here to fill a little space, or to buy himself some time until he can think of what he wants to say next. The same way we interject the same tired phrases into our prayers, time and again, for lack of anything more thoughtful to say: ‘Lead, guide, and direct us’; ‘Bless her in a special way’; ‘Bless the gift and the giver’; or, ‘Forgive us where we fail Thee’; and so on!

But surely, guided by the Holy Spirit, the half-brother of the Lord is not merely throwing away words, is he? Surely we can’t just skim over Jude 2, thinking to ourselves: ‘Mercy, peace, and love. Well, all the apostles say something like that at the beginning of their letters, so let’s just scuttle along to verse 3 to find out what Jude’s really on about in this letter.’ No. If Jude wishes us mercy, peace, and love … then we ought to receive it! And we ought to think about what each of those words mean!

What a blessing that Jude (and the Holy Spirit in back of him) wishes us “mercy.” What is mercy? Well, in definition form, it’s when someone does something for you that you cannot do for yourself. In picture form, it’s the Good Samaritan sliding off his donkey and onto his knees to bandage the wounds of the fallen traveler in Luke 10. It’s Boaz leaving out extra scraps of grain for poverty stricken Ruth to stumble across as she scavenges for food. And it is the Lord coming, in human flesh, to the earth ... to live a sinless life that we ourselves have not lived; to die in our place; and to rise from the dead so that we too might walk in newness of life. He has bent down to do for us what we could never do for ourselves – rescuing us from sin’s penalty, and it’s power. He has set us free from Satan’s bondage so that we, like Hosea’s wife Gomer, don’t have to go back to our prostitution. That’s “mercy”! And that’s not just a throw away word!

And then there is “peace”. And, O, all the things the Bible says to believers regarding peace! Most importantly, because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place, we have peace with God. And, not only that, but in Christ we also have peace with God's people. By adopting us all into one big family, Christ broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile, black and white, slave and free. None of those categories matter a whit to us if we belong to one and the same Father! And then, of course, the gospel also offers us the peace of God … namely the contentment and tranquility that can be ours if we’ll just be child-like with the Lord; if we’ll just believe that He really will do what He says and provide all our needs according to His riches in glory. What a difference Christ makes. He settles us. He calms us. He, if we will simply take Him at His word and keep our hearts staid upon Him, puts our hearts in perfect peace!

And it’s all because of “love”. Why did God send His Son? Why is He so merciful? Why has He made peace with us by the blood of Jesus’ cross? Not because He is obligated! And certainly not because we deserve it. But simply because of His great love for us! What else could motivate Him to forgive all that He forgives … at the cost of His Son’s blood and tears? What else can we say but that this God must love us immensely? His affection for His people knows no explanation, and has no motivation, and comes from no other origin except that God, very simply, is love!

Do you know His love? Have you experienced the mercy of Christ? Do you have peace with God, and with His people, and with your circumstances? Jude prays that you would … in “multiplied” measure! And so do I!

January 18, 2011

Called, Beloved, and Kept

Jude … to those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. (Jude 1)

Jude does not tell for whom, exactly, this letter was written. That is to say that, unlike other New Testament writers, he does not address it “to the chosen lady” or “to all who are beloved of God in Rome”. He lists no names, no places, no definite clues as to who his recipients were, or where they lived. And yet he does tell us a great deal about them in verse 1. He refers to them as being “called”, “beloved”, and “kept.” Think about those three designations with me:

First, the recipients of Jude’s letter were “called.” Simply put, what Jude means is that they were “called” by God; that they were Christians. So this is not an evangelistic letter, mainly … but a letter written to encourage and strengthen the “called” of God! But the word “called” denotes even more than simply the fact that these people were Christians. “Called” also refers to how they became Christians in the first place! That is to say that these people were not Christians, first of all, because they had called on God … but because He had “called” on them! Now, to be sure, they themselves (along with everyone else who has ever believed on Christ) had to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10). But that’s not what Jude emphasizes here. Here Jude emphasizes how God had “called” them. And this emphasis is a reminder that, if any of us are in Christ, it’s not first of all because of what we did. No, if we ourselves have called upon the Lord, it’s because we were first “called” by the Lord. He is the initiator in this love relationship. He is the first caller. He sent His Son to die while we were still in our sins (Romans 5.8). And He sent His Spirit to woo us when we were thinking of all sorts of things besides seeking Christ. He called us first! And we should primarily think of ourselves, therefore, not as those who have called upon the Lord, but as those who have been “called.”

And not only were Jude’s recipients “called”; they were, secondly, “beloved”. Probably Jude meant that they were “beloved” by himself, the author. So that gives us some clue as to who these saints were. Perhaps this letter was written to a church in which Jude had once been a member; or perhaps he’d been there pastor. Whatever the case, this was a congregation of saints for which Jude had a unique affection. But notice that Jude did not simply say that they were “beloved” by himself, but that they were “beloved in God the Father”. The reason Jude loved them is because they were “in God the Father”; in His love. Jude loved them because God loved them! And that begs a question of us: Do we love whom God loves? Do we love our brothers and sisters in the local church? Do we love other genuine Christians who disagree with us on certain secondary matters? Do we love the persecuted church across the sea? Do we love the orphans and the widows? And do we show that we love these various ones by our prayers, and support, and so on? If they are loved by God, then they ought to be loved, by us, “in God”!

Thirdly notice that Jude’s recipients were “kept” for Jesus Christ. God was keeping them, in other words, from losing their salvation. They would appear before Jesus someday. So here is the doctrine of eternal security. True believers do not lose their salvation! But it’s even more than that. Because (see Jude 24-25) God does not promise merely to keep us from hell, but even to keep is from “stumbling” … and to make us “blameless” before Himself. In other words, God not only keeps true Christians from losing their salvation; He also keeps them growing in grace all the way until the end! He keeps true Christians living like true Christians – not in perfection, but in genuine growth, and continual repentance, and continued faith! So then, are you “called”? Are you one of Christ’s “beloved”? And is God proving His calling of and His love for you by keeping you walking with Jesus? Then the rest of this letter is for you!

January 13, 2011

Two Sermons on Prayer

Here's what we at PRBC have been thinking about lately:

Mark 9.29 - "Only by Prayer"* (and Fasting) - MP3
Luke 18.1-8 - Pray and don't Lose Heart - MP3

Enjoy ... and be encouraged!

*The phrase "only by prayer" is taken from Mark 9, v.29 of the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ The sermon, however, is preached from the NASB®.

January 10, 2011

Familiarity or Faith?

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James (Jude 1a)

Last week, we noted the amazing humility behind Jude’s self-designation as Jesus’ “bond-servant” … or slave. This week, we turn to Jude’s second description of himself. Namely that he was the “brother of James.” Jude was the brother, in other words, of the man who was the senior pastor, so to speak, of the first church in Jerusalem. The apostles had begun the church, gathering in five thousand souls on the day of Pentecost. But, as time went on, James became the church’s primary spiritual leader. And remember, this James was not only Jude’s brother. He was also the son of Mary and Joseph … and, thus, the (half) brother of the Lord Jesus Himself! And, if James was Jesus’ half-brother, and Jude was James’ brother … well then, you guessed it, Jude was also the son of Mary and Joseph, and the (half) brother of the Lord!

But it’s interesting that Jude doesn’t mention that in his letter. It certainly would have been a good name to drop in case anyone questioned his authority in the matters about which he wrote: ‘Well, actually, I’m Jesus’ little brother. So I know a little bit about that of which I speak.’ But Jude doesn’t do that. He never says one word about his blood relation to Jesus!

But why? Perhaps, again, this was a display of his humility. He didn’t need to name-drop. He was content just to serve the Lord; to be His slave … whether anyone knew that he was his brother or not. But perhaps Jude’s omission of the fact that he grew up sleeping in the next bunk to Jesus is also a hint that he understood that his blood relation to Jesus was not of eternal significance. I say this reverently, but … so what if Jude was related to Jesus’ biologically? Yes, it was a distinct privilege in many ways. But could being Jesus' brother save Jude's soul? Could it make him right with God? Absolutely not! He (along with his parents, and his other brothers and sisters) had to repent and trust in his big brother, not just be related to Him! Jude had to trust in Jesus’ blood, not just share its genetic properties! And so he makes no mention at all of his biological relation to Jesus … because that was not of paramount importance to him, nor even of eternal significance. It was far more important that Jude was Jesus’ willing servant, than that he was His biological brother!

And what a reminder that can be for those of us who, because of the biological heritage that runs through our own veins, have grown up all our lives practically in the next room over from the Messiah. Some of us come from wonderful, godly families. And, because we do, we have known the gospel message, and the parables of Jesus, and the meaning of the cross since before we can remember. And we should be exceedingly thankful for that, just as Jude surely was for his family background! It is a blessing to grow up always around Jesus! But that alone will not save us! In fact, Jude reminds us that being near Jesus is not at all the same as being His bond-servant; that familiarity with Jesus is not the same as faith in Him. And only the latter of the two can save!

If you’re reading these words, it’s probably true that you are near to Jesus in some form or fashion. After all, you’re reading a religious blog right now! So you’re probably more than somewhat familiar with Jesus. You likely know more about Him than the average Joe or Jane. But are you more than just nearby? Are you more than familiar? Are you actually His “bond-servant”? Is He your everything? Your only hope? That’s the question Jude had, at some point along the way, to ask himself. Praise God he answered it correctly! I pray you will, too!

January 3, 2011

Jude: "bond-servant" and "brother"

Since this is the first in a series of devotional scribblings through the book of Jude, it only makes sense that we’d begin with a thumbnail sketch of the author … and even more so because that’s where Jude himself (like all the other New Testament letter writers) begins to put ink to parchment … with a brief personal profile. He begins the letter by calling himself:

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James (Jude 1a)

As is characteristic of the letter as a whole, Jude packs quite a bit into a small space here in this first clause of his letter, doesn’t he? He tells us his name, his heritage, and his calling … all within the span of ten English words. And it’s quite interesting to notice what he says about himself.

Notice, first of all, that he called himself “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ” – a slave, in other words. Not exactly the designation that any of us would proudly have monogrammed on our personal stationary is it? It just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Esquire’ or ‘PhD’ or even ‘executive assistant’! But Jude wasn’t evidently into important titles. He was happy to admit what he really was – a servant of the Savior with no rights of his own; no position of his own; no title of his own; and no initials behind his name. Just a slave of Jesus, that’s all.

And not only was Jude the “bond-servant of Jesus”, but also the "brother of James.” We’ll come back next week (Lord willing) and say more about the significance of Jude’s bloodlines. But, for now, suffice it to say that even this little bit of name-dropping (telling us that his brother was a famous pastor) was surely a sign of Jude’s humility. Some of us might begrudge being known as so-and-so’s little brother or sister. Many of us might not be content to always live in another’s shadows! It’s always easier to be Bette Midler than to be the poor soul about whom she sang: ‘It must have been cold there in my shadow’! But Jude was not ashamed to be known as James’s little bro. He did not have to set out and stake a claim to his own unique identity.

I’m challenged by that! Jude was a far greater man than me. His twenty-five verses of writing are worth ten thousand times more than all the millions of combined key-strokes I’ve hammered out on my Dell computer these ten years as a pastor. I’m less than nothing compared to this man named Jude. And yet I often find that I crave recognition. I like it when people know who I am, or think well of my position or education or accomplishments. But here I find one of the authors of the best-selling book of all time; the man chosen to put on paper the very words of God … simply calling himself a slave of Jesus, and someone else’s little brother … and being well-content with that! And, O, that you and I may be content with such titles as well! May we be content simply to ride Jesus’ coat-tails, to kiss His feet, to renounce our own claims and rights and personal glory, and to give all of it to Him!