April 26, 2011

"Keep yourselves in the love of God", Part 2

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Jude 20-23

We said last week that the main thing in these verses is that we “keep ourselves in the love of God”; that we keep the fire of our devotion to the Lord burning brightly; that we fan our love for Him in to flame and throw logs onto the fire of our zeal. So that’s the command in these verses: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”

But then, surrounding that command, Jude suggests four ways we might fan the flame; four logs we might throw onto the fire of our devotion to keep it burning bright and hot. How do we keep our zeal for God lit? Four ways from these verses:

1. By “building [ourselves] up on our most holy faith”
2. By “praying in the Holy Spirit”
3. By “waiting anxiously” for the Lord’s return
4. By having “mercy” on the doubting and the unbelieving

Over the next two articles, I’d like to look at each of those four things; at each of those four logs that, if we will simply pick them up and make use of them, will brighten the fires of our love for the Lord. And the first, as I say, is simply that we build ourselves up on our most holy faith. But what does that mean?

Well, when Jude talks about “your most holy faith”, I believe he is talking, not about your personal trust in God, per se; but about the faith; about the Christian faith in all its truth and doctrine. In other words, what Jude wants is for us to build up our lives on top of the foundation of the faith; on the foundation of Christian truth and doctrine. And where do we find that doctrine? In the Scriptures! That is where “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v.2) has been deposited – in the Bible. And so what Jude wants us to do, in order to keep our love for God burning brightly, is simply to build our lives upon the Christian faith, as it is given to us in the truths of the Bible.

Now that sounds over-simple, does it not? How do you keep yourself loving God? Read the Bible! Study the Bible. Listen to the Bible preached. Memorize the Bible. Seek to better understand the Bible. Comprehend the Bible’s doctrines. And then just do what the Bible says! In some ways, it really is that simple! And yet how often do we find ourselves neglecting the Scriptures, or just breezing through a five minute devotional in the morning? That’s like trying to keep your winter fire going with only a few pieces of kindling wood thrown into the smoldering embers once or twice a day! It will never work. And neither will scant attention to the word of God ‘work’ for those who want to obey Jude’s command to keep themselves loving God! If we are to love God, we must be people of great devotion to the Book! We must really dig into deeply!

The picture Jude paints is that of a building. Our love for God is like a building, or a house. And no house is ever built with just the few pieces of lumber that you can hang out the back of your trunk after a visit to Lowe’s! No! A house can only be built with multiple trips and large loads gathered at the lumber yard! And so it is with the building of our love for God. We must take multiple trips to the lumber yard of God’s word; we must gather large loads of the truths which make up our “most holy faith” and stock them away in our minds! And so I plead with you, very simply, to become people of the book! To give yourself copious opportunities for reading it, hearing it, and meditating upon it! “Keep yourselves in the love of God” by “building yourselves up on your most holy faith”!

April 22, 2011

Good Friday Sermons

In case you're looking for something that might help you meditate on the cross and the death of Jesus on this Good Friday afternoon ... here are some of our recent sermons through the latter portion of the gospel of Luke:

Luke 22.39-46 - "Not My will, but Yours be done"
Luke 22.47-71 - Betrayed, Denied, Abused, Victorious
Luke 23.01-25 - A Mockery of a Trial
Luke 23.13-31 - Trading Places with Jesus
Luke 23.32-46 - The Cross
Luke 23.47-56 - The Burial

And, if you're thinking ahead to Resurrection Sunday ... here's some initial food for thought. If you're in the area, join us at 11am Sunday for more!

April 18, 2011

"Keep yourselves in the love of God", Part 1

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Jude 20-23

The key to this one long thought comes right in the middle: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”. That’s the command that Jude is concerned about. That’s the fire he wants us to keep lit – “the love of God”. All the other verbs surrounding that one main command explain how we can actually go about accomplishing it. How do you “keep yourselves in the love of God”? By “building yourselves up on your most holy faith”; by “praying in the Holy Spirit”; by “waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus to eternal life”; and by having “mercy” on doubters, backsliders, and so on.

So again, there’s one command, and then four sub-points that explain how to go about keep that one command. The main thing is that we “keep ourselves in the love of God”. That’s the fire that Jude wants us to keep lit. And then all the other things (building, praying, waiting, and having mercy) are like logs that we can throw on the fire to keep it burning. ‘Keep the fire of love burning’ Jude is saying. ‘And here are four ways you can do it.’

We’ll come back, over the next two weeks (Lord willing), and talk about those four sub-points; those four logs that can be thrown on the fire of “the love of God” to help keep it lit. But, today, let’s just think about the main command – “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

That phrase alone deserves some careful attention, doesn’t it? Because, at first blush, it sounds quite unbiblical. “Keep yourselves in the love of God”? How is that? I thought we didn’t have to do anything to make God love us, or to keep God loving us! I thought Jesus already did everything that needed to be done to demonstrate the love of God for us (Romans 5.8)! Surely there is nothing we must do to keep God loving us; to keep ourselves in His love! Jesus already did it for us! So what gives? How can Jude come along and tell us to keep ourselves in the love of God?

Well, the answer to the question ‘what gives?’ is to realize that the phrase “the love of God” can mean two different things. Usually, if we used the phrase “the love of God”, we’d be talking about God’s love for us … as in ‘The love of God is amazingly demonstrated in that He sent His Son to die for us.’ But we can also use the phrase “the love of God” to refer to our love for God. For instance, ‘For the love of God, please stop sinning!’ In other words, ‘If you really love God, you’ll stop sinning in that way!’ And it is this second idea that Jude has in mind in the 21st verse of his letter. “Keep yourselves in the love of God” he says. In other words, keep yourselves loving God; keep the zeal of your devotion to Him burning brightly.’ That’s what Jude means. And that’s what he goes on about for four verses here toward the end of his letter.

He wants us not to allow our love to flicker out. He wants us to throw more and more logs onto our zeal for the Lord; to keep the fire stoked and the flames burning brightly. And so does God Himself. Consider what He’s done for us … giving His only Son to die in our place; giving His life in exchange for ours! And should we not be devoted to a God like that? Should we not love Him with all our hearts! Yes! But our love tends to grow cold, doesn’t it? Familiarity with the things of God may not breed contempt, but it often breeds complacency. And that’s why we must keep ourselves; why we must fan the flames; why we must throw logs onto the fire. “Keep yourselves in the love of God”! O, how I pray that will not merely be a Bible verse for us to know, but a lifelong quest and commitment!

April 11, 2011

False Teacher Traits, Part 4

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 17-19

One more time Jude hits the nail squarely on the heads of the false teachers (ouch!). One more time he spills out a list of their dirty laundry and their ugly character traits. So far he has called them dreamers, unclean, rejecters of authority, proud, heartless, spineless, fearless, loveless, fruitless, grumblers, accusers, flatterers, lustful, and boastful. And in verses 17-19 he has yet more to say! So, without further adieu, let’s hear, one more time, what Jude (and the Holy Spirit behind him) really think of men who lead people away from Christ and heaven by their false doctrine and slimy character. Since we’ve already listed fourteen of these sordid traits, we’ll pick up our numbering accordingly (making this article read a bit like a Puritan sermon!) …

False teachers, Jude says fifteenthly, are mockers. They like to make fun of people and ideas. They are engaged in caricature. Why? Probably because their doctrine can’t actually stand on its own, so that they are forced to make their teachings appear correct by making true teachings seem silly. They mock because they don’t have truth on their side.

Sixteenth, false teachers follow after their own ungodly lusts. Now Jude has already touched on lust once already. So, for him to come back to it a second time must mean that this is a chief trait of the heretics. They are what they are because they lust for power, and money, and position, and often sex. None of these things usually come to the true prophet of God. And, even when they do, he is hardwired to deflect the praise to Jesus … exactly the thing the false teacher wants for himself! So the false teacher creates a system of doctrine that emphasizes man – his gifts, his faith, his health, his prosperity, or what-have-you. And then he makes himself the model for whatever man centered ideas he is propounding. And, before long, he is the guru. Everyone comes to him with their problems, and their money, and their adulation. And the process is complete. He is well down the road of following after his own ungodly lusts. And others are following, too!

Seventeenth, false teachers cause divisions. Their doctrine itself, of course, is divisive. Because there are always going to be some people who see the holes, and know their Bibles better than the false teacher would like. But the character of these men is also divisive. Because, remember, the ministry is built around themselves, the gurus. And so people have to choose whether they want to give authority and praise and money to the guru or not. And those who don’t are kicked to the curb … and the church is divided.

Eighteenth, false teachers are worldly-minded. Their teachings and practices almost always emphasize the things of this world, and not the one above. So they often talk more about man’s faith than God’s power. They talk more about the body than the soul. They want earthly prosperity more than heavenly joy. And, often, their teaching is worldly-minded concerning the person of Jesus. So worldly-minded, in fact, that Jesus’ other-worldliness is overlooked and He is made out to be little more than a mere man and a good teacher! Because, to think anything else would be to admit that there is much more going on in the universe than can be perceived with our own two eyes and in this concrete world.

And finally, nineteenthly, false teachers are devoid of the Spirit. All the power they have is what they themselves can drum up by way of charisma, marketing, strong-arming, and so on. But the Holy Spirit is not upon their ministry … nor shaping their character, either.

So what’s the upshot of these Twenty Characteristics of False Teachers (Minus One)? Should we pull out this list every time we show up for Bible study or preaching? Not necessarily. But we must have these things in mind. In fact, if we can some up, we’d simply say that the ministry of a false teacher is characterized by man-centeredness rather than God-centeredness; by self-aggrandizement rather than love for people; by charisma rather than character; and by a gross mishandling of the Scriptures (and often total ignorance of them). So take that summary with you to church each week … and be on guard! “In the last time,” as Jude says, these men will be crawling around like ants.

April 4, 2011

You ought to Remember

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jude 17

For fourteen verses now Jude has been giving the lowdown on false teachers – their traits, their fates, the destruction they can wreak, and so on. Fourteen verses of rightly and marvelously tarring and feathering the religious charlatans! But in verse 17 Jude shifts gears (though he will wield his tar brush one more time before he’s finished!). Verses 3-16 are all about the false teachers. ‘“But you” are a different story’ he says to his readers. You are a different sort of people. You ought to be different than these men!

And what ought to be so different for true believers? Simply that they “remember.” True believers are not carried away by strange doctrines and savvy peddlers of religious snake oil. Why? Because true believers “remember the words” of “the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ”! True believers know the truth and can recall it to mind. They “remember” what the apostles have said about false teachers (v.18) … and can therefore spot them from a mile away. And they also “remember” the sound doctrine that the apostles taught … and can thus easily discern a counterfeit from the real thing. Christians are people who “remember”!

It’s so important to have a good memory – to be able to recall what the Bible says even when the book itself not in your hands! Because, when you’re out working in your yard on a Saturday morning, for instance … you probably don’t have a Bible in your hands. And so, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses walk up behind you and start handing out their materials, their teachings might actually sound okay … unless you can, even without a Bible in your hand, still “remember the words that were spoken … by the apostles”; unless you have truth stored away in your memory! But if you have truth stored in your memory, you are so much less apt to be led astray … either by the doctrines of the heretics, or by their personalities and methods.

The same can be said of doubts that Satan plants into your mind. Say you’re sitting in a university lecture in which the Bible is being ‘proven’ to be filled with contradictions, and implausibilities, and so on. Well, either you’d better have a Bible in your backpack, or you’d better have its truths hidden away in your memory … so that you might pull them out and counter the doubts that may arise in your mind (and perhaps counter the professor, too!). And the same could be said when doubts assail you on the hospital bed, and you don’t have a Bible readily at hand. If you don’t have Romans 8.28 stored away in your memory bank, you just might give in to despair! But if you “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ”, then you have a shield of faith in your hand with which you may extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one!

So, surely, “beloved” … “you ought to remember”! Sometimes you ought to intentionally memorize key passages of scripture. And, more than that, I think, you ought to be so often in the word and under good teaching that it simply begins to become a second language to you. You ought to be so often in and around the Bible that you speak its language and know its doctrines almost without having to think about it; so that verses that you didn’t even know you knew by heart would spontaneously arise to the surface in the time of need! So I urge you, “beloved” to “remember”!