Tag Archives: Joy

Thoughts from Jude (part 1)

“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” (Jude 1:1–2 ESV)

Jude writes to those who are called – “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 ESV).  Don’t miss the string here – or elsewhere in scripture – there are no human fingerprints on it!  God called us to be His BELOVED (those are familial words) and He will KEEP US in Christ Jesus.  He predestines, He calls, He justifies, He keeps & He glorifies.  We are along for the ride as we ACTIVELY contend for the faith.

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4 ESV)

Ungodly people had crept in and perverted the truth.  These were designated for destruction – they did not catch God off guard and they did not cause God to have to figure out what He was going to do!  They were unnoticed because they acted like Christians, but were not.  They talked it, but did not walk it.  They perverted grace and made it cheap grace, which is no grace at all.  Cheap grace always produces license – sensuality.  They ultimately denied Christ by their actions and unwillingness to submit to His commands and obey Him.  We may be able to talk a good talk, quote bible verses, walk aisles & pray prayers, but ultimately if we are not willing to walk in joyful obedience to Christ and submit to Him then we prove ourselves to be on shifting sand.  This is perhaps the greatest risk in our modern evangelical churches.  We don’t know what we believe, we don’t teach it and people have a very weak view of God and His grace.  God is nice, but He is not compelling.  Unless one has been deeply moved by the sovereign majesty of God, he will not understand the grace that has been given to him – He will not be moved to worship or obey.
  This is why Jude starts with God calling, God loving & God keeping.  Most in our midsts today would not deny Jesus explicitly, but deny Him by the way that they live.  He is not important to them, He is not the hub that their lives revolve around, He is not adored or served, He is just One of many gods in our lives.  This should scare us all!

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 1:5 ESV)

Jesus saved a people out Egypt.  Wow, Jude is saying that Jesus is God!  Powerful.  Those who did not believe were destroyed in the desert – that should really scare us.  These were people that experienced the miraculous deliverance God had provided them from Egypt, His commands at Sinai and His ongoing deliverance and guidance.  And yet they did not believe and were destroyed for their unbelief.  Our battle is for belief!  Those who did not endure in belief did not see the Promised Land (1 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 3:16–19) – and neither will we unless we endure.  Judgement awaits those who persist in unbelief!

“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.” (Jude 1:8–10 ESV)

These false teachers had come to rely on the subjectivity of their dreams instead of the objectivity of the scriptures.  Revelatory dreams still happen, but they should always be subjected to the authority of scripture. These people pollute the flesh and defy authority. They blaspheme the glorious One.

We do not know what Jude is referring to in verse 10, it has been lost in history. Won’t it be a glorious day when we can see more fully what we only see in part now!?  Michael understood his place in God’s created order so he did not tread on God’s authority. Lord, help us to learn from your authority!  Michael left the devil to God’s authority.

These false teachers operated on their instincts (like an animal) instead of on the authority of scripture.  We must subdue our instincts, feelings and sinful thoughts – they must be engaged by the grace of God and wrestled into submission by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  All that these people knew was how to follow their instincts and feelings regardless of whether they adhered to God’s moral decrees or not. This is dangerous – this is how people end up in the weeds and destroy their lives and the lives of others.

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:11–13 ESV)

These false teachers were motivated by coveting and greed because they were dissatisfied with the position that they currently occupied. He uses examples of Cain (Genesis 4:5-8), Balaam (Numbers 22:5-7, 2 Peter 2:15) and Korah (Numbers 16:1-3, 31-35). How often do we get derailed by being dissatisfied with where we are in life? We need believe that our deepest satisfaction in life is found in an abiding relationship with Jesus alone.  It is not found in the next accomplishment, relationship or position in life.

These false teachers are like hidden reefs because they are suffering no immediate consequences for their sinful behavior. This is sad! Like a ship sailing on the open water thinking that things are OK until they strike the reef just below the surface. These people live openly depraved lives and experience no consequences for their sinful behavior. They do what they want and are largely unchecked. Why is this? One can only speculate, but I wonder if this is because we don’t like conflict or because we feel like we are being ungracious by judging or confronting someone else?  It is not ungracious or unloving to confront people in their sin – it is what is required to help people see the light of day, though it is incredibly difficult!

Advertisements

Revelation is Required (1 John 1:1-4)

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”(1 John 1:1–4 ESV)

John is attesting to what he has seen & experienced about Jesus.  What he is writing is rooted in John’s first hand account of Jesus and His teachings; this is not some man made religion or some weird eclectic vision that he had experienced in a vacuum.  John points out to us that Jesus is the preeminent, preexistent, Creator God of the universe (John 1:1).  He is God who put on flesh and died, bearing the sins of His people.  But, the grave could not hold Him – nor will it be able to hold us!

We normally think that with enough information about something that we can figure it out.  We think that we can work out certain scenarios in our minds to learn how they will play out.  We think that we can think through things and get all of the pieces put together.  We give ourselves too much credit.  The Creator’s revelation is what we need; revelation is required. Revelation about God has always been what is required – even for Adam & Eve.  We don’t naturally seek God or have eyes to see, ears to hear or hearts to believe.  We need God to reveal Himself and His will to us.

Jesus & the gospel is God’s revelation to us.  The gospel is not just the saving power of God, but the bonding agent in His church.  It connects us and enables us to pursue authentic community.  This is because when we truly embrace the gospel, we are embracing an incredibly high view of God and a realistic view of ourselves.  We naturally tend to lower our view of God to a grandpa in the sky who gives us good gifts.  We naturally tend to think that we are pretty moral, pretty capable, pretty good.  We think that Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary to make up for our shortcomings, but that we don’t really have that many.  We rarely see ourselves as we really are – selfish control freaks who are stiff necked and refuse to lovingly submit to the God of the universe.  The gospel frees us from pretending that we have it all together (we don’t) and it frees us from performing as if we could please God by our hard work (we can’t).  The interesting thing about the gospel is that it most fully marks those who know how wicked they really are.  That is because God chooses the messiest of people so that THEY WILL NEVER FORGET WHO FREED THEM. 

Once you have been freed from believing that you are justified OR ACCEPTED based on your performance, you begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead you to greater joy.  His commands are not harsh or burdensome.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  This a recurring theme for John in his gospel (John 15:11; 16:24) and he visits it here in this epistle as well.  He sees that joy is to be had in an abiding relationship with Jesus.  This is for his joy and for ours.  Lord, give us eyes to see.

When Wrestling gives way to Worshipping

“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.   O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation? You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret. You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”

(Habakkuk 3:1–19 ESV)

This section sounds so much like Job who had heard of God, but now sees Him (Job 42:5).  Habakkuk had heard of God and knew His laws and commands, but now he was asking that God remember mercy when His justice provokes His wrath.  Habakkuk remembers how God’s mighty, sovereign saving power had been displayed in the past – at the Nile, the Jordan & the Red Sea and in the desert during the Exodus.  He is an all powerful deliverer.

Majestic power is on display here.  As God measures the earth (I envision a couple of small steps), He shakes the nations (like in a brown lunch sack), then the eternal mountains were scattered (only God can shake what they viewed as a foundation to the world).  His ways are eternal.  Habakkuk is doing in these verses what we must do – we must recite and remember who God is and the truths about Him – when we do this, things come in to perspective.  Apart from this perspective, you will always struggle and wrestle because you have no real perspective on things.  Like Asaph, the Psalmist you will be able to say, “but when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalms 73:16–17 ESV)

The majestic power of God is seen in the spectacular display of lightning & flash flooding in thunderstorms.  Mountains quake at His power (earthquakes) and He causes even the sun & moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12-13).  This God is all powerful, unequaled & sovereignly ruling.  When difficulty and hardship comes, knowing that our God is ruling and reigning in all power is a comforting thing.  And not just that He is sovereign, but He does good to His people.  Habakkuk is calling to recollection that.  God had protected and miraculously delivered His people before.  He will indeed do it again – but they were needing punishment for their wickedness.  God delivered them from Pharaoh and from Canaanite kings.  God is willing and able to deliver; He is the great Deliverer.

Habakkuk physically responds with a trembling body and quivering lips to the impending judgement that is coming, but he will wait for God to finish His judgement and then judge the invaders.  Habakkuk is finished wrestling, complaining & accusing God.  He is now resting on the sweet sovereignty of God.  The battle in his soul is over and he is beginning to worship and rest.  He does not have all of His questions answered, but He sees God and that is enough for him.  Oh, that we would land in the same spot.  When we wrestle, complain & accuse God of injustice or of silence – we need to be looking to get to this place.  A place where we are done wrestling and we begin worshipping.  Worship is the only thing that will satiate the wrestler’s soul.  God satiates Habakkuk’s soul by giving him a grander view of Himself – God gives Habakkuk God, and it proves to be enough.

Habakkuk concludes that if there is absolute famine in the land and hardship – no figs, no fruit, olives, food or live stock – he will still praise the Lord his God.  He will take joy in the God of His salvation.  He trusts in God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness, what a place to rest your feet in the midst of adversity.  Trusting God leads to joy.  Faith that God is in control and working all things out for His kid’s good is profoundly comforting and joyful, despite the physical hardships that may come our way.  In verse 19, Habakkuk clarifies that it is the LORD (Yahweh, the personal covenant keeping God) that is His strength.  Whether deliverance, comfort & prosperity come or not – God is Habakkuk’s strength.  There are struggles to be had, tears to be cried and doubts to wrestle through, but when we find that God alone is enough to satisfy joy ensues.  When we still believe that anything created can satisfy the longings in our soul, unrest & discontentedness are not far behind.

We want to accuse God of not running His world the way that we think is right.  It’s His world and He gets to run it the way that He wants.  And we must always rest on the fact that He is good and is doing good – even when we can’t see it.  This is walking by faith and not by sight (feelings, emotions or current experiences).  There comes a time (or many times) in our lives, if God is gracious, that we press and ask questions seeking to understand, but where the questions no longer matter because we see God and trust Him – regardless of the circumstances of life.  God, alone, is enough.  Regardless of where you find yourself today, remember that the eternal God of the universe set His saving affections on you before a star was breathed into space.  Why?  For His glory and YOUR JOY.  Meditate on this truth, mull it over, think about it and see if it doesn’t move your heart.

Are you living under law or under grace?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

In Galatians 4:21-28, Paul is making the argument that the Galatians are no longer under the law (subject to slavery), but under grace (free).  The church at Galatia had struggled with adding requirements, rules and regulations to the gospel.  They said Jesus + a list of things must be done in order to earn God’s acceptance and approval.  This is a dangerous, slippery slope that we all wrestle with.  Being accepted completely by God based solely on the work of Jesus seems too easy so we naturally want to add some qualifiers to it.  But, that distorts the beauty of the gospel and enslaves those who adhere to it!  You can tell if you are living with a law oriented faith if you believe that God’s approval, acceptance and affection is based on your behavior or performance.  Behavior modification does not set you free to pursue an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe!

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free!  What is freedom?  Freedom is doing exactly what you want to do and it being what God wills for you.  This is a condition of the heart – our behaviors are only symptomatic indicators to what is going on inside.  Rules and formulas have never liberated the heart to love and obey God.  Only grace sets our hearts free.  Let us reflect upon the greatness of how a holy, perfect & sovereign God would make a way for rebellious, wicked & weak creatures to be reconciled with Him.  We are justified (made right before God) and adopted as His children because of the atoning work of Jesus.  Dwell on the fact that you are not worthy, but He made the prevision for you and your heart will begin the be set free.

Where to focus our gaze

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)

The author of Hebrews starts chapter 12 with “therefore,” which should always cause to look at what was previously said. In chapter 11, he expanded on how those who went before us walked in faith (trust) in God and not in their own striving, morality or abilities. In light of the fact that those who went before us did not have complete revelation of God’s redemptive plan, but leaned on faith, how much more should we? They endured incredibly difficult things – even death, sustained by a hope that something better was ahead. This “cloud of witnesses” evokes images of the faithful watching us as if in an arena. The image is of the faithful saints watching – and cheering us on – as we run this same race that they have already run.

The call is to look backwards at those who have gone before us as encouragement and then set our sights upward on Jesus and run with endurance. Our part is to root out those things which slow us down – weight & sin. Just like running with a weight is inefficient, so is trying to run this race of faith with a multi-focused mind encumbered with sin and other things. It is interesting that the author separates sin from other things, denoted by weight. It is true that sin encumbers us in our race of faith, but so do many of the morally neutral – or even morally good – things that hold too much affection in our hearts as they border on becoming objects of our worship. Things like our kids, spiritual service, marriage, hobbies or a desire for deep & meaningful relationships.

John Calvin expands on this thought as he defines weight as whatever impedes our progress in this race: “Now there are various burdens which delay and impede our spiritual course, such as the love of this present life, the pleasures of the world, the lusts of the flesh, worldly cares, riches also and honors, and other things of this kind.” This is a significant concept; apparently, there are a number of things which are not sinful that do impede our progress on this journey – unhealthy affection or focus on news, hobbies, sports, pop culture, job, worldly wealth, politics, relationships, family, church trends, and countless others. Let us see these for what they are: fleeting and temporary, meant for our enjoyment, but not as the object worthy of our full weight of worship. Matthew Henry says it like this: “Every weight, that is, all inordinate affection and concern for the body, and the present life and world. Inordinate care for the present life, or fondness for it, is a dead weight upon the soul, that pulls it down when it should ascend upwards, and pulls it back when it should press forward; it makes duty and difficulties harder and heavier than they would be.” This is a continued call to remain faithful, to endure hardship, to persevere – a common theme in Hebrews.

How do we do this? We look to Jesus. This is not some abstract, ethereal instruction – or some trite command. No, this is indeed the full weight of the gospel. He is the FOUNDER and PERFECTER of our faith. Faith starts and ends with God. The author of the letter to the Hebrews does not stop there: the secret to jettisoning all that impedes our progress on this journey of faith is found in a deeper relationship with Jesus – it is in an ever increasing understanding of who God is, what He has done on our behalf and a recognition that we deserve nothing from Him – except His just wrath. And let us not forget what motivated the risen Christ – JOY. What!? What joy is there in bearing the just wrath of the Almighty on behalf of the elect – who rarely, if ever, fully appreciate the sacrifice offered on their behalf? The joy that drove Jesus was a redeemed people and a redeemed creation that would glorify God as originally designed. This is a foretaste of God making all things new. This joy drove Him to endure the horrific suffering, spiritual pain, and humiliation doled out to Him on the cross. But let us never forget that He overcame – that the grave could not hold him – that He now is seated on the throne in heaven, where He rules and reigns. Let His joy become our Joy. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and remember what He endured on our behalf and strive to see & appreciate how a holy, sovereign, just God would make a way for a rebellious, treasonous and ungrateful people; just tasting this will undoubtedly produce worship – and endurance to run the race.

God will not be domesticated or manipulated by our religious systems

“Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”” (Isaiah 66:1–4 ESV)

God seems to be constantly reminding us that He cannot be pinned in, domesticated or manipulated by the systems, institutions and laws that He has given us.  All of the ceremonies, laws, worship, covenants and military victories were (and still) are designed to point to the glory of God and the worship of the Creator.  Instead the people regularly attempted to use these religious things in an attempt to manipulate God in to getting what they wanted.  The problem is that what they wanted was His benevolent blessings more than they wanted Him.  God looks favorably on the dependent, lowly & contrite spirit that recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and throw himself on the grace and mercy of God. (Matthew 5)

God views our worship that is not accompanied by a trembling, contrite heart is wicked as murder or idolatry.  God is not interested in external compliance to His laws – God is after heart level transformation and increasing affection for Him.  The people were using compliance to their Levitical worship in an attempt to control God and get Him to bless and protect them.  We, too, often times, believe that God “owes” us protection, blessing or prosperity because of our morally clean lives or ability to keep God’s commands.  This is idolatry that reveals a heart that is more interested in God’s blessings and gifts than is in knowing or walking with Him – this is the default mode of the human heart, but even Christians must carefully guard their hearts and ask what their true motivations are – what their desire is for and where their real treasures are.  Our affections matter, they are the central component in the battle for our faith.

Temptations aren’t our problem

“This may come as a surprise to you, but temptation has more to do with belief than it does behavior.”

“This is why when Jesus was asked in John 6:28, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” he answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he sent.” Jesus was making the indisputable point that unbelief is the force that gives birth to all of our bad behavior and every moral failure. It is the root. While the disciples located godliness in something they must do, Jesus pointed them back to himself–the One who came to do for them what they could never do for themselves. “Believe in me.””

“Believing that “it is finished”, that everything we need in Christ is already ours and therefore we need nothing more, is the hardest thing (so much harder than modifying our behavior) because we are all seasoned “do-it-yourselfers.” Self-salvation engineers (that’s all of us) find it much easier to make a moral “to-do” and “not-to-do” list and try to live by it, then they do trusting, believing, and resting wholly in the work and provision of Another.  “To be convinced in our hearts”, said Luther, “that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing” because “the sin underneath all sins is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.””

Read More here

Our blind, small desire

“my biggest problem is not that I desire to be happy when I ought to be more concerned about doing my duty. This is not Jesus’ diagnosis of human need. My biggest problem is my blindness to the source of true joy. I need opened eyes and a renewed heart so that I will desire what is truly satisfying! ”
“The greatest hindrance to our deep transformation and spiritual growth is the smallness of our desire. We trifle with the “mud pies” of lust and greed, when we could enjoy a “holiday at the sea” or, to use biblical language, “pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). We are content to play with Monopoly money when we could have eternal treasure. We desperately try to drink from broken cisterns, while neglecting the Fountain of Living Waters (Jer. 2:11–13). “

-Hedges, Brian G. (2010). Christ Formed in You (Kindle Locations 3113-3116; 3125-3129). Shepherd Press. Kindle Edition.