I've been so blessed by going slowly and intentionally through the New Testament in 2018. I've decided to keep it going, but this time I'm starting a little further back...back in Genesis 1. Starting January 1, I'll be posting short daily devotionals walking through the entire Bible over the course of 2019. I've decided to save my Revelation posts for the end of these devos, so follow along at JESUS 365!
I hope you'll join us starting on January 1st!
One short chapter tucked in God’s story to us closing out the letters to individuals and churches before the revelation received by John. Jude is widely believed to be the brother of James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the early church in Jerusalem, making Jude also the half-brother of Jesus. Like James, he also did not believe in Jesus as Messiah prior to the resurrection. All of the words penned in the Bible are inspired by God to us, but there is something powerful to me about these words from someone who spent the early years of their life with Jesus as an older brother…can you imagine?!?!
Jude is primarily concerned with false teachers. This is a common theme, warned about by Jesus, as well as the others in their letters. Something so often repeated should give us pause.
Like Satan, the Father of Lies himself, these false teachers are good at what they do. They are manipulative and often charismatic, using smooth words, impressive speech, with a commanding presence, and some truth sprinkled in to throw us off. Here’s how Jude describes these false teachers…let it be a warning to us to be alert and aware!
They creep in unnoticed. They become part of the Christian community. The ones we need to worry about aren’t the loud antagonist shouting from the outside in obvious opposition, but instead the deceitful ones from the inside. They pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus as Master and Lord. They indulge in sexual immorality, defile the flesh, and reject authority. They blaspheme what they don’t understand, relying on their instincts. They are in our community, but they are wandering with the waves of the day. They are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters. They show favoritism to gain advantage, full of smooth and flattering words. They deny Jesus as Christ – God in the flesh -- crucified for our salvation.
It is a serious warning. Let us not be deceived...there is only ONE Gospel; only One path to salvation. So, what do we do? We tend to want to fight back, point fingers, and wildly expose. But according to Jude our response should be to continue building our faith, to pray, to keep in the love of God, to have mercy on those who are doubting, to show mercy to others. I think we need to be discerning and careful about who we lump into this category of false teacher and how we respond. It isn’t about our instincts and preferences, it is about Jesus Christ as savior and the glorification of God. Our response should focus more on us than on others. These warnings should drive us to dig deeper in the Word, seeking truth, abiding in God, showing mercy and love, desiring that no one be deceived. It is a posture of surrender and humility, working on ourselves, loving our neighbors, and trusting God is in control.
I’ve been so strongly convicted this past year about being intentionally and consistently in the Word. I believe the most effective way to not be deceived by false teachers Jesus and the apostles repeatedly warned us about is to know God’s truth and pray for the spirit’s wisdom and discernment. I’m starting a daily devo on Jan 1 that will journey through the Bible in a year. If you want to join us, follow along at Jesus 365.
1, 2 & 3 John • Day 237 of 260 • #NTin2018
We are all wired with different personalities perfectly instilled in us by our Creator. I happen to me more on the wordy/studying/academic side and less on the emotional/carefree/feeling side (I’m as boring as I sound!). I’m not sure if it is my personality or if everyone wonders these things, but I sometimes ask myself, “How do I know if I believe what I say I believe? How do I know if I really love Jesus vs. loving to study about Jesus? How do I know if I am placing Him in the proper place of Lord of my life?” Anyone else? The academic side tends to come more easily than the heart side. But I know head knowledge means nothing if it doesn’t penetrate our hearts and then flow out through our hands and feet.
John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John) have a lot to say about what it looks like to truly be sold out for Jesus. Here are a few litmus tests courtesy of John…
If we truly know Jesus, we will obey His commandments. We will do what He says. We won’t just read about it and study it and write about it…we will DO IT.
If we are in Jesus, we will walk in the same way in which He walked. We will want to live our life like He did. In obedience, submission, humility, with peace and love, staying on task instead of arguing with every naysayer and antagonist.
If we love Jesus, we will love other people. John says if we hate a brother, we aren’t in the light...we are still in darkness.
If we love the world more than Jesus, the love of the Father is not in us. John goes on to describe what the “love of the world” is…desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, pride of life. When we want things because they look good, make us feel good, or elevate us personally, we are probably on the wrong track.
John further describes what love looks like…laying down our life for our brothers. And if we have the world’s goods and see a brother in need, but close our heart against him, God’s love does not abide in us. Those things Jesus said about loving others....He meant it! We are to love not in word or talk, but in deed and truth.
None of these things save us...only the blood of Jesus does that. But these things do demonstrate our love and commitment to follow Him while we wait for His return to take us home.
John acknowledges that it will be hard. That we shouldn’t be surprised if the world hates us and there will be many false prophets out there preaching a different way to live. He says we should test the spirits to make sure they are from God. And this is how we will know: if they confess Jesus Christ has come and is from God. Any other voice, no mater how slick and seemingly wise and sophisticated it seems…if it doesn’t confess Jesus, it is not from God.
John closes his first letter, “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” They trip is up, get us off track, and shift our focus away from God. Idols are anything that take first place over God. They can be things, people, experiences, approval seeking, etc. Kyle Idleman says, “The one thing that we are most reluctant to give up has the most potential to become a substitute for Him.” What are we chasing? Idols or God? God doesn’t settle for second place.
2 Peter 3
Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting is hard. Really, really hard. Especially when things are falling apart all around you. At first you truly believe the promise that things will get better. It gives you hope and gets you through those rough days. But them time goes by. And more time. And even more time. You grow weary, cynical, and more receptive to other voices that may be telling you a different story.
Peter’s letter is to people who are waiting. It had been roughly 65 years since Jesus left. The expectation was a quick return by Jesus. Instead, things seem to be getting worse as the years drag on.
False teachers use this waiting to try to convince the people that Jesus isn’t coming back again ....why keep striving to live a Godly life?
Peter continues to implore the displaced believers to hold fast to the Truth, God’s promises, and the hope they once had. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). Time isn’t purposelessly dragging on in God’s eyes. He isn’t bored or discouraged by the waiting. He sees the beautiful, perfect fulfillment of it all. He knows we will one day see it was worth the perseverance in the waiting.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). What the false teachers are trying to throw in their face as a reason not to believe, Peter calls mercy. We ALL have someone in our lives that is perishing. God was patient to wait on us and He is patient to wait for them.
Perhaps in some way our pain and our waiting is part of a bigger story; a redemption story that we just can’t see yet. Don’t grow weary in the waiting. God’s promises are good and true. God is patient and God keeps His promises.
1 Peter 2
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon a story where Christianity and Christians are being attacked. Equally common is to see the guns fully firing back from Christians in response. No doubt, the natural instinct is to bristle and become defensive. We want to fight back, and perhaps even launch a counter attack. We cry out, “unfair” and too easily assume the victim role.
But as Jesus followers is this the right response? As Jesus followers are we supposed to go with the natural instinct?
Time and again the Bible tells us to expect the world to fight against us and to even expect persecution. None of this treatment or response by non-Christians should surprise us. The Bible also shows us how to respond.
What if we did things differently, more like Jesus? Imagine the impact if our collective and consistent response to persecution is to love even more. To serve even more. To count others more important than ourselves. To give sacrificially. To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. To share the grace, love, forgiveness, and freedom offered by Jesus. What if this is what we did instead of firing back in angry defense on social media?
Jesus not only told us to turn the other cheek, but He also modeled it. He was regularly attacked, lied about, marginalized, and misunderstood. However, instead of fighting back, He kept living the life on earth He was called to, completely focused on His purpose and His life as the response. Peter reminds us of Jesus, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Likewise, Peter tells the dispersed and persecuted Christians to, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Peter expects those on the outside will speak harshly against Christians. But the response according to Peter, and modeled by Jesus, should be to conduct ourselves honorably. SO THAT, they will see our good deeds and glorify God.
Our ultimate aim is to point people to Jesus. Our right jabs and contempt do nothing to bring people closer to their Savior. We most effectively do this by living honorable lives...lives that make the outside world pause and want to learn more. And I know...it is so hard. It is hard to take the often unfair and unjust criticism and condemnation. But honestly, wanting to fight back is rooted more in pride than love.
Peter says this is the will of God, that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Change comes about through love and honorable living; through our actions and behavior toward others. In Christ we are FREE. However, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Peter reminds us we should not use this freedom for evil, but rather “living as servants of God.”
1 Peter 1
“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispsersion…” Peter begins his letter. He is writing to people who have been displaced. People who are no longer in the comfort of home, their community, the familiar. Temporary residents in a foreign land. It is a letter of encouragement…to keep going even while it is hard. To hang in there, that better days are ahead.
As Christians we too are displaced from our true home. We are temporarily separated from the way things should be. Do you ever look around and just feel hopeless? Do you see the effects of sin, the pain and suffering, the devil’s effective manipulations and lies, the evil and cultural hostility, and just want to give up? Do you wonder if it is all worth it?
If so, this letter is for you too. Peter’s words to hang in there is for us. We have a living hope. We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. It is kept in heaven for us, currently being guarded, ready to be revealed at just the right time. Peter tells us we have something to rejoice about, though now for a little while we may be grieved by various trials.
The chaos around us, the news we hear, the hatred and division we see can be debilitating. But we have something greater to look to instead. Peter says we should prepare our minds for action, and being sober-minded, setting our hope FULLY on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If you are feeling despair at the circumstances around you, place your hope on Jesus. Fix your eyes on the inheritance being guarded for you. Hang in there. Better days are coming.
Imagine your young child has wandered from the safety and security of home. You would stop at nothing to find them. You would search night and day. You would liquidate everything for a ransom. You would hang up posters and boldly bang on doors. You wouldn’t stop until they were safe in your arms.
James closes his letter with this sentence, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The wanderer is the heartbeat of James. It is the culmination of all the practical advice packed into his letter thus far, pointing to true and genuine faith; what it looks like when we aren’t lost and wandering. Perhaps he is reflecting on his personal experience as a wanderer, remembering his mocking and unbelief when Jesus, his half-brother, was walking the earth. The risen Jesus appeared to him personally and his wandering ceased. He believed and his life was changed. His Savior pursued him. He didn’t leave him in the dark.
We are part of God’s search and rescue team. Why don’t we pursue our lost brothers and sisters like we would a wandering child? Why are we so quick to leave them in the dark armed with excuses?
Bible.org commentary says of our mistaken rationale, “One member of the search and rescue team says, ‘It was really cold and stormy, and there was a good show on TV. So I just prayed for you to be okay.’ Another says, ‘I wanted to be sensitive to your feelings. I thought you might be embarrassed if we came looking.’ Another says, ‘I wasn’t sure you were really lost. It would be judgmental to imply that you actually were lost. Besides, it would be arrogant of me to say that I’m not lost. After all, we all have our own paths on the journey.’ That’s not the kind of search and rescue team that I would want if I were lost!”
The truth is, it is hard. Because unlike a physically lost child who wandered off into the woods, our spiritually lost friends don’t always want to be found and rescued. They don’t realize they are lost. They don’t know they need to be rescued. We have to trust the Spirit to lead us to those we should go after and pray that the Spirit opens their eyes to the fact that they are indeed lost. God will join us on this mission near and dear to His heart.
May we have the kind of urgency toward wandering and lost souls that we do for a physically lost child. God, soften our hearts and open our eyes to chase after who and what you are chasing.
We don’t know much about the early life of Jesus. I often wonder what it would have bene like to be his sibling or best friend growing up…to watch how he played, and learned, and interacted with family and friends. I think James, as His half-brother, would have such a unique perspective on the Gospel and Christian living. So when James teaches things like joy in trials, living humbly, not just hearing the word but LIVING it, having compassion toward those in need, showing no partiality, backing up faith with good works, being aware of the power of our words…when James teaches these things, I imagine him going back in time and remembering what it was like to be with Jesus and the way Jesus naturally lived life. Not just when crowds were around, but always…in the mundane daily chores and tasks and downtime…in the everyday relationships.
James, armed with this knowledge and perspective, doesn’t hold back either. He says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Pretty intense, right? But it echoes things that Jesus said about not being able to serve two masters and watching out for the little leaven that seems small and insignificant, but slowly and severely changes the composition of the thing it enters. We think we can handle a little of what the world has to offer; that we can manage the worldly ways and things and not be changed by them…but this is a mistake.
James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will fell from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” To think we can straddle the fence of the world and God’s kingdom is to remain double-minded.
Commentator David Guzik says, “Our problem is we often want a middle road; a little popularity, a little reputation, but still the anointing from God. We want the power without the cost.” God doesn’t share His throne and we are with Him or against Him. May we always choose God.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” James asks. Wisdom is more than knowledge and accumulation of information. Wisdom is action; found in the living. In the Old Testament we learn that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In the teachings of Jesus, we learn that the wise person rooted in God’s truth and character. He or she hates injustice and evil; loves righteousness; is alert and ready for His return. Wisdom is a manifestation of faith and spiritual living.
“By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James continues. True wisdom will show...in our conduct, in our good works, in our attitude and posture toward others.
So, how do we know if we are wise? If we have wisdom that is from God and not from the world? James offers a series of tests by which we can verify the genuineness of their faith, because when are truly saved and genuinely know God, we display a wisdom that looks and acts like it is of God. The wisdom we display is a reflection of the kind of a person we are.
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” James tells us that ungodly wisdom looks like BITTER JEALOUSLY and SELFISH AMBITION. It’s a heart issue. It is a life of self-focus, protecting our turf and/or wanting more for ourselves. John MacArthur describes it, “They are resentful of anyone who threatens their territory, who threatens their accomplishments, who threatens their reputation, who threatens to crowd their little slice of this world. Human wisdom, then, is self-focused, and any self-focused person has a tremendous problem with bitter jealousy.”
Wisdom from the world looks like attitude and action based on self...comparison, tension, competition. It looks like drifting with the tides of culture and self, rather than anchored in God’s ways. It looks like personal gratification...no humility, no love, no seeking the interest of others. James further gives us a picture of the consequences of earthly wisdom in action, “there will be disorder and every vile practice.” It wreaks havoc on us and those around us.
Wisdom from God looks vastly different, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Pure motives. Love of peace. Humble. Patient. Forgiving. Yielding. Merciful. Compassionate. Reasonable. No partiality. No hypocrisy or hidden motives. God, please fill me with not just more knowledge, but with YOUR wisdom and let my life be a reflection of You. You must become greater, I must become less.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:18-19
There is a difference in knowing about God — facts about Him; believing He exists — and knowing and believing IN Him. Submitting to His ways. Putting our faith and trust in Him as our Lord and Savior. We can believe our cell phone is a real thing that performs all of these useful functions, but we don’t believe it will save us.
Without a solid view of who God is we won’t ever fully submit to Him, or put much stock in who He says we are or what path He says we should be on. We can only go through the motions for so long over something we don’t genuinely believe. Without a firm footing, we will fall away easily when challenged. And this world is full of attempts to challenge our beliefs.
We often spend more time on our response to God than our relationship with God. But it is far more valuable to focus on WHO GOD IS than what we can or should be doing for Him. Because once our view of Him is right, the rest will follow…. naturally and wholeheartedly. It doesn’t mean we know and understand everything. No one does, or will, on this side of Heaven. God is far too big for our simple understanding. But it does mean we believe IN HIM, and we believe HIM. We choose HIM to be our counselor and guide.
Do you have a BIG view of God…that He is powerful, holy, good, in control, able, mighty, consistent, righteous, merciful, loving?
Do you believe He is who He says? That He keeps His promises? That He can do what He says He will do? Do you believe God created you and has good plans in store for you?
Do you believe that God is big enough to guide you, handle your burdens, forgive your sins, give you peace, have your good in mind, care about what happens to you?
WHATEVER is going on in your life, God is big enough- do you believe this? Do you choose God to be YOUR Lord and Savior?
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