Jude 22-25

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Jude

22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Baptists do not have saints…or at least not officially so! In reality, however, we kind of do. Or, at the least, there are figures we have revered and canonized in a sense. For Southern Baptists, one such person would be Lottie Moon, the famed missionary to China in whose name Southern Baptists contribute to the cause of international missions every Christmas through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Yes, even Southern Baptists who do not know exactly who Lottie Moon was know that her name is revered.

But did you know that Lottie Moon was once in love?!

In a fascinating article entitled “Lottie Moon’s Romance,” Erich Bridges wrote of Lottie Moon’s relationship with Professor Crawford Toy and what appeared to doom it from becoming a marriage.

Years before, during her education at Virginia’s Albemarle Female Institute, Lottie had met Crawford Toy, a young professor who taught there and at the University of Virginia. Toy was a brilliant teacher of English and classical languages, and Lottie was his star student.

“Girls were known to develop serious crushes on the eligible Professor Toy,” who was both single and handsome, writes Catherine Allen in her biography of Lottie, The New Lottie Moon Story, (Broadman). Lottie was charmed by Toy, and the attraction seems to have been mutual.

The two corresponded for years after Lottie left the Institute. Both were interested in missionary service, and they may have discussed marriage before she went to China for the first time. But Lottie had seen other bright, ambitious women like herself rushed into unhappy marriages, and she may have hesitated…

Still, Toy and Lottie kept up a regular correspondence, and their romantic attraction seems to have endured. But Toy’s career took a sad turn. He had become a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and his views came under fire in the denomination.

“Toy had been educated in the German school of ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible and apparently questioned the authority and reliability of Scripture as accepted by the churches of the denomination,” Rankin writes. “His views became evident when he (later) became a Unitarian. Lottie may have recognized the incompatibility of his teaching with a basic doctrine of her faith: that all who have yet to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are lost, whether in China or America.”

Toy was asked to resign from the seminary faculty in 1879. Yet even after he began teaching at Harvard, Toy and Lottie considered marriage. She informed her missionary colleagues that she was leaving the mission field to “take the professor of Hebrew’s chair at Harvard University in connection with Dr. Toy,” according to a September 1881 letter written by China missionary T.P. Crawford.

Harvard would not employ women professors for another 40 years. The “connection with Dr. Toy” was apparently to be marriage. Lottie asked family members in Virginia to prepare for a wedding in the spring.

No wedding ever occurred. Perhaps Lottie could not accept Toy’s liberal theological views. Relatives of Toy understood that the pair broke their engagement because of “religious differences.”[1]

Lottie Moon apparently broke off a relationship with a man she deeply loved over his drift into theological liberalism. It is fascinating to read about this. Love mattered to Lottie, but so did doctrine and truth.

All of this raises an important question: What do you do when a person you know drifts from truth into error, from orthodoxy into heresy?

Jude, who has spent a good bit of his letter cautioning the church about false teachers, concludes his letter by speaking to these believers about how to respond to three different groups of people: (1) believers honestly struggling with doubt, (2) those who have rejected Christ, and (3) heretics and false teachers who not only have rejected Christ but want others to reject Him as well. Consider these three groups.

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Jude 17-21

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Jude

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 

The late Dallas Willard once made a very astute observation about the Christian life. He wrote:

If your neighbor is having trouble with his automobile, you might think he just got a lemon.  And you might be right.  But if you found that he was supplementing his gasoline with a quart of water now and then, you would not blame the car or its maker for it not running, or for running in fits and starts.  You would say that the car was not built to work under the conditions imposed by the owner.  And you would certainly advise him to put only the appropriate kind of fuel in the tank.  After some restorative work, perhaps the car would then run fine.

            We must approach current disappointments about the walk with Christ in a similar way.  It too is not meant to run on just anything you may give it.  If it doesn’t work at all, or only in fits and starts, that is because we do not give ourselves to it in a way that allows our lives to be taken over by it.  Perhaps we have never been told what to do.  We are misinformed about “our part” in eternal living.  Or we have just learned the “faith and practice” of some group we have fallen in with, not that of Jesus himself.  Or maybe we have heard something that is right-on with Jesus himself, but misunderstood it…Or perhaps we thought the “Way” we have heard of seemed too costly and we have tried to economize (supplying a quart of moralistic or religious “water” now and then).

            Now we know that the “car” of Christianity can run, and run gloriously, in every kind of external circumstance.  We have seen it – or at least, anyone who wishes to can see it – merely by looking, past the caricatures and partial presentations, at Jesus himself and at the many manifestations of him in events and personalities throughout history and in our world today.[1]

My question to you is quite simple: Are you mixing water with the gasoline?

If you have trusted in Christ, you are saved and redeemed and called to a life of discipleship and follow-ship. You are called to the great and grand adventure of the Christian life. Everything you need to live the Christian life is available to you. The Holy Spirit is within you. Christ is beside and before you. The church is open to you. The power of prayer has been placed before you. The very word of God has been placed in your hands in the scriptures. Truly, if you have accepted Christ, you have what you need!

If you have truly give your life to Christ, let me ask you: Are you moving forward? Are you progressing?

No? Then why not. It cannot be a lack in the provisions of God. As we have just said, He has given you all you need. No, if you are born again and not progressing there is only one answer for it: You are mixing water with the gasoline.

Sixteen of Jude’s twenty-five verses are warnings about false teachers. In verses 17-19 he calls upon the church one last time to beware.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

We have been warned, in other words, that these false teachers would come. But now we must ask: How can we follow Christ in such a way that we are prepared to endure false teachers and the lies they try to tell us? How can we progress? How can we move forward? With all these warnings of a false “Christian” life, what does a true Christian life look like?

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Matthew 19:1-12

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Matthew 19

Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

On October 26, 2022, Cara Buckley, writing for The New York Times, wrote:

First it was cake smeared on the Mona Lisa in Paris, then tomato soup splattered across a van Gogh in London, and then, on Sunday, liquefied mashed potatoes hurled at a Monet in a museum in Potsdam.

What these actions shared, aside from involving priceless art and carbs, was the intentions of the protesters behind them. Desperate to end complacency about the climate crisis and to pressure governments to stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, they said they had resorted to such high profile tactics because little else has worked.

None of the paintings were harmed, as all were encased in protective glass.[i]

You have perhaps seen the videos of these acts of vandalism occurring in various museums. The images have caused me to catch my breath with each one! In Buckley’s article, two protestors squat beneath a stained and desecrated Monet having superglued their hands to the walls and floors beneath it. Or, at least they appear to have desecrated the Monet. As Buckley points out, “None of the paintings were harmed, as all were encased in protective glass.”

It is a fascinating picture: a priceless work of art befouled and covered by soup or some other substance, and yet the original remains unharmed.

This is as apt a picture of marriage as one is likely to find. We have soiled it, stained it, and sought to cover it up with all manner of distortion and perversion and violence and redefinition. And yet, the original does remain beneath the muck.

In Matthew 19, the Pharisees want to talk about the muck, the ways we ruin marriage, but Jesus wants to talk about the priceless original beneath!

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Jude 12-16

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Jude

12 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; 13 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. 14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

 In 1997, the Haitian death squad leader and mass murderer Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was interviewed by British journalist and author Jon Ronson. Ronson writes about this interview in his fascinating book, The Psychopath Test. Constant founded a death squad in Haiti called FRAPH that launched a reign of terror against supporters of the former Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. FRAPH, under Toto’s direction, was brutal. Jonson writes:

According to human rights groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and Human Rights Watch, when FRAPH caught an Aristide supporter, they’d sometimes slice off the person’s face. When a group of Aristide supporters holed up in a shantytown called Cité Soleil, Constant’s men turned up with gasoline—this was December 1993—and burned the place to the ground. At one point that day some children tried to run away from the fire. The men from FRAPH caught them and forced them back inside their burning homes. There were fifty murders that day, and many other bloodbaths during Constant’s reign. In April 1994, for example, FRAPH men raided a harbor town, Raboteau, another center of Aristide support. They arrested and beat and shot and dunked into the open sewers all the residents they could catch. They commandeered fishing boats so they could shoot people fleeing across the sea.

The modus operandi of FRAPH was to team up with members of the Haitian Armed Forces in midnight raids of the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Gonaives and other cities. In a typical raid, the attackers would invade a house in search of evidence of pro-democracy activity, such as photos of Aristide. The men of the house would frequently be abducted and subjected to torture; many would be summarily executed. The women would frequently be gang-raped, often in front of the remaining family members. The ages of documented victims range from as young as 10 to as old as 80. According to witness reports, sons were forced at gunpoint to rape their own mothers.[1]

Constant was arrested in the United States and imprisoned but, after insinuating that he could prove CIA involvement in his activities, he was released by American authorities, given a green card, and told that his punishment was that he could not leave the burrough of Queens in New York except to check in with immigration services one hour each week in Manhattan.

It was in Queens that Ronson interviewed Toto. He said the interview was strange and surreal. He asked Toto what he did all day and Toto took him to a room in which was something that surprised Jon Ronson a great deal.

We climbed the stairs. I looked apprehensively behind me. We reached a doorway. He opened it. I took in the room.

On every table, every surface, there were the kinds of tiny plastic figures that come free with McDonald’s and Burger King promotions—little Dumbos and Goofys and Muppets from Space and Rugrats and Batmen and Powerpuff Girls and Men in Black and Luke Skywalkers and Bart Simpsons and Fred Flintstones and Jackie Chans and Buzz Lightyears and on and on.

We looked at each other.

“What impresses me most about them is the artistry,” he said.

“Do you arrange them into battalions?” I asked.

“No,” he said. There was a silence.

“Shall we go?” he murmured, I think regretting his decision to show me his army of plastic cartoon figurines.[2]

Throughout the interview, Toto utterly denied that he had ever done anything wrong. He called all of the accusations lies. Then, to Ronson’s surprise, he pretended, badly, to cry. Ronson says the ruse was obvious.

As their time together ended, Ronson and the mass murderer went to the door of the apartment building in Queens. What Ronson writes next is somehow strangely chilling.

Our time together ended soon afterward. He showed me to his door, the epitome of good manners, laughing, giving me a warm handshake, saying we’ll meet again soon. Just as I reached my car I turned around to wave again, and when I saw him, I felt a jolt pass through me—like my amygdala had just shot a signal of fear through to my central nervous system. His face was very different, much colder, suspicious. He was scrutinizing me hard. The instant I caught his eye, he put on that warm look again. He grinned and waved. I waved back, climbed into the car, and drove away.[3]

For some reason, this little scene has frightened me since the first time I read it. Ronson looking back and catching the domesticated, living-in-Queens, friendly, amiable, prone-to-tears, happy-meal-toy-loving Constant Toto staring at him with a contorted and hostile face is very jarring.

For a moment, Toto’s mask slipped, and Ronson caught it!

There is something here we must understand: Some men who like the toys in happy meals also like burning men, women, and children alive. Some men who live in apartment buildings and will sit and laugh with you will also send out death squads to murder and to maim. Some men who pretend to cry will laugh when at unspeakable horrors.

Brothers and sisters, some men wear masks, and, if you are diligent, you can see the horror beneath the smile.

Jude paints a similar picture of heretics. In Jude, he is going to talk about the mask that heretics wear but also about the shocking reality that the mask hides. He is going to do this through a series of metaphors, and it is vitally important that we heed what he says.

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Jude 8-11

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Jude

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.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 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.

Paul Sanyangore is the lead pastor at Victory World International Ministries in Zimbabwe. He claims to have God’s actual phone number. He has taken out a phone in the middle of services before and called God to ask Him how he should heal a particular person in the congregation. Sanyangore responded to criticisms of these antics thusly:

I have a direct channel, actually I have His number and I can call Him when need arises. It is possible to talk to God; why would you doubt that I got a call from Him? I actually have a direct line which I can call Him on and get instructions on how to proceed. I got this when I was praying and I heard a voice telling me to call direct.

Church, I am begging you to be deeply grounded in the gospel and to be aware of false teachings and teachers.

Two weeks ago at a church in Florida a drag queen who goes by the name “Penny Cost” was brought before the church to address the children during the children’s sermon. After some playful banter with the kids, the priest explained that the drag queen was actually fulfilling positively, Paul’s words from Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The drag queen was, he argued, the embodiment of what Paul was calling Christians to be.

Church, I am begging you to be deeply grounded in the gospel and to be aware of false teachings and teachers.

A pastor named Denis Kinto lines up his church members during a worship service and beats his mostly female congregants with a stick in order, he says, to cast demons out of them.

Church, I am begging you to be deeply grounded in the gospel and to be aware of false teachings and teachers.

A Lutheran minister named Andrea Roske-Metcalfe preaches in a chapel service in March of this year that Jesus was wrong to say to the Syrophoencian woman that it is not right to take what is for the children and give it to dogs, that Jesus “screwed up” in saying this, that we would have applauded the woman had she slapped Jesus in the face for saying this, and that, in this case, the Syrophoenician woman redeemed Jesus by showing Him how wrong He was to say this.[1]

Church, I am begging you to be deeply grounded in the gospel and to be aware of false teachings and teachers.

In Jude 8-11, Jude continues his consideration of the false teachers. We will approach his considerations as cautions to the church.

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Jude 4-7

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Jude

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. 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. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

In a seminary chapel service at a school in New Jersey, a Lord’s supper service is held. In this service a hymn is sung to a goddess named Sophia instead of to Jesus. Some of the words sung to this goddess include:

She’s the teacher we esteem,

And the subject of life’s theme.

Lover, counsel, comforter,

Life is gladness lived with her.

One person present at this service recounted how the minister “then offered the invitation to come to the Lord’s Table, not in the Lord’s name, but in the name of the goddess who was speaking through Jesus…The Inviter was not the crucified Lord of glory but the Sophia figure who was speaking through him, by her own authority.  Ironically, we were being invited to his table, but only so in her name.”[1] The participant got up and walked out with a few others.

A member of one church in Walnut Creek, California, proclaimed, “Every person, no matter their age, sexual preference, gender, or nationality, has the right to have access to the divine, however they see the divinity made manifest.”[2]

An openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church proclaims that his relationship with his male partner is “sacramental” and sacred before God.[3]

A talk-show host decides to send in some money to a televangelist to see what happens. He then recounts to his shocked and guffawing audience the dozens of letters he receives from the televangelist in return, all of them asking for more money, many of them sending him a few dollars and telling him that if he will send that few dollars back along with a larger gift of $100 or so then he will receive an even bigger blessing. He is also sent strange talismans: supposedly blessed cloths and the like that will allegedly open the treasury of heaven to him. Some of the letters suggest that if he does not respond with more money he is being disobedient.

A famous New Testament scholar argues in print that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead but rather that his body was likely thrown into a ditch and possibly eaten by dogs. His book is a bestseller. He is celebrated as a great biblical scholar until he retires in comfort.

The editor of a large Christian book publisher is asked (by me) whether or not a person can be a Christian if they felt that Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead but rather that his body was, say,  eaten by dogs. He responds by saying that such a person, yes, might be a Christian after all.

I want to talk about the Greek word hairesis. We know this word in its Anglicized form: “heresy.” In his book Heresies, Harold O. J. Brown defines “heresy” as “something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence.” He points out that “[p]ractically speaking, heresy involved the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ—later called ‘special theology’ and ‘Christology.’”[4]

This is important for two reasons: (1) it tells us that heresy is a corruption within the church and (2) heresy is not a synonym for “opinions different from my own.” When I say that heresy is a corruption within the church, I am saying that non-Christian religions and theologies are not heresies, they are rather utterly foreign ideas outside of the church. Heresy, by definition, refers to taking the faith or vital aspects of it and corrupting or distorting them. When I say that heresy is not a synonym for “opinions different from my own” I am saying that you cannot refer to differences of opinion on non-fundamental matters “heresy” even if you might call some of them “error.”

Not every error is a heresy though every heresy is an error.

For instance:

  • Precisely how we understand predestination is not fundamentally a heresy issue.
  • Precisely how we understand the details of end-times prophesy is not fundamentally a heresy issue.
  • Church government is not fundamentally a heresy issue.
  • The mode of baptism, while important, is not fundamentally a heresy issue.
  • Whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is a heresy issue.
  • Whether or not Jesus is divine is a heresy issue.
  • Whether or not God is just and good and all-knowing is a heresy issue.

So let us be careful on what we call heresy…but let us also be keenly aware that heresy does in fact exist! The late Methodist theologian Thomas Oden has publicly complained that heresy is simply not even allowed to exist in many of our seminaries today.

            It seems worth noting that the liberated seminary at its zenith has finally achieved a condition that has never before prevailed in Christian history:  Heresy simply does not exist…No heresy of any kind any longer exists.  You cannot find one anywhere in the liberated seminary – unless, perhaps, you might consider offenses against inclusivism.  There is absolutely no corruption of Christian teaching if under the present rules all notions of corruption are radically relativized.  Not only is there no concept of heresy, but also there is no way even to raise the question of where the boundaries of legitimate Christian belief lie, when absolute relativism holds sway.

It is like trying to have a baseball game with no rules, no umpire, and no connection with historic baseball.  Yet we insist on calling it baseball, because a game by that name is what most people still want to see played.[5]

And Philip Lee has asked, “…within the Church, has heresy not become a heretical word?”[6]

No, we must not get rid of the word “heresy.” We must keep it. And we must define it rightly. And we must apply it carefully, but, when needed, boldly.

We lose a lot if we lose the idea of heresy. Not the least of which would be the ability to understand the book of Jude, that speaks of heresy and the need for the church to respond rightly to it.

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Jude 3

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Jude

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 

A little episode occurred in 1962 that I think most theology nerds would really like to have witnessed live. It involved the great Baptist theologian Carl F. H. Henry (at that time the editor of a new magazine, Christianity Today) and the internationally-known and famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth, whose celebrity was at its peak. Owen Strachan recounts what happened in this fascinating exchange.

In the postwar era, Karl Barth was one of Carl F. H. Henry’s most frequently referenced sparring partners. The two men labored in the same task from different theological poles. Both wished to vindicate Christianity as a system of revelation in a century that viewed the Word as outmoded.

Barth, though a churchman, championed what is called the “neoorthodox” position, claiming that the Bible-in-itself was not the Word of God, but became the Word of God through the Spirit’s influence. Henry, though recognizing Barth’s prodigious gifts—he called his writings an “epochal contribution to theology”—sided with the evangelical tradition in identifying the Scripture as the revealed mind of God.

In 1962, the two men had an epochal encounter. Barth came to America from Switzerland for a lecture tour. Henry attended his lectures at the McCormick Divinity School in Chicago and engaged him in the question-and-answer session. The exchange that followed, recounted by Henry in his Confessions, captured the differences between the two theologians.

“The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.” I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media. If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility? “Was it news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”

Barth became angry. Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience—largely nonevangelical professors and clergy—roared with delight. When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse. So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, “Yesterday, today and forever.”[1]

It is a beautiful little story and one that makes an important point: Christianity, rightly understood, has a doctrinal core that is unchanging. The church’s music may change and some of the external forms and dynamics may change, but the heartbeat of the church and its message—the good news of Jesus Christ—is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Verse 3 of Jude makes this very point. This verse is profoundly and critically important. It will lay the foundation for the rest of the book.

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Jude 1-2

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Jude

1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

I love famous opening lines of novels. Many of these opening lines are so well known that after hearing just one or two words of them you not only can finish the line but you are also immediately carried away into the world of the entire book, with all of its feelings, and intrigue, and twists, and turns.

An opening line can grab you and not let you go! It can bring a whole mood. An opening line can confound or amuse or irritate you. For instance, how many of these famous opening lines grab you and take you somewhere else:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“All children, except one, grow up.” J.M Barrie, Peter Pan

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984

“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” William Goldman, The Princess Bride

“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I love it! I love a good opening line! I want to argue that this opening line should be considered among the greats. Here it is:

1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

I really mean it: that is an amazing opening line! It may sound fairly typical of ancient letters, of biblical letters, but it is actually laden with meaning and a fascinating backstory. It is an opening line that provokes, both in what it says and what it does not say. It is an author’s identification, but an identification that is rich with purpose and intent and weight.

Let us consider this great opening line of the ancient letter we refer to as “Jude.”

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Hebrews 13:7-25

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Hebrews 13

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. 22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

 

Is the church still needed in the world today?

In 1934, the poet T.S. Eliot wrote his “Choruses from ‘The Rock’” in which are included these jarring words:

     I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,

Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.

There I was told:  we have too many churches,

And too few chop-houses.  There I was told:

Let the vicars retire.  Men do not need the Church

In the place where they work, but where they spend their Sundays.

In the City, we need no bells:

Let them waken the suburbs.

I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:

We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor

To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.

If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.

In industrial districts, there I was told

Of economic laws.

In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed

That the Church does not seem to be wanted

In country or in suburbs; and in the town

Only for important weddings.[1]

It is fascinating to me that the writer of Hebrews concludes his letter by saying, in essence, “Yes! The church is still needed and so it is critically important that the church actually be the church!” Then, toward that end, he shows us how the church can be the church.

I very much agree with David VanDrunen who wrote, “The church ought to be central to the Christian life because the church is the only earthly community that manifests the redemptive kingdom and grants us the fellowship of our true home, the world-to-come.”[2]

That is so. Let us consider, then, the conclusion of Hebrews and how it calls us to be the church.

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