Sunday, August 2, 2015
Who or what is stealing your joy in Christ? It happens to every person who decides to follow Jesus. A temptation becomes that distraction competes for our loyalty.
To follow Jesus, to be a child of God, is to submit our lives to him. But the evil one things into our lives, things that demand space that belongs to God. The devil conspires with our own tendency to sin. This unholy alliance preys on the hearts of women and men.
When successful, the tempter convinces us to marginalize our faith. God gets a little bit of us, not leadership in all areas of our lives. Maybe we devote a couple hours on a Sunday, maybe three Sundays a month to God. Maybe less. And we tell ourselves we are Christians and we are church goers.
Our call is not to check off “Christian” on the census form. Our Lord calls us to submit everything in our lives to Jesus. The enemy attempts to grow other interests, not always inherently sinful pursuits, but distractions that as they grow in our minds cause Jesus to shrink.
What distraction is diluting your faith and intruding upon your walk with Jesus?
In the late first century, church leaders were active in Israel, Northern Africa, and Europe. Churches had been planted by the Apostle Paul and by others. By 100 AD, a couple of generations had passed since the crucifixion and resurrection. Most of the Apostles were dead. The next generation was carrying the Gospel and the church into the new century.
One interesting development in this time was the conversion of Jesus’ siblings. James rejected Jesus during the Lord’s earthly ministry. Then, Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection and he became not only a follower, but one of the strongest leaders in the church.
A younger brother, Jude, also became a post-resurrection disciple and church leader. I believe the epistle positioned just before the Book of Revelation, the letter from Jude, was penned by one of Jude’s disciples.
James learned the faith from Jesus and then led the Jerusalem church and perhaps mentored his younger brother Jude. And eventually Jude grew old and became a mentor. This letter, I believe, comes from one of his students, one who wrote down his teacher’s words.
The epistle of Jude is written to combat religious competition. He says intruders infiltrated the church. Outside agitators distracted the Christians under Jude’s influence. In some cases, members even questioned Jude’s voice and began to turn their allegiance away from him and away from the Gospel.
Today intruders vie for our attention – attention we know belongs to God. Some examples are obvious. An addiction demands a person give more and more of himself – his attention, his time, his money, and his mind and spirit. The disciple life can’t keep up with the alcohol or the drugs or the porn whatever the addiction is; gambling; shopping.
There are other intruders. Perhaps you become so convinced of a political movement that it demands of you ultimate commitment and ultimate loyalty. Civic involvement is not necessarily bad, but it becomes a tool of the devil when participation in government and politics take precedence over following the lead of Jesus in our lives.
Exercise can be an intruding idol. You start a new work-out program and you get stronger and lose weight and feel good about yourself. You receive compliments on your toned physique and a new group of friends, work-out buddies, forms around you. Exercise is wonderful and we should all do it, but not to the point that of religious fervor.
He works out religiously.
I never miss Downton Abby; I watch it religiously.
She goes into the library every Tuesday morning, without fail. She does it religiously.
The only thing worthy of religious allegiance is the worship of God in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Anything else that commands the top priority and moves Jesus to second or third place in our lives is intruding on the fellowship we have, a community that stands on who we are in Christ.
Jude says these intruders are headed for oblivion because they fail to believe in what God is about and who God is (v.5). Destined for destruction; this is anyone who is cut off from God and without knowledge of Jesus or is not following Jesus as Lord. The only path to life is the way of Christ. Anyone who doesn’t know and follow Jesus is lost.
Jude stacks the Biblical allusions. Those who intrude upon our life in Christ are the Egyptians who pursued Israel only to be swallowed by the Red Sea. They are fallen angels who rejected God’s authority and now sit in chains awaiting judgment. They are the sinners who died in the destruction of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jude does not hold back in his insistence upon the importance of the life we have in Christ. What we have is different and the world will never recognize it.
In an editorial columnist David Brooks writes about culture wars. They centered on divorce and then abortion and now same sex marriage. He rightly points out that fundamentalist Christians have become militant over these issues. The word ‘militant’ means aggressive and combative, here refering to attacking rhetoric, not the literal taking up of arms. Brooks has a point.
The words ‘fundamentalist,’ ‘evangelical,’ and even ‘Christian,’ have become confusing. Take a poll in which you ask people on the street to describe an ‘evangelical Christian.’ You might hear. Well, an evangelical Christian is someone who always votes republican, opposes women’s rights, and hates homosexuals. I bet there is a greater chance that you’d get that than to hear someone say, an evangelical is someone who loves you and will help you with your problems as he shares the grace and love of Jesus with you. Brooks is right when he points out that the siege-like mentality of some in the evangelical community has been so intense that many outside of Christianity don’t really understand what evangelicals are supposed to be about.
Our society is not a Christian society. Democracy is the best we can do here and now. But it is not Christian. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy; it is a theocracy with the entire population submitted completely to the Lordship of Jesus who rules with love, grace, and mercy. In our society, as Christ followers, we are ‘other,’ something different.
David Brooks does not understand this. Neither do a lot of Christians. Brooks’ solution is for Christians to put aside the culture war and to wage a different war, one against poverty – societal poverty, moral poverty, sexual and relational poverty, and material poverty. There are so many ways America is falling apart; in every category of life, there is confusion and deconstruction. Brooks recognizes that society is in decay and Christianity can help turn the tide toward a better way of living.
Much of what he says is right. But what he misses is why. The reason followers of Jesus can, in Brooks’ words, serve as “messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion, and grace”[i] is Jesus is the source of these things. But even if we announce these wonders given by the Lord and invite the world to Him, love and grace and the rest will not be realized until people give their lives to follow Jesus. I agree with Brooks that Christians should be known for grace and love not known for what we opposes. I agree that we need to be more compassionate and loving. More than that, we must be known for our absolute devotion to Christ.
When people or groups or ideas or any other phenomenon intrude into our worship space and into hearts, Jude says these invaders become “blemishes on our love-feasts.” Would you describe your church life and your relationships in the church family as a love-feast? If our eyes are fixed on Christ and our hearts are bent to Him that is what it feels like. And all other things - family relationships, good things like exercise, civic engagement – these are done by Christians under Jesus’ watch. Our participation in the world around us is done as expressions of our discipleship.
Jude calls the intruders “waterless clouds.” Desperate for refreshment, we see these deceptions hoping they’ll provide something, cool and wet and cleansing and refreshing all we end up dry and unsatisfied. Again, Jude was addressing false teaching that crept into the churches under his watch. The threat we face is the reduction and thinning of our faith as other pursuits try to occupy God’s place in our lives. Nothing will give us what God gives us.
The answer, says Jude, is to build ourselves up in faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. We learn how to do this in our life in church, in small groups, worship, and in individual relationships. We diligently attend to these things in order to grow in Christ.
Jude also says we are to have mercy upon doubters, those who aren’t sure which way they will turn, toward God or away, and upon the lost. Through our love and witness we can snatch people from the fire. These intruders can become our brothers but only if we remain sure of the Gospel and share it with great compassion, patience, and love. And upon hearing that gospel the intruders become broken in their sin and realize that their only hope is Jesus.
Recall the shooting at the church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white young man went into an African American Church prayer meeting and killed 9 people. His motivation was racial hatred. The fall-out from the tragedy has included the removal of the Confederate Flag from the statehouse steps in Columbia.
Recently two groups came out to protest on the same day. On one set of steps up to the statehouse was a group of African Americans there to protest racial violence. On the other set of steps to the same statehouse, a group of Nazis, white supremacists, demonstrated with their twisted message that America should be a nation of Caucasians in which all other races pay a tax or be force to leave. It is so hideous and stupid and antithetical to the Gospel, it’s not worth mention.
The actions of State Trooper Leroy Smith are. He is African American and was working security at the rally of the Nazis. They hated his existence. He assured their safety. One of the Nazis, a feeble, elderly man, was struggling in the South Carolina summer heat. Trooper Smith gently took him by the arm and walked him up the steps, out of the heat, and into the air conditioned statehouse. It was an act of kindness done for someone wearing a racist t-shirt.
Why go beyond his duty to help someone who hated him? He said it comes down to one word: love.[ii] I don’t know if he is a Christian, but his action is the epitome of what Christians are called to be. We are messengers of God’s love, defined by Christ, motivated by compassion to perform works the world around us will appreciate but never understand.
We hold on to this calling as we fend off intruders by knowing the truth and standing in love as we live into our identity, a people born again, raised to eternal life with Christ Jesus.