The Bible’s “emergency letter”
Jude: I’ve dropped everything to write you.
There’s nothing leisurely about the little letter of Jude. In fact, you might call this an “emergency letter.” Jude has received disturbing news concerning happenings in an unnamed church. Events there are unfolding that could result in their turning away from the faith. He quickly reminds them of just how dangerous this is, listing one event after another from the Old Testament about spiritual failure and its consequences. Jude is just a short no-chapter book but if one takes time to follow all the references, the book expands considerably. The bottom line, though, is that they’ve allowed teachers into their number who aren’t teaching the Gospel. The result is that a cancer has begun to grow in the church that, if left unchecked, will have disastrous effects of biblical proportions concerning their salvation. Jude gives them a plan of action and urges them to act immediately. They’re to focus on the “most holy faith” and to pray “in the Holy Spirit” and to stay “right at the center of God’s love” and keep their “arms open and outstretched” to receive the mercy of Jesus in their lives. As they deal with those who are already wavering in the faith they’re to tread lightly and as they deal with those who are outside the church, the sinners, they’re to take it easy on them while standing firm against their sin. Jude has already told them what to do about the false teachers who have infiltrated their church: they’re to “fight with everything” they have “for the faith entrusted” to them. As I read this “two-page book” I’m reminded to be careful about who I allow to influence my spiritual life. Not everyone who claims to speak for Christ does so. At the same time I’m reminded not to get too worked up over this kind of stuff. Jude says: “Relax, everything’s going to be all right.” As I focus on the basics of love and prayer and the like, things will work out just fine for me.
Take Away: It’s a challenge for Christians to major on the majors and to minor on the minors and to tell one from the other.
No Scripture abuse allowed here
Romans 16: Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching you have learned.
The first theology book of Christianity is being concluded. The final pages are more about words of greeting than theology. Now, almost an afterthought, the Apostle warns his readers about the danger of taking “bits and pieces” of the truth and using them in such a way as to create an untruth. Some people, Paul warns them, are pretty good at doing this bad thing. They take true statements and then twist them to their own purposes. He tells his readers to stay away from people like that. As I read this warning I can’t help but think that one of the best ways for me to avoid this trap is to study God’s Word, making the effort to know what it really says. Another thing that comes to mind is that I don’t ever want to be one of these troublemakers who abuse the Bible, making it say what I want it to say. I can’t help but think that had Paul seen the future and how it would be his own words that would most often be abused in this way that this particular admonition would have been given a more prominent place in this letter. It might have been placed on page one, written in capital letters, rather than being shoehorned between words of greetings here on the final page.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t take it lightly when people abuse Scripture.
Truth and simplicity
Zechariah 8: Keep your lives simple and honest.
They’ve been through a terribly hard time but now things are getting better. The 70 year exile is over and the new generation of exiles is returning to Jerusalem. When they arrive they’re overwhelmed by the devastation but the Lord sends leaders and laborers and things are coming together. Stones aren’t the only things being put back into place: the Lord is rebuilding a people to be his very own. Through his prophet, Zechariah, the Lord tells them that he wants them to be truthful people who do the right thing in every situation. His desire is for them to live simple and honest lives. If that’s what God wanted in the lives of these ancient Israelites, it’s most certainly what he wants in the lives of Christians today. I wonder if my life can be described as a “simple life?” What is it that dominates my time? In describing his life, the Apostle Paul begins, “This one thing I do….” Is that something I can honestly say? Even as the people of Israel rebuild their city and Temple, the Lord’s rebuilding a people who’ll live truthfully and simply. How can I better respond to this desire of God for his people?
Take Away: The Lord wants us to be people who live truthfully and simply.
That big fish
Jonah 1: Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights.
Not long ago I read that a new species of jellyfish has been found at the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Think of it, after all the serious exploration and all the visits of tourists there exists a creature that no one has ever spotted before, or at least no one who recognized that this is a unique creature. When the sailors reluctantly toss Jonah into the water neither he nor they have any idea of what God has in store for this reluctant prophet. God sends a big fish to swallow him whole. Now, it may be that this is a whale that has a birth defect that traps air in its stomach. It may be that this is a “Designer model” of fish – one of a kind and made for this specific purpose. Folks who laugh at this story and discard it as impossible ignore all the “impossibilities” of life, stuff we take for granted that if they weren’t right in front of us we’d declare to be fantasy. The story of Jonah may be a fable started in another culture and appropriated by God’s people as a platform for teaching us about God. On the other hand, it may be “just the facts” retold generation to generation to teach us about God. Either way the end result is the same. I think I’ll just let the story stand as factual and get on to what I’m supposed to learn from it.
Take Away: Every day and all around us we encounter “impossibilities” that might be called “ordinary miracles.”
Which church would you attend?
Jeremiah 23: They preach…their “Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You” sermon.
Jeremiah isn’t the only preacher of his generation. In fact, he has plenty of competition from preachers who enjoy large followings and enthusiastic support. Folks love their positive, uplifting, and encouraging sermons. No doubt, these preachers find some really good texts that proclaim God’s love for and protection of his people. The problem is that their sermons are, in Jeremiah’s words, just so much “hot air.” The people in their congregations need to repent and return to God. The truth is that everything’s not going to turn out fine and bad things are coming, whether or not these preachers will admit it. Can’t you imagine a family getting ready to go to worship services? “Where are we going to church today, dear?” the wife asks. “I don’t know. Jeremiah’s preaching nearby, but you know he specializes in telling it like it is. I hear that the ‘Things are Great and Getting Better’ church has big things planned for today and they have a terrific praise band. Shall we go there?” So, where would I go to church? How entertainment oriented am I when it comes to worship? I’m not suggesting that “gloom and doom” is always God’s message while “happiness and security” is always just hot air. Still, I see here a reminder that there’s more to worship than a main course of an entertaining sermon with large helping of great music on the side.
Take Away: Sometimes God-directed preaching isn’t all that fun to hear.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
Proverbs 12: Truth lasts.
I gave a computer away. It was the first computer I ever built from the ground up, buying the components and putting it all together. That was six years earlier. That machine served me well, running 24 hours a day for several years. After I replaced it with new laptop the old machine was just taking up valuable space. A friend needed a computer for checking email and the like, so I passed the computer on to him. When I put that computer into service I knew that someday it would be replaced, but I admit I was somewhat unprepared for the seeming shortness of its value to me. Some things just don’t last. The proverbs writer reminds me today that, while that’s true, some things do last and one of those things is “truth.” In other words, if something was “so” 2000 years ago it’s still “so” today. I’m not talking about various truisms here; clearly some things thought to be truth in the past are proven wrong in the long run. However, in the case of genuine truth, well, it lasts. For instance, when Jesus says he’s the Way to God that’s an absolute truth. That fact can never get old and it can never be improved upon. I know that some folks think that such a claim is narrow minded. However, by its very nature truth is somewhat exclusive. Today, then, I remember that some things simply don’t last so I’m wise to not put the full weight of my trust on them. I also remember that the eternal truths of God do last. Jesus said it this way, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Take Away: We can depend on the Lord’s truths.