Tag Archives: devotional

Bible Overview Project: Jude

Jude by Joseph Novak

Jude: If ever the world is burned to ashes in a nuclear holocaust, let the last human being recite the epistle of Jude, and die.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Jude

Jude came from an important family:

  • The Lord Jesus Christ was his brother
  • Mary was his mother
  • James, the church leader was also his brother

Jude hadn’t always believed in Jesus (Jn 7:5;Mk 3:21), but after He rose from the dead, things changed. The world changed (Acts 17:6). His brother changed. Jude changed.

Now he shared this glorious salvation with people all over the world: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female—all united in Christ. He  wanted desperately to write about it. But he couldn’t.

The church was facing a more pressing issue: people were creeping into the church unnoticed (Jd 4). These were not “seekers,” nonbelievers who were genuinely curious about Christianity.  They claimed to be believers. But they denied the exclusive authority of Jesus, twisting His grace into a license to sin all they wanted.

They were infiltrators. They indulged in sexual immorality, greed, and grumbling. They rejected the authority of the apostles, angels, and the Lord. They caused churches to split up into opposing factions.

The children of God needed to keep their eyes open for this kind of behavior in the churches. So instead of writing about the salvation they shared, Jude wrote a brief, hard-hitting letter to the churches of the world.

In just 25 verses, Jude covers a few important points for Christians to remember:

  • The threat to the faith. The ungodly people are perverting the grace of God and denying the only Master, Jesus (Jd 4). God will judge them, just like He has judged the unbelievers in the past (Jd 5).
  • Characteristics of the ungodly. Jude compares these unrestrained, divisive people to unruly angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain the murderer, the profit-hungry Balaam, and the rebellious Korah. Jude brings in examples from both the Old Testament and other nonbiblical writings.
  • The apostles’ warnings. The church had been dealing with false teachers for a while—some people were even pretending to be apostles of Jesus, with the authority of Peter, James, Paul, and John (2 Co 11:13). The apostles had warned that “mockers” would arise, causing doubt and division in the church.

But Jude is more than just a detractor. He doesn’t just write a list of red flags. This is a letter that urges the Christians to “earnestly contend for the faith”—to fight long and hard on behalf of their Lord. And Jude tells them how to combat this attack:

  • Build themselves up in faith. They are to pray in the Holy Spirit, maintain themselves in God’s love, and wait for eternal life in Jesus.
  • Show mercy to others. They should have mercy on those who doubt, even on those who are stained by sin. They’re to be rescuers, snatching some out of the fires that will come.

Jude is a call to fight, but it’s not like any other battle cry in history. It’s a charge to delight in God and show mercy to others. This is how the church fights valiantly for the faith: by loving God and showing mercy.

Theme verse of Jude

[. . .] I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jud 3b)

Jude’s role in the Bible

Jude is the seventh and last of the General Epistles (or Catholic Letters), the writings of apostles to the church at large. While Paul wrote to specific congregations and individuals, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote to broader audiences across the Roman empire. We’re not sure when Jude was written.

Jude’s content mirrors the second and third chapters of Peter’s second letter. We don’t know if Peter borrowed from Jude’s letter, if Jude borrowed from Peter’s letter, or if both men were drawing from a prior discussion. Both letters, however, warn the church of two dangerous influences:

  1. False teachers who lead the people to indulge in sin
  2. Mockers who dismiss the idea of Jesus’ return

One major difference between the two books is Jude’s use of apocryphal literature (Jewish writings outside of the Scriptures). Jude mentions events that aren’t recorded in the Bible, such as an argument between Michael the Archangel and the devil over the body of Moses, or Enoch’s ancient prophecies. These examples come from the Assumption of Moses and First Enoch. Jude’s intended audience was familiar with these pieces, and therefore would have appreciated the references.

But Jude also relies heavily on the inspired Scriptures, especially Genesis and Numbers. Jude references all sorts of Old Testament figures and events, including:

  • The Exodus from Egypt (Jd 5; Ex 12:51)
  • The generation of Israelites who died in the wilderness (Jd 5; Nu 14:35)
  • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jd 7; Gn 19:24)
  • Cain, the son of Adam, who killed his brother (Jd  11; Gn 4:8)
  • The prophet Balaam, who tried to curse the Israelites in exchange for money (Jd 11; Nu 22:31–33)
  • Korah, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron, but was swallowed up by the earth (Jd 11; Nu 16)
  • Enoch, the descendant of Adam and ancestor of Noah, whom God “took” from earth before he died (Jd 14; Gn 5:24; Heb 11:5)

Jude is only one chapter long, and it’s the fifth shortest book of the Bible (Third John is the shortest).

Quick outline of Jude

  1. The ungodly contending against the faith (1–16)
  2. How we should contend for the faith (17–25)

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YHWH

A hauntingly powerful video has just been released from the YHWH Project.

Set to repeat.

YHWH

I am the might before the sword
The tremors in the spear shaft
I craft my ways from blazes of firestorms
Absorb the failings of deadened ends
To render the floors I dance upon
I am the spaces between applause
The roars of hearts running through Heaven’s halls

I breathe the forms of light and silence
Stall the course of cosmic riots
I am the glory of the giants Manaslu / Sagarmatha
Watchmen of the Asian plains
They yield my name
Made famous through the cries
Of albatross flocks enflamed in Pacific fires

I am dressed in the spray of Nevada dunes
Clothed in the shadows of Sahara caves
I am the light of lunar flames fleshing the rains of Amazonia
I paint the trains of Antarctic quests
Release dominion to desert Panthera

I authorise the remains of Aztec and Inca
That bloom through the visions of mountain tribes
I ride the skylines breathe the signs
Ignite the paths of astronomy’s eyes
I am the unheard heard in the storms that burn on my words
I am the yearned for
I am the Word

I emerge deciduous from the wetlands of your cries
Rise through the moments you wake
I bring the dawns that shake the fevers from your remembrance
I am here
I am imminent

I am he who crosses the plains through which you strayed
Discover the parts extinction seared
I dust away the dried remains of tears
I drain the lakes of your regrets
I wet the wells
till the soil
Placate the toil
quell the rages
Sew the broken pages
With my belief in you

I bring the you you have never quite met
I am the desire that keeps your pillow wet
I am the heartbeat you seek when you chase after dreams
In the reachings and sighs you are looking for me

In the body touching body
It is me you seek
In the groans and the longings
It is me you seek
In the yearning dream
In the need-to-be-seen
In the love-me love-me
It is me you seek
In the breath-drop wonders
In the gasping hunger
In the touch of a stranger
That makes you feel younger
In the books and the fables
In the this-is-me labels
In the is-this-me?
Is   this   me?
In the hear-me hear-me
Say-my-name
In the touch-me need-me find-me need-me
In the aching pain
In the love
In the music
In the beats
And the taste
In the heat
In the need
And the need
For embrace
In the colour
In the gaze
In the meaning
The desire
In the flame
Of the voice
And the spirit
Of the fire

When you cry for more my name you weep
I am he who waits for you to reach
I reach for you and wait
When you lie half broken and awake
I am the watchman of your sleep
I wait and wait til the shakings cease

I am the Truth they call release
When the darkness flares and starts to speak
I sculpt the shades of daybreak
It is me you seek​

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Second Week of Advent: Monday, December 9th

Psalm 43:3–5

3 Send forth your light and your truth,
   let them guide me;
   let them bring me to your holy mountain,
   to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God,
   to God, my joy and my delight.
   I will praise you with the harp,
   O God, my God.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
   Why so disturbed within me?
   Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.

You cannot get to God simply by seeking Him.  He has to give you enough truth and light to find Him.

Yes, the Bible does make it clear that “those who seek me shall find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), but today’s Scripture reminds us that God has to send his light and truth–like breadcrumbs–otherwise we would seek endlessly and in futility.  And all seeking without finding is heartbreaking.

None of us can find God through our own resources.  What we know of God is voluntary self-disclosure.  It’s a gift.  And if there was any doubt about that, just look at the incarnation.  God had to send forth His light and His truth in a way that we couldn’t help but notice and in a way that really showed us how deaf and blind we were (are!) to the things of God.

At the heart of Christianity is a God who draws us–often subtly–towards Himself.  He knows we can’t make it to Him via religion, moralism, sincerity, nobility, etc., so He comes to us.  That is good news.

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First Week of Advent: Thursday, December 5th

“6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:6-9

In order to get people ready to embrace Jesus and his message, God sends a man named John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin) to be Jesus’ forerunner.

John’s life and proclamation is so powerful, he has to continually deny being the Messiah himself.  His role, he says, is to point people towards the light.  John was:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” Isaiah 40:3

John prepared the way for the Lord by calling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:1).

“Completely change how you’re living, because the rule and reign of God is hear!”

Today it seems strange to us that a God of love would make any demands of us.  After all, doesn’t God love us unconditionally?  But that line of thinking misses the point of love.  Love wants the best for us.  And Love is more than willing to confront the attitudes, actions, and motivations that keep us from the taking hold of the incomparable life He offers us.  That’s because Love meets us where we are, but never keeps us as we are.  Genuine love, and certain the great Lover Himself, loves us into a new identity and a new way of being.

In preparing ourselves to encounter Jesus in new ways this Advent season, in what areas of your life is God calling you to prepare the way through repentance, so that the kingdom of heaven can draw near?

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Making Space for God

I can’t remember exactly when I was exposed to Ray Vander Laan’s teaching ministry, but I know one thing: I was never the same afterwards.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ray Vander Laan, he’s a teacher who focuses on the Jewish context of the Scriptures. That’s a bit of an undersell really. He’s probably one of the most dynamic and powerful teachers alive today. I’ve had the chance to see him live, and his passion to help people pursue discipleship to Jesus is infectious.  I’m continually amazed at how RVL (as he’s commonly referred to) is able to make the message of the Bible come alive in such a haunting and powerful way.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this video from his latest DVD release With All Your Heart.   It’s tremendous.

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For a Tree There is Always Hope

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9.

As we invest in our relationship with God, hope becomes one of the pivotal virtues we need to be building into our lives. Few people think of hope as a virtue, but that’s what it is. Hope is more than just wishful thinking; it’s the deliberate decision to live out of the inevitable conclusion of God’s story—the complete redemption of creation. History is going somewhere, and our hope is born again when we fasten it to God’s promises and His faithfulness.

In the book of Job, a tree is used to underscore human hopelessness in the face of life’s hardships. Job was a man who understood the hardships of life. It’s not an overstatement to say that at one point he had lost everything. In the midst of his darkest times of mourning, confusion, and sorrow, Job lamented the following from the core of his heartache:

We’re all adrift in the same boat:
too few days, too many troubles.
We spring up like wildflowers in the desert and then wilt,
transient as the shadow of a cloud.
Do you occupy your time with such fragile wisps?
Why even bother hauling me into court?
There’s nothing much to us to start with;
how do you expect us to amount to anything?
Mortals have a limited life span.
You’ve already decided how long we’ll live—
you set the boundary and no one can cross it.
So why not give us a break? Ease up!
Even ditchdiggers get occasional days off.
For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
But men and women? They die and stay dead.
They breathe their last, and that’s it.
Like lakes and rivers that have dried up,
parched reminders of what once was,
So mortals lie down and never get up,
never wake up again—never.
(Job 14:1–14, The Message)

Job thought that it would be better to be a tree than a human, because at least a fallen tree had a chance, however small, of coming back from the trials of this life. Our fate, Job believed, was to eventually get crushed under the weight of life and “never wake up again—never.” That’s a pretty bleak perspective.

However, we see the symbolism of the tree being used very differently within the first psalm. Instead of being a symbol of man’s lack of hope, the tree is used as a symbol of the profound hope those rooted in a relationship with God can enjoy:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3)

This hope-filled symbolism also characterizes Jesus’ own use of trees within his teachings. Jesus regularly used the tree as a central image within his teaching ministry (e.g., Matthew 7:17; Luke 6:44; John 15:1), and through it highlighted the importance of staying connected to his love, grace, and power. In John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to stay rooted in him and his teachings:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1–4)

“If a man remains in me . . . he will bear much fruit.” I’m positive the disciples immediately thought of Psalm 1 as Jesus spoke those words, recognizing their rabbi was echoing the promises found there. What would have shocked them in particular was the fact that Jesus seemed to be localizing the source of Psalm 1’s blessings in himself! He is the one who causes us to thrive and flourish in our calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world—humans fully at home in their relationship to God, each other, themselves, and creation.

In light of this, Job’s lament can become a source of transformative encouragement and insight if we read it through a lens that was impossible for him: the lens that we are trees sustained by and rooted in Jesus’ life and power:

For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
(Job 14:7–9, The Message)

Throughout our lives we will face many trials and hardships, but no matter what we face, no matter the forces that plot against us, in Jesus we will always have an enduring hope. To live with guaranteed hope is an incredible thing, and that is precisely what is available to us through Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what parts of us have been “chopped down” by circumstance, misfortune, or the selfish acts of others.

It doesn’t matter what places within us feel “old and gnarled” due to bitterness, regret, or shame.

It doesn’t matter what aspirations and hopes lie “long dormant” after repeated failure or disillusionment.

In Jesus we can still grow “fresh sprouts” (i.e., new beginnings). We can come back to life, budding and growing like a sapling that’s been born again. All Jesus needs is for us to stay rooted in him.

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Are Personal Devotions a Help or Hindrance?

When I became a Christian, one of the first things that was drilled into my head was the importance of daily, personal (i.e., individual) devotions.  I was encouraged to spend 10-15 minutes each day studying the Bible (usually through a devotional booklet of some kind), praying about what I’d learned, and jotting down ideas how to live out the principles and truths I’d been exposed to.  It was a practice that served me well as a teenager, and one that has continued to shape my spiritual formation as an adult.

However, over the past few years I’ve really begun to question the effectiveness of personal devotions.  Obviously they aren’t bad (millions of Christians would claim they are an integral part of their spiritual walk with Christ), but when I take an honest look at the times in my life that have been the most powerful in terms of wrestling with the Bible and letting it (re)shape me, there is one common thread: at least two or three were gathered (cf. Matthew 18:20).

In high school, my best friend Mike Garner and I would do personal devotions each morning (sometimes the same one), but we’d discuss it (and sometimes debate it) during our walk to and from school.  I can still remember particular conversations we had–moments standing on a street corner for an hour talking through an idea or Scripture.  For the life of me I can’t remember one personal devotional time during that same period in my life.

In university (Redeemer University College), our weekly dorm devotions were some of the most incredible, intense times of faith formation, and not because they were full of kumbaya moments either; they were often heated, challenging, and relationally demanding.  I can still remember conversations and interactions that even to this day bring back a flood of fond memories.  I know I did countless personal devotionals during my time at Redeemer, but once again, I cannot recall even one.

Even today, I might have to point to Elevate (Grindstone church’s high school group) as one of the most significant arenas through which God continues to stretch me in terms of my understanding of Him, His word, and His calling on my life.  I can say unhesitatingly that Monday nights with our Elevate leaders and students are amongst the most influential in terms of my own spiritual journey. 

I once heard someone remark that sermons (and for the purposes of this discussion, personal devotionals) are like meals.  Often, we can’t remember every meal we’ve eaten, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been the source of energy through which we’ve grown and been strengthened.  That’s why I wouldn’targue that personal devotionals are unnecessary.  But I have begun to push myself and others to consider some of their limitations:

a. Personal devotionals are one-dimensional.  The one-dimension?  you.  Like, literally, it’s just you in the room (well, God’s there, but you know what I mean).

b. Personal devotionals aren’t an intuitive learning style for many people.  Many people do not learn well in a context of social isolation and invidual reflection.

c. Personal devotions aren’t often energizing or interesting.  Because there’s no one there to build on your thoughts and reflections (or disagree with them), it’s easy to just go through the motions and check it off the discipleship “to-do” list.

d. Personal devotions often feel like an uphill battle.  Maybe this is the most telling limitation of them all.  Many people spend tons of energy trying to be faithful to a daily devotional habit, but with very limited success.  Maybe the continued frustration we experience isn’t because  we’re spiritually lazy or weak–maybe it’s because God’s Word was designed to be read, studied, and wrestled with (primarily) with other people and not in the corner of the room by ourselves.

I’m no expert on the ins and outs of devotional practices throughout historic Christianity, but I do believe that the Scriptures have traditionally (and predominantly) been engaged with through community–where two or three are gathered.  In fact, I’d love to find out exactly when the evangelical obsession with personal devotionals came into prominence. 

The more I think about it, the more difficult it is for me to picture Jesus sending off his disciples to complete their personal devotions.  Throughout the Bible, community and spiritual formation seem to be assumed partners, not optional tag-ons or extra credit for keeners.  While men and women of faith clearly had an intensely personal commitment to God, worship, prayer and Scriptural study were collaborative, community disciplines.  To grow in their faith, people gathered–they didn’t scatter. 

Again, I want to be careful not to slam personal devotions, but I wonder what kind of difference it would make if I/we did fewer personal devotionals and did more collaborative devotionals–devotionals that were structured the same way as personal devotionals, but were done with at least one other person.

Clearly, this is done already: bible studies, small groups, etc.  But I’m asking a slightly different question.  I’m asking what difference would it make if the default mode of engaging the Bible was through community study and not, as it so often is, via individual study?

I know so many people (especially students) have an extremely difficult time reading/studying the Bible alone.  I think a lot of those difficulties can be traced to the limitations I cited above.  If we eased our emphasis on personal devotions and encouraged group or even tandem studies more, would more consistent and transformative encounters with the Bible emerge?  I’m increasingly suspicious that’s exactly what would happen.

Some immediate ideas I’d like to try:

1. Limit myself to 2-3 personal devotional times a week, while attempting to do a tandem or group devotional study 3-4 times a week.

2. Encourage students to take a hiatus from personal devotions and instead encourage them to study and discuss a devotional with a member of the same gender 4-5 times a week (i.e., tandem study).  This may include reading the devotional alone at one point in the day, but making sure to discuss it with your study buddy later in the day.

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Plant Your Hope with Good Seeds


“Plant your hope with good seeds, don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.”

Thistle and Weeds, Mumford and Sons

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some…seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.” (Mark 4:3–4, 7)

Part of the message embedded in Jesus’ parable of the sower is that God is continually and gracefully scattering the seeds of His kingdom into our lives.  They are seeds that hold the promise of hope, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom, healing, and salvation.  He wants these seeds to be the foundation of our hope.

But some of us find clever ways of resisting the seeds God is sowing in our lives.  Sometimes, this resistance is born from the belief that we deserve “thistles and weeds,” not the kind of hope, love and wholeness God offers.  This is often true of those who’ve been grievously hurt by someone during their childhood.  The result: while God tries to plant hope with good seeds, we spend time covering ourselves with thistles and weeds.

God plants hope; we cover ourselves with depression.  God plants salvation; we cover ourselves with bondage.  God plants healing; we cover ourselves with self-harm and self-hatred.  God plants peace; we cover ourselves with fear.

But today is a day to let God clear the ground of your heart from the thistles and weeds.  Today is a day to acknowledge the ways you’ve been resisting His grace and love, and throw off that which has been holding you back.  Today is a day to welcome the seeds of God’s hope, grace, and power into your heart.

You can choose to continue resisting, but know that God will continue to scatter kingdom seeds in your life.  His love for you is unrelenting, and He will pursue you in Christ until you He overwhelms you with His love.

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