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Jude: Last Days

Jude: Last Things

            Jude, the brother of James the Younger, not to be confused with James and John the Sons of Thunder. This is a very short prophetic book and is filled with many questions and references outside of our ability to fully comprehend. Topics such as angels, prophecies and the spirit of Balaam are things which will be constantly debated and never settled. So, let us focus on what we can understand, and discover why this small book was included for our benefit in the scriptures.

            Something that I had to finally accept about the church and people who profess Christ, but do not possess Christ – there are unbelievers in the Church. Shocking I know, but as Jude says, they have crept in and have been rewarded for their attendance record, yet never been challenged for a Testimony of Conversion. It should not come as a surprise that many churches are ran like a business instead of a body of believers. Jesus tells us that there are those who “cried Lord, Lord did we not do . . . . ?’ and Jesus tells them I do not know you. Profession is not possession. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith.” This is a good word; I have found that people will compromise and collapse like a deck of cards with they are pressed for their faith. I cannot help but think of the likes of John Hus, William Wilberforce, and John Wycliffe who suffered and sacrificed for the Gospel.  

Jude gives us examples from the Old Testament of the rebuke of God towards these charlatans. He tells of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Balak and Balaam. Even telling of Enoch and the ungodly generations that follow. It is sad to say we live in a day such as Jude describes and find that many in leadership positions, including Pastors are described in Jude 16 – preaching for sordid gain. It has become a job, instead of a calling.             The good news is found in Jude 17 – “But You. . .” keep building, praying, waiting for the Promise of Eternal Life promised in Jesus Christ. So, what is the message – the world will continue as it always has [as in the days of Noah] but that does not mean we have to succumb to the way of living.  Jude admonishes the believers to have mercy on some who doubt, save others, snatching them out of the fire, mercy on those who fear or are weak in the faith. While the world is going to Hell in a hand basket – Keep the Faith and continue to do ministry. While we will not save the world, we will save some through the Truth of the Gospel.  Last Days are here – do not be overcome by them – be found faithful as He who has called us is faithful!

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2 Peter: Stirring Up

2 Peter: Stirring Up

            Quite a contrast from the Peter we find in the Gospels. Here we have the mature, aged Peter giving instructions to the Church. Peter has lived his life with Jesus and been a pillar of faith for the new church and his countrymen. We know that both Paul and Peter die in Rome, under persecution of the faith. Peter now is writing this last letter to remind the saints the importance of the faith and perseverance.  Obviously, Peter knows what it is like to have fallen from the faith because of threats of men.

            I know there are many commentaries and theologians that debate whether Peter wrote this second letter, but since we find that it had acceptance by the early church and God has permitted it in our canon of scripture, I will side with the belief that Peter wrote it, God authored it and included it in His revelation to us.

            In the first chapter Peter reminds the believers how they are to conduct themselves in the world. Our brother James enlightens us on the desired working of trials and tribulations. [James 1:2-5] Peter is wanting to stir up by way of remembrance to the saints what the faith should be and that they will hold to the tenets of faith in a tribulation environment. [1:13, 3:1]

We have the oft quoted 2 Peter 1:19-21, on how the prophetic word comes to us. This is a line drawn in the sand for believer. If we question the authorship of scripture other than the utterances of God – we bring great suspect to the bible as the Word of God. Our bible is not the word of men and their opinions, but the very unction of God to men.

Peter brings to light the rise of false prophets, not just for his time, but in latter days. We live in a day and time where churches and lost listen more to the word of men and their philosophies, then the Word of God. As Believers we must KNOW the bible so that we can “test the spirits’ to know if they are from God.

            Peter gives a very in-depth exposure of what false prophets and charlatans do to people of faith and unbelievers. There is a great distortion of the Truth. Even today we have “fact checking” to verify whether what someone says is the truth or not. But people today are not interested in the truth, they want to hear what they already have made their mind up about. [2 Timothy 3:1-5]

            As Peter exposes the tactics of the false prophets, it is interesting that people are more willing to listen to a lie than the truth. Since Peter was present at the very beginning of both Jesus’ ministry and the Church Age, he would have firsthand witness of what was Truth and what was the message of Jesus and the Gospel. I am impressed with how this brash and flippant natured Peter has settled down his human character to be a defender of the faith. This is the same Peter who fled and denied Jesus in his moment of trial. Peter has learned not to deny or run from conflict and adversaries, but to take a stand for the faith regardless of the consequences pending death.

            Peter writes this letter with his own pending death at hand. Yet he spends the third chapter delineating the pending judgment coming at the end of the age. Peter talks about the Coming Day of the Lord, the inescapability of that day and how that God’s time is not our time. I am reminded of the book Francis Schaffer wrote “How then shall we live?” Since all these things are to come about – how should the people of God live? Will we cave into the pressure of trials and tribulations to find comfort in our earthly time, or will we stand the test, even martyrdom if necessary, to speak the Truth with conviction?

Peter admonishes his audience to “stand fast, be on the guard, but grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord.” Tough days are not coming, they are already here. I read almost weekly how some popular person of faith has either fallen or left the faith due to pressure or failure. Now is a most important time that we, the believers be fund faithful to the TRUTH that has redeemed us. Let our faith be unwavering in the face of trials and tribulations!

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Thanks for the Testimony

1 Thess chapters 1-4

Paul is writing to a church that he established in 3 weeks amid much tribulation and conflict. In Acts 17 we find the story of Paul’s missionary work among the Thessalonians, this on the heels of the problems at Philippi. We must remember that Paul wanted to go to some different areas on his 2nd missionary journey, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit. The Macedonian Call compelled him to go to the cities of Philippi, Berea, Athens and Thessalonica.  Even though there was great struggle with the Jewish religious leaders, Paul and the new church were able to get strides to propagating the Gospel to nearby communities. As a side note, I wondered how I would be if I was confronted with so much opposition every time I tried to do the Lord’s work? Would I stay the course or would I say I have had enough of this – I’m tired of the garbage and walk away – I hope I would have the where with all to stay the course.

Even though this young church had hardship at the beginning, their faith and testimony has spread to other regions. Their testimony was well established. There isn’t any greater testimony for a pastor or minister than to know the labor among the people/church wasn’t in vain. The proof of the ministry is the obedient lives of those we have nurtured.

Paul makes his case before the church in how he came to them, not with flattery words and malice for gain but with a sincere heart and love for the lost. Paul continually praises the church for their faithfulness and holy witness. He also tells them to go one to more, even as they have walked, he ask them to walk “straighter” before the lost in conduct [2:12]. Paul wanted them to have holy lives, so that their testimony wouldn’t be stained, nor the Gospel be brought reproach. Now this church was already doing/living a great testimony – Paul challenged them to accomplish more. No because Paul wanted to get the glory, but because the great need for holiness among the Gentiles. The Thessalonians were experiencing trials, persecution from their own countrymen, yet they were found faithful – this is a lesson we in America need to learn. Even though the American society seems to be breaking down in to a great immoral society – we that are believers must still shine and salt the world with our presence.

From the language of this letter it is easy to sense the heartfelt love Paul has for this church. He longs to be with them, so to fellowship and lift them up. Sometimes the things we desire have to wait until the timing it right. In 1 Tess. 2:19, a great verse reflects a scene in Heaven one day; how that all the lives we have had an influence on will stand in the crowd of believers, and can take great joy in seeing them there before the Father!

In chapter 3 Paul continues his explanation of why He hasn’t been there, the Satanic tactics and the resistance to the Gospel. But even though Paul and his team may be missing, they were there in spirit and prayer. In this letter we capture a premise that seems to be lost in today’s Christian Living – the expectation that people are going to live righteously and godly. Accountability for the way we live the Believers’ life is so important for our witness and testimony to be valid.  In chapter 4, Paul repeats himself in asking the church “to excel more” in what they are doing. In verse 2-7, Paul uses the word sanctification – this denotes a separation, but also a maturation of the believer. Elsewhere Paul says we are to no longer to walk like children tossed to and fro, but to be built up in the faith.

The last part of chapter 4:13-18, is a passage that finds itself quoted during funerals as a means of hope. The Blessed Hope of Christ return is a hope we all need, especially when faced with deathly opposition. This world isn’t all there is; but this world determines all that there is hereafter. We are to be comforted that our labor and suffering are not in vain, keeping a pure uncorrupted testimony of faith for ourselves, and those who have suffered in bringing us to God.

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Peter, Persecution and Perseverance

1 Peter 1-5; Peter the beloved Apostle who consistently put his foot in his mouth and spoke the wrong thing at the wrong time. He is married, so he has a family, we know of his occupation as a fishermen businessman, he has a mother-in-law who was healed by Jesus and He was among the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, always included with James and John the sons of Zebedee. There is a the famous statement in Matthew 16 that Peter declares the “Thou Art the Christ” which wins him an A for the day, yet within a chapter, Jesus has to rebuke him for trying to prevent the cross from happening.  Peter is the Apostle to the Jews, whereas Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles. This came to a sticking point in Galatians, where Paul had to confront Peter because of his hypocritical behavior of entertaining the Gentiles in fellowship, but when the Jewish brethren came from Jerusalem, he removed away from them. [Gal 2:11-14]. Peter is the one Apostle that I can readily identify with. I have a lot of his traits, specifically one – inconsistency! Yet we know that Jesus entrusted the Gospel and care of the brethren to Peter. We know that the Roman Catholic church describes Peter as the first Pope, and that there is a mystical line of succession supposedly from him. The Phrase of “upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it;” [Matt 16:18] is the basis for the Peter Pope thought. However, it is the statement of Peter, not Peter himself, for the new name that Peter is given is that of [a small pebble], not a rock and the foundation of which the Church is built.

Enough on Peter, in our reading Peter is quick to address his Jewish audience and the persecution they are experiencing. There was a growing persecution in Jerusalem along with a famine that would relate to Peter’s message to the Jewish Christians. In fact Paul takes up a collection from the Gentile churches in support of the churches/brethren in Jerusalem [1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor 8 & 9]

Peter use many Old Testament cross-references to identify the scarlet thread of the Gospel as it moves through the Old Testament to the New. He speaks of character and righteous living before the world, and specifically before the Gentiles. While the Gospel has moved off-center from the Jews to the Gentile nations, the Jewish believers still have a bold witness that they must maintain and share. Peter mentions no less than three different times of how the Jewish believers are to act and conduct themselves in the world; I think the point Peter is trying to get all of us to understand in light of persecution against the Gospel [which we are seeing clearly today] is that we cannot be seen as offensive in cultural issues that we cannot be a witness for the Kingdom. Repeatedly Peter tells us that it is better to suffer for doing good that it is to suffer for doing evil. This is a difficult balance, while we still live in the world and are subjected to all the ills of a fallen society, we cannot lower ourselves in combative behavior, where we bring dishonor to our Lord Jesus.

Peter speaks of everyone [slaves, wives, and men] to be submissive to every human institution. This had to be hard for the brash behavior-ed Peter, that or Peter has mellowed a lot in his older years. In America we do not really understand the subjection to all authorities, for our government is based upon federalism not monarchy rule. Plus the added problem of “imperial worship” of the Caesar’s. We see a different Peter, one that is concerned for the well-doing of the Gospel; gone are the days of looking “to be the greatest.”  Peter three times mentions his prayer life. [1 Petr 3:8, 12 and 4:7] He has learned it seems to take things to God in Prayer, rather than volatile behavior.

Peter closes his first epistle with challenges for all to keep the faith in the hard times; and hard times are to be expected. The believer will be out of step with the rest of the world, but let the world revile us but be put to shame for their treatment of us. We are not alone in persecution, it is experienced by all that will desire to live godly. Just as Jesus was persecuted, even we should expect, almost welcome it.  Be humble; Be alert; Be sober in spirit, resist the devil in the power of the name – Jesus. “After you have suffered for a little while, you will be established by Him who has called you.” Don’t quit!

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Pain of the Gospel

Our reading in 2 Corinthians 1-3 has a definite theme to it.  Today we in the realm of the church and Christianity deal with two different aspects of the Gospel. One is as we live out the Gospel in our world publicly, we become attacked and ridiculed like Jesus and the Apostles were in their day. Scripture holds that we will suffer for righteousness sake, and Jesus, himself told us “if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you. Then in addition, Jesus tells us that in the world we will have persecution, but to take heart for He has overcome the world.  Secondly, is the philosophy that In Christ there is only joy, peace, happiness, blessings and good towards us.  One could identify this as the “health and wealth” thought, but I think it goes much deeper than this. I hold to a first option, that as we live out the faith in us and become more conformed to the image of Jesus, that the world [churches included] will be against us. The fight is not personally against us  – but against the witness of Christ that comes out of our obedient life.  The second option resonates with “Jewish” philosophy of “blessings are a result of a right life, and troubles are a result of sin.” This thought played out in the book of Job and is still be applied today.

This applies to what Paul is trying to convey to the church at Corinth. He already has a tenuous relationship with them because of his former letters.  Paul addressed several issues of behavior in the church that was unacceptable. Paul indicates that he wrote addressing the issues with heavy tears.  He wanted to come to them, but knew that his presence was [at that time] more of a hindrance than a help to the church. Paul tries to give the church a close up look at what ministry is all about. Pastors and missionaries struggle more with the church than they do the lost/unredeemed. The Corinthian church was carnal, they felt they were superior to Paul, and were offended that he would attempt to correct them and their obvious sins.

In the 1st chapter, Paul uses the word “Comfort” ten times. He also uses the word “affliction” or similar word nine times. The message is that redeemed people, living an obedient life will have troubles [James 1:2-4], but those experiences are not only for the working of righteousness and sanctification in the person, but for an example and lesson to be used for others. As the believer experiences trials and tribulations, it becomes effectual in the work in and out of the Gospel. Our struggle is we don’t want to have trials and tribulations in our lives – we have been preached and taught that “if” we will just live the Christian life, they all our worries and problems will disappear. This is a false message! Countless times in the bible we find where God allowed difficulties to occur in righteous people for the purifying of the person and the proclamation of the Gospel.

This is not to say that we should go around moping because we have troubles – in fact, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for such behavior. A word of caution for all of us. If we are suffering because of things we have done wrong – there is no testimony out of our hardships. [1 Peter 3:16-17]

Paul was hurting because the Corinthian church was hurting.  In chapter 2, he addresses the stern position of tolerated sin found in 1 Cor. 5; there is no apology for his words, but a “brokenness” for the church.  In the suffering Paul experienced, he is trying to get them to understand that he was willing to go through the struggles and pain for their benefit. In a very kind way, Paul attests to his calling and apostleship again to them.  Paul brings an Old Testament illustration at the end of the chapter by using the “sweet aroma” analogy. Sweet aroma was a result of the burnt sacrifices on the altar before God. While it was death to the sacrifice, it was Glory to the Father. So in the “sacrifice” of doing ministry, it was a foul smell to unbelievers, but a sweet aroma to those that believed.

In Chapter three, Paul uses beautiful language to convey the difference between the glory of Moses with the Law, and the glory of the Spirit of God in the believer. While the glory on Moses’ face was temporary, the glory displayed through the believer by the Holy Spirit was sustained. Paul says you are our letter, no longer stone tablets, but real people, living out a real, authentic indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit was “glowing” through them to the eyes of others, the Glory of God was manifested.  Pressing this a  bit more, think of Stephen when he was stoned, and the radiant glory Paul and others saw as Stephen was dying.

So it is clear that as we live [die daily] out our faith before the world, we will be misunderstood, persecuted and experience troubles. This should be expected, for it happened to Jesus our Lord and all those who lived out their faith before men. Our challenge – will we be willing to allow the Glory of God to “glow” through us in testimony of the Gospel?

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The Jesus Ministry

The chapters of Luke 9-13 are filled with so many kinds of topics, it is difficult to settle on one theme. Our reading begins with the “Call, power and sending out ” of the disciples. They after having watched Jesus for approximately 18 months now get to engage in the work He was doing. The work of the disciples becomes so known, that even Herod that “old Fox” feels conviction, fearing that John the Baptist has been reincarnated. Yes Jews believed in reincarnation to some degree [see Luke 9:18-19]. When the disciples return they explain the results to Jesus. He takes them away, but the crowds follow. In these high popularity years Jesus does a lot of healing, and crowd gathering. His message shifts to the Kingdom of God and the task that is before Him. Remember the Jews are looking for a Messiah, albeit a faulty expectation from the real Messiah that Jesus would be at that time.

Jesus begins to tell the disciples how he will go to the cross, He shows them His glory on the mount of Transfiguration; and all they do is asked for “priority seating” in the Kingdom of God [Luke 9:46-48]. The disciples were very sympathetic or discerning of what Jesus was really all about. Before we chastise them, we aren’t much better today. Before Jesus goes to Jerusalem there is one last major evangelistic thrust, and open revelation of who He is; He sends out 70 ahead, to prepare the people by way of announcement.

The are times when I hear that sometimes my preaching is a bit too harsh or in your face. Yet when I look at the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles, I find not a wimpy preaching approach, but one that is bold and truthful about the judgment and the condemnation on the unrepentant cities and communities. Even the cities of Bethsaida and Capernaum are chastised for their unbelief.

It always follows that when God has done a great work [the return of the 70’s report] that evil wants to discount and destroy the testimony of the work. In chapter 10, the lawyer bent on discrediting Jesus puts Him to the test with a question that the lawyer already knows the answer to. Such as it is, Jesus does His best teaching through great illustrations ans stories – in this case the Good Samaritan story. In the end, the lawyer is corrected in his thinking about neighbors, but unmoved in his prejudice against Samaritans, all he could reply to Jesus was “the one who showed mercy.” [Luke 10:37]

I have studied Luke 11:1-13 extensively, it is a very good passage about prayer. I pondered why the Disciples would ask Jesus to teach them to pray, when every good Jew prayed 3 times a day. The secret is they were missing the “power” behind the prayers. When Jesus prayed, things happened! This is not the case for many believers; we know we should pray, want our prayers heard, but find great difficulty in maintaining a prayer life.  The secret is not “saying prayers” but communicating with the person to whom we are praying too. We forget that prayer in its simplest form is just dialog with Jesus.  Prayer is not so much about asking for things as it is about know Jesus.

As with ministry today, there are varied reactions to the Gospel. Jesus is considered to be Beelzebub or Satan doing the works that He does. The Jews really don’t appear to be too smart at times – as Jesus dismisses the remark by “house divided against itself” giving truth that if Jesus was Satan, He is destroying Satan’s own work. Jesus will continue to have opposition from here on to the Cross. One of the thought we must come to understand; as we profess and live out the believer’s life, there will be times of great opposition. We are no better than out Master!

A funny passage is Luke 10:37-53; I title it “What a Lunch!” Jesus was asked to lunch by a Pharisee, from there things went downhill fast. Jesus pronounces Woes on the Pharisees and condemns the religious rulers for their part in killing the prophets and apostles. Needless, after the lunch, they are ready to kill him; and will from now on seek to do just that.

Jesus preaching has become more intense; no longer is He trying to present evidence that He is the Messiah, but is bringing the message of how people will be judged at the End of the Age. Warnings are given to those who have ears to hear.  Please note that the Gospel is Offensive! Chapter 12:49-53 explains how that families will be divided over who Jesus and the Gospel. I have seen this happen in families and it is so sad.  The Cross looms in front of Christ; He is resolved to embrace His “baptism” of agony and trial, for this is His reason for coming – to seek and to save that which is lost, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Through all the teaching, miracles and healing, Jesus focus has always been “get to the Cross.” He did not come for popularity, self glory or create a following. He came to be the Savior of the world; delivering us from sin and wrath.

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From the Mountain to the Valley

From the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comes down the mountain to be surrounded by large crowds. I couldn’t help but think what a difference it is to be on the Mountain versus the Valley. Many times we want to stay on the mountain top and relish the “good times and highs.” But there is work to be done, and we must come down the mountain to the people. In chapters 8-12, there is a lot of healing ministry and tough questions to be answered by Jesus. These things cause Jesus’ popularity to skyrocket with the people. However, the more popular Jesus became, the more the religious rulers despised Him and His ministry.

In the process of doing daily ministry to whoever asked Him; Jesus also was assembling His “apostles.” We find supernatural events during the ministry of Jesus. He healed lepers, calmed seas, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, cured a paralytic, mercy to a woman with a blood hemorrhage. The people always went away praising God for the miracles. Jesus continued His “teaching moments” which also was overwhelming. He had to answer a myriad of questions about why He didn’t do things the way the Jewish religious leaders did, with their strict moral and ethic codes. Jesus actually was questioned by John the Baptist disciples [Matthew 11:1-6] “Are you the Messiah or is there someone else? Jesus replied with Isaiah 61:1-4.

Jesus as the Son of God had power over the very creation that He spoke into existence. I note that even in the natural phenomenons, storms, waves winds etc., Jesus displays power and authority over them. The only element of creation that seemingly won’t respond to His authority is mankind. Partly because we are given free will and make our own choices, but mainly because we are fallen humanity, and have a bent towards sinning.

Two passages [Matt 7:16-21 & 12:33-37] really stuck out for me. I asked myself the question, especially in regards to John 15:2 – is the tree bad because of the bad fruit or is the fruit bad because of the bad tree. Matthew 12:33 – clears this up quickly the problem is a  bad tree. What this means is the internal characteristics of the tree determine the fruit seen visible. So also this is true for us. If Christ is in our soul, the fruit will be good. We really can tell if someone is redeemed or not. By their fruits you will know them!

Recently a particular verse has made its way deep into my heart – Matthew 10:16, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. This is a difficult verse because ravenous wolves kill and shred without regard to anything else. We know the bible explicitly tells us that as they persecuted Jesus that we should expect it too. But we strive to do our best NOT to suffer for Christ.  Yet the test of Discipleship is the willingness to follow and experience what Jesus experienced. Paul took great joy [not happiness] in “the fellowship of His [Christ’s] suffering being conformed to His death. [Phil 3:10]

Jesus does not paint a very glamorous picture for would-be disciples. The biblical account of daily discipleship is a far cry from what is lived out in Western Christianity.

Our reading for this period ends with questions about the Sabbath observances. Obviously the religious rulers were watching Jesus’ every move, not to follow Him but to look for fault or ability to accuse Him of wrong doing. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man [and beast] not Man for the Sabbath. Too often I think “church life” can get so legalistic about what is the way to worship God, that we wind up putting so many restrictions to our worship; and wind up worshiping our system of beliefs instead of Jesus the subject/object of our worship.

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