this is God's will

God has been working in me.

It's always interesting to watch Him, because so often, His shaping touch is so gentle that I don't even feel it until I notice its tangible effects on my life months or years later. He works slowly, deliberately, never hurried or pushy, and why not? He has all the time in the world. I am learning, the longer I watch Him, that the aggressive, domineering, hurry-up-or-you'll-regret-it messages I sometimes hear in my heart and mind are never from Him - they are just my Enemy's strategy to distract me from the loving and teaching voice of my Father.

Today I noticed that my prayers have changed in the last year, maybe two. It was such a gradual shift that it didn't occur to me that anything was happening at the time, but now I can see it: Where I once asked for miracles, I've begun to ask for the revelation of God's character. Where I once asked for changed circumstances, I've begun to ask for changed hearts. Where I once asked God to step in and do blatant divine work in my life (and others'), I've begun to ask Him to lead His children to be His hands and feet toward one another.

I've asked God to miraculously heal the pain and suffering of a family member (well, let's face it... more than one family member), and I don't think that's wrong - but the beauty I have found in "Thy will be done" is that He often wills to do far deeper and greater work than simple healing of a physical problem. He shows us who He is - and there is no greater miracle than that.

The gloriously inefficient plan

But He doesn't necessarily show us who He is the way that I have often expected or desired, either. Looking back, I see that I wanted Him to sweep in in a grand vision, in an incredible event that no one could possibly doubt was an act of God - that would force us to turn our hearts toward Him more. But He has very rarely done so. Instead, He seems to prefer to work small... gentle... slow. He seems to prefer inefficiency. He seems to prefer to involve us, not to force us.

And I am coming to see that His favorite inefficiency is to reveal Himself chiefly in the small, Spirit-led voices and actions of His children. He shows us who He is in the unconditional love, the bottomless forgiveness, the open-hearted welcome of people who are just like us, people who are broken, but have been saved by the blood of Christ and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

So instead of asking Him to put on a huge show of power to remind me of His worthiness, His faithfulness, or His love, I have begun to ask Him to send someone - one of His small, saved people - who can gently, slowly, inefficiently live out His character before me in the humblest of ways. I am learning that He wants to do His deepest work through us, the Church. He wants me to hear His voice from the mouths of His children and see His love through their sacrificial actions and invite His grace into my life in the form of these genuine and difficult relationships.

And He wants me to do the same for them.

We, the Church of Christ, are intended to be His will. His voice. His hands. His arms. His feet. His heart.

The call to imitate Christ has never been more vital.

Now is not the time to wait for miracles to rain down from heaven. If God chooses to do that, then hallelujah, but here is the truth: we are the miracle. The God of all Creation has spared no expense to purchase a relationship with us, and to offer Himself fully to every living soul. That is a miracle. Every day that we walk with Christ as the active manifestation of His love, His grace, His power, His mercy, His unity, and His forgiveness for others is a miracle - and it's the miracle that will save the world, that will bring life to those who are dying in darkness.

God isn't showy or controlling or in a rush. He's not even all that efficient at times. But He is working - and He wants to work in me, and in you, and through us all. Broken and hurting people in our sanctuaries and our world are praying for a vision of what God's heart really looks like. What if we - the Church, the body of Christ - are the answer to that prayer? Am I ready to step in and live it? Are you?

This is your calling and mine - God wants to do His deepest work in us and through us. His Church is called to be His love to the world.

The hard, healing work

This is hard work. The hardest work. It means that instead of burying our brokenness, we re-open the old wounds to the community of Christ - to be healed and, equally importantly, to provide an opportunity for His Church to practice its lofty call. It means that instead of pretending we're all okay, we build relationships based on the assumption that we are all not okay - and that no matter what your pet sin or your coping mechanism or your personal trauma, I've got my own pet sin or coping mechanism or personal trauma that really isn't much different, except maybe by name.

It means I am not just climbing to get myself to the top, but I'm choosing to throw my weight into these burdens in perfect sync with those who are climbing beside me, so that together we can lift up those who are too wounded to make the trek on their own.

And it's risky, because without exception, all of our deepest wounds came from other people to begin with - often the people closest to us. It seems counter-intuitive that we'd need to look for healing in the same position of vulnerability that hurt us, or that we'd ever trust someone other than ourselves to pull us up the treacherous mountainside to victory. But this is the plan.

The gloriously inefficient and hazardously optimistic plan.

Disorders. Addictions. Emptiness. Trauma. Sin. Pain. Abandonment. Disease. Not a single one of us is not suffering somehow from the wounds of a broken world. But until we stop pretending otherwise, until we stop hiding from each other - which can only mean we are hiding from the healing hand of God - the destructive cycle will go on.

God has been working in me. Slowly, gently, He has been clearing my vision to see what my true vocation as a servant of Christ is. It's not to preach the Gospel to a certain number of people or to write a particular book or to revolutionize the way we learn Scripture. Even if any of these things did happen, my real, bottom-line vocation would still be exactly the same as yours: To imitate Christ, who lived unapologetically real, fearlessly vulnerable, and inexhaustibly loving.

He laid His life down for His friends - not just literally, but also daily, entering into other people's muck and empathizing with their pain and loving them all the way to healing. And all this He did fearlessly, freely, even at the risk of unimaginable betrayal.

Now He has passed the baton to me. To you. To His Church.

This is God's will. We are God's plan.

Will we obey?

Jude 17-25 - a call to fight back

Welcome to Part Three of our in-depth study of the book of Jude. We've covered Jude's call to vigilance (in Part One) and his call to discernment (in Part Two) - now, we learn how to respond, how to fight back against the threat of the enemy and the deceptions of "these men."

A study in Jude - part three

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 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.
— Jude 18-25

Our battle plan

In the beginning of his letter, Jude urgently called the Church to vigilance, because deception was creeping in and going unaddressed. Godless men disguised as believers - wolves in sheep's clothing - were perverting God's grace and denying Christ's mastery in a way that imperiled souls.

Then he told the Church what traits to watch for in order to pick these men out from the crowd: they would be revealed by their disdain for authority, their reckless reliance on feelings above the truth, and their ultimate fruitlessness for the kingdom of God.

This letter is no less important for us today than it was for the churches of Jude's era. It may even be more so, because the wolves we are dealing with now have the ability to take their deception to a far higher platform - a worldwide audience. They are turning the grace of God into licentiousness by misusing sacred words like love, grace, and judgment; they are teaching, more loudly every day, that "it doesn't matter" what you do or what name you use for God or how you choose to identify yourself.

Now we know we must be watchful. We know what to be watching for. But what's the battle plan?

Remember the truth

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

If we are to have victory in this war, if we are to fight the good fight of the faith in a way that honors our Lord and Master, then a firm knowledge of and reliance on the truth of His Word is a nonnegotiable. If we have that, then we will not be surprised by the brutality of the fight, by the shrewdness of the enemy, or by the vileness of the worldly and Spiritless. We'll see it coming and we'll be able to make ourselves ready.

The truth will also help us to come into the battle from a right perspective, knowing that it is the mockers who cause the divisions, not we who fight back. So many times we back down from the battle in the name of preserving unity, but all we achieve is unification around the wrong thing. Going to war for the truth is not what divides us - the deceivers are already doing that. Yes, the call to war will inevitably divide the disciples from the deceivers, but that is the nature of truth - that's truth doing its job, and we can't be afraid of it.

Remember the truth. Remember who you are. Remember who you were. And remember who He is.  That's the battle plan. That's the strategy that has already changed the world, and will continue to do so until the day that the King Himself returns to claim the victory.

Remember who you are

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Jude started his letter with a reminder of our true identities if we are followers of Christ, and he makes it part of his concluding call, too - because this matters. It is vitally important that we remember who we are, and our rightful role in the war.

But you, beloved: Jude just finished describing the mockers as those who are "devoid of the Spirit," and then says the word but. But you, beloved. Some are Spiritless, but we are loved - there is something different about who we are because we are in Christ, and beloved. That is powerful.

Building yourselves up on your most holy faith: Our foundation is faith - but it's not static. We are building on it. If we're good soldiers, we are growing, day in and day out, in our faith - in the ability to see things (including ourselves) the way God says they are, not the way our eyes see them.

Praying in the Holy Spirit: We have a weapon in hand that the Spirit-devoid mockers do not: access to God Himself in prayer. When the war is overwhelming and we are weak, do we remember that we are those with the unique privilege of access to God's throne?

Keep yourselves in the love of God: In verse one, Jude called us "the called, beloved, and kept." Here it is again: We have the opportunity to be kept (watched over, guarded) in God's love. Regardless of what is going on around us, we are safe.

Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life: I love that phrase "waiting anxiously." In the Greek it communicates not just of waiting, but of expecting, and of opening oneself to eagerly receive. We have already benefited so much from God's grace, but there is more to come - and we are the recipients of mercy as vast as eternity!

We're loved, firmly founded, privileged with God's presence. We are carefully guarded by God's love and we are still waiting for the rest of His mercy to be showered on us. When we remember that this is who we are, and that this is how He has transformed us, we can do battle well - not because we need the affirmation or revel in the bloodshed, but because we see the value of what we have in Christ, and feel honored to contend earnestly for it.

Remember who you were

And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

But we were not always whole in Christ. We were once lost just as these deceivers and their prey are lost, and we don't fight them ruthlessly, but compassionately - because we know what it is to stand exactly where they are. We need to remember who we were, and thereby remember who to look out for:

The doubting: Those who doubt don't need to be bludgeoned by our sense of certainty or self-righteousness, they need our mercy. Doubt is a very desperate place, because it becomes difficult to tell what is true from what is false, and our fears often muddy the waters and leave us feeling alone, unsure, and terrified. As we do battle compassionately, we need to reach out to the doubting not with a stack of Scripture verses to convince them of the truth, but with a mercy that actively demonstrates the truth of God's mercy toward us.

The lost: The lost, meanwhile, need straight-up saving. They are already in hell's clutches and it is imperative that we have the boldness and courage to run into the burning building and rescue them. It's dangerous and it's not pretty, but it is a crisis. These people don't need to be sermonized on how much better their lives will be with Jesus, they need to be snatched from the sinking talons of hell itself! 

The unwise: These are the people who play perilously close to the cobra's den. They indulge the flesh and make poor choices, and every day they become more vulnerable and more deeply entrenched in the bondage of sin. Like the doubters, these souls need our mercy - but with fear, which is actually closer to the word "terror," and with a hatred for the flesh. Why? Because they are not the only ones who are tempted by the flesh. We all are. Even we who are new creations carry around the "old man" with us, and if we don't tread carefully as we offer mercy to the unwise, we too can get trapped in its grip. When we try to strip the "garment polluted by the flesh" away from someone else, we must hate it so much - and fear our God even more - that we fling it away before it can defile us, too.

If we want to fight this fight with the compassion it demands, we have to remember where we came from. We need to be able to empathize with the doubting. We need to recognize what's really at stake for the lost. And we need to know ourselves and our weaknesses, so that we don't track the same muck we were saved from back into the Church after trying to pull out someone else.

The book of Jude - a three-part study

Remember who our God is

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 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.

Finally, and most importantly, Jude's battle plan against deception ends with a simple picture: This is who God is. This is who we have on our side, fighting with us and for us.

He is able. When we don't have the strength to carry on, He can keep us from stumbling and make us stand firm. When we keep screwing up and feel lost in our shame, He still welcomes us into His presence, sees us as blameless, and offers us His joy. When we forget who we are in Him, we can look to who He is, because He is always the same - the only God, our Savior.

To Him be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever.

He will be glorified. He will be King. He will dominate and rule over everything we are battling against - we cannot lose this war, because He is on our side. We need only to contend earnestly for the faith.

Remember the truth. Remember who you are. Remember who you were. And remember who He is.

That's the battle plan. That's the strategy that has already changed the world, and will continue to do so until the day that the King Himself returns to claim the victory.

Are you ready?

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

Jude 8-16 - a call to discernment

Last week we studied the first seven verses in Jude - his call to vigilance to all believers, a plea to "contend earnestly for the faith" in light of the enemy's sneaking deceptions. Today, we continue into verses 8-16 - this time, a call to the discernment that we will so desperately need if we are to hold the line that divides truth from falsehood.

A study in Jude - part two

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.
— Jude 8-16
Jude a call to discernment.jpg

Identifying "these men"

We must come into these verses fresh from the seven that precede them - the ones we studied last week - because of two key phrases: "in the same way" and "these men."

In the same way - as what? Jude is referring back to verses 5-7, in which he reminded us of the historic consequences of disobedience and unbelief. The lies we are called to watch for and discern are of the same breed as the blasphemy of the Egyptians, the rebellion of the angels, and the perversion of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are that serious.

And "these men" points back to verse 4: "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."

Within the first seven words of this new paragraph, Jude reminds us again of the urgency of the cause. These men, these "certain persons," are headed for the same destruction, eternal bondage, and eternal fire as some of the most heinous peoples in the Bible - and they are trying to take others with them.

So how, practically, do we discern and identify these men when they are - God forbid - among us?

They are arrogant

 Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.

By dreaming: This is not nighttime dreaming or even daydreaming, but a reference to their trust in their own personal "revelations." They follow their own minds, even when they lead far away from the standards of holiness.

Defile the flesh: Both physically and morally, they literally "pollute" or "stain" themselves as a direct result of the licentiousness they claim as God's grace. They have made up their own rules about what grace is and what good is.

Reject authority: Just as it sounds, and just as Jude said earlier: they deny the Lordship and Mastery of Jesus Christ, along with His chosen leaders in the church. They think they know better.

Revile angelic majesties: Even the truly sacred and holy things, beings that they cannot even begin to understand, they profane and pretend to have authority over.

We will know them by their arrogance. They will not submit to the Lordship of Christ or the leadership of the church or the authority of Scripture; instead they will follow their own minds, feelings, and "rights." In their self-aggrandizement they will try to speak things even Michael the Archangel would not dare to speak outside of the authority given to him by God!

They are beyond reason

... The things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they will be destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

Have you ever watched, brokenhearted, while an animal destroyed itself by its own instincts? I remember a bird whose toe was caught in a wire on the fenceline when I was a kid. I could have helped it get free, but its instincts said that I was a predator, and so it struggled so hard to escape me that it broke its leg beyond repair. Eventually it did fly free, but whether it was able to survive with such a handicap, I don't know.

These deceivers are like that bird. They follow their own feelings to the point of total lack of reason. Their actions and choices clearly point to destruction, but they - and often the ones they deceive - are too blind to see it.

They have gone the way of Cain: Cain lost control of himself by letting his anger and bitterness rule over him, and it led to the tragic murder of his own brother and a life of exile for himself (Genesis 4).

For pay they rush headlong into the error of Balaam: Balaam was a prophet who tried to get away with disobedience for personal benefit. He let his sinful desires control him and as a result, he became a pawn of the enemy (Numbers 22).

And perished in the rebellion of Korah: Korah, a Levite in the days of Moses, self-importantly tried to redefine God's values for the leadership of Israel. He blindly followed his desire for authority and renown in spite of what he knew of God's holiness, and God allowed the earth to swallow him up (Numbers 16).

We will know them by their distorted thinking. They will not submit their instincts to the ultimate authority of our Master, Jesus, for reshaping and redemption. In their delusion they will find their destruction.

They are fruitless

These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

The descriptions Jude has given us so far make these deceivers sound terribly obvious. Wouldn't someone so blatantly arrogant and unreasoning stick out like a sore thumb? Not necessarily. They are called hidden reefs in your love feasts - they are among us, they are breaking bread with us, and though the sea looks safe - it isn't. This is why the call to discernment is so vital: we must be able to spot that perilous kind of self-importance that can be hidden, disguised, camouflaged under words and actions that are almost-right.

A third characteristic that will help us spot them, even when their arrogance and delusion are well-hidden, is their fruitlessness.

Clouds without water: A cloud that doesn't produce any rain is useless to the thirsting earth. Deceivers tend to talk a big game and act like they have all the answers, but they leave many hurt, disillusioned, and increasingly needy people in their wakes.

Autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted: An autumn tree is useless for fruitbearing because its season has passed, but if it didn't even produce fruit while it had the chance, it's worse than dead - for it has failed to preserve its kind with a next generation of trees. Deceivers are dead and uprooted themselves, but even worse, they are effectively killing the faith for the next generation.

Wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam: The waves crash and churn restlessly, but achieve nothing more than a little foam - light, empty, a weak result for so much violence. Likewise, deceivers tirelessly pursue their fleshly passions and convictions and the end result is only weakness and shame.

Wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever: More accurately, this refers to planets, which produce no light of their own and wander through the skies in irregular patterns. Deceivers are the same way: they have thrown out the compass of truth, and so there is no way to measure their choices beyond the urging of their own lusts. They don't produce any light with which to guide those around them.

Even if we miss their arrogance and don't notice their delusion, we should have the discernment to know these deceivers by their fruit - or, in Jude's argument, by their fruitlessness. A healthy and God-fearing believer knows the way to the Living Water that truly satisfies, plants seeds of the faith for the next generation, follows the clear direction of God's Word, and shines with the brilliant light of Christ. A deceiver produces only emptiness, confusion, and darkness.

In conclusion

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

Ultimately, we are called to discern the ungodly from the godly - the condemned from the convicted and the sin-slaves from those who are set free. Sometimes, on the surface, they look alike, but Jude says to watch for the complainers. Watch for the criticizers. Watch for those who follow their own desires and who claim an authority that is not their own and who try to take advantage of other people.

And remember: they are among us, hidden reefs that make the safe-looking sea into a death trap. Souls are at stake. We must be vigilant, and we must be discerning. And we must fight back. Next week, we'll learn how.