In all things, clarity.

black text on gray background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We Christians sometimes struggle to use social media well.

Rather than going out of our way to be clear, we choose to aim for “pithy and incisive” and instead land squarely in “muddled and misunderstood.”

It’s predictable on some level. Social media readers (and here, I’m thinking mainly of platforms like Twitter or Gab) tend to reward those whose posts are punchy, snarky, and meme-able. Everyone loves a good pile-on; there’s a certain warm camaraderie in adding your voice to the chorus of “Look at that guy—what a doofus!” As a result, when we post our own comments and memes, we instinctively revert to middle-school “gotcha” mode, chasing after our mutuals’ “oh snap” replies and GIFs and those precious “shares” and “likes” that affirm our rhetorical prowess. (Please, Mr. Dorsey, just plug all that ephemeral affirmation directly into my veins!)

Sometimes, however, the slings and arrows we are so quick to let fly at our online ideological foes can be based on less-than-complete information or may communicate with all the subtle finesse of a rusted claw hammer.

If we are indeed disciples of He Who Is The Truth and obedient servants of the God Who Does Not Lie, then it seems redundant to say that we should be truthful in all of our interactions, including those online. I’ve talked about this in the past, with regard to the stories and articles we share online. But I would also venture to propose the following three bits of advice for our daily digital dialogues:

  • Part of love “believing all things” may just be assuming the best when someone who is otherwise demonstrably orthodox says or posts something that may be unclear/confusing. When that happens, walking in love could mean starting by asking questions to gain clarity, rather than assuming heterodoxy of a brother. If the issue is minor, it could even mean letting a post go without saying anything. (I know, that’s crazy-talk when someone is wrong on the internet.) And if the issue really does need to be addressed (and you actually can gain a hearing from that person, rather than just being another stranger shouting online), walking in love means addressing it publicly but in a way that is not self-aggrandizing or belittling of the other person. If the person is a Christian, entreat them directly as a brother or sister. Don’t play to the audience. 
  • The flipside of that is, when we post things online, we should be willing to rework our pithy, “retweetable” construction if we realize our readers find it unclear or confusing, especially when (for example) we’re dealing with weighty matters like theology or sensitive issues related to sin or suffering. Zingers get buzz, but they don’t often build up. If you come to realize that you should have said something more clearly in order for it to be of benefit to others, don’t be too proud of your turns of phrase not to “kill your darlings” and try again in order to communicate something important in a way that is direct and digestible.
  • If you do tweet something that you later realize was ill-informed, poorly communicated, or insufficiently considered, don’t double-down. Just acknowledge it and move on. Seriously. Don’t employ tortured logic to contort your original post to mean something entirely different (or at a minimum, tangential) from its plain original reading. If you goofed, say you goofed. If you missed the mark or overstated something, admit it. If you want to add more context to explain things more clearly, or remove/repost with a correction/explanation, go ahead and do that. But don’t insult the rest of us by asking us to disbelieve our “lying eyes” as if the fault lies entirely with us. If you find that a dozen people are all “misinterpreting you” or “taking you out of context” the same way, it’s more likely a “you” problem than a “them” problem.

Am I now seeking to be the social media police because I’ve raised this issue? Yes. You’ve caught me; that’s exactly my desire. All online traffic needs my approval, with proper forms filled out and stamped in triplicate. You’re exactly right.

OR… perhaps I’m just a Christian who gets frustrated that so much of the sturm und drang of my Twitter feed could be avoided if (presumptive) brothers and sisters in Christ would stop trying to be social media influencers for a minute and just seek to be honest, clear, and edifying with their (online) speech. You know, the way we’re told to be. (In other words, I think we should seek to be salty rather than spicy.)

I’m far from perfect in this area–my Twitter “drafts” folder is a barren boneyard of half-baked takes and snarky responses–but I sincerely want to grow in wisdom with how I use social media. At the end of the day, it would be better for me to lose the miniscule “platform” I’ve built and shut down all my accounts for good, rather than become a known and influential online figure who profanes the Name by my sinful speech, conducting myself as little more than a banging gong or clanging cymbal.

I’m still thinking through all this, so if you have ideas/disagreements, or if I’ve missed something obvious that should factor into my thinking, I welcome your pushback and am happy to discuss further. Hit me up in the com-box below.

This ‘n That (08/26/2021)

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Hey gang!

I’m taking a break from Twitter for a few weeks, but I still have random topics I’m itching to talk to SOMEONE about, so I thought I’d post some of that here as a grab-bag of sorts. This will be different from the #FridayFeed, since those posts will be more strictly links and videos I’m sharing for your enjoyment.

Think of “This ‘n That” as having more of a coffee-break, chit-chat vibe–a mix of personal updates, comments about current news/culture, and maybe some recommendations of cool stuff I’ve found recently. Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a long time might like to think of this as the next iteration of the “PBB Cool Ten.” I won’t post something like this every week, but whenever I have enough to natter on about, I’ll share with the class. So here we go!

=====

Afghanistan

Let’s go ahead and lead with real news before getting to the silliness. The situation in Afghanistan is a disaster on multiple levels. While I agree that there had to be some sort of end-point for America’s direct military involvement in the country (but not necessarily an end to a US presence in the country/region–see: Germany, South Korea, etc.), the way this has been done is utterly baffling, tragic, and infuriating. The United States should not be treating the Taliban as either a threat or an ally, yet somehow the American president is doing both. We have an obligation not only to extract our citizens and materiel, but also our allies who have risked their lives and families to assist us in our missions. The US military has been put in an impossible and unwinnable position, and their leaders and government commanders have brought shame upon them throughout this episode. The more I read about what’s going on, the more I’m filled with anger, frustration, and grief over the loss of life that is ongoing and will only escalate as American forces continue to exit the country. What an utter disaster. What a failure. What a crippling, cowardly episode that should be hung like an albatross around the neck of this president for the rest of his political career. I have no other “appropriate” words for what I think about this.

A few days ago, I commented to my wife that perhaps on Earth-3 (or some other alternate reality), there is a different American president who is saying something like, “The Taliban has not kept their end of the bargain and are already terrorizing the country again, so right now American troops have begun an overwhelming offensive with the single goal of wiping out the Taliban in its entirety.” Turns out, Jocko Willink and I were on the same wavelength. This instagram post with a message from “President Jocko” is well-worth watching, even if only for giving us a glimpse of a different kind of presidency in this moment.

But seriously, if you are Christian, I would encourage you to pray ardently for Afghanistan and especially for the Christian church there. I’m already hearing reports of frightening and deadly persecution ramping up at the hands of the Taliban. It’s getting bad there, and it’s getting bad quickly.

Okay, serious discussion over. Time for some lighter things. (At least, somewhat lighter.)

Sonny Chiba

I heard last week that Sonny Chiba died. I only knew of him as the great sword-maker (and sushi chef) Hattori Honzo from the Kill Bill movies, but he had a pretty notable career in Asian cinema, both as a hero and as a villain. I’d be curious to check out his older work sometime (you know, during a future life-stage when I’m not watching Blippi or Paw Patrol or Fireman Sam more than actual grown-up television shows). Speaking of which…

Blippi

Let’s talk for a minute about Blippi. Blippi is a gangly, goofy man in his late 20’s / early 30’s wearing a signature blue and orange hat, bowtie, suspenders, and skinny jeans. His videos are mostly harmless, though they can be pretty inane. (I think any parent would agree that there’s a sort of “Mendoza Line” where silliness becomes annoying stupidity. Blippi lives on that line.) His videos are colorful and musical and somewhat informative (half the time, it sounds like he didn’t read his script and is ad-libbing science “facts” about the creatures at the aquarium or on the farm).

While I don’t have the kind of beef that some think-piece writers have against him (which is hilarious to me, to be honest), one thing that has always bothered me is that he’s a grown man displaying the mentality and behavior of a 7-year-old boy (think Tom Hanks in Big, but hopped up on sugar). When I first became a father, I started paying a lot more attention to how dads (and grown men in general) are presented in media. There’s no question in my mind that media catechizes kids on how to see the world, so presentations of what men and women are and how adults behave in these videos and movies matter. I want to find better examples of what men and women are and do for my kids to take in and emulate. Most importantly, I want to be one of those examples. I’d rather they think of me when they think about how a grown man behaves, rather than thinking of Blippi bouncing around and giggling like an idiot.

Back in the Gloom

In April, I talked about starting to attend F3, a boot-camp style workout in the early morning hours. I kept attending occasionally, but through the spring and into the early summer, our family was dealing with several rounds of illness that worked through the whole family, so I’d miss 1 or 2 days a week out of the 3 available at my chosen location. With so many gaps in my attendance, I didn’t make much progress (though some friends encouraged me by pointing out my improvement, however minimal). But then I noticed my forearm started aching and losing strength. I stopped working out for about 6-7 weeks, as I tried to rest my arm and figure out what was going on. I had so much trouble gripping and lifting things with that arm that I eventually had to go to the doctor. Turns out, I had developed a clear case of “tennis elbow.” The orthopedic surgeon I met with told me that 1 out of 3 people he sees that are in my age group will develop tennis elbow, because our ligaments just tend to start breaking down in middle age. Great. Thankfully, there was no visible structural damage, so he gave me some stretches to do and meds to take, and I’m now on the mend. After my long absence, I finally went back to the workout last Saturday, though I was really anxious for some reason that my heart wouldn’t handle the sudden resumption of hard work. As you might have guessed, my heart made it just fine. My legs, on the other hand, were shredded by dozens and dozens of squats, leaving me hobbling and groaning like an old man for almost a week. So I’ll be posting again for a workout this Saturday, and hopefully (with some foresight re: stretching and resting properly), I won’t be missing many more workouts from now on.

Nudge Coffee Bar

Gotta tell you about the newest delightful treat my wife brought home from the grocery store: Nudge Coffee Bars. (#NotSpon, but for real, Nudge, hit me up, becauase I am a FAN). They have the consistency (the “mouth-feel,” if you prefer) of chocolate bars, but they are not made of chocolate (a fact they are strangely emphatic about!). The bars are essentially what you’d have if you made chocolate with coffee beans instead of cocoa beans, added some other stuff, and this magical concoction popped out of the pan. Each square has the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee, so if you want to take a sweet treat on the go that gives you a little pick-me-up, this is a great option. PLUS!!! Nudge bars are made with an erythritol/monk fruit blend and some added fiber, so they are only around 1-2 net carbs per square, which means they are a great option for a low-carb/ketogenic eating plan. I tried the Ethiopian and Italian Roast flavors, and both are delicious. The crazy thing is, while Nudge Coffee Bars are most assuredly NOT made of chocolate (don’t you put that on them, Ricky Bobby), they really do taste like a rich mocha or espresso drink. The danger for me is that I’m already drinking coffee throughout the day, so I can’t eat too much of this goodness at once before all the caffeine hits my system, my heart races, and I start to see sound. But man, Nudge is so good. Check ’em out.

Fun with Greek vocabulary

I had the privilege of preaching 4 times at a small church about an hour north of ours. You may have noticed that I’ve been posting my sermon transcripts lately (next one coming this Sunday, Lord-willing). I’ve been really enjoying studying for these sermons, and part of that has to do with how I’m changing my approach to sermon prep and shifting the time spent so that I’m analyzing the text more than studying a stack of commentaries. I’ll go into detail about this in another post on a group blog I’ve joined recently (I really will have something posted soon, Michael!), but I just wanted to note that part of the joy of preparing to preach over the last month has been getting to do some this more in-depth language study. What’s crazy is, I can’t read New Testament Greek yet (hoping to start learning in the spring!). I’ve been relying on a (possibly a bit outdated) interlinear text and a Strong’s concordance that is meant for use with a King James translation (requiring an extra layer of translation on my part, from KJV to ESV!). But as I’ve studied how Jude uses the Greek language to communicate huge truths in just 25 verses, it’s been wild to learn how a slight change in spelling or phrasing makes such a huge difference in meaning. All of this to say: the Bible is amazing, y’all. It’s a miracle. 66 books, 40 or so human authors, across 3 continents and 2500 years–yet still unified and consistent because it has one Divine Author who inspired every letter of it. Just awesome.

Power Wash Simulator

When I first heard about the computer game Power Wash Simulator, I thought it sounded like one of those troll games with janky mechanics that is meant to last only a few minutes. Then I noticed that some Youtube gaming channels I watch from time to time were talking more and more about the game. So, I checked out a few “let’s play” videos. Y’all, I don’t have time to play video games much anymore, but I was *thisclose* to dropping the twenty bucks on Steam to pick it up. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about watching this gameplay. I won’t send you to the channels I watched (I think you have to be used to those streamers’ typical patter in order not to get annoyed), so here’s a no-commentary video of the first level or so of the game. Seriously, I dare you to watch it without feeling some sense of satisfaction as the van is transformed from dirty to spotless.

Dad Clothes

Speaking of things that are utterly dad-like: My wife teased me the other day because my outfit for leaving the house was a “dad” uniform: plaid button-down (untucked and sleeve-rolled, natch), khaki cargo shorts, leather boat shoes, faded ball cap. I’ll admit it, I’ve leaned in hard to the “dad look,” but you know what? I’m comfortable with that. I hate having to think about clothes or style. I have the body type that looks schlumpy, no matter what I’m wearing, so I just go with what’s comfortable and not too form-fitting (gotta protect the hearts and minds of the ladies). And cargo shorts make sense–all that pocket room! (I draw the line at jorts, however… though I wish I’d drawn that line before my teens/twenties. The pictures from the early 2000’s… *shudder*) I did grimace ruefully last week as I was reading an article in the Gut Check Quarterly that was inteded to lampoon seasonal style guides, and did so by recommending…the stuff I normally wear. But you know what? Dads don’t care. Dads abide. Often in a stained white undershirt, like the one I’m wearing…right…huh.

Reading the Paper

Might as well complete the “dad” trifecta: I bought an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal this week, and I’m loving it. It was a phenomenal deal: $4 a month for a year. I’ve been looking to add another source of news to my media diet, and at the odd times over the years when I’ve had access to the WSJ (which is normally crazy expensive, so I only get it when we stay at certain hotels), I’ve found the writing to be thoughtful, even-keeled, and informative. So far, I’ve already learned some interesting things that I probably would not have picked up otherwise by relying on social media trends, news blogs, and local TV news. Plus, the WSJ has a daily crossword that you can complete on the app, and I’ve enjoyed knocking those out over the last few days. I’m starting to develop a daily habit of reading “the paper” either during breakfast or after evening clean-up once the kids go to bed. Hopefully this will make my online news consumption a bit more well-rounded than what it is currently.

#TwitterSupperClub

I’ve been away from Twitter (mostly) for a few days, and I’ve realized that I miss interacting with a few folks on Twitter, but I don’t miss the experience of Twitter–with one exception: #TwitterSupperClub. This is the brain-child of Andrew Donaldson, the managing editor of Ordinary Times, and it’s brilliant. People who participate in the #TwitterSupperClub basically do what non-tweeters thought the platform was in the early days: a bunch of folks posting about what they had for dinner. Participants share pictures, descriptions, and recipes for the enjoyment, envy, and often inspiration of others. Donaldson described it once as a way to cleanse the digital palate of all the madness that often fills our social media feeds. So, if you’re on Twitter, let me encourage you to take a look at the hashtag and perhaps participate. The world could use more noodles and less negativity, more havarti and less hatred, more vanilla creme and less vitriol. Hook us up with pics of your delicious creations. Spread the love.

====

That’s all I’ve got this week. I know I haven’t been posting very often lately, but I appreciate y’all checking in. Check back for a new sermon on Sunday, and more fun next week!

Friday Feed (8/13/2021)

Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, friends! I’m back with a few tasty treats for your end-of-the-week enjoyment. And hey, not just videos, how ’bout that! Here we go!

====

  • Back at the end of June, Rod Dreher talked to a couple of anonymous professionals about working inside a “woke” corporation. Some interesting observations here. (Gotta admit, some of this feels very familiar.)
  • This post, reflecting on one of the stories of 9/11 twenty years later, is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s a worthwhile read.

=====

And now, because I know you love it (I do, too!): The video round-up!

(Minor note: Some of these may have some inappropriate language; I honestly don’t remember. I don’t typically like to share clips with a lot of profanity, so I doubt I would have saved these links if there were a lot here. But I can’t recall for sure, so use your judgment and your headphones, just in case.)

I found out about “blaseball” a few weeks ago, and I’m intrigued and bewildered–in a really good way.

This video blew my mind a bit: how Jon Favreau’s indie gem Chef is really about…Iron Man?

I am become a fan of the channel “Full-Fat Videos.” I think they do great work there, and this video about Doctor Who and the introduction of the Eleventh Doctor is bang-on.

And finally, a clip from France’s version of The Voice.

A bit of explanation: I’ve become a fan of watching clips from all versions of The Voice, including all the international versions. I’m a sucker for it. I really tear up when the friends and family members of the performers start crying when their loved one gets a chair to turn during the audition. Ugh. Kills me. Anyway, this song popped up on a few different playlists, and I was mesmerized. It’s a beautiful track that carries a lot of emotion. In the clip, you see that the bald judge (Pascal Obispo) is moved to tears. As it happens, it’s *his* song, a song that became an unexpected hit in France and one that carries a lot of importance for him. The lyrics of the song talk about the passage of time and ephemeral nature of love, and the name “Lucie” happens to be the name of his beloved grandmother (though, from what I read, the original version of the song had a different name before he was presented with it). Anyway, you don’t need to know all that to get the vibe. This is a beautiful track, and I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy.

=====

That’s it. Happy weekend, everyone!

Sunday Sermon: “Same Song, Second Verse” (Jude 5-11)

Photo by Anton H on Pexels.com

[The following sermon was delivered at Cornerstone Community Church in Montgomery, TX, on 07/18/2021. I’m sharing this sermon manuscript solely as a blessing to my readers in their personal spiritual walk, and I hope it is edifying in that regard.]

=====

Like many modern conveniences, social media can be both a blessing and a burden. It can help you connect with other believers from around the country and even the world, allowing you to share in prayers and praises and encouragement. It can also put you in contact with some absolute spiritual foolishness.

I saw one such post this week, in which a commenter, responding to a post by an outright false teacher, said, “Calling people ‘false teachers’ who simply have different theologies and ways of interpreting the Bible shows absolute ignorance for the long history of theology and doctrine. I’ll never understand such arrogance from certain groups.”

I didn’t respond to this person (which I take as a sign of the Spirit’s work in my heart!) partly because I didn’t know her and partly because, by the look of her other posts, it felt like a “pearls before swine” situation. But it did get me thinking about the nature of false teaching. Heresy and false teaching aren’t merely a difference of opinion or interpretation. False teachers fundamentally twist and alter and throw out the core truths of the Gospel.

And, with apologies to that social media commenter, the history of the Christian church is one of consistently calling out and rebuking false teaching. That’s why we have all those early church creeds—they were written, in part, to address current-day heresies. As we heard from Jude last week, our calling is to contend for the faith, and that means marking and avoiding false teachers who try to corrupt it.

What this week’s section shows us is that every generation’s crop of false teachers all seem to follow the same pattern—a pattern we can trace throughout the history of God’s people in the Bible. Let’s look at verses 5-11. 

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 5-11)

I’ve titled this week’s sermon “Same Song, Second Verse.” If you’re taking notes, my outline isn’t as Baptistically alliterative, unfortunately. Three points, though: 1) Warnings from the Past [5-7]; 2) Arrogant Blasphemy [8-10]; 3) History Repeating [11].

Let’s first consider Jude’s warnings from the past.

1) Warnings from the Past (v. 5-7)

Jude transitions from his thesis statement in verses 3-4 by saying that he wants to remind his hearers of something they once fully knew. This recalls Paul’s words in Philippians 3:1, telling the Philippian Christians that his repeated reminders to rejoice are no trouble to him and are safe for them. We should never tire of hearing the repeated, unchanging truths of the Gospel—it is no trouble for the faithful shepherd to preach it, and it is safe for the faithful church member to hear it again.

Jude reminds his readers that “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Now, this is a pretty striking statement on its face. After all, Jude is asserting that it was the Son of God who ultimately rescued the people of Israel from their bondage and led them through the wilderness. This raises a good reminder for us as well, when we are tempted to assume (even unintentionally) that the Old Testament was about YHWH and Israel, and that Jesus is like a new character being introduced in Act 2. The Scriptures affirm that our Triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) were fully present throughout the entire history of Israel. Paul argues this in I Corinthians 10. Let’s hold our spot in Jude and take a look at that. 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (I Cor. 10:1-5)

We’ll come back to this passage at the end of the sermon, but I just want to make a few quick points from this text:

  1. Paul affirms that Christ Jesus was with His people in their wanderings, and that symbolically, He Himself was the rock that produced fresh water for them, providing them refreshment.
  2. With most of the Israelites, God was not pleased. These were the faithless ones who would not enter the promised land but believed the fearful report of the 10 spies, so God led Israel to wander for 40 years and all of their generation but two died in the wilderness, as a judgment for their unbelief.

Jude underlines this in verse 5 of our text by saying that Jesus destroyed those who did not believe. As Dr. Jim Hamilton notes in his masterful work God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, the pattern of God in Scripture is often to rescue some through the just condemnation of others. We see this explicitly in the miracle of the Red Sea crossing, and I think this plays out equally clearly in how God shows mercy by not destroying all of Israel for their wilderness rebellions—yet He does defend His honor at certain points by delivering judgment upon Israel’s sins.

Now, verse 6, and one of a few tricky spots in our passage today: “And the angels who did not stay within their position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…” A few notes on this:


1) Who are these angels? The main two arguments are that these are either the angels who rebelled with Lucifer and were cast out of heaven; or these are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6, angelic beings who left heaven to somehow walk among mankind and have relations with human women. I’m not entirely sure which angels are described here, but based on some of the commentaries I’ve looked at, I’m leaning toward this second option. Matthew Harmon, in the ESV Exegetical Commentary, suggests that the context of Jude and his reference to the book of Enoch later point to this second option, since that document references this story from Genesis 6.
2) The angels abandoned their proper dwelling and authority in order to sin, so now they are kept by Christ: We don’t have more details about this angelic authority, though some verses in Scripture allude to angels being given charge to watch over certain parts of God’s creation, including us. Since these angels didn’t keep their position, they are now kept—and the word “kept” in the original language isn’t the safe and secure “keeping” that we have discussed already from verse 1. No, this word for “kept” has the sense of being held in custody, as if in prison.
3) They are in eternal chains of gloomy darkness until the day of judgment: This phrase gives us a little trouble depending on which angels we may be talking about. Obviously, certain fallen angels aren’t being imprisoned in our current age. Some commentators say that the language about eternal chains point to a figurative captivity, meaning their judgment is certain and inescapable. However, Thomas Coutouzis (in his commentary on Jude called Agonizing for the Faith) relies on the parallel passage in II Peter 2 to draw a connection between this “gloomy darkness” and “the pit” or abyss of hell mentioned in Peter’s letter to the plea from the demoniac’s Legion in Luke 8, where they plead with Jesus not to cast them into “the abyss.”
So, putting this together, Jude points to these demons who rebelled against their God-given role and place in order to follow their own sinful desires, and now face eternal judgment and destruction for that sin.

Charles Spurgeon, commenting on this verse, gives us a solemn warning:

“The angels—think how high they stood in their first estate. If sin could drag an angel from the skies, it may well pluck a minister from the pulpit, a deacon from the communion table, or a church member out of the midst of his brothers and sisters. Perseverance in holiness is the sign of eternal salvation. If we forsake the Lord and turn back to our former evil ways, it will be the evidence that we never really believed in Christ and that there was no true work of grace in our hearts.”

Charles Spurgeon

Jude’s historical warnings continue to verse 7: “…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude’s language here is pretty clear but I want to emphasize a few things:


1) God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah was total. This story from Genesis 18 and 19 tells us how God utterly destroyed these cities and the cities surrounding them, raining sulfur and fire down upon them. Jeremiah 50:40 notes that God rendered the area uninhabitable, to the point that you could not even stay in that area as you passed through.


2) God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah was for sexual sin. Some modern critics have tried to argue that the sin of these cities was actually self-indulgence and lack of hospitality or compassion for the poor—making this argument solely from a description of Sodom in Ezekiel 16. Often, this argument is made with the intention to undermine the Biblical position on homosexuality by assigning the cause for God’s judgment elsewhere. But by doing so, these revisionist historians are ignoring practically every other reference to Sodom in the Bible! And certainly, the people of S&G were guilty of these sins among others. But Jude makes it crystal clear why S&G were condemned—they indulged in rampant sexual sin and pursued unnatural desire (“other flesh” in the original Greek), which is undoubtedly a reference to same-sex desire and fornication. Do not be deceived, my friends: the Bible is consistent and unmistakable that homosexual desire and behavior is sinful and destructive. It’s not something to be proud of. It’s not something to embrace as your identity. It’s something to repent of and to put off. Hear me, please: If you are struggling with same-sex attraction and desires, I want you to know that there is hope for you and there is grace for you in Christ Jesus. Like every single one of us, you have a sin nature that desires to resist God’s law. We were all “born that way.” But the blood of Jesus washes us, sanctifies us, makes us new creatures. Seek your identity in Christ Jesus and what His word says about who you are. If you want to talk about this more after the service, come find me.


3) God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah was a living picture of hell. Jude closes verse 7 by telling us that the destruction of S&G gives us a real-world picture of eternal judgment. What will hell be like for those who do not repent of sin and follow Jesus? Destruction. Fire. Sulfur. Anguish. Forever.

After examining these warnings from the past, Jude goes into detail about the arrogant blasphemies of the false teachers.

2) Arrogant Blasphemies (8-10)

Jude says that “in like manner” the false teachers infiltrating the church do the same things: they defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But he starts by calling them “dreamers,” saying they “rely on their dreams.” The language here is of someone who prophesies or interprets their dreams in a way that is subjective, naturally sinful, and corrupted. This is nothing new to the people of God. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Moses warns that false prophets will try to lead the people astray into idolatry and sin by prophesying their wicked dreams, but the people of God should not believe them. However, we see in Jeremiah 23 that this is exactly what happened. [READ Jeremiah 23:23-32]

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.  I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:23-32

The prophet Zechariah also decries the wicked dreams of false teachers in Zech. 10:2.

Jude writes that these dreaming schemers defile the flesh, meaning their actions make them morally unclean. They reject authority and blaspheme the “glorious ones.” Here, “glorious ones” could mean holy angels or, more likely, unholy angels. I say more likely because the next verses provide us another unusual interpretive challenge regarding angelic argumentation.

Verse 9 states: “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” Now, what on earth is going on here? A few points:


1) Obviously, this story isn’t in Scripture. Moses dies at the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 34. The Lord takes him up to the top of Mount Nebo to let him see the Promised Land with his eyes, though he’s not allowed to enter. Then Moses dies and the Lord Himself buries him in an unknown location in the valley of Moab. Jude’s story of Michael and Satan is believed to come from an ancient Jewish text outside of the Bible, called the Testament or Assumption of Moses. In this document, Michael the archangel argues with Satan, who claims that he has a right to Moses’ body because he was a murderer.

It’s a weird story. But I want to make this plain: that ancient Jewish document isn’t Scripture. It’s not inspired or authoritative. Jude here is drawing from a cultural touchstone that his readers presumably were familiar with in order to make a point. We can recognize that principle or argument as truth and thus Scriptural, even if the source material is not (just like Paul quoting lines from pagan poets in order to provide analogies).

2) In the story, Michael refuses to rebuke Satan himself. Why? A few reasons. First, Michael recognizes that Satan, twisted by sin as he is, used to be the angel of light Lucifer, a “shining one” and former servant of God. Peter writes in II Peter 2:11, “Bold and willful, [the false teachers] do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.” Perhaps a second reason for why Michael didn’t rebuke Satan himself is that he didn’t have the right to—that’s God’s rightful place. To presume to rebuke the devil on your own authority is to take on a position as if you were God. And yes, I think this has implications for us now. Some teachers and ministries may call on you to “rebuke the devil” or try to “bind him in Jesus’ name” (as if “in Jesus’ name” were magic words). The way I read this verse, we would be best to leave the rebuking of Satan to our king, and just defer to His authority on the matter.

Jude sets up the contrast between Michael’s actions in verse 9 and the actions of the false teachers in verse 10: “But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.” In other words, the false teachers presumptively blaspheme by speaking against spiritual powers as if they had the authority and clout to do so, while at the same time leaving themselves open to demonic corruption and control.

But consider this: what have we seen so far that these teachers know instinctively, like unreasoning animals? The cravings of their flesh, the rebellion of their hearts, and the debasement of their minds. That sounds an awful lot like the description of sin’s utter corruption from Romans chapter 1. There, Paul warns that the wrath of God is being stored up against the sinfulness of mankind, who walk in the ways that these false teachers seem to run in instinctively.

Next, Jude ties in more references to Israel’s history in verse 11.

3) History Repeating (v.11)

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”

Like the Old Testament prophets, Jude pronounces a word of woeful judgment on these teachers and, in so doing, likens them to 3 accursed figures from Israel’s past.

They walked in the way of Cain. This takes us back to Genesis 4, as Cain the son of Adam and Eve slays his brother Abel because Abel’s blood sacrifice was accepted by God and Cain’s own harvest offering was not. When God refused Cain’s sacrifice, he became enraged and rather than submitting to God’s rule for how to worship, took out his anger on the one with whom God was pleased. John writes in I John 3:12 that Cain was “of the evil one” and killed his brother because Abel’s deeds were righteous and Cain’s were not. Some commentators note that ancient Jewish writings attribute other sins to Cain after he was sent into the wilderness, such as greed, violence, lust, and leading others astray into sin. We don’t know any of that for sure, but what we can see from Scripture is Cain’s stubborn unwillingness to worship God as He commanded and his hatred of those who do.

They abandoned themselves for the gain of Balaam’s error. This points us to Numbers 22-24. Balak, the king of Moab, bribes the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse on the wandering Israelites, but 3 times Balaam ends up speaking blessings on them, because that’s what YHWH had told him to say. However, we see in Peter’s parallel wording in II Peter 2:15-16 that Balaam “loved gain from wrongdoing” and was rebuked supernaturally by his own donkey in order to “restrain the prophet’s madness.” Unfortunately, the story of Balaam goes beyond the talking donkey. In Numbers 25, we learn that the daughters of Moab walked among the men of Israel (presumably at the direction of Balak), and the men of Israel followed their sinful lusts and lay with them, which led into eventual Baal worship and idolatry. This brought judgment and death upon the men who sinned in this way—a plague from God that killed 23 or 24 THOUSAND people. We learn later in Numbers 37 that it was Balaam who instigated this plot by Moab in order to try to destroy Israel. The greedy prophet got his payday, but ultimately was executed later by the leaders of Israel for his subversion.

They perished in Korah’s rebellion. This takes us to Numbers 16. Korah was a Levite, and the cousin of Aaron and Moses. He was a Kohathite, the Levite clan who was given the responsibility of guarding, caring for, and transporting the most holy objects in the Tabernacle, including the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, Korah and his 250 followers were not satisfied with this responsibility; rather, they wanted to overthrow the authority of Moses and Aaron. They accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves, when (in their words) “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them.” Moses told them to take censers of incense to present before the Lord, and that God would show who are His. Then Moses warned the rest of the people to get away from Korah’s family and tents. The ground itself opened up and swallowed Korah and his family, and then fire from the Lord consumed his 250 followers who were offering illegitimate incense offerings. If that wasn’t bad enough, the people of Israel turned on Moses and Aaron and accused THEM of killing their brethren, so God sent a plague of destruction among Israel that killed 14,700 people until Aaron interceded for them. In the end, those who rejected the authority of God’s word (in the mouth of His prophet) and wanted to rule themselves were consumed, and the people they led astray were also destroyed.

I noticed something interesting when studying this verse. Admittedly, I don’t know Greek yet, so I can’t say this with certainty, and this may perhaps be a comment on how the text has been translated. But in my ESV translation, all of these verbs in verse 11 are in the past tense: walked, abandoned, perished. I think this points back to verse 4, in which Jude says that the condemnation of these teachers was established long ago. Like the angels in eternal chains of gloomy darkness, God’s judgment of these false teachers is sure and cannot be avoided, outside of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. And yet even then, the writer of Hebrews warns that once a professing believer has “tasted” the goodness of salvation (meaning not that they have been born again, but that they have heard the Gospel taught in its fullness and have tasted the benefits of life within the body of Christ) and then turns away, what hope does such a one have, other than most certain judgment?

Here, we’ll have to leave Jude and continue his comments in a couple of weeks. Now, turn back to I Corinthians 10. Let’s start again from verse 1. See if you can recognize some of the references here.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

I Corinthians 10:1-10

Paul says that these things took place as examples for us—they were true historical events, but they were recorded for our sake as warnings “that we might not desire evil as they did.” He mentions in verse 7 the incident of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32. In verse 8, the sexual immorality he mentions—that’s Balaam’s dirty work. In verse 9, we see a reference to the judgment of fiery serpents from Numbers 21, and then in verse 10, those who grumbled and were destroyed by the Destroyer—a reference that could be applied to a few different instances in the Wilderness Wandering of Israel, but certainly could be applied to Korah’s rebellion.

In recent years, certain famous evangelical speakers have talked about how we New Testament Christians should “unhitch” from the Old Testament; but I hope today’s study proves that the New Testament is inextricably linked to the Old. In these Old Testament accounts, don’t we see ourselves? Should we not study these as well, and gain their lessons? That’s what Paul argues in this passage in I Corinthians 10. Keep reading, starting in verse 11: “Now, these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

These stories that Paul alludes to and that Jude references are reminders that the destructive lure of sin is nothing new, and that the schemes and ploys of false teachers and wicked dreamers are just reboots and replays of a very old gameplan. God has given us these Scriptures so that we know what’s up and can spot the game being run on us by these servants of Satan.

Friends, heed the warning of Paul in I Corinthians 10:12—let anyone who thinks he stands take heed, or WATCH OUT, in case he falls. The moment we become proud of our personal faithfulness and righteousness, we are ripe for the picking.

My wife and I received some troubling news this week: we learned that a former friend of ours from several years ago was recently found to be guilty of heinous sexual sin, sin that he had been hiding from his wife and his church family for years. This young man was a professing believer and could hold forth on sound doctrine and theological conversation like a seminary graduate. Yet in the hidden places of his heart, he held fast to sexual immorality, rejecting the authority of Jesus over that part of his life, and that rebellion eventually consumed him and came to light.

In closing, here is my caution and my final word for you this morning: Consider your ways. Take heed lest you fall.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, hear the certain warning of Jude 5: this same Jesus who rescued his covenant people and destroyed those who did not believe? He’s coming again. And when he returns, the Bible says he’s not going to show up as a baby in a manger or a humble carpenter. He’s going to be the Rider on the White Horse from Revelation 19, with a blood-soaked robe and a sword coming out of his mouth to destroy his enemies. On that great and terrible day, it will be too late to try to broker peace with this conquering King. The book of Hebrews says today is the day of salvation. You face a certain destruction unless you turn from your sin and rebellion against a holy God, and in repentance call on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. There is no other way to make peace with God. None. Jesus is your only hope—but He stands ready and willing to receive you to Himself.

And for my brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to leave you with this same warning: Jesus is coming back. In what state will He find us on that day? Will we be holding fast to the truth, or wandering off after teachers who blaspheme what they don’t understand, indulge their sexual desires and encourage others to do likewise, and reject the authority of God and His word? Our hope and our confidence is what we discussed in verse 1: Those whom God calls and loves, He keeps to the end (a theme we’ll revisit in a few weeks). But until that day when our King returns in victory, we have a task before us to contend for the faith and call sinners to repentance. We should take care not to be ignorant of the devil’s schemes, so that we are not ensnared. By the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, we will stand firm.

Now, may the God of all truth lead you and guard your steps. May He give you wisdom and grace in all things. May He lovingly bring your smallest sins to light so that you can repent and turn away from them and live lives of holy obedience and humility. May He protect you, keep you, establish you, and cause you to stand firm to the end, in the name of Jesus Christ and for the praise of His glory. Amen.

The4thDave Reads: “She Did What She Could” by Don Karns

For the follower of Jesus, it can be a great encouragement to hear and read stories of past saints who have finished the race well. We see that in the Scriptures, as God gives us what has been called by many the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, detailing how the saints of the Old Testament stood firm on their faith in God and His Word.

In my experience, reading the stories of past believers who have followed Jesus even to the point of death can be a convicting and riveting practice. Whether it’s Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or biographies of past theologians and missionaries, these stories have fueled the fire of devotion and perseverance for generations of Christians seeking to walk the same faithful path, myself included.

I recently finished reading a fine example of this type of spiritual biography that I was pleased to add to my bookshelf: Don Karns’ She Did What She Could. This is a collection of historical accounts, Scripture passages, and biographical tracts from past eras that tell the stories of little-known women of the faith. The title references Mark 14, in which a woman (whom John identifies as Mary, sister of Lazarus) anoints Jesus’ feet with a sweet-smelling ointment. When the disciples complained, Jesus defended her and said she has done all she could to honor him.

Through this collection of historical accounts that Karns has gathered across the centuries of church history, the pleasing aroma of these saints’ devotion is still powerful and praiseworthy.

I was delighted to receive Don Karns’ slim volume in the mail from my friend Michael Coughlin, with a request to share my thoughts. I’m more than happy to satisfy that request now.

The Evangelist with a Pastor’s Heart

The first things about this book that struck me were the notes from Karns himself. In his “Preface,” “Words of Encouragement,” and “Conclusion,” Karns labors to proclaim the Gospel clearly and urgently, in the hope that unsaved readers will understand why these stories are being told and what would drive people throughout the centuries to give up their lives and suffer hardship and martyrdom. The tone of Karns’ writing is winsome and pleading, seeking to make his appeal instead of shout down any expected critics.

I did a little internet research on the author and learned that he is a long-time evangelist and open-air preacher who seems to be respected by many who are familiar with his ministry. When critical or nasty comments are posted on his ministry website’s homepage, the responses from the site account are nothing but pleasant, earnest, and humble as they refute the accusations of the pagans and respond with Scripture.

Just as the testimonies of the inconspicuous women being highlighted in this work draw out the sweet aroma of Christ, I was touched by that same sweetness in the language Karns uses. Without knowing anything about him specifically, I can tell what kind of man he might be, making me all the more willing to read his compilation of testimonies.

In Memory of Her

The bulk of the volume consists of various historical accounts of women of faith. A few notable names are included in the group (such as Ann Judson and Joni Erickson-Tada), but most of them are all but unknown to most readers. This accounts of “the young cottager” or “the dairyman’s daughter” provide portraits of humble folk (often the very young or those facing the shadow of death) who are transformed by the Gospel. In many ways, these accounts remind me of The Pilgrim’s Progress, not because they are in any way fictional but because the lofty speech and conversation are full of allusions to Scripture.

In some of these accounts, I have to confess that I struggled to follow the dialogue sometimes. That might be blamed on my “reading muscles” becoming a bit too flabby as of late. At times, I did wonder if these conversations were a bit too lofty to be realistic, but that also may be due to the low expectations of a modern mind! Even if some of the wording of these accounts might have been “polished up” a bit to make clearer points, I have no reason to doubt they are truthful in the main.

My favorite section by far was the one titled “Women of the Covenant,” recounting the martyrdom of several women who were part of the Scottish “covenanters.” While the stories are just as challenging and encouraging as the other sections, the writing of this particular passage was poetic and vivid, and I found myself stopping to re-read several sentences that were perfectly crafted.

Karns closes the book by throwing the reader a curve ball. After regaling us with story after story of women of faith, he closes with a sermon excerpt from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, and a brief account of Luther’s prayer on the night before his “Here I Stand” speech at the Diet of Worms. However out-of-theme these inclusions were, they were fully in-step with the spirit of the book as a whole, calling unbelievers to trust in Jesus for salvation and challenging believers to live lives of faith and sacrifice for His glory.

A Treasure in a Rough-Hewn Case

As lovely as the contents of this volume are, I would be remiss not to address the problems I have with its presentation and production. It’s clear as soon as you pick the book up that it was self-published. On the whole, there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing a book. I’ve read more than a few self-published works in my time (I may even write a few someday), and they can be edited and produced to meet or even surpass the industry standard. However, I should note certain issues with this one, if for no other reason than the off-chance the author or his ministry partners are considering an additional print run and would be willing to make corrections.

The formatting of the work is inconsistent throughout, changing font types and sizes. Sometimes, the formatting is oppressively dense, including several sections of block text without visual breaks that go on for pages at a time. While I recognize that the source material was likely written and typeset in the same manner, I would ask the author (or others producing similar works) to take the liberty of reformatting these entries for better readability and acknowledging the changes with an editor’s note of some kind. There are also a handful of typos that should have been caught during the proofreading process; those sorts of things happen in even the big publishing houses, but that means it’s all the more important for the small team working on a book like this to be extra careful, as fewer eyes will see it before its release.

These may be considered nit-pick criticisms, but if one’s goal is to bring these stories to a new audience, or even (as the author seems to indicate) to share them with non-believers, part of the ministry work is taking the time to put out an excellent product free of the editorial distractions that could undercut or cheapen the overall presentation.

To Don Karns and anyone else who may be working on a self-published book like this, I urge you not to skip out on this vital step in the process. (By the way, if you are looking to hire a manuscript editor / proofreader for a bit of contract work, I’m available!)

Final Comments

She Did What She Could is a worthwhile read that presents a collection of mostly-unknown Gospel conversion and martyrdom stories from church history. From a publishing standpoint, the book needs some polish and updates, but that doesn’t detract from the message. If you love Jesus, this volume will help you to treasure and trust him all the more, as you walk through these short histories of women of whom the world was not worthy.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the author’s ministry website, at a pretty affordable price. For the spiritual value you will receive, I think it would be money well-spent.

Let’s talk about Simone.

Or rather, let’s talk about how we talk about Simone.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

Within the last 12 hours, Team USA gymnast Simone Biles, a 24-year-old woman who has already earned herself a near-mythic reputation in the sports world, announced that she was sitting out the team gymnastics final in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She described feeling like she wasn’t in the right mental place, and she struggled in her early-round event. In later comments, she said she needed to take a mental health day because she didn’t want to “do something silly out there and get injured.” Her team, with back-up Jordan Chiles in place, won the silver medal in the team event, barely losing out to Russia.

Look, I’m not a gymnast. (File this under “Obvious statements are obvious.”) But what I can gather from simple observation is that gymnastics requires not only an incredible level of physical stamina and control, but also a great deal of mental control, as you are trying to complete complicated multi-stage move sets that require split-second reactions and coordination. Beyond that, you have to make sure your body is positioned properly at all times in order not only to complete certain moves but to do so without causing what could be major or even life-threatening injury. I think we sometimes take this for granted as passive observers of the sport, every-4-year gadflies who (many of us) won’t give gymnastics another thought until we see athletes wearing our country’s name and colors again at the next Olympics.

So if a professional gymnast–a medal winner, a record holder, someone who has devoted her life to her events–says that she needs to take a short break in order to collect herself and continue to perform at top level, I’m inclined to trust her judgment and that of her coaches and trainers, even if she decides to do so at what seems like the worst possible time. I would think that, as a competitor, it was a hard decision for her, because, especially as an Olympic athlete in her mid-20’s, it’s not like she’ll get many more of these opportunities in her career.

But what do I know. I’m just a guy on the internet.

And as an admitted “guy on the internet,” I’d like to take a moment to talk about what I’m seeing in response.

Opinions: Everybody’s got one.

It seems like much of the online response is dividing up along two camps. There are those who are quick to pour adoration on Biles for this decision; she has “already won,” she is heroic, she is stunning and brave. Others seem just as quick to pour derision; she is selfish, she is failing to keep her commitments, she should never have agreed to participate if this were an option to her.

Some have drawn unfavorable comparisons to other young men and women in history who have faced undoubtedly more serious challenges to health and heart, literal life-and-death moments that demanded their moral courage and mental toughness. Others have pointed to previous generations of Olympic athletes who have overcome much more and are lauded for their tenacity.

If you’re in either of these camps, can I ask you to do me a favor? Come over here, just for a second. C’mon. Lean on in. Make room, give everybody a chance to hear this. Okay, ready?

Just…stop for a minute.

Y’all, Simone Biles is a twentysomething young woman who has lived her entire life under a microscope–yes, for a sport she chooses to play, but that doesn’t mean the level of scrutiny that she and all other athletes face is normal, sensible, or appropriate. What’s more, she’s part of an organization that has been involved in pretty heinous scandals recently regarding athletes being sexually abused. I don’t know if Simone Biles was ever victimized, but at the very least she could have been friends with many who were, so that possibly adds a layer of internal struggle and conflict when it comes to this sport she loves.

No, she’s not as courageous as the sixteenth-century Christian martyrs, or the young men who stormed Omaha Beach, or the first-responders on 9/11. Fine. Granted. Those are exceptional and praiseworthy acts of heroism.

She isn’t even facing the type of animus that Jesse Owens overcame or the personal risk and emotional toll of recent Olympic athletes competing under the “refugee” flag because they are seeking asylum from oppressive regimes. Biles is much loved by her teammates and her nation, and she’s respected by her opponents.

I don’t think she deserves the heaping of adulation that she is starting to get and will continue to get by people in the press. But I also think she doesn’t deserve the level of hostility that she will get from her critics and a host of random strangers on the internet.

Let me propose this: Can we, as we see stories like this pop up in the world of sport, try to hold a more moderate position of “well, if she needs the help, I hope she gets it, but that really stinks for her teammates” and pretty much leave it there? Don’t flex on Twitter. Don’t fawn on Facebook. Comment if you want (it’s your social media feed, after all), but don’t be ridiculous about it (in either extreme). Just a suggestion from a random guy on the internet. Take it for what it’s worth.

Why I Care About This.

If it’s not that big of a deal, why do you care enough about this to write a blog post?” you may rightly ask me.

Here’s why: I personally know people who will see posts and tweets and videos criticizing Biles’ decision as selfish and weak and infantile, and they will internalize those critiques and recall them every time they need to step back from a situation because they recognize the black-dog days that are creeping in around the edges of their mind. These folks will wonder if others in their own lives will see them as selfish and weak for saying “no” and “I can’t do that” rather than running themselves ragged trying to please everyone around them.

And I also know that the rampant adulation of simple self-care that has become popular in the media also creates an environment in which everything is syndromized (if that’s a word). Moments of difficulty and frustration are labelled “bad for my mental health,” so that some folks will run away from anything challenging or necessary or exhausting because they see it as a threat to their wellbeing. There’s a real danger on that end of the conversation, too.

It’s not “heroic” or “sinful” to be self-aware and do what you need to do to stay healthy. It should be normal, even if it’s typically not that common in our culture. Let’s be careful not to overcorrect by throwing a parade when someone admits with regret that they can’t complete a commitment. But let’s not throw stones, either.

=====

I’m glad Team USA won a silver medal, but I don’t see it as a national triumph, just like I don’t see losing the gold to Russia as a national shame. It’s a game, y’all. These aren’t our avatars. They don’t represent all that we are or will be. They’re teenagers and twentysomethings who get the opportunity to compete in the rarified air of a worldwide stage, and it is a shining and thrilling time in their young lives that will end more quickly than they realize. And then in ten years or twenty years, most of them will be forgotten by the fickle masses watching their every move. All of this is transient.

I hope Simone Biles gets the rest she needs (mental and physical) so that she’s able to enjoy this moment. That’s all.

Sunday Sermon: “Contend for the Faith” (Jude 1-4)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

[Background/Disclaimer: The following sermon was delivered at Cornerstone Community Church in Montgomery, TX, on 07/11/2021. I adapted the section covering verses 3-4 from an earlier sermon I preached on 6/20/2021 at my home church, University Park Baptist Church, in Houston, TX.

In preparing for that first sermon, I relied mainly on the ESV Exegetical Commentary covering the epistle of Jude, Matthew Henry’s commentary on Jude, and various available study Bible notes. While I try to cite any direct quotations, I also want to acknowledge the background assistance of these study helps, in case there are any turns of phrase or linguistic connections that I may have appropriated without realizing and acknowledging it.

I’m sharing this sermon manuscript solely as a blessing to my readers in their personal spiritual walk, and I hope it is edifying in that regard.]

=====

I’d like to open this morning with a lengthy, but I think beneficial, quote:

“The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.” Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in the columns of church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”

J. Greshem Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Machen wrote this opening paragraph to Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. It seems that not much has changed in the last 100 years. At this moment in the life of the Evangelical church, we are hard pressed on all sides to be very broad-minded and tolerant when it comes to doctrine and practice, urged from both without and within to focus on what we agree about instead of what we disagree about, when it comes to the world around us. Machen disagrees, suggesting that what matters most is what we’re willing to fight for.

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the epistle of Jude and thinking about why we as Christians are called to “contend for the faith.” This morning, we’ll look at the first four verses, which encompass the introduction and main thesis statement of this powerful letter.

For those taking notes, the outline has 3 points: 1) A Chosen People (v.1-2); 2) A Change of Plans (v.3); and 4) A Church in Peril (v.4).

Let’s take a look at the full text:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jude 1-4 ESV

A Chosen People (v.1-2)

This letter begins the way many of the other epistles do, typical of first-century correspondence: we have a statement of whom the letter is from and to whom the letter is written. In verse 1, we see “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” Well, who’s Jude? For that matter, who’s James? What we know from the writings of the early church is that this James is James the half-brother of Jesus, the writer of the epistle of James in the New Testament and the apostle who eventually became one of the elders of the Jerusalem church, taking over for the more famous disciple and apostle James (Son of Thunder, brother of John) after that James was martyred in Acts 12.

So what do we know about this James? He was the son of Mary and Joseph, and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t seem to believe Jesus was the Messiah. In Matthew 13, we see that Jesus goes back home to Nazareth to teach, and the response of the crowd is, “Don’t we know this guy? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy?” In verse 55, it continues, “And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” So James (and by extension, Judas or “Jude”) are half-brothers of Jesus, sons of Mary and Joseph.

Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, so that the readers know who is speaking—but notice that he didn’t call himself the brother of Jesus. Instead, he calls himself Jesus’s servant (or, in the Greek, bondservant or slave), just as James does in James 1:1. And notice also that Jude calls Jesus “Christ”—Messiah, Anointed One. What would have caused such a change in Jude, and in James?

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

I Corinthians 15:3-7 ESV (emphasis mine)

Seeing your older brother working miracles, teaching with wisdom and authority, and then coming back to life after being brutally crucified would probably do the trick! Now, Jude isn’t just the brother of “Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son”; he’s the bondservant and slave of Jesus the Risen Messiah!

Who is Jude writing to? He doesn’t indicate a specific church or region. Some commentators point to context clues to suggest it may be specific churches in Israel or nearby regions—churches with lots of Jewish believers who would recognize the references to the Old Testament and other Jewish works throughout the letter. However, I would suggest that while Jude certainly had a specific audience in mind, his greeting and message to all of us who are in Christ, because they are universally applicable to the church in every age: “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for [or by] Jesus Christ.” We could spend all day on this one verse, because there is such richness in it. But I want to take just a few moments to help you see why it’s so important that we know who we are when we make our stand. If you are a born-again disciple of Jesus Christ, this is who you are:

  • You are called. The God of the Universe chose to reveal Himself to you and to draw you to Himself through the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in John 10 that His sheep hear His voice. Because you have been called by God, you are now His, you are in His hand, and nothing and no one can take you out of it. You have been adopted by God and have all the rights and privileges that come with that adoption.
  • You are beloved of the Father. You are loved by God—all 3 persons of God, the Father, the Son, the Spirit. Our position in Christ gives us security and confidence that we can approach the throne of grace boldly, not only because we are cleansed from our unrighteousness and given the righteousness of Jesus, but because we are truly and completely loved by God.
  • You are kept for Jesus Christ. Those whom God calls, God keeps. Those who are born again to new life are secure in their salvation. We’ll spend some more time at the end of the series talking about this, but let’s just revel in this reality for a moment.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:28-39 ESV

What beautiful promises we have in just this one verse—a verse that, let’s admit it, we’re tempted to gloss over.

Then Jude gives an initial blessing in his greeting in Verse 2: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” As if his previous comment weren’t enough, Jude prays that God would not just grant his readers mercy, peace, and love, but that they would have these graces in abundance—that they’d be multiplied to them! Throughout the New Testament, we see prayers and promises to this effect: the gracious generosity of God toward His people, granting them mercy, peace, and love in Himself, which they then extend and display to the world!

After this beautiful introduction, we move on to the main message of Jude’s letter in verse 3.

A Change of Plans (v.3)

In the first phrase of verse 3, we see a change in plans. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation…” Jude tells us that his original intent for writing was pastoral and didactic—his desire was to write about theology. He tells his brothers and sisters, beloved of the Father, that he was very eager to expound on “our common salvation.” He wished to establish the faith of the believers by reminding them of the truths of the Gospel taught by the apostles—the very faith he describes as being “once for all delivered to the saints.” We don’t know what that epistle would have looked like. Perhaps, like Paul, he would have talked about how there is no distinction or favoritism when it comes to who has access to God in Christ Jesus, or how all believers have the same Father and the same Lord and the same Spirit and the same baptism. Maybe Jude would have reminded the churches what his brother Jesus taught about the narrow way of salvation and the call to all who were willing to come and drink from Him the water of life. Perhaps Jude might have commented on Peter’s letters that reminded the church of the rich blessings of salvation and the calling to live as holy exiles.

We have no indication what his specific focus might have been, because as he considered taking up the pen (or, possibly, dictating to his personal scribe) to write to the scattered churches, he was moved by the Holy Spirit to address a different matter. He says that he “found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith…” Rather than focusing on the more uplifting topic of our salvation, Jude is compelled to sound a warning bell for the churches. This was his duty as a servant of the Lord, a responsibility that Paul writes in Titus 1:9 is laid upon every minister of the Gospel:  “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Don’t miss that two-part requirement: a faithful elder/pastor must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught—the “faith once delivered to all the saints”—AND be able to rebuke those who try to subvert it. In this passage, Jude is calling out not just to church leaders but to all believers to contend for the faith.

Commentators indicate that the word contend here has a grammatical root from which we derive the English word “agonize.” This is a word from the athletic arena, as wrestlers and combatants grapple and strain and struggle and fight for ground. This word “contend” is not a word with a clean and wrinkle-free jersey; “contend” here is a sweat-soaked and blood-stained word. It’s similar to the phrasing in Paul’s instructions in I Corinthians 9 to run the race to win, and his declaration in II Timothy 4 that he has fought the good fight and finished the race, in keeping the faith. Jude is pleading with the believers to fight, to wrestle, to struggle for the sake of the unadulterated and undiluted faith, the true word that was handed down to them from Jesus and His apostles.

What is this precious word? It’s the word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that begins with bad news: All people are sinners by nature and choice, and all of us deserve the just wrath of a holy God for our rebellion and sin. But Jesus, the son of God, came to us, born of a virgin, born under the law, lived a perfect life of holy obedience and complete righteousness before God, and then died in the place of sinners as a sacrifice for sin, taking on the guilt of our sin and the wrath of God against it, satisfying justice, dying and then rising again 3 days later, in victory over death and as a sign that the penalty for our sin has been paid. Now, we who turn away from our sins and believe on Jesus as Savior AND Lord, trusting in His death and resurrection in our place, are credited with Jesus’ perfect righteousness and have peace with God in Him. When we are born again from death to life, we receive the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our future inheritance, we are sanctified bit by bit, remade day by day into the image of Jesus, and looking forward to the last day, when we will be raised up with Him, freed of all trace and effect of sin, to live forever in perfect communion with God and His people!

That’s the message that Jude urges his hearers to fight for. Not a social program, not a political strategy, not an ideological agenda: a declaration that Jesus is Lord of all and an invitation to all who have ears to hear to repent and believe this good news.

My friend, if you don’t know this Jesus or believe this message, I’m thrilled to get to tell you: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Are you a sinner? Turn from your sin and rebellion and run to Jesus! There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. He is your only hope. Don’t put this off another day, even another hour, because you truly don’t know for sure how much life you have ahead of you. I’m begging you—come talk to me after the service, for the sake of your very soul.

So, why was Jude compelled by the Holy Spirit to sound the alarm and call the churches to stand firm and fight for the faith? Because Jude recognized they were in danger. That’s our third point.

A Church in Peril (v.4)

Look at the beginning of Verse 4: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed…” Jude knows that there are false teachers who have worked their way into the churches. These spiritual saboteurs didn’t kick open the front door, announcing their apostasy openly. As John MacArthur puts it, the phrasing here describes someone who slides in through the side door, making his way among the flock, before his works become plain.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to believers; throughout the New Testament, we have been warned about it by Jesus and the apostles. Four examples:

  • Jesus warns of wolves in sheep’s clothing and false teachers (Matthew 7:15-23)
  • Paul warned the Ephesian elders as he was leaving that they would eventually be infiltrated (Acts 20:25-31)
  • Paul tells Timothy in II Timothy 3 and 4 that apostates will arise even within the church, and that in the last days, false converts will be drawn to false teachers that please their appetites (II Tim. 4:1-4)
  • In Peter’s second letter (which covers many of the same themes as Jude), he warns of false teachers who infiltrate the church in much the same way (II Peter 2:1-10).

Are we surprised that the sons of the Serpent have the same methods as their slithering father, who smoothly approached Adam and Eve and hissed, “Has God really said…?”

I was reading recently some of Charles Spurgeon’s articles in which he described the Downgrade of evangelicalism in his day. In one piece describing the slide of certain churches into error (often by name!), he noted how it usually wasn’t the lead pastor who would fall into theological error directly; instead, these men erred by not being vigilant in whom they welcomed as guest speakers or whom they hired as assistant ministers. They welcomed false brothers to come alongside them in ministry, excusing or ignoring the occasional red flag in that person’s teaching, until finally the older minister would retire and be succeeded by these younger men who were steeped in theological liberalism and humanism. The lack of watchfulness on the part of the shepherd and the flock allowed the wolves to enter the sheep pen.

This is a danger we should be on guard against, even among “conservative” denominations and associations, as some people, even some influential voices, decry calls for doctrinal clarity and accountability as “the leaven of the Pharisees” and a rising tide of “fundamentalism.” But we must not let fear of being called “legalists” cause us to run into the opposite ditch of becoming complacent about what we affirm together as believers. By all means, let us strive to be kind, winsome, and humble in what we proclaim and how we communicate, but our efforts to be gentle or welcoming must NEVER come at the expense of compromising or downplaying what the Scriptures clearly state.

In our text, Jude is sounding the alarm that the churches should be on the alert against these false teachers, and it would benefit us, as it has every generation before us, to mark these characteristics in our minds. In verse 4, Jude describes the false teachers in 4 ways:

  1. They were long ago designated for destruction:
  2. They are ungodly people;
  3. They pervert the grace of God into sensuality
  4. They deny their Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

First, these false teachers were designated for destruction; the wording here is that their doom was written out beforehand, warned about in the past. Jude is pointing to the various Scriptural warnings (including the ones we’ve looked at already) about the destiny of all those who corrupt the truth of God’s word for selfish gain. Beyond that, these false teachers were designated for destruction in that their fruits showed they were themselves “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” as Paul describes in Romans 9—doomed by their rebellion against the truth to face the wrath of God for their wickedness.

Second, the false teachers are ungodly people: Their lives and lifestyles were oriented away from God and toward selfish gain. They are irreverent, impious, disregarding or even mocking what is holy. Later, in verse 18, Jude describes them as “scoffers, following their ungodly passions.” It should always put us on alert when a professing teacher of the Gospel is happy to make light of the things of God or mock what is holy.  

Next, Jude writes that they pervert (or twist/replace) the grace of our God into sensuality: Even while they pretend to be spiritual leaders and faithful teachers, their actions reveal their true desires. These false teachers abuse the very concept of grace by using it as an excuse to indulge in sensuality—a shameless flaunting of immoral behavior, usually in regards to sexual sin. These people push the boundaries of what is appropriate or acceptable, under the guise of “spiritual freedom.” They are driven by their passions and lusts and often struggle (and fail) to hide their sinful hungers—all the while claiming “grace” as a cover for sin. Consider how Paul rebukes this thinking in Romans 6. Throughout the Scriptures, the people of God are called to live holy lives—and the standard of holiness is set by God, not by the culture around them. Yet these false teachers abuse the grace of God for their own selfish ends and teach their followers to do the same.

Finally, they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ: The rebellious nature of their false doctrine ultimately leads to a denial of the lordship of Jesus (either directly or indirectly) over the life of the believer. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘lord, lord’ and not do what I tell you?” False teachers pay lip-service to the lordship of Jesus but deny it by their lives because they refuse to obey the commands of Jesus. In some cases, they may even deny their Lord and Master by creating a false version of Jesus to worship and serve in His place: a counterfeit Jesus who excuses sin and perversion, who feeds their ego and looks the other way when it comes to their greed and selfish desires. Like the Israelites bowing before the Golden Calf and calling it “Yahweh,” false teachers present a false Jesus that promises everything and demands nothing, a pseudo-Christ who just so happens to look like HE was made in OUR image.

Jude goes on in his letter to describe these false teachers in greater detail, before closing out the letter with exhortations to the churches to stand firm and build themselves up in the faith, but for now, we will stop here and spend the rest of our time considering how these warnings apply to the church in our day. Because we should make no mistake: this is a warning bell that should be ringing in the ears of every generation of Christians until Jesus returns. Our enemy hasn’t taken a vacation; he is still seeking to steal, kill, and destroy. He is still sowing weeds among the wheat field. And he’s still sending out false teachers to try to ensnare true and false converts in a web of deception.

So I want to close with some applications and exhortations for you, brothers and sisters:

Hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

You may have heard it said before, but the way that federal agents learn how to recognize counterfeit money isn’t by spending their time looking at fake bills but by extensively studying the authentic ones. Beloved, we have been graciously given the very words of God, in a book preserved through the ages. We have no reason not to study it, to fill our minds and hearts with it, to know the truth and be able to distinguish truth from the “almost-but-not-quite-truth” or the “truth-plus-a-little-something-else.” And we don’t study the Scriptures merely to increase our knowledge (this was the error of the Pharisees in John 5, who studied the Scriptures thinking that this is what would give them eternal life); we study the Scriptures because we want to know the God who wrote them. When my wife writes me a little card or encouraging note, I don’t put it away without opening it and say, “Thank you so much. I appreciate your thinking of me.” Of course not! I read it and take in its meaning; why? Because I adore my wife, and her words reveal her heart and mind to me. How much infinitely more does the perfect, inerrant, sufficient, authoritative Word of God reveal to us who He is and what He expects of us! Christian, we are to be people of the Book. That is our first and greatest defense against the schemes of false teachers. We need to be diligent to learn these precious truths, so that they shape our thinking and speech.

Be careful whose voices you welcome as your teachers.

We live in a world that is jam-packed with messaging. All day long, we are being bombarded with ideas and suggestions from marketers, influencers, and would-be teachers. Every single piece of media we consume, from books to music to visual entertainment to social media feeds, has a specific worldview behind it. We cannot be naïve about this. We must—MUST—be on guard about which voices we are giving our attention to. Everything we take in and engage with needs to be run through the filter of “Is this true? Is this consistent with what God says in His Word?”

I want to speak a word here specifically to the men in the church, to the husbands and fathers. As a husband and father myself, I want to urge and exhort you my brothers to stand guard over the eyes and ears, the hearts and minds of your household. You are responsible as the spiritual leader of your home to guard your wife and children against those who would try to lead them astray. And I’m not saying that wives or even children are helpless or unable to discern truth from error—not at all; in fact, that should be one of our goals, to teach, train, and help them do just that. And there is a great blessing in having a godly wife who is equally vigilant over herself and her children. My wife recently encouraged me when she watched a movie before showing it to our daughters, and later told me she decided against it because she recognized the subtle worldview implications that were hidden inside the otherwise sweet and innocent-looking cartoon. She understands how media can catechize our children in ways we don’t expect.

Men, we must not follow the pattern of our first ancestor Adam, who passively stood by as his wife was lied to by a false teacher telling sweet little lies about who God is and what He has commanded. We need to be paying attention to what voices come into our homes, into our car radios, into our children’s electronic devices. I’m not calling for a locked-down, 1950’s hyper-fundamentalist “keep out the world” approach either. I spent part of my childhood in that kind of church. That well-intentioned approach doesn’t work. What I’m talking about is active participation in advising and exhorting and supporting your wife, in taking the lead with her help to train your children to engage the world as Christians, to think Christianly, to be good Bereans and measure everything against the Scriptures. We dare not check out and back off, because we’re too busy or we want to avoid conflict in our homes over certain media. Men, your family is being hunted. Our enemy is a predator who wants to ensnare and drag away the hearts and minds of you, your wife, and your children. I’m not being overdramatic. I’m telling you the truth. Let’s get serious about this.

And that even means having a discerning ear when it comes to voices that claim to be Christian. Did you pick up on this from the text? These aren’t teachers from the outside, trying to lure the believers into worshiping an obvious idol. These are false converts, using the language of Christian faith as a cover for worldly philosophy and practice. In other words, we can’t let our guard down when we turn on Pureflix or tune the car radio to the local Christian station. Some of the most damnable heresies are smuggled into our homes through the “safe for the whole family” programming we are fed under the banner of “Christian.” No matter how many times a song says the name Jesus, we need to listen carefully to make sure they’re talking about the right one!

Again, please don’t mishear me: I’m not trying to create an extrabiblical code of conduct or confuse the commands of God with the traditions or cultural preferences of men. But, brothers and sisters, we who have been called, redeemed, and kept by God, who live in this world as strangers and pilgrims, need to remind ourselves what the Scriptures say: anyone who loves this world and its system and its wicked ways does not have the love of the Father in them.

Speak up when it comes time to take your stand.

Finally, we should heed Jude’s exhortation in verse 3: our brother urges the Church then and the Church now not just to hold onto the faith, but to contend, to struggle, to wrestle for it. This means there comes a point where we must engage the people and ideas around us with what we know is true.

This contending isn’t a physical struggle; we’re not called to wage a holy war and physically destroy those who oppose us—that’s not the way of Christ. Rather, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 10:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

This means that, in the arena of ideas, Christians are called to contend for the truth of God with the weapons God gives us in the way that God commands us to do so. In our generation, as in past generations, the plain truths of the Scriptures are called into question. Today, the Bible’s teaching of God’s design for human sexuality and holy marriage is denied or contradicted as being hateful and harmful. The truth about how the blood of Jesus tears down the dividing wall of racial hostility and gives us new identities in Christ is called insufficient, simplistic, or even oppressive. The insistence that Jesus is Lord of His Church and that we must in all things obey God rather than men is considered by some to be subversive and dangerous. In the marketplace of ideas, we should be ready for these doctrinal truths that we hold to be mocked, opposed, or even shouted down. This should not surprise us. Yet here we stand; we can do no other.

But in the midst of our contending, let’s not forget what we’re fighting for. We are not merely culture warriors; that’s not our true calling. We have not been given a divine mandate to save western civilization or American culture; that’s not our true kingdom. Our king has given us marching orders, based on His having all authority in heaven and on earth, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that King Jesus has commanded us. That’s our mandate. That’s our mission.

Saints, contend for the faith: in your hearts, in your homes, in the world. To God be the glory.

Zen and the Art of Lawn Maintenance.

Photo by FOX on Pexels.com

Keeping the Stable Clean

An idea I keep coming back to in my thought process (and something I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed here to some degree) is the fact that for many people in the “knowledge work” fields (a.k.a. cubicle cowboys and work-from-home warriors like me), we spend our days trying to empty an inbox or work queue that keeps being refilled constantly.

This means that we a) never really reach a finish line so much as we just run until time runs out at the end of the day (and often beyond); and b) unless we intentionally build a system to do so, we never really see a finished product or evidence of our efforts, the way someone with a physical/mechanical/creative vocation may get to do so.

Our work is more along the lines of Proverbs 14:4 – “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In other words, if you want to bring in a harvest, you’re gonna have to shovel an endless supply of “ox-pies.”

That’s how it feels sometimes when I look at my work queues and inbox: an endless supply of ox-pies.

And this is a good thing: I am abundantly aware that I have a great job, I make a good living to take care of my family and other obligations, and I don’t begrudge any of that. I’m thankful for how God has given me the strength and the skill to be able to support my family with my mind instead of my muscles.

But the downside of this is that I spend what seem like endless hours–as much as half of my waking life–staring at a screen and typing on a keyboard, responding, editing, filing, uploading. And at the end of the day, the screen seems just as full, or if it’s not, it will be by the time I sit down the next day.

I suspect my wife feels the same way, because even in the physical work of managing our home and caring for our daughters, she faces the same prospect endless “ox-pies”–sometimes in the form of actual dirty diapers (or puddles on the floor), as well as dirty dishes, cast-about toys and books, piles of laundry, and any number of other messes that get cleaned up in order to get dirty again almost instantly.

But while the endless loop of clean-up and reset is the same, there’s a subtle difference: when I wash a sink of dishes and wipe down the counters at the end of the day, I actually see progress, even if the progress is short-lived. I enjoy seeing that difference.

That’s why I both hate and love mowing my yard.

Welcome to the Jungle

We’re renting our current house–the second house I’ve rented as an adult after a decade of apartments as a single. At our previous house, I was only responsible for maintaining the backyard, which had the square-footage of a back bedroom. I could cut the grass with a weed-eater.

Our current yard has a huge (or, normal-sized for a suburban home) front yard and a much bigger back yard. My kids love it–plenty of room to run around and play and set up all kinds of toys and climbing structures. But now, halfway through our first summer at this location, I’m exhausted by how quickly the grass grows.

I really have two choices: mow it every 4-5 days (which is a bit tricky because where we are, we have gotten summer showers almost daily for the last month), or let it grow until a day when it’s convenient to me to mow it, which means our house looks like *that* house on the block and I can only mow a few feet at a time before having to clear the blades of the mulched grass. Also, it’s nearly 100 degrees. It takes a lot.

Yet with all that–the mowing, the edging, the heatstroke–the adage that is so often applied to writing fits here: I hate mowing. I love having mown.

When you push a lawnmower, it feels tedious; around and around and around the perimeter of the grass you go (unless you’re insane and use some sort of back-and-forth approach…weirdo). But even as it seems tedious, you’re making progress that can be seen. The rectangle of uncut grass gets smaller. The ground you just crossed shows an instant change. Once you go over the edges of the sidewalks with the edger, the soft lines of green become crisp around the concrete paths. Clippings are swept (at least back onto the yard where they somewhat blend in; I’m not THAT committed to perfection). The home looks more cared for. It feels a bit like the mandate that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden: to keep it and cultivate it. Make it fruitful. Bring order to chaos.

I’m not a “lawn” guy; I don’t obsess on such things. If I didn’t absolutely have to do it, I wouldn’t usually give my lawn a single thought. But after cutting the grass, cleaning up the edges of the sidewalks, and sweeping the clippings away, I pass by the front windows a little more often for the first few days, just to admire my handiwork. It never looks perfect; I’m not going to win any Yard of the Month awards from the HOA. But it’s satisfying to be able to look at it and think, “I did that. That’s the difference I made.” If my wife doesn’t comment on the lawn enough (and really, why should she?), I’ll fish for compliments by saying, unprompted, “Yep, the lawn looks a lot better.” She’ll usually humor me and agree.

Maybe it comes down to this: I like being able to see that my strain and sweat and toil has produced something and made a difference in the world around me. And I like it when those closest to me can see it and appreciate it too. In my current job, it feels like I just go into my office, tap on a computer for 9 or 10 hours, and walk out (sometimes later), and nothing much seems to change, and then I get money deposited into my bank account twice a month. I’m a cog in a very important machine that helps sick people get well, but this cog only gets to see the gears on either side of him turn; he doesn’t get to see what happens down the line.

I dunno. Maybe I just need to stop overthinking things.

But I also need to mow my yard today, so I guess it’s just on my mind.

(No, I’m not using this post to procrastinate until it rains, shut up.)

Saturday Videodrome Redux! (7/17/2021)

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

Happy…uh, SATURDAY, friends!

Hope your weekend is starting off great. My week has been a wild one (including one of my kids needing an emergency visit at the pediatric dentist–YIKES), but I’m excited for the weekend.

Here to help you get the fun started is another round of video recommendations from yours truly–the weird, wild, and goofy things I’ve collected from Youtube over the last couple of weeks. Hope you enjoy!

Analyzing a lesser-known Twilight Zone episode set at Christmastime:

The story behind Radiohead’s original version of the theme song for the James Bond film Spectre, and why it’s better than Sam Smith’s song.

Here’s the full track by Radiohead:

Another “Inside A Mind” video–this time about a wild ARG connected to a TV show (and Jason Segel).

I shared a video last time about Meow Wolf’s latest art experience, “Omega Mart.” Here’s a full walk-through, for those of us who will never make it out to Las Vegas to see it for ourselves.

If you haven’t seen In the Heights yet, this is spoilery, but it’s a neat examination of how the movie and stage show differ. I haven’t see the movie yet, but couldn’t help myself and had to dig in, and I think this is pretty cool, if true.

Okay, guilty pleasure admission: I *love* all the international versions of the music competition show The Voice. You can find the coolest performances and covers on these other versions. Here’s a neat cover of “Seven Nation Army” on The Voice of Ukraine that I was not expecting AT ALL. (You can click this link here if you don’t want to watch the 2-minute pre-roll package that’s entirely in Ukrainian.)

(Yes, the guy is a total goob. But the arrangement is dope–and sounds like it could be a stadium anthem for a World Cup match.)

And finally, one more tune: Let me leave you with the Power of Love. Have a good weekend, everybody!

“Let Me Go, I’m Only Letting You Down…”

Photo by Mizzu Cho on Pexels.com

If you follow me on social media, I’m probably going to disappoint you at some point, if I haven’t done so already.

I’m not going to do it on purpose, mind you. I try to keep things pretty light and avoid unnecessary squabbles. I may retweet more “controversial” things, but only if they’re things I truly believe, and even then I’ll admit that I weigh the importance of the issue to the potential negative feedback I might receive. I’d never go out of my way to act like a proverbial internet troll. There have been a few times where I’ve gotten pretty heated about a subject and that comes out in a quick thread that may or may not stay up for more than a few minutes, but usually when I tweet from the spleen, I’ll refrain from hitting “send” or will delete the posts pretty quickly once the moment of anger passes.

All in all, as much as I can, I keep it pretty low-key. It’s more fun for me that way. But even with that approach, I will still disappoint you. (Depending on how up-to-date you are with “cancel culture,” I may have even disappointed you with my post title.)

About 6 months ago, I discovered that over the course of just a few days, I had deeply disappointed folks in two opposite ideological directions. What can I say, I’m just that talented.

You say you want a revolution…

If you’re an American citizen and/or a news junkie, the date “January 6th” holds a new level of meaning after this year. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, the date might inspire some sort of visceral response, even now. In the heat of the moment, it certainly did so for me.

I was in the middle of a particularly plodding Zoom meeting and decided to check the news; it was the day that the presidential election results were scheduled to be certified, and the buzz was that there may be some rhetorical fireworks in the People’s Chamber. (Little did they know.)

As I started to see the raw footage being shared over social media and network news feeds, I was shocked. The Capitol, surrounded by a crowd pressing in at the doors, smashing windows, crossing barriers and security gates, celebrating like they just captured the enemy’s castle. From my virtual vantage point, the mood was a swirl of elation, outrage, and undefined hunger looking for an outlet.

When I saw footage of mobs smashing buildings and burning businesses and cars last summer, I viewed it with a mix of resignation and bewilderment; the logic of looting is something I’ll never fully comprehend. But when I saw this raucous crowd push their way into the Capitol, I felt something else: indignation. It felt like a civic transgression had taken place. I was incensed.

So, like so many watching news they can’t do anything about from a distance they can’t cross, I did the only thing I could think of: I tweeted about it. (Spoiler: This was a mistake.)

My comments were basically that anyone who had been trafficking in weeks of reckless rhetoric about election fraud and Deep State coup owned a little piece of the chaos unfolding, because my position in that moment (and to be honest, even now to some degree) is that there seems to be a pretty clear line from one to the other. If you tell people enough times and in enough ways that their country was being stolen by corporate and political powers who were defrauding them of their ability to vote and that they need to show up at a certain place and time to “fight for their country,” I don’t think you can then see a mob busting into the building chanting “Stop the Steal!” and throw your hands up like Captain Renault, shocked that there’s gambling going on in Casablanca. My tweets were essentially, “Here are your winnings, sir.”

In my head, I had in mind certain political talking heads and commentators–the tastemakers of the right. But hoo boy, did that not communicate well, and members of our church family reached out to my fellow elder and our lead pastor to let him know about it. (Fewer of them reached out to me directly, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, one of them did follow the Matthew 18 directive, confronted me about the tweets (which he felt were reckless and directed against some members of our church family), and exhorted me to take them down, saying they did not reflect well on the Gospel or our church. I realized I’d really stepped in it this time, so I screenshotted the offending posts, sent everything to my fellow elders for review, and took them all down. It took a while, and multiple conversations, to try to heal the offense I’d made against certain members of my church family. I’ve been able to have coffee with the offended brother and work out some of the misunderstanding, but it would have been better for me to take a minute and breathe and try to communicate things in a wiser manner.

Guilt by Association…

A few days later, I mentioned on Twitter (why am I still on there?) that I had an account on the social media platform Parler, in case people wanted to follow me there. As you may recall, this was one of the several times in the last year that conservatives on Jack Dorsey’s platform were threatening to pull up stakes and move elsewhere (which is about as convincing as when progressives threaten to move to Canada if Republicans win elections).

Now, in the interest of clarity: I originally set up that account because I was thinking it might be a nice, encouraging, apolitical alternative to Jack’s platform. (Silly me.) I used it a little bit, didn’t really like the interface, and saw that the folks I followed from Twitter onto Parler (mostly pastors and writers and podcasters) were actually MORE abrasively political there than they were elsewhere, so I just stopped using it. I kept the account as a placeholder with a link back to this blog, but otherwise haven’t really touched it since late 2020 (as far as I can recall).

I mentioned to my Twitter followers that I had an account over there they could follow, on the off-chance Jack became too inhospitable toward overtly Christian content or content that was too far to the right. (Which, I recognize, seems silly given my stated philosophy of “keeping it chill,” but as it turns out, some of my mutuals are starting to take heat from the tech overlords, so hey, better safe than sorry. Besides, I have a “brand” to maintain.)

I soon got a rather disapproving comment from a mutual follower on the left side of the political aisle who was shocked that I would even have an account on that platform. I’m not “real-life” friends with this person, but we’ve interacted positively several times online, so I was a bit surprised by her comment. She indicated that Parler was a place for those who wanted “people like her” dead. She posted a few screenshots from random Parler users saying particularly crazy things and said she would never want to be associated with a site that engaged in that sort of hate speech. I tried to respond that a) I’m sorry there are posts like that; b) that’s not why I’m using it or who I interact with; and c) I’m really not using it that much anyway (for the reasons outlined above). By that point, the conversation had pretty much ended, and I’ve gotten radio silence ever since.

It’s funny how much a little bit of push-back like that can catch you off-guard when you’re not used to getting it.

“You’re not as brave as you were at the start…”

Thinking back over these interactions, I realize that I could have acted differently in two opposite ways, but somehow with the same end result.

Rather than taking the path of conciliation and explanation, I could have just said “No.” I could have argued my case, cited examples to back it up, poked holes in the accusations. I could have even turned the arguments against these people–arguing that if you’re so offended, perhaps it’s you who are the problem. Doing that would have perhaps gotten me the argument “win,” but at the cost of potential continued friendship or loss of having a voice in that person’s life. That’s a bad bargain for such a fleeting prize.

I instead could have avoided the issue altogether. Said nothing. Kept my head down. Stayed off social media. (There’s always a good case to be made for that.) But I don’t think that would have been any better. Sure, I could have avoided the drama that week, but sometimes living an honest and open life means you are going to rub up against people who just don’t like what you have to say. I’ve spent too much of my life trying to avoid that kind of conflict by being pleasant and agreeable. That’s part of my peacemaking people-pleasing nature. And in the end, am I really maintaining the relationship with someone to whom I’m unwilling to tell the truth? (The irony of this is, we’re slowly reaching the point in which “keeping it chill” stops working and you’re no longer allowed by your peers to avoid taking a position on certain issues.)

I think I need to be braver about saying what’s true and good and right on social media, even if it’s unpopular. I should be willing to get pushback if it can open up dialogue and provoke thought from others. I also need to be wiser and more prudent with my words. I think I’m growing in that, but I know I’ve got far to go.

I probably should get off Twitter eventually, because the balance of usefulness and connection to distraction and frustration is shifting too far to the latter. Until that day comes, if you choose to follow me on Twitter, just know that I’m probably going to let you down. I’ll say something you don’t agree with or are even offended by. And if you decide to push back, to argue, to call me out, I hope that I answer you well. I’m going to try to do so with grace and wisdom, for your good and for God’s glory rather than for a rhetorical win.

But I am going to answer you.