Monthly Archives: July 2013

Teaching the Epistle of Jude to Children

Sandwiched between the letters of John the Beloved and the intriguing Book of Revelation, the tiny book of Jude is perhaps the most neglected and ignored of all New Testament scripture.  So short it is not even divided into chapters, Jude is mysterious and fascinating–and little understood.  Teaching this beautifully written letter to children is not a challenge, but an opportunity to explore the mind of a man who grew up in the same household as our Savior.  Here is a lesson designed to introduce Jude to young elementary-age kids.

Jude is very short letter written by–guess who?  A guy named Jude!  Who is this guy?  He was one of the sons of Joseph and Mary, making him the earthly half-brother of Jesus.  Another brother of Jesus and Jude was James, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church soon after Jesus went back to heaven.  We don’t know nearly as much about Jude as we do about James, but we can learn a lot from his little letter.

Jude’s letter is so short, we have not even bothered to divide it into chapters.  It is only 25 verses long.  But it’s jam-packed with interesting stuff!  One thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that Jude makes his points by referring to Old Testament stories.  He mentions something from the Old Testament in almost every verse, in fact.  But he never tells the stories–he just expects his reader to have already learned the stories and remember them.  He says things like, “they are just like Cain,” or “they made the same mistake as Balaam”.  If you don’t know Cain or Balaam, you won’t have any idea what Jude is talking about!    I cannot emphasize this often enough, kids:  you  cannot really understand any of the New Testament if you don’t know your Old Testament.  All of the New Testament is meant to be understood in light of the Old.

Jude addressed his letter to all believers, or as he put it: “to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.”  Does that describe you?  Then Jude wrote this letter to you!  Jude says he felt compelled to write in order to warn the believers not to listen to false teachers.  The false teachers in Jude’s day were telling the believers that since Jesus has saved us, now we can sin all we want!  Jude says that these false teachers are twisting the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to make themselves feel they have the right to do whatever they want.  Should we just do whatever we want?  No, we should live the way God wants us to live, shouldn’t we?  If we belong to Jesus, then He is our Lord.  What does the word “Lord” mean?  A “Lord” is someone who has the right to tell people what to do.  It’s like being the Boss.  Jesus is the one who tells believers how to live.  We do not have the right to live our own lives once we have given our lives to Jesus.  And really, why would we want to live sinful lives, knowing what Jesus has done for us, to take those sins away?

Jude reminds the believers that, even though God saved the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they still had to be disciplined when they refused to obey God.  All the Israelites who refused to listen to God had to live their lives out in the wilderness instead of going on to the Promised Land.  Even if you are a believer and know you are going to heaven for certain, that does not mean that you will not have to live with the consequences here on earth if you choose to disobey.  For example, if you rob a bank, being a Christian will not keep you out of jail, will it?  If you drink and drive, being a Christian will not stop you from having an accident.

Jude goes on to remind us that even the angels are not left unpunished if they disobey God.  The angels who rebelled against God and followed Satan are going to be bound in chains and judged.  Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude says solemnly.  Can any of you remember what happened there?  The people in those towns were so wicked, God finally rained fire and brimstone on them and completely destroyed them forever.  Today, where those cities once stood, is now the Dead Sea, a lake so salty that nothing can live in it.  Jude’s point is clear.  God loves us and wants to save us from our sins.  But if we insist on doing evil, He has to judge us.

Jude says that these false teacher have “taken the way of Cain.”  Who was Cain?  He killed his brother Abel, didn’t he, and was driven from the presence of God.  The false teachers may not be physically killing anyone, but they are killing people’s souls with their lies.  They are far away from God and are leading others far away from God.  Jude then compares the false teachers to Balaam.  Does anyone remember Balaam?  He was actually paid by a pagan king to curse Israel, but God sent an angel to stop Balaam.  Balaam wanted the money the king had promised him so much, he would not listen to God’s angel.  Then God made Balaam’s donkey talk to him!  But still, Balaam would not listen.  Money was more important to Balaam than obeying God.  Since he couldn’t curse Israel, Balaam tricked the people into sinning against God instead.  Balaam led the people into disobeying God, just like the false teachers Jude is talking about.

One of the things I love about the book of Jude is the writing.  Jude is very much a poet, and his writing makes pictures in your mind.  He calls the false teachers “clouds without rain” and “autumn trees, fruitless and uprooted.”  What do you think he means by that?  Isn’t a cloud without rain kind of useless?  We need rain for the earth to produce fruit.  Isn’t a dead tree also kind of useless?  A dead tree won’t produce any fruit.  Jude calls these wicked men “wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame.”  Can’t you just picture that?  How about “wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”  How does that sentence make you feel?  It makes me feel kind of shivery!

Then Jude quotes the prophet Enoch.  Does anyone remember who Enoch was?  The Old Testament only tells a little bit about him.  In Genesis, it says that Enoch walked with God, then he disappeared because God took him.  Enoch is one of only two people we know of who never died.  The Bible says God took him right up to heaven to live with Him, still alive.  The book of Jude is the only place in the Bible that records Enoch’s prophecies.  Jude says that Enoch prophesied about false teachers and other wicked men, back in the beginning.  Enoch said, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict the ungodly of all ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against God.”  This is going to happen at the end of time, when Jesus comes back the second time and takes over the earth once and for all.  Isn’t it cool that God told people this way back in the time of Genesis?

Instead of following these wicked teachers into lives of sin, how should we live?  Jude says, “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God’s love.”  Can you think of ways we can do this?


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Declaration of Interdependence

Yes, dear readers, it is time for my annual, controversial Fourth of July blog entry.  As usual, please keep in mind that I love my country and am glad I was born in a nation in which I am free to express myself without fear of retaliation from the government (although retaliation from my readers at times resembles a free-for-all. . . .)

It’s been too easy for Americans to forget, or ignore, the fact that the War for Independence was not fought to secure individual rights and freedoms but national sovereignty.  All English citizens already had the rights and freedoms we hold dear in America. That was why the colonists were literally up in arms about the abuse by the government they were receiving–as Englishmen, they expected the rights guaranteed to them by the Magna Carta to be honored and upheld. (“Know that we, at the prompting of God and for the health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the glory of holy Church and the improvement of our realm, freely and out of our good will have given and granted to . . . all of our realm these liberties written below to hold in our realm of England in perpetuity. . . .”–preamble to Magna Carta, 1215 a.d.) If the colonists had been patient and persevered, their rights would have certainly been restored without having to fight a war (see Canada).  As it is, they severed ties with the government that was meant to defend their rights and was not doing so.  The Declaration of Independence was a document proclaiming the independence of a nation, a group of people, from another nation; not a carte blanc proclaiming the independence of every individual from every other individual on earth.

We were created equal, yes, and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  But we were never created to be independent.  God never meant for us to live as islands in seas of opposing humanities.  We were meant to live in harmony and interdependence, working together towards common good.  I believe—I hope– our founding fathers understood this, and that their commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was not at all about petty, personal liberties but about the people of America as a whole. Because when each person in a group conducts himself independently, thinking only of his own fulfillment and happiness without a thought of what is best for all involved, the result is . . . . America as we see it today.  Chaotic, ignorant, dangerous, frightening.

What’s even more frightening is that the American church has bought into this idea of “rugged individualism” as well.  I am not saying that God does not love us and deal with us as individuals, because I know that is not the case.  God loves each of us as His creation, individually.  But He did not create us to be independent of one another.  He created us in groups from the beginning: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  He placed us in families; in communities; in people-groups; in nations.  He did this deliberately, because that is how He meant for us to function–together.

Sometimes God does chose special individuals to work His will, but it is never to the benefit of the chosen person.  God chose Abraham, not to be a great man, but to father a great nation. He chose Joseph, not to bless Joseph, but to save His people.  He chose Moses, not to bless Moses (Moses did not want this blessing, bless his heart), but again, to save His people.  God honors and blesses those He chooses, but He does not choose them for their own good, but for the good of the people.

Is there any one person whom we honor as an  individual who did not do whatever he did to deserve honor for the benefit of many?   We admire our founding fathers for what they did for America–for US–not for what they gained for themselves.  What did they gain for themselves?  Heartache.  Trouble.  Contention.  Loss of personal freedom.  Yes, I said it.  They gave themselves to the cause of political freedom to the detriment of their own, personal freedom.  Washington wanted nothing more than to retire to his plantation and be a farmer, living quietly for the rest of this life.  He was coerced into becoming the first president, instead.  He was a good president–and he really didn’t enjoy it.

And how about our church founding fathers?  When one thinks of the early church, I’m sure the name of Paul springs immediately to mind.  He was probably the most successful missionary ever in church history.  Everything he did, was for the church body.  What he received in return was imprisonment, sorrow, death.

I’ve been learning a lot of late about how self-centered the American church (a part of American culture) has become.  It’s disheartening, to say the least, especially since it’s become such an integral part of our thinking that few seem to be aware that we our thinking is so faulty.  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” is a common tool for convincing people of their need for God.  This is a true saying; please don’t think I don’t believe this.  But Americans take this differently than they should.  They take this to mean that God has a plan to make each person’s individual life a rousing success, filled with personal happiness and fulfillment.  I’m sorry, but you have only to look around you at the real lives of real Christians to know that this is not the case.  I’m not saying that God does not have our best interests at heart–He certainly does.  But His best interests are so much bigger, so much more all-encompassing than we can ever imagine.  He sees the bigger picture–the picture that includes every other person alive on the planet at this time and every person coming after us; each individual life fits into the picture to make it complete.  Americans like to see each person as an individual picture unto himself.  That is a grave departure from reality, and does so much damage to society as a whole, and to the church most of all.

Here’s an example of the Scriptures twisted by American thinking into something it was never intended to be: Romans 8:28.  “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.”  American Christians want this to mean that everything that happens to each individual will work to that individual’s advantage–eventually.  So, if this promise is true, every person’s life will, eventually, work out to that individual’s happiness and fulfillment.  And that’s why Paul lived a long and ultimately happy life, retiring to a comfortable home with cable TV and a lovely pension plan.  That’s why George Washington was able to fulfill his life-long dream of settling down on his farm and raising his family in peace.  That’s why Martin Luther King died an elderly, satisfied man, having seen his dream accomplished in his own lifetime.  Oh, but wait!  That’s not what happened, is it?  These men accomplished much, yes.  They did great things and lived great lives–for the benefit of the people they were raised up by God to serve.  Look at that verse from Romans again.  Look at the pronouns in it.  Those are PLURAL pronouns.  Plural, not singular.  We are not meant to live our lives in individual solitude.  We are meant to live our lives for the benefit of all.

We may not all be intended for huge tasks like those accomplished by Moses or Joseph or Paul.  But we are each a part of the whole, and we each have our place in the picture.  We can wail about not being personally happy or fulfilled.  Or we can rejoice in the differences we can make in the lives of others. We can be selfishly focused on our own individual comforts and desires; or we can feel the honor God does us in including us in His greater plan that expands over all time and space and impacts every other human being that ever existed, even if only in a modest way.  We are not alone in the universe, and we must never live our lives as if we were.  What we do influences so many other lives, for good or for evil, because we are a part of the whole.  This is true whether speaking of a nation or of the church body.  And this is a good thing.

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