I have always thought the end of a conference was one of the hardest times to navigate: we’ve been in a cocoon-like world, a back-to-the-womb time. We expressed, received and gave. Then the inevitable happened: we came down from the mountain to face a huge paradigm shift and a series of ups and downs. (Mine included delayed flights, stuffy airplanes, and chocolate binges).
But reality tends to check us at the door of home sweet home. The things we sought to understand in the insulated safety of that mountain now present themselves squarely in the valley of real life. There are the voices from the valley seeking to dissuade us—media outlets and blogs, family members pushing our buttons and boundaries, and Christians, so-called, who tell us we shouldn’t be taking literally God’s call to sexual purity.
Voices from the Valley
And the voices seem to be getting louder and louder in their efforts to dissuade. In a recent article in The Christian Post, Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church commended the LGBT community in the Presbyterian Church for creating “enormous confusion” in the Church, and calling the “holy chaos” a huge step forward.
As I thought about what my devotion subject should be, I found the letter of Jude to be particularly relevant. He wrote to Christians warning them of voices in their circles who had arrogantly challenged the leaders God had sent and the gospel message first delivered by the apostles. They claimed an unwarranted authority in the church, and promoted open sexual immorality among the Christians. Jude warned of the divisions they caused, saying it was evident their natural instincts drove them, not the Spirit. (See I Corinthians 14:33 and James 3:16-18)
Defined by Who Has Called You
So he starts by reminding them of their real identity – an identity which is defined not by their temptations, but by who has called them, loved them, and kept them (Jude 2). Then he reminds them of what God has done for them by delivering them from slavery and bondage, and encourages them to earnestly contend for their freedom.
But how were they to contend? By doing specific things to withstand the pressures from without and build a structure within in order to persevere—to continue on with the things they had believed and learned:
“But you, dear friends, build yourself up in your most holy faith, and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 2:20-21
With that in mind, let’s break that verse down and look at what intentional faith looks like, and how it produces a mindset of perseverance.
BUILD: The Greek word for build gives you the idea of building from the foundation up –“as in an edifice or structure, or restoring by building or repairing.” So with Jesus as the foundation of our life, the idea is to build in order to be effective and productive. 2 Peter 5-9 tells us to add to our faith and lists the qualities that should be growing and in evidence; if these qualities are not there, we may have become very nearsighted and perhaps have even forgotten why we first believed.
PRAY: Jesus said in Luke that “men ought always to pray, and to faint not”, but sometimes we’re just unable due to our own weaknesses and shortcomings. So in Romans 8:26, we’re told that the “Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. To quote my Pastor, when we avail ourselves of the Holy Spirit “we reach for a resource beyond ourselves” that will help us pray in accordance with God’s will.
KEEP: Keeping is cultivating and maintaining our relationship with Christ. So many of us will say “I love Jesus”, but just end up giving Him lip service. If I were to say “I love my garden” but didn’t go out and water it, till it and give it attention, it would die. So it is with keeping ourselves in God’s love. We cultivate our relationship with Him by planting the truth-seed of God’s Word in our hearts, watering it by worship and fellowship with others in our faith community, and consciously applying our hearts to keep His commands.
WAIT: As the King James Version puts it–“looking for”. Putting “wait” and “looking for” together, we are hoping for our future promise. One day, all our striving will cease and God’s mercy will be complete! (Titus 2:13) “We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and the redemption of our bodies”, says Paul. We will no longer have the struggle of a new nature in and old, sinful body. We will be made whole. But in the meantime, heed the writer of Hebrews when he says “you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God, you may obtain the promise”. (Hebrews 10:35) The promise will come, because in Christ, all the promises of God are “Yes!” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
God’s Work in Us
And yet even as we make the effort to build ourselves up in the faith, it’s not all up to us. That’s the paradox of the Christian life best illustrated in Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
And so, perseverance—intentional and consistent–is called for. Build, pray, keep, and wait with expectant confidence! And trust His voice first, for His sheep know His voice. -R
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 24-25)