The Journey Here

29861You must not speak against God or curse a leader of your people. Do not hold back your offering from the first of your harvest and the first wine that you make. Also, you must give me your firstborn sons. You must do the same with your bulls and your sheep. Let the firstborn males stay with their mothers for seven days, and on the eighth day you must give them to me. (Exodus 22:28-30)

Where is “here”? What did it take to get you where you currently are in your life journey?

Joshua 4:1-13 explains the purpose of standing stones:

After all the people had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe. Tell them to get twelve rocks from the middle of the river, from where the priests stood. Carry the rocks and put them down where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua chose one man from each tribe. Then he called the twelve men together and said to them, “Go out into the river where the Ark of the Lord your God is. Each of you bring back one rock, one for each tribe of Israel, and carry it on your shoulder. They will be a sign among you. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these rocks mean?’ Tell them the water stopped flowing in the Jordan when the Ark of the Agreement with the Lord crossed the river. These rocks will always remind the Israelites of this.”

So the Israelites obeyed Joshua and carried twelve rocks from the middle of the Jordan River, one rock for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded Joshua. They carried the rocks with them and put them down where they made their camp. Joshua also put twelve rocks in the middle of the Jordan River where the priests had stood while carrying the Ark of the Agreement. These rocks are still there today.

The priests carrying the Ark continued standing in the middle of the river until everything was done that the Lord had commanded Joshua to tell the people, just as Moses had told Joshua. The people hurried across the river. After they finished crossing the river, the priests carried the Ark of the Lord to the other side as the people watched. The men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh obeyed what Moses had told them. They were dressed for war, and they crossed the river ahead of the other people. About forty thousand soldiers prepared for war passed before the Lord as they marched across the river, going toward the plains of Jericho.

When we place standing stones where God has shown up in our lives, we move on from the area. If we were to camp under the stones, there wouldn’t be a need for the stones. Monuments mark an experience so that it can be remembered. There’s something significant that happened, and it’s important for you or others to remember. If you remain in the location of the memorial, you can tell people the story yourself. The memorial becomes unnecessary.

Placing memorial stones along your journey are a testimony for those who follow you. It’s not as much about you leaving a legacy as God leaving a legacy. The memorial stones also encourage you to continue your journey. When there are no markers to remember where God moved in your life, you can easily question your past experiences and God’s presence. You might be tempted to revisit experiences – either physically or emotionally – and in the process, you form a revised experience. You might even develop a rut as you trudge back and forth to the past.

On the other hand, when you intentionally place a memorial stone and declare, “God showed up here,” and continue your journey, place a stone and declare, “God was faithful here.” “God challenged me here.” “God provided for me here.” “God gave me peace here.” You can pause at any time along the journey in any situation and glance back to see a line of standing stones. They stand as a testimony to the reliability of God. You can follow that line of stones to where you stand and know God is present where you are. And he will be present as you continue the journey in faith.

How old are you?

When someone asks me how old I am, I proudly declare my age. It’s taken me a lot of effort to get to where I am, and while I don’t like every step I’ve taken, I’m glad to have walked through and survived some trials. I’m thankful to have thrived through some wonderful experiences. I’m proud to praise God for where I am and, even more so, for where I’m going.

It’s easy for us to reflect on the past and have regrets or justify our decisions. We either take on a burden of responsibility (when God wants us to release our burdens to him) or avoid responsibility and blame others (when God wants us to admit where we are with authentic disclosure and trust him through what follows). God wants us to trust him through our experiences, because he wants our faith journey to be exclusively with him. He is always walking with us, no matter how far off his path we are. He knows how to get us to where he intends for us to go. He knows his purpose, and he wants us to fully live it.

It’s okay to have baggage. You rarely take a trip without supplies, and your supplies differ based on your destination. Trust God to sift through the baggage you’re carrying around or storing. He knows what you need right now, what you need to put away and store for future use, and what you need to get rid of altogether.

Let God determine the location of your memorial stones and the steps you take along the way.

Pause where you are and glance back. What stones are standing in a memorial to God’s presence in your life?

Playing It Safe

29861When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them because they were hurting and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus said to his followers, “There are many people to harvest but only a few workers to help harvest them. Pray to the Lord, who owns the harvest, that he will send more workers to gather his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

We need to help. We need to step up and do the work God intends for us.

Are you willing to be where you need to be at all times regardless of questions, concerns, and danger?

We hear and use language about safety often:

  • “Be safe.”
  • “Safe travels.”
  • “Play it safe.”
  • “Better to be on the safe side.”

We seek safety. We want the people we love to be safe. There’s security in safety. Even those who thrive on adventure would prefer to be safe at the end of the adventure. We often want a thrill, but it’s a time-limited experience. We don’t live on the constant high of a thrill. We also want an underlying, dependable foundation of security.

When I visited Israel, soldiers were everywhere. We went through many checkpoints while driving throughout Israel. We walked across the checkpoints after visiting Bethlehem, which is Palestinian-controlled. We walked through metal detectors to enter the mall and other large department stores or areas. Even though I’m unaccustomed to seeing so many people walking around with weapons, I never felt threatened. Being the leader of the group, I felt responsible and was always aware of what was going on around us. So if anyone would have felt threatened, it likely would have been me.

The Ben Gurion (Tel Aviv) airport was the most thorough airport security I’ve ever experienced. Even through the long lines, lifting my bags up and down on conveyor belts, opening my suitcases and shifting everything in them, emptying every bag of all electronics, and answering a wide array of questions, I didn’t feel interrogated or offended. I didn’t feel my rights were being infringed upon. I felt a bit more safe – actually, a lot more safe.

One day near the end of our trip, our car approached a checkpoint. As our car slowed without stopping, an officer peeked inside and motioned us onward. I asked our driver what the point of the checkpoint is when, from my experiences, people are rarely stopped. His answer: “You Americans are more sensitive and less secure. We’re less sensitive and more secure.”

Travelling through Israel made me think about sensitivity, safety, and security. Security does not equal safety. Security is freedom or protection from fear and anxiety. It doesn’t insure no harm comes to you. It’s a vigilant position. It’s not pulling a “security” blanket over your head and hiding. In that case, “security blanket” is an oxymoron. Security is taking the blanket off, keeping your eyes and ears open and watching for anything out of the ordinary…not just for you but for everyone else. Not to be paranoid but to be attentive.

The ultimate security you can have has nothing to do with your safety. You might be safe here on earth, but are you secure – for eternity? God’s the best security blanket you’ll ever have. And he never covers his eyes.

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. 2 Samuel 22:33

It’s time to step up and do the work God calls you to do.

Hurry Up and Wait

29861You, too, must be patient. Do not give up hope, because the Lord is coming soon. Brothers and sisters, do not complain against each other or you will be judged guilty. And the Judge is ready to come! Brothers and sisters, follow the example of the prophets who spoke for the Lord. They suffered many hard things, but they were patient. James 5:8-10

I remember the fresh earth smell of spring. As soon as farmers could get in the field, the machinery and the men were out in force. But there was a lot of work that went into preparation long before the actual breaking of the ground. Machines were checked to insure proper operations. Repairs were made. Bearings were oiled. Engines were started. The soil was checked regularly for moisture. Many farmers had more than one field to tend, and all fields needed to be checked, since one held more moisture than another. Seed, fertilizer and chemicals were ordered and stocked. Weather was carefully watched, because much of what needed to be done not only depended on the immediate rain or shine but the pending rain, sunshine and wind. Certain chemicals and fertilizers needed to be applied under specific conditions, or the time, cost, and effort would be in vain.

There always seemed to be pressure to get things done. There didn’t seem to be any leisure time. Weather-permitting, machinery was in the field from sun-up to sun-down (and even longer if machinery was equipped with lights and could handle the extended hours). Meals were delivered to the field. All family activities other than farming ceased or were creatively modified for the season. When weather didn’t permit field work, there was a long list of catch up tasks to accomplish: minor machinery repair, cleaning, maintenance, as well as many other tasks around the farm that couldn’t be overlooked. It was rush, rush, rush to get as much done during the long days.

Even in the midst of rush, there was a lot of patience required: waiting for weather to shift, waiting for a machinery part to be delivered, waiting to see if plants emerged well from the earth. Of course, there was no sitting around and twiddling of thumbs during the wait. Farming involves too much multi-tasking for a sit-and-wait mindset. Patience, focus, and multi-tasking all had to be juggled within a farmer’s mind and schedule.

When have you struggled with patience?

How has being busy (or not) affected your patience?

We hurry up and wait spiritually.

We have seasons of flurry when we don’t seem to have time to breathe. The habits we’ve established before such seasons impact how we respond. If we have healthy habits of worship, study, service, prayer, and fellowship, we will typically maintain at least a modified version of such faith-building focus. Habits stabilize us through the busy times of life. We have familiarity on which to rely. When we start something new during times of great change and stress, we will rarely be successful in establishing something that lasts long and impacts us deeply. The preparation time before the chaos has a more lasting impact.

Busy times don’t exclude waiting and patience. Even in the midst of busyness, we have questions and requests for God. We wait on him to guide, provide, and answer. We want to know, but he doesn’t want us to stop growing our faith and building our relationship with him simply because everything is not perfectly in place. Yes, he wants us to be still in his presence, but being still is not always physical. God wants us to still ourselves in whatever ways that will help us be in his presence and prepare ourselves to listen. If that means stilling yourself physically, you need to do that for a time in order to hear clearly from him. For most people and situations, being still is more about us stilling ourselves and the many voices around us by which we’re influenced. We can still be seeking God and responding to him in other areas of our lives, because we surely don’t question him about everything at once.

We can excuse our uninvolvement as stillness, rationalizing, “I’m going to sit right here and not move until God tells me which way to go” when in reality, he simply wants us to take a step of faith. He has no intention of giving us the plan for the complete journey. He’ll reveal step 2 after step 1 and step 3 after step 2. We have to trust him one step at a time.

We can also excuse our flurry of activity as doing “good” for God when we’re not listening to him for guidance in the process. What we’re doing might be good, but it might not be our calling. It might not be in God’s purpose for us. Oh, he’ll certainly use everything we offer, but what we offer in obedience to his will is where he wants us to be. We need to ask God for guidance and move in response instead of moving forward and asking God to bless the steps we’ve already chosen to take without his permission.

Do you tend to move ahead without God’s guidance or sit still while waiting for God to be obvious in his revelation?

God has a purpose for you. You need to get busy and be who and where he intends you to be. It’s time to be productive for him. In the meantime, you’re going to have to be patient – with yourself, others around you and even with God. You can do it. God has a lot of patience and is great at multi-tasking, and he created you in his image!

God is fair; he will not forget the work you did and the love you showed for him by helping his people. And he will remember that you are still helping them. We want each of you to go on with the same hard work all your lives so you will surely get what you hope for. We do not want you to become lazy. Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised. (Hebrews 6:10-12)

What’s God Doing?

29861Daniel said: “Praise God forever and ever, because he has wisdom and power. He changes the times and seasons of the year. He takes away the power of kings and gives their power to new kings. He gives wisdom to those who are wise and knowledge to those who understand. He makes known secrets that are deep and hidden; he knows what is hidden in darkness, and light is all around him.” Daniel 2:20-22

What’s God doing in your life?

Perhaps you’re not positive, but you can be certain he’s working. Daniel needed God’s guidance as he revealed the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel was declaring who God is. He was recognizing and praising God, placing himself in submission to God so he would be able to receive the provision God had for him.

How intentionally engaged are you in what God is doing in your life? If you had to rank your involvement with God’s will and presence in your life right now, what number from 1 to 10 would you assign your involvement?

We often look for our own explanations. If someone asks what a dream means, what steps they should take next, or how to run a meeting, deal with a conflict, or dig into Scripture more, the knee-jerk response is usually to explain something in a way that personally makes sense. We make sense out of what might not otherwise make sense. We start with the issue, add ourselves into the equation, and respond. We pool our experiences, emotions, and lessons, and we pull together the answers that make the most sense. The problem with that approach is that God’s way doesn’t always make sense. We’re limited in our understanding; he is not. What makes perfect sense to him is not going to make sense to us at times.

Consider Daniel’s life. He was one of many taken to Babylon in captivity. He then was asked to interpret the king’s dream, which he obviously had a gift of doing, but it still doesn’t make much sense that he, a captive, would be trusted to interpret a king’s dream. His friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, survived a fiery furnace against all odds. Daniel interpreted writing on a wall, had many complex prophetic visions, survived a night in the lions’ den. He was commended for his prophetic ability but chastised for his faith. Does Daniel’s life – and many separate components of it – make sense? Not really! But it makes sense to God.

Daniel didn’t always respond the way that would make sense to you and me. Being asked to do some of the things he did and getting involved in some of the relationships he had doesn’t make sense to you and me. Yet Daniel’s faith was strong. God honored him. God led him. God provided for and guided him. In order to be used by God, we cannot expect everything to be as we expect. We can only expect for God to keep his promises. In order to trust God for his promises, we have to know his promises. To rely on God means to know God. Familiarity and faith are inseparably braided.

We often don’t give credit for what God is doing in our lives. We don’t pay attention. We get into habits of repeating what’s familiar day to day and forget to recognize where and how God is working – until something goes wrong and we decide we need him. The truth is we need him in every situation at all times.

Consider the past month of your life and look for ways God was working that you didn’t easily recognize at the time.

For example, despite the electronics, appliances and vehicles you’ve had to fix or maintain, consider all the other ones that have continued running. We get frustrated when something doesn’t last as long as we expect it to, but do you spend at least equal time being thankful for those things that last longer than you expected or even that the things that didn’t last as long as you would have liked lasted as long as they did instead of half the time?

Have you considered the timing of avoiding an accident you didn’t even know was a possibility, running into a friend or acquaintance in need or able to meet your need, hearing a consistent message from God through a variety of people, books, and other sources within a concentrated time for emphasis?

We are blessed even when we’re not looking for blessings. How much more we will fully experience such blessings when we are attentive! As you watch for God working in your daily life, you’ll notice his presence more. As you acknowledge his provision and presence, you’ll praise him more. As you praise him more, you’ll watch for him in your life more. As you are attentive, you will attribute more of the details of your life to him guidance, and you’ll rely on him with ever-growing confidence. Sadly, the converse is true as well. The less you look for God, the less you will notice and appreciate him. It’s not that he is less present in your life. It’s that you’re less present in your relationship with God. Relationships take effort. No relationship – including your relationship with God – will grow without intentionality.

God longs to pour into and through you. How will you be vulnerable to his leading today?

I went because God showed me I should go. I met with the believers there, and in private I told their leaders the Good News that I preach to the non-Jewish people. I did not want my past work and the work I am now doing to be wasted. (Galatians 2:2)

He Gives and Takes Away

29861But the people of Judah are stubborn and have turned against me. They have turned aside and gone away from me. They do not say to themselves, “We should fear the Lord our God, who gives us autumn and spring rains in their seasons, who makes sure we have the harvest at the right time.” But your evil has kept away both rain and harvest. Your sins have kept you from enjoying good things. Jeremiah 5:23-25

God is dependable. He does what he says he will do. We hold him to his promises when we can see the benefits, such as his provision of water, food, relationships, and so on. The promises we tend to skim over are the ones that have to do with his discipline. We sometimes expect him to overlook something we’ve done instead of expecting consequences.

I’m not talking about God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Of course, when we sincerely repent and turn away from the sin in our lives, he forgives us. That’s one of his promises, and he’s not about to break it. However, there are still consequences to the poor choices we’ve made. His grace, mercy and forgiveness do not negate all subsequent consequences of our actions.

When God gives an if/then statement, he intends to hold you to it. He holds himself to it, because it’s who he is. He cannot be inconsistent. It’s like saying there are no absolutes but treating that statement as an absolute. God is consistent, so being inconsistent cannot exist.

Consider the following if/then statements of Scripture. How do you respond to each and to them as a whole?

If you remember my laws and commands and obey them, I will give you rains at the right season; the land will produce crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I did not speak to them and give them commands only about burnt offerings and sacrifices. I also gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Do all that I command so that good things will happen to you. But your ancestors did not listen or pay attention to me. They were stubborn and did whatever their evil hearts wanted. They went backward, not forward. (Jeremiah 7:22-24)

Then Jacob saw the Lord standing above the ladder, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your grandfather, and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are now sleeping. Your descendants will be as many as the dust of the earth. They will spread west and east, north and south, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. I am with you and will protect you everywhere you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15)

You were all baptized into Christ, and so you were all clothed with Christ. This means that you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus. You belong to Christ, so you are Abraham’s descendants. You will inherit all of God’s blessings because of the promise God made to Abraham. (Galatians 3:26-19)

This is the agreement I will make with the people of Israel at that time, says the Lord. I will put my teachings in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10)

Do you hear yourself attempting to rationalize any of these truths?

In Jeremiah 5, God’s promises for rain and harvest are clear, but neither is enjoyed because of evil. Those who missed out on the blessings of God’s rain and harvest could assume God didn’t fulfill his promise, but that’s not the case at all. Their behavior is what caused the missed blessing. Of course, they can repent at any time, and the relationship between them and God will be restored, but rain and harvest might not be immediate. There are still consequences to the single act or season of sin.

God loves us no matter much. His love for his creation is part of who he is. However, he hates anything that separates us from his presence and will.

How have you personally experienced the popular adage “love the sinner, hate the sin”?

It’s definitely a challenge to live out this principle. However, it’s a God-given principle. He loves you, but he hates anything that separates you from him. When you run to him with those issues, he will forgive and heal you, but there will still be consequences to the poor choices. At the same time, because you’re created in God’s image, you’re expected to love his people but hate anything that separates people from him. That doesn’t mean you hate people. It’s a challenge to love someone while hating what they’re choosing to do. When you’re in the middle of such a situation, remember you don’t have to love with your own limited love in your own strength. God pours his love into you to pour onto others. His love is unconditional, but his acceptance is not. We don’t have to be squeaky clean before we come to him. Others don’t have to be squeaky clean to be accepted into our lives either (which is a good thing, because none of us are!). Yet we also cannot approve of and support behavior that separates people from God no matter how much we rationalize we love them. When we love with God’s love, we challenge people and hold them accountable, yet not every single person in the exact same way, because God leads us into relationships of different depths and purposes through different seasons. We have to trust him for timing and provision in every situation and relationship. One thing is certain: God will never lead us into a codependent situation. Remember, we are created in his image, and he is codependent with no one. He will not play into anything that separates anyone from him. He will not get sucked into unhealthy relationships. And when under his guidance, he will not allow you to either.

Snowbound

29861I plan to go through Macedonia, so I will come to you after I go through there. Perhaps I will stay with you for a time or even all winter. Then you can help me on my trip, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to stay a longer time with you if the Lord allows it. But I will stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a good opportunity for a great and growing work has been given to me now. And there are many people working against me. 1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Paul is anticipating using his time and opportunities well. He wants to be where God wants him to be. He wants to spend time with whom he needs to spend time with – in this case, it’s with supporters, but in many times, Paul settled into spending time with opponents. He even accomplished much of his ministry from prison. In these verses, he seems to be looking forward to the prospect of staying with the people in Corinth “for a long time or even all winter.” Of course, he’s only going to stay as long as God allows, but he intends to take full advantage of any time he has.

Are you fully using the current season of your life?

Are you willing to settle into winter and take full advantage of all that it offers?

There are some things that are possible through the winter seasons of life that can’t occur in other seasons. It’s usually considered the bleak, colorless, cold, restricted, lifeless season, but it’s part of the cycle of seasons. What is accomplished in the winter season of your life will impact other seasons.

Right now, it’s summer where I am, and insects are swarming. We are accosted by more insects than usual because we had a mild winter. The extended cold of winter kills many of the insects and creates a better balance for the summer, but this year, winter has impacted summer quite differently. Increased insects affect plants, which means harvest is impacted. Other effects of the mild winter include earlier allergy seasons and an earlier risk of wildfires in many parts of the country. We enjoyed lower utility bills and more options for activities and travel through the warmer winter months, but there was a cost to the mild winter.

The same is true for a mild spiritual winter. You might prefer to experience less cold and dreariness but keep in mind each season impacts the next. If certain things don’t occur during one season, results will differ in consequential seasons. We need to use each season well even when we’d prefer to avoid the season altogether.

One of my favorite childhood authors was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love experiencing the adventures of pioneer life through her words. The Long Winter chronicles the Ingalls family and others bravely facing the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards covered the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Growing up on a farm in central Illinois, there were many times when we’d get snowed in for several days. I enjoyed the adventure of finding things to do in isolation. Options were limited, but my imagination soared. For my parents, the isolation was a bit more challenging. They had to find ways to keep livestock fed and warm. They had to creatively solve complicated problems that would have been simple in mild weather. Their experiences were closer to the Ingalls family than mine, because they were the responsible adults who saw the reality of situations, but even then, being stuck for a few days in a large, sound house with many modern conveniences was nothing like being isolated on the prairie with much fewer options.

Despite the trials pioneers faced, the winter months were productive. There were things they could do because of the slower pace and necessity of being inside for days and weeks, even months. They mended and sewed clothes. They made bedding. They wove hats and knitted mittens. They worked on small woodworking projects and prepared ammunition, knives and other necessities they’d need once the weather began to warm. They used the supplies they’d gathered or grown in the previous months to accomplish important tasks during the winter months. How well they prepared for winter greatly impacted what they could accomplish. For example, because the daylight of winter is limited, and the pioneers had no electricity, they were dependent on candlelight to accomplish anything before dawn or after dusk. If they hadn’t taken the time to make candles, their productivity was significantly handicapped.

Consider winter from a spiritual perspective. How do the following quotes from The Long Winter challenge you?

  • “Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds would make it flicker because it would not give up.”
  • “If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”

Something else the Ingalls family was able to do in their close quarters with one another through long winters is read the Bible. Of course, reading God’s Word wasn’t limited to winter, but there was certainly more opportunity to dig deeper and share more when closed in the house together with less options and distractions. One of Laura’s favorite Scriptures when faced with troubles was Psalm 46. Let God use it to pour into you today.

God is our protection and our strength. He always helps in times of trouble.

So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea,

even if the oceans roar and foam, or the mountains shake at the raging sea. Selah

There is a river that brings joy to the city of God, the holy place where God Most High lives.

God is in that city, and so it will not be shaken. God will help her at dawn.

Nations tremble and kingdoms shake. God shouts and the earth crumbles.

The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender. Selah

Come and see what the Lord has done, the amazing things he has done on the earth.

He stops wars everywhere on the earth. He breaks all bows and spears and burns up the chariots with fire.

God says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be praised in all the nations; I will be praised throughout the earth.”

The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender. Selah

Every spiritual season, even winter, presents us with opportunities and responsibilities. Are you embracing yours?

Twice Dead

29861Also remember the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other towns around them. In the same way they were full of sexual sin and people who desired sexual relations that God does not allow. They suffer the punishment of eternal fire, as an example for all to see. It is the same with these people who have entered your group. They are guided by dreams and make themselves filthy with sin. They reject God’s authority and speak against the angels. Not even the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil about who would have the body of Moses, dared to judge the devil guilty. Instead, he said, “The Lord punish you.” But these people speak against things they do not understand. And what they do know, by feeling, as dumb animals know things, are the very things that destroy them. It will be terrible for them. They have followed the way of Cain, and for money they have given themselves to doing the wrong that Balaam did. They have fought against God as Korah did, and like Korah, they surely will be destroyed. They are like dirty spots in your special Christian meals you share. They eat with you and have no fear, caring only for themselves. They are clouds without rain, which the wind blows around. They are autumn trees without fruit that are pulled out of the ground. So they are twice dead. They are like wild waves of the sea, tossing up their own shameful actions like foam. They are like stars that wander in the sky. A place in the blackest darkness has been kept for them forever. Jude 1:7-13

Who are these people referred to in Jude? Specifically, Jude draws a parallel between the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were destroyed because of their propensity for sexual relations, and “these people who have entered your group” who are “filthy with sin.” How are they filthy with sin? They reject God’s authority. Jude declares they are twice dead, likening them to “autumn trees without fruit that are pulled out of the ground.” They’re dead because they do not have fruit and dead because they’re pulled up from the ground. They not only didn’t produce what they were intended to produce but they also will not produce in the future.

In other words, these people who have rejected God’s authority have died spiritually (didn’t produce what they were intended to produce) and, as a result, died a natural death as a result of their decisions to reject God. They first didn’t choose to allow God to work in their lives during what would have been the opportunities for growth and were then uprooted because of their persistence to completely reject God. These are people we don’t want to follow.

It seems obvious. Why would we ever follow someone who doesn’t trust God? Our choice seems easy when we’re speaking hypothetically, but when we’re faced with one small decision at a time, we can be less guarded and end up in a pit of sin we never imagined ourselves being in. No matter where you might be in that process – deep in the darkness of the pit or standing on solid ground with perhaps no idea there is a pit waiting three steps ahead of you – know that you can grow from wherever you currently are. There is always hope. We can learn lessons from others, including the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the people to whom Jude refers.

False teachers defile the soul. They’re spiritually disturbed, refusing to recognize the position or power of God. They believe they’ve taken life into their own hands, which is never possible. We are to follow men only as they follow Christ.

The phrase “reject God’s authority” is expressed as “ungodly people” in the New International Version. The terms godly and, especially, ungodly are rarely used today, which in and of itself is a warning. Not identifying and recognizing the reality of ungodly living is a rejection of the absolute truth and presence of God. The reality is God has no problem using such categories of behavior and people and will do so on the day of judgment. Of course, even the day of judgment is ignored or rejected by many people, because (1) people refuse to believe there is one true God, (2) people refuse to believe there’s a need for judgment because a myriad of beliefs about what happens after physical death, or (3) people believe God will extend grace to everyone so judgment would not be necessary. There are likely additional options.

What perspectives on the day of judgment have you experienced?

What questions do you personally have?

Commit to following God, not out of fear but out of a desire to know him and to respond to him in obedience. The day of judgment doesn’t need to be the immediate focus. Your relationship with God and ever-increasing intimacy with him will keep you in his will, and you will consequently be well-prepared for judgment. You need to discern one moment at a time.

Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it. The foundation that has already been laid is Jesus Christ, and no one can lay down any other foundation. But if people build on that foundation, using gold, silver, jewels, wood, grass, or straw, their work will be clearly seen, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible. That Day will appear with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work to show what sort of work it was. If the building that has been put on the foundation still stands, the builder will get a reward. But if the building is burned up, the builder will suffer loss. The builder will be saved, but it will be as one who escaped from a fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

Living by God’s Word invites us to prove dying twice doesn’t have to be destructive.

When we die spiritually…

Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life. Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life. (Matthew 10:39)

…and die naturally…

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

…have life with God for eternity.

That’s the kind of “twice dead” I want.