Clouds Without Water

Lookout-960x700It’s been a delightfully cloudy day here in drought-ridden Southern California. I heard via Facebook from a friend who lives in the middle of the state that they were having rain. Ah, if only our clouds would produce some rain. But the weather forecast gave us only a fifty percent chance of getting measurable precipitation from this weather event.

So I look with longing at the gray sky, the unproductive sky that promises by appearances to bring us what we need, only to disappoint in the end.

Jude uses these kinds of clouds as a metaphor to describe false teachers. They looked promising on the outside, but like a tree that appears healthy and productive, yet doesn’t yield any fruit, false teachers don’t give what hungry hearts need.

Perhaps the worst trait of these false teachers is that they create division in the Church. They are “hidden reefs in your love feasts” and care for themselves, not for others. They are mockers who follow their own lusts; they cause divisions, are worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:18-19).

I’ve been thinking about division in the church of late. Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) So we are to love other Christians—that’s unequivocal. But love doesn’t always look like unity.

I mean when a child disobeys a parent and receives discipline, there may be a time when the relationship seems to hang in the balance. The child is angry and rebellious and determined not to give in. The parent is frustrated and adamant and determined not to give in. Where’s the unity in that?

So love doesn’t always look like unity, though the appearance might be passing.

In those moments when there’s a struggle, when love desires unity, a mending of the brokenness, there’s a temptation to yield for no other reason than to restore togetherness. And in the back of my mind, I’ve thought, isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

But here is this passage in Jude saying the mockers, the ungodly ones who have crept into the Church, are causing divisions. Is it the responsibility of believers to yield to the demands of the ones creating division, the “persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4b)?

So how do we know who is turning grace into a license to sin?

I’d say, we have to turn to the authority of God’s word to answer that question. Who is advocating a departure from the clear instruction of the Bible?

In our culture there are progressives who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” by re-imaging Him or reducing Him to a mere man or stripping from Him the miraculous power He demonstrated day in and day out.

There are also people on both sides of the sex wars who ignore Scripture’s instruction to husbands and wives, who care more for themselves and their advancement than they care for God’s name and glory. Talk about divisions!

The sad thing is, these progressives, these feminists or advocates for the manoshpere, are clouds without water. No rain comes from them to wash away the grim, to water the soil, to produce a crop. In other words, all their rhetoric doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, they create divisions in the Church. They are the problems.

But what are the rest of us to do? Hating disunity, do we capitulate?

Sure, OK, if you want to believe the Bible is true as a metaphor and not literally true, we’re fine with that. We don’t want there to be any division in the church. Or, sure, if you want to believe that a husband as the head of his wife can—or should—dominate her and control her instead of serve her and sacrifice for her as Christ did for the Church, we don’t want to actually denounce you, because, you know, unity. Or how about this one—sure, if you want to believe that there are certain things we have to do in order to be saved, that’s your choice, so you can be part of our church and teach in our Bible studies because we don’t want to offend you or cause division.

The people following God’s word are not causing the divisions. It’s the people who are departing from the Bible that are causing divisions. What are we who believe the Bible to do—rail against the offenders? picket? leave for a different church?

The latter seems to be the choice of a good many Christians. Or maybe it’s just leave without the “for a different church” part.

But leaving isn’t an option, God commands us to assemble together. And any other congregation is as likely to have hidden reefs as the one we’re thinking of leaving.

Here’s what Jude tells believers to do:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

I’ll distill that into four points:

1) grow some spiritual muscle by praying, maintaining your relationship with God, and looking forward to life with Him.
2) have mercy on people who are doubting
3) save others
4) have mercy with fear on those living in sin

What does it look like to have mercy on those who are doubting or who are living in sin? That’s another whole blog post, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve hurling invective, in person or on line.

May Gray

One of the special SoCal phenomena we enjoy is what we’ve fondly termed “May Gray,” not so different from June Gloom. Off and on during these two months we wake up to gray skies created by a marine layer of clouds. Depending on how thick these are and how far inland they extend, we may stay gray all day. (I love rhyme 😉 ). So for the past two days — May 1 and May 2 — I haven’t seen the sun.

I’m personally in my wheelhouse because I consider this writing weather, surpassed only by days when it actually rains. Tourists, however, find SoCal to be a huge disappointment. Who wants to go to the beach on days like this, they say. Where’s all that blue sky we saw during the Rose Parade back in January?

Well, the blue sky still exists. It’s just that the clouds block it out. Get in a plane and fly out of the LA Basin, and you’ll see the blue above the layer of puffy gray. But even those who haven’t flown in a plane above the clouds believe the blue sky is still there. It was there before, so the fact that we can’t actually see it right now doesn’t dissuade us from believing we’ll see it again. If not tomorrow or the next day, then surely by July or August when the gray and gloom dissolve into the dog days of summer.

We’re operating, you see, on prior experience. We enjoyed the blue sky before, so we know it exists. That I’m not able to see it today in no way shakes my belief that the sky is indeed blue. The sky has not changed. What’s changed is the presence of clouds that block my view.

How like God the blue sky is. He showed Himself unveiled in creation and again in the Incarnation, so we can know He is present. From time to time He breaks through the clouds of sin that surround us and shines His love and majesty and grace and kindness and forgiveness into our lives. But even if He does so with such infrequency we wonder if we really saw what we think we saw, His revelation and the witness of Scripture affirms His presence.

He is, in fact, I AM, the self-existent One. He is — whether we are or not, whether we believe He is or not, whether we see Him or not. Simply put, He is in no way dependent upon us. He is complete in Himself, content, self-contained, in need of nothing. We can not add to Him or take away any of His value. His love is not diminished no matter how much He gives it away. Neither is His mercy or goodness or righteousness or any other quality that is His.

He is as the expanse of blue stretching as far as the east is from the west, unaltered by the fog that lies at His feet, that buries all of Mankind in the gloom it creates.

For some reason, Perfection, Completeness, Wholeness, Immortality, reaches down to marred, sketchy, broken, mortals. He says it’s because of love He wishes to give freely. We have nothing that He needs, remember. And yet He wants us. We can’t enhance His life, but He takes pleasure in our obedience.

That He chooses us to be holy and beloved, that He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light is simply jaw-dropping. How can we understand His willingness to do away with our May Gray, our June Gloom forever? We can’t. All we can do is accept it, and maybe cling to His feet, and offer Him our lives out of the joy and gratefulness we experience now that we’re out from under the clouds.

Published in: on May 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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