If the world hates you

The world. Unredeemed society, estranged from God, held in the grip of sin and the evil one, blind to spiritual truth and hostile to those who have the life of God in them… Hostility is rooted in spiritual dissimilarity.

Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

More and more, it would seem, the world hates the Church. I don’t believe that it is so much because we carry a message of hate—our message is quite the opposite—but that they do not understand our message. It’s different than what they’ve been told to think. Talk to anyone who is militantly against faith in Christ. More often than not, they don’t even know why they carry so much anger or hatred nor do they know enough of the Bible to make any relevant argument against the faith.

As frustrating as this can be to Christians around the world, Jesus gave us fair warning.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, That is why the world hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NIV)

People fear what they do not know and that fear can easily be turned into hatred. A child may claim that he hates all vegetables. As it is unlikely that he has tried every vegetable in existence, it can be assumed that their conclusion of dislike for all produce stems from either a bad experience with vegetables or a fear of the unknown. That which hasn’t been sampled can seem strange and different and uncomfortable.

The world’s ignorance is the true cause of its hatred to the disciples of Jesus. The clearer and fuller the discoveries of the grace and truth of Christ, the greater is our sin if we do not love him and believe in him.

Matthew Henry

The mention of Jesus, however, elicits a far stronger reaction than broccoli. Most people who claim to hate Jesus along with those who follow him really know nothing about him and what he really taught. Their opinions are often based on hearsay or that one bad experience. Because we don’t share common values or beliefs, we all become like vegetables—hated for no other reason than being a vegetable, or in our case, Christians.

There are those who believe that, if Christians would just act more like the rest of the world, it would be better. Wrong. It wouldn’t be better. Jesus called us out of the world. We shouldn’t look like the world. That’s like a mother mashing cauliflower and carrots into the potatoes to make her kid eat vegetables. Sure, the cauliflower is still cauliflower and the carrots are still carrots, but they’ve been blended in with the potatoes so much, you can no longer tell what’s what. The original substance, texture, shape, and flavour has all been lost.

How did Jesus respond to the haters? He loved them. It is our love for one another and our love for the world that sets us apart.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 17-19, John 15

The Word

The first five verses of John’s Gospel may very well be my favourite verses in all of scripture. One could study them for a whole year and still not grasp the full weight and complexity of their meaning. Previously, I’ve been focused on the Light, but today, the Word jumped out at me.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1 (NIV)

Revelation 19:13 speaks of Jesus and his name is the Word of God. So, one could read the first verse of John like this:

In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.

If Jesus is the Word of God, what does the Bible have to say about the Word?

…so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

In this context, Jesus had to give himself up as a sacrifice for our sins because that is what he was sent to do. And if God’s Word, Jesus, will accomplish what God desires, Jesus had to achieve the purpose for which he was sent.

For me, this is another one of those big revelations that needs time to roll around and fully form. Read these verses again for yourself and see what God is speaking to you through His Word.

Read: 1 Kings 14-15, John 1:1-28

Losers

I think it would be fair to say that most of us do not relish being losers. We all want to win. At everything. But there are some cases in which losing will gain us far more than winning ever will.

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

Luke 21:12-19 (NIV)

Anyone who tells you that life as a Christian will be sunshine and roses is a liar. The Bible makes no guarantees that, once we put our faith in Christ, our lives will be stretched out before us like a freshly paved highway on the prairie. It’s more like a narrow path through rock, jungle, desert, and ocean. In just a few statements Jesus told his followers that they will be betrayed by those closest to them, that they will be hated, and that they may even die. But don’t worry, not a hair of your head will perish!

Though we may be losers for Christ, we shall not, we cannot be losers by him, in the end.

Matthew Henry

To those new to the faith, it may seem that Jesus is asking a lot of us. Maybe too much. He’s asking for our lives. If we don’t fully understand the benefits that are afforded to us as believers, we may well be unwilling to do all that Christ asks of us.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)

For one who has only faith in themself, it is difficult to understand how a follower of Christ could be so willing to give up everything—become a loser—for someone who existed thousands of years ago. But even in the face of complete and utter loss in this life, we have gained far more than they can ever know unless they, too, come to an understanding of the grace by which we stand. We have already won because Jesus has already won. Christ has already defeated the one thing which the world cannot—death. And because we are in Christ, we have already won as well.

Losers in this life we may be, but we have already gained everything in the next.

Read: 2 Samuel 17-18, Luke 21:1-19

Sovereign

SOVEREIGN: Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion.

I doubt many of us have anyone in our lives we’d consider to be supreme in power or possessing supreme dominion. And most of us would probably like to keep it that way. But one man, a very long time ago, recognised someone as supreme—sovereign.

What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.

2 Samuel 7:20 (NIV)

This wasn’t the only time David referred to God as Sovereign Lord, either. Seven times in this passage, David repeats the moniker.

Maybe you’re a believer in the meaning behind numbers in the Bible, maybe you’re not. But no matter how you put it, saying something seven times over the span of eleven verses seems rather significant, and maybe more so because of the importance of the number seven.

Seven, you see, is the number of completion or spiritual perfection. We see it first in Genesis. On the seventh day, God rested because creation was complete. In the account of David, God has just announced to the king though the prophet, Nathan, that David’s kingdom will endure forever. God has made an everlasting covenant, a covenant that will never be broken. That’s some pretty weighty news for a man who was anointed king as a shepherd boy in the field.

David responds by referring to God as Sovereign Lord, acknowledging God’s supreme dominion over him. For many men, news that their lineage would last forever could have gone straight to their heads. But not David.

Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.

2 Samuel 7:25b-26 (NIV)

Hundreds of years before Jesus arrived on the earth, God’s covenant with man was made and acknowledged to be complete by the man with whom the covenant was made. David couldn’t have known that his lineage wouldn’t sit on an earthly throne forever. Nor could he have known that God Himself would plant a seed in one of his descendants. A seed that would grow up to be known as the Son of David.

God, though, being sovereign, knew exactly what He was doing when He made such a great promise to David. He set in motion an extravagant plan to save mankind from their sinfulness. Unlike David, God knew that the man with whom He made a covenant would stumble and fall. So would his son who succeeded him on the throne. And so would countless others in the long line of King David.

Yet it wasn’t so much the obedience that God was looking for—He knew the standards He set before men were impossible to keep, but He was looking for willing humility.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.

Psalm 149:4 (NIV)

David’s humility earned him a crown which led to salvation for all. Like David, we can never know the far reaching effects of our willingness to set ourselves aside and acknowledge God as Sovereign Lord, supreme in power. The best that we can do is humble ourselves before the Lord, accept what He has so freely given to us, and continue to chase after his heart like David did.

Read: 2 Samuel 7-9, Luke 19:1-28

Waiting room

Sometimes life, for all it’s hurry, seems like a long stint in a waiting room. When you’re a kid, you wait to grow up. When you grow up, you wait to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. When you’ve found that person, you wait to start a family. And those are just the big things. We wait for bedtime. We wait for the alarm clock to ring. We wait to start work and we wait to finish work. We wait at lights and stop signs, checkouts and check-ins. And in all that waiting, what are we really doing?

Israel had waited a long time to obtain their promise. When God sent Moses to get them out of Egypt, it should have just been a few weeks at most before their arrival in the land of milk and honey. Instead, it was over forty years. And that was just to get across the river! There was a lot more waiting involved once they crossed over. By this time Joshua, a young man when he was first sent to scout out the land, was old. He’d seen a lot in his day. He’d led Israel into their promise and fought with them to take hold of it. And after all that waiting, Israel still waited.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

Joshua 18:3 (NIV)

Here Israel stood, in their promise. And they stood around waiting to take hold of it. They got exactly what God told them He would give them and still they waited.

This week, Major League Baseball begins a new season. My team is the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve followed the team all through the off season and have watched as many spring training games as have been aired on television. I know that there were some pretty major trades since the fall. I know some players got healthy, while others will begin the season on the disabled list. I also know that, through the spring, the coaches and trainers have worked with all of the players to make sure that they’re in the best shape they can be, that they know their roles on the team, and know the plan for the team in the season ahead. They’re prepared.

Let’s say that opening day arrives and the Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. Pitcher J. Happ takes the mound and the first Yankee in the lineup steps up to the plate. The Jays stand in the middle of the field as though they have no idea what’s going on.

Joshua must have felt like the manager of such a team. All that time, preparation, and waiting led them to where they were and then they waited while all that time, they could have been taking possession of a fruitful land!

I bet God feels that way with us sometimes. He’s given us everything we need to succeed. We have what we need to see His many promises come to pass. But most of us sit waiting for something to magically happen.

I understand that some people may be waiting for a word from the Lord regarding a specific situation, but that’s no excuse to put everything else on hold. The Bible is our rulebook, playbook, and instruction manual all in one. It has guidelines on how we should live, methods on how we can do it, and practical examples of how others were able to accomplish it.

We can add to all of the waiting we must already endure or we can take Jesus’ lead and go out and take hold of God’s promises for us. The Blue Jays are going to do everything they can to win the World Series this year. They’re not going to wait for it to come to them, because it won’t. It takes hard work, endurance, and determination. The same went for Israel as they took the Promised Land. And the same goes for us if we want to see God move on our behalf.

Read: Joshua 116-18, Luke 5:1-16

Lessons learned

There are many ways that people learn. Some learn in certain ways better than others or by a combination of methods. Some of these methods are:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. hearing

I was homeschooled in my early years. Once I could read on my own, I could go off, read my lessons, and complete my assignments. I still love learning through reading.

Once I began public school, I learned that not everyone could be so easily self-taught. Some of my peers struggled through silent reading time. There were kids in my class who had to hear the lesson in order to retain the information. And there were students who had to repeat main points back to the teacher to ensure that they grasped the concept. And there were some still who used a combination of these things, as well as others, to learn.

In the days of Moses and Joshua, silent reading was almost unheard of. When the Book of the Law was read, it was read aloud.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Do you know that only 19 percent of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily? (A Christian is considered to be churchgoing by attending church just 3 of 8 weeks.) It is no wonder that the Word of God has so little power in our lives.

Consider this, if every professing Christian were to read a portion of the Bible every day, how would you expect the world to change? If we all read the scriptures out loud, would there be even greater change?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If just over 7 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily, it is no wonder the church has lost its influence on society. It is no wonder we are perceived as weak hypocrites.

There is a reason why God was so emphatic about Joshua keeping the Book of the Law near him.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

Our success, both personally and as the body of Christ, I believe, is based entirely on our grasp of the Word of God. Most Christians have never seen a move of God. They don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like because they’ve never read or heard about it. The more I read about all that God has done, all the miracles Jesus performed, the power that came with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the more I crave those things. I yearn to see God move the way He did in the days of the early church.

Our mouths are required for a move of God. We need to open up our mouths and pray. We need to speak the Word of God with boldness and courage. We won’t see the Word come to pass until the Word passes our lips.

Read: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80

They are your life

They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Deuteronomy 32:47 (NIV)

How often do we read through the Bible and see nothing but words on a page, a combination of letters, spaces, and punctuation that may or may not carry any meaning for us? God did not merely say a bunch of things so that we could have a big book of nice platitudes. He gave us, through His word, life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

John 1:1-4 (NIV)

Far more than just ink on a page, the Word of God can bring life to us. It can bring hope in a hopeless situation. It can bring joy in sorrow. It can be light in the darkness. God’s words are never just words, they are your life.

And the closer we keep those words to us, the more effective they will be for us.

No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Deuteronomy 30:14 (NIV)

Neither God, who is life, nor His words, that bring life, are far from us in any moment.

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

God, and the life we receive through his Word, are never out of reach.

Read: Deuteronomy 31-32, Luke 1:1-23

A response

Read: Numbers 34-36, Mark 10:32-52

Do you ever read a verse or two in the Bible and think, I’ve read this somewhere before… For me, today was one of those days. As I read through the account of blind Bartimaeus in Mark, I was reminded of another passage in scripture. And no, it wasn’t someone else’s account of the same man. It was in Hebrews and it feels like a response to the account in Mark. Let me show you what I found.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…

Hebrews 12:1a (NIV)

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd…

Mark 10:46a (NIV)

I understand that Hebrews is referring to all of those great men and women of the faith that have gone before us, but the crowd in Mark also served as witnesses. Some didn’t feel that Bartimaeus deserved Jesus’ attention, but others did.

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Mark 10:48-49 (NIV)

Without these people who encouraged him, Bartimaeus would never have experienced what happened next. The passage wouldn’t even be in the Gospels. How inconsequential would a man calling after Jesus be? I’m sure it happened all the time. But because this beggar was surrounded by those who had already seen or experienced Jesus, we have his story to tell.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and thes in that so easily entangles.

Hebrews 12:1b (NIV)

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

Mark 10:50 (NIV)

Throw, throwing, both of these words come from the same root that mean to get away from. The implication is that it wasn’t a slothful trod away from hindrance, but a sudden casting away from that which may entangle a person. It is likely that Bartimaeus would not have been able to jump up had he remained wrapped up in his cloak. But because he didn’t want to lose his chance at speaking with Jesus, he tossed it aside and got away from it.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2a (NIV)

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

Mark 10:51b (NIV)

One translation goes so far to say, “That I may see thee.” Bartimaeus didn’t just want to see, he wanted to see Jesus.

…and let us run with perseverance the race marked for us.

Hebrews 12:1c (NIV)

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:52b (NIV)

Many Christians are under the impression that we must be trailblazers, crashing ahead, clearing a path that has yet to be trod. Never once did Jesus tell his followers to go somewhere he’d never been or do something he’d never done. Bartimaeus got up and followed Jesus. The writer in Hebrews tells us to run the race that’s been marked for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

Jesus already blazed the trail with his suffering. He marked it with his blood. It is through our faith—that begins and ends with Christ—that we see that road before us. And, like Bartimaeus, we must refuse to give in to those who would shut us up or discourage us from receiving that which we’ve been promised, cast away anything that might hold us back, jump up, declare what we want from Jesus, and follow him.

The name game

Read: Numbers 18-20, Mark 7:1-13

What’s a name? Is it just something we call ourselves to differentiate us from others? Is it part of our identity? Is it our entire identity? Do our names make us who we are or do we define our names? We use names lightly and we take them seriously. They become associations and labels. They let others know who we are, what we do, and where we belong. Names can lift people up or tear them down. They can be forever or they can be for convenience.

Several groups in the Bible had some issues with their names. They assumed a name, but rejected the identity that went along with the name.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here?”

Numbers 20:2-4 (NIV)

In one sentence, the spokesperson for Israel both declares them to be a nation belonging to God and a nation who rejects God. They had just gone through the whole ordeal of having proven Moses and Aaron as leaders of the nation, yet the people still weren’t pleased. They liked to remember and point out their status as God’s children, but quickly forgot all He had done for them and all they had done in disobedience to Him.

Jesus also encountered a group of people who used their name for status and wealth.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)

For both the Israelites and the Pharisees, it suited them to be associated with God. It was helpful and beneficial to assume a relationship with the name of the Lord, but that’s all it was—a nominal association.

Sound familiar? Who hasn’t met a person who call themself a Christian, but like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, merely honours God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him?

CHRISTIAN: A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.

Being a Christian is far more than assuming a name. In the early days of the church, to bear the name of Christ meant a constant threat of painful death. Followers of The Way were all to aware of the consequences of those they associated with, yet they took the name anyway, giving themselves completely to the cause of Christ.

Few of us regularly consider why we even call ourselves Christians. We simply are. Do we take the time to meditate on what that really means? Or do we use the name because it is useful to us? We should all consider our purpose and reason for bearing the name of Christ. We must determine if our claim to Christ is one of convenience or commitment.

Square peg

Read: Number 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

You may have heard the term, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, those corners are not going to magically round off so that the square peg can fit into a circle. Sometimes, the way we minister is the square peg and those we’re ministering to are the round hole. No matter what you say or how you say it, the message isn’t going to get through. Jesus had some advice for his disciples for such a time as this.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

Mark 6:11 (NIV)

As I’ve been turning this verse over in my mind throughout the day, I’ve come to several conclusions.

  1. This is not an excuse to leave when things get difficult. There is a difference between difficult and not being received altogether. Sometimes ministry—our Christian lives—is hard. A lot of the time it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we’re just supposed to give up. Welcome and comfort are not always equal. My pastor said this morning that complacency is the greatest stifler of the church. When we get all cozy, we do nothing.
  2. Leaving someone or some place that doesn’t welcome you is not giving up. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to stay in one place until everyone accepted the Good News. He didn’t expect them to stay in an unwelcome place. He wanted them to be where the Gospel would be received.
  3. The Gospel spreads faster where it is welcome. Our Great Commission as believers is to share the Gospel with every nation. That doesn’t mean we have to start with the hardest ones first. I think Jesus actually wanted his disciples to start with the easy ones. Do you want to know why? More people get saved in the easy ones and the more people who are saved, the more people will get saved. I believe that some of those cities who scoffed at the disciples, after hearing of the miracles that followed them wished they’d have been more welcoming.

Mark 6-12-13.jpg

The disciples went where they were welcome, where they were made to fit. They didn’t stick around as square pegs in a round hole trying to make something work.

If God has told you to be where you are, stay. I don’t want to tell someone that, because something is hard, they should leave. Sometimes God asks us to stick around through very difficult situations and I believe that He can and will work through them.

And I’m also not saying that the path of least resistance is the one we should all be taking. The Bible is full of seemingly contradictory teaching and it is up to us to read through it carefully and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is right for each of us.

Sometimes that peg will never fit. Sometimes the peg needs to be whittled down to fit. Sometimes the hole need to be chiseled to accommodate. And sometimes, we just need to light it all on fire with the power of the Gospel.