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

He was found

They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the Lord with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Juda rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.

2 Chronicles 15:12-15 (NIV)

I am amazed at the intensity with which Judah swore their oath to seek God. We’re not used to such excitement when it comes to commitment. Most people are consider themselves committed if they’re only five minutes late for church instead of fifteen and then are upset if someone happens to mention their perpetual tardiness. Be glad you weren’t in Judah at the time this covenant was made. You’d have been put to death.

A little much, you think? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. While the penalty for not taking the oath was great, the reward for taking it was even greater. And he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.

We have a bad habit of looking at our faith as deeply personal. It is, don’t get me wrong, but it is not just for us as individuals. Our faith and our commitment to the the Lord is also for the entire body and the entire body is to reach a lost and dying world. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, it was for you and it was for me. But it was also for the church—his bride. His death was meant to bind us all together like Judah’s covenant united them.

While death may not be a bit of an extreme punishment for a lack of commitment these days, we have somehow lost our connection to each other and forgotten the great importance of community and sharing a common covenant. We can all take an oath as individuals and experience a certain amount of peace, but look at the effects Judah’s nationwide oath had on the people—rest on every side. And that rest lasted as long as they kept the oath.

If the church—not just a church, but The Church—would stand up and make a serious covenant not only to seek God with all their heart and soul, but to keep each other accountable to it, imagine the effect it would have on our nation. If God is not found where we are, maybe we’re not seeking Him as eagerly as we thought. But if we would all join together as Judah did in that time of rejoicing over a renewed covenant, perhaps we’d find God along with our rest.

Read: 2 Chronicles 13-16, John 14

30K Giveaway

Yesterday, I made an attempt to win $30,000 from a local radio station. For several weeks I’ve been listening half-interested for three specific songs played consecutively in a specific order. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would miss those three songs while I was at work or in a meeting or at church. That is, until I heard all three songs played consecutively in the correct order while I was on my way home from work. Once I pulled over (it’s not legal here to have a phone in your hands while driving), I dialed the number, several times, and was met with an automated voice each time telling me the number I had dialed was not available. I listened while another caller won the $30,000.

Then I got to thinking. What would I do with $30,000? As it turns out, $30,000 wouldn’t really last very long. With record high gas prices, I suppose I could fill up my car once or twice… While it would be great to be $30,000 wealthier, it wouldn’t really launch me into a new life.

In a dream, God gave Solomon a choice. A big choice. Ask me for anything. Anything. Solomon could have asked for all the riches in the world. He could have asked to conquer the world. He could have asked for the world. But he asked for wisdom.

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

1 Kings 3:10-13 (NIV)

Like Solomon, we have been invited to make requests of God.

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:14 (NIV)

James then tells us what we should be asking for.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who give generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

James 1:5 (NIV)

Sure, we could ask for health and wealth, but like the $30,000, where will that get us a month, a year, a decade from now? Because Solomon asked for wisdom, God gave him everything else. With wisdom comes the ability to make the choices to keep us healthy and make us wealthy.

Wisdom is in low supply. If what is perceived as wisdom is not coming from God, where then does it come from? We have the ability to ask for and receive wisdom, yet how many of us have actually taken advantage of that offer? Instead of asking God to rectify a situation, why not ask for the wisdom to fix it ourselves? Then the next time we find ourselves in a similar place, we’ll be able to repair it ourselves, or perhaps we won’t find ourselves there at all.

Like Solomon drew people from all over the known world, the world should be drawn to godly wisdom. But it has to exist to draw people. So go ahead, ask God. See if He doesn’t keep is word.

Read: 1 Kings 3-5, Luke 23:1-26

Cheap and easy

Have you ever known another Christian who thinks you should do things for or give things to them just because you’re both Christians? Somewhere along the line, a lot of believers got it in their heads that everything should be cheap and easy. Free is even better. We’ve got this idea in our heads that it’s a blessing. Generally, it’s not. It’s cheap. It’s greedy. It’s unbecoming of a group of people who should be known for their generosity, not their ability to rip people off in the name of faith.

David, having grieved the Lord, was instructed to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a certain place. That certain place was a threshing floor belonging to a man named Araunan. Araunan offered everything to David for free.

But the king replied to Araunan, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

David paid for the threshing floor, the wood for the fire, and the oxen to sacrifice. As the king, it probably didn’t break the bank. But he still refused to offer something to God that he didn’t have to pay for.

Centuries later, another sacrifice was required. Like David’s sin needed a sacrifice, our sin, too, needed a sacrifice. Only the payment for our sin was much greater than the purchase of a floor, wood, and ox. The payment required on our behalf was the life of God’s Son.

As Jesus prepared for what he knew he had to do, he let out one last agonising prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Luk 22:42 (NIV)

I cannot imagine the torment Jesus went through during that time in the garden. He knew the physical pain would be unbearable. He knew the weight of the sins of the world would be crushing. And he knew that he would forever be separated from his Father.

These are just two examples, in a book of many, that we are to emulate. Jesus taught on and lived a life of generosity. That practice continued in the early church as Paul writes to commend the church at Philippi.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.

Philippians 4:15 (NIV)

Only one church of many understood the concept of generous giving. The point was not that Paul needed so much (even though he did), but that the church received far more because of their gifts.

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Philippians 4:17-18 (NIV)

David could have very easily accepted the gift Araunan offered to him, but he knew that he needed to pay a price or the sacrifice would not have been his, but Araunan’s. Jesus, too, could have prayed that the cup be passed and stopped there. God may have even allowed it. But Jesus knew a price had to be paid. Paul could have sent the gifts back to Philippi since he had more than enough, but he knew that the church needed to give so that they could receive more.

You see, generosity is not something we should expect from others, but it is something we should expect of ourselves. How much value do you place in something that came cheap and easy? Compare that to something that you paid dearly for.

Someone may or may not have need of what you have to give, but you have far greater need for the space your sacrifice creates in your own life. If you want a blessing, you have to make room for it. If a gift costs you nothing to give, is it really worth giving? What does that say about you? What does that say to the person receiving the gift?

No matter who you give to or what you give, whether it be to the Lord, a brother or sister in Christ, or the homeless person on the street, give generously. Give faithfully. Give as though it’s the first gift you get to give and the last you’ll ever be able to give.

Read: 2 Samuel 23-24, Luke 22:31-53

Amazing grace

Do you ever see yourself in Jesus’ parables? Maybe you’re the widow giving your last few cents. Perhaps you’re the servant who buried and hid what had been given to you for safekeeping. Or you could be the Good Samaritan, giving of yourself to a complete stranger.

Today, I am the brother who stayed at home with the father.

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of those whom God saved from lives of sin and destruction, I think, God, I haven’t experienced that much grace. Why has that person received so much from you, but I haven’t?

You see, I was born and raised in a Christian home. I was four years old when I made a decision for Christ, barely older than that when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and just eight years old when I was water baptised. My parents have both been leaders in the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandfather, until he moved to heaven, was my pastor. I started playing on the worship team when I was twelve, leading worship when I was sixteen, and have never looked back. I have literally lived my life in the church. I am the older brother who stayed home.

For those who have grown up similarly to myself, we see what God has brought some people out of and easily forget, like the older son, that God has given us the very same grace that He’s given to the greatest of sinners. The thing about grace is that it’s amazing no matter how it’s applied.

For me, I have to remind myself that I have been spared a lifetime of memories and regret that come with a worldly life. I have great memories from my childhood of God working in mighty and miraculous ways. Those things are because of amazing grace.

For those who have come to Jesus later in life, or have still yet to come, the grace you receive is just as amazing. While the grace I have received has allowed me to grow up knowing God and His infinite love, the grace you receive allows you to see the extent to which He will go to bring you to Him. The grace you receive covers your life of memories and regret. And you can live the rest of your life knowing that, like the prodigal son, your Father has welcomed you back with open arms.

Grace isn’t only amazing because it saves us from ourselves, it is amazing because it keeps us close to God no matter where we find ourselves in life. And what makes it even more amazing is that it’s the same grace that covers us all.

Read: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32

His harvest

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Luke 10:2 (NIV)

It takes a lot of pressure off of what we do as Christians, as ministers, doing the work of the Lord when we focus on one simple aspect of this verse. We could very easily take it upon ourselves to do all of the work and bring in all of the harvest while worrying about how to plant, water, and grow it as well. But notice that Jesus calls it his harvest field. It is not our duty to worry about anything but bringing it in and praying for more people to help us bring it in.

Not everyone has had a revelation of who God is—they have not yet heard the Gospel, but according to Jesus, many have heard the Gospel and need help taking that final step toward salvation. It is up to the Church to go out and gather these people so that they may develop a deeper relationship with God.

All these things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Luke 10:22 (NIV)

Jesus chose not to reveal himself to the kings and rulers of the day. He revealed himself to the average person. He did not seek to attain political power, but humbly approached the lowly and simple. In doing so, he changed a nation from the bottom up. By the time the rulers discovered who Jesus was and what he was doing, it was too late to stop him.

There is no reason why our ministry now should not reflect what Jesus did in his time on earth. We should pray for our leaders. We should be leaders. But we don’t have to go out looking for the harvest. The harvest, God’s harvest, is among our peers and those with whom we do life with on a daily basis. It is those people we should be talking to, building relationships with, and showing them the love that Christ has already extended to us and to them through us. The harvest is all around us and we are all the workers God has called to bring it in.

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Luke 10:20 (NIV)

As much as we long to (and should) see the power of God in signs and wonders, our greatest joy should be found in the fact that we are the children of God. That joy only grows when we are able to lead others to join us in our heavenly citizenship.

Don’t worry about how to grow the harvest. It’s not yours. Just go out and get it.

Read: Judges 15-17, Luke 10:1-24

A little more action, please.

It is an astonishingly low number of Christians who attend church with any regularity. Even the measure by which we base church attendance is startling—just three of every eight weeks (nineteen church visits annually). One study showed that just 20 percent professing Christians attend church “regularly”. What about the other 80 percent?

Sure, we can all come up with excuses as to why we don’t go to church. The kids had a ball game. It was a rough week, I needed the rest. Church is boring, there’s nothing there for me. I can serve Jesus at home as well as I can at church. Church is full of hypocrites. Have I hit home yet? I could keep going… But I won’t.

If we really break it down to the very root of the issue, most Christians aren’t in church on Sundays because they’re not willing to make the effort. Somehow, we’ve come to the conclusion that church needs to be like everything else—on demand, how we want it, when we want it, now!

But what about those very first believers? How did they feel about gathering together?

[Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those trouble by evil spirits were cured.

Luke 6:17-18 (NIV)

How far are you willing to travel to go to church? How much time are you willing to spend in transit? If there’s traffic, do you decide to stay home and try again next week?

This account takes place near Capernaum. Do you know how far Jerusalem is from Capernaum? 164 kilometres. That’s about 34 hours of walking. Tyre and Sidon would be comparable in distance. The crowds that followed Jesus travelled great distances at great expense. And I hear people complain that a 14 kilometre car ride is too far to go to church.

So what’s the difference between those who followed Jesus as he walked the earth and us now?

Expectation. These people came to hear Jesus. They came to get close to him. They came to touch him. They came to get something from him.

…and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke 6:19 (NIV)

Excitement. Jesus caused a stir everywhere he went. Whether it was by contradicting the Pharisees or raising the dead, he gave the people something to talk about.

Evidence. Not only had people heard of Jesus’ message, but they had seen the evidence of it. Those who had experienced miracles by Jesus’ hand told others who told others who told others. The crowds knew that there was power and that it was a power that could change lives.

Without the first of these three, the second two don’t exist.

We must start with expectation. Very few people who go into church with the thought that it’s going to be another boring service are ever met with anything but. But the majority of those who walk into church expecting to meet Jesus there, do.

A little more action is required on our part. First, we need to get to church. Second, we go with the expectation that will we see God move. Third, we can’t give up.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

This leads me to my final point. When we come with expectation, we will show excitement and see the evidence of our beliefs. When we do these things together as a group of believers, something else happens.

Encouragement. The more you stay away, the less likely you’ll be to return. But the more you show up, the more involved you get, the more relationships you make, the more you’ll want to be there.

There is more purpose in the local church and the gathering of believers together than I can even begin to discuss here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of it.

On your way to church this week (I hope you do go), look forward to it—no matter what did or didn’t happen last week. Expect to receive something from God. Engage with the people around you. Sing along to the music. Maybe even clap along or raise your hands. Pay attention to the words being spoken. Listen for that one thing you can hold on to through the week. Don’t rush off afterward. Ask to be prayed for or pray for someone. Smile and wave to people on your way out. Then try it again next week. Do it for a month. See if all those ideas about church are really true or were simply made true by your own attitude and expectations.

Read: Joshua 21-22, Luke 6:1-26