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 second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Weed the worry

Read: Numbers 5-6, Mark 4:1-20

Most of us have heard or read the parable of the sower more times than we can count. From Sunday school through to Sunday sermons, if you grew up in church, you’ve been aware of this story of Jesus’ for most of you life. If we had to place ourselves in a portion of the story, the majority of us would be tempted to claim the good ground. But if we’re telling the truth, we’ve probably all had more experience in the other kinds of soil than we’d like to publicly admit. Today, let’s talk about the thorns.

Mark 4-18-19.jpg

First, what is worry?

WORRY: To tease; to trouble; to harass with importunity (pressing solicitation; urgent request, application for a claim or favor, which is urged with troublesome frequency or pertinacity), or with care and anxiety.

Whom of us can claim that we have never worried and will never worry again? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If we’re alive, we’re bound to worry about something. Parents worry about their children. Some worry about how to pay the bills or where to find the next meal. Some worry about succeeding, others failure. Some worry about grades. Others still, worry about being alone while some worry about staying together.

We may not be able to stop the worry altogether, but we do have the ability to control it when it comes.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

Jesus compared worry to thorns. Weeds. Unwanted growth.

Say you plant a garden. You pick a spot with plenty of sun. It is close to a water source, yet it drains well. You’ve added soil and done all that you can to ensure a fruitful garden. You pick your seeds and plan your plots. Once the seeds are in the ground, you are careful to water, but not too much. You shoo away birds that would snatch the seeds or cats that would disturb your neat rows. Before too long, your little seeds start to sprout. Row by row little bright green leaves peek through the dark soil. But wait! That one isn’t in line! It doesn’t look like a cucumber or carrot. It’s a weed. What are you going to do about it?

Most of us accept worry as a part of life. It just is. It can’t be helped. But if it can’t be helped, why would Jesus tell us not to do it?

Like your carefully planned garden, worry, like a weed, can be uprooted. It can be removed and tossed away to die. No one wanting the largest harvest possible will stand for weeds sucking up all the nutrients from the soil and choking out the productive plants. Those weeds need to go. So does worry.

Even the best-prepared soil can sprout weeds. But the diligent gardener will remove them before any damage is done.

Don’t entertain worry. There is no benefit in it. Worry takes our focus away from those things which have already been promised to us. And not only that, but it implies that our trust in God is not implicit.

Worry generally stems from a fear of lack, not having enough or not being enough. So when that little thorny sprout shows up, you remind it who’s the boss. Pull it up and cast it away with this promise:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

Never be ashamed

If you’re afraid of the dark, if you’ve encountered a scary situation, if you can’t seem to put your mind at ease, 2 Timothy 1:7 may have been a verse that came to mind or one that someone has given to you. I don’t want to burst your bubble—because we shouldn’t be fearful when God is on our side—but in context, that verse really doesn’t have much to do with being afraid and has more to do with being bold.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

That’s a great verse and I know it’s helped many get through some pretty intense situations, but take a look at what Paul tells Timothy next.

So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

2 Timothy 1:8 (NLT)

That doesn’t sound much like Timothy was struggling with night terrors or paranoia. It sounds as though Timothy was having trouble finding his voice when it came to sharing the Gospel.

I don’t want to make light of those who genuinely deal with fear. It’s something we all deal with at times in our lives, but I want to be sure that we really understand what these verses are talking about.

Preceding these passages, Paul reminds Timothy to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him. Then he tells him that God hasn’t given him a spirit of fear.

God has given all of us—yes all—spiritual gifts. And sometimes it can be difficult to step out in these gifts. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed God? What if someone makes fun of me? What if people don’t understand? There is nothing wrong with having these questions. The error comes when we allow them to control when and how we use the gifts God has given us. This is why Paul tells Timothy not to fear. He says, I am not ashamed, because I know Jesus, the One in whom I have believed (NCV).

There is a boldness that comes when we know Christ, I mean really know Christ. He gives us the power, love, and self-discipline to step out in the gifts that he has given to us. And then it is up to us to use, to refine, and to protect those gifts.

Protect the truth that you were given; protect it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:14 (NCV)

The more you use your gift—whatever that gift may be—the more confident you will become in it. Never be ashamed to use what God has given you, but be confident in the One who gave it to you.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 20-22, 2 Timothy 1

Walking contradiction

The life of a Christian is full of contradictions. To the world, it would make no sense at all, but to the born again believer, it makes perfect sense. Die so you can live. Bind yourself so you can be free. Fear God so you fear nothing else.

The Lord said to me in the strongest terms: “Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind close doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy one. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else.

Isaiah 8:11-13 (NLT)

When we have a proper, holy fear of God, there is no room for any other fear. In fact, the fear of God rejects all other fear completely.

FEAR: holy awe or reverence of God and his laws, which springs from a just view and real love of the divine character, leading the subjects of it to hate and shun everything that can offend such a holy being, and inclining them to aim at perfect obedience

Paul, like God, spoke to the church in Galatia in strong terms.

Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things.

Galatians 4:12a (NLT)

What things? The things of the law. Paul pleaded with the church to let go of the law that holds us back from the freedom that can only be found through a personal relationship with Christ. But we must wholly bind ourselves to that relationship. And that’s what faith truly is.

FAITH: to persuade, to draw towards any thing; to conciliate (to draw or bring together, to unite, to call; the primary sense of the root is to strain, to stretch, drive or draw); to believe, to obey.

Our faith in Christ draws us to him and to the Father. True faith stretches and strains toward the Truth, leaving all else behind—shunning everything that can offend God. Our fear—respect and reverence—for God leads us away from all other fear and through faith, calls us toward and unites us with perfect love which, we know, casts out all fear.

To try to understand all this through our human nature is futile. It can only be learned as we grow in our relationship with God and through divine revelation as as result of that relationship. So don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense right away. The important thing is to keep at it.

Don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

Romans 12:2a (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 7-9, Galatians 4

In conclusion

As we come to the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, some may be left with the idea that, since nothing seems to really matter, we should just live our lives in pursuit of personal pleasure.

“All is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “utterly meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 12:8 (NLT)

There’s nothing like a bit of encouragement from the Teacher (largely presumed to be Solomon) first thing in the morning. If everything still to come is meaningless (11:8), why bother trying to do good? Why should we help other people when we can help ourselves? Because it is our duty—not as Christians, but as human beings.

Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NLT)

As soon as someone tells me that I have to do something, I suddenly don’t want to do it whether it’s good or not. Words like fear and obey are often not see in the best of light and we tend to not want to comply when they’re thrust at us. If you’ve been following along in your daily Bible reading, though, you’ll have already come across hundreds of reasons why fearing God and obeying His commands are really good things.

Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom…

Proverbs 15:33 (NLT)

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge…

Proverbs 1:7 (NLT)

Fear of the Lord leads to life…

Proverbs 19:23 (NLT)

Life. Wisdom. Knowledge. Who doesn’t want those? We should fear the Lord. And not just out of duty, but because we want to.

And what about obedience?

Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.

Psalm 112:1 (NLT)

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

John 15:10 (NLT)

Joy! Love! We could go on all day about the benefits of fearing God and obeying His commands. It may be our duty, but it is also to our benefit to do so. If the wisest man who ever lived concluded that we should do these things, perhaps there’s something to it.

Daily Bible reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12, 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Be that hero!

Who’s your hero? Are you into super heros? Maybe Superman or Iron Man or Captain America. Maybe it’s the quarterback from your favourite football team or that awesome guitar player from your favourite band. Maybe it’s the writer of those books you can never seem to put down or even the character in those books. Whoever it is, you probably have a hero of some sort.

But what is a hero really?

HERO: A man or woman of distinguished valor, intrepidity or enterprise in danger; a great illustrious or extraordinary person.

In all of our admiring of great athletes, musicians, super heroes, and artists, do we take the time to admire another kind of extraordinary person?

The godly people in the land
are my true heros!
I take pleasure in them.

Psalm 16:3 (NLT)

These are the people who are truly deserving of our admiration. I can honestly say that I’ve got a few of these heros in my life.

The woman in Mexico who works two jobs to feed a bunch of kids that aren’t even hers. The young woman in Zambia who left her comfortable life behind to teach. The family who moved to Michigan to befriend a Muslim community. The single mom who’s teaching her boys to love, serve, and fear the Lord. The pastor who works on his day off just to be sure the job gets done.

These people are true heroes. They are each great and extraordinary in their own way. And they are all godly people. It is these kinds of people who are worthy of our praise and admiration. These are the people we should seek to emulate.

Let’s face it, you’re not and orphan from Krypton. You’re never going to make a flying suit and save the world. And I doubt you’ve never spent the better part of a century entombed in ice after being a guinea pig in a secret government science project. But you can do little things every day that make you a hero in the eyes of someone. In the words of Larry Boy, be that hero!

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 13-16, Acts 18