Life Lessons

Love the Haters

God absolutely delights in using His Word to chisel away at our hardness. It amazes me that whenever I am facing a perceived trial that the words of scripture seem to leap more boldly from pages.

I have recently been put into a position where I will be dealing with some abrasive people.    You don’t need me to tell you that some people are characterized by rudeness and even hostility.  We all encounter them from time to time.  To be around miserable and nasty personalities is not something I ever asked for, but it’s where I am right now.   The condescending treatment, the harsh attitudes, the abusive speech… who needs that kind of stress?!  Wouldn’t it be great to just coast through my days without having to encounter people like this?

So then there’s God’s impeccable timing:  in my reading and meditating time just a few days ago, I came to the section in Matthew 5:43-48… a familiar passage in the Sermon on the Mount:  

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

 "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

“If you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  

Jesus’s commands in this passage tore through my heart like a tornado in trailer court. Now it’s not like I’ve ever been persecuted to the point of having my eyes gouged out or my fingers cut off.  I have never been in fear for my life by hostile people.   But loving someone who is nasty is just not something that lands at the top of my Christian to-do list.  This group of verses, at least from my perspective, is some of the hardest of the Lord’s expectations of us.  Jesus says to love them. "Seriously?! You want me to actually ‘love’ them?"  And not some passive sort of ‘like’ or ‘tolerance’.   This love He’s talking about is a self-sacrificing, warm, caring love and concern directed toward the one that I would consider my enemy.  And it’s not a suggestion or recommendation. This is a command from Jesus Himself. A strong imperative! That is sooooo totally antithetical to every fleshly cell in my body.  With every ounce of strength in my being, I want to do the opposite.  "Can’t I just defend my honor and be snarky and sarcastic?  I have dignity, you know! Nobody is going to treat me like that!”  

But instead, in this greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus says I am to love my enemies the way God loves them.  He extends His kindness to everyone by giving sunshine and rain to the righteous and to the evil at the same time. Why? Because He loves them.  

It is the way of Jesus that His followers would be distinct… and it is our love for our enemies that makes us distinct.  Who does such a thing?  While everyone else may respond harshly to abrasiveness, true believers will be the ones who respond with love.  And not only that, but we will be the ones wearing out the knees in our favorite jeans, on the floor in serious prayer.  

As I thought through these verses in a new and fresh way, the twisted metal of my hard-heartedness toward those who need Christ lie piled up in a heap as I asked God for strength to make me a brighter light in the darkness.  May the Lord forgive my negligence in praying for these people and give me a renewed vigor to beseech Him on their behalf.   As committed believers and as a church, may these soul-and-spirit-piercing passages awaken us all from our slumber to be in fervent prayer for those in need of salvation.   Prayer changes us.  When the content of our prayers relates to how we respond to the haters, God will implant within us a capacity to love those who are difficult to love.  Genuine love has a way of building a strong platform from where we will be heard.   From an earthly standpoint, effectively sharing the gospel depends on this (speaking the truth in love).  Nobody ever said that loving difficult people was going to be easy… but God has given us His Spirit… and His Spirit gives us the strength to do hard things.

May God grant you many blessings,

Mark

Those aren’t Cade’s rules.

Our kids recently got involved with an ice hockey league. My 10-year old (Cade) has been especially loving it. Now that he learned how to skate (kind of), he has started learning stick handling and shooting the puck.

At dinner time, talking about his accomplishments to date in his short career (one month, as of this writing), Cade said, “I got a lot of goals!”

Erin explained that the puck has to go into the goal for the goal to actually count. Cade answered, “No, if it goes in the goal, or off the side, or off the post, it counts as a goal.”

I interjected, “No, buddy, it has to cross the goal line to count.” To which he objected, “No it doesn’t.”

I said, “Well it does according to the rules used by all hockey players everywhere!”

He put his head down, softly and defiantly replied, “Those aren’t Cade’s rules.

He’s 10. At this point he knows as much about hockey as I know about this "Pokemon Go" thing (next to nothing). But something about the way he said that last line sounded a familiar bell that man has been deceiving himself with since the devil lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden. In his damning sales pitch to get Adam and Eve to transgress, one of Satan’s promises (lies) was that eating from the forbidden tree will make mankind “like God” (Genesis 3:5). Your eyes will be opened. You will know good and evil. Horrible deception.

I have to wonder how much impact those 5 little words made on the minds of the First Couple. “You will be like God”.

The truth is nothing and nobody is like God – never was, never will be. Yet we find ourselves in the mess we are in because Adam and Eve took the bait. And how enticing are those words...? I will be like God, I will be like God, I will be like God.

The Sovereign Almighty of the Universe has created a world with “rules” and has already established the “rules” for us in His commands: Love God with our heart, soul, mind, strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Forgive others. Serve sacrificially. Help the needy.

And in our moments of defiance, when we persist in self-centered sin, in our bid to be like God, we hear God’s Word clearly but want to be a god unto ourselves. We put our heads down and say, “Those aren’t MY rules.”

If you are sitting on the throne of your own life right now, it’s time to get off and allow Jesus His rightful place. You will never be like God, and living by “your rules” isn’t going to take you very far.

Just ask Adam and Eve. Or Cade, when he finally has his first real hockey game.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. -1John 2:4-6

Pastor Jeff

-Who is on your throne?

Jesus said, "Let the Evildoer Still Do Evil." (Wait, JESUS said that?!)

It’s hard to watch the news as a Christian sometimes.

Another 10 Commandment Monument removed. Atheist victory.

Another law passed to impose the will of LGBT. Gender is what you make it. Bathrooms are multiple choice.

Another ISIS attack. Video posted on YouTube.

Another debate over abortion. And while children are slaughtered in utero, our hearts mourn a gorilla.

We live in a day of rampant immorality, and often Christians can be guilty of going into wrong mindsets:

Despair: “The world is going worse and worse. What are we going to do?! What can turn this ship around?!” Yes, the world is going to get a lot worse before it gets perfectly better – as advertised (John 16:33).

Hatred: Just as we saw (in our 6/5 message) Stephen show grace to the people who were murdering him (Acts 7:60), we, too, must ask God to fill our hearts with love, even for those who hate us. Jesus commanded this (Matthew 5:44)! Yet, too often, our response is hatred. “Can’t wait until God casts those people straight into hell.” Even God Himself doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) but desires all men (people) to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

Indifference: “Well, nothing we can do about it. I’ll just mind my own business. Doesn’t really affect me.“ Yes, it does. Because you have the answer. Can you turn a blind eye? If the Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed you, why do you think it lacks the power to change them? You are an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) – God has chosen you to share the love and Gospel of Jesus with the world. You are like a doctor walking around with the cure to an illness that afflicts everyone who has not taken that cure! Can you really keep it to yourself while people die from the illness?

Wrong solutions: “We just need to elect the right politicians. The wrong politicians in office will mean certain doom for the church.” While you should vote, and yes, let’s acknowledge that some seem more detrimental to the mission on the surface... but God is not limited by who is in office. In Acts 8:1-8, we saw God actually used persecution to advance the church! We must look to God's Word - not to Washington DC - for answers.

Jesus has a Word. Actually, it’s how the Bible ends. You would think as God completes His book that He worked on for more than 1500 years, He would speak some impactful words to close the Canon. And He does.

Revelation 22:10-13 – And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

“Let the evildoer still do evil”? What is that all about? Is Jesus telling sinners to sin?

He is. Jesus is saying, “Keep it up. Sin. Go ahead. You want to sin, then sin.”

But the warning follows. “I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me.” So go ahead and sin if that’s what you want more than Me. But know this: I am coming back to “repay each one for what he has done.” The day is coming when every hard hearted act of rebellion will be righteously and permanently judged by the Lord. So you can indulge yourself in the passing pleasures of sin now. Go for it! Live it up! Do whatever you want! But know that it is not going to pay off in the long run. 

And there’s a promise in there for us, too. Let “the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Just as sinners will persistently stay the course, so must we. We must be just as persistent in love, in grace, in evangelism, in standing on the Word, in reaching out to a lost and dying world. And the promise of “recompense according to deeds” is also, gloriously, graciously, given to us.

So choose in what you are going to persist. Because the Lord is taking note. And He is coming to settle accounts.

Pastor Jeff

-for the time is near

Why Are We Talking So Much About Persecution?

Can’t we talk about something nice? Like charity or kittens? This talk of persecution and suffering is a downer!

The easy answer is: we follow the text. But there are more reasons we need to talk about persecution, and they are listed in 1 Peter 4. As promised Sunday, here they are. In case you’re wondering why we are so fired up to share these truths with you from Acts, read Peter’s Holy Spirit-inspired take on the subject.

1 Peter 4:12-19:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

We Are Studying Persecution:

  1. So I Won’t Be Surprised. (1 Peter 4:12) Sometimes Christians seem genuinely shocked when the world acts like the world. Peter says, “Don’t be surprised, like this is a strange thing.” It’s a world that hates Jesus. And if you align with Him, the world hates you, too.
     
  2. So I Will Know How to Respond. (1 Peter 4:13) Like the early church, persecution suffering shouldn’t result in “woe is me, poor me, pity me” attitudes – they should result in rejoicing! A hymn of praise lifted to heaven for this opportunity! How can this be? Read on...
     
  3. So I May Share in the Sufferings of Jesus. (1 Peter 4:13, see also Acts 5:41, Philippians 3:10) It is a glorious truth from God’s Word: suffering isn’t just some unfortunate event. You are actually sharing in the sufferings of Christ! Share in suffering now, rejoice in glory with Him soon. What a marvelous thing to share the life of Christ now AND in eternity!
     
  4. So I May Be a Strong Witness. (1 Peter 4:16, see also 2 Timothy 2:3) Suffering persecution isn’t a season of delay in ministry – it is a new opportunity to glorify God!
     
  5. So I Learn to Trust God in a Deep Way. (1 Peter 4:19) Trusting God when things are hard always teaches us to trust Him in ways we don’t experience when things are smooth. You want to go deeper in your walk with God? It happens when you are persecuted.

We’re going to suffer persecution if we stand for Jesus. Let’s suffer well.