Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blessed are the Hated

What if I told you that great joy is found through being poor, hungry, and sad? Not only would you not believe it, you’d probably laugh! We’ve been so conditioned to think that we are blessed if we are rich, full, and happy. Unfortunately, there are preachers who believe and preach this (and are, by the way, the vast majority (12 of 14) of the wealthiest ministers in America). 
#5: Creflo Dollar. Perfect name!
These prosperity gospel proponents are profoundly wrong. Let’s believe what Jesus said. 

Luke 6:
17And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon… 20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed [happy, fulfilled, completely satisfied regardless of circumstances] are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 24But woe (miserable, pity) to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 21a“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. …25a“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. 21b“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. …25b“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 

Jesus turned the world’s thinking on its ear. Truth is, as the Creator God who became flesh and shared the human experience, he knows. And we would be wise to hear him if we want to find true and lasting blessedness. He invites us to shift our thinking from what the world insists is the way to happiness to what he promises. (get previous weeks' MP3s)

But there is one more. 
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 26“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
There’s no mystery here. No metaphors. No Greek words that need to be explained. You really don’t need me to help you understand this passage (truth is you don’t need me to understand most passages!) It’s completely straightforward. Right off it's obvious that Jesus expects this to happen to all his disciples. He does not say, “blessed are some of you who happen to be poor, hungry, weep..” as the others seem to say, but “blessed are you when people react to you negatively because of me.” Jesus uses the word “when” not “if” as if it is not a matter of “whether” you will face persecution for his sake. It will happen, it’s just a matter of “when.” 

Persecution is a vital part of the Christian experience. Period. Let me show you.

2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To take up one's cross is to suffer greatly before dying. Jesus says this is not optional. In Matthew 10:38, he says, "whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

There are at least 4 ways persecution is vital to Christianity:

• It proves that you really are a Christian and you’re going to heaven. 

Romans 8: 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. ...18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

• It makes you better because it makes you more like Christ.

 1Peter 2: 20But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 
There is nothing that grows us like persecution. It’s when follow him most and are closest to him.

• It gives you a huge platform for influence. 

Philippians 1: 12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear
Did you notice that Paul is excited that his mistreatment is giving him more influence?

John 15:
18“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me they will also persecute you. Did they persecute Jesus? Of course they did, but don’t miss what comes next: If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. Did they? Many who once persecuted became believers, like Paul, absolutely did! The point is, like Jesus, his followers will be persecuted. And as many people listened to Jesus, people will listen to those who are persecuted for their faith! 

• It increases your joy! Yes! Jesus was right! Persecution brings lasting happiness both here and eternally! 

In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul wrote, For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort (parakl─ôsis—consolation) too. We've seen that word! It's the word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit (Comforter), and is used above for the very limited comfort the rich will find by making wealth their god.

1 Peter 4: 12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice [here] and be glad when his glory is revealed [in heaven]. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. …16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

The suffering most of us experience does not compare to that which our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world, but it is still very real. And it is vital to the Christian experience. In fact, I think there is a moment in everyone’s spiritual growth when they realize persecution is an indispensable, inherent part of being a Christian. It's a mile-marker. It is big. It is when you find out your faith is for real. It is when Christ becomes your identity. It changes everything.

I remember when it first happened to me. I was in high school. Although I received Christ at 7, as middle school came, I started looking more like the world. I was a class clown, who loved the girls, sports, and being popular and cool. I knew in my heart that I was a huge hypocrite. Occasionally, I’d try to clean up, but these efforts were short-lived. This pattern continued until my parents divorced. After the initial emotional turmoil settled, I had a clear choice to make: continue in hypocrisy and sin, play both parents to benefit my own interests, or run to God. By God's grace, I ran to God. I determined to stop being a faker. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly become bold with my faith. I simply started genuinely seeking God, reading his Word, and just tried to do what was right. That was a huge challenge for me. I stopped cussing and telling dirty jokes. I changed friend groups. I was messing around with a girl who I liked for all the wrong reasons, and I stopped. I quit going to the parties. That girl and my old friends began to make fun of me. It hurt. I was used to being the one making fun of others. It seriously hurt. I often wanted to take matters back into my own hands and fight someone. Thankfully my father reminded me what Jesus said about persecution. He was proud of me, smiled, and said my persecution was a badge of honor. Another particularly memorable thing was when my English teacher—who had seen a change in my life and knew I was being jeered by my old friends—slipped me an encouraging note in class. That was a huge tipping point in my life. 

Have you had a moment like that? Have your eyes been opened to the fact that persecution is the norm for the Christian life? The converse is also true: if you’re NOT experiencing it, something’s probably wrong. 

The great John Wesley was quite familiar with persecution. While riding between frontier towns on his horse, John Wesley reportedly became concerned when it occurred to him that he had not experienced persecution for three whole...days (did you expect to read years? Or weeks?). This caused him to question whether he was outside of God's will. He got off his horse and began to pray when a man saw the preacher praying outside his town and threw a rock at him (some versions of the story say it was a brick) which barely missed. Wesley looked up and thanked God!

Point is, persecution is the norm, it is the hard, narrow path that follows in the steps of Jesus and leads to heaven. 

There are ditches on either side of this path... 

On one side is the ditch of compromise- This occurs most when you are living to please people, or to not make waves, or to acquiesce and conform to the world. People will love you! These self-proclaimed "Christians" never make people uncomfortable with their lifestyle. In this case, the ditch is easier than the path!

If you're in this ditch, please remember Romans 12:1-2 

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

When you don’t conform…you will inevitably cause people to become aware of their own sin, and they will often not like it. This is why some people hate Christians. They make them aware that there is a God and that their lifestyle is not OK. 

But there’s a ditch on the other side of the path of persecution that leads to heaven. It is victimization. This ditch contains a category of people who range from those who are easily-offended to those have an axe to grind. Some Christians are looking for ways to be offended, like those who get so miffed about the so-called “War on Christmas” or those who post political “culture war”-type-posts on Facebook. This attitude comes from a “we-Christians-have-majority-status-and-deserve-to-be-treated-with-respect” attitude. Some Christians even seem to go so far as to be purposely offensive, they have a martyr complex “chip on their shoulder" and are looking for chances to cry “foul!” To unbelievers they can seem whiny, prideful, hateful, and intolerant. This is NOT what Jesus desires. They make all Christians look bad. 

I was thinking about this while driving to get pizza Saturday. I was asking God how I can illustrate this for today, when I saw this truck which had three flags flying in the bed: an American flag, a Confederate flag, and a Christian flag. Here's a guy making a statement. I'm sure he's a good guy. But what is seen by many is this: Christians are proud racists.
A guy in our church snapped this picture of the same truck I
saw within 24 hours of my mention of it on Sunday morning!
See?! Proof that I don't make this stuff up!
Unfortunately he deserves the dirty looks he probably gets—and no, they are not evidence of persecution. They are understandable expressions of disdain for his ignorance and/or stupidity (I say with all love). As a southern, redneck, American Christian myself, let me beg those of you still fighting the Civil War: Stop it. Quit reminding everyone of a lost war that was fought in part to keep other human beings enslaved! It's dumb. God is not pleased. If you are truly a Christian, let your identity be found in Christ, not some sentimental notion of southern heritage (that's not even accurate, by the way; especially if your heritage is East Tennessee, whose population was 70% for the Union!). 

My point is, you don’t have to go looking for persecution! And you definitely don't need to provoke it. It will come when you simply live in the Spirit. Satan knows you and has a bullseye painted on your back—but "greater is he who is in [you] than he who is in the world"!

So DON’T be a Compromiser. and DON’T have a chip on your shoulder (by being an easily offended, hypersensitive, baiter—provocateur, or kooky Christian). 

Simply be a disciple…a sincere follower of Jesus. Really take what he says to heart and do it. Really live for him. Live LIKE him. And when you meet someone who is caught in a lifestyle of sin, do not judge! LOVE! Remember that you too are a sinner! Remember that God forgives. 

If you simply focus on Christ and live the truly blessed life (as we’ve discussed) You’re going to take shots from two primary sources:

1. People in the world who don’t want to see or hear anything that might make them the least bit uncomfortable about their lifestyle. Their God is themselves, and they are living for THIS world. If your God is the Lord and you’re living for the other world, you delegitimize them without even trying. There is a peace you have that they don’t understand. There is a joy you have that doesn’t depend on stuff, or money, or physical beauty or fame. You don’t have to be offensive! 

2. Others who might claim to be Christians. People who believe they’re believers. “Chad, that’s not what Jesus meant. He meant people in the world.” Au contraire. Did you catch the “Woe?” Jesus said, 26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets

The Old Testament false prophets were popular and well-paid, usually by kings who wanted religious “yes men” to justify their actions. They hated the true prophets who usually had to stand alone on God’s Word. The mainstream “false” religious leaders led their persecution! This is how it was in Jesus’ day! The religious types were his primary enemies! Like then, some now are legalists who are more concerned with do’s and don’ts and outward appearance, than they are with love, grace, and spiritual growth. Don't forget, some who claim to be Christians just aren’t. And others are just extremely immature believers who never grew spiritually. Persecution from these can be some of the hardest persecution to understand—and some of the most hurtful! Christian history is full of Christians persecuting Christians! It even happened in America, which (ironically) was founded by Christians who came to flee religious persecution of other Christians. For example, the puritans demanded that everyone conform to their way of worship and persecuted those who did not. Read about Obadiah Holmes. Or what about the Civil War where Christians on both sides believed God was with them and killed Christians on the other side! Or how about the “Christian” KKK members (or so they claimed) who lynched and terrorized (mostly) Christian blacks in Jim Crow south. Insane! Those are extreme examples but today it's more subtle. Some "Christians" around us may judge our clothes, music, Bible translation, or political opinions. Some may say we’re not hard/loud/hateful enough on the LGBTQ community and others insist we should legitimize/celebrate homosexuality as a morally equivalent alternative lifestyle (No!—Christ showed we must love sinners and hate sin—avoiding compromise in either direction). Or persecution may come from "Christian" friends and family members who think you’re over-the-top radical for depriving your kids of R-rated movies, and unrestricted internet on phones and computers (believe me, Darla and I have received it!). Many times it comes from compromising Christians who want to justify their own actions. Don’t over-react. Don’t get the last word. Love (much more on this later). 

It’s more important to win a heart than to win the argument. 
You don’t want them to think, “That may be true but I don’t like you. And I definitely don’t want to be like you.”

What does this look like? Romans 12: 
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 
This is what Jesus is saying in the beatitudes. 

There is at least one more week of our “Blessed” series. And it's big. Next we'll see the motivating principle to consistently live this way and find blessedness. We will put the period on the end by examining Jesus’ words that follow in this sermon on the plain. They contain the foundation—the core—of the Christian philosophy that sets it apart from all other systems and religions. And it is the key to living out the Christian life. Yes, it’s that big. If you want to be blessed, YOU DON’T want to miss it.

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