To Be Like Jesus is Painful

Christian, do you want to be like Jesus? Does your church want to be a representation of the body of Christ in your community? Do you want to live out the word, Christian, which means a little imitation of Christ? If so, it will hurt.

John 7:7 – The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.

Jesus, speaking to his half-brothers, makes a very simple, very telling statement. The world will not hate those men, as they are just like the world. But the world will hate Jesus. Why will the world hate Jesus? Jesus testifies that the deeds of the world are evil in the sight of God. And that testimony garners the hatred of the world.

So, do you really want to be like Jesus? If so, the world will hate you too. We can’t tone that down and tell the truth. Social popularity is not our destination until the Lord returns and all is made right under the rule of Christ.

Now, a quick disclaimer: This does not mean that you should go out and do hateful things. Nor does this mean that you should be a mean-spirited person. Jesus never did such things. Jesus did not walk around with a chip on his shoulder just trying to find a way to offend the world. He came expressing the love of God even as he upheld God’s standards in all things. Jesus was pro marriage. Jesus was anti sexual immorality. Jesus was anti drunkenness. Jesus was not open to a variety of world religions. Jesus taught that there is only one way to God, through him. Jesus was clear that faith and repentance are how we get under his grace.

Jesus was never mean, but he was hated. His message, the word of God, is hated by a world that will not surrender to that word. The world around us does not want the God of the Bible. The world around us does not wish to be bound by the morality defined by the Creator. And so the world around us will hate what speaks of their deeds as evil in the sight of God.

We need to be a kind and gracious people. But we need to not be so deluded as to think that the world is going to think we are just a great part of their society. Yes, the world will receive charity from the church. They will generally like it when we build hospitals, feed the homeless, and help clean up the park. But, understand, they will love us until, and only until, we speak the true message of the Lord. The moment that our message and the morality of the Lord goes up against the new morality of this culture, they will turn on the people they smiled at when we did our random acts of kindness.

Am I saying not to be kind or not to engage the community? No. But I am saying not to be deceived. In the end, the word of God is divisive. In the end, Jesus is exclusive. In the end, the message of Christ will offend our world just like it did when the world shouted, “Hosanna!” on Sunday and, “Crucify him!” on Friday.

God’s Priorities or Ours

If you want to know a person, really know them, you must get to know what is important to them. Typically, in friendships and good relationships, we will find that the high priorities of one person will be somehow shared by another. Those things help us get along.

Consider a business. IF one leader in a corporation says that the number one priority he has is creating the highest quality product possible while another says that her top priority is making money, there will be problems in the board meetings. When decisions arise as to whether or not to cut a corner on the product for a higher profit margin, there will be conflict. The two priorities are not the same. Solid businesses know that they must share top priorities in leadership.

But I wonder if many of our churches today share high priorities with the Lord our God. I know, that might sound a little edgy to say, but consider what the verse below says is exalted above all.

Psalm 138:2

I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

What is top priority to God? Many would love to say people. Many would love to say church growth. Many would love to say making an impact on the fallen world. And those things all matter to the Lord.

But the word of God tells us that his top priority is his name and his word. God’s honor, God’s reputation, God’s glory, God’s worship is number one. Right there with it is the word of God, his commands, his Scripture. These are tops. These are the things that his followers must share with him as top values if we are to really please him.

Consider what this must say to us about what we do as churches. First and foremost, honoring his name and lifting high his word is central to all we are. If we decide that we are going to be about something else, we are going to mis worshipping our God in a way that pleases him. There are many things that exalting his name and word will lead us to do. But we cannot be wise and lose sight of the fact that his name and his word are first priorities.

Just think of the worship service here as one example. What is it for? If you think that God’s top priority is the salvation of the lost, you will be tempted to make the service as showy and entertaining as possible. You will change the messages to be things that people who do not know God will still enjoy. You’ll develop a combination concert and Ted Talk. But, if you see that God’s name and God’s word are number one, your music will be first and foremost about speaking the truth about the Lord in a beautiful way. You will see that ceremonies that feel odd to the world around us will be vital. You will see that the direct preaching of the word will be more important than the entertainment value of the message. That is not to say that you will intentionally be dull. Rather, it is to say that your focus will be to achieve the result of exalting God’s name in accord with God’s word.

How Good and Pleasant

In the Psalms, we run across great glory and deep sorrow. We find praise and lament. We find expression of love and imprecations. We find gigantic texts in praise of Scripture and sweeping histories of Israel. And we find tiny little psalms, songs we almost forget, that have beautiful truths to share.

Psalm 133

1 A Song of Ascents. Of David.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Psalm 133 is all of 3 verses long. And what do we learn from it? What does it praise? We see the beauty of the unity of brothers. There is something good, something glorious, something magnificent when brothers dwell together in unity.

David tells us in this short text that, when brothers live united, it is like oil poured over the head. It is like the sweet and sacred anointing oil flowing over the head and shoulders of the high priest. It is sacred, special, and sensational. There is a good feeling, a refreshing feeling.

David also says that unity is like dew on a mountain. This is the original mountain dew, not a caffeinated sugary mess. It is just lovely to see and refreshing to the soul.

When brothers dwell together in unity, there is a blessing of life from the Lord. That is what the whole Psalm is pointing us too. Unity among the brethren is a sign of the blessing of God on us and a cause of further blessing.

Now, in David’s context, he is dealing with the nation of Israel. It is good when this nation, as the people of god, lives united. It is good when the people are kind to one another. It is good when they resolve conflicts simply. It is good when they are headed in the right direction together. It is sacred, beautiful, and it brings a blessing.

But what about our context? Of course the same is true. It is good when the people of God, the church of the Lord Jesus, find loving Christian unity. It is good when we live together graciously. It is good when we are humble enough to care about others and their needs. It is good when we let go of our preferences in nonessential areas so as to be kind to others. It is good when we lay down our lives for one another. It is good like we see in this Psalm. It is good like sweet and sacred oil on the head or the dew on the mountain. When we are united, when we care, when we help each other, we are showing that we have the blessing of God and that we are receiving even more blessing from our Lord.

Yes, this is a Psalm we can quote in about 10 seconds. Yes, it is short and simple. But it is surely needed. All churches need brothers and sisters in Christ who come alongside one another. WE all need people to care about us and people we can care about. We all need to learn to live this life together as we honor the Lord.

And, of course, as a disclaimer, we do not unify when major sin or major doctrinal error is threatening the honor of the Lord in our body. We go after that sin and lovingly press for repentance. We must never use the word unity as a club to prevent a person from calling us to be faithful to the word of God. But even as we call one another to righteous living and faithful biblical interpretation, we do so as brothers and sisters. And if we have been living together in unity, if we have been showing godly love, we will do a much better job of helping each other to turn from sin and honor the Lord.

Christians, let us pray that we will have a Psalm 133 church. May our fellowship be sweet and sacred. May our lives be united under the word of God. May we find the church family that refreshes our souls like the dew refreshes mountain plants. May we receive the blessing of the Lord, life forevermore.

Evangelism as Warning

In the world of the modern church, I can think of few places where pastors beat up their church members more than the area of evangelism. I have known pastors who can be sweet and encouraging toward people who are hurting, who are kind to those who are slow learners, who are patient with those who just can’t seem to throw off a habitual sin, but who will absolutely grind you to powder if your practice of evangelism does not match theirs—or what they wish theirs was.

Let’s be sure we have a couple of things clear as Christians. God certainly commands us to go and make disciples. Evangelism is a right, loving practice. When you share the gospel, you love God, love your neighbor, and benefit yourself. Preaching Christ matters.

Part of the problem for us could be that we have mistaken the outcome of evangelism with the command to evangelize. We think that we are commanded to make people believe. Thus, we are afraid that our practice of sharing the gospel will do harm and not good. This is a theologically illogical view, but it is common.

But let me remind us that the true success in evangelism is honoring God by obeying his commands and speaking the truth. We are to tell people the truth and leave the results to God. That does not mean we are passionless or unconcerned regarding the souls of our friends. But it does mean that we do not bear the weight of responsibility regarding their response or the hidden workings of God’s Holy Spirit.

Consider the watchman passage from Ezekiel 33.

Ezekiel 33:1-6 – – 1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

What is the watchman’s job? The job of the watchman is to sound an alarm. He is to give a warning. He is to tell the truth. The Watchman is guilty if he has knowledge of danger that he refuses to share. But the watchman is not guilty if he shares and people do not care.

I think we would do well to remember that in many cases, our job is to warn of real dangers. We are to play the watchman role. We are to tell the world around us that there is a danger they face and a solution to that danger. We do not have to own responsibility for their responses. But we do need to carry the weight of knowing the truth and the need to share that truth with those who will hear us.

In fact, I wonder if the warning motif might be a helpful way to share the gospel. We often attempt to share with others by trying to convince them of all the neat benefits they could have if they would just be in the faith. And, of course, the benefits of knowing the Lord are infinitely wonderful. But what about a kind warning? You think about it. What would it sound like to offer a friend or family member a caring warning for their souls? How would it be different if the conversation began with, “Because I care about you, I want to let you know about a danger we all face?” This is not the conversation that says I am good and they are bad. Nor is it me offering an opinion about what I think about modern ethics. It is simply me saying that God’s word gives us clear data, and we need to be under his grace if we are to avoid his judgment.

If they respond with a lack of caring about the word or the message, I do not have to continue a major argument. But what I can do for sure is know that I have offered an honest warning of a real danger. I can be sure that people understand that my warning comes from me caring about them and not from me feeling superior to them.

In our world, I hear warnings from people regularly. People love to tell us what too much social media does to our brains. People tell us what too much sugar does to our bodies. People tell us that gluten is pure evil. Why not be willing to sound a simple alarm about the need to be under the grace of God?

The Danger of False Prophets

During the days of Ezekiel, as Jerusalem was about to fall to the Babylonians, God expressed great anger against false prophets. Men and women were still in Israel, still speaking as though from God, and still misleading people. The nation was being misled by people who used their authoritative-sounding speech to make money.

Ezekiel 13:1-7

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. 6 They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. 7 Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

In the Pentateuch, God made it clear that a person who was a false prophet in Israel was to be put to death. Here, we see that, though such was the law, many people still found the idea of declaring a false statement to be from the Lord too tempting. And God will bring judgment on such people.

And here we are, it is around 2600 years later. Is there something to learn? Yes. God hates false prophets still. God will still not tolerate it when a person claims to speak for him but does not. God still knows it is utterly wrong to comfort the guilty or to condemn the innocent in the name of the Lord. And God will move to protect his word.

Think about that as you consider what you listen to as teaching from the Lord. Think about that as you consider what you hear people say who claim to have knowledge of what God wants. Think about that, and be very careful with how you allow your ears to take in something with God’s name attached.

The true prophet in the Old Testament only communicated to the people what God had really said. In most cases, that was less a prediction of the future and more a proclamation of what God’s written word had already promised.

Now, in our world, we live in a very new era. The Holy Spirit now personally indwells believers. And the Holy Spirit has inspired a completed canon of Scripture. What then will a prophet have to do? The answer should be that a man or woman who wants to tell you what God has said should be telling you what is clearly written and taught in the Scripture. God has indeed spoken. We have his word written down. And we need to be called to obey that word, to be convicted by that word, and to be encouraged by that word.

The Holy Spirit does not live in us to give us mystical visions of the future. The Holy Spirit will work with the written word of God to help us be illumined, allowing us to understand and apply the word of God to our lives and circumstances. And a person who wants to tell you or me what God says needs to be rightly handling the word of God aided by the Spirit of God.

IF you have a person tell you that they know God is telling them something, be very careful. Is what God is telling them what he wrote down? Is what the person claims consistent with the word of God? If it is in violation of the word, it is clearly false. If it is in keeping with the word, then you know that extrabiblical revelation was not needed for you to have that word.

When we see God speak strongly against false prophets, we should be drawn strongly to the word of god. Pray a lot. Love the word. Be constant in Scripture. Listen to faithful, biblical teaching. But be very wary of a person who tells you that God is telling them something not in the word.

A Prophet Has Been Among them

There are some single lines in the Bible that ring in my ears every time I hear them. One such line is found in Ezekiel 2. I hear the sound of this sentence, and it sort of has the impact of hearing the Rocky theme for a preacher who cares about what he is doing.

Ezekiel 2:3-5- 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.

God is sending Ezekiel to a people who have been stubborn and disobedient. His job will be to tell this rebellious people the word of God. And any preacher would wonder what he should think about the mission. What if I’m not successful? What if they will not listen?

God says to Ezekiel, and this is what rings in my ears, “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” No matter what they do, whether they listen or not, they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Christians, does this not set your blood aflame? We are in a stubborn and fallen world. We have a gospel to proclaim. They may not listen. But do we not want them to know that there have been preachers of God’s word among them?

And pastors, does this not set your heart aflame? We will stand in pulpits. We will bring the word of God to a people, some of whom care and some of whom are ticking a box on their to-do lists. But you and I, we can preach the word. We can tell the truth. We can refuse to compromise. We can make sure they know that a prophet of God has been among them.

A Surprising Source of Persecution

Why does the world persecute believers? That is happening around the world at a surprising rate. But, why? Why would you want to attack a person, doing them physical harm, casting them from your society?

I think, if we stop to really put some thought into this, we will see that we are not as sure about why people persecute believers as we think. For example, in most countries, Christianity is not a political movement that is endangering the present governmental power structure. Genuine Christians have not historically been militant or physically aggressive. (Yes, I know about the crusades, and I reject that those had anything to do with genuine Christianity.)

At the end of the day, the world will oppose Christianity because the world opposed Jesus. The Savior told us that in John 15 and Matthew 5. But you are unlikely to get the world around you to say that directly either.

What has me thinking about this is the strange reason that Peter tells the church that the world will oppose the first century believers living in Asia Minor.

1 Peter 4:4-5 – 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Peter says that the world will oppose the church because Christians will not join with them in their evil actions. Can you imagine? Is it possible that a major source of problems for believers is not that we stand and fight against the world, but simply that we will not join in with things we cannot morally approve? Isn’t the battle cry of the present culture one of tolerance?

I think, if you have watched anything from the political realm over the last few months, you know that tolerance has little-to-nothing to do with the world in which we live. In the US, there are groups who will only be satisfied with the full assimilation or elimination of groups who oppose them. You either join in with the new morality, or the new morality will try to destroy you.

In the book of Revelation, we read about the 666, the mark of the beast. You know that many people have debated that mark in many ways and drawn many conclusions. But one thing is often not said about it which should be said. Something about that mark, that stamp of belonging to the world, is the key to commerce. If you will not wear that badge, you will be put out of business and starved out of society. Ignoring whether or not that number refers to an individual person or whether or not it is a visible marking on the body, is it not telling that John wrote of a time when, if you will not be able to be marked as one of the society at large, the society will try to drive you from the very marketplace?

Christians, the world around us will not think that we are great friends of theirs who just don’t go and do all the things they go and do. If you think that your church will grow big and strong by convincing the world of our goodness by telling them, “We are just like you guys except for our faith,” you are missing the clear promise of the word of God. The world does not look at the church as a collection of nice men and women, treasures to the community, who just happen to lean right morally. No, they are shocked and offended that you will not leap with them into sin, and they will malign you. The world will see us as a threat, not for attacking, but simply for not applauding them. And If you do not see that, you are not reading much in the news.

But Peter also reminds us that the Lord is in control. Our God reigns. Our God is the righteous judge. Our God will call all people and all deeds into account. Our God calls all people everywhere to repent and come to Jesus for salvation. And our hope is not in becoming popular in the world today. Our hope is in being faithful to Christ and living under his lordship for eternity.

My goal here is surely not to leave us thinking all negative all the time. Not all who are not Christians will hate and malign believers. Nor are all towns destined to immediately become bastions of persecution. But we are foolish if we do not see that there are trends of this sort of persecution flowing through politics and higher education all over our land. There are corporations where Christianity and Christian values would get you fired. There are cities where businesses run by openly Christian families are unwelcome. Social media is full of virtue signaling and morality testing that growl to the world that if you do not agree with them, if you do not give to their cause, if you do not applaud their agenda, they will bring the wrath of the Internet down on your organization, shame you, boycott you, and put you out of business. (Note, Christians, I will also say to you that many of us have earned this behavior by practicing it first when Christians held more political sway in our country, so I’m not after us playing the victim here.)

Our point is that we must be ready to live in a hard world. Our lives need to be faithful. But we cannot expect acceptance from a world that is shocked that we will not leap with them into the same pool. But we trust our Lord, we know he will set the world right, and we live to his glory even when it costs us.