You Can’t Fight Hate with Hate; Respond With Love

3 Reasons Why Christians Must Respond With Love, Not Hate

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The world is in bad shape.  It seems like every time I turn on the TV or read a news article online, I’m faced with another tragedy or senseless act. Even the local crime rate seems to have escalated.  As I read each story and witness the pain, I’m left to respond in some way.  It’s difficult, however, to find words or even manage emotions.  I’ll be honest, it’s easier when the tragedy or crime is at a distance, but the reality of the pain and the thoughts of a potential parallel situation, are difficult to absorb.

love-not-hate

Question: How do we process this? How do we respond? What if it becomes personal? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jesus gave us a clear teaching: don’t fight hate with hate; respond with love.

Here are 3 reasons why:

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How To Stop Worrying

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As a pastor, the topic of worry is one that keeps arising.  Worry is a part of almost every situation. Either we worry, or someone is worrying about us.  We worry about money, our health and the well-being of others, our safety and security, and well… the list is endless.

http://andrewholm.com/how-to-stop-worrying/

What makes this topic really dangerous, however, is that worry has a wide range of impact.  We can have worrying personalities that are hereditary, or have self-induced worry, or perhaps experience medically unbalanced situations. As believers, it’s really important to figure out where we stand with our worry, as it will dramatically impact how we deal with it.  With that said, we all have to start at the same place – that’s with Jesus.

Jesus is pretty clear: If we first seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, there is no need to let worry distract us (Matthew 6:33).

“Seeking”, “Receiving” and “Worrying”

The Greek word for “seek” (zeteite) implies an unceasing journey.1  That means, we are to first seek the Kingdom and His righteousness, and do so as long as we live.  The key is FIRST.  It’s a growing daily journey of trust, where God is to be our focus (His will and His plan), and our job is to live selfless lives (ie. the beatitudes, loving, serving, giving, praying, and fasting,2  This is not to say, however, that our needs aren’t important.  It simply means that our attention should be towards the Kingdom, knowing that God will take care of the rest.

Worrying About Our Money

Early believers knew how to seek the Kingdom.  Believers sold their possessions to care for those in need (Acts 4:34).  Even the Roman officials noticed how the “Christians” were unstoppable because of their lack of worry and response to the daily needs around them.  Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate once told his officials:

“We ought to be ashamed. Not a beggar is to be found among the Jews, and those godless Galileans [he meant the Christians] feed not only their own people but ours as well, whereas our people receive no assistance whatever from us.”3

The early Church took care of, not only their own, but, anyone in need.  So much could be learned from their passion to seek the Kingdom.  What kind of impact would the Church make if we were known as those didn’t worry about tomorrow and simply took care of the needs around us today?  Our generous hearts have the potential to prove God’s faithfulness.

Our generous hearts have the potential to prove God's faithfulness. Click To Tweet

Worrying About Our Health and Well-Being

Jesus explained that the birds don’t worry about tomorrow, and yet God provides for them each day (Matthew 6:26).  I love this example because birds work hard.  They might prepare and build a nest for future seasons, but they simply do whatever is required of them each day and God provides.  God takes care of His creation, so why don’t we trust Him to provide for us?

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)  If we truly seek God’s Kingdom and not ours, we’ll begin to trust and understand that no amount of worry will change tomorrow.  God is calling us to be faithful with our time; not distracted by worry.

God is calling us to be #faithful with our time; not distracted by #worry. Click To Tweet

Worrying About Our Safety and Security

This happens in two ways: we worry about the personal security of ourselves and our families, and also the safety of others while they are away from us.  In the West, this conversation seems to always come back to the worry of terrorism, boarder security, and immigration.  But if we seriously believed in seeking the Kingdom of God, we would trust God is bigger and any threat to our freedom or security will be combated with God’s protection and ultimate plan.

We also worry about others.  A good friend of mine admitted that this is true about how he worries about his college-aged kids.  My daughter is only two.  Time moves fast, but for now, she’s not usually far from us.  That said, worry can take over just as easy – you just have to watch her jump down the stairs to know what I mean.

But again, we have to seek the Kingdom first.  By seeking the Kingdom we let go of the things we can’t control, and start trusting God to care for our needs and the needs of others.  These times of worry, then, become times of trust.

When We Trust God

As we learn to trust God, our worry decreases.  It may be easier said than done, but I think we often focus on the wrong issue.  We tend to wonder why we worry and end up worrying about worrying.  But we need to ask ourselves, “Who do we trust?”

If we trust anyone, other than God, we set ourselves up to worry.

If we “…seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, [than] all [our needs] will be added to [us].” (Matthew 6:33)

If we first seek the Kingdom of God & His righteousness, there's no need to worry.. Mt 6:33 Click To Tweet

How Do We Respond To Worry?

Can we truly stop worrying?  Probably not – we’re human. In order to start trusting God, however, we’ll need to respond to our worry.  Here are three things to consider:

  1. Jesus doesn’t call us to be “care-free”.

Sometimes we think “care-free” and “worry-free” are the same thing.  God wants us to have concern for things.  A healthy level of concern will cause us to act.  We need to be self-disciplined and have a good work-ethic (Colossians 3:23-24).

  1. Too much worry, will cause you to worry.

Worry is real and, if we were honest, we have all faced that real feeling.  According to Jesus, however, not even our needs (food, clothing, and health) are reasons to worry.  If we don’t learn to trust God, our natural sense of concern will turn into worry and distract us from God’s plan.

  1. “Medically Unbalanced Worry” is combated with love and grace.

Some may find themselves in an uncontrollable unbalanced state of worry.  We live in a broken world, and our bodies are no different.  If you find yourself there, seek medical support and know the Church is there to love and serve you.  If you know someone in that situation, don’t simply give them scripture verses about how we shouldn’t worry.  This only adds more questions to why they are so unbalanced.  Instead, give them brotherly/sisterly love, support, a shoulder to cry on, and lots of prayer.

 

Your turn…

I would love to hear from you!  What have I missed?  How do you build trust in God and decrease worry in your life?

References   [ + ]

Prayer: The Sincere and Authentic Heart

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Even though religion is slowly being dismantled, the acceptance of spirituality is at an all-time high.  Prayer and faith, for example, are both rising in popularity and accepted by many, for numerous reasons.  While people are not “religious,” they are highly “spiritual.”  I simply celebrate the very notion that unbelievers are open to a “spiritual realm.”

prayer

Unfortunately, in this conversation of spiritual piety, the Church may be in threat of diluting our special fellowship with God.  We may mean well, but I believe our piety has become more about the right “activity” and “vocabulary,” than about “sincerity” and “authenticity.”

It’s a struggle today, and it was a struggle in Jesus’ day.  Jesus calls us to have a prayer life that is sincere and authentic so we can completely focus on God.

Jesus’ Message (Matthew 6:5-8)

In an effort to explain what authentic piety looks like, Jesus gave us three examples.  The first, was giving money (Giving Money: The Quiet Generous Heart), and the second is prayer:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.1

At first glance, it appears that “private prayer” is the only authentic form of prayer.  It doesn’t take long, however, before we understand that Jesus is clearly trying to make a point – our prayer life should be sincere and authentic.

Prayer in the New Testament

Prayer for the devote Jew occurred three times every day (Daniel 6:10).2  Prayer was also encouraged in both private and public life in an effort to break down religious segregation and to live out private faith in public spaces.3  What’s interesting, however, is that prayer itself wasn’t unique to the Jews.  The pagans thought if they spoke more words, mentioned more gods, and repeated themselves enough, they would have a better chance of their prayers being answered.4  Jesus clearly witnessed the Jews acting in their spirituality, but also adopting a hypocritical view of prayer.

“Hypocritical” Prayer

When Jesus spoke of being a “hypocrite” in this context, he pointed to a “self-deceit” – when we fool ourselves to thinking our prayer life is directed towards God, when in reality, we are looking for the praise of those around us, and using “empty phrases.”5  Jews during this time, were praying so that others could see and hear their piety.

If we desire for others to view us as “spiritual,” we will receive their praise and forfeit God’s fellowship.  As a result, our prayer becomes hypocritical because it doesn’t draw us into fellowship with God, rather ourselves.  John Stott called it “a mean kind of self-service.”6  In the end, hypocritical prayer only hurts our spirituality and pushes us away from our relationship with God.

This also extends to the words we use when we pray.  The pagans believed “that they [would] be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).  In reality, there is no need to repeat ourselves with empty phrases, unnecessary repetition, or filling silence with religious quotes because God already knows what we need (6:8).

This might be a difficult one to swallow.  I grew up in the Church and I learned all of the proper prayer lingo.  Everything from phrases like “we pray a hedge of protection,” to bible verses, songs, and repeating “Oh, God…” between every thought.  It has become our way of prayer, and in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it.  But there is a point to be made here. The ESV translated the Greek word battaloge as “heap up empty phrases,” but the rare word is understood to mean “babbling” or “speaking without thinking.”7

The question is, do we, as believers, use words and phrases just for the sake of using them or to show others our spirituality, or do we sincerely speak and authentically think about what we are praying?  Our intentions may be good, but we may not be as sincere and as authentic as we may think.  After all, these verses serve as a “warning” for us so that we aren’t naively practicing our righteousness (6:1).

I guess the best question to ask ourselves is this: when I pray, does God hear my words and knowledge, or does God hear the sincerity and authenticity of my heart?

“Righteous” Prayer

We rightfully connect our prayer lives with our faith and spirituality and often take this topic personally.  So before I attempt to define righteous prayer, it might be helpful to state what righteous prayer is not.

  • It’s not avoiding pubic prayer. We can’t be quick to make Jesus’ words here an absolute. The issue is about the heart, not about the place of prayer. The early church devoted themselves to the unity of prayer, and so should we (Acts 2:42).
  • It’s not avoiding quoting scripture and other spiritual phrases. For centuries, the Church has used scripture and traditional sayings in prayer. Again, the issue is not what is said, but the authenticity behind what is said.  In fact, I believe the Church would do well in praying more Psalms.
  • It’s not assuming short prayers are best. Jesus used examples to illustrate a principle. As a result, His examples are often specific to the time and place.  For example, in Luke 18, Jesus actually acknowledged the purpose of persistent prayer.

Righteous prayer is all about the HEART.  Prayer is about putting away the selfish appeal of our old-self, and putting on the selfless withdrawal of new life.  Our prayer life should cause us to withdraw ourselves and sincerely connect with God by using thoughtful and meaningful words.8

Prayer for today

Prayer has to be the guiding force in every believer.  In order to do that, our prayer life has to start in the “private prayer room.”  That space doesn’t have to be a physical room, rather a space where you can withdraw and connect with God.  From that sincere and authentic place of prayer, our “public prayer space” will naturally bring glory to God and not to ourselves or others because our attention is already pointed in the right direction.  I believe we fall into the trap of hypocritical prayer because our “private prayer room” is often lacking.  Martin Luther challenged believers to live out a continuous authentic prayer life:

“In the morning and in the evening, at table and whenever he [or she] has time, every individual should speak a benediction or the Our Father or the Creed or a psalm.”9

To help, Jesus gave us a model of prayer (6:9-13).  We call it The Lord’s Prayer.  How do we pray?  In daily fellowship (“daily bread”), we direct our attention to the Father, pray for His glory, the establishment of His kingdom and His will, and have a spirit of forgiveness because He forgave us.  It’s a selfless prayer focused on God the Father.

Your turn…

  1. How can you guard yourself against hypocritical prayer?
  2. How is God calling you to PRAY today?

God wants to connect with us.  He doesn’t want us to draw attention to ourselves or fill our prayers with thoughtless words.  God wants to hear the sincere and authentic prayers of our hearts, and sometimes that means we have to stop and wait before God.

Our sincere and authentic prayer is the kind of faithful prayer that God rewards.

References   [ + ]

Giving Money: The Quiet Generous Heart

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If there’s one thing people have in common, it’s our desire to help meet a need.  If there’s a legitimate need, project or organization raising money, most of us want to the help in whatever way possible.  Although it’s not the only way, giving money is one the most effective ways we can contribute.  It doesn’t have to be much, but when we join together, we can make a big impact.

That desire to give, however, comes with the natural desire for recognition.  We all have good intentions, but we often like to know where our money is going, how it’s being used, and when we will be thanked for contributing.  You may not think we often expect recognition, but I think it’s safe to say we often subconsciously desire to be appreciated. If you’re not sure, think about your reaction when someone doesn’t show recognition.

While our human nature pushes us to live somewhat selfishly and desire recognition, Jesus gives us a different message. Jesus calls us to quietly give selflessly so we protect our hearts and focus our generosity towards God.

Jesus’ Message (Matthew 6:1-4)

In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved from describing the believer’s righteous attitude to the believer’s righteous action.  To do this, he gave three examples: giving money, prayer, and fasting.  Here’s how Jesus addressed the first:

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I often joke around when someone recognizes me by saying, “You just earned another jewel in your crown,” by responding, “Not anymore! You just took it away from me! If I receive praise on earth, I can’t receive praise in heaven, right?”  Not exactly.  Not to mention, you won’t find much of the phrase “jewel in your crown” in scripture anyways.  I believe this has been affected by our hymnology (“Precious Jewels” in particular) than it does scripture (Malachi 3:17).

All humorous correction aside, I think we often miss Jesus’ main point here – our intention behind our giving.  Too often we look at the reward, when in reality, scripture is pointing to the action and heart behind the action.  In this case, the action of giving money.

Giving Money in the New Testament

Helping the poor was a very common and honourable thing to do, and Jesus clearly assumes that charitable giving was taking place (“…when you give…”).  But giving money wasn’t the only thing happening.  During this time it was normal for donors to have their generous gifts inscribed on stone monuments and valued based on their contribution.1  Trumpets were also used to signal to others that donors had contributed and needs were being met.2  Now, it’s no doubt that these donors were “good people” with “good intentions;” however, Jesus noticed something – their heart didn’t line up with their righteous act of giving money.

Giving Money “Hypocritically”

We sometimes use the word “hypocrite” in a few of different ways.  We can refer to someone who is knowingly deceitful, or simply living with a double standard.  But in this case, Jesus pointed to a “self-deceit” – when we fool ourselves to thinking we are giving selflessly, when in reality, we are looking for the praise of those around us.3  As believers, all of our giving should be done for God’s glory, not our own.  If we do it for our own glory, we will receive the praise of others and not God’s reward. After all, God rewards selflessness, not our selfishness.

Giving Money “Righteously”

When it comes to giving money we often act to the extreme (all or nothing).  So before I attempt to define righteous giving, it might be helpful to state what right righteous giving is not.

  • It’s not avoiding reward altogether. Just because giving money can be full of natural tension, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to please our heavenly Father.  It’s not about the reward, but the eternal reward shouldn’t derail us from giving money with the right heart.
  • It’s not avoiding public gratitude. Jesus publicly noted and praised the widow for her sacrificial offering (Luke 21:1-4). The issue wasn’t found in someone recognizing the faithful actions of another.
  • It’s not avoiding planned giving. It would be crazy to think that giving in “secret” means that we can’t pledge our support, plan a budget or write cheques to an organization. God honors planning (Proverbs 21:5), but we should be willing for God to trump our plan.
  • It’s not a way into heaven. We can’t buy our salvation, it’s a free gift (Ephesians 2:8). Our salvation, however, should cause us to give freely.

Righteous giving is all about the HEART.  It’s about putting away the selfishness of our old-self, and putting on the selflessness of new life.  In terms of our giving, we should go from a “calculated giving” that reflects our personal piety and is known to those around us to an “uncalculated generosity” that reflects and points towards God the Father.4

The goal is to give to public matters in such a way that we focus on God and are not driven by our selfish desires.5  To help in this process, Jesus told us to give in secret (even secret from our humanity – perhaps so we don’t talk are way out of it) so that we can guard our hearts and truly focus our giving towards God (Matthew 6:3-4).  John Stott wrote it this way:

“Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.”6

Giving Money and Meeting Needs

In our world of selfishness we must go against the grain.  We can’t give money to receive something in return, to gain favour in some way, to gain a tax break, or even wish for a greater reward.  We must give with the heart and let our quiet generosity point away from us and towards the freedom of the cross.  Our reward will be found as we help build the kingdom.

 

Your turn…

  1. How can we guard ourselves against hypocritical giving?
  2. How is God calling you to GIVE today?

While we all have different financial situations and witness different needs, I know God is calling all of us to give money and support the needs around us.  Sometimes we may feel like our contribution isn’t much, but God doesn’t require the same some everyone, He calls us to be faithful.

God calls us to give money with a quiet and generous heart.

 

References   [ + ]

Don’t Worry, Christians Don’t Worry?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Don’t worry, God won’t give you something you can’t handle,” said no Bible verse ever.  That’s right, that phrase isn’t found anywhere in scripture!  In fact, from my experience, the opposite is true – God regularly hands me situations that I can’t handle on my own.  Situations that I’m not ready for, too busy for, or otherwise just don’t want.  But God looks at me and says, “Get ready, I’m about to shape you! I’m about to give you something you can’t handle so you can learn to rely on me.”

worry

So if God is willing and able to carry us during times of stress, does that mean that Christians don’t worry?  Scripture can sound like that sometimes – almost a “holier than thou” picture.  The truth is: it’s not that Christians don’t worry, it’s that worry has no power over a faithful Christian.

I awoke with chest pain…

Last week chest pain got between me and my sleep.  It was significant enough to wake me up at 1:30am and for me to call a friend to ask to bring me to emerge.  The five hour ordeal left me with more questions than answers.  The good news, I didn’t have a heart attack.  The bad news, the doctor explained, the pain could be caused by nearly anything else (stress, lungs, pulled muscle, diet, gas, and the list went on).  I wish I could say I avoided the “educational” WebMD.com, but my questions required anxious answers.  A couple days later, my trip to the family doctor led to an x-ray and yet another anxious result three days later – negative.  My doctor has now narrowed it down to a muscular issue, or acid re-flux.  So the journey continues, and so does the natural human emotion of anxiety.  Unfortunately, the “unknowns” seem to always outweigh the positive news.  But let’s face it, we’re human and anxiety is a natural feeling.

To avoid anxiety seems impossible. Scripture, however, makes it seem obvious – “…do not be anxious about anything…”i Is that even possible?  The minute we all experience the unknown, our natural tendency is to think about the “what if…”  We may not call it worry, but asking “what if…” is simply worrying about tomorrow’s outcome.

So as Christians, how do we respond to worry and anxiety?

Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus talking about anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34).  Here’s the message: you don’t have to worry about what you will eat, drink, wear, the condition of your body, or even how you will pay for tomorrow’s needs because: 1) worrying won’t change anything; and, 2) God provides for all his creation, so how much more will he provide for His children. So instead of worrying, seek the Kingdom of God, and all your needs will be provided.

The key to understanding this “peace of God” seems to be found in Matthew 6:33.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

I think we often misunderstand this verse. We are quick to ask God for help. But are we as quick to seek “the kingdom of God and his righteousness”? We are quick to ask God for help. But are we as quick to seek “the kingdom of God and his righteousness”? Click To TweetTruth be told, we probably pray for OUR WILL to be done long before we pray for GOD’S WILL to be done.  And yet Jesus told us to seek His Kingdom FIRST.

We probably read into the last part of this verse as well by interpreting “all these things” to mean whatever we are going through – be it our needs, wants, desires, or something else.  Jesus is telling us, to focus on His Kingdom and He’ll provide everything we NEED.

Paul put it this way when he wrote to Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”ii

The “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” is available to those who are abundantly Kingdom minded.  There is no promise that the feeling will NEVER happen.  The promise is that ANXIETY HAS NO POWER over the Christian who rejoices and puts their faith and work in Jesus and His Kingdom.

ANXIETY HAS NO POWER over the Christian who rejoices & puts their faith in Jesus & His Kingdom! Click To Tweet

Instead of anxiety ruling the situation, God takes these moments of being overwhelmed, and shapes us into who we need to be.  When we feel stressed, anxious, fearful, or otherwise overwhelmed, we have to remember that God wants us to grow through them and turn to Him for peace.

God has a purpose (even if we don’t see it) for every situation we find ourselves in.  James, at the beginning of his letter, said it this way:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”iii

So when I face worry or anxiety…

I need to keep quoting three scriptures:

1. Matthew 6:33– “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all [my needs] will be [provided].”

2. Philippians 4:6-7– “in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, [I can let my] requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [my] heart and [my] mind in Christ Jesus.”

3. James 1:2-4– “the testing of [my] faith produces steadfastness… [so that I] may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The feelings of anxiety will still come my way, but the power of anxiety is decreased when I increase my dependency on God and seek God’s Kingdom first.  Quoting scripture is a beautiful way to remind ourselves that this truth is indeed a reality.

If we seek the Kingdom FIRST, pray with THANKSGIVING, and remember each situation SHAPES us, anxiety has no power over a faithful Christian.

 

Your turn…

Have you ever experience anxiety? Have you experienced the peace of God? If not, put your faith in Jesus and the power of anxiety will lose steam!


[i] Philippians 4:6a (ESV).

[ii] Philippians 4:4-9.

[iii] James 1:2-4.