Christianity 201

October 28, 2021

Praying for Those Who Hurt Us

Thinking Through Jeremiah 29:1-7

by Clarke Dixon

You’ve been hurt. Perhaps repeatedly, by the same person or people. You don’t think they deserve a relationship with you anymore. Perhaps they don’t. You don’t think they deserve God’s kindness in any way. Perhaps they don’t. You are done, finished, moving on. If there is a further move in the relationship, it will be you getting back at them. It will be them getting what they deserve.

Would it be really bad if God were to tap you on your shoulder and say “you know those who are experienced as a curse in your life? You need to bless them”?

We are going to be challenged by that time God tapped his people on the shoulder through the prophet Jeremiah. It happened at the beginning of what is called the Babylonian exile. God had promised to stick close to and protect his people who were dwelling in the promised land, if they stuck with him. They didn’t and the Babylonians came crashing in, looking to cash in.

It happened in stages beginning with some of Jerusalem’s people being deported to Babylon and Jerusalem itself being subjugated to Babylon. There were kerfuffles along the way and about fifteen years after the first deportation there was one final deportation and Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple. There is a Psalm that captures well the mood of the people at that time:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalms 137 (NIV)

We may be surprised by the desire for infants to be killed, but that was what the Babylonians did. From Psalm 137 we can feel the passionate desire to settle the score, to see Babylon get what it gave. It does not capture the right thing to do, but it does capture the mood, the way the people were feeling. Perhaps it captures your mood. O Lord, repay them for what they have done to me. Let them get what they gave.

While Psalm 137 captured the mood of the people, a letter sent from Jeremiah captured God’s direction:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Jeremiah 29:4-6 (NIV)

In other words, make yourselves at home among your worst enemy. Settle in for the long haul. Be willing to sit with those you can’t stand. But further:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

God’s exiled people were to pray for the enemy. That might be easy enough if they could pray for their demise. Psalm 137 indicates that such is what they would feel like praying. But they are to pray for the “peace and prosperity” of Babylon.

“Peace and prosperity” is used here to translate the Hebrew word shalom, a word which means much more than simply “peace” as in “the absence of war.” It has the idea of things going well and being harmonious. My motorcycle is at peace when it sits quietly in the garage. It is in a state of shalom when it is on the road with all its parts working together in harmony so that it can fulfil its purpose.

Now imagine how hard that would have been to pray for shalom for those who attacked, besieged, and destroyed your home and homeland, killing many of your people.

This was not the first, and won’t be the last time we hear God’s call to bless an enemy. We hear it again on the lips of Jesus:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Matthew 5:43-45 (NLT)

Is there someone in your life over whom you feel like praying “repay them for what they’ve done to me, let’s get ’em back”? Maybe they don’t deserve a relationship with you, Maybe they don’t deserve God’s favour. Nevertheless, we are called to pray for their peace, their shalom.

Let us thank God for setting the example, when he did not treat us as our sins deserved, but endured the cross. Let us thank God that when he taps us on the shoulder and tells us to love our enemies, he set the example, by loving us despite our enmity towards him:

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)

If we were raised in a Christian home, we might have trouble thinking of a time that we would have been comfortable with the title “enemy of God”. Even if we were once atheists, we might have trouble thinking of a time that would be an appropriate title. Perhaps we had apathy toward any notion of God’s existence, but not hatred. Here is another way to think of it; God came to us in Jesus, God the Son:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 1:14 (NLT)

John could indeed say that “we have seen his glory” for John, along with the other disciples experienced Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and good works. John could have added another fact: “The Word became human and made his home among us, and despite seeing his glory, we killed him.”

The point is, God would have done the right thing, the just thing, if he had said “I’m finished with humanity, I’m done with you. Look what you did to me. You are finished!” But instead on the cross he said “it is finished,” that is, “what is necessary for our reconciliation has been done for you.” Through Jesus the One who could have destroyed humanity, the One who perhaps should have destroyed humanity based on what humanity did to him, worked instead for our shalom. God set the example of love for the enemy.

Jeremiah’s letter was a tap on the shoulder of God’s people in exile, and it is a tap on ours. Settle in, make yourself at home among enemies, taking a seat with people you might not be able to stand. Pray for the shalom of your enemies. Pray for the peace of the people who disrupt yours.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s writing is based, click this YouTube link.

April 28, 2021

Everyone Should Have Samaritan Friends

Four years ago we introduced you to Mel Wild who is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. He’s in the middle of a series of writings on Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the question of “Who is my neighbor?” Reading this on his site by clicking the header which follows gets you pictures and the opportunity to explore his other writing, and is greatly encouraged.

Loving our Samaritans

Jesus loves the people we hate. He also loves the people who hate us. As you probably can tell, I think that the neo-Marxist ideologies of the radical left are evil and cancerous. But I don’t feel that way at all about the people who embrace these ideologies.  I actually have a soft spot in my heart for them. Growing up, one of my best friends was a tree-hugging, card-carrying Marxist activist. I think everyone should have “Samaritan” friends.

My Marxist friend was older than me, so when he went to college, I got to visit him several times while I was still in high school. It was an exciting adventure for me. His dorm room was plastered with Che Guevara and Black Panther posters. I got to read the Communist Manifesto as a teenager for the first time because that was his “Bible.” I got to go some of his campus protests. I knew nothing about the dangers of this Western brand of neo-Marxism on college campuses at the time, and it didn’t matter.

Years later, when I became a born-again Christian, and he stayed a radical Marxist activist, we remained close friends. This was because our friendship was not based on ideology or politics; it was based on something much more important. When I became a pastor, he would ask me about God and Jesus, and he was always especially open to the love of Jesus. He passed away a few years ago, so I am grateful for those conversations.

And that brings me to the story about Jesus and the original Samaritans.

51 Jesus let nothing distract him from departing for Jerusalem because the time for him to be lifted up drew near, and he was full of passion to complete his mission there. 52 So he sent messengers ahead of him as envoys to a village of the Samaritans. 53 But as they approached the village, the people turned them away. They would not allow Jesus to enter, for he was on his way to worship in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-53 TPT*)

First, let’s think about how we would honestly respond to such rejection. Of course, no response happens in a vacuum. In this case, it’s in context of generations of prejudicial hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews.

I want us to think about this because I really do believe that Jesus is calling His church to go to Samaria, to those people who we think are our enemies. Because of all that’s gone on over the last year, I believe people are more ready to hear the message of the Kingdom of God than ever before. But the problem is…us. Before we can change the world, we may have to change.

We’re a lot like Jesus’ disciples in this story, not being able to heal people like Jesus, but jealous of others who weren’t even following Him but were doing the “stuff,”  and preoccupied with arguing over who’s the greatest (see Luke 9:37-43; 46-50). This is Jesus’ A-team! They were the ones He was investing in to change the world. But, like us, they still had a lot to learn. To see that, let’s continue the story…

54 When the disciples Jacob and John realized what was happening, they returned to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you wanted to, you could command fire to fall down from heaven, just as Elijah did and destroy all these wicked people.”

55 Jesus rebuked them sharply, saying, Don’t you realize what spews from your hearts when you say that? The Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth.” (Luke 9:54-55 TPT*)

If we’re going to learn anything at all from this passage, we  must first ask ourselves honestly, “Who are my Samaritans?” Who do I want God to rain fire down on? For me, because of my experience growing up, I actually have more grace for radical neo-Marxist leftists than I do obnoxiously legalistic Christians! That’s an area where I needed to change my heart.

What’s interesting about the disciple’s response was that they were using Scripture to justify their violent response to the Samaritan’s rejection of Jesus. Beloved, whenever we use the phrase, “But the Bible says…” when justifying hatred and revenge, you can be sure you need to realize what spews from your hearts when you say that?” Or, as the NKJV puts it,You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” I hope you do understand that you could be biblically correct yet be on the wrong side of God.

Now, you and I may say we love those who hate us, persecute us, cancel us, lie about us, but do we? Here’s the passage we have a hard time believing:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt.5:43-46 NKJV*)

It makes me wonder, do I have a “tax-collector” kind of love, or Jesus’ kind of love?

You see, you and I will never learn to see people like God sees them until we learn to love our Samaritans. As I hope to show next time, seeing people the way Jesus sees them opens up something wonderful and amazing to behold.


Published on his site as licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.

September 29, 2018

The Reciprocation Requirement

This is another one of those “today we’re returning to visit the blog…” type of things, but with a twist. On three previous occasions we’ve taken you to the blog Rhetorical Jesus by Jack Wellman. Our policy is not to ‘borrow’ the graphics which go with the original pieces because often we can’t trace their origin and people get somewhat testy when you use their graphics.

However, the whole point of Rhetorical Jesus — and one which we only directly addressed in one of three previous instances of featuring their material here — is that there are some great looking memes which you can use to promote these devotionals on your social media page, and then link your friends and contacts to the devotional teaching. (Never just take in valuable Christian teaching to absorb for yourself; always be looking for creative ways to share and spread the message.)

So today we’re using the picture to help you get the idea of how this works. Click the title below to read at source. And remember to love people without a reciprocation requirement!

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

Matthew 5:44

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

When We Were God’s Enemies

Jesus tells us to not only love our enemies but actually pray for our persecutors. Easy to say but so very hard to do it, isn’t it? I know that we were once enemies of God (Rom. 5:10) and wicked sinners (Rom. 5:8), but God saved us through faith in Christ. Our enemies are not really our enemies but enemies of Christ. They may not actually hate us as much as they hate Him Who is in us (Matt. 10:22; John 15:18). If we love only those who love us, what makes us any different from those in the world since even sinners love their own family? To make us more like the sons and daughters of God, we are commanded to love our enemies so that we might be more like the children of God (Matt. 5:45).

Loving the Unlovable

Since God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, which is truly something we didn’t deserve, should we not also love and pray for those who are persecuting us and those who are our enemies? We are giving them what they don’t deserve, just as God gave us what we didn’t deserve–we call that grace. What we truly did deserve we didn’t actually get–that’s what I call mercy. How many of us were living in sexual immorality and were greedy, slanderers, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, and swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? I would imagine that most of us were some, if not most, of these things at one time, but by God’s good grace, that is all now behind us because we’ve been washed in the blood, sanctified by God’s Spirit, and justified by the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). We now have the righteousness of Christ through Jesus’ work on the cross, and the Father sees us as having Jesus’ own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). We should have the same compassion on those who are not yet saved as God had for us.

Being Different

Since we have now been justified by God in Christ and have been saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), we should be witnessing to the lost, loving those who are our enemies, and praying for them because God doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3;9), and neither should we. If we respond in like manner to the way we are treated, we’re no better than the unsaved tax collector in Jesus’ time (Matt. 5:46). If we only receive our own brothers and sisters, aren’t we the same as those in the world (Matt. 5:47)? The answer to that rhetorical question is no, we are no different than the unsaved. Christ calls us to better things than that and to strive for perfection (Matt. 5:48) and not live like the world.

A Closing Prayer

God, I truly need help in praying for my enemies because it is not natural for me to do so. Please empower me by Your Spirit to have the ability to love my enemies and pray for those who are my persecutors because I cannot do it in my own strength, and I pray for these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen

 

March 21, 2014

Loving Those Who Could — Or Will — Destroy You

We looked at Jonah just a few weeks ago, considering Nineveh’s sin and our sin. This time around we go deeper and look at the topic from the point of view of loving our enemies and those that even go beyond the category of enemies.  Nineveh was Jonah’s “Samaria” and their repentance was not his desire. This is from Kersley Fitzgerald and Blogos and appears on their “Exploring the Word” category (see the tabs in the right margin on their site when you click through). This article appeared under the title Nineveh

I’m going to assume you know the story of Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them if they didn’t shape up, God would smash them. Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to repent, so he ran in the other direction. Got swallowed by a fish or possibly a whale. Got spit up and went to Nineveh. If you’re not familiar, set this aside and read the book of Jonah — it’s short.

The Bible doesn’t give too many details about Nineveh itself. It was the capital city of Assyria. Going by the biblical timeline, it was probably one of the first cities settled after the Flood. Shortly after, it was headquarters of the worship of the goddess Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven.” You may also know her as one of her later variants: Ashera, Ashtoreth, Astarte, Isis, Venus, or Aphrodite. Her worship included temple prostitution so vile that she is one of the few gods the Bible specifically warns against worshiping (Deuteronomy 16:21; Judges 6:25-26).

She was also the goddess of war, which the Assyrians honored very much.

The first few verses of Nahum 3 describe the city:

Woe to the bloody city,
all full of lies and plunder —
no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end —
they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.

Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, recorded some of his exploits:

I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes,…and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled…Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire…Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace…The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. [1]

Inspiration for Vlad the Impaler maybe?

When the Assyrian army captured another city or nation, which was often, the entire population was either massacred or resettled elsewhere (see 2 Kings 29:24). Captured kings were beheaded, their heads displayed on staffs in the banquet hall and then left to rot on the city walls. One general was flayed alive; his brother was dismembered and pieces of his body sent about as souvenirs.

Still, Nineveh was glorious. The city wall was seven and a half miles long, surrounding 1730 acres. Gardens, zoos, aqueducts, and 120,000 men, women, and children. Also cattle (Jonah 4:11).

Nineveh was on the east bank of the Tigris River, by modern-day Mosul. It laid about 536 miles from Samaria, where Jeroboam reigned. That’s quite a distance when you have to walk. Through enemy territory.

Which Jonah did.

Jonah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the time of the Israelite king Jeroboam. We don’t know when in Jeroboam’s 41-year reign Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, but we do know that about 42 years after Jeroboam, Assyria demolished Israel.

So God asked Jonah to travel to Israel’s mortal enemy, the cruelest place on the planet, to offer a message of repentance and forgiveness.

Not only that, if they accepted the message, Jonah would have rescued the method of Israel’s future destruction.

Brings to mind the stories of people being held up at gunpoint who wind up taking their robber to dinner. Or the imprisoned evangelists who had the chance to escape but stayed to witness to their jailer (Acts 16:25-34).

Does this apply to us now? We’re no longer threatened with extinction by communists. Aliens have not just passed the orbit of Pluto on a collision course. So what horribly cruel culture is about to catastrophically damage the influence of modern Christians? What ignorant, lost people are steps away from destroying the Christian culture? Ready to cart us away. Separate us from the things we value — both holy and profane. Maybe even kill us. It could be that this is the culture God is calling us to reach — while we have the chance.

Before ears are closed completely. Because what the Bible doesn’t tell us is how many Assyrians became authentic God-followers during those 40 or so years. Less than 100 years after Assyria wiped out Israel, the Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah came to pass — Babylon obliterated the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh was so utterly ruined it wasn’t until the nineteenth century AD that Bible critics found enough archaeological evidence to admit it existed.

Revelation and Daniel tell us this will be the fate of the cultures that currently threaten Christianity. So take those prophecies. Then take Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Timothy 3:12 and you get the same message to us that God gave to Jonah:

Go tell your enemies about Me now because soon they are going take your freedom and your business and your children and your eyes and your head and your voice.

And then, when they are done, they are all going to die.

We are so familiar with the Scripture telling us to love our enemies, but we don’t take it to its logical conclusion. Don’t just tell people who have hurt us about Jesus — tell people who will destroy us.

Annoyingly convicting questions arise: Are we Jonah? Are we refusing to spread the message of repentance and forgiveness to the authors of our future destruction? Who is it we need to reach before we are silenced? Not all of us will be called to witness to our enemy, but if we are, do we value God enough to do it?


1. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

May 19, 2012

Following Jesus Into: The World, Love, Death

Today I spent some time studying the blog of Jeremy Myers.  Jeremy was a pastor in a conservative church until he had an epiphany that caused him to take a second look at the traditional church structure.  While not everyone will agree with all his conclusions, I think we can be challenged by his writing to think a little (or a lot) outside the box.  The following are teasers from three recent blog posts he wrote, you’ll need to click the TITLE of each to read the full article…  (If you’ve only got time for one, choose the middle one!)

Following Jesus into the World

In my book, Skeleton Church, I suggest that church is best defined as “The people of God who follow Jesus into the world.” Jesus wants to take the church out of our buildings and into the streets and parks of our towns to love and serve the people who are there.

What will this look like in your town and your community?

…Nobody really knows what church will look like ten, twenty, or a hundred years from now. Even the path to get wherever we are going is full of questions and uncertainty…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Love

There are several characteristics which define and identify those people and churches who are following Jesus into the world.

First, they will be known for their love.

Christians should be the most loving people on earth, not just by what we say, but by what we do. People should not have to be told that Christians are loving, but should tangibly see our love in what we do for others daily.

One of the best ways to reveal this is not just in loving one another, but also in loving those whom others hate.

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus tells His disciples that they must be characterized by love for their enemies. They must love them, bless them, and pray for them. In a world that wants the death and destruction of our enemies, those who love, bless, and serve their enemies are viewed as traitors…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Death

Followers of Jesus will be characterized by death and resurrection.

We all want to experience the resurrected life of Jesus, but before we can rise to new life in the future, we must die to ourselves and die to our past. The church that does not die chooses instead to live in a vegetative state on artificial life support.

We cling to the past, to the traditions and to the forms of church handed down to us from the eras of Constantine, the Reformation, and Industrialism. Churches that cling to these past forms are still living, but without any real life. This fight to keep from dying allows us to survive, but only as the living dead.

It is when we embrace death that we rise again to new life…

[click the title to continue reading]

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.