March 10, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
How do you handle haters? -the people who are critical of you and put nasty stuff about you on social media. They may say bad things about you to your face; or worse, they say things bad about you to behind your back. Don’t act like you don’t have critics out there because all of us have critics. Sometimes you and I mess up, and people have a right to say some bad stuff about us. Sometimes we didn’t do anything wrong and people just hate because they have this hate-filled heart. So, how do you handle that? We’ve figured out how to do this down here in the South. You’ve probably had somebody do this to you. A sweet Southern lady might say to you, “Oh, bless your heart!” What she really means is, “I hope you die in a fiery car crash. I hate you.” Do you know what I’m talking about? Or the guy at work who says, “I’ll pray for you.” Really what that statement means is, “I hope that you get stage four pancreatic cancer and die because I want your job.” That’s how we do it down here in the South. Sometimes you didn’t do anything wrong. People just get angry. They hate on you.
For those of you who just got upset with me because I used cancer in that little story a second ago, I wasn’t joking when I made that analogy. In fact, I’m being deadly serious. I’m being more serious than cancer, deadly serious. -because let me tell you what Jesus says about this in Matthew chapter five. He says when you have hate in your heart or anger in your heart towards somebody else, you’re already guilty of judgment. In Matthew 5:23, Jesus says it this way: “If you call somebody a fool, you deserve hell.” Jesus knew back in his day, just like in our day today, there are all kinds of people who are just hate-filled people. They’re going to spew anger no matter what you do. So, I just want to ask you, how do you handle that? How do you deal with it when people are just flat out ugly to you and you didn’t do anything wrong?
We’re going to look at this idea today from the Bible in Acts chapter five. I have a thought that I want you to keep in mind. In fact, I’d like for you to write this thought down, and I’d like for you to keep it in front of you this week. Maybe you need to memorize this and keep it in front of you forever because all of us have critics from time to time, and sometimes the haters’ voice gets really loud. So, remember this when people start to run you down on Facebook or on Instagram:
They don’t build monuments to haters.
This thought today comes from a musician by the name of Leonard Bernstein, who was a brilliant musician, a great conductor, a great composer. Bernstein performed music all over the world, and he was incredible. Bernstein also had a lot of people who criticized his music. Leonard Bernstein made this quote. He said, “I’ve been all over the world, and I have never seen a statue of a critic.” You see, what Bernstein understood is that if you listen to those voices, those voices will hold you down. Those voices will hold you back. So how do you prevent yourself from listening to those voices?
It’s a powerful idea that they don’t build monuments to haters, but it’s not exactly true because how many of you have seen the monument to the boll weevil? In 1915 an illegal immigrant came across the border of Mexico called the Mexican boll weevil. It started to infect fields all across the South, and it was especially good at destroying cotton. By 1918, it had annihilated entire crops. People lost everything. Farmers were completely bankrupt because this boll weevil destroyed entire family fortunes. By 1918, the brilliant people of Enterprise, Alabama learned how to handle the boll weevil. They learned how to rise above the destruction and the damage that the boll weevil was doing. And, by 1919 they had erected a monument.
The next time you drive down Panama City Beach, when you go through Enterprise Alabama, take three minutes out of your schedule and go to downtown Enterprise. You’ll see this monument erected to this “herald of prosperity”, because what the boll weevil did in the nineteen teens forced farmers all across southern Alabama and Georgia to find a new crop, one that will survive in our environment but is impervious to the boll weevil. That crop was peanuts. Farmers decided to plant peanuts instead of cotton by 1919. Farmers started to bring in profits like they had never seen before because they converted cotton farms into peanut farms. That’s why this is the world’s first monument to an agricultural pest. This hateful bug that destroyed thousands of people’s livelihoods also forced people to look for a different way, and their lives were changed because of this herald of prosperity. The profound appreciation that the people of Enterprise, Alabama had for making us look to a crop other than cotton and deciding to plant peanuts. That’s why peanuts are king across southern Georgia and Alabama.
How do you handle it when people are ugly or hateful to you, and you didn’t do anything wrong? We’re going to pick the story up in Acts chapter five, and I want you to see how the early church handled it when people were ugly and, in some cases, very hostile and persecuted the original followers of Jesus who did absolutely nothing wrong. There are a couple of steps that we need to see, if we’re going to figure out how to rise above the voices. By the way, all of us in this room are going to hear those critics, those hate filled voices from time to time.
I. Expect haters
In my opinion, the greatest politician to ever live on planet Earth was Winston Churchill. Churchill in 1939-1940 was one of the most well-known, well-respected politicians on the planet. He was also at the time before the war started to turn one of the most criticized politicians on planet Earth. Here’s what Winston Churchill said about criticism. He said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” What Churchill is saying is it’s going to happen to all of us. It hurts when it happens, but it hurts a lot worse when you and I didn’t expect it to happen.
Then the high priest rose up. He and all who were with him, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.
If you haven’t been here for the last few weeks, you may not understand the back story. At this point, the message of Jesus is spreading all over Jerusalem. This is probably a localized event that we’re reading today in Acts chapter five, meaning this persecution, this hate-filled criticism of the apostles is probably only happening in Jerusalem. The only reason you need to know that is in a couple of chapters, this thing starts to spread all over. The apostles, the original followers of Jesus, started to go out into the towns and villages and teach about Jesus. The high priest and the Sadducees decide that they’re going to stop this message from spreading. The Bible says they were filled with jealousy.
Now, you need to understand this phrase, because this phrase said that it started inside them, and because it started inside them, they couldn’t get control of it. Pretty soon this jealousy was controlling them which is the same thing that happens with hate in the human heart. It starts off subtle, and if you don’t get control of it, if somebody else doesn’t get control of it, pretty soon it controls them. The thing that they were hateful about was they were really jealous. Basically, more people were listening to these ignorant fishermen than were listening to these religious leaders, and they couldn’t stand it. The jealousy was so severe that they decided to get very aggressive with it. In verse eighteen, they arrested these guys and threw them in a public jail.
Let me ask you, at this point in Acts chapter five, what have the apostles done wrong? Nothing. They just got arrested, and they didn’t do anything wrong. -which is what happens to you sometimes when people hate on you on the Internet, when they’re hateful to you on social media and you didn’t do anything wrong. These Sadducees and religious leaders wanted to make an example of the apostles, so they threw them into the public jail. I want you to think about it like the Russian gulag. This isn’t where we send criminals. No, this is where we send people that we want to make an example of to get them to shut up, or at least to cause everybody else to say, “I don’t want that to happen to me.” Then maybe everybody else will stop talking about this guy, Jesus.
I don’t think Jesus’s followers were surprised by this because Jesus warned them this was going to happen. In John chapter seven Jesus says this: “The world is going to hate you because they first hated me.” In other words, what Jesus is saying is, “Don’t be surprised by this. Don’t even be caught off-guard by it. Since they already hate me, they’re going to hate you too. It would be wrong if you didn’t expect this to happen to you. It’s not fair. I get it. But it’s going to happen.” -is what Jesus is saying here.
I want you to think of this statement: You can’t please everybody. It doesn’t matter what you do right or what you do wrong; you’re just not going to be able to please some people. Did you know that Jesus didn’t try to please everybody? He just did his father’s business and didn’t worry about the consequences. He didn’t worry about the criticism. He didn’t deal with it at all. He didn’t let it hold him back. He didn’t let them get him down. That’s exactly the kind of lesson that you and I should learn from Jesus. Expect it. It’s going to happen. It’s wrong. It’s unfortunate, but it’s still going to happen anyway. It would even be worse if you and I didn’t see it coming. When they do start to criticize you, what do you do next? Well, the next thing is to listen to the only voice that matters.
II. Let Jesus be your defense
Let Jesus’s voice be the only voice that you’re tuned into. I have this personal test, by the way, when I deal with criticism, and some of you in this room have been very critical from time to time. I go through the ten thousand-year test. Ten thousand years from now, will it matter what this person is saying about me right now? The answer to that question is almost always, no. Ten thousand years from now, nobody will know, and nobody will care what they’re saying about me right now. I want to encourage you to think about the ten thousand-year test next time somebody is attacking you personally or saying ugly things about you. The ten thousand-year test basically says that there’s only one voice that really matters. His is the only voice that I’m going to listen to, and let everybody else say whatever they want to say. I don’t care. In Acts chapter five, the apostles are listening to Jesus, and Jesus decides to send his angel to do this daring rescue mission.
But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple, and tell the people all about this life.
Now pay close attention to what you just heard there because apparently, angels are able to just walk right through locked prison doors. In other words, what I’m saying is, don’t think that the guards fell asleep and this whole thing was an escape attempt by the apostles, because that’s not what the Bible is saying. It is describing a supernatural rescue. I guess angels are able to just pass through locked prison doors, according to verse nineteen. When they decide to rescue Jesus’s people, when that happens, then they unlock prison doors for them and lead those people out of the prison. Think about it like you’re in the middle of the night in a dark prison cell. You’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t deserve this.” Then God sends his angel who shows up and says, “Hey, I got a mission for you. Come and follow me.” The angel leads you right out of the prison. What I’m saying is, verse nineteen is pretty awesome.
How many of you would agree verse twenty is pretty awful? The angel says, “Here is what I want you to do now that I just rescued you from prison. I want you to go right back to the very place where you were arrested and go right back to doing the very thing that got you arrested in the first place. You go back and make your stand. Go take a stand in the Temple and tell all of the people about this life.” This is probably a reference to Jesus from a statement in John chapter fourteen. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” You go tell everybody that it is only through faith in Jesus that their sins can be forgiven and that they can be made right with God.
Now, I want you to just picture yourself for a second as one of those disciples because you’re saying to yourself is, “He just said what? The angel just told us to go and do what? I don’t know about you. You’re obviously not from around here, but maybe you don’t understand; the very thing that we got arrested for is telling about this life. The very place that we just got arrested is in the Temple. You want me to go where and do what?!” And the angel is saying, “Go back and take your stand. Don’t back down, because there’s only one voice that matters, and it’s not the high priest. The only voice that matters is Jesus’s voice.”
God sent his angel to go do this secret rescue mission. I can’t help but think some of those apostles were sitting in that prison cell saying, “This isn’t fair. God, do you know what we’re going through? God, do you care that we just got arrested, and we didn’t even do anything wrong?” I’m telling you that because it’s often natural for us to start to think, “God, what I’m going through is unfair. Do you know what I’m going through? God, do you really care what’s happening to me right now?” Sometimes God delivers us from the pain and from the persecution, but sometimes he delivers us through the pain. He delivers us through the persecution. He knows exactly what we’re going through, and he delivers us from it sometimes, but oftentimes the rest of the book of Acts shows that he lets us go through it anyway and walks right through the middle of it with us saying, “I know it’s bad right now, and I could make it better. But I’m not going to because I’ve got a plan to use you in the midst of this pain and in the midst of the persecution.” Sometimes God delivers you from it, and sometimes God delivers you through it. He does know what you’re going through. He cares about what’s happening to you.
Don’t give people an open door to hate on you. Don’t listen to the voices on social media. In fact, if you read my blog post on the church website this week, just delete the apps altogether and get off of them, because it’s just not worth it.
III. Don’t give in to fear
If you’re going to figure out how to rise above the hatred, the criticism, and the ugly comments, you’re going to have to figure out how to live without fear, or at least how to handle the fear when it does come. It’s not that this isn’t scary. It’s not that it doesn’t hurt. That’s not what I’m trying to say today. I’m trying to say that when it hurts, figure out a way to rise above it. I want you to see what these disciples did because what the angel basically said is, “I want you to go talk to your worst critics, the very people who are hunting for you. I want you to go preach to them.” I think we all have to put ourselves in verse twenty in the shoes of these apostles for just a second and say, “Would I go back?” -because immediately these apostles get up and go right back to what they were doing that got them arrested in the first place.
Hearing this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Do this math in your mind for just a second. Yesterday, we’re in the Temple talking to people about Jesus. Yesterday afternoon, the high priest comes up and arrests us. Yesterday evening, we get thrown in jail. Last night, we spent all night long in solitary confinement. Before the sun comes up tomorrow morning, I’m right back in the same place doing the exact same thing that got me arrested yesterday. These apostles were unstoppable. No one and nothing could hold them back.
I don’t want you to feel like those guys were not scared at all. No, they probably pretty terrified, but they went and did it on anyway. I’ve told thousands of soldiers in my lifetime that fear is a beast. You have to get control of this thing, this fear. I’m not just talking the fear of death in a fire fight. You have to get control of fear, or fear will get control of you. There is no middle ground. Either you master your fears, or your fears will master you. Somehow these apostles got control of their fear and went right back doing the exact same thing that got them arrested yesterday, They went right back to telling people that Jesus is the only way to heaven, despite the threats that were being made against them. These guys had incredible courage to get right back up and to go right back into the arena after what happened to them the day before.
Many of you already know that I am a connoisseur of quotes, meaning I have spent my life collecting quotes. Some of them are incredibly meaningful for me. My favorite quote of all time comes from a speech by Teddy Roosevelt. He delivered it at the University of Paris on April 23, 1910. After he left office, Roosevelt delivered a long speech called Citizenship in a Republic at the Sorbonne in Paris. Roosevelt described what it looks like for a country to have a strong government. Here’s the content of the speech: Basically, Roosevelt said that it’s not powerful people in your country that make your nation great. It’s not really wealthy people. It’s not brilliant people that make a country great. Roosevelt made the startling statement in Citizenship in a Republic. “What makes a nation great is good people whose hearts are right with one another.” Then Roosevelt said, “It’s not just good people; It’s people who have the kind of courage that they can handle whatever life throws at them.”
In the middle of this speech, Citizenship in a Republic, Roosevelt described this analogy. This part of the speech has been referred to as the “Man in the Arena” quote. This is my favorite quote of all time, Teddy Roosevelt said this: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”
Roosevelt said that if you listen to your critics, it will destroy you. Stop listening to them, because they’re not in the arena and they’re not doing what you’re doing. When you’re in the arena following Jesus, doing what he’s calling you to do, there’s only one voice that matters, and it’s his voice. Everybody else’s voices don’t really matter after that. So, the question is, how do you handle your haters? One of the things to keep in mind when you drive back through Enterprise, Alabama is that they don’t build monuments to haters. They don’t construct statues for critics. In fact, what your critics say about you is not nearly as important as what Jesus thinks about you. The challenge today is to listen to his voice and let his voice drown out all of the other voices around you.
- What is the worst criticism that you’ve ever experienced?
- How can expecting negative criticism soften the blow when it happens?
- Read James 4:1-3. Why do some people criticize everyone and everything?
- How do you discipline your speech so you don’t fall into the habit of negative criticism?
- What is the relationship between a critical spirit and our relationship with God? Be specific.
- How can you encourage someone who is being attacked by critics this week?
- Pray for those in our church who are being attacked by a critical spirit.