IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
Yesterday, Issy and I grabbed a mid-afternoon movie at the local Regal Ballston Cinema and then went two blocks to P. F. Chang’s.
Every couple months we like to go to the cinemas. And at the restaurant, the host sat us three tables away from Harold and his wife, G.W. I tried to not look over there, but more than once we caught one another’s eyes.
Seven or eight minutes into our main course, Harold and his wife came over to our table. The two ladies went to the restroom and Harold sat down.
We were silent. There was nothing to say.
“How do we get beyond this, Jude?” Harold eventually asked.
I hung my head in humility and asked, “Why are you so angry at me, Harold? You are personally angry at me, with a vitriol that is, scary.” I didn’t meet his eyes until he started to speak.
“I honestly don’t know, Jude,” he said soberly. I could tell he wanted to keep speaking and I just waited for him to gather his thoughts.
“Jude, my politics are so important to me, that your choice of a candidate is hugely repulsive to me. Frankly, your decision to follow this candidate makes me want to throw-up.”
I raised my head and my eyebrows.
He quickly added, “I’m sorry. I’ve finished eating and you haven’t. Forgive me. But saying those words just helped me realize something, Jude. I’m not angry at you. . .”
He smiled humbly and said, “Even though I yelled at you.”
I gently shook my head, slightly confused and then suggested, “Harold, our unity is in Christ. You and I are brothers in Christ. Our unity is not to be determined by our politics. Our unity is based on what we both have in Christ.”
“The evil one is doing his best in our nation, to deceive us into focusing on the part of our politics we ‘know’ is right, when the real issue, which he doesn’t want us to focus on, is unity in Christ.”
I looked at him for a moment and saw him calculating in his mind. And so, I said, “Harold, I’m watching your eyes and I can tell you what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself, ‘but I Am right.’ Isn’t that what’s going through your mind right now?”
He nodded and I went on. “The devil has a vested interest in us not being united. He knows we get little or nothing done, if we do not have unity. And my friend, our unity will always be in Christ, regardless of my stupidity, in your eyes, when I am at the ballot box.”
He chuckled, but he was thinking. He was digesting my words. “The girls are coming,” I said, “So let me just leave you with this to ponder. If Paul didn’t make a mistake, and if the first two verses of Romans chapter thirteen are true, then when God puts into office whom He wants, we have a responsibility to respond to that President differently than the world will, even if it’s not who we voted for. But brother, if we are not careful, we can act just like the world, and why? Because we can let our ‘rightness’ in our minds supersede our unity in Christ. And that’s just crazy, Harold.”
He agreed somewhat. Just then the girls walked toward us arm in arm, which I was glad to see. They were both wiping tears from their eyes when they got to us.
Harold and I stood, and he hesitantly reached his hand out to me, which I gladly shook. He smiled but didn’t say anything and we gave a brief man-hug to one another. Then they walked away.
Before Issy could speak, I said, “We’re not back yet, but we have made a good step forward.”
The next day, Issy and I were lying in bed, getting ready to study our passage for the week.
She chuckled and said, “You know what I was thinking when I saw Harold and G.W. last night?”
I looked expectantly for her to continue and she said, “Our study on the hostile religionists.”
“Exactly,” I said.
And then she read, “Now at the Feast the Jews were watching. . .”[i]
November, A.D. 29, Hostility and Compassion
I am so tired of all this traveling. Why can’t we just go and rest for an entire week? Not only am I tired but we are running into hostility everywhere we go.
I’m over it! And, I don’t understand it. He knew there was going to be trouble at the festival. It was so obvious that He waited until the Feast of Tabernacles was half over before attending.[ii]
And then what did He do when He got there? He went straight to the temple steps and started teaching![iii]
I was surprised when the temple guards came to us, presumably to arrest Jesus.[iv] But instead of arresting Him, they stood there with their mouths open, listening to His great wisdom.
People were asking question after question, trying to trip Him up, and the poor guards didn’t know what to do. But they did say something interesting. They said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”[v] I’ll bet that if they said that to the Pharisees, they would have been chewed out.
I actually felt sorry for them.
But there was another event of which I am in awe. The Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery,[vi] which made me wonder why they didn’t bring the man too.
Anyway, the compassion Jesus showed her touched me in a way I did not remember since the beginning of our nearly three-year trek. And His ability to silence these men who were out to trap Him;[vii] I don’t mind saying, that impressed me.
When He bent down and started writing in the sand, we all backed away, but I wanted to see what He was writing. The arrogant Pharisees came up to Him, looked at His writing, and then, surprisingly, they left, one by one, starting with the older men and working their way down to the youngest.[viii]
Even more fascinating, was the comfort He showed her. Amazing!
April 15th, Sunday Morning, Arlington VA
Before yesterday, I hadn’t applied this passage to Harold, but Issy was right. The application was glaringly right-on.
The personal rage Harold has had for me is like the rage the Pharisees had for Jesus. And it was all centered in the Pharisees’ identity within their sect, rather than in the God of the Bible.
I was busy in thought when I heard Issy say, “What a great reality, a promise, if you will, that He is always going to be compassionate even in the midst of the most terrible of my sins.”
“Great insight, babe,” I said, and added, “I also noticed that His judgment on those who are guilty of judging is not necessarily flashy or crude, is it?”
“And before a long day, what did He do?” Issy asked.
“He prayed,” I said.
“Yes, the first verse of John chapter eight.”
She was on a roll and she continued, “And then in verse two He gets to the temple and starts to teach those around Him. I can’t imagine what a comfort that must have been to the crowds.”
I sat back to think and Issy stopped to allow me to process. I was thinking about all the Bible studies and prayer meetings on the Hill, which elected officials and staffers attend, weekly and even daily, both sides of the aisle, together, undivided.
I said, “If the public only knew that here in D.C. there are a number of Bible studies and prayer meetings happening and who are attending them, they’d be so encouraged.”
“And surprised,” she quipped.
“That’s why what Dale shares in churches is so important, babe,” I said.
“Let me end with verse three,” Issy said. “Look at the incredible schemes the Pharisees went through, just to trap Jesus. How did they come up with this woman? What about the missing man? Look at their willingness to publicly humiliate one person, to get to another. Sounds like our modern-day politics.”
We were getting out of bed when I said, before she could, “Sounds like your boss.”
While I was proud of my quick wit, she just turned away and said, “Too bad, for you, mister; we HAD plenty of time this morning. . . .”
“Idiot,” I said to myself.
Church was a blessing to me again. It always is, but today my pastor was brilliant. I pulled him aside afterwards and I said, “I’m not your dad, but if I were, I’d be very proud of you today. Great message.”
He thanked me and then said, “A little birdie told me you and Issy were at P. F. Chang’s last night with Harold and his G.W.?”
He said it as a question and I responded, “I wouldn’t say, ‘with them,’ but we did talk for a few minutes.”
“So?” he asked.
I simply said, “We’re making progress.”
But there was something else on his mind.
“When we talked the other day, why did you lump yourself and me into the mix with Harold’s anger?”
“Pastor, he’s just angry, just like you and I get at times.”
He remained quiet. His eyes boring into me which made me understand he expected more.
“Pastor,” I finally said, “I think our problem is as simple as what I see on the Hill.”
“So many men and women on the Hill get their identity from their politics.”
I paused to allow him to digest my words and then continued. “We do the same thing in the church; instead of our identity being in Christ, our identity is in other things.”
“But that doesn’t explain our anger, Jude.”
“No, you’re right, but this does. As I told Issy the other day, ‘When disgust meets your Christian conscience, the result is either humility or anger.’ Harold’s disgust came out as anger.”
“Look,” I said, “Politics is important, but if it keeps us from unity in the body, something is wrong. Personally, Pastor, to me it is a trust issue, or maybe a ‘lack of trust’ issue.”
“Yeah, we had that discussion the other day, Jude. You are saying it’s a trust in God issue, aren’t you?”
“Bingo,” I said.
“I got it,” he said.
“Let me add, Pastor, that how we respond to those we disagree with demonstrates whether or not we trust God.”
He just raised one eyebrow, questioningly.
“Look at our passion for politics in the church. I think a lot of it comes from a feeling of hopelessness if we don’t get the “right” person in office . . . This kind of thinking is crazy.”
“Actually,” he said, rubbing his slight stubble, “this kind of thinking is actually putting our trust in princes.”[ix]
“You’re right,” I said.
“Harold’s identity has been in his politics,” said my pastor, “And it has been so strong that he didn’t realize he was not trusting Jesus.”
“Hmm, so trust in the Lord is the real issue. Is that what you’re saying, Jude?”
Before I could answer, he stopped and looked startled. “Yikes, what you are also saying is that my anger on a particular subject, any subject, is communicating my lack of trust in God, relative to that subject!”
“And if I have righteous anger, Jude?”
“Pastor, if your anger or passion leads you to disunity with a brother in Christ, because they hold a different view from you, then you are wrong, even if you’re right.”
“Ouch,” he said.
We man-hugged and parted company with him rubbing his stubbled chin. These young guys who preach without a shaven face, I don’t understand that.
I walked up to Issy chuckling and when we walked outside towards home, I told her about my conversation with our pastor.
“But why were you laughing?” she asked.
“Because I realized as I walked away from him I was judging him, simply because of his stubble on his chin!”
She rammed an elbow into my side. “Just like Harold was doing to you?”
“Yes, but worse than that. I did to our pastor what the Pharisees did to Jesus in our reading this morning.”
[i] John 7:11a
[ii] John 7:14a
[iii] John 7:14b
[iv] John 7:32b
[v] John 7:46
[vi] John 8:3
[vii] John 8:6a
[viii] John 8:9
[ix] Psalm 146:3a