IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
Washington D.C., A Prayer Meeting
In my prayer ministry, God has opened up some pretty unique doors. One is the opportunity I have each month, to go to Washington D.C. and pray with our elected officials, and often their staff.
With this, God has somehow fixed my brain so that when I arrive in D.C., I arrive without an agenda. I’m not interested in fixing the way anyone thinks. I simply want to ‘bear the burdens’ of people from both sides of the aisle. It’s truly amazing.
Through this attitude of mine, which, believe me, is from the Lord, I have learned something I never would have discovered if I arrived each month with my own agenda. I have learned that these men and women are regular people, and they need to be prayed for as such.
Too often our political passions make our prayer focus on one ‘big political thing’ after another. I’m not here to dissuade you from praying this way. On the contrary, if that is what God has called you to do, then by all means do it.
But that’s not my calling. In fact, let me tell you what I hear when I ask for these men and women’s prayer requests, in D.C.:
“Mark, I miss my family.”
“Mark, why would God put me in a job I hate so much?”
“Mark, I’m so concerned for my children and my grandchildren.”
“Mark, my mother is in hospice, and my wife has to take care of it all by herself.”
“Mark, last Sunday at my church, an old friend of mine came to me and started yelling at me, simply because of a bill I supported.”
I could go on. But let me tell you what else I hear from them, as I bear their burdens:
“Mark, thank you for praying for me.”
“Mark, I’m so grateful God brought you into my life.”
“Mark, you hit the nail on the head with that prayer.”
Sometimes, they don’t say anything. Sometimes there are just tears.
Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “A person who is intimate with God, will never be intimidated by man.”
I tell congregations all the time, “You want your Senator or County Commissioner, or Mayor to stand up strong? Then start praying for the ‘little’ things in their life. In fact, email them, or text them once in a while and ask them how you can pray for them. And when you pray for them, watch how you will encourage these folks through the simple act of bearing their burdens in prayer.”
When I am in Washington D.C., I usually stay two days. I try to attend a Bible Study or prayer meeting the evening I am staying over.
Recently, after a time of sharing, I was asked to speak. So, before we prayed, I spoke on what our political passion often looks like in the church.
One of the staffers, Amelda, whose office I walk into each month, had just shared with the group that when she goes back to her home church, she catches all kinds of grief from her friends, because of the party affiliation of her boss.
I know Amelda well. The first time I was in her office she told me, “Mark, I believe God has me here to be a light in the darkness.”
I began to share, “One of the things I love about D.C. but the church doesn’t see, is how many of you worship together and pray together, even though you work for diametrically opposed Congressmen and Senators.”
A few embarrassed laughs came from different parts of the room.
I looked every one of them in the eye and then said, “I’m very proud of you, because of what I see in you. Unfortunately, I do not see this ‘Unity in Christ,’ in the church.
I suspect all of you experience what Amelda referred to. Am I right?”
Sobering “Yeses” and “Amens” were called out.
“I’ve been watching politics for forty years, but only recently have I seen its impact in the church. Has it always been there? I don’t know, but most of you aren’t old enough to have watched forty years of this, so let me share with you what I see. It’ll dovetail with Amelda’s concerns.”
The vast majority of the staffers in these offices are young people, twenty-somethings, if I had to guess. I’ve decided that a huge part of the reason for this is the incredible stamina and energy needed on a daily basis.
Additionally, something else I have seen in these young staffers is their incredible efficiency. I suspect these young people make great hires when they leave D.C.
In one way it excites me to be around these energetic “kids,” if you will. But in another sense, I wish our elected officials had more “grey-haired” counselors.
Anyway, I went on. “Over the last forty years, I have watched the evolution of our passion for politics influence our tolerance of opposing political views. It has gone from mild disagreement with one another to outright hostility. Allow me the freedom to say, this hostility has its roots in a ‘Nuevo Tribalism.’”
A number of people nodded. They knew the word and so I asked, “Have you ever considered ‘Tribalism’ and what it looks like in our politics of today?”
I watched for a moment, as men and women waited expectantly, and then told of my friend who helped me see this issue more clearly than I could have ever seen it on my own.
“Let me tell you about a good friend of mine,” I said, “from an African country, which need not be named. One day he frankly shared with me, ‘Mark, if the leader of our nation is from a tribe other than mine, my responsibility, as a good member of my tribe, is to hate that leader,’ which made me lurch backwards when he told me.
He didn’t say this with pride or arrogance, but simply with the reality of his life. For days after he said this, his words lingered in my ears. Even on my way home, flying over the Atlantic Ocean, it bothered me.”
I continued. “This friend of mine and I talk regularly, and I couldn’t get his statement out of my mind. So, one day I tried an experiment with him. I asked him to pick two leaders, one from his tribe and one from another tribe who are both highly placed politicians.”
“’That’s a no-brainer,’ he said, and he had the two leaders in mind.”
“Make sure they both claim to be saved.”
“’They do, and, I believe they are,’ he answered.”
And then I had him pray for the guy from his tribe with whom he agrees.
Some of the folks in the prayer meeting knew where I was going and started to nod.
“Then I asked him to pray for the leader who comes from the other tribe, ‘But, I want you to pray the same way for him, that you prayed for the first one.’ And that’s when there was dead silence!”
“He couldn’t do it.” I told those assembled for the prayer meeting.
“And this is where we are, in our nation, and in the church today.” I said.
“This is what Amelda was talking about.”
“Note,” I said, “I’m not talking about, ‘In the world.’ I expect the world to treat each other the way they do. They are not equipped with the Holy Spirit, like Christians are. The church, however, is equipped to handle our disagreements differently than the world, right?”
Strong “Amens,” all around.
I told them, “Those of you here in D.C. live out Christian unity, and these prayer meetings reflect it.”
I find a lot of my ministry is encouraging the saints, and believe me, these folks in D.C. are easy to encourage. They are like the Border Patrol Agents I recently spoke to in Laredo, Texas. I describe that experience as men and women who were “Dialed-in” to being encouraged. That’s what these folks in D.C. are like. They want to be encouraged.
I went on, “But in the church we are not living out this Christian unity. Instead, we are judging others according to their voting habits. You are not, here in D.C., but we are, in the church, and it is loathsome to me. We in the church are acting just like the world and we do not see it.”
I went back to my example, “Why couldn’t my friend pray the same for both leaders? My friend is a Godly young man, as well as a solid Godly teacher and leader.”
I paused to give them an opportunity to digest my words.
Then I continued, “The reason he couldn’t is very simple, and it has to do with his identity. He has a greater identity, and therefore unity with his tribe, than he does with the Lord and therefore those associated with Christ. You see, his unity in Christ, is superseded by tribal unity.”
Amelda sheepishly raised her hand, “Pastor Mirza,” she said, “Isn’t that a little harsh?”
I responded. “He never saw it until I asked him to pray for both party’s politicians and in seeing it, he still couldn’t pray for the other guy the same way. I do this experiment in churches now, and I see the same inability to pray.”
I went on, “Let me simply remind you what Ephesians 6:12 says. Do you remember?” I asked her, as gently as I could.
“Pastor Mirza. . .”
“Mark,” I corrected.
She hesitated, but said, “Umm, Mark, doesn’t it say our struggle is not against flesh and blood?”
“Exactly,” I replied, smiling large at Amelda.
“So, stay with me,” I said to everyone. “When you see people in our churches, angry with those who hold differing political views, why are they so angry?”
“Because their identity is in their political party, rather than in Christ,” a fifty-something, sharp dressed man called out from the back.
“Precisely,” I paused to get his name.
“Jack,” he said.
“Precisely, Jack. And that’s why I’m so proud of what you are all doing here. You are living like the Body of Christ, regardless of party affiliation. The truth is, you are demonstrating the unity you have in Christ. You are not angry with one another, even though you hope their candidate loses at the next election.”
Everyone laughed and we went to prayer.
When we were done praying Amelda asked me for any other insights. She said, “This division in my church is under the surface but it is obviously there, and it is really burdening me.”
I told her, “Amelda, I understand; I call it the Judas Iscariot syndrome.”
She looked at me uncomprehendingly and I explained, “In the church we claim to have our trust in the Lord, but listen to the way people talk about their elected officials, both the ones they agree with, and the ones they disagree with. So often, Amelda, I believe they are really communicating that they do not trust God.”
Again, she flinched, questioningly. I went on, “On my YouTube channel[i] I have a video entitled, ‘Calling God a Liar when We Pray’ where I challenge our attitude and lack of hope when we’re talking to God. Watch and listen to the way people pray about and talk about our political leaders, Amelda. Their attitude will tell you if they have put their hope in ‘princes’ or in God.”
“Okay,” she questioned, “But what does Judas have to do with that?”
I smiled, “Good question, Amelda. Judas wanted a political Messiah, didn’t he?”
She nodded her head.
“He was so blinded, that rather than trusting in the God who spoke the Word at which the universe leapt into existence, rather than entrusting his life to the God who came to earth because of His great love for us, out of his arrogance, Judas held onto his desires and his goals, and his end was death.”
I paused so she could take in my words and then ended with, “Amelda, Jesus made very clear what our friends are living out when they do not want to trust God. They are not submitting themselves to what His word clearly says about why all leaders are in power.[ii] The bottom line is God puts people in power, or Paul made a mistake in the first two verses of Romans chapter thirteen.
When they refuse to submit to God, they begin to disagree with what God seems to be doing. I believe they are selfishly holding onto their ideology and that’s the Judas-way.”
“But Mark,” she sounded like she was pleading. I felt bad for what I saw in her eyes. And she finished her thought, “They are so convinced they are right to be angry at this leader or another leader, and therefore, with everyone who agrees with the leader they despise.”
“I know, and do you know what that shows you so clearly, Amelda?”
She shook her head. I gently touched her shoulder and said, “It shows you the incredible ability of sataN to deceive.”
A tear trickled from her eye and she asked, “How do I help them?”
“You don’t. Only God can fix them, and only if they want to be fixed. Remember, God has their address. You lift them up in prayer, entrust them to God, leaving them in His hands.”
And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, “The evil one has a vested interest in us being divided in the church.”
I looked at her sadly and she continued, “If we could just get together as a body, oh, what we could accomplish!”
“Good word, Amelda. I agree with you, but beware; there will be people who will use that very argument to justify their belief that everyone else should follow their political passion.”
With a big smile, she understood what I was saying. “That’s because they do not want to trust the Lord, especially when they don’t like what He is doing.”
I chuckled and said, “You were listening.”
“Of course, I was. I was taught to listen to my elders.”
We both laughed.
When I was getting ready to go, Cary McAdams, a friend of mine, who is a Congressional Chief of Staff, on the Hill, pulled me aside to tell me about a story he heard, which might be of interest to me. He knows I like to write historical Christian Fiction. He didn’t have lots of details, but he got my mind twirling with ideas for a new book.
Thanks to Cary, I have now spent the last year investigating the facts he shared with me that night. And he was right. It’s a very compelling story. I hope you enjoy it, even if challenged by it.
After the prayer meeting, Cary and I walked down First Street, past the Cannon House Office Building and the Capitol South Metro Station, to the Tortilla Coast, a Mexican restaurant I thoroughly love (except for the Fajita smell it leaves in my clothes).
While waiting for our meal, Cary laid out a story which I knew would be my next book.
He said I would like the story since irrational political anger and unreasonable judgment and rage, both inside and outside the church, were the hallmarks of what happened. “It’s the point you were trying to make tonight, Mark.”
He continued, “Mark, the names of the principals are Jude and Issy. They’ve been in D.C. forever and believe me, all of us who know them, love them. They are Religion Consultants.”
“Great,” I said, a little too quickly, “I’m up for a new challenge. Where are they and how do I reach them?”
“Well,” Cary hedged, “Mark, if you will trust me, let me tell you about Jack. He is a high ranking agent at the FBI and he can tell you of the espionage and counterintelligence stuff that occurred, if he wants to, and if he is able to.”
“Espionage and counterintelligence? Hmm, okay. I’ll look into this.” I said.
He sat back and went on. “Jack attends our prayer meetings, sitting in the back and is usually very quiet. I was surprised he even spoke up tonight.”
“He usually attends with his protégé, Billy ‘Something,’” said Cary. “But I didn’t see him tonight. Anyway, Jack is who you want to talk to.”
“Jack? Yeah, I think he answered a question of mine tonight. Sharp dresser, fifty-something?”
“Exactly, that’s him.”
I leaned back thinking about what he had shared with me thus far, when I was bumped by some young staffer whipping around the corner in this lively little restaurant.
Sitting up straighter and deep in thought, I asked, “What else do you know about this event, Cary?”
“Only that Homeland Security was involved, as well as some guy in the Warner Robins Counterintelligence department, cyber security people here in D.C. and some prayer-guy from Macon, Georgia.”
This was getting more and more mysterious, and more and more exciting, the longer I listened.
As an afterthought he said, “And there was an Atlanta pastor involved, I think.”
By the time we had finished eating and fellowshipping I had all the contact information Cary could give me, including the Religion Consultants, the FBI agent, Jack, and the Macon prayer-guy, Dr. Dale Riley,[iii] whom I already knew.
I try to sleep on a book idea before I get engrossed in working out the details. I want to make sure my interest isn’t a passing whim. But flying home to Atlanta the next day, my interest was still peaked, and I started to think about Judas Iscariot. I thought about how his passion for the political ideology he preferred pushed him to turn his back on God Incarnate.
“And we all know how his life ended,” I said to no one in particular.
Over the next few weeks, I met with Cary’s contacts, expanded those into other leads, including others in Macon and D.C. who became sources for what would become this novel.
Within a few months, I got to meet a lovely young couple (at least I think they’re a couple), in another Prayer meeting. They seemed to know more about my story than I could have imagined. I enjoyed taking these two, Billy and Sammie, out for dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, the Tortilla Coast. (This time I put my clothes in the hotel’s plastic dirty-clothes bag, so the rest of my things didn’t smell like fajitas.)
“Good job,” I told myself and decided my wife would appreciate the gesture.
All through the investigative process, I kept playing with the idea of weaving the historical account of the traitor, Judas Iscariot, with the information I uncovered of the husband and wife, Religion Consultants team.
“Yes,” I decided. “It could work.”
I was sold on the idea and started writing because there was a unique twist to this story. You see, the husband and wife, Jude and Issy, are both Religion Consultants, but they work for opposing Presidential candidates!
I wouldn’t want to be in their home on election night!
[ii] Romans 13:1-2
[iii] Dr. Dale Riley is a fictional person. His story can be found at www.ThePray-ers.com, in The Pray-ers series of novels