Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I Hated. God Intervened.

Dear Friends,

Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” There are times where I can see how nice and easy it would be if I were a Christian who could edit out or ignore as irrelevant any scripture that conflicts with our personal worldview. Problem is that I’m an Evangelical Christian who believes that I need to take the Word of God and particularly the words of Jesus as “gospel.” It’s not easy. Some of the most challenging times in my life have been when I’ve had to force open my hardened heart just a crack in order to let in the healing power of God.

When I worked for a city here in Southern California, I hated the mayor. HATED the mayor. A dictionary defines “hate” as a feeling of intense dislike, but this word was not strong enough to describe the depth of my feeling toward Ginger. She was a narcissistically powerful politician – a female “Trump”– and was outraged when the city hired me. My then-wife also worked at the City and Ginger hated even the possibility of “nepotism.” I had been interviewed by a panel of three managers from other cities and came out number one on their list of twelve candidates. Ginger knew the Human Resources Dept had determined I was the most qualified person for the job, but her personal “rule” was that two married people could not work for the City and told the City Manager to immediately rescind the job offer. He refused. 

Three months later, a group of City administrators went on a “field trip” with our department of water and power and when we returned, the mayor told the City Manager that I had sexually harassed the female bus driver and I was to be terminated at once. Ginger said that she had talked to the woman herself and no further investigation was needed. Thankfully the City Manger asked a police captain to personally investigate the mayor’s allegations. The privately-employed woman bus driver denied talking to the mayor. The driver remembered me and recalled that we had exchanged a few polite words in passing but nothing inappropriate. Case closed. As the most powerful person in the city government, the mayor was immune from any correction or action against her. And unable to have me fired, Ginger hated me even more. I was furious. No one had ever done anything like that to me. I hatred her with an intensity that I had never felt before. 

Then God started to really mess with me. When I’d want to read my Bible devotionally just before going to bed, I’d often open it at random and read what the hand of God had selected for me that night. Yep. You guessed it. My Bible too often opened to those dreaded words of Jesus. “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.” Matthew 5:44 Nope! Sorry Lord. Can’t do it. I will never pray for Ginger. Never!

The well-known Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, once said, “..a ‘good’ Christian who harbors hatred in his heart toward any person or ethnic group is objectively an apostate from the Christian faith.” If you read 1 John, you’d find out that he was right. When I finally got that you can’t truly love God if you hate others, I realized that was why God had taken me so many times to Matthew 5:44. And at that moment,  the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to pray for Ginger. Forgiveness was impossible but I could pray for her. It was incredibly difficult. I did not know what to pray, but God ignores the insufficiency of our words and listens to our heart. 1 John 5:14-15 NLT I began to see how alike Ginger and I were. Both of us feeling completely justified in holding on to a hatred that grieved our God who loved us both dearly.

  “..a ‘good’ Christian who 
harbors hatred in his heart 
toward any person or ethnic group 
is objectively an apostate 
from the Christian faith.”

Ginger used to smoke at the top of the ramp to the back door of City Hall and even though her attempt to have me fired was ten years ago, she would still turn her face away when I walked past her. Then one day, I said, “Good Morning Ginger” and her body stiffened. By this time, God had changed my heart through my prayers and she was no longer the evil villain of my past. From then on, every time I saw her (she was a heavy smoker!), I greeted her as she glared at me and turned away. Then one day, she astonished me by saying “Good morning John.” A decade of mutual hatred was melting away. 

For the next year, Mayor Ginger and I had some long pleasant conversations at the back door. We never talked about what happened ten years earlier. We didn’t have to. She knew what she had done and, through the grace of God, I had completely forgiven her. We talked about church – she was Methodist. We talked about God and about Ginger’s ailing husband and her dogs. We talked about how much we loved the City that we worked for. Then one day, she announced her retirement from the City council. 

In the mayor’s office, to the left of the desk was an American flag and to the right of the desk was our City flag. A new mayor had been appointed, the office repainted and I had the City flag replaced with a new one. Ginger had served four terms as mayor from 1981 to 2000 and this one City flag had been in the mayor’s office during the entire time. On the day before her retirement ceremony, I met her by the back door of City Hall again, but this time I had the old City flag from the mayor’s office. It was folded in a gift box and her eyes filled with tears when she opened it and I told her which flag this was. She told me that no other gift she could possibly receive would mean as much as this flag. As she hugged me, I said, “I think you already know Ginger, that I’ve forgiven you completely.” She hugged me tightly now as she started to sob.

Lord, erase all hatred from our hearts
and give us the grace to love others as You do...

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