“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ 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.” Matthew 5:43-45
You’re nothing but a little Hitler. The life of a pastor is always interesting. You really never know what is going to come your way. I’ve been doing this pastor thing for about 38 years now and I know two things. First, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow. There is no guarantee but it has a pretty good track record. Second, you are going to step in someone’s mess today. Pastor or not, you are going to bump into someone’s hot mess.
Her name was Sheila. Her mother attended our church and she and her two boys would occasionally visit. I decided one day to go by and just let her know that we enjoyed having her visit. I mean it sounded like a good thing, it sounded like the right thing. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, I pull into her driveway and went up to the door. I did my gentle, non-threating knock and she came to the door. I gave the standard, “Hi Sheila, I just wanted to come back and let you know we are so glad you are visiting with us” spill. It was pleasant…it was sincere.
I don’t remember everything she said that day. It could be “pastoral amnesia.” That is a defense mechanism that pastors have to guard their hearts when someone decides it is their spiritual gift to break them. It might be PTSS (Pastor Tramatic Stress Syndrome) where the event was so traumatic that you block it out. Anyway…she cut loose and the two things I do remember included something about me running a cult and brain washing people. The last thing I remember was when she said, in all seriousness, “You are nothing but a little Hitler.”
Well, that hurt—a lot. It hurt so much that 30 years later I can still hear her voice, still feel her words, and still wish I had never knocked on that door. Not too long ago I was asked to do her mother’s funeral and it seemed the wall was still there. Amazingly…sad. There is an old saying that is a lie. It says, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Really? I wonder who came up with that one. They must have been deaf and blind. Words are an incredibly powerful tool or weapon—depending on the sender.
I still am amazed at the emotional energy that chance meeting had for me that day. But it wasn’t chance…it was somehow prescribed by my Dearest Daddy to help me grow to be more like Jesus. He knew (and He was right) that there would be many more awkward moments in the days ahead and I needed to learn how to handle them…like Jesus. This morning I listened to a devotional by one of my favorite writers, Bob Goff. He was talking about loving your enemies…or maybe folks who act like your enemies. He quoted Jesus and here’s what Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ 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.”
Wow…that is way powerful. Bob told a story about a witch doctor that he took to trial in Uganda. This witch doctor believed in child sacrifice and practiced it. No one before had had the courage to take on these bad guys. Well, he did and he won. Later, he decided to go visit this guy on death row. The former witch doctor, who by then had become a Christ follower, told Bob that he forgave him. This confused Bob because the other guy was the bad guy, not him. But what is important is the former witch doctor was extending grace because he wanted to be like Jesus…like his Father. How about that?
This COVID thing has been a breeding ground for more than germs…it was been a breeding ground for division, unkindness, judging, and hurting. I know it and you know it, too. And, unfortunately, God’s kids have not been exempt. The world is watching and seeing and wondering if this God thing is real or a hoax. One way we can show them that Jesus is the real deal is by loving one another. Just because the evening news is filled with hated and bitterness doesn’t mean it should infect our Jesus world. Remember He said that the world would know we are Christians by our love…not our dogmatism. I put something on the sign at church this week. It says, Jesus first. Before. Everything. Else. Period. I believe that. He is more important than COVID, masks, politics, and everything else. He is first and when He is first…we all do better. Our world does better. Our marriages do better. Our churches do better. So as we continue this journey called life, if you are a Jesus follower, make sure you are following Him closely. Mimic His every Word and every step. And if you are not yet a follower, I hope you soon will be. I know sometimes we Jesus followers don’t get it right—but trust me, He never gets it wrong. You can rest in Him. He’s got this.