by Jon Reeverts
It was just a conversation in passing - you know, the casual, How are you and your family doing?” greeting that turned into so much more, and I’ll tell you, in a very real way, I’m so thankful.
Simply put, when the greetings passed and a few questions about how are your kids doing hit, I was unprepared.
First, understand, my friend and I do not share anywhere close to the same political views, nor do we seek content from the same sources or any longer attend the same church, yet we have been longtime family and professional friends. That can still happen.
What soon erupted was a depth of hurt, frustration and alienation I didn’t expect. It was a casual sidewalk talk, but passers by would have noted me unmasked standing apart from my very masked friend. We were distanced and at as much ease as that moment can provide. But, it was clear that COVID had taken its toll.
For her part, her family was impacted severely: by medical concerns, college going online, family having lost jobs, savings, having to relocate and grieving the loss of the life and a future they once held dear. They lost friends, business and professional connections, hopes, dreams and now had to consider entire career training changes. I understood, but that definitely had not been my first-level circle of experience.
Still there is that insidious underpinning, “Someone has to be to blame.”
From her side, her personal interpretation and experience left her with deep personal, family and especially community wounds. I can’t speak for her, but it seemed apparent to me that she felt attacked, and hurt deeply for those she felt had been reduced to no having no value because they lacked a conservative view. She felt the words were hate speech, racist and the treatment of those who followed strict guidelines, were villainized.
From my side, I had not experienced those things; I shared with her, by contrast, that in my circles, I felt that people were becoming more sensitive than before 2020 to others’ health concerns. That rather than people brazenly approaching others, that there was a quiet, awkward, “Where do you stand with this, and what are you processing? as we interact.
I reminisced that my younger self had a view that most people were and grew up basically healthy until age took its toll.
Either that has changed and everyone has leaky gut, diabetes, heart problems or blood pressure problems or cancer, or I was so unaware of my friends’ situations that I was blinded by my own good fortune.
Now, my older self seemed much more sensitized to those other possibilities. COVID and the narrative certainly amplified my need to be more observant.
For example, before my chemo days, I was not a germaphobe. But when I started chemo, my doctors made it very clear that sickness other than cancer could be more deadly during my treatments than the cancer itself. I made some adjustments, but I kept on teaching, kept trying to make it through the day and kept on trying to live as a normal human being. It was tough - and as a side note, I cannot tell you how many days I only made it to 9:30 AM before my friend Diane Homm would put everything aside in her day and rush to take my place, so that I could go home and curl up in a ball. Thank you Diane - I will never forget!
Back to my sidewalk conversation - it led to a question. “Don’t you think the attacks come from both or all sides?”
With an absolute, blank and resolute expression came, “No.” And, it was sincere, not defensive. At the heart of the wound was this: “How can these people,” her former Christian friends and others “be so hateful?” She had blocked them - but anyone would have done the same.
On my way home from those moments, my mind swam in disbelief, but my shock really doesn’t matter.
What struck me was, “How do we see things so differently, hold onto a friendship, hope for each other’s children and our own families’ situations and still maintain any kind of solid ground? That was Tuesday morning.
David, our youth pastor and I had just met with middle school kids on Monday. We had dealt with, “What’s the difference?” from Matthew 5:43-48. We used the version The Message - it’s easier for kids to understand.
(I explained that it is not a word for word translation, but an idea for idea source.)
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Essentially, Jesus tells us, “Don’t block each other - listen to each other - Live out my Life in you!
One difference my friend and I have, I think, is the definition of “Christian.”
When the world says “Christian”, it often attaches and weights some kind of super-moral behavior code that both defines and yet demonizes a particular “world view.” No one can live up to this code, because if we are disappointed, offended or enraged by it- they are not living by my code - it gives some kind of permission to dismiss them, the church, and Jesus as well as the Holy Trinity. Anyone of faith becomes to blame - even if I am a professed Christian. Afterall, I’ve felt violated.
But Jesus characterizes a Christian differently and the Apostle Paul definitely identifies the struggles in taking on this new identity - sure,
behavior “should be” an indicator - but not because of some moral woke thinking, but instead, because a new life lives in and through us.
We now are discovering what it means to be newly created, possessing the Eternal Life of Christ in us.
Living by our old code and behavior is antithetical to our new life in Christ. It doesn’t make sense to live as our old selves, before we knew Christ.
Jesus says, “16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.
19 “This, then, is the judgment: The Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the Light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”
One thing that is important here is that we only qualify what we see as evil as the moral code, but to God, anything apart from Him (the true vine) is sin/evil, even if it looks morally good. “Oh, they are such nice people.” Verse 20 in the above passage is not just pointing to unacceptable public/community standards; it is pointing out acknowledging Jesus as Lord.
If, as the world has attempted to do, (and many churches have followed suit) and continually attempts to re-define Christianity - there is no truth - there is no way - there is no life. And we absolutely have no way to come to dialogue.
And here is where the so-called “hate speech” can settle in:
Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] that’s a narrow definition of Life that the world hates and many Christians want to downplay.
Or, if as He says,
“5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.” John 15:5-9
Then, we wriggle against the cocoon of submitting to only His authority.
Paul helps explain this new identity described in Matthew 5:48 of The Message:
“17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christand gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:17-21]
Hey Christians! This is where the transformation comes in. Because we know the Light, we can live as one who has a family resemblance to our Lord and Savior. We are the ones with a ministry of reconciliation, those who invite others to the table and those who show the Light, even when the world rejects Him. We don’t block others from seeing our Light.
We don’t bring the lashes, the judgment, or the division. Our hearts hurt for those who have been hurt, stand fast against things that lack truth (Jesus), and endure, through forgiveness, the wrongs we see swirling around us. Even in a COVID society and even in an election cycle.
Dan Stone in The REST of the GOSPEL spells out that this is what he calls above the line thinking. It recognizes that, as believers and receivers of Jesus Christ, we are living in an eternal kingdom (above the line) and in a temporal/physical kingdom (below the line) at the same time.
We have a different way to live, remain, communicate and abide.
As you walk out the rest of this week and the days ahead, if you are a professed believer and receiver of Jesus Christ, please pray about where you are abiding, resting, remaining and standing.
Is it apart from our Savior’s intention of bringing a ministry of reconciliation, or is it residing in indignation and fury?
Let’s be the Light (Matthew 5:14) as Jesus gave us the ability to BE.
Don’t block it.