I’m thankful that when God wants to teach us something, He can use any means to bring that lesson down to us. Sometimes, as in my case, the lessons come from the most unlikely of sources. Such was the case some time ago. Not only that, but if the lesson is something He feels you need to work on, He doesn’t give you a moment’s rest over it. The biggest praise I have to give about this lesson is that, if learned and applied, I will spare my children being taught the wrong things at the hand of their dad. Why else would God spur us on to learn something except to better ourselves, and to better those to whom He has put under our watchcare.
Let me set the stage for you so that you can best appreciate the irony that is this teaching moment God gave me. Several years ago I was at a parade in my hometown and there was the obligatory gaggle of dignitaries and politicians. I am a staunch conservative and hold firm to ideals held by conservatives. Well…Patrick Kennedy, one of the Rhode Island Congressen, was walking down the sidewalk toward where I was standing. He was shaking everyone’s hand and when he got to me, I gave a wry smile and put both hands in my pocket. He gave a quick glance and went on to the others down the parade route.
Later on that day, and for weeks after that, I would relay that story with extreme glee. “I wouldn’t shake Patrick Kennedy’s hand!” After all, I was, in my mind, obviously the more morally high-minded person and Senator Kennedy was not worthy to shake my hand. He represented everything I was against. I wouldn’t lower myself to greet him, nor treat him with any respect. After all, he was the “enemy!!!”
During those years, I would berate and degrade Senator Patrick Kennedy in both casual and heated political conversations. I got so fired up by just the mere thought of him, that I would engage people in political conversations, just to vent my frustrations. It wasn’t uncommon for me to use words like “moron” and “idiot” when referring to the Senator. I let everyone know where I stood with regards to my feelings toward Patrick Kennedy. I hated him.
In fact, I hated his father with the same fervor. Senator Edward Kennedy (Democrat Senator from Mass.)…the “Liberal Lion.” He was as far “left” as I was “right.” The more I learned about Senator Ted Kennedy, the more Patrick Kennedy began not looking quite as bad. Senator Ted Kennedy championed such causes as abortion, stem cell research, gay rights and gay marriage, and many social programs, all of which I vociferously oppose.
My disdain for those two senators was so great that anytime I was flipping through the channels and one of them was on (especially Patrick Kennedy), I would make a gagging sound and promptly change the channel. For my part there was no love lost on those two men, and I made sure everyone who knew me understood that unequivocally. I don’t think I ever saw Patrick Kennedy giving a speech and listening to more than two words before I turned him off. That’s what makes this lesson from God so ironic.
When the elder Kennedy died, I can honestly say that I did not have glee or joy over that. But if I’m honest, I’m not sure I really had any emotion toward that fact. It’s probably because I never had a fondness or closeness, or any kind of affinity toward the man. But I was fascinated by the funeral proceedings. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance going on, and I’m a sucker for pomp and circumstance and ceremony. So I watched the funeral every now and then between other channels.
Well, when I turned back, I watched Patrick Kennedy’s brother finish his eulogy. Then, as he was walking back to his seat, Patrick himself got up with papers in hand and approached the pulpit to eulogize his dad. Something made me stay on that channel for his eulogy. My wife, noticing that I was actually taking an interest in what he was saying asked me if I was alright because, after all, I hated the guy! I still, to this day, can not explain what it was that made me stay on for his eulogy.
Patrick Kennedy talked about what it was like growing up with Ted Kennedy as his father. He spoke tales of being in the sailboat with his dad. Patrick shared how he had asthma as a child and how it sometimes got really bad. This, he explained, would keep him from being able to do many things, and when the asthma attacks were severe enough, he would be stuck in bed needing to relax and recuperate. He said he hated the asthma, but it afforded him the joy of having his father there at his bedside with a cold face cloth on his forehead, held there by the late Senator. He talked proudly of growing up and eventually serving with his father in the Senate. He just beamed with radiance when he recounted for us all of the fond memories of his childhood that were created by none other than his father, Senator Ted Kennedy.
Senator Ted Kennedy, the “Family Man?” Senator Ted Kennedy, the “Doting Father?” Senator Ted Kennedy, the “Loving Liberal Lion?” Who knew? Well, I didn’t. And do you want to know why? It was because I never cared to look for any good in him or in his son, Patrick. No, it was far too easy, and dare I say, far too fun to demonize the Kennedy’s and every other statesman I didn’t agree with. I took a bad attitude and approach toward my political counterparts. The tendency, for me, was to envision the “enemy” with horns under their hats and a whiff of sulfa on their breaths. I would let the words “they’re pure evil” roll off my tongue as easily as soft butter on a hot knife.
After listening to Patrick Kennedy, I was beginning to feel a bit evil myself. No intellectual or political conversation could have taught me what Senator Patrick Kennedy’s eulogy of his father taught me. The lesson is this: his father was a real person with genuine feelings, and yes, even capable of loving his children the way I love my own two daughters. He wasn’t a heartless monster that had no soul, even though that’s how I referred to him. The world is not a better place now that Senator Ted Kennedy is gone. He is sorely missed by those who loved him and were loved by him.
Over the next several days following the funeral services, God began showing me some other things that go right along with the lessons he had brought out of the mouth of my “nemesis” during that eulogy. The first is that, over the years I have had plenty of heated political conversations with people who know I’m a Christian, and I’m using words like “moron” and “idiot” to describe people I didn’t agree with. It’s easy to do when you don’t value someone as a person.
The next thing God did was to remind me that I have two children. My wife and I teach them that words like “stupid” are words that shouldn’t be said in most circumstances. If they hear me using those words, in another room, to describe some other person, can you imagine the inability I would have scolding them when they got in trouble using that word to describe a fellow classmate or teacher? God basically explained to me that I needed to make sure I stop, so that my children will hopefully never start.
But here’s the biggest thing of all. Remember I said that I didn’t really have any emotion at all with regards to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy? Well, it’s no doubt because of the fact that I didn’t see him as a person, because I focused on every way we were different. And don’t forget…I was, in my mind, so morally high-minded, that I believed people like the Kennedys were pure evil that I never even looked for good in them because I had no desire to ever like them for any reason in the first place.
There you have it. I’m not a new Christian. I know the principles stated by Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48. I know I need to love my “enemies” (enemies in the political sense), but I got tricked into believing I was justified in raging a “Holy War” of sorts against the proponents of what I believe to be the social ills in today’s society. I was tricked into believing that my cause trumped loving my “enemies.” I don’t think I was overtly tricked, but I didn’t ask God for help seeing my “enemies” through His eyes.
I took great pride in being a staunch partisan. I still have issues and causes I will hold dear to, based on the morals and values of the Bible, but I will now see the “enemy” through different eyes. President Obama, I have no doubt, gets on the floor and plays with his daughters and loves them the way Senator Ted Kennedy loved his children. And now, thanks to the one and only speech I listened to from the mouth of a man I once despised, I am able to hate my “enemies” less and less.
Our church prays for our civil leaders every Thursday in prayer service, but perhaps some of us need to add a prayer for ourselves first. Our attitudes toward the people we are praying for needs to change. Our prayers need to be genuine and borne out of a love for our “enemies.” Not long after I began seeing that I needed to change, I read an account from a pastor in Phoenix, Arizona who said the following: “I hope that God strikes Barack Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy and I hope it happens today,” he told MyFOXPhoenix on Sunday. He called his message “spiritual warfare” and said he does not condone killing. He went on to say: “I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell when I go to bed tonight. That’s what I’m gonna pray,” he told his congregation. That, from a pastor, is unconscionable! That pastor, in now way, echoes my views and sentiment…not even close!!!
So the three lessons I want to share with those of us who are parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and the like are these. First, it’s humbling enough to be taught a lesson by God, but when it comes at the hands of someone or something that you feel is “beneath” you, you need an extra large dose of humility to take it. The second lesson I learned is that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). God loves the “unlovable” enough to sustain their lives in the desire that they live long enough to get saved and start living for Him. The third thing is this, and I think it’s the most important lesson of the three. There are many values I want to pass down to my children in the hopes that they will espouse them as well. But I run the risk of passing down some of my less God-honoring attitudes toward those who hold to differing views. What follows is why I believe this is the most important lesson to be learned here.
Look at Exodus 20:5, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” Now, that comes on the heels of God’s warning to the Israelites to have no other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). I have for my say that if I’m not treating the “enemy” in a godly fashion and with a godly love and attitude, then I’m not being led by the Holy Spirit, or God’s Word. So, I must be led by other sources, such as the devil himself, talk radio, my own emotions, whatever…and if I’m allowing anything else to guide my actions toward another human being, I have put that “god” ahead of the true God of the Bible.
Here’s what one apologetics source explains: “Covenantally, when a father misleads his family, the effects of that misleading are often felt for generations. This is because the father is being covenantally unfaithful and God has stipulated that there are punishments to breaking the covenant with God. That is the case with these verses that deal with the sins visited upon the children. If a father rejects the covenant of God and takes his family into sin and rejects God, the children will suffer the consequences, often for several generations. Whether or not this is fair is not the issue. Sin is in the world, consequences of sin affected many generations.”
So…the importance of the lesson is this…if I don’t teach right, then my girls won’t learn right, and they’ll act in the same hateful way I did. They will then teach their children by example, who, will live to teach their children…and so on. These verses may speak of the consequences of sin from generation to generation, but it could very well warn of the very real risks of consequences associated with generational perpetuation of sins. Either way, sin not dealt with will leave marks down the road.
There’s no doubt that emotions and hatred toward differing political views has gotten worse over the past decade. I believe tensions between the two major political parties are causing such a polarization that hatred and disdain are at a frenzy these days. Isaiah gave a famous Gospel invitation that contains one key element in it, “Come now, and let us REASON TOGETHER, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God uses reasoning between Himself and sinners to bring them to salvation. Surely then, reasoning is what is needed to bring healing to our political system. Otherwise, without reasoning between ourselves and God, and between each other, we’re headed for destruction “by the sword” (Isaiah 1:20).
Facing a moment of extreme division in this country, Abraham Lincoln knew the importance of reasoning and the warning of Isaiah 1:20…”If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” We must begin teaching our children, the next generation of politicians, to reason with each other, or run the very real risk of another civil war. We’re not there yet, but it could be a very real consequence of our sinful actions today being visited upon future generations.