2008 was a tough year for me. My last note, which was a year ago, referred to the problems I had had in my church. Those problems only became more severe in 2008. A few individuals tried to have me removed from the ministry. Their attempt failed, but the conflict just escalated. The elders of my church took actions that we believed were necessary and right for the health of our church and the good of the people involved. The conflict just continued to escalate, going to the regional government of our church, which took certain actions that were a great disappointment to me. In the course of this conflict, many things were said about me and about my elders which were just false and very hurtful.
The result of it now is that all of the people who were so antagonistic to me and to the leadership of my church are out of my church and my denomination. Some of them are in a sister denomination. Others, I don’t know if they’re going to church at all. Looking back, I remembered how very hurtful it was to me, how disappointed I was when we suffered for doing what I believed at the time and still believe was the right thing to do. My father gave me a plaque for my ordination which is a quote from John Calvin which said, “By watching, and by patiently enduring afflictions, and by constant teaching, the pastor will succeed in having the truth of his ministry established, because from such marks all will acknowledge him to be a good and faithful minister of Christ.” At many points, it was all I could do to “patiently endure afflictions.” But the other result of it was that there is now a sense of unity, peace and joy in the church that exceeds anything I have ever personally experienced.
For the new year, I decided to read through the whole Bible, cover to cover. I’m using M’Cheyne’s system, and I have subscribed to an RSS feed so the new reading comes to me automatically every day. M’Cheyne’s system has you read four chapters a day, from different books of the Bible. It starts you out in Genesis, Ezra, Matthew and Acts. A few days ago, I had gotten a little behind and sat down to catch up on my reading. The reading in Genesis covered the murder of Abel by Cain. The reading in Ezra talked about the wicked people that slandered the Jews to try to prevent them from rebuilding the temple. The reading in Matthew was the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, among other things, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you for my sake.” All of this was really speaking to me. But it was the passage in Acts that really got me.
In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin tries to stop the Apostles from preaching the gospel. They of course refuse, and Peter is thrown into jail. An angel of God comes and frees him, and Peter continues preaching. The Sanhedrin goes and gets him again, and now they’re talking about killing him. But Gamaliel makes the (very good) point that if it’s of men, nothing will come of it, but if it’s of God, then they don’t want to be opposing God. So they beat the Apostles and release them. And it says that the Apostles left, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ.
Reading that, I felt a great sorrow at my own lack of faith. We firmly believed at the time, and still believe, that we did the right thing through this controversy. We lovingly called people to repentance and were ignored. When the conflict escalated and the decisions went against us, we “patiently endured”. And I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I know now I should have done more than that. I should have rejoiced, as the Apostles did. Instead I was downcast, depressed, at times feeling very much like Elijah must have felt when he prayed to God for death, because the trials he was experiencing were too great for him.
Why are we surprised as Christians to suffer for doing what’s right? The expectation that doing the right thing will result in everyone loving you is a worldly assumption. Jesus told us the world would hate us, because they hated Him. And it jumps off of practically every page of Scripture; Godly men and women suffering because they stood by the truth. Abel; Noah; Abraham; Joseph; David; Daniel; the Jewish youths in Daniel; Esther; Ezekiel; Ezra; Mary; Peter; Paul; John. And above all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are told again and again that suffering for the truth of Christ is an absolutely expected part of the Christian life. It is one of the defining qualities of the Christian life. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12 that all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
And certainly the Lord has done so many good things for me. He has surrounded me with good people, people who have stood up for what’s true and right. He has blessed me with a wonderful family. I was reading in Psalm 48 this morning and the psalmist is talking about the glorious city of Zion, the city of God. And he exhorts us, “Walk about Zion, and go all around her. Count her towers; mark well her bulwarks. Consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following.” Zion is the city of God, a symbol pointing us to the living temple built on living stones, the church. And when I start to get angry or down again about the events of this last year, I am going to do what the Psalmist exhorts here. I’m going to walk around the walls, count the towers, consider the palaces. I’m going to meditate on the glories of God’s church, and how He has protected me and defended me by His truth. The walls, the towers, the bulwarks of God’s spiritual city are the people, the saints of God.
And I have an encouragement for you, dear reader. Always stand on the truth. Never compromise it; never back down; never shade or cloud the truth. You might think it will make things easier. You might think it will reduce conflict. But it never does. It just makes it worse; prolongs it. Through all of this conflict, the protection I had was the truth. I never had to worry about certain aspects of the story getting out, or certain people talking to certain other people, or anything like that. I never had to make sure that we had our story straight, or remembered what we’d told one person so we would tell someone else the same story. “Always tell the truth; it’s the easiest to remember.” I made mistakes, no question. I didn’t handle everything right. I had to apologize for some things, and I did. But I never lied. We stood on the truth, and so at the end of the day we were safe. When you start shading the truth, start pretending things are different than what they really are, you take the solid ground right out from under your own feet, and now you’re just standing on swamp. Stand on the rock. Stand on the truth. You’ll never have to wonder where you are. And you’ll find yourself in the best company in the world, in the company of other people who do likewise.