Saturday, December 06, 2014

Vengeance and Vindication--Leave Both to the Lord

This post is a bit personal. No, scratch that, it is all personal. What brings this about is a sighting I had a couple of nights ago that caused an unexpected large wave of emotion to wash over me, much like having one of those large waves at the beach slam into you with a force you were not anticipating; and as a result I found myself in the midst of a battle between my flesh and my spirit.

The genesis of this occurred back in the mid to late nineties during the hottest part of the inerrancy battle happening in the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC church I was attending at that time was considered one of the flagship churches in the convention as it was the largest giver to the cooperative program, which was and is the funding mechanism that undergirds the SBC and its agencies, both in the states and nationally.  Needless to say, this church exerted much influence, not just in Texas, but nationally as well; and because of this influence was a plum that both sides wanted in their basket. While we were certainly not the only church to experience the battle in the midst of our church, because of who we were, the battle that took place in our church was more intense than was probably the norm in most churches.

Even though the root and core issue of the controversy was due to the theological issue of inerrancy, due to the political process that was being used by the conservatives to regain control of the convention, the war was being fought on two fronts.  One front was the theological front, where the battle was for the hearts and minds of the people, and the other battle was along the political front where the actual control of the national and state associations was being fought out. This led to the battle coming all the way down to the local church, both for their hearts and minds, and for which side would lead and control the church.

Without going into too much detail, our church was dominated by those who called themselves moderates, and we had a particularly militant group of moderates who were involved both financially and politically in the battle both in the state and nationally; and this group was determined to bring our church around to fully support the moderate camp. It was indeed a sad time for our church, as this group of people injected their political agenda into nearly every area of our church.  Even to the point that during a personnel committee meeting they brought up terminating some staff members who would not support them on a vote during the latest business meeting.

During this time I was actively recruited by this group of moderates, and by a group of conservatives from a state organization; but I would not align myself with either.  Even though I was and am an inerrantist, I would not align myself with the conservative group that recruited me because I did not like their approach.  As a Deacon and Deacon officer, a teacher and teacher of teachers, I did not want to get involved with the the politics as they were being played out in our church, but instead focused upon trying to block those who would politicize and cause disunity and dissension in our church.  Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things which the Lord hates and which are an abomination to Him; and coming in at number seven is "One who spreads strife among his brothers."  I took these verses seriously, and decided that I would do what I could to protect the unity of our church while standing up for the truth.

The issues that were being foisted upon our church by this militant group of moderates had nothing to do with the theological battle, but were all about them exerting their control and influence on our church to further their political agenda; and because of their tactics they were causing strife and promoting strife and dissension in our fellowship. I quoted this section of Proverbs one night during a deacon's meeting, and asked all of us who were attending to examine ourselves to see if this if what we were doing.  The meeting was suddenly quiet, and I was met with stony glares by several who were of the militant group.

It was after one of our deacon's meetings during this time that I was approached by the pastor who told me that even though I had refused to get involved with the politics, everyone assumed that I was in the conservative camp because of my strong stand on the Word of God.  My response to him was, "I guess that shows that the real issue here is theological, doesn't it."  At that he wheeled around, and did not talk to me again before he left the church to take another pastorate.

What I began to realize during this time was the ill will that the militant moderate group had developed for me. One of the older and wiser deacons nominated me for deacon chairman two years in a row.  When I asked him why he did so, he told me that he knew I would not win, but it showed him who was in which camp by those who voted for me or against me.  He even told me that there were those he knew that were on the fence politically, but he wanted to see if they would vote against me in order not to draw the ire of the militant moderates.  So it was during this time that I began to experience the backlash of ill will that this militant group of moderates had for me.

I say all of this to bring us to the event of the other night.  In 1999 this church planted another church in our town.  I was one of those who left to plant that church (this was before the Lord called my to plant our current church, Grace Covenant).  After I left the church, I was savaged and slandered by some of the militant moderate group, and had my character and reputation assaulted by being accused of things that I never did. One lady in particular even went before the pastoral staff and some deacons and lied and slandered me as one of the pastoral staff stood by and tacitly agreed with her, even though he knew differently. This lady and her husband were a part of the militant moderate group, and she is unaware that I know this.

As you might have guessed, it was her that I saw the other night at a Christmas function with my family.  She and her husband came in and sat down to our left in the row in front of us.  This was the first time I have seen her since we left that church. As I said in the opening paragraph, I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that hit me, and in my spirit I wrestled with my flesh as anger and resentment of her lies about me and her seemingly getting away with it brought about a desire for vengeance and vindication; and I had thoughts about her that were not nice.

In God's economy and providence, the play we were attending lasted two and an half hours, so I had plenty of time to wrestle through this and confess my sin to the Lord, and ask Him to work in my heart to forgive her, and not be embittered toward her. This was a test for me, and an opportunity to take the Lord at His word, and apply that word to my life.  "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." says the Lord.  Do not return evil for evil (even in your heart), but give a blessing instead.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Be like Joseph, who said to his brothers, "What you meant as evil against me, God meant for good." Many times in the Psalms we see David cry out for the Lord to vindicate him, and in those cries we see the patient confidence of David, that the Lord would do just that, and we also see David's willingness to wait for the Lord to vindicate him, and not seek to vindicate himself.

I share this to encourage others who may read this.  Others who have gone through much worse at the hands of their enemies, even at the hands of those who call themselves Christian brothers or sisters. Friends, when we suffer, let us suffer as Christians, and according to the word of God, not seeking our own vengeance and vindication, but trusting our Almighty, sovereign and good Lord to bring about His desired result in our life and the lives of others. And when you are confronted with such a situation, He will give you all the grace you need to have victory over your flesh.

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