In our Wednesday Bible Study series “What’s in the Old Testament,” one recent session was about the judges and kings of ancient Israel. We used Samson and David as examples to show that even when a leader was respected and great, he or she could still mess up in a big way that had consequences for everyone. And in fact, some kings of Israel were neither respected nor great; they only did bad things. Just flip open the book of 2 Kings and you’ll quickly find an example like this: “Menahem son of Gadi became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria ten years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord during his entire reign” (2 Kings 15:17-18). Yikes!
In Bible Study that night we talked about the historian who collected all the stories of the judges and kings so that they could be preserved in the Scriptures. I asked the question, “Why would the historian include unflattering stories like this? Why not pretend to forget about it?”
The answer came from the modern-day prophet Louis Smith. He proclaimed, “The Lord was in the story.” Indeed! Through all of ancient Israel’s ups and downs, successes and failures, the Lord was in their story. Even when Israel did terrible things, and God punished them for their sins of selfishness and oppressing others, the Lord was in the story. And later, when they received grace, the Lord was especially in their story.
Fast-forward 2500 years. I’m researching Hickory Rock’s history to prepare for our 100th anniversary next August. I’ve learned some very interesting things. In its early days, Hickory Rock did what many churches did back then: they expelled people for bad behavior. Popular reasons included things like public intoxication, dancing, and playing cards. So in the teens and early twenties, a number of people in Hickory Rock had their names taken off the roll. If they wanted to be restored in the church, they had to publicly repent and be voted back in. Sometimes they were required to get baptized again.
This all came to a head in 1923 when Hickory Rock had enacted such harsh discipline on so many people, that the church disbanded and almost didn’t reconstitute itself. The Tar River Baptist Association minutes from October 1923 say that not only Hickory Rock, but “several other churches in the association had felt the necessity of administering discipline to a number of their members, and being reluctant to take drastic action, had resolved to disband.” Since it was such a widespread problem, the Association formed a committee to look into it. The committee declared that the strict behavior was “not to be commended,” but they recommended that Hickory Rock “be considered in good standing in the association; and that the members who have not returned to the church be advised to do so; and that they be welcomed by the church when they do return, and thus heal the trouble.”
Some folks who had been ousted were so hurt that they understandably didn’t come back. Other folks, including many of our founding families, were so against the practice that they left as well. They didn’t think that a church should label some people as worse sinners and kick them out, since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. (Oftentimes in ways exactly like the people who were kicked out; it’s just that not everybody got caught.)
Now, I had thought about keeping that bit of history to myself. But then I remembered: “the Lord was in the story.” By reading the bad things Israel did (continually) in the Old Testament, the grace and love of God in their story is that much more impressive. And despite less-than-flattering times in our church’s history, Hickory Rock has been loved and blessed by God the whole way. I am thankful for its story.
Nobody’s story is only good days, happy times, and success. Everyone’s story–Israel, Hickory Rock, me, you–has good and bad days, happy and sad times, big successes and total failures. But don’t forget, the Lord is in the story–Israel’s, Hickory Rock’s, mine, and yours. So when we remember our long story, let us not forget the mistakes, because they are avenues of God’s grace. But let us also not be weighed down by those mistakes, because that same grace is what sets us free. And we can walk–freed and forgiven–together into a blessed future.
Grace and peace,