astor Rick Gray who use to serve a church in St. Johns was one of my weekly prayer partners. A few years ago he emailed me an excerpt from former principal Verbout's resignation letter. He wrote, "From the time that Dr. Ed Bettencourt assumed supervision of James John School, and as recently as Thursday, April 11, 2002, he stated that he does not believe I am the right person to be the principal of James John School. Dr. Bettencourt also stated that there are significant numbers of staff who are of the same opinion." This was in spite of the fact that state test scores had improved at the school. What was the real reason for his forced departure? Perhaps it was, as Rick Gray wrote, “I know that there are significant numbers of staff who do not like Mike because of his faith." Patriotic songs and promoting the motto "In God We Trust" following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was one thing pointed out as upsetting as was the invitation for the Salvation Army Band to play traditional Christmas music, along with other religious expressions for the holidays.
What a powerful expression of the teaching of Peter about suffering. We're to praise God when we suffer as Christ's followers and not for doing evil. What's more, and at the heart of this passage is verse 19 which the New Living Translation reads, "So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you."
Doing good even when being troubled, that's what living like Jesus is like.
What Peter tells them and us is important. Persecution shouldn't shock, overwhelm, or upset us. We've been told by Jesus, as well as these letters that it is a natural outcome of belonging to Christ. In fact, Jesus tells us to rejoice when it happens. In fact, I'll bet Peter has in mind that teaching segment we call "The Sermon on the Mount" when he writes to these churches simply because in verses 13-14 he uses both rejoice and blessed to describe us when we suffer because we follow Christ.
The question isn't how do we avoid suffering. The question isn't even what sort of suffering. The question for such times is what do we do when we it happens? Some church folks are really good about “gutting it out” when it comes to hard times. They put on a determined face. They don’t let anyone know what’s going on. They quietly endure what the world tosses their way. Unfortunately our human effort has the affect of stopping God’s work in our life.
The answer is we continue to do good things or to act with a virtue that comes from Jesus Himself. "Its possession constitutes the content of the life of the Christian… and controlled by what we described above as the Christian’s radically new possibility of life." It is found when someone continues to loving those who would injure him or her.
Last week Disney's The Incredibles, was on TV. They are a family of superheroes, who, along with others, routinely save the world. As you might imagine no good deed goes unpunished and soon Mr. Incredible finds himself being sued for saving a would be suicide jumper.
Apparently Mr. Incredible’s rescue of Sandsweek ended in a hard landing. In the court scene the victim's attorney attacks Mr. Incredible
“Mr. Sandsweet didn’t ask to be saved. Mr. Sandsweet didn’t want to be saved. And the injury received from Mr. Incredible’s actions, so called, cause him daily pain.”
“I saved your life,” shouts the incredulous superhero.
“You didn’t save my life! You ruined my life!” yells Sandsweet.
The result of this is a superhero relocation program is formed and although these individuals continue to put themselves to do good and save others they are unwelcomed and unappreciated.
We're not cartoon characters. So how do normal, flesh and blood folks get the courage to continue to do good when the world slaps us down for it? The answer is we put our souls before our Creator God. We trust that God understands and has a plan. It is in this action, sometimes prayerfully repeated moment by moment, that we are given the power, God's power to continue to do good. When so empowered we discover that we find a depth of commitment to the cause of Christ that shocks the world around us. Leith Anderson, a writer with Christianity Today reported on a 2004 conversation with the daughter of missionaries to the Congo. It's a powerful story but one I believe we need to hear. Anderson writes, "She participated in a daylong rally to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the coming of missionaries to that part of Africa. At the close of a long day of speeches and music, an old, old man stood before the crowd and insisted on speaking. He soon would die, he said, and if he didn't speak, information that he alone possessed would go with him to his grave.
He said that when the missionaries arrived, his people thought them strange and their message dubious. The tribal leaders decided to test the missionaries by slowly poisoning them to death. Over a period of months and years, missionary children died one by one. Then, the old man said, "It was as we watched how they died that we decided we wanted to live as Christians."
Those who died painful, strange deaths never knew why they were dying or what the impact of their lives and deaths would be. But through it all, they didn't leave. They stayed because they trusted Jesus Christ.
Can we trust Christ with our souls so the suffering of our distress and disease are put in a proper perspective? Can we trust Christ with our souls so being misunderstood, being taken advantage of, or perhaps even losing this building to Presbytery might be met with loving others and continuing to bless those who seek us harm? I pray to God we can because that is our calling and our witness.
 Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (1:18). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
 The Incredibles, (Disney/Pixar, 2004); produced by John Walker, written and directed by Brad Bird.
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 Leith Anderson, "Mystery Martyrs," Men of Integrity, (January/February 2004)