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Our Fourteenth Anniversary

Our Fourteenth Anniversary


Today is our Fourteenth Anniversary as a branch of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us will remember that first service in 4th July 1999 quite well. About 90 souls were present, of whom about 60 including children continued on as members. 

A lot has changed in fourteen years. But fourteen is not a theologically or socially significant number. Therefore, we will not take time to recount our history—at least not just yet. Nevertheless, there are a few references in Scripture to the “fourteenth year” or to “fourteen years”, which I believe will be profitable for us to meditate upon briefly on this day.

These references, we must remember, are contextually unrelated to our anniversary. Therefore, all that we can derive by way of application can only be as useful as at other times. Nonetheless, seeing that it is our Fourteenth Anniversary, it is an opportune time to consider theses reference.


1. Fourteen Years Planned and Unplanned

Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times” (Gen 31:41).

These are the famous words of Jacob to his uncle Laban. Jacob had been smitten with Laban’s second daughter Rachel, and had agreed to work with him seven years for her hand. Seven years passed quickly. But the next morning after the wedding, Jacob discovered that he had married Leah the firstborn instead of Rachel his love. Laban had tricked him! Laban wanted him to work another seven years for Rachel. Jacob, not willing to give up Rachel, agreed to the bargain. He married Rachel and then worked another seven years for her!

The story of PCC is, of course, not exactly like that. In fact, it is not even close. However, are not our fourteen years in a way like that of Jacob’s? There were things that happened according to plan. We desired and prayed for a Presbyterian Reformed and Reforming Congregation. The Lord has heard our prayers. We have been serving the Lord together as a reforming congregation for fourteen years. For the better part of the fourteen years, we have worshipped him in the way that He has appointed in His Word, for which we thank God. We have enjoyed the Lord’s blessing in many ways.

But are there not also things that we did not plan for along the way? Jacob did not plan for Leah. He certainly did not plan to have his wages changed time and again by Laban. So too there were many discouragements and disappointments that we did not plan for. But let us remember: though Jacob did not have plans for Leah, it would be through Leah that the greatest good would come to Jacob (Israel) and to the Israel of God. For was it not through Leah that our Saviour would eventually descend? Need we to say more? Let us learn to be grateful for the peaks of elation as well as the valley of tears in our journey together.


2. Fourteenth Years of Preparation

Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them” (2Kgs 18:13).

Hezekiah was a very good king of Judah. Of him, it is recorded in 2 Kings 18:5-7:

5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. 6 For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.

This last reference to Hezekiah’s rebellion against the king of Assyria is significant because it was his father Ahaz who sought help from the king of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser. Judah at that time was facing the prospect of an invasion by the Syrians and by Israel (the Northern Kingdom). The Assyrians were able to defeat Syria and Israel and as a result Ahaz decided to import the worship of the Assyrians into Judah. He went to the extent of making modifications to the holy Temple of the LORD so that it was more like the pagan temple in Damascus (2 Kgs 17:7-20). 

Hezekiah sought to reverse all that, and also ceased to pay tribute to the Assyrian king. This was one of the reasons King Sennacherib came up against Judah in Hezekiah’s fourteenth year.

It is significant that Hezekiah was given fourteen years of relative peace by the Lord for the work of Reformation before the Assyrians came. For fourteen years, Hezekiah sought to turn the people back to the pure worship of Jehovah. By the fourteenth year, when Rabshakeh, the messenger of Sennacherib came to try to shake the faith and loyalty of the people, they were able stand firm. We read of how Rabshakeh sought to cast doubts about the power of God and the fidelity of Hezekiah upon the minds of the people by questioning the removal of the high places that were used for the LORD’s worship. He taunts:

“But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?” (Isa 36:7).

The people were unmoved by his reasoning. God had appointed that His worship should be upon the altar in the Holy Temple, not in high places. Had they not reconciled in their minds the rightness of what Hezekiah was doing, they could easily have turned against him. But they stood their ground and answered not a word as per his instruction (v. 21).

What has all these got to do with us? Well, once again, let no man think that there is a direct parallel with PCC. But, have we not had fourteen years of relative peace as we sought to worship in the way that the Lord has appointed? Sure, we had our share of failures and disappointments. Sure, we had painful departures, both to other churches and to other countries. These, at times, threatened to tear our hearts apart even if they did not tear the congregation apart. But I think it is fair to say that we have not had to deal with any Rabshakeh or Sennacherib. If we understand the apostle Paul correctly, these will arise whether from within or from without the church (Acts 20:29-30; 2Tm 3:13). When will they arise? It could be on this our fourteenth year as with Hezekiah’s people. Or it could be another time, we don’t know. But the question is: will we be prepared? Like Hezekiah’s people we had fourteen years. Are we prepared to stand our ground together?


3. Fourteen Years of Thorns

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2).

The apostle Paul was recounting his experience of suffering for Christ. When he has finished speaking about this, he announces that he will now come to “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor 12:1). It is in this context that he makes the statement quoted above. Many commentators, therefore, believe that he is really relating his own experience. This would perhaps explain why he adds in verse 7—“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me…” (2 Cor 12:7). Paul seems to be suggesting that the thorn in his flesh was appointed by the Lord to keep him humble. If this were the case, then it would appear that Paul had the thorn for perhaps fourteen years beginning shortly after he enjoyed the heavenly vision! This is probably the reason why he associates the thorn with the vision.


What is the thorn in Paul’s flesh? Some think that it has to do with his failing eyesight. Others think that perhaps he suffered from depressive bouts. Whatever it is, it is something that Paul would rather do without. This is why he sought the Lord earnestly to have it removed. He says: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me” (2 Cor 12:8). It is doubtful that he meant to say that he asked the Lord to remove it only three times. More likely, Paul is speaking about setting aside time to fast and pray about the matter. But despite his effort, the Lord would not remove the thorn. Instead, He says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul must learn to live and serve the Lord with his limitations and weakness. He might have thought that he could be much more effective for the Lord if the thorn in the flesh were removed from him. He might have been tempted to hold back from serving the Lord wholeheartedly until the thorn was removed. But the Lord’s way was higher than his way (Isa 55:9). God would have Paul live and serve with the thorn because it is precisely when he is weak and reliant upon the Lord that he would be strongest.

I will not venture to name what some of us may consider to be the equivalent of thorns in PCC. But is it not true that in these last fourteen years there were many loose ends which we wish could be tied. These are like thorns in the flesh that irritate us and make us wish they did not exist. We think of the fact that we are only one congregation and so cannot enjoy the full privileges of a Presbyterian denomination. We think of our lack of elders and the issues that troubled our elders and prevent them from serving as effectively as they would like to. We think of the inability of many members to stay on as members of the church. Some have migrated or are planning to migrate. Some have left the church for other issues. We think of the difficulties that some of our youths and children have as they seek to build friendships with one another. We wish that these problems could be removed. But in the providence of the Lord, this would not be so. For the last fourteen years, these thorny issues troubled the church. Some of these may eventually be removed, but others will remain. I believe they will remain that we may not become proud and complacent. They will remain so that we may learn to trust the Lord and rely constantly upon Him. Oh may the Lord grant us the grace that is sufficient to walk together with the thorns, rather than to become disenchanted and weakened in our resolve to labour together for the glory of the Lord. May these thorns spur us to prayer rather than to complacency and surrender!


Conclusion

Fourteen years is not a long time in the life of a church congregation. We are still a young church. We are still unsettled in many ways. But fourteen years is long enough for us to learn some lessons well, which we might not have been able to learn as well in a shorter period of time. Oh may the Lord grant us that as we look to another year under the headship of Christ the Captain of our Salvation, we may march on with more wisdom and more reliance upon him. May we learn to thank the Lord for our Leahs! May we be prepared to face our Rabshakehs! May we learn to live and serve to the glory of our King despite the thorns appointed by the Lord! Amen.

JJ Lim