In February 2017 our church reluctantly filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago. Our complaint? The Chicago Zoning Ordinance didn’t treat churches fairly with regard to parking requirements, which prevented us from buying our building. Well, we finally had our trial in January—nearly six years after filing suit! The wheels of justice turn s-l-o-w-l-y.
Here are just a few of the biblical truths that going through this long ordeal has made more vivid for me:
1. “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).
Because of this experience I have become aware of a process called “Discovery.” Did you know that in litigation you have to turn over every email you ever sent on that topic? Be careful what you type. Your personal messages might not always stay private!
During our trial the most embarrassing moment was when one of the city’s zoning administrators got to see an email where I thought he was a woman after first talking to him on the phone.
This has provided me a chilling picture of the Last Day when every word, deed, and thought will be exposed. I know that on that Day when God judges the secrets of my heart (Rom. 2:16), my only plea will be Christ’s righteousness.
2. “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33).
I knew I would have the opportunity to testify in my opening statement about Christ. I wanted to be bold like Paul before Agrippa. However, as I was getting ready to take the stand, I became extremely nervous and almost chickened out. I did it, though, and was able to clearly share the gospel with the judge, court personnel, the City’s four attorneys, and whoever might read the transcript.
I was reminded that I want always to seize every opportunity to tell people about Jesus and not fear people.
3. “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20).
I know I wasn’t facing extreme persecution, but I still had the amazing experience of the Holy Spirit giving me words to say.
For almost one whole day, I was examined and cross-examined. It was like preaching a six-hour sermon, without notes! I had to remember exact dates, names, numbers, and the chronology of events that happened years ago. God brought it all back to mind and helped me make our case compellingly and represent the church winsomely.
I love having moments when I realize that I am weak and incapable, but then God takes over and guides my words. I want to put myself in more places like that.
4. The resurrected Christ is seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21).
In the courtroom I dressed my best. There was decorum. When the judge entered, we all had to rise. She could sustain or overrule objections. As this was a bench trial, she has the authority to make a final determination.
After being in court one day, I went to Bible study that night and we looked at the end of Ephesians 1 together. I was reminded that Jesus is far above the judge in a Chicago court. He is ultimately in charge and is using his authority for the sake of his church. What a comfort!
5. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Have you ever noticed how many Bible verses speak of waiting? I hadn’t really slowed down enough to see them before this drawn-out legal battle. I want quick fixes and speedy resolutions. But God is patient.
His timetable is often way different than ours. He wants us to learn to persevere and trust him, to keep asking and not give up. What is so big and needed so badly that we are willing to continually pray for it over the course of many years?
Even now we are still waiting for the final briefs to be submitted and the judge to rule. It’s possible even after that there could be an appeal. It’s possible that in the end we could lose. No matter how this is resolved, the larger goal of seeing Christ’s kingdom come will still be something we must watch for and wait expectantly.
6. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).
This has been a long journey. But God has been faithful through it all.
Even though our court case is still ongoing, we were able to buy our building in 2018. It turned out to be a huge blessing, especially during Covid when many churches in Chicago couldn’t get into their rented spaces.
In 2019 we were granted a 100% parking reduction by the City. God has provided financially for us to remodel. Our church has more members now than ever before. Last year we had the most baptisms we’ve had since 2004.
Life is full of many “trials” we must endure, but the Lord is always working in and through them for our good and his glory.
Nathan Carter is senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church near the University of Illinois in Chicago. He also serves as Associational Mission Strategist for Chicagoland Baptists.