Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Best of Times

March 5, 2016

Charles Dickens said it better than anyone else: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Twelve years ago today, we found ourselves in that exact scenario. It was a Friday night and Linda and I were in Rochester awaiting the birth of our first grandson, Ian. It was the best of times.

Our friends Harry and Beth were back home with our dinner group from church. It was the worst of times. That night, Harry decided it was time to "get it all out on the table." There had been plenty of rumbling and behind the scenes talk from some dissatisfied and angry people, the source of it all being the host and hostess from our group. Poor Harry and Beth took it on the chin for us that night as the three other couples vented their anger with the way I was leading the church. We weren't there, but it got pretty ugly that evening. Our dinner group never met again.

It was the best of times. We experienced the depth of friendship and faithfulness as Harry and Beth stood their ground and deflected the verbal blows that were meant for us. One never knows genuine friendship until it's tested in the fire. They were gold that night.

It was the worst of times. That Friday evening drew the first blood in what became a conflict that nearly shuttered Park church and came perilously close to my being tossed out of ministry in our denomination. It took a full eight years for the church to recover; it took me even longer.

It was the best of times. When the dust had finally settled, we had lost a third of our congregation and half our income, but God had provided for us in a rather ironic way. Before they got mad, the couple who sowed the seeds of division had given me a $100,000 discretionary fund which I promptly placed in the hands of our governing board. One night I was praying (actually, I was complaining to God about the dire financial straights we were in) when he spoke to me. "What are you complaining about? I gave you $100,000 to live on during the lean years." I had hoped it would fund mission work, but God knew all along that we were going to need that money to survive. In a weird twist, the very people who were engineering our downfall were the ones who enabled us to weather the storm.

We learned of God's faithfulness, and began to reach people that had seemed untouchable before. It was a Gideon experience. God had to clear the field before he could do the work he wanted to do. Today under pastor Joe's leadership, we are experiencing an explosion of growth in numbers, in people coming to Christ, in the health of the body. And it all began with the birth of a little baby boy, and the faithful loyalty of our dear friends. I am a humbly grateful man tonight.

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