October 30, 2016
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #459: Amazing Grace
With all that happened last week between the elders of the church here and me, I wasn’t really looking forward to the Saturday morning church service. The two elders who were trying to take over the church by trumping up accusations against my best friend, Art, and my other friend, Don, were furious at me for standing up to them and trying to get them to go about this the right way. They were bent on publicly accusing Art and Don in front of the entire congregation, and there seemed to be nothing I could do to stop them or change their hearts.
In the days leading up to the service, Art and I sought the Lord about the entire situation. We wanted nothing more than for God to get much glory from what was looking like a sure train wreck about to happen, and we believed with utmost faith that He could absolutely turn the situation around, turn hearts around, or whatever He wanted to do. We believed that the trial was somehow necessary for Art, who for three years had been the beloved lead elder here until he had chosen to turn the leadership structure into a shared-responsibility plurality of elders.
Now, here he is, just three months from going home, and instead of being “sent out” he’s being “kicked out.” It didn’t feel good, but I told Art that God was going to use this time of rejection as a sort of crucible of testing and purification for him to draw closer to his Savior.
Saturday seemed like every other normal day in the chow hall, where we meet for services. Setting up for the service, all of the elders seemed to be cordial with each other. But as soon as everyone had arrived, it was fairly obvious this was not like any other service. For starters, the two conspiring elders and their most vocal supports (who were very anti-Art and anti-Don) brought with them a bunch of friends I recognized as guys who, for whatever reason, no longer attend the church. Instead, at every opportunity they get, they will freely share with any listening ear the inadequacies of the church here at Golden State.
The fireworks began with the announcements, which preceded the exhortation message (a brief sermonette of sorts), singing, and main message. Brady, the lead instigator of the bunch, stepped up to the podium and began with these words: “I’ve been told not to do this, and some think I am wrong to do this, but … ” and then proceeded to try to make a case for why two of the six elders were being publicly “disciplined” today.
Brady’s voice and mannerisms, normally passionate for Scripture, were tense and hostile as he smugly revealed his intentions to the stunned audience, most of whom had no idea why this was happening, a hijacking of their worship service. Seated in front of Art and Don, I silently prayed for peace. Harmony. Unity.
Brady said: “We are addressing this because an elder must love to nurture the flock, and these men do not nurture the flock. They do not minister to others, and thus they should be removed from the elder position.” This was an outlandish statement.
None of the elders had asked my opinion on these accusations. After all, I’d lived in Don’s dorm for my first two months here, and he meets regularly with me for two hours every week to go through his release date planning and “exit strategies.”
I have lived in Art’s dorm for the last five months as his bunk neighbor, prayer partner, and even workout partner. We spend hours and hours together every day. I know these men. I see their genuine walk with God and compassion for others. Yet I wasn’t asked my opinion because I was “too close to them.” In other words, I could never be completely honest, due to a lack of personal integrity, or so it would seem.
The share time was brutal. Randomly, guys stood up and said the dumbest things such as “I feel Art hasn’t said ‘hi’ to me much” or “Art didn’t smile at me when we passed each other in the hallway.” I turned around to Art and Don and told them that I was grateful to them for personally ministering to me and taking time with me, and I encouraged them to let every false or undeserved accusation fall away.
Then, the oddest thing happened. Man after man began defending Art and Don. Each had some specific way his life had been personally enriched by one or both of them.
One especially touching tribute came from a man who’d been invited with the hope that he’d say something negative. Instead, he shared that right before his mother had passed away last year, he’d been stressed out about what to write to his mom. Art had spent lots of time with him, and the man produced from the front of his Bible a most beautifully written letter to his mom that Art had helped with.
Others stepped up, too, and one guy put Brady in his place by saying, “Do you know who I am?” When Brady said he didn’t, the man revealed he’d been in the congregation Brady and I were part of in La Palma for two years. Ouch. Then the man said, “Just because someone in leadership doesn’t know our name doesn’t mean they are an ineffective leader.”
Then, Art stood up. I cringed, sure my buddy was about defend himself to the congregation.
I was wrong.
Art humbly asked forgiveness of any brothers he’d offended and said he’d try to reach out more. I was so proud of him. The coup attempt completely failed, and Brady and company apologized to Don and Art for not handling the situation right.
To close out the service, Daniel and I led worship, but I cried through it all, watching man after man go up to Art and Don hug them. Art, who’d had the worst of the accusations leveled against him, made a specific point of going up to each one of his accusers and personally thanking each one for his input. I watched him hug every one of those men and ask forgiveness for not being there for them. Amazing.
After the service, our leadership team met. Brady volunteered to step down, but Art was first to voice a vehement “No! We need you, Brother!” to him. Then Art simply walked over to Brady and gave him a big hug.
God got the victory, for sure, and He gets all the glory for changing men’s hearts. To Him be all praise!