Friday, March 4, 2011

A Remarkable Response

I saw my dad cry only a handful of times in his life. I was 19 years old when I first saw tears in his eyes. He had just resigned from the country church I had grown up in. For 14 years, he had served this church; and over this time it had more than doubled in size, a new building was built, and it became a positive light in this rural community. Now, his time was done. But it wasn’t by his choice. His resignation was being pressured by a few church leaders. You see, dad was approaching his 70th birthday and there was a movement within the church board to find a younger man to pastor the church. Dad wasn’t ready to go. He wasn’t feeling called to move. He still had life, vision, and something to teach this church. But, the pressure was too much and he resigned. The tears flowed from this emotional rock of a man. He was hurt.

As a college student, I listened to my parents wrestle with their pain and disappointment with their new situation. When I asked for details, they deflected any discussion that would cast a dark cloud over those who caused this transition. Instead, they spoke of trusting God. They spoke of God providing a new calling and new place of ministry for them. And, God did. Dad and mom moved on to a part-time ministry where they could use their gifts and wisdom in the lives of others. They stayed there for 18 years. Dad finally stopped taking a pay check from a church at the age of 88. Some call that retirement.

Five years ago this week, my mom passed away. This was the second time I saw tears in my dad’s eyes. Her funeral was beautiful and a wonderful celebration of her life and ministry. During the visitation, a man entered the room and made his way to my dad. I recognized him and wondered how this conversation was going to go. This man was one of the church elders most aggressive in forcing dad’s resignation. Perhaps he was just expressing his sympathy, but the conversation appeared to be more substantive. The conversation ended and within minutes the man made his way over to me. He and I had a long history. His son was a good friend of mine growing up and he, himself, was one of my youth leaders. I had some incredibly fond memories of him but I knew about the tension he had created in my parents’ lives. His words to me were something like this, “Phil, I want you to know that I’m very sorry for how I treated your dad. I don’t know if you know but I was one of the board members insisting that your dad leave. That was wrong. He was the best pastor I’ve ever had.” Tears filled his worried eyes as I told him that dad had forgiven him years ago and that I had never heard dad speak ill of him. This seemed to be a powerful moment in this man’s spiritual journey. A huge weight that he’d been carrying was taken off his back.

My dad passed away this past year at the age of 95 and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on his life. Why was his life so successful? Why did he experience such longevity in ministry? Here are a few of my thoughts:

• Dad was able to forgive—sometimes years before an apology came
• He didn’t let mistreatment and disappointment slow his trust in God and pursuit of people
• He fought off bitterness in life like it was a plague

Perhaps, how we handle mistreatment and disappointment is important to God. He loves it when our responses to these types of things are different or counter-cultural.

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