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A Pastor’s Kid and a Prodigal Become Friends
Bob was a crisp, button down Christian. He knew a lot about the Bible and carried it to church with him every week. He was the kind of guy who could teach adult Sunday School. He had a good reputation as an eye doctor and was a pretty upstanding citizen.
Then the meltdown. He had an affair with a young woman at work. He divorced his wife Rita who taught at the local Christian high school. She was diagnosed with cancer not too long after that, which made Bob an even greater pariah.
When fishermen are out for shark they do what they call “chum”—they throw bloody stuff overboard that attracts the sharks and drives them into a frenzy. Bob was a kind of Christian chum for a while. We were the sharks. What he did and how he did it pulled out all the self-righteousness in our little community. We fed on Bob for a while until we finally lost interest. Bob disappeared and when he resurfaced years later he was completely different.
I don’t know if I had ever met someone so radically changed by grace. Usually you can poke someone hard enough to get them to try to defend and justify themselves. But the Bob I had known was dead, and in his place was someone else, someone I found myself desperately wanting to know. Bob Bevington has taught me about grace. I have seen it heal his relationship with Rita and with their children. I have watched as it has flowed from him into the people God brings into his life. Bob Bevington has shown me what it looks like when grace confronts brokenness.
I remember the day he called my office to make an appointment. I looked forward to the meeting since I wondered how he would defend what he had done to Rita and why he now seemed so concerned about other people’s marriages. At the time the only real contact I had with Bob was through his new wife, Amy. Amy had called to talk about a concern she had for a couple who were separating because of an affair. She said she and Bob were praying for the couple and wanted to do anything they could to help keep them together. I found that fascinating, and not in a good way.
A few days later Bob showed up at my office, sat down across from me, and leaned forward as he is prone to do. Bob is not laid back. He is an avid Ohio State Buckeye football fan and it always seems like he is ready to jump up and yell. But as we talked about how his life had blown up, he never defended himself once. Instead he asked me how I would feel if he came to my church. He rehearsed what he had done and how he had done it. He said, “Joe, I am the worst. Everyone knows it. I will completely understand if you think we should find someplace else to go to church. I’m sure it would be simpler for you, and it would probably be better for us.”
I realized he was making it easy for me. I could just agree with him, and we’d be done. I thought about it for a minute. I thought of the people who had already warned me that Bob was attending. But when I looked in his eyes I saw something I have rarely seen. I saw someone who has been forgiven much and therefore loves much. It was grace I saw that day, and I told Bob I wanted him to make our church his own.
For the past few years I have been able to dive into grace with Bob and it has utterly changed me. For that I’ll be forever grateful.
I was hung-over the first time I met Joe Coffey. My first wife, Rita, took me to Hudson Community Chapel, a church that met in a school gymnasium. I remember thinking it was a funny place for a church.
Joe was the assistant pastor of the church and the chaplain of the school. You should know this about Joe. He’s a go-getter. From what I can tell he’s always been that way. He’s fifty years old and still participates in Ironman competitions. He’s a man’s man and a very gifted communicator. I remember him giving the message that Sunday but I don’t remember a word he said. But that’s more a reflection on my state of mind at the time than his preaching skills.
We went back a few times and then we pretty much quit going. That was fine with me. Back then I was a strong believer in “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” And back then my “relationship” didn’t have much room or need or respect for church.
Rita and I had two great kids, Dave and Lauren. My career as an optometrist had taken off, plus I had become an entrepreneur on the side. For the sixteen years I was married to Rita she remained faithful to me and to the Lord, while my relationship with the Lord basically just spiraled downward. By my fortieth birthday, although I had grown wealthy in the material sense, I had become spiritually bankrupt. And without even knowing it, I had lit the fuse on a 500-megaton cluster bomb that went off in an explosion of adultery and divorce that would wreak immeasurable havoc in a dozen lives, and will reverberate in the lives of generations yet unborn. I will tell a lot more about that as these chapters unfold.
Fifteen years have passed since that bomb went off. As I look back I am amazed that God did not give up on me. Instead, almost immediately He sent people across my path to explain how the gospel works for scandalous sinners like me. About how grace emanates from the cross. And He gradually enabled me to see glimpses of the glorious Person of Jesus—who He is and what He did. That caused something to happen deep in my soul. Call it wonder. Call it awe. Call it gratitude.
I guess you could say I’m a prodigal come home. But believe me, the path back to the Father was not easy. In setting off that cluster bomb I found myself alienated from every Christian who had ever known me. At first I simply avoided them all. But God had other plans. Amy, my second and current wife, became a Christian and a friend invited her to a women’s Bible study. At Joe’s church. By then it had grown into a megachurch with a campus and a gym of its own, and Joe had been promoted to lead pastor. I was delighted with how Amy was benefiting from the Bible study and the relationships she formed there. Eight years later she made an announcement. She wanted us to attend Joe’s church on Sundays. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding, my name is mud in that place.”
Amy knew it was true, but she didn’t see it as a problem. We had outgrown the little church we were attending—they had dismal resources for our two kids, Grace and Michael. After six weeks of resistance and unsuccessful church shopping, I agreed to visit HCC—once.
I liked everything about the church, especially Joe’s message. After the service, Amy greeted some women with small kids while I ducked a few ghosts. After all those years, my fear of facing a church community that was well informed of my history hadn’t eroded very much. But during the week I prayed hard about it, and when we went back the following Sunday, Amy was excited and I could smell God in that place. I prayed some more. I decided to ask to meet with Joe. I wanted to see if he thought it would be a good idea for us to become members of HCC.
A week later I walked into his office and sat down for a face-to-face conversation with Joe Coffey. I reviewed my sordid litany of events, the whole awful story, even though I was fairly certain Joe was aware of it. I said, “I don’t know if you remember…”
Joe looked me straight in the eye. “Yeah, I remember.”
“So don’t you think it would be easier for everyone if we find someplace else to go to church?”
Joe hesitated. He bit his lip. A long silence. I was on the edge of my seat.
“No,” he said, “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Joe offered me grace that day. It was clear—he knew the easy answer to my question was, “Yes, someplace else.” But instead of taking the simple route, he offered me grace. And I felt it deep within my soul. Instantly I could see that Hudson Community Chapel was a safe place for prodigals come home. We started the membership class the next week.
A year later, on our way home from a missions trip to India, I told Joe I’d take a bullet for him—and that I’d do it with a big toothy grin on my face. I meant it. Literally. I’d still do it today. Like I said, the path back to the Father has not been easy. But my pastor and friend, Joe Coffey, has been a rock for me through the whole process. If you knew him the way I do, you’d understand